Archive for the ‘Gospel’ category

The desert’s edge

December 5, 2007

OK, I *think* the long drought is over, and we might be coming out of a long desert period.  I may even be able to get back to my abbreviated blogging! We’ll see.

There’s a big stack of material on my desk that is “stuff I might blog about”. Above all, the focus that I tried to maintain is still before us: Christ-centered, gospel-centered, the great indicatives of our faith first. I’m as excited as ever about it all.

One of the most encouraging things I’ve ever received in personal correspondence came into my Inbox yesterday. It said, “By being transparent and Bible-centered, you’ve said, ‘I can be an absolute mess and I have the life to prove it. I am cherished and I have Jesus to thank for it.'” There was a time when I wouldn’t have been encouraged by those words, but today? Today they’ve made me whoop with delight and praise God with heartfelt joy. Because that’s the gospel, and that’s hope, and it’s glorious. And too many times being me-centric has meant my desires warred with that clear presentation — I wanted the message to be something like “I used to be a mess, but Jesus helped me, and now I’m really the best guy around, and just the kind of guy you need.” But there’s only one Saviour, and the Bible and history only have one ultimate Hero, and God will not share his glory — nor should he, nor would it be love if he did.

I don’t know who coined the following phrase — candidates in my mind include Miller, Bridges, Keller, and Lovelace, and I’m sure someone can let me know — but it’s a great summary of the gospel: I’m more sinful than I ever knew, and more loved than I can possibly imagine.

When we get that, when it sinks in real deep, we are transformed by it. Praise God!

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Mother Teresa’s “Dark Night of the Soul”

August 28, 2007

I know far too little about Mother Teresa. I have no pronouncements to make about the state of her soul. I cannot see around or through or under or beyond her crises of faith. God surely can.

I do know that true, faithful saints can experience long dark nights. Though the cry “Why are you so far from helping me, and from the words of my groaning?” (Psalm 22) was ultimately owned and redeemed by Jesus Christ, it was a true Davidic expression.

But in all the discussion and debate I have read over the last few days I have two other concerns; both of which point, I believe, to our tendency towards self-righteousness or gracelessness. The first concern has already been discussed many times: there is the loud cry of many that Mother Teresa must have been a true Christian, because look at all the amazing self-sacrificing work she did.

Forget about how this relates to any particular individual, including Mother Teresa. Simply look with me at where that statement points. We are pointing at her work. Her labor. Her sacrifice. Her earnestness.

Her merit.

The Gospel points us to Christ’s work, Christ’s sacrifice, Christ’s merit. There is a great difference.

Jesus told us to “let your light so shine before men that they may see your good work and glorify your Father who is heaven”. So we do draw attention to our deeds (they see our good work). Well, then, how do they glorify our Father, and not us, for the good work? There must be words accompanying our workings, words full of the gospel, words full of how our work is a response to his work, how our faith is a response to his Promise, how our fruit is the fruit of the cross and the resurrection and the hope brought to birth and life in Jesus Christ. If, at the end of our lives people are amazed at our endless self-sacrifice and pouring out of ourselves for others, and this what they see and talk about… we will have failed the gospel.

The second concern is perhaps even more serious: there is a tendency in us — if we are honest — to rejoice in the weakness and failings of others. There are some that are quick to draw attention to this soul-struggle that is highlighted, and to say, “I told you so.” We spend our lives comparing and contrasting our standing with that of others. Pastors look at other pastors leading bigger churches and having a “more successful” ministry, and privately think “I’m actually better than he is, if only I had an opportunity to preach to thousands, they would know that. But I face evil opposition instead. My people don’t realize how blessed they are.” And with that mindset, we actually have inner rejoicing when that “more successful” pastor is caught in a scandal. “See, I knew I was better all along. Now maybe my people will appreciate me more.” Others must fall if we are to be raised. And our masks and robes must be carefully worn so that the status we have achieved is not defaced or lessened.

Our merit must be recognized.

I know all too well of what I speak.  It’s the idolatry that has run amok in my own life and soul, causing so much destruction; the idolatry that still visits far too often.

It is Pharisaism, pride, and self-righteousness.

Our people need to appreciate Jesus more. His merit. His grace. Not us, not me, not you…and not any other saint. And there is no joy in the sorrows of others. The fact that Mother Teresa struggled in her faith says nothing about the quality, for good or ill, of our own doctrine or the positioning of our ministry. Do those who encounter our ministry encounter the God of mighty works who defeats all our idols and draws all our love? This is the question for us.

Draw attention to the gospel, to the God who is with us in Jesus Christ. Draw out the redemption, the Rescue, that is achieved for souls in darkness when Christ calls from the cross, “Why are you so far from saving me?” and thus achieves for his people the sure hope that they are heard, they cannot be forsaken, they are transplanted into the kingdom of light.

Praise Jesus!

Without money and without price

August 26, 2007

I hope to get back to regular posting within a day or two more. In the meantime, here’s a must-listen opportunity for you: I heard, today, a great sermon upon this, one of my favorite passages of Scripture. Amazingly, I heard this text expounded by Spurgeon!

Well, by someone (Tony Reinke?) reading Spurgeon’s message.

It was glorious!

There’s a wince-worthy point about a half-hour in, but Spurgeon’s point is that we are all worthy of despising, and all equally in need, and all equally invited to eat.

“You believe there must be some special entrance for you, so proper and moral are you. But the gate is so narrow that you must rub shoulders with drunkards and with murderers and with thieves and harlots to enter…”

“…you are feeling in your pocket and you find nothing there; you don’t need anything, come without money! You look into your heart, and you find nothing there…you find nothing of redeeming character…come, you don’t need anything, the gospel is without price!”

“Everything for nothing, and Christ for the asking!”

Head on over to The Shepherd’s Scrapbook, and scroll down the right-hand side in the list “Now on my iPod.” You’ll see this sermon, available as a Flash recording.

Give it a listen, you won’t regret it. And God willing, I’ll be back soon.

Faith, miracles, and the Word of God

August 23, 2007

We’re going through some stuff here that has slowed me for a couple of days and will for a couple more.  In the meantime, a quote from Total Church, written down before I — ahem — lost it (still a trauma).  Still in the section “Why Gospel?”:

In John 2 the disciples put their faith in Jesus when they see his first miraculous sign — turning water into wine at the wedding of Cana (v. 11).  This story is followed by the cleansing of the temple and Jesus’ declaration that he is the temple.  John comments, “After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said.  They they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken” (v. 22).  There is a kind of faith that comes from seeing miraculous signs, but true faith comes through the words of Scripture and the words of Jesus.  John goes on:  “Now while he was in Jeruasalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name.  But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men” (vv. 23-24).  Jesus does not trust the kind of faith that comes from seeing miraculous signs.  It is not difficult to imagine why.  Such faith is likely to be fair-weather faith.  It will believe when signs are performed, prayers are answered, things are going well.  But it is not the sort of faith that will survive the loss of a child, a period of illness or some other trauma.  Persevering faith comes through the word of God. 

The Holy Spirit doesn’t need our help

August 22, 2007

Nobody who has located the tiny outpost that is this blog needs any pointers to the vast metropolis that is iMonk (population: bazillions).

But he writes in such a way that, when he’s right, he makes you want to cheer and weep at the same time. He just wrote an example of such; find it here.

A favorite line:  “Wrong to believe the Holy Spirit needs all the help we moderns can give him in getting the attention of the bored.”  It’s the kind of thing we say all the time around here.  I need to say it more humbly, but it’s important to say.

“Wrong to think that the gospel is ever cool.” I agree with what he means, here. I do think that when we “get it”, sometimes our reaction will be, “That’s cool!”

No more nitpicking; head on over.

As if you haven’t been there a thousand times already.

Him we proclaim

August 20, 2007

My review of Total Church has been sidelined by a calamity: I’ve lost the book. I can’t begin to tell you how embarrassing and disastrous this is. I’ve never done such a thing before — to lose a book! I can’t believe this. I would have thought I’d sooner lose a finger. And to lose a book I was enjoying so much. If it was some mediocre drivel, I wouldn’t care…but it was outstanding! This is utterly humiliating and shaming.

Not to mention the extra mortification of having to re-order it from Europe, as it’s still not sold here.

Arrrggghh!

I think I might have left it at a coffee shop where I met with one of the pastors here. I hope somebody is getting a good read out of it.

Ahh, it’s amazing that such self-frustration can live with the egocentrism that is I (actually, understanding idolatry, it isn’t that amazing after all; my self-idolatry just keeps letting me down… as all idolatries do).

Anyway, to hold us, two things this morning:

1. Head over to The Gospel Driven church and read Jared’s 5 Reasons for Sermon-Centric worship. Many of these thoughts seemed to me to harmonize with thoughts I was reading in the first section of Total Church. Once again, Gospel Driven is a good resource!

2. A great quote from Whitefield:

When a poor soul is somewhat awakened by the terrors of the Lord, then the poor creature, being born under the covenant of works, flies directly to a covenant of works again. And as Adam and Eve hid themselves… and sewed fig leaves… so the poor sinner, when awakened, flies to his duties and to his performances, to hide himself from God, and goes to patch up a righteousness of his how. Says he, I will be might good now — I will reform — I will do all I can; and then certainly Jesus Christ will have mercy on me.

–“Select Sermons of George Whitefield” (London: Banner of Truth, 1958), pp. 81-83, as quoted by Dennis Johnson in “Him We Proclaim” footnote p.57.

Update: Pressing in to the cross

August 17, 2007

One of the best books I’ve ever read on this subject is Walter Marshall’s Gospel Mystery of Sanctification. Today, over at Gospel Driven Blog, John Fonville continues a series on “How does God enable believers to keep His moral law?” He includes several quotes from Marshall; it’s a great post. As usual, you should read the whole thing, but here’s a snippet:

“…if you rush out and try to keep the law, without having Christ’s righteousness and Christ’s Spirit in you, you will have both the wind and tide against you! Your guilty conscience, and your dead corrupt nature, will frustrate and defeat all your attempts to love and serve God. The only thing you will do in this case is stir up your sinful lusts. You will not stir yourself up to true obedience. At best, you will attain the hypocritical performance of a slave,” (p. 112).