31 December 2014

I Want the Spirit of Glory and of God to Rest on Me

How do I get it?

Extended retreats of solitude and meditation?

Buckled down resolutions?

Fasting and prayer?

Mortification of sin?

By loving God and loving others?

I won't speak against any of these things. But according to 1 Peter 4:14 the answer is: get insulted for Jesus. "If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you."

Shame on earth, bringing glory down from heaven.

30 December 2014

The World's Eye Was Put Out

Samuel Rutherford, reflecting on the three-hour darkness from noon to 3:00 p.m. as Jesus hung on the cross:
Darkness was all in Judea when our Lord suffered. And why? Because the Candle that lighted the sun and the moon was blown out. The God-head was eclipsed, and the world's eye was put out. He took away the sun with him, as it were, to another world, when he that was the world's sun was put out. When he went out of the earth, the sun would not stay behind Him. Sun, what ails thee? 'I have not will to shine when my Lord is going to another world.' As if the sun had said to Jesus, 'Lord, if Thou be going to another world, take me with you.'
--Samuel Rutherford, in Fourteen Communion Sermons by the Rev. Samuel Rutherford, with a Preface and Notes by Rev. Andrew A. Bonar (Glasgow: Charles Glass and Co., n.d.), 286-87; quoted in Donald Macleod, Christ Crucified: Understanding the Atonement (IVP, 2014), 42

26 December 2014

Six Theses on the Bible

Excellent thoughts from my brother Gavin as we head into a new year of Bible reading.

18 December 2014

Against All Intuition

The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble bind on strength. (1 Sam 2:4)

One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. (Prov 11:24)

One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor. (Prov 29:23)

He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. (Isa 40:29)

Thus says the Lord GOD: Remove the turban and take off the crown. Things shall not remain as they are. Exalt that which is low, and bring low that which is exalted. (Ezek 21:26)

So the last will be first, and the first last. (Matt 20:16)

Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained it--the righteousness that is by faith. (Rom 9:30)

For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor 12:10)

15 December 2014

Sharing Christ with Nominal Family Members

Lovely counsel here from our brother Chris Castaldo, via the Billy Graham Center. 

21 October 2014

God's Work Begins When Ours Ends

Jack Miller, writing in 1987 to a fellow pastor under criticism--
God's work begins when ours comes to its end.

Sometimes His presence is not felt with power through our methods however useful they may be, especially when we are confident we have the right approach and insights. God has a way of wanting to be God and refusing to get too involved where we have our own wisdom and strength. Then when we run out of wisdom and strength, He is suddenly present, a lesson I find myself relearning practically every day that I am in my right mind. (On my crazy days I am not ready to learn much!)

I think He wants our confidence to be exclusively in Him, and when we lose our self-confidence then He moves in to show what He can do. Perhaps self-dependence--and forgetting the strength to be found in Christ-dependence--is always our biggest blind spot. There is also presumption and pride that go with self-reliance.

So let's not lose our trust in God and the power of His gospel and the spirit of praise which goes with its proclamation (Rom 15:13; 1 Cor 1:18, 22-25; Gal 6:14).
--Barbara Miller Juliani, ed., The Heart of a Servant Leader: Letters from Jack Miller (P&R, 2004), 200-201

20 October 2014

Confession, Freedom

HT: Sean Brown

17 October 2014

How Does the Holy Spirit Actually Produce Change in Us?

A rich and wise answer from Abraham Kuyper:
Dwelling in the elect, the Spirit does not slumber, nor does He keep an eternal Sabbath, in idleness shutting Himself up in their hearts; but as divine Worker He seeks from within to fill their individual persons, pouring the stream of His divine brightness through every space.

But we should not imagine that every believer is instantly filled and permeated. On the contrary, the Holy Spirit finds him filled with all manner of evil and treachery. . . . His method of procedure is not with divine power to force a man as though he were a stock or block, but by the power of love and compassion so to influence and energize the impulses of the feeble will that it feels the effect, is inclined, and finally consents to be the temple of the Holy Spirit. . . .

This operation is different in each person. In one it proceeds with marvelous rapidity; in another, progress is exceedingly slow, being checked by serious reaction which in some rare cases is overcome only with the last breath. There are scarcely two men in whom this gracious operation is completely the same.

It may not be denied that the Holy Spirit often meets serious opposition on the part of the saint. . . . And the Holy Spirit bears all this resistance with infinite pity, and overcomes it and casts it out with eternal mercy.

Who that is not a stranger to his own heart does not remember how many years it took before he would yield a certain point of resistance; how he always avoided facing it; restlessly opposed it, at last thought to end the matter by arranging for a sort of modus vivendi between himself and the Holy Spirit? But the Holy Spirit did not cease, gave him no rest; again and again that familiar knock was heard, the calling in his heart of that familiar voice. And after years of resistance he could not but yield in the end.
--Abraham Kuyper, The Work of the Holy Spirit (trans. Henri De Vries; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), 529–30

HT: Steve Porter

13 October 2014

The Fury of the Theologians

On April 17, 1560, Philip Melanchthon was two days away from death. He asked friends of his to take him into his study. He could not walk, but was placed in a bed in his study. There he silently looked around at his books.

He asked those gathered around for a piece of paper to be brought to him. With trembling hand he wrote on it the reasons why he was glad to die. On one side he wrote:
You shall be done with sin.
You shall be free from trouble and vexations and from the fury of the theologians.
On the other side he wrote:
You shall come into the light.
You shall see God.
You shall behold the Son of God.
You shall learn the secret mysteries which in this life you cannot understand--why we are created as we are, and what is the character of the union of the two natures of Christ.
HT: Dr. David Calhoun

09 October 2014

Man or Rabbit?

"Christianity will do you good--a great deal more good than you ever wanted or expected. And the first bit of good it will do you is to hammer into your head (you won't enjoy that!) the fact that what you have hitherto called 'good'--all that about 'leading a decent life' and 'being kind'--isn't quite the magnificent and all-important affair you supposed. It will teach you that in fact you can't be 'good' (not for 24 hours) on your own moral efforts. And then it will teach you that even if you were, you still wouldn't have achieved the purpose for which you were created. Mere morality is not the end of your life. You were made for something quite different than that. . . . Confucius simply didn't know what life is about. The people who keep on asking if they can't lead a decent life without Christ, don't know what life is about. . . .

"Morality is indispensable: but the Divine Life, which gives itself to us and which calls us to be gods, intends for us something in which morality will be swallowed up. We are to be re-made. All the rabbit in us is to disappear--the worried, conscientious, ethical rabbit as well as the cowardly and sensual rabbit. We shall bleed and squeal as the handfuls of fur come out; and then, surprisingly, we shall find underneath it all a thing we have never yet imagined: a real Man, an ageless god, a son of God, strong, radiant, wise, beautiful, and drenched in joy."

--C. S. Lewis, "Man or Rabbit?" in God in the Dock (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002; repr.), 112

06 October 2014

03 October 2014

Hold On and Hold Up

Remember this, that your life is short, your duties many, your assistance great, and your reward sure. Therefore faint not, hold on and hold up, in ways of well-doing, and heaven shall make amends for all. 
--Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices (Banner of Truth, 1968), 8

29 September 2014

An Ocean of Negative Scrutiny

How wonderful it is to come every Sunday into a liberating church! All week long we swim in an ocean of judgment and negative scrutiny. We constantly have to comply with the demands of a touchy world, and we never measure up. . . .

Then on Sunday we walk into a new kind of community where we discover an environment of grace in Christ alone. It is so refreshing. Sinners like us can breathe again! It’s as if God simply changes everyone’s topic of conversation from what’s wrong with us, which is plenty, to what’s right with Christ, which is endless. He replaces our negativity, finger-pointing, and self-attack with the good news of his grace for the undeserving. Who couldn’t come alive in a community which inhales that heavenly atmosphere?

Here is where every one of us can happily take our stand right now: “The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). Our self-focus was crucified with Christ. The need to conceal failure and display false superiority no longer lives. Christ is enough to complete every one of us, without adding anything of ourselves.

As we humbly keep in step with the truth of this gospel, people will find a new kind of community in our churches where sinners and sufferers can thrive.
--Ray Ortlund, The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ (Crossway, 2014), 90-91

25 September 2014

You Must Die

William Still was pastor of Gilcomston South Church in Aberdeen for over 50 years and was a friend and mentor to many who spent time studying in Scotland, such as Phil Ryken, Sinclair Ferguson, and my own dad. Rev. Still died in 1997, just a few months after leaving the pulpit.

Toward the end of his book The Work of the Pastor he lists five crucial "touchstones" for those who believe they are called to pastoral ministry. Four of them are: (1) know Christ at a deep personal level; (2) be sure of your call; (3) be patient and wait for the right timing and appointment in God's own good time; and (4) don't do it alone but rather be sure you are prayed into your place by other Christians.

The fifth is, to me, the most arresting, and I suspect the most needed today by a rising generation of young men wondering if they should enter the ministry. But while it applies uniquely to pastors, I believe what William Still says applies to all believers, and must be heard by us all. You don't find this in today's leadership books, even those by evangelical leaders.

Here are his words:
Fifthly--and most important of all--in your personal, intimate, up-to-date knowledge of Christ, secure in His calling, anchored, rooted to your right place, you must in fact die at the stake to all you are in yourself, bad and good.

Do not forget that while Jesus died with all our badness to take it away, He had to die to all the good He could have been and could have done in a long earthly life, in order that He might die with our badness. It is this, I am sure, that most, even perhaps the best-equipped ministers, find themselves not brave enough to rise to, or rather to get down to. We must die a total death to self. . . . We are to hand ourselves over to God like a defeated soldier surrendering arms--a living sacrifice. Far harder to live for Him a living death than to die for Him a death which is an escape or exodus.

If you ask why I rub this in, and make it seem so painfully hard, I answer, because I cannot make it sound too hard. It is far worse to do than you may have dreamed of. Many young ministers have come to me a year or two after they have been out in the ministry, having sought to put what they have learned into practice, and they have had a new respect for the hard things they were taught. This is a radical business. It is literally (no metaphor) a matter of life and death.

Let us put it in electrical terms. You have to die a total death to self to let the current of God's power through to others. . . . I know to my very great, sore, deadly, heartbreaking, agonizing cost, that the Word will never come through someone living. That person must be dead. (If you knew what deaths I have had to die to be here at all!) In fact, if we are not one hundred percent "with it," that is, with God in what He is doing through us, we are beating the air, wasting our breath, working for mere wages, with no product whatsoever for our pains. 
--William Still, The Work of the Pastor (Fearn, Scot.: Christian Focus, 2010), 121-23

22 September 2014

Really Our Own

The heart is so deceitful that it becomes us to examine ourselves with all carefulness, lest at the end of life we shall find that whilst we appeared to be doing God’s work, we were really doing our own; and that whilst our friends gave us credit for great religious devotion, we were really borne along by a vain, proud, and unworthy purpose, which robbed out noblest service of all value in the sight of eternity. 
--F. B. Meyer, The Directory of the Devout Life (1904), 151

16 September 2014

A Gentle, Kind Learner

Jack Miller, 1996, a few months before his death, in a letter to a man preparing to plant a church--
I am so much this way--the aggressive personality--that for a long time I questioned whether I could function as a pastor, whether I would not overwhelm people with my personality. Enthusiasm was not just my middle name: it was my first, middle, and last names. Eventually the Holy Spirit began to tame my spirit, and out of these changes I discerned that pastoral ministry was actually much easier than I thought. Basically at the beginning of a ministry, the leader should humble himself and not try to do too much. Really, even later a good pastor is pretty much a good listener, a patient, deliberate questioner; and at the beginning of a church-planting enterprise you will be astonished how well things will go if you are just a gentle, kind learner.

My own conviction is that the flesh is still so strong in the Christian leader that each of us needs a healthy fear of our own capacity for ruining the work of God with our unconscious pride.
--The Heart of a Servant Leader: Letters from Jack Miller (P&R, 2004), 86; emphasis original

14 September 2014

How Can a Preacher of Radical Grace Be Radically Self-Centered?

Though the attempt to claim justification without a clear commitment to sanctification outrages our conscience, we usually repress this from conscious awareness, and the resulting anxiety and insecurity create compulsive egocentric drives which aggravate the flesh instead of mortifying it. Thus the Protestant disease of cheap grace can produce some of the most selfish and contentious leaders and lay people on earth, more difficult to bear in a state of grace than they would be in a state of nature. 
--Richard Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal (Eerdmans, 1979), 103-4

08 September 2014

What a Pastor Does

It is to feed sheep on the truth that men are called to churches and congregations, whatever they may think they are called to do.

If you think that you are called to keep a largely worldly organisation, miscalled a church, going, with infinitesimal doses of innocuous sub-Christian drugs or stimulants, then the only help I can give you is to advise you to give up the hope of the ministry and go and be a street scavenger; a far healthier and more godly job, keeping the streets tidy, than cluttering the church with a lot of worldly claptrap in the delusion that you are doing a job for God.

The pastor is called to feed the sheep, even if the sheep do not want to be fed. He is certainly not to become an entertainer of goats. Let goats entertain goats, and let them do it out in goatland.
William Still, The Work of the Pastor (rev. ed.; Christian Focus, 2010), 23

31 August 2014

Alive to Beauty

Today my book Edwards on the Christian Life releases. How good of Steve Nichols and Justin Taylor to invite me into their Theologians on the Christian Life series. And George Marsden was kind enough to write a foreword. What grace!

I am happy about this book.

Why? What's it trying to do? After all, we have no shortage of books available to us these days. Billions of words clamor for our attention, in dozens of various print and digital formats. Why put in the time to write this one?

Well, what I'm not trying to do is set the record straight on any of the various intra-Edwardsian-scholarship discussions.

Nor am I telling the story of Edwards' own life.

Nor rehashing and synthesizing what others have said about Edwards.

Nor addressing his theology as a whole.

Nor doing mainly a historical/cultural/backgrounds study.

What's it for then?

I am trying to give readers a taste of what Edwards has given me. Something like pulling the shades up on a bright Spring morning to let the light stream in after waking from a nightmare. Or stepping into an air conditioned home on a hot, humid day. Or walking through the tunnel into the open air of an enormous football stadium and trying to take in what you're looking at.

It's a book that takes one specific aspect of Edwards' overall theology and vision of the universe--everyday living of the Christian life--and then tries, in explaining it, to create space for that to come alive in the lives of the book's readers. It's for tired Christians who on the one hand have tasted the sweetness of the Christian life but on the other hand find this sweetness constantly getting fizzled out through boredom, weakness, failure, loneliness, disappointment, weariness. It's for Christians like me.

There is simply no one like Jonathan Edwards when it comes to telling us of the Christian life. The sweetness, the blanketing shalom, the sun-like nature of it. The loveliness of walking through life with Christ as our beautiful, and beauty-nurturing, Friend. "There is a brightness and a glory in the Christian life," wrote Edwards. There was in his. I want there to be in ours. That's why I wrote.

Jonathan Edwards has left us such help in living the Christian life. If you long to live out of a stable calm and nobility that is beyond the reach of circumstance, weather, and finances, I hope you will consider picking up a copy. Above all, I hope you'll find yourself a tiny bit more radiant on the other side.

*This blog post and this brief online article will give you a flavor of the book. Neither is extracting content from the book, but both get at the heart of what I'm trying to say in it.

29 August 2014

O Give Me That Book

John Wesley:
I want to know one thing--the way to heaven; how to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach the way. . . . He hath written it down in a book! O give me that book! At any price, give me the Book of God!

I have it: here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be homo unius libri. . . . I sit down alone: only God is here. In his presence I open, I read his book; for this end, to find the way to heaven. . . . I meditate thereon, with all the attention and earnestness of which my mind is capable.
--John Wesley, 'Preface,' in The Works of John Wesley (London: Thomas Cordeux, 1811), 7:4-5 ('homo unius libri' = 'a man of one book')

28 August 2014

24 August 2014

Hope Beyond the Walls of the World

Tim Keller addressing Hong Kong University, on the subject of hope. Q&A for the last half hour. Good stuff.

21 August 2014

'Overcoming Chronic Temptations'

C. S. Lewis, letter to Mary Neylan, January 20, 1942:
I know all about the despair of overcoming chronic temptations.

It is not serious provided self-offended petulance, annoyance at breaking records, impatience etc doesn't get the upper hand. No amount of falls will really undo us if we keep on picking ourselves up each time. We shall of course be very muddy and tattered children by the time we reach home. But the bathrooms are all ready, the towels put out, and the clean clothes are airing in the cupboard.

The only fatal thing is to lose one's temper and give it up. It is when we notice the dirt that God is most present to us: it is the very sign of His presence.
--The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume 2 (Cambridge University Press, 2004), 507; emphasis original

11 August 2014

28 July 2014

Psalm 65

22 July 2014

Why Would We Be 'Ashamed of the Gospel'? (Rom. 1:16)

Bishop Handley Moule's answer:
What is there about this revelation of the heart of Eternal Love, this record of a Life equally divine and human, of a Death as majestic as it is infinitely pathetic, and then of a Resurrection out of death, to occasion shame?

For our part we believe the solution lies near the words sin, pardon, self-surrender.
The Gospel reveals the eternal Love, but under conditions which remind man that he has done his worst to forfeit it. It tells him of a peace and strength sublime and heavenly; but it asks him, in order to receive them, to kneel down in the dust and take them, unmerited, for nothing. . . .

Such views are deeply repellent to the soul that has not yet seen itself and God in the light of truth. Well then did Paul remember his old hatred and contempt when he presented Christ at Rome--imperial, overwhelming Rome. But then he looked again from them to Jesus Christ, and the temptation was beneath his feet, and the Gospel, everywhere, was upon his lips. 
--H. C. G. Moule, The Epistle to the Romans (London: Pickering & Inglis, 1894), 36-37

12 July 2014

Filled the Enemy with Madness

Gandalf and the Riders of Rohan descend upon the Orcs at the end of the battle of Helm's Deep--
Down leaped Shadowfax, like a deer that runs surefooted in the mountains. The White Rider was upon them, and the terror of his coming filled the enemy with madness. The wild men fell on their faces before him. The Orcs reeled and screamed and cast aside both sword and spear. Like a black smoke driven by a mounting wind they fled. Wailing they passed under the waiting shadow of the trees; and from that shadow none ever came again.
--J. R. R. Tolkien, The Two Towers, p. 529

06 July 2014

Four Years In

Four years ago today I started working at Crossway. So, four reasons I love this place.

1. A single-minded mission. Crossway exists for one purpose: to get the gospel out to the world through theologically responsible books and Bibles. That's why the back of my business card says "gospel-centered publishing." This mission is shared by all departments across the company and creates a wonderful dynamic and shared enthusiasm. As a company we exist for a reason that will matter forever.

2. My colleagues. What a remarkable group of human beings. I'm an introvert, but I love bobbing down the hall to chat with my colleagues. God has given us an amazing team of gifted men and women, so different in our temperaments and wiring, so united in what we are trying to do in the world through our work together. Under God, it is due to the president, Lane Dennis, and his wise leadership, along with a godly and shrewd board of directors.

3. Our history. The company was started on a $20 tithe by Clyde Dennis, Lane's father. Good News did tracts for forty years, then began books in the late 1970s, then the Bible in 2001. It's a nonprofit to this day. Key influencers along the way have been Francis Schaeffer, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and J. I. Packer. All along, leadership has demonstrated a deliberate trust in the Lord and counting on him to carry forward the ministry to get the gospel out to the world. For all these reasons, I cherish our history.

4. Content-first publishing. If we don't make money, we shrink and eventually disappear. And of course we want to sell widely: if we really believe our books and Bibles will help people, the greater the sales the better. But we say no to book and Bible projects that might sell widely but compromise our doctrinal standards, and yes to projects that make an important contribution to the kingdom and the church even if we anticipate modest sales. I love that. Truth trumps the bottom line. Because of #1 above.

02 July 2014

Real Church

Confess your sins to one another . . . that you may be healed. -James 5:16

There's a strange idea I’m unlearning these days. Actually if I'm honest, I'm not yet unlearning it at all. But I'd like to. I need to. 

The strange idea is: church is for displaying the best about us, not revealing the worst about us.

The result is: burdened, burned out, suffocating Christians and church leaders.

We’ve all heard the stats about how pastors are leaving the ministry in droves, and how all the rest would like to but don’t have a medical or law or business degree to fall back on. Is it because they feel unable to exhale the carbon dioxide of their failures and inhale the oxygen of grace? Are we letting our leaders be human beings?

And church members. How many actually enjoy small group? Honestly—how many go not out of a sense of duty?

Someone gets wonderfully converted and we all rejoice, then promptly saddle them with spiritual disciplines to help them "grow." They’re not Christians two weeks before they feel like worse failures than they ever did as an unbeliever. Maybe they were dealing crack before conversion, but at least they didn’t feel hypocritical about it.

What if we let a new convert breathe in some grace for a while? Until--I don't know--they die?

What if the leaders in a church stepped off the cliff of face-saving into the mile-long freefall of humiliating honesty and found themselves floating into the delicious clouds of actual, real, for-sinners, grace

What if church discipline was used not to scare sinners but to kick out those who make sinners feel alienated, from God and from others?

It is terrifying to confess sin. But so is going into surgery. Surely the life that follows surgery is better than the misery of living diseased?

It feels like death to take the mask off. Not just pain, not merely embarrassment. Death. We feel as if we are shutting down in a profound, existential way. But perhaps it is just here that the odd theme running all through the New Testament about life through death will suddenly move from mental assent to felt experience.

James tells us to confess our sins to one another that we may be healed. I can stuff my sins inside and let the sickness fester; or I can confess, and be healed. Those are my two options. That's the opposite of how reality feels. Stuffing it in feels healthy, feels like survival. One more reason we need the Bible to correct our natural intuitions about human health.

Maybe revival is just another name for corporate relaxing. Calming down. Letting our guard down. Taking off the clothes of pretense because we're clothed in Jesus' righteousness. If we say we rejoice in the gospel but cannot get honest about how we're really doing with other Christians (not everyone, but a trusted few), the diagnosis is not that we need to add something horizontal to our vertical belief. The diagnosis is that we don't have the vertical belief.

It will need to be wisely chosen friends and counselors. Even then, they may not respond in grace. They may forget their own sin, and withdraw. So this is a risk. But it is the only path of healing. And there is one Friend who will always respond in wisdom and grace, who will never withdraw.

Anyhow, something I'd like to move into more deeply in days ahead, as I consider my own disbelief and strange reluctance to calm down into honesty.

The Silence of God

30 June 2014

Knowing the Bible: Year 2

It's been a lot of fun to steer along the Knowing the Bible series for Crossway. This summer 6 more volumes are added to the 6 that were released last summer, with another 8 already submitted for release next summer and another 8 under contract for the summer after that. We intend to complete the whole Bible in six years.

Here's one more video intro, from Kathleen Nielson, to orient you to one of the newer volumes. The two dashing chaps below are editing the series (think Gandalf and Sam).

09 June 2014

What is the Bible?

Here's about the best summary I've read, from the introductory matter in the Bibles created by our friends The Gideons:
The Bible contains the mind of God, the state of man, the way of salvation, the doom of sinners, and the happiness of believers. Its doctrines are holy, its precepts are binding, its histories are true, and its decisions are immutable. Read it to be wise, believe it to be safe, and practice it to be holy. It contains light to direct you, food to support you, and comfort to cheer you.
It is the traveler’s map, the pilgrim’s staff, the pilot’s compass, the soldier’s sword, and the Christian’s charter. Here Paradise is restored, Heaven opened and the gates of Hell disclosed.
Christ is its grand subject, our good its design, and the glory of God its end.
It should fill the memory, rule the heart, and guide the feet. Read it slowly, frequently, and prayerfully. It is a mine of wealth, a paradise of glory, and a river of pleasure. It is given you in life, will be opened at the judgment, and be remembered forever.
It involves the highest responsibility, rewards the greatest labor, and will condemn all who trifle with its sacred contents.

05 June 2014

Do You Want a Beautiful Wife?

Tim Savage of Camelback Bible Church in Phoenix has some of the best teaching on Christian marriage I've come across. Here are some posts, each one quite brief.

A sample:
Many men say they want beautiful wives.

Few men understand how much the beauty of a wife depends upon her husband.

Worry, criticism, ‘helpful’ critique – all of these things tear down a wife. After a few years of nothing but fault-finding from her husband, she begins to show the signs of weariness, like a public building.

But welcoming love and encouragement builds up a wife. Pretty soon, she looks like an opulent palace.

Several years ago, I had a friend who was getting ready to marry a woman who had a bit of a checkered past. Her personality was, to be honest, abrasive. She was cantankerous and strong-willed, and I could not imagine how my very good friend thought they were suitable for a life-long partnership.

As they were courting each other, I worked up the courage to tell him about my concerns. He listened respectfully, and then responded with four simple words: ‘But I love her.’

At the time, I dismissed it as sentimental drivel. I wondered why he was so blinded by emotion that he couldn’t take my concerns seriously.

But over the years, those words – ‘But I love her’ – have been translated into a remarkable work of glory. In later years, when I met the happily married couple again, I noticed a wife whose character was still strong, but also full of gentleness and kindness. A bit of heaven itself appeared on her face.

How did it happen? Clearly, she had been transformed by the daily gift of her husband’s love.

When a husband loves his wife, as Christ loves the church, she becomes a beautiful creature. She is cleansed, by the washing of water with the word. She becomes spotless, holy and blameless without blemish. She comes to her husband in splendor. (Ephesians 5:26-27)

Men have been talking for centuries about changing society for the better. They’ve poured a vast amount of energy and countless time into the endeavor. The result: an explosion of technology, but little improvement in the level of happiness in our lives. If only husbands would pour that amount of energy and time into their wives! Society would be transformed overnight – as marriages were transformed by the power of God into an image of divine beauty.
HT: Wade Urig

04 June 2014

Disposes of the Whole Thing

When God pardons, he does not say he understands our weakness or makes allowances for our errors; rather he disposes of, he finishes with, the whole of our dead life and raises us up with a new one.

He does not so much deal with our derelictions as he does drop them down the black hole of Jesus' death. He forgets our sins in the darkness of the tomb. He remembers our iniquities no more in the oblivion of Jesus' expiration.
He finds us, in short, in the desert of death, not in the garden of improvement; and in the power of Jesus' resurrection, he puts us on his shoulders rejoicing and brings us home. 
--Robert Farrar Capon, Kingdom,  Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus (Eerdmans, 2002), 188

02 June 2014

Why I Love Covenant Seminary

This pretty much sums it up. Seminary should feel more like the Shire than Mordor.

31 May 2014

Amazing What Human Beings Are Able to Create

A bit from the Batman musical score, by Hans Zimmer.

30 May 2014

Where the Gospel Takes Us

Thank you, Tullian. I have affection for you, across the miles.

29 May 2014

Theology for Life

Thrilling to see the new theological education web platform uniontheology.org, which has just launched and is being overseen by our brother Mike Reeves of WEST. Get to know Mike a bit through this 9Marks interview, back when he was head of theology at UCCF.

I had the privilege of contributing to the new platform a short piece on Jonathan Edwards' view of sanctification. Though I was invited to do it last year, in rereading it I was struck by how relevant the essay is for current confusion and discussions about how Christians grow. I hope it helps people. We have so, so much to learn from Edwards and the great saints who have gone before. How impoverishing to neglect church history. 

A fuller enjoyment of Edwards' theology of Christian living will be released in August by my favorite publisher (who also very kindly provides my paychecks). More on that later. I mention it now to say that if you find help in the essay you may want to consider ordering the book and thereby supporting said publisher!

Here is a compelling articulation from Mike on the need and vision for Union.

15 May 2014

Remember Your Leaders

Francis Schaeffer died thirty years ago today. If you are an evangelical Christian born after he died, you may know nothing about him, maybe never even heard of him. But you owe him far more than you know.

For me, I know of no other modern leader in whom was so beautifully manifest the blend of thinking faith and real-time dependence on the Holy Spirit.

14 May 2014


Maybe you don't vent--you just stew. A leaking, low-level irritability is a great temptation on a journey of love. You feel you have the right to be moody--you've earned it. It is a way of exacting emotional payment from a disappointing life. Grumpiness provides momentary relief, but it always involves a splitting of the self. I commit outwardly, with my hands, but not with my heart. I go through the motions of love, but anger smolders just below the surface like a simmering rant. . . . The result? I'm split. My will has slipped off the tracks of quiet surrender to the Master, and I'm just going through the motions. Life ceases to be fun. If left unchecked, my inner moodiness begins to distort my heart, and I can slip into cynicism, which begins a downward trajectory into bitterness.

Self-pity, compassion turned inward, drives this inward spiral. Instead of reflecting on the wounds of Christ, I nurse my own wounds. . . . But self-pity is just another form of self-righteousness, and like all self-righteousness it isolates and elevates. . . .

The cure for a cranky soul begins by repenting, by realizing that my moodiness is a demand that my life have a certain shape. Surrendering to the life that my Father has given me always puts me under the shelter of his wings. That leaves me whole again, and surprisingly cheerful. 
--Paul E. Miller, A Loving Life: In a World of Broken Relationships (Crossway, 2014), 109-10

28 April 2014

Hierarchy is Edenic

I do not think that equality is one of those things (like wisdom or happiness) which are good simply in themselves and for their own sakes. I think it is in the same class as medicine, which is good because we are ill, or clothes which are good because we are no longer innocent. I don't think the old authority in kings, priests, husbands, or fathers, and the old obedience in subjects, laymen, wives, and sons, was in itself a degrading or evil thing at all. I think it was intrinsically as good and beautiful as the nakedness of Adam and Eve. . . .

The man who cannot conceive a joyful and loyal obedience on the one hand, nor an unembarrassed and noble acceptance of that obedience on the other, the man who has never even wanted to kneel or to bow, is a prosaic barbarian. . . .

Under the necessary outer covering of legal equality, the whole hierarchical dance and harmony of our deep and joyously accepted spiritual inequalities should be alive.
--C. S. Lewis, "Equality," in Present Concerns (London: Fount, 1986), 17-19

24 April 2014

Clean Power

Martyn Lloyd-Jones:
I remember a woman who was a spiritist, and even a medium, a paid medium employed by a spiritist society. She used to go every Sunday evening to a spiritist meeting and was paid three guineas for acting as a medium. This was during the thirties, and that was quite a large sum of money for a lower-middle-class woman.

She was ill one Sunday and could not go to keep her appointment. She was sitting in her house, and she saw people passing by on their way to the church where I happened to be ministering in South Wales. Something made her feel a desire to know what those people had, and so she decided to go to the service, and did so. She came ever afterward until she died and had become a very fine Christian.

One day I asked her what she had felt on that first visit, and this is what she said to me. She said, “The moment I entered your chapel and sat down on a seat among the people, I was conscious of a power. I was conscious of the same sort of power as I was accustomed to in our spiritist meetings, but there was one big difference. I had a feeling that the power in your chapel was a clean power.” 
--Elizabeth Catherwood and Christopher Catherwood, eds., The Christ-Centered Preaching of Martyn Lloyd-Jones: Classic Sermons for the Church Today (Crossway, 2014), 34

10 April 2014

The Secret to Creating Community

The biggest problem people have in searching for community is just that. You don't find community; you create it through love. Look how this transforms the way you enter a room full of strangers. Our instinctive thought is, "Who do I know? Who am I comfortable with?" There's nothing wrong with those questions, but the Jesus questions that create communities are, "Who can I love? Who is left out?"

Here are two different formulas for community formation:

1. Search for community where I am loved: become disappointed with community
2. Show hesed love: create community
--Paul Miller, A Loving Life: In a World of Broken Relationships (Crossway, 2014), 100; italics original

09 April 2014

08 April 2014

'This Is the Morning'

Perhaps my favorite page of anything I've read thus far in my short little life.
And the very first person whom Aslan called to him was Puzzle the Donkey. You never saw a donkey look feebler and sillier than Puzzle did as he walked up to Aslan, and he looked, beside Aslan, as small as a kitten looks beside a St. Bernard. The Lion bowed down his head and whispered something to Puzzle at which his long ears went down, but then he said something else at which the ears perked up again. The humans couldn't hear what he had said either time. Then Aslan turned to them and said:

"You do not yet look so happy as I mean you to be."

Lucy said, "We're so afraid of being sent away, Aslan. And you have sent us back into our own world so often."

"No fear of that," said Aslan. "Have you not guessed?"

Their hearts leaped and a wild hope rose within them.

"There was a real railway accident," said Aslan softly. "Your father and mother and all of you are--as you used to call it in the Shadowlands--dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning."

And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before. 
--C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle

07 April 2014

03 April 2014

I'm a Complete Idiot

Can't wait to preach at my favorite church this Sunday.

01 April 2014

What the Church is For

Luther's Large Catechism, on Article 3 of the Apostles Creed:
Everything in the Christian Church is ordered to the end that we shall daily obtain there nothing but the forgiveness of sin through the Word and signs, to comfort and encourage our consciences as long as we live here.
Thus, although we have sins, the grace of the Holy Ghost does not allow them to injure us, because we are in the Christian Church, where there is nothing but continuous, uninterrupted forgiveness of sin, both in that God forgives us, and in that we forgive, bear with, and help each other.
HT: Brian Martin

27 March 2014

Safe, Home

In 1892 B. B. Warfield's Princeton colleague Charles Aiken died. Preaching at the memorial service on 2 Corinthians 5:1-10, Warfield reminded those present of every Christian's certain future, and how that changes the way we say goodbye to beloved friends here.
While yet our farewell to them on this side of the separating gulf was sounding in their ears, the glad "Hail!" of their Lord was welcoming them there.
May God grant to each of us to follow them. May he give us his Holy Spirit to sanctify us wholly and enable us when we close our eyes in our long sleep to open them at once, not in terrified pain in torment, but in the soft, sweet light of Paradise, safe in the arms of Jesus.
--quoted in Fred Zaspel, Warfield on the Christian Life: Living Life in the Light of the Gospel (Crossway, 2012), 225

26 March 2014

25 March 2014

Something My Generation Needs to Learn

'Thimbles and thunderstorms!' cried Trumpkin in a rage. 'Is that how you speak to the King? Send me, Sire, I'll go.'

'But I thought you didn't believe in the Horn, Trumpkin,' said Caspian.

'No more I do, your Majesty. But what's that got to do with it? I might as well die on a wild goose chase as die here. You are my King. I know the difference between giving advice and taking orders. You've had my advice, and now it's the time for orders.'
--C. S. Lewis, Prince Caspian, ch. 7

24 March 2014

Remembering Who God Is


I found myself wonderfully defibrillated by the two successive questions and answers beginning at the 20 minute mark of this recent Ligonier Q&A. Sproul (Sr) answers both.

Lewis' 'God in the Dock' comes to mind.

The 'What's wrong with you people?' at the 25 minute mark is not the only thing to be said, and probably not the first thing to be said--but it is a neglected thing to be said. Amen.

22 March 2014

What We All Naturally Believe

In 1526 Jacob Hochstraten scoffed at Luther's teaching on the "wondrous exchange" in which Christ clothes sinners in his own righteousness as they are united to him. Referring to the emerging Protestant teaching on justification, Hochstraten wrote:
What else do those who boast of such a base spectacle do than make the soul a prostitute and an adulteress, who knowingly and wittingly connives to deceive her husband [Christ] and, daily committing fornication upon fornication and adultery upon adultery, makes the most chaste of men a pimp?

As if Christ does not take the trouble to choose a pure and honorable lover! As if Christ requires from her only belief and trust and has no interest in her righteousness and the other virtues! As if a certain mingling of righteousness with iniquity were possible!
--quoted in Robert Kolb and Charles P. Arand, The Genius of Luther's Theology: A Wittenberg Way of Thinking for the Contemporary Church (Baker, 2008), 47

This quote represents the mindset of the flesh, a theology of glory, our settled intuition about how the world operates. It is what we all naturally, virulently, believe. The great, confounding inversion must settle in.

With this quote Hochstraten separates himself from Christianity and essentially lumps himself in with all other religions, every one of which is, at core, salvation by works. Though using the language of the Bible, this quote is closer to Islam than Christianity.

And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him. Luke 5:13

20 March 2014

'Why Are People Not Satisfied With Islam?'

Fascinating Muslim fundraising video in light of their alarm at the growth of the gospel in Indonesia, a major stronghold for Islam internationally.

Probably a better plug for Christianity than Islam.

HT: Paul Miller

19 March 2014

Cultivation, Not Castration, of Masculinity

C. S. Lewis has a fascinating little essay in God in the Dock called 'Priestesses in the Church.'

In it he's addressing a 1950s Anglican/Episcopal issue, but the relevance to today's church scene is striking. Lewis argues that the office of priest should be open to men only.

At one point he says:
It is painful, being a man, to have to assert the privilege, or the burden, which Christianity places upon my own sex. I am crushingly aware how inadequate most of us are . . . to fill the place prepared for us. But it is an old saying in the army that you salute the uniform not the wearer. . . .

We men often make very bad priests. That is because we are insufficiently masculine. It is no cure to call in those who are not masculine at all. A given man may make a very bad husband; you cannot mend matters by trying to reverse the roles. He may make a bad male partner in a dance. The cure for that is that men should more diligently attend dancing classes; not that the ballroom should henceforward ignore distinctions of sex and treat all dancers as neuter. (238-39)

18 March 2014


"We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you . . ."
(Col 1:3)

Paul starts with thankfulness. Why?

Every one of us has a bunch of blessings and a bunch of adversities in life. Good and bad. Joys and sorrows. And every one of us at any given moment in the day is focusing on one or the other of these clumps of realities. We can be aware of both, but we can't simultaneously focus on both. One must always be in the mental foreground and one in the background. Ten seconds' notice of someone's countenance can usually tell you which is foregrounded for them at the moment.

Thankfulness is not false, painted smiles. It is not hollow words. It is not Pollyanna religion, pretending everything is better than it is. It is the gritty determination to focus on the blessings and not the adversities, even when, by the world's scale, the adversities far outweigh the blessings.

For those of us in Christ, it could be that just about every earthly reason to be thankful has been stripped away. But we are still in Christ. We still have the supreme blessing without which every earthly blessing is irrelevant and in comparison with which every earthly adversity pales.

Which is where Paul was at, most of the time. Destitute, beaten, forsaken, opposed. But he starts out Colossians, and most of his letters, thankful. Why? Because he had that one all-determinative thing, that one Friend. So he starts his letters thankful, before saying anything else. This is the tone-setter.

05 March 2014

An Eternal Welcome

Bishop Handley Moule's commentary on Romans from a century ago, though a bit overly Keswick-ish at times, might be the most beautifully written commentary I have ever come across, on any book.

Here's a snippet from his comment on Romans 3:23-24:
In the discovery of your necessity, and of Christ as the all-in-all to meet it, you see with little need of exposition the place and power of faith. It means, you see it now, simply your reception of Christ. It is your contact with Him, your embrace of Him. It is not virtue; it is absolutely remote from merit. But it is necessary; as necessary as the hand that takes the alms, or as the mouth that eats the unbought meal.

The meaning of justification is now to you no riddle of the schools. Like all the great words of scriptural theology it carries with it in divine things the meaning it bears in common things, only for a new and noble application; you see this with joy, by the insight of awakened conscience. He who "justifies" you does exactly what the word always imports. He does not educate you, or inspire you, up to acceptability. He pronounces you acceptable, satisfactory, at peace with Law.

And this He does for Another's sake; on account of the Merit of Another, who has so done and suffered as to win an eternal welcome for Himself and everything that is His, and therefore for all who are found in Him, and therefore for you who have fled into Him, believing.

So you receive with joy and wonder "the righteousness of God," His way to bid you, so deeply guilty in yourself, welcome without fear to your Judge. . . .

The harlot, the liar, the murderer, are short of the glory of God; but so are you. Perhaps they stand at the bottom of a mine, and you on the crest of an Alp; but you are as little able to touch the stars as they. So you thankfully give yourself up, side by side with them, if they will come too, to be carried to the height of divine acceptance, by the gift of God, "justified gift-wise by His grace."
--H. C. G. Moule, The Epistle to the Romans (London: Pickering & Inglis, 1902), 96-97

Who knew one was allowed to write commentaries like that!

04 March 2014

Only One of These Can Be True

1. Isaiah 53:
". . . he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him."

03 March 2014

We Belong Elsewhere

From a short essay by Lewis called 'On Living in an Atomic Age,' expressing a key theme of Lewis' engagement with Naturalism/Atheism/Evolutionism:
Really, the naturalistic conclusion is unbelievable.
For one thing, it is only through trusting our own minds that we have come to know Nature herself. If Nature when fully known seems to teach us (that is, if the sciences teach us) that our own minds are chance arrangements of atoms, then there must have been some mistake; for if that were so, then the sciences themselves would be chance arrangements of atoms and we should have no reason for believing in them.

There is only one way to avoid this deadlock. We must go back to a much earlier view. We must simply accept it that we are spirits, free and rational beings, at present inhabiting an irrational universe, and must draw the conclusion that we are not derived from it. We are strangers here. We come from somewhere else. Nature is not the only thing that exists. There is 'another world,' and that is where we come from.

And that explains why we do not feel at home here. A fish feels at home in the water. If we 'belonged here' we should feel at home here. All that we say about 'Nature red in tooth and claw,' about death and time and mutability, all our half-amused, half-bashful attitude to our own bodies, is quite inexplicable on the theory that we are simply natural creatures. If this world is the only world, how did we come to find its laws either so dreadful or so comic?

If there is no straight line elsewhere, how did we discover that Nature’s line is crooked?
--C. S. Lewis, 'On Living in an Atomic Age,' in Present Concerns (London: Fount, 1986), 78-79 (italics original)

30 January 2014

27 January 2014

Our Words, Our Identity

In rereading James recently I wondered if our speech is the integrating theme of really everything James says, even though he seems to hop from one topic haphazardly to the next. Throughout, James gives the impression: what we say isn't an aspect of what defines us and what kind of religion we have, but comprehends the whole.

So as I am now in Luke I was struck by the way Jesus concludes his teaching on a tree being known by its fruit in Luke 6. I have always read this tree/fruit thing to be a statement about our deeds, practically speaking. Just as a healthy tree produces healthy fruit, a healthy heart produces healthy deeds.

But notice what Jesus actually says: "The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks" (Luke 6:45). 

We are defined by our words. Our words are who we are. I don't mean identity-definition in a gospel sense, our identity as sons and daughters of God, in defiance of our word-failings. A less ultimate but no less comprehensive identity: what I say is who I am. I simply have nothing else. Maybe that's why James says that whoever can tame the tongue is perfect, complete (James 3:2).

20 January 2014

13 January 2014

The Army Grows

Things have been quiet around here as my wife Stacey and I have welcomed our fourth Ortlund offspring into the world, our first daughter, Chloe. Here she is with her brothers. She will be available for dating at age 30, upon screening of suitors.

04 January 2014