Monthly Archives: January 2011
“God give us a gracious spring-tide of His Spirit, to replenish our thirsty channels, to swell our scanty stream, and to quicken our languid course! If this is not our cry, it is a sign, either that the work of grace is not yet begun in us; or that it is indeed at low water, and discoloured with those dregs, which tend to dishonour God, to eclipse the glory of the Gospel, and to spread clouds and darkness upon our souls.
“Some Christians are like decayed mile stones; which stand, it is true, in the right road, and bear some traces of the proper impression: but so wretchedly mutilated and defaced, that they, who go by, can hardly read or know what to make of them. May the blessed Spirit of God cause all our hearts, this morning, to undergo a fresh impression; and indulge us with a new edition of our evidences for heaven! 0, may showers of blessing descend upon you, from above! May you see, that Christ, and the grace of God in Him, are all in all! Whilst you are upon earth, may you ever ascribe the whole glory to Him! And sure I am, that, when you come to heaven, you will never ascribe it to any other.”
When I see people weary or hardened under the brutal weight of religious hyper-spirituality, I am saddened that they do not know the freedom of the gospel of grace. And when I see people indulging in the hedonistic excess of license, I am saddened that they do not know the freedom of the gospel of grace.
Legalism and license are separate categories. But they are in the same category of Departure from the Gospel. Neither cures the other, but the gospel cures both.
In that day the LORD with his hard and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will slay the dragon that is in the sea.In that day, “A pleasant vineyard, sing of it!”
I would like to place the art of preaching the gospel not chiefly under the genre Instruction but Exultation. Worship in a “worship service” does not stop when the music is over; it continues in the sermon. The sermon is a music of its own. No matter the text, no matter the topic, the tune is the joyous anthem of God’s slaying the dragon, a redemption song.
The Bible is about God; beginning to end, it is the ballad of God’s exploits in vanquishing evil and restoring shalom through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Preaching rehearses this song. Each Sunday: Once more, with feeling!
Jesus is restoring all things. “A pleasant vineyard, sing of it!”
Everyone else seems to be getting into this “open letter” business, and not one to be left out, I decided to throw my two pence in as well. I hope you will forgive my rush to join the herd, especially as my inaugural offering places its crosshairs on you.
First of all, before I say anything else, let me say that I cherish you as a brother in Christ, I have learned much from you, and I would never seek to impugn your heart for God and for God’s people. All of those things are evident to those who spend any time with you.
But other things are evident as well.
I am frustrated, Ray. No, not in a debilitating or discouraging way, really. I am frustrated in a delightful way at how sweet your spirit is, which to me is a prime indication of the harmony of your heart with the Spirit of the living God. You always seek to “outdo one another showing honor,” and I remember plenty of lunches and coffee conversations and moments in our Pastors Gospel Group back in Nashville where you’d take up nearly the entire time yakking and yakking about how great and wonderful the rest of us were. Really, Ray, you should try to focus more on yourself and your own awesomeness. The rest of us simply cannot compete with your selflessness.
I could go on and on with your flabbergasting fabulousness, but I will just hone in on one thing here. You really have …
“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together . . .” (Romans 8:22a)
“In the Institutes, ‘this most glorious theater’ means our universe, and the works referred to are God’s work in creation and providence. Like an architect who manifests his greatness in every feature of an opera house from the grand sweep of its tiered balconies to his little touches with its light switches, so God reveals and ‘daily discloses [his glory] in the whole workmanship of the universe’ from the splendor of the heavens to the shape and structure of the toenails on an infant’s feet.
– Mark Talbot, “Sin and Suffering in Calvin’s World and Ours” in With Calvin in the Theater of God edited by John Piper and David Mathis (Crossway 2010), 53.
For Calvin the theater of God’s glory is the entire universe. The splendid gospel symphony doesn’t just enthrall the audience, but somehow remakes the entire opera house. “Sin is cosmic treason,” R.C. Sproul tells us. The brokenness is systemic (as Ecclesiastes demonstrates), felt deeply in the bowels of the earth (as Romans 8 demonstrates). And so, what better field for the Lord of hosts to play in than the cosmos? We are the crown of creation, and the personal gospel is real and primary, but we are being made new for the “all things” that Jesus is making new. Calvin’s gospel sought to reflect this bigness.
As it happens, then, the occasional Calvinist’s insistence on the exclusivity of the personal gospel — God/Sin/Christ/Response …
“And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”– John 1:16
” . . . the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.”– 1 Peter 1:11
“It seems, then,” said Tirian, smiling himself, “that the stable seen from within and the stable seen from without are two different places.”“Yes,” said the Lord Digory. “Its inside is bigger than its outside.”
– Lewis, The Last Battle (New York: HarperCollins, 1984), 176.
Let me lay my cards on the table:
1) If you put overturning Roe v. Wade to a popular vote, I’m in line early ready to vote in favor of protecting the approximately one million unborn babies killed each year, and if you’re a politician, the best way to lose my vote is to align with the pro-choice agenda.
2) Nevertheless, I don’t believe laws — or the protests and petitions and politicking that seek to achieve them — are how we are going to eradicate abortion. Overturning Roe v. Wade is a win — and it’s a win we should work for — but in my way of thinking, it is not the win.
The emancipation of the slaves was necessary. But it didn’t end racism.
I am not proposing an either/or. What I’m proposing is that evangelicals take the harder route, adopt the harder cause, that we aim for Spiritual change of hearts more than we aim for legal stay of hands.
Here are some thoughts on how we may do this:
1. Gospel-centered preaching. Here’s the thing: Pastors who preach culture war receive Amens from the already convinced and almost nothing from everybody else. At its worst a steady dose of this creates an unhealthy “us vs. them” mentality that has us thinking of our enemies in ways the Sermon on the Mount strictly forbids. But pastors who proclaim the freedom from sin and abundant life in Christ lay groundwork for zeal for life, not just for winning political battles. A gospel-driven pro-life …
“We see that our whole salvation and all its parts are comprehended in Christ. We should therefore take care not to derive the least portion of it from anywhere else. If we seek salvation, we are taught by the very name of Jesus that it is of him. If we seek any other gifts of the Spirit, they will be found in his anointing. If we seek strength, it lies in his dominion; if purity, in his conception; if gentleness, it appears in his birth. For by his birth he was made like us in all respects, that he might learn to feel our pain. If we seek redemption, it lies in his passion; if acquittal, in his condemnation; if remission of the curse, in his cross; if satisfaction, in his sacrifice; if purification, in his blood; if reconciliation, in his descent into hell; if mortification of the flesh, in his tomb; if newness of life, in his resurrection; if immortality, in the same; if inheritance of the Heavenly Kingdom, in his entrance into heaven; if protection, if security, if abundant supply of all blessings, in his Kingdom; if untroubled expectation of judgment, in the power given to him to judge. In short, since rich store of every kind of good abounds in him, let us drink our fill from this fountain, and from no other.”– John Calvin, Institutes, 2.16.19.
I have been studying the history of abortion for about a year now, and one thing that I have confronted is that there are no “good old days” when people treated other human beings, unborn or born, with the dignity and respect those bearing the image of God deserve. Our history is filled with violence upon the young for the sake of the mature, it is just a different kind of violence to a slightly older human being. If anything, modern abortion is a sanitized version of an old evil. If the garbage bins of public streets were littered with the bodies of newborns rather than the “medical waste” of the unborn perhaps it would be unnecessary to explain to a self-professed “pro-life” gentleman why that identification impacts his daily life as I recently had to do. Perhaps the grim reality of the world we live in would be clearer to him. Seeing the daily killing of newborns is harder to live with than hearing about the statistics of the daily deaths of the unborn.
Though the past offers us no refuge to which we can point and say,”if only we could get back there”, we can at minimum remind our friends and adversaries that the laws once served to limit evil and inform our people of the nature of abortion. It would be easier to say that abortion has always been around so lets make it safe, but we would scoff at the …
“The Church exists for no other purpose but to draw men into Christ. . . If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became man for no other purpose. It is even doubtful, you know, whether the whole universe was created for any other reason.”
– C.S. Lewis