The stern and holy Christ, the indignant, mighty Messiah, the Messenger of the Covenant of whom it is written: “He shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering of righteousness,” is not agreeable to those who want only a soft and sweet Christ. [What we see instead is] the fiery zeal of Jesus which came with such sudden and tremendous effectiveness that before this unknown man, who had no further authority than his own person and word, this crowd of traders and changers, who thought they were fully within their right when conducting their business in the Temple court, fled pellmell like a lot of naughty boys.
I’ve been chewing on a great quote from Charles Spurgeon since reading it (of all places) on Twitter:
A Puritan was told that he was too precise; but he replied, “I serve a precise God.”
What’s specifically been sticking with me is that response: “I serve a precise God.”
How often do we consider the preciseness of God? Earlier on Thursday, maybe two hours before reading the quote from Spurgeon, I noticed a few Facebook friends “liking” a silly page called “God created men first, cause you always make a rough draft before a masterpiece!” (Yes, I get the joke.)
Thursday morning, I was reading Galatians chapter two, wherein Paul is explaining how after fourteen years of preaching the gospel, he went to Jerusalem because of a revelation that had come to him. In verse two, Paul explains that, “I went up . . . and set before them [the Apostles] . . . the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain.”
What struck me as I read this was Paul’s concern for precision of his gospel. He set before the Apostles “the gospel that [he proclaims] in order to make sure that [he] was not running or had not run in vain.”
Paul was desperate to make sure that the gospel he proclaimed—that Jesus Christ had lived a sinless life on our behalf, died on the cross and bore the punishment for our sins, rose again bodily from the grave on the third day and was now seated at the right hand of the Father in Heaven; that salvation comes through faith alone in Christ alone—he was desperate to make sure that this was, in fact, the gospel! [Read more...]
…so who’s it about?
This excerpt from a message by Tim Keller (quoting from Sinclair Ferguson’s Preaching Christ in the Old Testament) was a great reminder for me as a writer, and occasional preacher:
If Jesus isn’t at the heart of the message, it’s nothing worth saying.
HT: Jared Wilson
Preaching is incredibly difficult; it’s something far different than simply speaking or communicating… and learning how to do it has been challenging.
Seasoned preachers, including John Piper, understand. In the following video, Piper shares where and how he learned not only to preach, but how he developed a passion for communicating God’s Word:
The edited transcript follows:
Where and how did you learn to preach?
I don’t know. Watching my dad when I was six, eight, ten, twelve. Watching how not to do it in lots of places. Being unable to speak in front of a group from grade five to my sophomore year in college. I think I was learning to preach during that time because I was so hurt, so wounded, so discouraged, and so desperate that I had to go way down into God, and way into Scripture, and way into pain, and God was making a preacher by shutting my mouth.
You don’t become an effective preacher by becoming a loquacious and effective communicator at age sixteen. You become a clever communicator, but you don’t become a preacher of the holy things of God. So that was a piece.
I don’t know. The courses that I took on preaching were marginally helpful. I got the lowest grade in seminary in my preaching class. I think I got a C minus in James Daane’s preaching class at Fuller Seminary. We never agreed on anything except the principle that every sermon should have one point, he said that over and over again. So I made a terrible grade there. But there were other teachers that…
I think the way that I became a preacher was by being passionately thrilled by what I was seeing in the Bible in seminary. Passionately thrilled! When Philippians began to open to me, Galatians open to me, Romans open to me, the Sermon on the Mount open to me in classes on exegesis (not homiletics, but exegesis), everything in me was feeling, “I want to say this to somebody. I want to find a way to say this because this is awesome, this is incredible!”
So for preachers today that go everywhere but the Bible to find something interesting or something scintillating and passionate, I say, “I don’t get it. I don’t get that at all!” Because I have to work hard to leave the Bible to go somewhere to find an illustration, because everything in the Bible is just blowing me away. And it is that sense of being blown away by what’s here—by the God that’s here, and the Christ that’s here, and the gospel that’s here, and the Spirit that’s here, and the life that is here—being blown away by this, I just say, “That’s got to get out.”
And then I suppose how it gets out. What is that? I don’t know what that is. That’s just the way I’m wired that I would say it a certain a way. It’s owing in part to me being a lit major, you know, I studied language a little bit. Goodness, a thousand things go into your life and nobody can copy anybody else. I don’t know. God makes us who we are. I don’t think there is much you can do to become a preacher except know your Bible and be unbelievably excited about what’s there. And love people a lot, that is, you want to make the connection with people and what’s in the Bible.
By John Piper. © Desiring God.
Christianity today interviewed Anne Rice on following Christ without Christianity (there was a whole hubbub about it on the interwebs a few weeks back). A great quote from the interview:
Are there any other religious authors you read?
I read theology and biblical scholarship all the time. I love the biblical scholarship of D.A. Carson. I very much love Craig S. Keener. His books on Matthew and John are right here on my desk all the time. I go to Craig Keener for answers because his commentary on Scripture is so thorough. I still read N.T. Wright. I love the Catholic theologian Karl Rahner. I love his writing on Jesus Christ. It’s very beautiful to me, and I study a little bit of it every day. Of course, I love Tolstoy and Dostoevsky.
You mentioned D.A. Carson, Craig Keener, and N.T. Wright. They are fairly conservative Protestants.
Sometimes the most conservative people are the most biblically and scholastically sound. They have studied Scripture and have studied skeptical scholarship. They make brilliant arguments for the way something in the Bible reads and how it’s been interpreted. I don’t go to them necessarily to know more about their personal beliefs. It’s the brilliance they bring to bear on the text that appeals to me. Of all the people I’ve read over the years, it’s their work that I keep on my desk. They’re all non-Catholics, but they’re believers, they document their books well, they write well, they’re scrupulously honest as scholars, and they don’t have a bias. Many of the skeptical non-believer biblical scholars have a terrible bias. To them, Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, so there’s no point in discussing it. I want someone to approach the text and tell me what it says, how the language worked.
In Other News
Giving Back: August 21st was my 31st birthday; help me celebrate by donating $31 so 31 families can have clean water to drink.
The following video explains what charity: water is doing in the Central African Republic:
Tributes: Justin Taylor offers this thoughtful tribute to Clark Pinnock, who died on August 15th, 2010, at the age of 73.
Housekeeping: This past week I enjoyed a great week off on Lake Nipissing. Many thanks to Nate Bingham and Will Adair for helping me out with some great content.
In Case You Missed It
Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:
The Gospel is Unbelievable by Nathan W. Bingham
Will Adair looks at the Lord’s Prayer and the part of the gospel he struggles with.
Mark Driscoll describes the average evangelical… pagan.
We are not orphans, for “the Lord is risen indeed.”
The orphan has a sharp sorrow springing out of the death of his parent, namely, that he is left alone. He cannot now make appeals to the wisdom of the parent who could direct him. He cannot run, as once he did, when he was weary, to climb the paternal knee. He cannot lean his aching head upon the parental bosom. “Father,” he may say, but no voice gives an answer. “Mother,” he may cry, but that fond title, which would awaken the mother if she slept, cannot arouse her from the bed of death.
The child is alone, alone as to those two hearts which were its best companions…
But we are not so; we are not orphans.
…There is one point in which the orphan is often sorrowfully reminded of his orphanhood, namely, in lacking a defender.
It is so natural in little children, when some big boy molests them, to say, “I’ll tell my father!” How often did we use to say so, and how often have we heard from the little ones since, “I’ll tell mother!”
Sometimes, the not being able to do this is a much severer loss than we can guess. Unkind and cruel men have snatched away from orphans the little which a father’s love had left behind; and in the court of law there has been no defender to protect the orphan’s goods. Had the father been there, the child would have had its rights, scarcely would any have dared to infringe them; but, in the absence of the father, the orphan is eaten up like bread, and the wicked of the earth devour his estate.
In this sense, the saints are not orphans.
The devil would rob us of our heritage if he could, but there is an Advocate with the Father who pleads for us. Satan would snatch from us every promise, and tear from us all the comforts of the covenant; but we are not orphans, and when he brings a suit-at-law against us, and thinks that we are the only defendants in the case, he is mistaken, for we have an Advocate on high. Christ comes in and pleads, as the sinners’ Friend, for us; and when He pleads at the bar of justice, there is no fear but that His plea will be of effect, and our inheritance shall be safe. He has not left us orphans.
Now I want, without saying many words, to get you who love the Master to feel what a very precious thought this is, that you are not alone in this world; that, if you have no earthly friends, if you have none to whom you can take your cares, if you are quite lonely so far as outward friends are concerned, yet Jesus is with you, is really with you, practically with you, able to help you, and ready to do so, and that you have a good and kind Protector close at hand at this present moment, for Christ has said it:
“I will not leave you orphans.”
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Believer Not an Orphan (Published in Till He Come)
Dr. D.A. Carson provides a thoughtful, pastoral and biblical answer to this important question with which so many struggle:
D. A. Carson offers a wonderful answer in the video below:
The audio for D.A. Carson’s lecture series, The God Who Is There, is now up at the Gospel Coalition. A new DVD series is being released in the fall. Here’s a preview:
In Other News
Conference Message: Burk Parsons answers the question: “Is Calvinism good for the Church?”
Ministry Opportunities: Desiring God has a number of internships available. Check it out.
In Case You Missed It
Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:
The audio from July 25′s sermon, Spiritual Poverty and the Worship of God
A review of Andreas Kostenberger & Michael Kruger’s latest, The Heresy of Orthodoxy
John Piper answers the question, “Should Christians read the “holy” books of other religions?”
Some thoughts on Abigail’s favorite new record, Meet the Rizers
[M]an never attains to a true self-knowledge until he has previously contemplated the face of God, and come down after such contemplation to look into himself.
For (such is our innate pride) we always seem to ourselves just, and upright, and wise, and holy, until we are convinced, by clear evidence, of our injustice, vileness, folly, and impurity. Convinced, however, we are not, if we look to ourselves only, and not to the Lord also —He being the only standard by the application of which this conviction can be produced.
[S]ince we are all naturally prone to hypocrisy, any empty semblance of righteousness is quite enough to satisfy us instead of righteousness itself. And since nothing appears within us or around us that is not tainted with very great impurity, so long as we keep our mind within the confines of human pollution, anything which is in some small degree less defiled delights us as if it were most pure… So long as we do not look beyond the earth, we are quite pleased with our own righteousness, wisdom, and virtue; we address ourselves in the most flattering terms, and seem only less than demigods.
But should we . . . begin to raise our thoughts to God, and reflect what kind of Being he is . . . what formerly delighted us by its false show of righteousness will become polluted with the greatest iniquity; what strangely imposed upon us under the name of wisdom will disgust by its extreme folly; and what presented the appearance of virtuous energy will be condemned as the most miserable impotence. So far are those qualities in us, which seem most perfect, from corresponding to the divine purity.
Hence that dread and amazement with which as Scripture uniformly relates, holy men were struck and overwhelmed whenever they beheld the presence of God.
When we see those who previously stood firm and secure so quaking with terror, that the fear of death takes hold of them . . . [we see that] men are never duly touched and impressed with a conviction of their insignificance, until they have contrasted themselves with the majesty of God. Frequent examples of this consternation occur both in the Book of Judges and the Prophetical Writings; so much so, that it was a common expression among the people of God, “We shall die, for we have seen the Lord.”
Hence the Book of Job, also, in humbling men under a conviction of their folly, feebleness, and pollution, always derives its chief argument from descriptions of the Divine wisdom, virtue, and purity. Nor without cause: for we see Abraham the readier to acknowledge himself but dust and ashes the nearer he approaches to behold the glory of the Lord, and Elijah unable to wait with unveiled face for His approach; so dreadful is the sight…
[T]he knowledge of God and the knowledge of ourselves are bound together by a mutual tie, [but we must] treat of the former in the first place, and then descend to the latter.
John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.1.2-3
It was not without reason that the ancient proverb so strongly recommended to man the knowledge of himself. For if it is deemed disgraceful to be ignorant of things pertaining to the business of life, much more disgraceful is self-ignorance, in consequence of which we miserably deceive ourselves in matters of the highest moment, and so walk blindfold.
But the more useful the precept is, the more careful we must be not to use it preposterously, as we see certain philosophers have done. For they, when exhorting man to know himself, state the motive to be, that he may not be ignorant of his own excellence and dignity. They wish him to see nothing in himself but what will fill him with vain confidence, and inflate him with pride.
But self-knowledge consists of this[:] first, when reflecting on what God gave us at our creation, and still continues graciously to give, we perceive how great the excellence of our nature would have been had its integrity remained, and, at the same time, remember that we have nothing of our own, but depend entirely on God, from whom we hold at pleasure whatever He has seen it meet to bestow.
[S]econdly, when viewing our miserable condition since Adam’s fall, all confidence and boasting are overthrown, we blush for shame, and feel truly humble. For as God at first formed us in his own image, that he might elevate our minds to the pursuit of virtue, and the contemplation of eternal life, so to prevent us from heartlessly burying those noble qualities which distinguish us from the lower animals, it is of importance to know that we were endued with reason and intelligence, in order that we might cultivate a holy and honourable life, and regard a blessed immortality as our destined aim.
At the same time, it is impossible to think of our primeval dignity without being immediately reminded of the sad spectacle of our ignominy and corruption, ever since we fell from our original in the person of our first parent.
In this way, we feel dissatisfied with ourselves, and become truly humble, while we are inflamed with new desires to seek after God, in whom each may regain those good qualities of which all are found to be utterly destitute.
John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.1.1
PJ Smyth of GodFirst Church in Johannesburg recently preached a sermon called “What Would God Say to the President of South Africa?”
And who should happen to have been in attendance that day?
Jacob Zuma, President of South Africa.
The sermon notes can be found here. His three points were as follows:
- I have made you the President of South Africa
- Anticipate submissive and prayerful followership by Christ-following South Africans
- In view of me appointing you, lead confidently and humbly
This comment, speaking of our need to submit to the authorities God has placed over us, really stood out to me:
Check out the progression in 1 Timothy 2: I urge…that prayers be made for kings and all those in authority, (why?) that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness which pleases God our Savior, (why? Because he wants) all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. Wow! Did you see it?
Paul wants prayers for governments ultimately because he wants the gospel to advance, because he knows that Governments, like all aspects of creation, ultimately exist to facilitate the spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Men and women responding to the gospel of Jesus Christ is the goal of creation. Jesus used the phrase ‘You must be born again’ (John 3).
The Duchess of Huntingdon once asked D.L. Moody why he always seemed to speak on the John 3 text ‘You must be born again’. He replied, ‘Because Madame, you must be born again’. Being born
again means receiving the forgiveness of God, and the lordship of God into your life. Or, to use a phrase that we find so helpful, to begin to ‘put God first’ in your life.
There is another reason Paul ultimately places a higher value on the gospel than on government, because he knows that it is ultimately only the gospel, not merely a government that can produce a truly godly nation. Think it through: The government can outlaw racism, but only the gospel can deal with hatred. The government can ban corruption, but only the gospel can deal with greed. The government might subsidize the poor but only the gospel can make the rich compassionate. The government might ban porn, but only the gospel can deal with lust.
We thank God for the government and Laws of RSA because they keep a lid on sin, but only the gospel can change the heart of a man or woman.
I am in awe of Pastor Smyth’s boldness. Well done.
HT: The Resurgence
O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it. . . .
For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. . . .
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!
Psalm 139: 1-6, 13-16, 23-24
I love Psalm 139. As David moves through the psalm, we see him confronted with a keen awareness of God’s sovereignty—that God fully knows David. He knows every deed.
And he knows every thought.
“Even before a word is on my tongue . . . you know it altogether,” he writes. Every thought. Every word. Every action.
Every ugly sin that David would try to hide from anyone else, God knows it.
How does he react? Guilt? Shame?
Awe. [Read more...]