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The disturbing toll

Jan 02, 2015 | Ray Ortlund

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“Beyond Whitefield’s methods of preparation, Cornelius Winter emphasized the remarkable atmospherics of Whitefield’s oratory: ‘It would be only by hearing him, and by beholding his attitude and his tears, that a person could well conceive of the effect . . . He had a most peculiar art of speaking personally to you, in a congregation of four thousand people.’  With a style polished by decades of practice, Whitefield almost never stumbled upon a word, and he exhibited deep emotion, often lifting his hands high, stamping his feet, and weeping.  Critics saw the tears as stagecraft, but Winter thought this unfair.  Sometimes he wept so bitterly that the audience wondered whether he could regain his composure, but he always did.  Winter also noticed the disturbing toll that preaching took on Whitefield in his later years; he routinely vomited ‘a vast discharge from the stomach, usually with a considerable quantity of blood,’ after stepping down from the pulpit.”

Thomas S. Kidd, George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father (New Haven, 2014), pages 240-241.

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Lambs in the midst of wolves

Dec 31, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

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Behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.  Luke 10:3

“He does not keep back from them the dangers and trials which are before them.  He does not enlist them under false pretenses, or prophesy smooth things, or promise them unvarying success.  He tells them plainly what they must expect.”  J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Luke (Grand Rapids, n.d.), page 346.

There is a reason why the Lord said what he said in Luke 10:3.  Some people are wolf-ish.  They will never accept a minister of the gospel, because they do not love the Lord of the gospel.  They join our churches.  They even become leaders.  But their nature within is wolf-ish – hungry, cunning, attacking.

Some pastors reading this post are encircled by wolves.  My brother, here are three things to remember right now.

One, if the prospect of encountering a harmful person deters us from following the call of Christ, then we are not true pastors: “He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd . . . sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees” (John 10:12).  A true pastor accepts what the Lord said in Luke 10:3 and stays true to the call.

Two, some people are unsatisfied, because they are unsatisfiable.  Their heartburn about you isn’t about you.  The problem is this.  As you preach the glory of Christ, they sense his claims encroaching on their claims in “their church.”  They criticize you for this and for that.  And maybe they have a point.  But your real crime is that Christ is at work through your ministry: “We are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.  Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Corinthians 2:15-16).

Three, the Lord is with you.  He who warned you is also committed to you: “But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it.  So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth.  The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom.  To him be the glory forever and ever.  Amen” (2 Timothy 4:17-18).

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My all-time favorite post

Dec 29, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

Gospel + safety + time.  It’s what everyone needs.  A lot of gospel + a lot of safety + a lot of time.

Gospel: good news for bad people through the finished work of Christ on the cross and the endless power of the Holy Spirit.  Multiple exposures.  Constant immersion.  Wave upon wave of grace and truth, according to the Bible.

Safety: a non-accusing environment.  No finger-pointing.  No embarrassing anyone.  No manipulation.  No oppression.  No condescension.  But respect and sympathy and understanding, where sinners can confess and unburden their souls.

Time: no pressure.  Not even self-imposed pressure.  No deadlines on growth.  Urgency, but not hurry, because no one changes quickly.  A lot of space for complicated people to rethink their lives at a deep level.  God is patient.

This is what our churches must be: gentle environments of gospel + safety + time.  It’s where we’re finally free to grow.

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Is your church functionally liberal?

Dec 26, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

“It is one thing to hear God’s Word.  It is another to fear it, heeding all God’s warnings, trusting all God’s promises, and obeying all God’s commands.”

Philip Graham Ryken, Jeremiah and Lamentations (Wheaton, 2001), page 551.

The liberal churches I’ve known are not openly hostile to the Bible.  They like the Bible.  They want their preacher to use the Bible.  They have home Bible studies.  What makes them “liberal” is that the Bible alone is not what rules them.  They allow into their doctrine, their ethos, their decisions, other complicating factors.  The Bible is revered, in a way.  But it is not the decisive factor.  It is only one voice among others.

This lack of clarity allows unbiblical ideas and behavior to get traction.  In a liberal church no one stands up, with an open Bible in his hand, and says, “Hey guys, we just don’t say/do things like that around here.  It isn’t biblical.”  That simple clarity just doesn’t exist in such a church.  There is no authority towering over all else, rallying the people to the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  Only the Word of God, received with meekness, can prevent a church from sinking lower and lower into mediocrity, irrelevance, conflict and sheer boredom.

Is the dominant mentality of your church functionally liberal?  Whatever your church’s commitment might be on paper, what is it that, in real terms, leads and guides and defines your church culture?  All our churches should see themselves as potentially unfaithful.

We who lead are responsible to keep our churches in constant, repentant realignment with Scripture alone.  The only effective safeguard against spiritual erosion is not our doctrinal statement on paper but personally to swallow the Word whole.  We must never stop being eager to learn and change and grow under the Sunday-by-Sunday impact of biblical preaching.  Let’s keep on following the Lord, according to his Word alone, going further with him than we’ve ever gone before, further than we’ve ever dreamed of going.

As we enter the new year of grace, 2015, let’s humble ourselves before the Word of God.  After all, the message of this unique Book is good news for bad people through the finished work of Christ on the cross and the endless power of the Holy Spirit.

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Immanuel

Dec 23, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

“‘Immanuel, God with us.’  It is hell’s terror.  Satan trembles at the sound of it. . . . Let him come to you suddenly, and do you but whisper that word, ‘God with us,’ back he falls, confounded and confused. . . . ‘God with us’ is the laborer’s strength.  How could he preach the gospel, how could he bend his knees in prayer, how could the missionary go into foreign lands, how could the martyr stand at the stake, how could the confessor own his Master, how could men labor if that one word were taken away? . . . ‘God with us’ is eternity’s sonnet, heaven’s hallelujah, the shout of the glorified, the song of the redeemed, the chorus of the angels, the everlasting oratorio of the great orchestra of the sky. . . .

Feast, Christians, feast; you have a right to feast. . . . But in your feasting, think of the Man in Bethlehem.  Let him have a place in your hearts, give him the glory, think of the virgin who conceived him, but think most of all of the Man born, the Child given.

I finish by again saying, A happy Christmas to you all!

C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of the Old Testament (London, n.d.), III:430.

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Spiritual awakening: what we need now

Dec 21, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

HT: Buddy Lewis

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The pristine glory and beauty

Dec 20, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

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“When God shall be pleased to give unto the people who are called by his name, in a more abundant manner, ‘pastors after his own heart, to feed them with knowledge and understanding,’ when he shall revive and increase a holy, humble, zealous, self-denying, powerful ministry by a more plentiful effusion [outpouring] of his Spirit from above, then, and not until then, may we hope to see the pristine glory and beauty of our religion restored unto its primitive state and condition.”

John Owen, Works (Edinburgh, 1979), VII:195.

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The wisdom from above

Dec 18, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

HT: Thabiti Anyabwile

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You

Dec 17, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

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“Do not say, ‘I am only a youth.'”  Jeremiah 1:7

Every one of us has a counter-argument to the call of God.  “No, Lord.  I am only a _________.”  But what God said to Jeremiah he says to you: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you” (Jeremiah 1:5).  You don’t define yourself.  God does.  And he never has a trivial thought.  He’s not capable of it.

God also said, “To all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak.  Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 1:7-8).  You have been sent into this world by God.  You have a mission.  He handmade you for it.  He is with you every day to deliver you.  Do not be afraid.

To fulfill your destiny, you don’t need to mimic someone else’s identity, someone who seems to matter more than you do.  The you that you are by creation and redemption in Christ – that basic you is not fundamentally a problem; that you is fundamentally a strategy.

Being who you are is a privilege from God.  Trust him.  Rise up, speak, serve, move, contribute, as only you can.  In the great plan of God, this is your moment.

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George Whitefield, 1714-1770

Dec 16, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

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“God can send a nation or people no greater blessing than to give them faithful, sincere and upright ministers.”

George Whitefield, in J. C. Ryle, Select Sermons of George Whitefield, page 75.

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