Mercy, justice and revival

Dec 04, 2014 | Ray Ortlund


In thinking through how to promote the cause of real, biblical revival, Jonathan Edwards urged prayer and fasting, first and foremost.  But he also pointed out that prayer, while vitally important, is less personally costly to us than “moral duties, such as acts of righteousness, truth, meekness, forgiveness and love towards our neighbor, which are of much greater importance in the sight of God than all the externals of his worship.”  Our hearts before God are the essence of true faith, Edwards agreed.  But costly acts of sacrifice, service and advocacy for others are more directly opposite to our natural selfishness and are, therefore, more striking in the sight of God.  He cited Luke 3:1-17 and how John the Baptist called the people to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance” and thus prepare the way of the Lord.  Then Edwards wrote:

“If God’s people in this land were once brought to abound in such deeds of love, as much as in praying, hearing, singing, and religious meetings and conference, it would be a most blessed omen.  Nothing would have a greater tendency to bring the God of love down from heaven to earth, so amiable would be the sight in the eyes of our loving and exalted Redeemer, that it would soon as it were fetch him down from his throne in heaven, to set up his tabernacle with men on the earth and dwell with them.  I do not remember ever to have read of any remarkable outpouring of the Spirit, that continued any long time, but what was attended with an abounding in this duty.”

Jonathan Edwards, “Thoughts on the Revival,” in Works (Edinburgh, 1979), I:429.

True revival is not a private religious joyride.  It is a divine power for change, starting with us Christians who not only pray but also act generously and boldly for the sake of others.

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Revival and money?

Dec 02, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?  Luke 16:11

We are accustomed to the biblical message that we should trust God.  But here is another — smaller and subordinate, but still important — category: that God would trust us.  If we are not faithful (pistoi) with money, which is unrighteous and not worth much, who will entrust (pisteusei) to us the true riches of spiritual wealth and power?  In other words, if we can’t handle cheap things wisely, why would God put far more precious things into our hands?

I wonder if we have connected these dots: our prayers for revival, and our use of money.  We cannot buy the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:18-20).  But how we use our money is one indicator, in God’s sight, of our maturity and wisdom and readiness and trustworthiness with greater things, like revival.  Francis Schaeffer:

“The ‘true riches’ [of Luke 16:11] obviously have nothing to do with money.  To have spiritual power to overcome the awfulness of the post-Christian world — that is true riches.  The church is constantly saying, ‘Where’s our power? Where’s our power?’  Jesus’ statement here gives us at least part of the answer.  We must use money with a view to what counts in eternity.  If a child cannot take his father’s money, go to the store, purchase what is requested and return home with the change, it does not make sense for the father to increase his allowance.  So since . . . the money we handle is not our own, if we do not bring it under the lordship of Christ, we will not be given the greater wealth of spiritual power.”

Francis A. Schaeffer, “Ash heap lives,” in No Little People (Downers Grove, 1974), page 266.

Can we in this generation be trusted with the glorious powers of revival?  God assesses us not only by listening to how we pray and plead but also by looking at how we spend and give.

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Happy Thanksgiving

Nov 26, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.  For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.  1 Timothy 4:1-5

As Francis Schaeffer used to remind us, the devil rarely gives us the luxury of fighting on one front only.  We see a monster in front of us wanting to devour us, and we back away in dread.  But if we’re not careful, we might walk right into the jaws of another monster right behind us.  We usually fight on two fronts at once.

Today we fight the danger of materialism.  But let’s not overlook the danger of asceticism, which denies the goodness of God in the creation.  This ultra-serious “holiness” is attractive, in a way.  But it is premised in an audacious lie.

The truth is, “everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.”  This beautiful truth includes marriage and food and mowing the lawn and flying a kite and paying the bills and sharpening a pencil and sitting on the porch in the evening and playing Monopoly with the kids and laughing at hilarious jokes and setting up chairs at church, and on and on and on.  There is so much divine goodness all around.  To push it away, to be above it, would insult our gracious Creator.

Our earthly human existence is where true holiness thrives.  How?  By thanking the Lord for his gifts moment by moment, and by applying the word of God to them moment by moment: “. . . for it is made holy by the word of God [Genesis 1:31] and prayer [the giving of thanks, mentioned in verses 3 and 4].”

Good enough for God, and good enough for us, for the good is transformed into the holy.

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What would it be like?

Nov 25, 2014 | Ray Ortlund


I condemn looting and burning.  But many people not looting and burning are in anguish today.  And I want to say something to those who don’t understand that anguish.

Some years ago I went through the experience of being falsely accused in a significant way.  In that setting there arose around me an aura of suspicion, a guilty-until-proven-innocent bias, an environment in which even my reasonable self-defense was construed as self-righteous denial and therefore further evidence against me, a Kafka-esque hell of fingers pointed in a frenzy of merciless judgments, and facts didn’t matter, truth didn’t matter, the Bible didn’t matter.  The only thing that would suffice and satisfy was my execution.

One of the many benefits of that experience was the moment when this thought occurred to me: “Oh, so this is what it’s like to get lynched.”

But what would it be like to live my whole lifetime in that environment?  What would it be like to face the already-existing challenges of life, and make a living, and try to get ahead, and raise a family with dignity, and communicate hope to my children, and stand tall myself, when all the while I’m carrying the stigma of being the one who, if at any point I don’t conform to the larger group, will be categorized outside the bounds of social acceptability and excluded and penalized in various ways?  If that were my lifetime reality, as it is for so many, I would carry in my heart a reservoir of anguish that would spill over every time I saw others suffering in such ways.

Therefore, I now see my personal initiation of some years ago as a blessing.  It opened my eyes.  It made my heart reach out to sufferers with deeper identification and sympathy.  It armed me with indignation at the mistreatment of others.  It made me a better man, because, above all else, it drew me nearer to the cross of Jesus.

Within the larger agony our nation is suffering right now, my personal account is immeasurably small.  But those of us who can tell similar stories don’t wonder any more about the woe that others are feeling.  We condemn looting and burning.  But we aren’t offended or even mystified by the sorrow.  It makes perfect sense.

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A real coronation

Nov 21, 2014 | Ray Ortlund


“When Christ uttered, in the judgment hall of Pilate, the remarkable words – ‘I am a king,’ he pronounced a sentiment fraught with unspeakable dignity and power.  His enemies might deride his pretensions and express their mockery of his claim by presenting him with a crown of thorns, a reed and a purple robe, and nailing him to the cross; but in the eyes of unfallen intelligences, he was a king.  A higher power presided over that derisive ceremony and converted it into a real coronation.  That crown of thorns was indeed the diadem of empire; that purple robe was the badge of royalty; that fragile reed was the symbol of unbounded power; and that cross the throne of dominion which shall never end.”

J. L. Reynolds, quoted in Mark Dever, The Church: The Gospel Made Visible (Nashville, 2012), page 77, footnote 33.

HT:  Matt Smethurst

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This is that mystery

Nov 18, 2014 | Ray Ortlund


“This is that mystery which is rich in divine grace to sinners: wherein by a wonderful exchange our sins are no longer ours but Christ’s, and the righteousness of Christ not Christ’s but ours.  He has emptied himself of his righteousness that he might clothe us with it and fill us with it; and he has taken our evils upon himself that he might deliver us from them.”

“Learn Christ and him crucified.  Learn to pray to him and, despairing of yourself, say, ‘Thou, Lord Jesus, art my righteousness, but I am thy sin.  Thou hast taken upon thyself what is mine and hast given to me what is thine.  Thou hast taken upon thyself what thou wast not and hast given to me what I was not.'”

Martin Luther, quoted in J. I. Packer and Mark Dever, In My Place Condemned He Stood (Wheaton, 2008), page 85, footnote 31.

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The most important thing about any church

Nov 13, 2014 | Ray Ortlund


As Immanuel Nashville ramps up for the Paul Tripp marriage seminar this weekend, this was my devotional at the meeting of our elders and deacons last evening:

The most important thing about any church is not their structure, their governance, their systems, their musical style, not even the nuances of their theology within a gospel framework, whether Baptistic or Presbyterian or Anglican.  Those things matter.  But the most important thing about any church is its spirit.

We at Immanuel are poised for a significant surge forward in our impact.  Our Peace in the City campaign could be, in the hand of God, a catalyst for that strong move forward in many people’s lives.  We are praying for that.  We are praying for his grace in more people’s marriages.  We are praying for less misery and more romance, to the praise of the glory of his grace.

As we come to this momentous weekend, every man here has practical tasks to do, to make the Paul Tripp event successful.  Let’s do our best.  But we are aiming for more than a successful event – not less, but more.  We have in our hearts – this is essential to Immanuel – we have in our hearts a certain spirit.  Moses summed it up simply: “Please show me your glory” (Exodus 33:18).

Moses prayed that wonderful prayer as Israel was poised for new advance too.  God was sending them into the Promised Land, but he said that he would not go with them.  So the people mourned (Exodus 33:1-4).  They would take the Promised Land, but they would not have the Promised One.  Moses couldn’t bear the thought of success without the Lord.  He said to God, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here.  For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people?  Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” (Exodus 33:15-16).  Any nation, with enough guts and cunning, can capture a land.  Any group today, with enough boldness and smarts, can host a successful event.  And, as I said, we want to do our best this weekend.  But our spirit is to reach for more.  We long for the display of God’s glory among us.  We are Ground Zero for broken people to experience the resurrection life of Jesus.  And that goes way beyond the best that we can do.  It is his glory.  And we love his glory, and we pray for his glory.  And that Godward heart is the most important thing about this church.  God will bless that yearning.  God is able to put his hand on this church in such a way that he broadcasts to the world, “This is mine.  I am in this.  And anyone can come and be made new by my glory here.”  That is when a church becomes a city set on a hill that cannot be hidden (Matthew 5:14).

“Please show me your glory” is our greatest prayer.  It is asking the Lord to blow us away with his grace and mercy to the undeserving, so that we worship him and live for him and obey him with joyous new boldness.  And the watching world begins to think, “My life has fallen apart, and I need no one less than God to pick up the pieces.  So that church is where I will go, because God is obviously there.”

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Nov 12, 2014 | Ray Ortlund


“Dr. Malcolm C. Grow, the Eighth Air Force’s chief surgeon, told air intelligence investigators, ‘[These men] are not interested in democracy or freedom; they are interested in their buddies or their team.  The teams are the closest knit things that you have ever seen.’  As Fortress gunner Jack Novey recalled: ‘I can’t explain why we bomber crews, without any gung ho attitude at all, would put our lives on the line mission after mission against the terrible odds of those days. . . . Even when my fears were about to overwhelm me, even when I was physically sick, I kept flying my missions.  I didn’t want to let my crewmates down.  I would rather have been dead.”

Quoted in Donald A. Miller, Masters of the Air: America’s Bomber Boys who Fought the Air War against Nazi Germany (New York, 2007), pages 88-89.

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The expansion of the soul

Nov 11, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

Dr. J. I. Packer
“I want to see a focused vision of spiritual maturity — the expansion of the soul is the best phrase I can use for it.  That is, a renewed sense of the momentousness of being alive, the sheer bigness and awesomeness of being a human being alive in God’s world with light, with grace, with wisdom, with responsibility, with biblical truth.”

J. I. Packer, quoted in Christianity Today, 6 April 1998, page 40.

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Trouble soon be over

Nov 09, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

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