Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Hope. Help.

This is the rule of most perfect Christianity, its most exact definition, its highest point, namely, the seeking of the common good. 

For nothing can so make a person an imitator of Christ 
as caring for their neighbors.

           ----St. John Chrysostom

Monday, December 30, 2013

To Leave the Rich Empty

“Jesus Christ came to blind those who saw clearly, and to give sight to the blind; to heal the sick, and leave the healthy to die; to call to repentance and to justify sinners, and to leave the righteous in their sins; to fill the needy, and leave the rich empty.”

Blaise Pascal, Thoughts

Why Jesus came is a post from: Ray Ortlund

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Mixing with Sinners

Lord, what you call compassion, others call weakness. What you call conviction, others call dissidence. What you call love, others call mixing with sinners. We pray that we too might be found weak, dissident, and in bad company, especially if it means we are closer to you. Amen. 

    --Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Ever Feel Like This?

Great words from Thomas a' Kempis:

Often it is a small thing that makes me downcast and sad. I propose to act bravely, but when even a small temptation comes I find myself in great straits. Sometimes it is the merest trifle which gives rise to grievous temptations. When I think myself somewhat safe and when I am not expecting it, I frequently find myself almost overcome by a slight wind. Look, therefore, Lord, at my lowliness and frailty which You know so well. Have mercy on me and snatch me out of the mire that I may not be caught in it and may not remain forever utterly despondent. 

That I am so prone to fall and so weak in resisting my passions oppresses me frequently and confounds me in Your sight. While I do not fully consent to them, still their assault is very troublesome and grievous to me, and it wearies me exceedingly thus to live in daily strife. Yet from the fact that abominable fancies rush in upon me much more easily than they leave, my weakness becomes clear to me. 

Oh that You, most mighty God of Israel, zealous Lover of faithful souls, would consider the labor and sorrow of Your servant, and assist him in all his undertakings! Strengthen me with heavenly courage lest the outer man, the miserable flesh, against which I shall be obliged to fight so long as I draw a breath in this wretched life and which is not yet subjected to the spirit, prevail and dominate me. 

Alas! What sort of life is this, from which troubles and miseries are never absent, where all things are full of snares and enemies? For when one trouble or temptation leaves, another comes. Indeed, even while the first conflict is still raging, many others begin unexpectedly. How is it possible to love a life that has such great bitterness, that is subject to so many calamities and miseries? Indeed, how can it even be called life when it begets so many deaths and plagues? And yet, it is loved, and many seek their delight in it. 

Many persons often blame the world for being false and vain, yet do not readily give it up because the desires of the flesh have such great power. Some things draw them to love the world, others make them despise it. The lust of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, and the pride of life lead to love, while the pains and miseries, which are the just consequences of those things, beget hatred and weariness of the world. 

Vicious pleasure overcomes the soul that is given to the world. She thinks that there are delights beneath these thorns, because she has never seen or tasted the sweetness of God or the internal delight of virtue. They, on the other hand, who entirely despise the world and seek to live for God under the rule of holy discipline, are not ignorant of the divine sweetness promised to those who truly renounce the world. They see clearly how gravely the world errs, and in how many ways it deceives.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Reading The Bible Narcissistically

We often read the Bible as if it were fundamentally about us: our improvement, our life, our triumph, our victory, our faith, our holiness, our godliness. We treat it like a book of timeless principles that will give us our best life now if we simply apply those principles. We treat it, in other words, like it’s a heaven-sent self-help manual. But by looking at the Bible as if it were fundamentally about us, we totally miss the Point–like the two on the road to Emmaus. As Luke 24 shows, it’s possible to read the Bible, study the Bible, memorize large portions of the Bible–even listen to “expository” preachers who are committed to preaching “verse by verse, line by line, precept by precept”–while missing the whole point of the Bible. It’s entirely possible, in other words, to read the stories and miss the Story. In fact, unless we go to the Bible to see Jesus and his work for us, even our devout Bible reading can become fuel for our own narcissistic self-improvement plans, the place we go for the help we need to “conquer today’s challenges and take control of our lives.”
Contrary to popular assumptions, the Bible is not a record of the blessed good, but rather the blessed bad. That’s not a typo. The Bible is a record of the blessed bad. The Bible is not a witness to the best people making it up to God; it’s a witness to God making it down to the worst people. Far from being a book full of moral heroes to emulate, what we discover is that the so-called heroes in the Bible are not really heroes at all. They fall and fail, they make huge mistakes, they get afraid, their selfish, deceptive, egotistical, and unreliable. The Bible is one long story of God meeting our rebellion with his rescue; our sin with his salvation; our failure with his favor; our guilt with his grace; our badness with his goodness.

So, if we read the Bible asking first, “What would Jesus do?” instead of asking “What has Jesus done” we’ll miss the good news that alone can set us free.

As I’ve said before, the overwhelming focus of the Bible is not the work of the redeemed but the work of the Redeemer. Which means that the Bible is not first a recipe book for Christian living, but a revelation book of Jesus who is the answer to our unchristian living.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Will God Interfere With Our Free Will?

Great Post by Tim Challies:

Some Christians see God as a kindly but passive observer of our choices. After all, God wouldn’t ever interfere with our free will, would He? Ask Jonah and a wry smile would come over his face.” This is how Colin Smith introduces a fictional anecdote from the life of the prophet Jonah:
Would God ever interfere with our free will?
         Hmmm … let’s see.
I had made my choice. I suppressed my conscience, steeled my nerves and, by a free act of my own will, boarded the ship to Tarshish. But God would not let me go.
My will was taking me in the wrong direction. So God made an intervention, graciously messing with my rebellious heart to save me from a life wasted in disobedience.
God stepped into my life uninvited, through an unexpected storm, rolling dice, and pounding waves that pushed me down until, finally, I came to my senses and called on the Lord, only to find that He had already planned and provided for my salvation by sending a great fish.
But that was only the beginning. Having stretched myself out in ministry, I experienced a strange darkness in which I was overcome by resentment. Left to myself, I would have slouched into retirement angry with God and bitter about the events that had shaped my life. But God stepped in and showed me His compassion.
Would God interfere with our free will? I’m glad He interfered with mine! Left to myself, I would still be running from God, and who knows where I would be today? Rebellion and resentment were my foolish choice. Salvation comes from the Lord.


Monday, October 7, 2013

Are you afraid to have good thoughts of God?

Ray Ortlund quotes John Owen and then offers a great thought on his blog:
“Men are afraid to have good thoughts of God.  They think it is a boldness to eye God as good, gracious, tender, kind, loving.  I speak of saints.  They can judge him hard, austere, severe, almost implacable, and fierce (the very worst affections of the very worst of men, and most hated by God).  Is not this soul-deceit from Satan?  Was it not his design from the beginning to inject such thoughts of God?  Assure yourself, then, there is nothing more acceptable to the Father than for us to keep up our hearts unto him as the eternal fountain of all that rich grace which flows out to sinners in the blood of Jesus.”  John Owen, Works (Edinburgh, 1980), II:35.  Slightly updated.

Ray adds:

"We might think it would be more honoring to God to hold back from bold thoughts of his love in Christ.  We might think, He is so holy.  I am so opposite.  God must despise me.  And if he does, well, it’s only right.

But Owen calls that thinking “soul-deceit from Satan.”  He asserts that “there is nothing more acceptable to the Father” than our seeing God above as flowing out to us in gracious love, that we believe it and receive it in Christ.

If Owen is right, we are sinfully cautious.  “But when he came to his senses . . .” (Luke 15:17)."

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The End of Religion

What role have I left for religion? None. And I have left none because the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ leaves none. Christianity is not a religion; it is the announcement of the end of religion.

Religion consists of all the things (believing, behaving, worshiping, sacrificing) the human race has ever thought it had to do to get right with God. About those things, Christianity has only two comments to make. The first is that none of them ever had the least chance of doing the trick: the blood of bulls and goats can never take away sins (see the Epistle to the Hebrews) and no effort of ours to keep the law of God can ever finally succeed (see the Epistle to the Romans). The second is that everything religion tried (and failed) to do has been perfectly done, once and for all, by Jesus in his death and resurrection. For Christians, therefore, the entire religion shop has been closed, boarded up, and forgotten. The church is not in the religion business. It never has been and it never will be, in spite of all the ecclesiastical turkeys through two thousand years who have acted as if religion was their stock in trade.

The church, instead, is in the Gospel-proclaiming business. It is not here to bring the world the bad news that God will think kindly about us only after we have gone through certain creedal, liturgical and ethical wickets; it is here to bring the world the Good News that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly.” It is here, in short, for no religious purpose at all, only to announce the Gospel of free grace.
---- Robert Capon in Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Ultimate Statute of Limitation

Saint Paul has not said to you, “Think how it would be if there were no condemnation”; he has said, “There is therefore now none.” He has made an unconditional statement, not a conditional one-a flat assertion, not a parabolic one. He has not said, “God has done this and that and the other thing; and if by dint of imagination you can manage to pull it all together, you may be able to experience a little solace in the prison of your days.” No. He has simply said, “You are free. Your services are no longer required. The salt mine has been closed. You have fallen under the ultimate statute of limitation. You are out from under everything: Shame, Guilt, Blame. It all rolls off your back like rain off a tombstone.” 

It is essential that you see this clearly. The Apostle is saying that you and I have been sprung. Right now; not next week or at the end of the world. And unconditionally, with no probation officer to report to. But that means that we have finally come face to face with the one question we have scrupulously ducked every time it got within a mile of us: You are free. What do you plan to do? One of the problems with any authentic pronouncement of the gospel is that it introduces us to freedom.

-----Robert Capon in:   Between Noon and Three

Saturday, August 3, 2013

This is Christianity

“Possibly one of the most devastating things that can happen to us as Christians is that we cease to expect anything to happen.  I am not sure but that this is not one of our greatest troubles today.  We come to our services and they are orderly, they are nice ‒ we come, we go ‒ and sometimes they are timed almost to the minute, and there it is.  But that is not Christianity, my friend.  Where is the Lord of glory?  Where is the one sitting by the well?  Are we expecting him?  Do we anticipate this?  Are we open to it?  Are we aware that we are ever facing this glorious possibility of having the greatest surprise of our life?
Or let me put it like this.  You may feel and say ‒ as many do ‒ ‘I was converted and became a Christian.  I’ve grown ‒ yes, I’ve grown in knowledge, I’ve been reading books, I’ve been listening to sermons, but I’ve arrived now at a sort of peak and all I do is maintain that.  For the rest of my life I will just go on like this.’

Now, my friend, you must get rid of that attitude; you must get rid of it once and for ever.  That is ‘religion’, it is not Christianity.  This is Christianity: the Lord appears!  Suddenly, in the midst of the drudgery and the routine and the sameness and the dullness and the drabness, unexpectedly, surprisingly, he meets with you and he says something to you that changes the whole of your life and your outlook and lifts you to a level that you had never conceived could be possible for you.  

Oh, if we get nothing else from this story, I hope we will get this.  Do not let the devil persuade you that you have got all you are going to get, still less that you received all you were ever going to receive when you were converted.  That has been a popular teaching, even among evangelicals.  You get everything at your conversion, it is said, including baptism with the Spirit, and nothing further, ever.  Oh, do not believe it; it is not true.  It is not true to the teaching of the Scriptures, it is not true in the experience of the saints running down the centuries.  There is always this glorious possibility of meeting with him in a new and a dynamic way.”

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, on John chapter 4

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


A farmer goes forth to sow seed and—carefully, meticulously—prepares the ground, removing all rocks and weeds, sowing one seed six inches from another? No. The farmer, without preparation, begins slinging seed. A dragnet is hauled into the boat full of creatures both good and bad. Should the catch be sorted, separating the good from the bad? No. The Master is more impressed with the size of the haul than with the quality of the harvest. One day, not today, it will all be sorted.

A field is planted with good seed. But a perverse enemy sows weeds in the field. Should we cull the wheat from the weeds? No. The Master says that someday he will judge good from bad, but we are not to bother ourselves with such sorting today. The Master seems to be more into careless sowing, miraculous growing, and reckless harvesting than in taxonomy of the good from the bad, the worthwhile from the worthless, the saved from the damned.

“Which one of you?” to paraphrase Jesus’ questions in Luke 15, “having lost one sheep will not leave the ninety-nine sheep to fend for themselves in the wilderness and beat the bushes until you find the one lost sheep? Which one of you will not put that sheep on your shoulders like a lost child and say to your friends, ‘Come party with me’? Which one of you would not do that?”

“Which of you women,” Jesus continues, “if you lose a quarter will not rip up the carpet and strip the house bare and when you have found your lost coin run into the street and call to your neighbors, ‘Come party with me, I found my quarter!’ Which one of you would not do that?”

And which of you fathers, having two sons, the younger of whom leaves home, blows all your money, comes dragging back home in rags, will not throw the biggest bash this town has ever seen, singing, “This son of mine was dead but is now alive!” Which one of you would not do that?

And which of you, journeying down the Jericho Road, upon seeing a perfect stranger lying in the ditch half dead, bleeding, would not risk your life, put the injured man in the backseat of your Jaguar, take him to the hospital, spend every dime you have on his recovery, and more. Which of you would not do that?

The answer is that none of us would behave in this unseemly, reckless, and extravagant way. These are not stories about us. These are God’s stories—God the searching shepherd, the careless farmer, the undiscerning fisherman, the reckless woman, the extravagant father, the prodigal Samaritan. Jesus thus reveals a God who is no discrete minimalist.

Abundance is in the nature of this God. So when Jesus, confronted by the hunger of the multitudes (Mark 8), took what his disciples had and blessed it, there was not only enough to satisfy the hungry ones but also a surplus, more than enough. Jesus demonstrates a surfeit that is at the heart of all God-given reality.

From The Best of Will Willimon (Abingdon, 2012.  Check out Will’s novel, Incorporation, a wild ride through the contemporary church – satire and slapstick with serious theological intent.  Available from Cascade Press https://wipfandstock.com/store/incorporation.

Thursday, July 4, 2013


From Oswald Chambers:

Do not fret— it only causes harm —Psalm 37:8

Fretting means getting ourselves “out of joint” mentally or spiritually. It is one thing to say, “Do not fret,” but something very different to have such a nature that you find yourself unable to fret. It’s easy to say, “Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him” (Psalm 37:7) until our own little world is turned upside down and we are forced to live in confusion and agony like so many other people. Is it possible to “rest in the Lord” then? If this “Do not” doesn’t work there, then it will not work anywhere. This “Do not” must work during our days of difficulty and uncertainty, as well as our peaceful days, or it will never work. And if it will not work in your particular case, it will not work for anyone else. Resting in the Lord is not dependent on your external circumstances at all, but on your relationship with God Himself.

Worrying always results in sin. We tend to think that a little anxiety and worry are simply an indication of how wise we really are, yet it is actually a much better indication of just how wicked we are. Fretting rises from our determination to have our own way. Our Lord never worried and was never anxious, because His purpose was never to accomplish His own plans but to fulfill God’s plans. Fretting is wickedness for a child of God.

Have you been propping up that foolish soul of yours with the idea that your circumstances are too much for God to handle? Set all your opinions and speculations aside and “abide under the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1). Deliberately tell God that you will not fret about whatever concerns you. All our fretting and worrying is caused by planning without God.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Hope and More Hope

“There is hope in the Gospel for any man, so long as he lives. There is infinite willingness in Christ to pardon sin. There is infinite power in the Holy Spirit to change hearts. There are many diseases of the body which are incurable. The cleverest doctors cannot heal them. But, thank God! there are no incurable diseases of soul. All manner and quantity of sins can be washed away by Christ! The hardest and most wicked of hearts can be changed.

Reader, I say again, while there is life—there is hope. The oldest, the vilest, the worst of sinners may be saved. Only let him come to Christ, confess his sin, and cry to Him for pardon—only let him cast his soul on Christ, and he shall be cured. The Holy Spirit shall be sent down on his heart, according to Christ’s promise, and he shall be changed by His Almighty power, into a new creature.”  

— J.C. Ryle

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Any Questions?

In his book Lifesigns, Henri Nouwen writes ... “A careful look at the gospels shows that
Jesus seldom accepted the questions posed to him. He exposed them as coming from the house of fear.

“Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? How often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? Is it against the law for a man to divorce his wife on any pretext whatever? What authority do you have for acting like this? At the resurrection, to which of those seven men she married will she be a wife, since she had been married to them all? Are you the king of the Jews? Lord, has the hour come? Are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel? ...

“To none of these questions,” Nouwen writes, “did Jesus give a direct answer. He gently put them aside as questions emerging from false worries. They were raised out of concern for prestige, influence, power, and control. They did not belong to the house of God.  Therefore Jesus always transformed the questions by his answer. He made the question new—and only then worthy of his response.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Paul Zahl on Grace

"I compare the feeling of horror I had then with the feeling of elation I had on first seeing the ending of Intolerance (1916). At the end of D. W. Griffith’s epic film, Christ comes again to the world. The effect is created by an optical superimposition. What the inspired director shows is a prison teeming with convicts, all dressed in prison stripes. They look up and the prison walls start to fall. They emerge, every one of them, into the absolving light of the one releasing God. The release is total. I don’t
think the image — and it is the last image of the movie — is intended metaphorically. Another quick frame in the montage shows men fighting on a battlefield, their long bayonets skewering each other with brutal relish. Overhead, the brightly lit cross of the Second Coming suddenly appears and they drop their weapons. There is no “peace process” here. It is finally all over."
               - Paul Zahl in Grace in Practice

When Christ returns, those in prison, actual human prisons, will be set free.  They will go on to eternal life or destruction.  So it will also be with us who have made our "free" world a "prison" for ourselves.  Why won't we accept Christ's offer to be set free now.   

Luke 4
He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”