Except in a slapdash way

May 15, 2015 | Ray Ortlund

“I always see the death’s head lurking.  I could be sitting at Madison Square Garden at the most exciting basketball game, and they’re cheering and everything is thrilling, and one of the players is doing something very beautiful — and my thought will be: ‘He’s only twenty-eight years old and I only wish he could savor this moment in some way, because, you know, this is as good as it’s going to get for him.’ . . . The fundamental thing behind all motivation and all activity is the constant struggle against annihilation and against death.  It’s absolutely stupefying in its terror, and it renders anyone’s accomplishments meaningless.  As Camus wrote, it’s not only that he dies or that man dies, but that you struggle to do a work of art that will last and then realize that the universe itself is not going to exist after a period of time.  Until those issues are resolved within each person — religiously or psychologically or existentially — the social and political issues will never be resolved, except in a slapdash way.”

Woody Allen, quoted in Frank Rich, “Woody Allen Wipes the Smile off his Face,” Esquire, May 1977, page 75.

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What does it mean to “accept Jesus”?

May 13, 2015 | Ray Ortlund

Hands up

“You turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.”  1 Thessalonians 1:9

You and I are not integrated, unified, whole persons.  Our hearts are multi-divided.  There is something like a board room in every heart.  Big table.  Leather chairs.  Coffee.  Bottled water.  Whiteboard.  A committee sits around the table.  There is the social self, the private self, the work self, the sexual self, the recreational self, the religious self, the childhood memories self, and many others.  The committee is arguing and debating and voting.  Constantly agitated and upset.  Rarely can they come to a unanimous, wholehearted decision.

We are like that.  We tell ourselves it’s because we are so busy, with so many responsibilities.  The truth is, we are just indecisive.  We are held back by small thoughts of Jesus.

A person in this condition can “accept Jesus” in either of two ways.  One way is to invite him onto the committee.  Give Jesus a vote too.  But then he is just one influence among many.  This way of inviting Jesus into one’s life is common here in the Bible Belt.  But it isn’t Christianity, as defined by the New Testament.  The other way to “accept Jesus” is to say to him, “My life isn’t working.  Please come in and fire my committee, every last one of them.  I hand myself over to you now.  Please run my whole life for me.  Show me how that works.”  That is not complication; that is salvation.

“Accepting Jesus” is not just adding Jesus.  It is also subtracting the idols.

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Winwood, Clapton

May 12, 2015 | Ray Ortlund

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“I went all the way back”

May 12, 2015 | Ray Ortlund


“Later on in my ministry I faced another crisis that equally influenced the writing of my books.  It came after I had already been a pastor for ten years in the U.S. and a missionary to Europe for five years.  Throughout this period one thing was dinned into my thinking: ‘Why,’ I asked, ‘is there so little reality among orthodox evangelical Christians?  Why is there so little beauty in the way Christians deal with one another?’

This led to doubt about the reality of spiritual things in my own life.  I realized that although I had been studying for years and although I had been active in Christian ministry and although I was becoming more and more known in certain Christian circles, the reality of my own spiritual life was diminished.  Somehow I had lost what I had when I first became a Christian.

For about two months I walked out in the Swiss mountains.  When it rained, I walked in the old hayloft above our chalet.  And as I prayed, I went all the way back to my agnosticism.  With as much honesty as I could, I asked myself, ‘Was I right in becoming a Christian as a young man?’  The unreality I had found in the Christian world, the ugliness I saw in Christian relationships, the fact that Christians were not able to talk to twentieth-century people — all these made me ask, ‘Was I right?'”

Francis A. Schaeffer, “Why and how I write my books,” Eternity Magazine, March 1973.

I am grateful for Christian history.  It shows me I am not alone, as I see how God has helped others.  They make my own path a little less dark.

Some years ago I faced a crisis similar to Schaeffer’s.  For the first time in my life I had to wonder, “Maybe I’ve been wrong all along.  I thought God loved me.  But maybe the truth is, God hates my guts.  After all, look at the facts.”  Certain experiences in Christian circles confronted me with realities so opposite to everything I had always believed that I had to rethink at a foundational level.  I had to account, especially, for two things.  One, Why isn’t God more real among us, more satisfying to us?  Two, Why is there so little beauty, so much ugliness, in how we treat one another?

I came to see that these two problems are interrelated.  There is a reason why people who believe God is love (1 John 4:7-8) treat one another with unlove.  The reason is not a lack of biblical orthodoxy about God.  The reason is a lack of personal reality with God.  A theoretical God of love can be defended as a doctrinal concept, even while being denied as a practical reality.  But unreality with God inevitably shows: “And when they are hungry, they will be enraged and will speak contemptuously against their king and their God” (Isaiah 8:21).

If our hearts are not filled with the love of God, mere orthodoxy about God cannot suffice.  Indeed, our orthodoxy about God only intensifies our frustration and rage, because we are experiencing less than we know is real.  But if our spiritual starvation diet goes undiagnosed and unremedied, we inevitably reveal our soul-deprivation toward God by the horrible ways we mistreat one another.  That is when we orthodox Christians can become as harsh and brutal as a radical leftist.  But our orthodoxy justifies it.

Reality with God and beauty with one another — these two dynamics always go together.  When our churches and ministries lapse into a boring routine, empty deep within, but interrupted by occasional spasms of injury toward one another, we are revealing that our personal communion with God has eroded.  And that isn’t enough to fill our souls.  We will lash out.

The only remedy is to go back.  In humility and honesty, we must retrace our steps and figure out how we departed from the Lord and how we have wronged others.  We cannot hope for blessing in the future until we seek God’s forgiveness for the past, reengaging with him and reconciling with others, setting our feet back on the path of an honest walk with God, according to the gospel, moment-by-moment.  Then we are free to face the future with expectancy.

The vertical and the horizontal are always inseparable.  God himself has made it so.

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He has the power to cleanse

May 10, 2015 | Ray Ortlund


“I do believe and confess that Christ’s condemnation is my absolution, that his crucifying is my deliverance, his descending into hell is my ascending into heaven, his death is my life, his blood is my cleansing and purging, by whom only I am washed, purified and cleansed from all my sins, so that I neither receive nor believe any other purgatory, either in this world or in the other, whereby I am purged, but only the blood of Jesus Christ, by which all are purged and made clean forever.”

Bishop John Hooper, quoted in Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, Theology of the English Reformers (London, 1965), page 65, style updated.

Self-invented punishment does not cleanse.  Christ alone cleanses.  Christ all by himself.  Now and forever.  And on terms of grace.

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Anything really there?

May 09, 2015 | Ray Ortlund


Behold, they are all a delusion;
their works are nothing;
their metal images are empty wind. Isaiah 41:29

“I think one may be quite rid of the old haunting suspicion — which raises its head in every temptation — that there is something else than God, some other country into which he forbids us to trespass, some kind of delight which he ‘doesn’t appreciate’ or just chooses to forbid, but which would be real delight if only we were allowed to get it.  The thing just isn’t there.  Whatever we desire is either what God is trying to give us as quickly as he can, or else a false picture of what he is trying to give us, a false picture which would not attract us for a moment if we saw the real thing. . . . He knows what we want, even in our vilest acts.  He is longing to give it to us. . . . The truth is that evil is not a real thing at all, like God.  It is simply good spoiled. . . . You know what the biologists mean by a parasite — an animal that lives on another animal.  Evil is a parasite.  It is there only because good is there for it to spoil and confuse.”

C. S. Lewis, in Walter Hooper, editor, They Stand Together (New York, 1979), page 465.  Italics original.

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“We’ll have to do this just by our music”

May 08, 2015 | Ray Ortlund


Sunday night our dear friends Matt and Kara Phillip took Jani and me to see John Fogerty in concert here in Nashville.  He was great.  At one point he explained that, when Creedence started out, they were with a minor record label, and a jazz label at that.  They had no big money behind them.  They had no publicist.  They had no agent.  So they looked at each other and said, “We’ll have to do this just by our music.”

I respect that.  Not propped up by the industry, these guys from California made an impact by the sheer force of who they really were.  CCR was not an echo of the times.  They weren’t flower children, like other bands who were becoming increasingly conformist and secondary and derivative.  CCR was blue collar, country, basic, with no artificial overlays.  They had something of their own to say.  They were too real to be ignored, and my generation paid attention.

So I sat there at the concert thinking, “Thank you, Lord, for Immanuel Church Nashville.”  We started out with nothing but the gospel and our need for the grace of the Lord.  He was with us.  He is with us.  It has caught on.  I guess it’s too real to be ignored.  It’s the kind of church I’ve been dreaming of since the early days of Creedence.

I am so grateful.

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Collin Hansen, Blind Spots

May 06, 2015 | Ray Ortlund

Find out more about Collin’s book here.

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The full enjoyment is coming soon

May 05, 2015 | Ray Ortlund

“Then the church shall be brought to the full enjoyment of her bridegroom, having all tears wiped away from her eyes, and there shall be no more distance or absence.  She shall then be brought to the entertainments of an eternal wedding feast, and to dwell forever with her bridegroom, yea, to dwell eternally in his embraces.  Then Christ will give her his loves, and she shall drink her fill, yea, she shall swim in the ocean of his love.”

Jonathan Edwards, “The Church’s Marriage to her Sons and to her God,” in Works (Edinburgh, 1979), II:22.

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May 01, 2015 | Ray Ortlund

In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”  Luke 10:21

“Our Savior’s joy lay very much in this, that this revelation to men was being made through such humble instruments.  We read that ‘He lifted up his eyes to his disciples and said, Blessed be ye poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.’  There was not among the twelve or the seventy one person of any social status.  They were the common people of the field and the sea. . . . The grandest era in the world’s history was ushered in by nobodies, by persons who, like their Leader, were despised and rejected of men.”

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Treasury of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, 1950), I:793.  Italics added.

Don’t underestimate what God can do through your church.  The grandest era of all is still to come, and the Lord will bring it in through nobodies like us.

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