Monthly Archives: May 2010

No End to this Glorious Message

I love these lines from The Cross by D. Martyn-Lloyd Jones:

“There are certain things which have to be said over and over again, of necessity, and yet this is the marvel and the wonder of the cross, that however many times a man may preach about it, he has never finished preaching about it. There is always something fresh to say, always something new. There is a great central message that is always there, but nothing is so wonderful as to see that one thing in different ways . . . . During these twenty-six years in my Westminster pulpit there have been times when in my utter folly I have wondered, or the devil has suggested to me, that there is nothing more for me to say, that I have preached it all. I thank God that I can now say that I feel I am only at the beginning of it. There is no end to this glorious message of the cross, for there is always something new and fresh and entrancing and moving and uplifting that one has never seen before.”

Even angels long to look into the gospel. Why? Because it is endlessly fascinating.

I think these words are closely related to the Catch-22 of gospel-centrality: Those who love the gospel do not tire of hearing it, and those who do not love the gospel will not love the gospel without hearing it. So whatever our audience, the gospel must be central to our …

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Grace-Driven Effort

D.A. Carson writes:

People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.

You will not grow in the Christian life through stasis. You must move.

But move where? Move how?

What is “grace-driven effort” and how is it different from some other kind of religious or spiritual effort?

I think grace-driven effort springs from parking ourselves at the gospel and beholding. People who behold (super)naturally move into mission. They can’t not runteldat.

Here is one of my favorite passages from Paul. He is talking about pressing on and moving forward, upward, Godward, but notice how he begins and ends this thought on Spiritual effort:

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of …

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All of Christ, Now and Evermore

There is nothing in us or done by us, at any stage of our earthly development, because of which we are acceptable to God. We must always be accepted for Christ’s sake, or we cannot ever be accepted at all.

This is not true of us only when we believe. It is just as true after we have believed. It will continue to be trust as long as we live.

Our need of Christ does not cease with our believing; nor does the nature of our relation to Him or to God through Him ever alter, no matter what our attainments in Christian graces or our achievements in behavior may be.

It is always on His “blood and righteousness” alone that we can rest.

– B.B. Warfield

What a wonderful and incomprehensible thing it is to know that at conversion we receive all of Christ and certainly all we need, yet there is always more of Christ to have and yet always what we need.

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Prayer is Always Subversive; In New England Especially So

This is a letter from one Roland Smith to the editors of The Rutland Herald:

Last fall a student of Fair Haven Union High School received permission from the principal to hold a “National Day of Prayer at the Flag Pole” event, which was attended by a number of students, staff and adults.

The students were very enthused with the results and asked the principal if they could continue once a week with these meetings. They have been meeting every Wednesday morning all through the winter, rain or shine, and have been faithfully praying for God’s presence in the school and in the lives of the students, for the nation and children in Sudan, etc.

Several weeks ago students participating were brought into the principal’s office, told there was a complaint, and that they could no longer continue and that adults should not have joined, although this was originally approved. Thinking that the adults were the main concern, they met again for prayer at the pole without them. They were again brought into the office one or two at a time with the principal and superintendent and told they could no longer continue. It seems the superintendent was concerned that some other group might want to use the area around the pole and the school would have to let them. The students asked to speak to the School Board. A meeting was held May 17.

At that meeting, the board and superintendent were asked if this action was precipitated by a complaint. They …

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Squirrels That Look Like Jesus: Gospel-Centrality and the Scriptures

You’ve probably heard this Sunday School humor tidbit:

Sunday School teacher holds up a picture and asks the class, “What is this?”

Little Johnny answers, tentatively, “Well, it looks like a squirrel, but I know the answer is ‘Jesus’.”

I can laugh at the Little Johnny and the Squirrel story, but I think it’s true too. The best teaching and preaching always makes the answer “Jesus.”

Not every biblical text is explicitly about Jesus of course. But no matter what it looks like, we can show that the answer is Jesus.

How?

Here’s how I approach biblical texts in the mode of gospel-centrality:

If I’m looking at an exhortation/command/Law, I ask what precipitates it. Sometimes you have to draw in the gospel reminder if it’s not immediately in the text or context. For instance: Leviticus is chock-full of commands, but this book comes after Exodus, after the Israelites are set free from Egyptian bondage and are in the wilderness. So I remind myself and my church that obedience is a response to God’s freedom, not the leverage for God’s freedom. In other words, we don’t obey to be set free; we obey *because* we’ve been set free. In the same way Jesus announces the blessings of the kingdom coming in the Beatitudes, and then proceeds to tell us what life in the kingdom looks like (the rest of the Sermon on the Mount). Pronouncement precedes exhortation; being precedes doing.

This is easier to do in Paul’s letters, because Paul is always connecting commands to gospel pronouncements, couching what …

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What the Church Can Learn from LOST

Okay, no doubt the Christian blogosphere is going to be inundated with LOST-related reflections on faith and spirituality, especially given the “universalism”-tinged finale last night.

I have not read Chris Seay’s The Gospel According to LOST, mainly because it doesn’t interest me too much. I will just say that I gave up on expecting any coherent Christian worldview from LOST back when Mr. Eko said Jesus had to be baptized to cleanse him from his sins. At that point, I wasn’t angry that LOST didn’t reflect Christian theology, but mainly that LOST couldn’t even get it right from a characterization integrity standpoint. Eko knew Catholic theology. He was posing as a priest. Believing Jesus needed to be cleansed from sins is not something you’d expect from a Catholic priest. So they botched it there, and from then on I wasn’t expecting good solid Christian theology from a television show. But I wasn’t really expecting it before that either.

So while others may be arguing the merits or demerits of the “all faiths” suggestions (did you see the stained glass window at the chapel at the end?), I’m coming at it from a different angle. What is it exactly about LOST that engaged people so much, and what can the church learn from that (if anything)?

I think of three things off the bat:

1) LOST was robust. It did not partition off “spiritual matters” and “scientific matters” and “romantic matters,” etc. It wasn’t a romance show. Or an adventure show. It wasn’t just science …

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The Gospel and "Look at Me!" Culture

Last Sunday our Bible study class was discussing the revelation that Mother Theresa went through a terrible “dark night of the soul” that lasted for years. I thought about how we didn’t even know this about her until after she died, until after her once private journals were reviewed. While suffering from deep bouts of depression and feeling as though God’s presence had left her, she nevertheless carried on her service to the diseased in Calcutta.

This made me think of how there’s almost nothing we do today that isn’t blogged, Facebooked, or tweeted. When someone in our culture is having a rough time, they tell us online. When they are serving others, they tell us online. And when they are serving others despite having a rough time, they tell us online. There is almost no thought, feeling, inclination, impulse, or attitude we don’t share with everyone who will listen.

On the one hand, such transparency can be very valuable. It certainly is more honest than holding everything in or acting like we’re fine when we’re not. On the other hand, though, there is a fine line between transparency and vanity. Authenticity is great. Except when it’s not.

I think my generation has spun the older Me Generation into a sort of “Look at Me” Generation, and now of course the generations after Gen-X are progressively perfecting “Look at me!” into a science. Or an art. I’m not sure why we seem constantly puzzled that someone like Paris Hilton or Spencer and Heidi …

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Why Morality Cannot be the Baseline

Of the new Robin Hood movie, Pulitzer Prize winning film critic Roger Ebert writes, “Must children go directly from animated dragons to skewering & decapitation, w/ no interval of cheerful storytelling?”

Ebert is one of the few critics who gave that new adult comic book movie for kids Kick-*ss a bad review, questioning its moral compass. In fact Ebert is one of the few film critics who will outright call a movie “immoral” (as he did for one of the Texas Chainsaw remakes and other pictures in the dubiously but aptly titled new category “torture p*rn”).

What I find even more unique about this is that Roger Ebert is an atheist. Yes, I know atheists in general do not think one must be religious to be moral, but that’s not the point I mean to make. I was reminded of Ebert’s cinematic moral compass recently when reading this post at Justin Taylor’s blog, about how/why Steve Jobs forbids p*rn apps on Apple products. From the article:

Steve Jobs is a fan of Bob Dylan. So one customer emailed him to ask how Dylan would feel about Jobs’ restrictions of customers’ freedoms.

The CEO of Apple replied to say that he values:

‘Freedom from programs that steal your private data. Freedom from programs that trash your battery. Freedom from porn. Yep, freedom. The times they are a changin’ and some traditional PC folks feel their world is slipping away. It is.’

The interlocuter replied:

“I don’t want ‘freedom from porn’. Porn is just fine! And I …

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He Created the Seahorses and the Krakens to Frolick

Here is the sea, great and wide, which teems with creatures innumerable, living things both small and great.There go the ships, and Leviathan, which you formed to play in it.

– Psalm 104:25-26

The vast seas give their Creator glory. And so do the sea monsters playing in them.

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The Mission is the Vision

The way we’re usually told it works is this: receive a vision for where you want to go, then formulate a mission to get there.

I don’t see that in the Bible as the task of the pastor. (Sorry.)

Instead I think the mission comes first, which is to say God’s mission comes first. It’s not my vision — for a bigger church, for revival, for whatever — I want to put my church on mission toward; it’s God’s mission I want a vision for, and his mission I want to shepherd my church to joining.

The mission is the vision.

But of course this requires reframing success as faithfulness and health, not as . . . well, “success.”

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