Monthly Archives: June 2011

The Missional Calvin

“Calvin so believed in the importance of the everyday activities of Christian life and mission that he had a strange but telling practice in Geneva. He was eager to see Jesus’ church gathered on Sundays, but he was not happy for his flock to retreat from everyday life and hide within the walls of the church during the week. So to prod his congregants to be fully engaged in their city of Geneva — in their families, in their jobs, with their neighbors and coworkers — he locked the church doors during the week. It must have been hard not to get the point. He knew the place of God’s people — gathered together to worship on Sunday, but during the week not hidden away behind thick walls of separation, but on mission together in God’s world, laboring to bring the gospel to metro Geneva in their words and actions, in all their roles and relationships.”

– David Mathis, in the “Introduction” to Mathis and John Piper’s With Calvin in the Theater of God (p. 23)

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The Power of the Gospel’s "Already" and "Not Yet" for Right Now

Malachi 1:1-5:

1The oracle of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi. 2 “I have loved you,” says the LORD. But you say, “How have you loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob 3but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.” 4If Edom says, “We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,” the LORD of hosts says, “They may build, but I will tear down, and they will be called ‘the wicked country,’ and ‘the people with whom the LORD is angry forever.’” 5 Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, “Great is the LORD beyond the border of Israel!”

There is past tense and then future tense. There is “I have loved you” and there is “Your own eyes shall see . . .”

God through Malachi is addressing a half-hearted, spiritually corrupt covenant community. They have predicated their polluted religion on all that God is not presently doing. They are struggling financially and politically. They are muddling through while their enemies seem to prosper.

And God doesn’t say, “Hey, look around. Everything’s great!” He knows “looking around” is their problem. He beckons them to look back and to look forward.

This is a great reminder to us about how the gospel empowers us for daily living, even when we are in a bind or grind. When our world appears to be falling apart. When …

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God’s Grandeur

Why is nature never spent? Because he upholds the universe by the word of his power.

God’s GrandeurGerard Manley Hopkins

THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out, like shining from shook foil; It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod? Generations have trod, have trod, have trod; And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil; And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent; There lives the dearest freshness deep down things; And though the last lights off the black West went Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs— Because the Holy Ghost over the bent World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

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Grace-Driven Friendship

This is a follow-up to some previous thoughts on friendship, and, if you haven’t already, you should read that first post because this one builds on it.

I am still thinking through how to think in a gospel-centered way about the idea that “needy” people make terrible friends. To repeat Douglas Wilson’s line:

Someone who desperately “needs a friend” will rarely make a good friend. A friend is one who overflows, not one who sucks everyone dry around him.

Yet improperly understood, it can sound as though the point of friendship is only to get, not to give. This is not what that Wilson means, nor what this Wilson means. What I believe we’re doing is just being honest about the way friendship is really forged. When an emotional vacuum of a human being requests — oh, let’s be honest: when they passive-aggressively demand — friendship, they are not positioning themselves as a potential friend, but as a patient. They are not looking for a friend, but a therapist, a supplier, a functional savior.

To be clear, you can be a friend to this person. But it is not likely you can be friends with them. They are takers, not givers.

That said, while a real friend is not predicated on neediness, a real friend is not someone who never needs you. What comes to mind is when a friend is hurting, grieving, or going through some other difficulty. I certainly don’t feel like they’ve stopped being my friend; I don’t feel put out …

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Thoughts on Friendship

I’ve been thinking with focus about a particular subject for the last 3 years now but, far as I remember, have not written on it yet. That subject is friendship.

I was spurred to write last year (but didn’t) after an exercise David Powlison put us through at a conference I attended in White River Junction, VT. David had us write down the names of the three people we trust the most. (Mine were: Becky, Dale C., and David M.) Then he asked us to write down what they had in common. The main thing these three people had in common — for the record, they are my wife, a friend here in Vermont, and a friend in Nashville, respectively — was that I could spend time with them without feeling like they needed something from me.

This isn’t exactly true, of course. My wife does need things from me, very specific things, and so do Dale and David, but none of them in the sense that I think of them as “needy,” which as a minister is pretty much the chief way I distinguish between people I trust and people who are trusting me. Which is to say, it is how I distinguish between friends and everybody else.

I didn’t write about this at the time because I wasn’t sure it was actually a very gospel-rich approach to friendship. Is a friend really somebody who doesn’t need you?In a sense, though, I think it is. And more recently, two literary encounters …

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The Chief End of Christian Liberty

[W]hat do you say when your son wants to smoke cigars? And you do not mind cigars, but the thought of your seventeen-year-old smoking one is troublesome, or comic, or both. And suppose he is asking in the name of Christian liberty? “Dad, we left that fundamentalist church five years ago!”

The end or purpose of Christian liberty is not to smoke or drink; liberty is given for the pursuit of holiness. Those who wave the banner of Christian liberty so that they might do whatever they might want to do have not understood the doctrine at all. The point is not to drink or smoke or dance according to our own whims, in the light of our own wisdom, but to do whatever we do before the Lord, with the increase of joy and holiness obvious to all. Our guide on how this is to be done is the Bible, and not our pet evangelical traditions. And this is why the mature may drink wine to the glory of God, and the same cannot be applied to young men who may be more concerned about looking cool than being holy . . .

Young men rarely agitate for their liberties while serving others in love. They are usually after their own jollies, tinglies, and whatnot.

– Douglas Wilson, Future Men (Canon Press, 2001) 77, 79.

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It is Not a Sin to Seek Happiness

From John Piper:

Blaise Pascal was a French mathematical genius who was born June 19, 1623. After running from God until he was 31 years old, on November 23, 1654 at 10:30 pm, Pascal met God and was profoundly and unshakably converted to Jesus Christ. He wrote it down on a piece of parchment and sewed into his coat where it was found after his death eight years later. It said,

Year of grace 1654, Monday 23 November, feast of St. Clement . . . from about half past ten at night to about half an hour after midnight, FIRE. God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of philosophers and scholars. Certitude, heartfelt joy, peace. God of Jesus Christ. God of Jesus Christ. “My God and your God.” . . . Joy, Joy, Joy, tears of joy. . . Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ. May I never be separated from him.

In 1968 Pascal and C. S. Lewis and Jonathan Edwards and Dan Fuller and the Bible teamed up to change my life forever with those words, “Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy.” Here’s how Pascal blew away my resistance to joy.

All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.

I suspected this …

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Like They’ve Never Really Heard It Before

First, [Martyn Lloyd-Jones] says, it must be “real preaching,” and he later explains that this means preaching done by someone who is gifted to speak to larger groups. And that is a rub. As someone who taught preaching in seminary, I know that only a fraction of the students coming through seminary showed promise of having such gifts.

There are indeed many “incarnational” approaches to ministry that do not require a gifted speaker, and we should use them all. In fact, I would argue that in a post-Christian culture, preaching will not be effective in the gathered assembly if Christians are not also highly effective in their scattered state. In our times, people will be indifferent or hostile to the idea of attending church services without positive contact with Christians living out their lives in love and service. Therefore the incarnational “dispersed” ministry of the church is extremely vital and necessary.

Nevertheless, it is a mistake to argue that people in our society will not come to hear “real preaching.” The fact is that, even in a very post-Christian city, if the preaching is of high quality, people will be brought and will come back. They will be shocked at how convicting and attractive the gospel message is, and they will feel like they’ve never really heard it before (even if they have been raised in a church).


HT: Zach Hoag

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The "Logres" and a Redemptive View of Place

This is an excerpt from my current work in progress, a book coming from Crossway in fall of next year tentatively titled Grace Upon Grace: The Many Glories of the One Gospel. This portion is from a longer exploration of God’s redeeming purposes in the world through Christ’s redemptive work, and our place in it:

God owns all places, let’s not forget. “[T]here is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence,” Abraham Kuyper reminds us, “over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”

It is easy to lose heart among the ruins of any place, but there’s a heritage here, a history, even if to see it we must go all the way back before the Fall to when God said this place was “good.” The gospel would have us keep that in mind, but it would also have us look forward to the day when God proves that he wins out through Christ’s atoning work, that what he declared good will be remade—sans sickness, suffering, and societal breakdown—so that it is a land befitting its Sovereign.

The gospel gives us a realistic vision of what the world has become, but it also gives us an optimistic vision of what it will one day be. As a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and a people for his own possession, we are given a redemptive view of place. Perhaps like C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams, this may lead us to …

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Suppose You Eliminate Suffering . . .

“Suppose you eliminate suffering . . . What a dreadful place the world would be! Because everything that corrects the tendency of man to feel over important and overplayed with himself would disappear. He is bad enough now, but he would be absolutely intolerable if he never suffered.”

Malcolm Muggeridge, Jesus Rediscovered (1969)

(HT: my friend Bill Dunn)

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