The way Christians live

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Don’t worry about the future. In fact, don’t worry at all. This is one of the most challenging things the Bible tells us—and consequently, one of the ways we most struggle to obey Christ. It’s so easy to become anxious. To worry. To play the what-if game.

Or is it just me?

So how do we get out of this pattern? What does it take to end the cycle of anxiety and worry? Of trying to predict all things before they happen? It takes a right perspective, one that comes only when our eyes are set upon the Lord. Martyn Lloyd-Jones explains in his exposition of Psalm 16:8:

How do we feel as we look into the future? What is going to happen? I do not know; nobody knows. I shall not waste your time trying to predict what will happen or telling politicians and statesmen what they ought to do in order to govern the future. I am in no position to do that, and I know of nobody else who occupies a pulpit, whatever position he may hold as an ecclesiastic, who is in a position to do so. I have a much higher calling. My business is to prepare you for whatever may happen. We do not know what that may be. Look back over the past year and consider the things that have happened to you. How many of them did you predict? How many of them did you anticipate?

I thank God that as Christian people we do not need to know the future. Christians should never desire to do so. Christians live in this way: one step at a time. And this principle, if they put it into operation, will enable them to say, “Whatever happens to me, I know that all will be well, because ‘he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.’ ” Come what may, “I shall not be moved” because I am living in the light of this principle: “I have set the Lord always before me.” (Seeking the Face of God, 141)

“I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken,” David wrote. And David knew of what he wrote. He suffered through tremendous difficulties and trials. He often ran for his life. He frequently made his bed in caves. But he could write “I shall not be shaken” because the Lord was with him.

And this is true of the Lord Jesus, as well. He suffered beyond anything we can imagine—being rejected by those he came to save, being sentenced to death, feeling the wrath of God poured out upon him… becoming sin, though in himself there was no sin. Yet, he was not shaken, for his Father was always before him.

This is the way Christians are to live. And because he was before Christ, and because we are in Christ, he is before us, as well. So do not worry about tomorrow. Take today one step at a time.

The secret to spiritual health

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One of the many books I’m reading (though neglecting at the moment due to trying to keep on top of my school reading) is David Murray’s delightful new book, The Happy Christian. One of the things I’ve really enjoyed about reading this book, aside from its the fittingly positive approach, is the reminder that spiritual health and happiness doesn’t come from looking to ourselves, or pursuing your best life now. We become spiritually healthy when we stop looking at ourselves and start looking at our Lord. Murray writes:

I sometimes imagine that if only I can get the whole world, including God, to orbit around me as the center of the universe, I will be happy, but that’s the way to end up in a black hole. By putting God’s Word and works at the center of our religious experience, of our Bible reading, our preaching, our worship, and our churches, we begin to orbit around the heat and light of His divine Son.

It seems to defy common sense, doesn’t it? Surely if I have a problem, I need to focus on myself to get that fixed. That may be the case with medical issues. But with spiritual issues, the remedy can be found only by looking away from self to God. That’s why Bible reading that keeps asking, “What does this reveal about God?” will put us and keep us in the trajectory of spiritual health and strength. God’s person and God’s works will cure us of over-focusing on ourselves and our works. (54)

A spiritually health—and happy—person looks not to him- or herself, but to God. When reading the Bible, the question is not, “what does this say about me,” or “how can applying this help improve my life?” Instead, when we reorient ourselves to first ask, “What does this reveal about God,” as Murray suggests, we will find answers that are far more satisfying—and find ourselves satisfied as a result.

In every second throbs the heartbeat of eternity

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In a world without God, time doesn’t really make sense. Or rather, at a minimum, the concept of time doesn’t. Time is always moving, always changing; one second is always becoming the next… As a thing that is always becoming, then, can time self-originate?

If time is self-originating, when did it self-originate?

Thus, the question is: can that which is ever changing spontaneously come into being? Herman Bavinck, in Reformed Dogmatics (vol 2), argues no. In fact, he says, for time to exist on its own is entirely inconceivable:

God, the eternal One, is the only absolute cause of time. In and by itself time cannot exist or endure: it is a continuous becoming and must rest in immutable being. It is God who by his eternal power sustains time, both in its entirety and in each separate moment of it. God pervades time and every moment of time with his eternity. In every second throbs the heartbeat of eternity. … He makes time subservient to eternity and thus proves himself to be the King of the ages (1 Tim. 1:17). (164)

When we consider the created world around us, it is not only the beauty of nature and the wonder of human ingenuity that testify to our Creator—time itself bears him witness, and indicts us in our neglect of giving honor and thanks to him. For time does not self-originate; God created it, and he sustains it. “In every second throbs the heartbeat of eternity.” Do you see it?


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Augustine and the undoing of arguments toward ignorance

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If you say you understand God, it’s not God you understand. You’ve probably heard or read something like this in dozens of books, sermons and lectures over the last 1700 years or so (but with a renewed vigor in the last 20). Usually, it’s used as an argument against certainty, especially about our knowledge of God.

To say we know anything about God is presumptuous some suggest. Wouldn’t it be better to admit just how little we know? Turning to Augustine, some even seek an ally, for, as he wrote:

We are speaking of God. Is it any wonder if you do not comprehend? For if you comprehend, it is not God you comprehend. Let it be a pious confession of ignorance rather than a rash profession of knowledge. To attain some slight knowledge of God is a great blessing; to comprehend him, however, is totally impossible.1

But is Augustine truly an ally—is he the undoer of their arguments? For to be sure, one who would argue that we can exhaustively know God’s thoughts and intentions, his character and his being… those who suggest such things are speaking too quickly (and foolishly).

But a lack of comprehension—our inability to fully and exhaustively know God—does not mean we cannot know something. Remember that, even as Augustine said it is impossible to comprehend him, “to attain some slight knowledge of God is a great blessing.” Which means: there is something of God that is knowable.

What Augustine reminds us of is our ability to apprehend God. To grasp something of him. And certainly, this is no arrogant thing to say, for God desires for us to know him. Were that not the case, he would not have revealed himself to us, in creation, in his written Word, and most fully in the person of Jesus Christ.

In creation, we see God’s creativity, his love of beauty, his precision and attention to detail, among other things. In the Bible, we are given his character and declared will, his plans and purposes for this world and its inhabitants. And in Jesus, we see all of what has been known of God in the abstract—his justice and mercy, compassion and commandments—most fully and tangibly expressed. Do we understand it all fully? Of course not. It is far too much for us. But to grasp something of God—to begin to understand what he reveals to us—is a great blessing indeed.


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How to lose the head, heart and hands of your faith

Whole Bible-Bavinck

What is the most widespread error in the church? There are oh, so many, of course: We have professing believers who say they love Jesus but hate the church, his bride. We have apparent Christians who call the work of Christ divine child abuse. We have church-going men and women who believe it doesn’t matter with whom they sleep, what media they consume, or where they go (and heaven help anyone who says otherwise).

These are all pretty serious things, to be sure. But they’re not the most consistently widespread problem. If anything, these are symptoms of the larger error. That error? The rejection of the Old Testament. Writing a century ago, in a time in church history very similar to our own, Herman Bavinck put it this way:

The worst and most widespread error is the rejection or neglect of the Old Testament. Marcionism repeatedly reemerged in the Christian church and plays a large role in modern theology as well. All this arbitrary use of Holy Scripture leads to one-sidedness and error in theology and to pathology in the religious life. In that setting the full and rich configuration of truth does not come to light. Either the person and work of the Father or of the Son or of the Holy Spirit is then sold short. Injustice is done to Christ either in his prophetic, or his priestly, or his royal office. The Christian religion loses its catholicity. The Christian head, heart, and hand are not harmoniously molded and guided by the truth. Only the whole Bible in its fullness preserves us from all these one-sidednesses. (Reformed Dogmatics vol. 1, 617)

I have never met a spiritually healthy, well-balanced Christian who neglects the Old Testament. Chances are, neither have you.

If we ignore the Old Testament, and the rich promise of Christ contained within it, we do so at our spiritual peril. If we teach that it’s no longer necessary, we ought to have millstones tied around our necks. If you overlook it, you impede your ability to respond to objections to it from non-Christians.

In other words, if you want to lose your heart, lose your hands or lose your mind, just ditch the Old Testament.

The incomprehensible evangelist

We can't assume pre-existing knowledge

My oldest daughter is very clever and creative. When she was six, she would often have conversations with her stuffed cat, Hershey. Eventually, she developed what she called “kitty language,” even writing down a series of symbols in one of her notebooks. It was cute… but it was also entirely incomprehensible.

Sometimes, we Christians seem like that to outsiders. We have our own special language, much of it derived from what we find in the Bible (though some of it comes from… well, I have no idea where). But there’s a problem: most people today don’t have any clue what’s in the Bible. Reading The Heart of Evangelism reminded me of this. Jerram Barrs writes:

The words that we hear every Sunday in most of our churches and that we use in our prayers are no longer part of the everyday language of our society. People simply do not talk about justification or sanctification, nor about redemption, salvation, or sin. Language that is precious to the Christian is an unfamiliar dialect to most people around us. This means that church as usual and sermons that don’t acknowledge this problem are difficult for our contemporaries to relate to, just as computer language is incomprehensible to many of us! (139)

When considering how to share Christ with others, this is incredibly important: We can’t assume pre-existing knowledge if we want to communicate the gospel clearly. There are some words that we can probably avoid using, to be sure, but what I never want to do is avoid a word like “sin,” for example. Instead, I want to explain it in a way that makes sense. That sin isn’t simply the “bad things” we do, but a problem within our being—a compulsion to pursue anything other than God as most desirable, and to reject him though he has made his existence plain to us through many means.

A lot to take in? Sure. But we have to help people see that there’s a lot packed into a tiny word like “sin,” if we want them to understand the problem they face. But when we fail to consider our context—when we fail to really acknowledge the biblical illiteracy of our culture (and, sadly, our churches)—we risk our words being seen as incomprehensible as my daughter’s made-up play language. And that just will not do.

Take away the foundation and lose everything

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There are certain statements that are trigger warnings for me—at least, when I see them made by a Christian writer, speaker or pastor. References to 1 Corinthians’ famous “everything is permissible” statements (but only because I almost always see them used in the exact opposite way Paul meant them). Nearly any time someone says Jesus doesn’t judge, so we shouldn’t either (again, because, it’s used in almost the opposite way it’s meant in Scripture). And when someone calls the Bible something like a “different kind of center,” or a people group’s collective and growing understanding of God, or some other such thing… oh boy.

When those kinds of statements come up, I usually know where the author or speaker is going, and it’s always to a bad place. Why? Because they’ve lost their footing, having abandoned the foundation of the Bible’s authority: its nature as “God-breathed,” or inspired.

Herman Bavinck understood this all too well, living through the rise of late 19th and early 20th century liberalism. And he knew exactly where it would lead:

There is in fact only one ground on which the authority of Scripture can be based, and that is its inspiration. When that goes, also the authority of Scripture is gone and done with. In that case, it is merely a body of human writings, which as such cannot rightfully assert any claim to be a norm for our faith and conduct. And along with Scripture—for the Protestant—all authority in religion collapses. All subsequent attempts to recover some kind of authority—say, in the person of Christ, in the church, in religious experience, in the intellect or conscience—end in disappointment. They only prove that no religion can exist without authority. Religion is essentially different from science. It has a certainty of its own, not one that is based on insight but one that consists in faith and trust. And this religious faith and trust can rest only in God and in his word. In religion a human witness and human trust is insufficient; here we need a witness from God to which we can abandon ourselves in life and in death. “Our heart is restless until it rests in Thee, O Lord!” (Reformed Dogmatics vol. 1, 463)

This is something we’ve got to get. The arguments we’ve seen re-emerge over the last 20 years or so, the positions put forward by the likes of Brian McLaren, Rob Bell,1 and the like, are little more than the recycling of 19th century (and earlier) arguments by those who’ve attempted to revere the Bible in a sense, while undercutting the foundation of its reverence. We want to treat the Bible as having some sort of limited authority. And yet, unless we take seriously the foundation of its authority—that is, unless we truly embrace its inspired nature in its fullest sense—we’re only going to be disappointed. And worse, if we persist down this road, we’ll be lost in utter darkness.

Links I like

Spurgeon’s Sorrows

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Be sure to pick up a copy of Spurgeon’s Sorrows by Zack Eswine for $5.50 (or $4.50 when buying four or more) at Westminster Bookstore.

Quoting “Heretics” Approvingly

Mark Jones (note: the quotation marks are important):

Who are Reformed Christians, theologians, and pastors allowed to read? Or, more specifically, who are we allowed to cite positively in our writings and conversations? Are we allowed to speak positively of anything N.T. Wright has written, for example, without getting accused of all sorts of things?

Consider Thomas Goodwin, an important member of the Westminster Assembly who helped craft the Westminster documents. Those he read and cited approvingly provide a fascinating test case into how a Reformed theologian from the seventeenth century regarded the writings of those from within and those from outside his own theological tradition.

Our seared conscience on abortion

Matt Chandler:

One of the things I have found so interesting around this topic in particular is when I sit across from unbelievers, they will often bring up … scientific data to prove their point. “How could I believe that? Look at this!” The reason I’m becoming more and more inclined that what we’re dealing with here is no longer sane but rather insane is the science of the matter falls on deaf ears when you speak to those who are secular around this matter.

Stress destroys your brain

Jane Porter:

But before you get stressed about your ever-shrinking noggin, know that we are talking about prolonged chronic stress here. There are plenty of healthy kinds of stress we experience in small doses—the kind you feel before an important meeting or presentation, for example, that can give you a boost of energy and adrenalin.

A Word for Writers and Publishing Houses

Joey Cochran shares a thought-provoking quote from William Bridge.

How to Write More Gooder

Kevin DeYoung:

I wish I knew better how to articulate the keys to good writing. When I write it is a very intuitive process. After the fact I can look back and tell you why I did what I did, and looking at an intern’s paper I can point out what needs to be improved, but coming up with the ten most important principles of effective writing has so far eluded me. What I can point to are a few simple practices which may help a great deal.

You might also enjoy my similarly titled eBook on this subject.

My Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal For This Year – It’s Not What You Think

Mark Altrogge:

Maybe BHAGs work for companies and even for some churches. But I would submit that the Bible encourages a different kind of BHAG. Here’s the Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal that I am going to shoot for this year: to be faithful. Better yet, I want to be faithful in a few small things.

The Bible doesn’t encourage us to pursue greatness, but to be faithful servants. To be faithful in small things.

No kingdom builders or co-redeemers required

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My day job exposes me to a great deal of literature and communication from “activist” Christians—folks who are very (VERY) heavily concerned with social injustices, sex trafficking, poverty alleviation, and other causes (which, y’know, we should be concerned about). However, whenever I read books coming from this group, or written by people trying to appeal to them, I get a little squeamish about the language used, which usually sounds something like this:

We’re to be world-changers, partnering with God in redeeming this broken world and building his kingdom. 

But if that’s true… why doesn’t it ring true to what the Bible says?

Kevin DeYoung helpfully puts words to my awkward feelings about this in Why We Love the Church. There, he writes:

We need to be careful about our language. I think I know what people mean when they talk about redeeming the culture or partnering with God in His redemption of the world, but we should really pick another word. Redemption has already been accomplished on the cross. We are not co-redeemers of anything. We are called to serve, bear witness, proclaim, love, do good to everyone, and adorn the gospel with good deeds, but we are not partners in God’s work of redemption.

Similarly, there is no language in Scripture about Christians building the kingdom. The New Testament, in talking about the kingdom, uses words like enter, seek, announce, see, receive, look, come into, and inherit. Do a word search and see for yourself. We are given the kingdom and brought into the kingdom. We testify about it, pray for it to come, and by faith, it belongs to us. But in the New Testament, we are never the ones who bring the kingdom. We receive it, enter it, and are given it as a gift. It is our inheritance. It’s no coincidence that “entering” and “inheriting” are two of the common verbs associated with the Promised Land in the Old Testament (see Deut. 4:1; 6:18; 16:20). The kingdom grows to be sure, and no doubt God causes it to grow by employing means (like Christians), but we are never told to create, expand, or usher in the kingdom just as the Israelites were not commanded to establish Canaan. Pray for the kingdom, yes, but not build it. (49)

This, I think, is something we need to remember.

When I see people running around trying to be world-changers, all I see are people running themselves into the ground. Before too long, they’re completely frazzled; burnt out. It’s a burden that’s too much for them to bear.

Fortunately, God’s never asked us to be world-changers. Instead, he encourages us to enter into Jesus’ rest, and be thankful for what has been provided today. To trust him with the needs of tomorrow. And to do the work he calls us to—which, yes, does include social action—not in order to build our inheritance, but as those secure in the goodness of its Builder.


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Our Lord and God, our brother and friend

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Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.—Isaiah 7:14

Let us to-day go down to Bethlehem, and in company with wondering shepherds and adoring Magi, let us see him who was born King of the Jews, for we by faith can claim an interest in him, and can sing, “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.” Jesus is Jehovah incarnate, our Lord and our God, and yet our brother and friend; let us adore and admire. Let us notice at the very first glance his miraculous conception. It was a thing unheard of before, and unparalleled since, that a virgin should conceive and bear a Son. The first promise ran thus, “The seed of the woman,” not the offspring of the man. Since venturous woman led the way in the sin which brought forth Paradise lost, she, and she alone, ushers in the Regainer of Paradise. Our Saviour, although truly man, was as to his human nature the Holy One of God. Let us reverently bow before the holy Child whose innocence restores to manhood its ancient glory; and let us pray that he may be formed in us, the hope of glory. Fail not to note his humble parentage. His mother has been described simply as “a virgin,” not a princess, or prophetess, nor a matron of large estate. True the blood of kings ran in her veins; nor was her mind a weak and untaught one, for she could sing most sweetly a song of praise; but yet how humble her position, how poor the man to whom she stood affianced, and how miserable the accommodation afforded to the new-born King!

Immanuel, God with us in our nature, in our sorrow, in our lifework, in our punishment, in our grave, and now with us, or rather we with him, in resurrection, ascension, triumph, and Second Advent splendour.


Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening (Photo via Lightstock)

When you love the world, you abuse it

do not love the world

We should not love the world because we can neither have nor enjoy its pleasures long. It may be that they will leave us, but if not, we must leave them. And the stronger affections we have toward anything, the more bitter the affliction when we leave it. Strong affections bring great afflictions to men and women. In Luke 12:19-20, we see how short a man’s time is. The fool there had built up a great estate: “Thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: Then whose shall those things be, which thou has provided?” We have many such fools in the world who store up much here, thinking they shall live long and be at ease. As some used to say, “Well, when I have made such a fortune, then I will give up the sea and live at ease.” But before that comes, “You fool, this night you are taken away from it in the midst of your pursuit of it.” So we cannot enjoy the things of this world. Therefore, seeing the time is short, as the apostle said, use the world, so as not to abuse it. Use the world you may, but do not love it, for then you abuse it. Use the world for your necessities, to further your journey to heaven, to further your accounts before God. But do not abuse it, do not love it. The time is short.

William Greenhill, Stop Loving the World, 61

Praise Him for everything!

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If you want to know Him, if you want to know His smile, if you want to know something about this living realization that God is your God and that He has loved you “with an everlasting love” (Jer. 31:3), that you are His child and that He will never leave you or forsake you (Heb. 13:5)—if you want this living witness of the Spirit, this ultimate assurance that is given through the love shed abroad in our hearts, going upward and back to Him in praise, worship, adoration, and thanksgiving, then begin to praise God for what you have.

Praise Him for everything—for the gifts of life and health and strength. Many people are ill and laid aside and cannot attend a place of worship. Do we thank God for our health and strength, our faculties, for all these gifts that He showers upon us so constantly and so freely? Thank God! David, of course, keeps on repeating this: “Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee. Thus will I bless thee while I live: I will lift up my hands in thy name … my mouth will praise thee with joyful lips” (Ps. 63:3–5). And on he goes, even down to the last verse where he says, “The king shall rejoice in God.”

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Seeking the Face of God, 135-136


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Your goodness is no increase to God’s wealth

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If it were possible to make men clearly understand that justification is not in the least degree by their own works, how easy would it be to comfort them! but herein lies the greatest of all difficulties. Man cannot be taught that his goodness is no increase to God’s wealth, and his sin no diminution of divine riches; he will for ever be imagining that some little presents must be offered, and that mercy never can be the gratuitous bounty of Heaven. Even the miserable creature who has learned his own bankruptcy and beggary, while assured that he cannot bring anything, yet trembles to come naked and as he is. He knows he cannot do anything, but he can scarcely credit the promise which seems too good to be true—“I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him.”

Yea, when he cannot deny the evidence of his own eyes, because the kind word stares him in the face, he will turn away from its glories under the sad supposition that they are intended for all men save himself. The air, the stream, the fruit, the joys and luxuries of life, he takes freely, nor ever asks whether these were not intended for a special people; but at the upper springs he stands fearing to dip his pitcher, lest the flowing flood should refuse to enter it because the vessel was too earthy to be fit to contain such pure and precious water: conscious that in Christ is all his help, it yet appears too great a presumption even to touch the hem of the Saviour’s garment. Nor is it easy to persuade the mourning penitent that sin is no barrier to grace, but that “where sin aboundeth, grace did much more abound;” and only the spirit of God can make the man who knows himself as nothing at all, receive Jesus as his all in all. When the Lord has set his heart on a man, it is not a great difficulty that will move him from his purpose of salvation, and therefore “he devises means that His banished be not expelled from him.”

Charles Spurgeon, The Saint and His Savior

The only man who truly comes to Christ

Decisions

No man truly comes to Christ unless he flies to Him as his only refuge and hope, his only way of escape from the accusations of conscience and the condemnation of God’s holy law. Nothing else is satisfactory. If a man says that having thought about the matter and having considered all sides he has on the whole decided for Christ, and if he has done so without any emotion or feeling, I cannot regard him as a man who has been regenerated. The convicted sinner no more ‘decides’ for Christ than the poor drowning man ‘decides’ to take hold of that rope that is thrown to him and suddenly provides him with the only means of escape.

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers