gratitude & hoopla: October 2005

gratitude & hoopla

"Nothing taken for granted; everything received with gratitude; everything passed on with grace." G. K. Chesterton


Counting on Christ

I've been slowly working my way through James Montgomery Boice's The Glory of God's Grace. I'd thought I might blog my way through the book, carefully recapitulating its content from day to day. However, due to time constraints lately, that hasn't been happening. But today I do want to share a little of what Boice has to say about Romans 6:11: "So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin, and alive to God in Christ Jesus." That's the ESV rendering. Some of us may be more familiar with the King James version: "Reckon yourselves . . . "

Boice notes that this is the first imperative of Paul's letter to the Romans. We're 5 and a half chapters into the greatest theological treatise of Paul's life, and only now do we arrive at a command. Therefore, do this. Count yourself, reckon yourself, consider yourself, dead to sin . . . alive to God . . .

The word here translated "consider" in the ESV is probably better rendered "count" or "reckon." The idea is, this is an accomplished fact. Your death to sin and your new life in Christ has been won for you by Jesus, if you have put your faith in him. The Greek word is logizomai, from which we derive the English words log (as in a log book), logic, logarithm, and many others. As Boice says, this word "always has to do with reality, that is, with things as they truly are. It has nothing to do with wishful thinking. Nor is it an activity that makes something come to pass or happen. It is an acknowledgement of or an acting upon something that is already true or has already happened."

Boice is generally a rather dispassionate writer, but here he begins to write with real fervor:
This is so critical that I want to ask sharply: Do you really understand this? How can I say it clearly?

How about: The first step in our growth in holiness is counting as true what is in fact true.

How about: The way to a holy life is knowing that God has taken us out of Adam and has joined us to Jesus Christ, that we are no longer subject to the reign of sin and death but have been transferred to the kingdom of God's abounding love.

How about: The secret to a holy life is believing God.
I think that's something that bears repeating. The secret to a holy life is believing God.

Now, this verse points out two things that we are to believe, to carefully count up and by so reckoning, to consider true of ourselves: 1) we are dead to sin, 2) we are alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Can it be so? What can Paul mean here? In the very next chapter he will speak of the power of sin even in his own flesh, causing him to do the very thing he does not want to do. How then can it be said that we, no less than Paul, may justifiably consider ourselves dead to sin? Although theologians have disagreed in their interpretation of these words, Boice (following Martyn Lloyd-Jones and John Stott among recent commentators), writes as follows: "It does not mean we are immune to temptation. It does not mean that we will not sin. It means that we are dead to the old life and cannot go back to it." It would be like a man deciding to become a child again. It cannot be. We can sin, but we can also NOT sin. Sin, in other words, shall not reign in our mortal bodies. There is a new power at work in us to transform us inwardly into the very likeness of Christ. We can count on it.

But not only are we dead to sin, we are alive to God in Christ Jesus. This is the given, the fundamental premise of Paul's teaching concerning sanctification. Boice lays out five aspects of this new life, which I hope to share with you tomorrow. Until then, peace.


News Flash: Nepotism Rampant in Blogosphere

Oh man, great news from the Southlands. Son Nate, known for lo these many years as Nate the Great, has "finally been sucked in" to the Blogging whirlpool. His fresh new blog is called Eight Strings. I can tell you from personal experience that, well, everybody likes my son. And after just 3 posts, he has already become my favorite blogger. But then I guess I'm biased. . . .

Nate's subhead is a good one: "A man can no more diminish God's glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word 'darkness' on the walls of his cell." C.S. Lewis


Richard Foster

I'll be at a Richard Foster conference today. Actually, it began last night, and all I've got to say so far is, WOW! His face-to-face teaching is every bit as powerful as his writing. The focus is on spiritual formation, of course. Foster is one of those rare ones who bring profound truths "down to earth" without sacrificing one iota of the profundity. A difficult trick, that.


Metaphor Madness

Not much to say lately. Ah, the dreaded curse of the blogger with nothing to say! Let him then be silent, and his blog become like a crumbling monument in a field, the clover and the bittersweet slowly grappling it to earth!


There, now I've got that out of my system. And if that hasn't permanently sated your thirst for simile, go on over to Professing Professor. There Prof. John Mark Hicks refers to an oft-used simile for the Christian life: Christians are like a troup of Shakespearean actors, who have discovered a lost play of the Bard's. Trouble is, they have only the first four acts. The fifth act is lost:
Suppose, however, these scholars, actors, etc., want to perform this play. How can they perform it without the last act? They will have to improvise. In order to do so, they have to "live and breathe" the works of Shakespeare. They will know all his other works, thoroughly know this present play, understand how his mind works, etc. With their "Shakespearean mind" they write and perform the final act as they imagine Shakespeare would have written it.
There is more to the story than this, of course, and Hicks adjusts the metaphor to better fit the Christian life. I would suggest, we are not left without . . . a stage manager! But let us not go mad with metaphors!


Rosa Parks

You will have heard the news by now, I suppose, but I don't want to let the moment pass without recognizing a great American hero, who has just passed away. I'm speaking of course of Rosa Parks. Major cultural and national transformation hinged on what one woman did on a public bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Never underestimate such small beginnings!



I'm off to a Marriage Encounter Weekend with The lovely L. No posts for the next couple of days. See ya when I see ya!

Are You Whole-Hearted?

Are you whole-hearted? I know I'm not. Seldom even close. In fact, I can honestly say that the most whole-heartedness I have ever known has probably been with regard to sin. Yup, I have been pretty-near whole-hearted about that at times? Not going into details, mind you.

I was whole-hearted at the birth of my children. At my wedding? Well, mostly numb, I confess. I have on occasion been whole-hearted about the Red Sox (shallow me). Once, as a boy, running down an alley with a bully following close behind crying murderous threats, I ran with all my heart! Another time, I sat on my back porch and read the last pages of How Green Was My Valley, and cried with all my heart.

But the sad fact is, mostly I'm half-hearted. My fervor has a tendency to wane, and my passionate intensity is always accompanied by doubt. I take this to be "the human condition," more or less. That's why appeals to passion always fall short, or so it seems to me. Pep-rally fervor is followed by take-out-the-trash mundane reality. There is glow, then there is after-glow, then there is, well, hardly-any-glow-at-all. That's life. I find myself keenly empathetic with the fellow who cried to Jesus, "Lord I believe. Help my unbelief." [Mark 9:24] Yeah, that's me.

Not that I'm against fervor, mind you. Not that I'm against passion. But passion alone is not the mark of righteousness (this much should be obvious). William Butler Yeats wrote of just this problem in another context, some 80 years ago.
The best lack all convictions, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Indeed, perhaps the most important thing then is to start with the right convictions. Perhaps what it all comes down to is a recognition that our passion must be for something that is more steady, more solid and reliable, than we ourselves will ever be.

I'm thinking along these lines because I've just finished reading Rob Bell's Velvet Elvis. It strikes me, now that I've finished the book, that much of what he extols there is simply "passionate intensity," but it seems in the end to be founded on mist. He is fervent about many wonderful things, and at one point he actually says, in his usual off-hand way, that to be a Christian is to be whole-hearted. But one is left wondering, whole-hearted about what? And for how long? Because I have to tell you, this Christian blogger's heart is fickle, changeable, deceptive, and misleading. I've experienced this much on a regular basis.

So I think Bell's book is essentially facile, slight, and misleading with regard to the human condition. And I think he is essentially out-to-lunch with regard to Jesus. Christ is at best a model fellow, it seems, and synonymous with everything Bell holds dear. But you would never guess, having finished the book, that the human situation is intensely problematic, so much so in fact that it can be defined as an impasse, a dead end, a problem without a solution within ourselves. The cross is mentioned once in passing by Bell, and the Holy Spirit also just once, only to brush it aside quickly with a paean to man's whole-hearted doing.

Bell is not a bad fellow. Not one of "the worst" that Yeats spoke of. But youthful fervor is no substitute for a clear enunciation of the truth in all its dirty complexity. The good news is that we have not been left helpless, of course. The grace of God in Christ is the solution for this humanly unsolvable problem. The question each of us must ultimately ask (and this again and again) is this: where does my help come from? The answer is not, can not, have anything to do with me. If it did, I would be destined for a major disappointment.


I've also discussed Bell's book over at m.o.g. blog, as well as atthis previous post here at g&h.


Sam Storms on Chairman Mao

Another nice aspect of Enjoying God Ministries is the newsletter. Storms is likely to write on any number of subjects. An archive of past messages can be found here. Most recently, Storms discusses a major new biography of Mao Tse-Tung (also discussed by Al Mohler in an equally fascinating article here). Commenting on Mao's apparent lust for bloodshed, Storms writes:
Perhaps one of the most intriguing insights of the authors is their conclusion that Mao was not driven primarily by idealism or ideology. He was not an especially intellectual man and his personal habits were quite revolting. What characterized Mao most vividly was his passion for violence. In reading portions of this biography of Mao I was reminded of something I read about Stalin. It was said of him that he believed every human problem could be solved by death. In other words, whatever the dilemma, whatever the obstacle, it could most likely be overcome by killing someone. Mao carried this philosophy to the extreme.
Storms goes on to draw a possible connection between Mao's reign of terror and the growth of Christianity in China today:
It's breathtaking to think of the contrasts between, on the one hand, Mao's brutal and unspeakable tyranny and, on the other, the widespread revival that is currently sweeping China. Reports have it that as many as 25,000 people a day are coming to faith in Christ all across China. I have no way of knowing if there is any connection between these two phenomena, but perhaps the decades of political, cultural, and religious oppression tilled the soil in which, by God's providential grace, the seeds of spiritual awakening have now sprouted.
Finally, Storms urges two activities on his readers: "first, read this book (if you have the time and energy); and second, pray for the church in China (take the time, and God will give you the energy)."

Amidst the Contradiction of Sinners It Neither Pined nor Collapsed

Sam Storms has some wonderful stuff at Enjoying God Ministries. Try some of the drop-down menus (but only if you're using IE--they don't work in Firefox), and you'll find excellent articles on many subjects. I just read some of his commentary on Ephesians. Specifically, on Ephesians 3:14-21, Paul's prayer for fullness. This passage continues to intrigue me, calling me back for more. Paul prays, you'll remember, that the Ephesians would know how high, how deep, how wide, how long is the love of God. "To grasp the incalculable love of Christ" is how Storms puts it. He writes, "No matter how much we learn, no matter how much we think we know and see and feel and grasp, there is always an infinity left over." Cool, no? I think this is probably a nice depiction of life in Heaven. And of this same passage John Stott wrote, "the love of Christ is broad enough to encompass all mankind (especially Jews and Gentiles, the theme of these chapters), long enough to last for eternity, deep enough to reach the most degraded sinner, and high enough to exalt him to heaven."

But again, it is unfathomable. We are talking here about grasping in some measure what is ultimately ungraspable. To explain such an apparent contradiction, Storms inserts a long but truly amazing quote from John Eadie. This is marvelous:
'It may be known in some features and to some extent, but at the same time it stretches away into infinitude, far beyond the ken of human discovery and analysis. As a fact manifested in time and embodied in the incarnation, life, teaching, and death of the Son of God, it may be understood, for it assumed a nature of clay, bled on the cross, and lay prostrate in the tomb; but in its unbeginning existence as an eternal passion, antedating alike the Creation and the Fall, it 'passeth knowledge.' In the blessings which it confers the pardon, grace, and glory which it provides it may be seen in palpable exhibition, and experienced in happy consciousness; but in its limitless poower and endless resources it baffles thought and description. In the terrible sufferings and death to which it led, and in the self-denial and sacrifices which it involved, it may be known so far by the application of human instincts and analogies; but the fathomless fervour of a Divine affection surpasses the measurements of created intellect. As the attachment of a man, it may be gauged; but as the love of God, who can by searching find it out? Uncaused itself, it originated salvation; unresponded to amidst the 'contradiction of sinners,' it neither pined nor collapsed. It led from Divine immortality to human agonies and dissolution, for the victim was bound to the cross not by the nails of the military executioner, but the 'cords of love.' It loved repulsive unloveliness, and, unnourished by reciprocated attachment, its ardour was unquenched, nay, is unquenchable, for it is changeless as the bosom in which it dwells. Thus it may be known, while yet it 'passeth knowledge'; thus it may be experimentally known, while still in its origin and glory it surpasses comprehension, and presents new and newer phases to the loving and inquiring spirit. For one may drink of the spring and be refreshed, and his eye may take in at one view its extent and circuit, while he may be able neither to fathom the depth nor mete out the volume of the ocean whence it has its origin.
BTW, I wrote two previous posts on this passage: here and here.


Velvet Elvis Anyone?

Okay, I don't want to get preoccupied with Velvet Elvis, but here's something I would like to share. Author Rob Bell says that when Peter walked on the water it was because he had faith in himself, and when he began to sink, it was because he had lost faith in himself. (p.133) Bell goes on to summarize his teaching on this self-faith in this way:
So in the end of his time with his disciples, Jesus has some final words for them. He tells them to go to the ends of the earth and make disciples. And then he leaves. He promises to send his Spirit to guide them and give them power, but Jesus himself leaves the future of the movement in their hands. And he doesn't stick around to make sure they don't screw it up. He's gone. He trusts that they can actually do it.

God has an incredibly high view of people. God believes that people are capable of amazing things.

I have been told that I need to believe in Jesus. Which is a good thing. But what I am learning is that Jesus believes in me.

I have been told that I need to have faith in God. Which is a good thing. But what I am learning is that God has faith in me. (p.134)
Comments? Reactions? Explanations?


Velvet Elvis, Marriage Encounter, and a Dwelling Place of God

I coined the expression "velvet elvisy" in my last post. If you've read the book by Rob Bell, you'll know what I mean. Seat of the pants definition: obsessively hip, generically gen-x, vaguely Christian, relentlessly self-referential (and self-reverential), uses the word "new" as if it were always inherently better than "old," and has nothing to do with Elvis Presley.

Yes, I'm reading the book, and actually I'm not totally disenchanted with it. My small group will be discussing it over the course of the next few weeks, and I suppose if we can get to some solid ground in that discussion the book will have served a purpose for us. Not that I recommend it, mind you. BTW, if anyone knows of a blogger who has discussed this book, please let me know in the comment box below. I'd like to find about what others are saying about it.


Anybody know about Marriage Encounter weekends? My wife and I will be at one of these this coming weekend. So blogging will be out of the picture this next Friday to Sunday.


I read Ezra 3 this morning. All of the returnees from exile gather in Jerusalem and reinstate the Temple practices (that is to say, the sacrificial system). Also, they begin to lay the foundations for the new Temple. It is perhaps hard for us to imagine how significant this day was to them.
And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the LORD, "For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel." And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid. But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers' houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people's weeping, for the people shouted with a great shout, and the sound was heard far away. Ezra 3:11-13
Shouts and weeping mingled together, and the combined sound is so loud that it was heard from a great distance away. I have two responses: 1) So much for the tendency of some to disparage emotionality. Forget it! We are made to be emotional. Our emotions can gush out of us, finding their expression at times in shouts, in weeping, in clapping hands and dancing. It's part of being human. 2) They were excited because the foundations of a lasting Temple had been laid. A building would insure longevity, and would stand as an impressive reminder of God's beneficence. But we who have been grafted into the Israel of old, we who have recognized in Jesus of Nazareth the promised messiah and have called Him Lord, we also live in a time of Temple construction. Truly, as in Ezra's day, the new foundation has been laid, the cornerstone has been set in place, and the walls are being raised even now.
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. Eph. 2:19-22
Praise the Lord with shouts and praise Him with tears, for He has laid the foundations, and He is building us even now, not merely as individuals, but as a people, into an eternal dwelling place for Himself. May the sound of our joyous shouting and weeping be heard from afar.


The Glory of God's Grace (II)

Continuing to share from James Montgomery Boice's The Glory of God's Grace:

Just a note from the preface. Boice is remarking on an indifference, among Christians, regarding the matter of the grace of God. I think that in some circles there is great indifference to grace, as if it were just another theological nuance, a matter for Bible scholars and theologians, but not something that the Christian need bother with overmuch. Drawing from J. I. Packer's Knowing God, Boice suggests four reasons for this misperception:

1. The sin of man
"Modern people are complacent about their grim spiritual condition. They assume that God is also."
2. The judgment of God
Many have lost a sense of the causal relationships in moral areas of life. "So the idea of a final judgment of God in the end of human history at which sin is punished seems quite fantastic to them."
3. The spiritual inability of man
Our culture has long inculcated the notion that all things are possible, and that we are the masters of our own fate. "So the idea that we need the grace of God in order to get right with God, since we cannot save ourselves, seems . . . well, it just seems wrong, frankly. We assume that it will always be possible to mend our relationship with God."
4. The sovereign freedom of God
We think God owes us salvation. That it is a "right," and He is under obligation of some kind to give it. But God does not owe us anything. "The freedom of God to give or withhold favor is what very essence of what grace is about."


The Glory of God's Grace (I)

I've just started reading The Glory of God's Grace by James Montgomery Boice. Looking over my stack of recently purchased books, this one seemed to be the one that was calling my name, if you know what I mean. The book's subtitle is, "The Meaning of God's Grace--and How It Can Change Your Life". Published originally in 1993, the book is touted by Packer and Sproul on its back cover, so you know this is no Velvet Elvisy gobbledy-gook. I've had quite enough of that, thank you.

So here's what I may just do. I may just share this book with you as I read. This blog is supposed to be, after all, a response to God's grace. [And the natural response . . . gratitude & hoopla!] Furthermore, writing about a book (traditionally, in a journal or in the margins or white-space of the book itself) can often assist us to comprehend and retain what we've read. With this in mind, I'm going to set down my notes, my questions, my responses and recapitulations, here in Blogger-space . . . and if anyone else wants to follow along, well, all I've got to say is, the honor is all mine!


Bookish Still

Wow, what's with all this engaging discussion in my comments lately? I'm just not used to that. In fact, I tend to avoid contentious issues here at g & h. Nevertheless, contention happens! The model for how to handle it is in the Bible. Ranting is, I believe, out of the question. I'm a ranter from way back, and occasionally get carried away in this regard, but always to my own profound embarrassment. I'm happy to see that my commenters have been careful, polite, and engaging.


I told you yesterday about the books I've just purchased. Then, last night, on my way home from work, I stopped off at our local public library, which was holding a book sale. Oh my! Now I've added Stu Weber's Tender Warriors, A. W. Pink's The Attributes of God, Leanne Payne's Real Presence, Philip Yancey's The Jesus I Never Knew, and David Jeremiah's somewhat luridly titled Escape the Coming Night. All these for just 8 smackers!

The Weber book is probably the next on my list. Over at the The Thinklings a few months back, Jared listed a bunch of popular Christian titles, and then his suggested "better" alternatives. Jared's alternative to Eldredge's Wild at Heart (which I will probably never read anyway) was Weber's Tender Warrior. Any recommendation by Jared is good enough for me. BTW, the whole "Popular v. Better" list is here.



I'm in a bookish mood. I mean, I guess that's always the way with me, but now more so. Must be the onset of Fall weather or something. I wanted to read about grace, so I picked up Grace Walk and The Glory of God's Grace. And as if that wasn't enough, I'm in the mood to study Revelation at last. So, the Mounce commentary. Eeek!

What's needed most? The Gospel, Straight-Up

Both Transforming Sermons and Swap Blog are commenting helpfully upon Brad's challenging post over at Broken Messenger. Brad writes:
But where is the concern over a lack of preaching a complete Gospel? Better still, why is it not being preached? It is almost as if the church has become a shop of curiosities where the real treasure is tucked away in the little backroom to be shown to those few who take the time to wade through the trinkets of political discourse and church culture long enough or be deemed "ready enough" to be shown it. Are we not to put that best treasure up in the front window to be proudly displayed for all to see: Jesus Christ and Him crucified?

Today, few in the church have taken the cause and led a charge of returning to the fundamentals concerning a walk with Christ. But even the well-known few who have, have struggled to preach the Good News in its totality. Instead, the Gospel has been wedged and force-fit into acceptable, comfortable slots alongside human wisdom, rather than being the superseding wisdom that it is: that great testament of the Cornerstone whose truth falls upon them all and grinds them to powder.

Our lack of effectiveness in society is one thing. Our lack of faith in preaching a complete Gospel to a seeking society is another. But it should trouble us deeply that a society that is quickly descending into the morass of sin that renders it blind to the only Savior that can free it from its bonds; is being ministered to by a church that seems far more focused on critiquing the descent of that society, instead of providing the Good News of Jesus Christ that leads it to freedom from its destructive course.
Brad is saying important things here, things that must be heard. This morning in my D. A. Carson devotional I read these similar sentiments:
There is nothing that our generation needs more than to hear the Word of God--and this at a time of biblical illiteracy rising at an astonishing rate. Moreover, it needs to hear Christian leaders personally submitting to Scripture--not in veiled ways that merely assume some sort of heritage of Christian teaching while actually focusing on just about anything else, but in ways that are reverent, exemplary, comprehensive, insistent, persistent. Nothing, nothing at all, is more urgent.



My good friend Leah is blogging! She's homeschooling little Judah, and blogging the adventure. Judah, aka "rascal," wants to be a superhero someday, hence the name of the blog is Super Hero Home School. Here's a recent exchange between Judah and Leah
Judah: "hey mom, i prayed for powers today, but God didn't give me none."

Leah: "you don't get them till your in your twenties son."
What a riot!


Aron at Some Thoughts is highly recommending Solo Femininity. I take Aron's advice very seriously, hence . . . SF is now on the blogroll. Oh, and btw, Aron also reviewed Mahaney's new book, Humility, in this post. Also, you can find a nice interview with Mahaney over at Adrian's UK Blog.


Mahaney, like Adrian (for example), considers himself both reformed and charismatic. And so does Sam Storms of Enjoying God Ministries. In fact, Sam has written a book on the subject, called Convergence: Spiritual Journeys of a Charismatic Calvinist. To give you a sense of where he's coming from, just look at the title of his introductory chapter: "What hath Orlando to do with Anaheim?" Ha! That one's going on my to-read list for sure.


Why be reasonable, when you can be gentle?

So yesterday I got in line with a host of other Christian bloggers and bought myself an ESV (English Standard Version) Bible
(ESV Home Page). Last night I sat down and looked up a bunch of familiar passages and was very pleased. I'm really excited about reading the Word in this translation. The first thing you notice is its flow. I trust also that it is a quite accurate translation, but I did run into one little glitch. Now, I'm in no position to kvetch over translation accuracy, but the ESV rendering of Philippians 4:5 seemed to strike a slightly discordant note. Let me explain.

Here are a few other versions of the same passage.

NIV: Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.
NASB: Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near.
NKJV: Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.

The word translated "gentleness" (or "gentle spirit") here is epieikace. It occurs all of 5 times in the New Testament (the others are 1 Tim 3:3, Titus 3:2, James 3:17, and 1 Peter 2:18). In all of these other instances, the ESV chooses to translate the word as "gentle." In fact, it is the stated policy of the ESV translators to translate the same Greek or Hebrew word into the same English word, unless the context requires an alternative. Maybe such was the case with Philippians 4:5, for in this instance they chose an alternate rendering:

ESV: Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand. . .

Huh? Reasonableness? Now, this is not a big deal to me. I really think I'm going to enjoy the ESV, but it's just that this is an important verse to me, and, well, I want it to say "gentleness." By the way, the translators say that the 1971 RSV (which happens to be "the beloved version" in the eyes of my quite finicky wife) was the starting point for their work. So I wonder what contextual analysis caused them to diverge at this point from the RSV, and indeed most other translations, in favor of a word that brings a quite different sense to the verse? Just wondering.

More on Prayer

I found these quotations at Searchlights Ministries:

"Believer in Jesus! — You are called, you are appointed to do the works of Jesus, and even greater works, because He has gone to the Father to receive the power to do them in and through you. 'Whatsoever you shall ask in my Name, that will I do.' Give yourself, and live, to do the works of Christ, and you will learn to pray so as to obtain wonderful answers to prayer. Give yourself, and live, to pray, and you will learn to do the works He did, and greater works. With disciples full of faith in himself, and bold in prayer to ask great things, Christ can conquer the world." Andrew Murray

"There are some of our friends who think themselves of the practical sort who say, 'The great thing is work: prayer is good, and right, but the great need is to be doing something practical.' The truth is that when one understands about prayer, and puts prayer in its right place to his life, he finds a new motive power burning in his bones to be doing; and further he finds that it is the doing that grows out of praying that is mightiest in touching human hearts. And he finds further yet with a great joy that he may be doing something for an entire world. His service becomes as broad as his Master’s thought." S. D. Gordon

"One dare-devil, praying, believing man can get the victory for a whole city or nation sometimes. Elijah did on Mount Carmel. Moses did for backsliding Israel; Daniel did in Babylon. But if a number of people can be led to pray in this way, the victory will be all the more sweeping. Let no one imagine, in a wicked heart of unbelief, that God is grudging and unwilling to answer prayer. He is more willing to answer those whose hearts are right with Him than parents are to give bread to their children." Samuel Logan Brengle


On Prayer

The following quotations and many more on prayer may be found at Eternal Perspectives Ministries.

"God does nothing but by prayer, and everything with it." John Wesley

"No one's a firmer believer in the power of prayer than the devil; not that he practices it, but he suffers from it." Guy H. King

"Next to the wonder of seeing my Savior will be, I think, the wonder that I made so little use of the power of prayer." D. L. Moody

"The main lesson about prayer is just this: Do it! Do it! DO IT! You want to be taught to pray. My answer is: pray and never faint, and then you shall never fail." John Laidlaw

"Prayer—secret, fervent, believing prayer—lies at the root of all personal godliness." Carey's Brotherhood, Serampore

"Prayer is the first thing, the second thing, the third thing necessary to a minister. Pray, then my dear brother; pray, pray, pray." Edward Payson

"The devil is aware that one hour of close fellowship, hearty converse with God in prayer, is able to pull down what he hath been contriving and building many a year." John Flavel

"Beware in your prayers, above everything else, of limiting God, not only by unbelief, but by fancying that you know what He can do. Expect unexpected things 'above all that we ask or think.'" Andrew Murray

"The devil is not put to flight by a courteous request. He meets us at every turn, contends for every inch, and our progress has to be registered in heart's blood and tears." Charles E. Cowman

"Pray for 'all men.' We usually pray more for things than we do for men. Our prayers should be thrown across their pathway as they rush in their downward course to a lost eternity." E. M. Bounds

"Great grief prays with great earnestness. Prayer is not a collection of balanced phrases; it is the pouring out of the soul. What is love if it be not fiery? What are prayers if the heart be not ablaze? They are the battles of the soul. In them men wrestle with principalities and powers...
"The prayer that prevails is not the work of lips and fingertips. It is the cry of a broken heart and the travail of a stricken soul." Samuel Chadwick

"Where there is much prayer, there will be much of the Spirit; where there is much of the Spirit, there will be ever-increasing prayer." Andrew Murray

"What has hell to fear other than a God-anointed, prayer-powered church?" Leonard Ravenhill

"Every great movement of God can be traced to a kneeling figure." D. L. Moody

"As it is the business of tailors to make clothes, and the business of cobblers to mend shoes, so it is the business of Christians to pray!" Martin Luther

"Prayer will make a man cease from sin, or sin entice a man to cease from prayer. The spirit of prayer is more precious than treasures of gold and silver. Pray often, for prayer is a shield to the soul, a sacrifice to God, and a scourge for Satan." John Bunyan

"Prayer is not overcoming God's reluctance, but laying hold of His willingness." Martin Luther

"Prayer is not a convenient device for imposing our will upon God, or bending his will to ours, but the prescribed way of subordinating our will to his." John Stott

"The one concern of the devil is to keep Christians from praying. He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work, and prayerless religion. He laughs at our toil, mocks at our wisdom, but trembles when we pray." Samuel Chadwick

"Rich is the person who has a praying friend." Janice Hughes

"Men are God's method. The church is looking for better methods; God is looking for better men. What the church needs today is not more machinery or better, not new organizations or more and novel methods, but men who the Holy Spirit can use—men of prayer, men mighty in prayer. The Holy Spirit does not come on machinery but on men. He does not anoint plans, but men—men of prayer." E. M. Bounds


Austin-Sparks on Obedience

Yes, that primeval revolt and break from God which was the beginning of actual sin has entered as the Serpent's poison into the very blood-stream of the entire creation, and the very mention of obedience stirs a secret dislike, if not resentment. . . .

But there is a realm of obedience which is not law but love, and love transforms the unlovely to delight. Hence the Apostle Paul, in calling for an obedience which would make possible a spiritual enlargement, puts the matter on the basis of love, and then gives the supreme Example of the obedience of love. “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ, Who... became obedient” (Phil. 2:5). It is those whose love for the Lord leads to swift actions in relation to light received, who make swift progress, and are seen to grow up in beauty before the Lord.
From, The Way of Spiritual Growth

Love > Obedience > Revelation

Love is a great mystery. If we are honest, we have to confess that we are not particularly lovable. And we have to admit also that we are not particularly good at loving others. We do not love God with our whole hearts, nor do we love others as ourselves. Love is a problem we have trouble solving. It is the human dilemma at the root of all other dilemmas.

In the 14th chapter of the Gospel of John, we read this: "Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him."

All that talk of love kind of gives me a warm feeling, but did Jesus have to mar the picture with that dreadful word, "obey"? It's certainly not a winsome word. It smacks of legalism, of religious forced marches, of holier-than-thou pulpit thumpers. Yet Jesus, the lover of our souls, connects obedience inexorably with love. Obedience is all about loving.

"If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him."

Amazing, no? What a promise! He loves us. Then we, filled with astonished gratitude at such an absolutely surreal boon, stumble toward the obedience of love. Lord, we cry, I love you. Help thou my lack of love!

And he does it. He equips us to love. Oh, even at the best of times our desire far exceeds our ability, but there is a new element in the equation now. Didn't you hear him tell you, "We will come to you and make our home in you."

And this is the essence of life "in Him". Loving Him--however haltingly, inconstantly--we yearn to obey him by loving Him yet more and by loving others. Sure, we stumble badly and it breaks our hearts. But then He responds by gratiously showing us yet more of Himself. More of His lover, His mercy, His grace. Drawing us near. Putting His Spirit in us. Planting His awesome gift of the Abba cry at the very core of our being.

Christians, I hate to get all saccharine and simplistic here, but it just happens to be true that anything good begins and ends in the love of God. Here's how the Apostle John puts it in his first epistle:
This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.
We're getting to the heart of the matter now. It is by faith that we overcome the world. We overcome the world's tendencies in us. We overcome the world's lovelessness. We overcome the persistent power of the flesh. Let's just sum it all up this way: God loved us. Jesus, the son of God, went to the Cross in order to prepare a place for us with Him in eternity. And this is real love, love abounding, love beyond measure, because it opens away for true communion with the Father and the Son.

And now that you, Christian, have by faith received Him and trusted Him and responded to Him in awe and gratitude and wonder and, yes, in love, He will reveal yet more of Himself to you. He will live in you. He will progressively transform your heart and renew your mind. He will give you his eyes, which always see the world as lost and hurting and foundering, and he will bid you love it as He loves it. This is the generous and abounding nature of the love with which he loves you, Christian.


Mahaney on Humility

I greatly admire the work of C. J. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries. Mahaney is an author and teacher who always seems to keep first things first. He communicates with great clarity, passion, and humility. So I'm excited about his new book, Humility. Tim Challies previewed the book here, and Justin Taylor interviewed C. J. here. What I admire most about Mahaney's writing is that he is always pointing us back to the centrality of the cross of Christ, AND that he always does so in a practical way. You can preview the book itself at this page. Good stuff!


I'm Reading . . .

. . . Stu Weber's Spirit Warrior: A Soldier Looks at Spiritual Warfare. So far, I'm loving it. Weber is milking the "Christian soldier" metaphor for all its worth, but in an utterly convincing fashion. It works for me! Stu, by the way, is a Vietnam vet, as well as the pastor of this church in Portland, Oregon. This is a book I'm only able to put down under extreme duress. A more thorough review is coming soon.

By the Blood

In chapter 12 of Revelation we see depicted Satan's war on the people of God. He rages against the church, working hard to destroy it, but in verse 11 we read, "They [the children of God] overcame him by the blood of the Lamb."

This is a fascinating moment. Revelation depicts much death and destruction, much "tribulation," as the enemy thrashes about in his rage and jealousy, but the children of God win the victory not by might, not by brilliant strategizing, not by charismatic leadership, but "by the blood of the Lamb."

D. A. Carson says this:
The preposition translated as by in the NIV should be rendered "on the ground of." When all his [Satan's] accusations are brought before us--so many of them entirely justified, if we gauge things only by the quality of our faithfulness--Satan is silenced when we insist that our acceptance before God is grounded not in ourselves but in the death of Jesus Christ. "Who is he that condemns?" Paul exultantly asks. "Christ Jesus, who died--more than that, who was raised to life--is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us" (Rom. 8:34). We neither have nor need another ground for our acquittal.
As Martin Luther wrote, "All other ground is sinking sand."


Trying Our Best

I've heard it a lot lately from some of my brothers in Christ. They've been saying, "God just wants us to try our best. That's all anyone can ask."

It sounds so reasonable, so acceptable, but it's only human wisdom being superimposed on the God of all creation. He is not "anyone." He does not have anyone's standards. To lump God together with anyone is to greatly misperceive Him, which is never a healthy thing. By this means we may make Him comprehensible to our minds, but that's all we've done. In fact, we have only formed a mental-idol in our own image and named it God. We have made Him out to be nothing more than a representation of the best human father we can imagine, but no more than that.

And yet, He is infinitely more than that. Is God satisfied with our best effort at righteousness? On the other hand, is He miffed or unsatisfied with us when we fail to do our best? Is it all about measuring our performance against some supposedly reasonable standard called "the best we can do"? Falling short of this standard, we chide ourselves, imagining that God is unhappy with us, and pledge to do better next time. Or, achieving our lowered standard of holiness, we're quite happy with ourselves and imagine that God is happy with us too. Thereby is our guilt easily swept under the proverbial carpet.

On the one hand, we strain with all our might (we suppose) to live holy lives, because we know that God is holy and despises sin. On the other, failing in our great efforts, but not wanting to suffer the guilt and shame of failure, we imagine God has lowered his standards from absolute righteousness to whatever it is that we define as "the best we can do." How convenient that the standard is up to us!

Somehow, we're missing the Gospel badly. We hear it, I presume, each Sunday morning. We listen to preaching tapes, Christian radio, and watch our Christian TV. We've seen The Passion three or four times, and yet we continue to fail to comprehend the relevance of the cross of Christ to our lives.

People, the good news is NOT that god has lowered His standards. If your best effort was ever good enough, then Christ's heart-rending cry from the cross ("Father, why have you forsaken me?") hangs in the air unanswered. For it surely was not for our sake. After all, we're trying our best. Isn't that all He has a right to ask?