gratitude & hoopla: February 2006

gratitude & hoopla

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


Two Quotations

Here is a brief snippet from a lengthier quotation of J. I. Packer (found at Together for the Gospel):
Without realizing it, we have during the past century bartered that gospel for a substitute product which, though it looks similarly enough in points of detail, is as a whole a decidedly different thing. Hence our troubles; for the substitute product does not answer the ends for which the authentic gospel has in past days proved itself so mighty.
Meanwhile, compare this quote from Ray Stedman, cited by Milton at Transforming Sermons:
All Christians would agree that what is most needed in the present age is a loosing of the power of God among us, but what is often forgotten is that the proclamation of His word has always been God's chosen channel of power.
These two quotations reflect upon and support one another, I think. The Apostle Paul was not "ashamed of the Gospel." Are we?


Leepe for Ioye: Tyndale Defines "Gospel"

William Tyndale describes the meaning of the Greek word evangelio:
Evangelio (that we cal gospel) is a greke word, sygnyfyth good, glad, and joyful tydings, that maketh a mannes hert glad, and maketh hym synge, daunce, and leepe for ioye."


Saturday Re-wind: Too Long at the Fair

I've spent some time lately perusing old blogposts from Mr. Standfast. My, I do go on, don't I! You know, there is nothing quite so forlorn as an old blogpost. But as I scanned my 3 years of online babbling I occasionally did come across something worth rescuing from cyber-oblivion. So I think from now on Saturday is going to be a day to feature some of these golden oldies. Today, I take you back to March 28, 2005. The post was called, "Too Long at the Fair."
If you’ve been tracking with me for a while, you know that much of the time I’ve been focusing my attention on the cross of Christ and its meaning for our lives. My desire is not to stray from this “one thing needful,” the essential message of the cross. You can read any number of Christian best-sellers in which that message is marginal at best. Christian publishers, hoping to hit upon the next great Christian goldmine, promise again and again that the latest book is the one that will usher you into a life of permanent fulfillment and happiness. The Christian marketplace is a cacophony of these competing promises. The marketing-ethic, which is by no means closely associated with a rigorous honesty, has been adopted wholesale even by well-intentioned Christian ministries.

The Christian life, here in America at least, begins to resemble nothing more than a carnival midway. The barkers compete with one another to grab your attention, making euphoric promises. The colored lights, the jangling music, the cotton candy and the plastic prizes - our senses are filled but our minds are empty. Stay too long, and you begin to feel a little queasy. Your head aches. Your body yearns for substantial fare. But someone just hit the bull’s eye and won a Christian CD. Her face is ecstatic. Surely it’s a God-thing. And someone else just bought a ticket on the carousel of "purpose." He just knows it’s going to change his life. Meanwhile, at the other end of the midway is the big tent where the miracle-workers promise power from on high. You’ll have to wait in line, but that’s okay. It’s all so much like "the world," you feel right at home.

Meanwhile, on a hill far away stand three unattended crosses. If you go there, you go alone. You approach with trepidation. Something inside you says no, turn back, there’s nothing for you here. The silence of the moment distresses you, betraying the shallowness of your own thoughts, and you long for the convenient distractions of the midway again. But you’re a Christian, after all, and there’s something about this place that draws you onward. Once, long ago, you had stumbled on this place, and yes, your life was changed, and given purpose, and given meaning, direction, even power. Almost against your will you fall to your knees before the central cross and weep and weep. Forgive me, you cry, I didn’t know what I was doing.

The cross is not simply a place of beginning, a place you leave from, a place you cherish in memory. It is, strangely enough, a place of life, of possibility, of hope. He that hung there, by God’s design and for your salvation, is not simply alpha, but omega. Not simply source, but destiny. Not simply foundation, but capstone. Not simply servant, but King.


Expect Expatiation!

A couple of days ago I quoted Romans 5:17 here.
If, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
Now, one of the questions that I always apply to the Bible text, whenever I read it, is this: What does this passage mean for my life today? I hope this doesn't seem self-centered of me, but I spent many years listening to a teaching that was heavy on the "not yet" and seemed to undermine every Scriptural promise for the "here and now." So perhaps in reaction against that particular kind of narrowness, I am always quick to ask, well, what's in it for me right now?

I take this particular verse to say that though sin once reigned over me, I can now reign over sin, because of the free gift of righteousness through Jesus Christ. Now, that's saying a lot, and the implications can occupy us for some time, but today I just want to quote from The Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary, from which I always draw much beneifit. They restate Paul's sentence this way:
If one man's one offense let loose against us the tyrant power of Death, to hold us as its victims in helpless bondage, 'much more,' when we stand forth enriched with God's 'abounding grace' and in the beauty of a complete absolution from countless offenses, shall we expatiate in a life divinely owned and legally secured, 'reigning' in exultant freedom and unchallenged might, through that other matchless 'One,' Jesus Christ!"
That's cool (although many people say I already "expatiate" too much). I also know that this reigning does not go "unchallenged" in the here and now. Nevertheless, I like their words, "exultant freedom through the matchless One!" That's good stuff. The freedom here, in context, is a freedom from the reign of sin. Such a life is, I suppose, what the Psalmist calls a broad place. A place of exultant freedom, like the banqueting table in Psalm 23. What abounding grace! Do you not long to expatiate on this all day?


Velvet Elvis

A while back I had to read Rob Bell's Velvet Elvis for a small-group discussion. It was painful. Almost everyone in the group just loved the book, for reasons I could never quite figure. Well, if anyone is interested, and especially if you've read the book yourself and are wondering what to make of it, Reformation 21 has a really accurate review here. I highly recommend it.

Are you leaking?

"If you have no joy, there's a leak in your Christianity somewhere." Billy Sunday


Grace reigns?

Not much time today, so I'll be brief. Yesterday I said that sin disables, but that grace enables. I'm going to camp here for a while, I suspect. I said a few days ago I was going to start preaching the Gospel to myself every day, and I've been doing just that. It's given me a whole new lease on things, it seems. Yesterday some good friends stopped by the house, and they said I had a light in my eyes that they hadn't seen in me before! Well, cool.

For today, just a couple of verses from Romans:
Romans 5:17 -- If, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

And a few verses later (20-21) -- Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
This idea that though sin once "reigned" in us (that is, held us in its power, exerted a controling influence on our lives, our thoughts, our decisions, attitudes, actions), but now grace reigns in us--this blows me away, folks. I'm going to think about this. I'm going to search the Scriptures regarding this. Grace reigns? What does that mean, God?


Sin Entangles, Grace Enables

I’ve been wondering lately about that verse in Hebrews that says, "See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God." I have asked myself, 1) What does this passage mean by the grace of God? 2) What does it look like to fail to obtain it? 3) How do we "see to it" that people do not so fail?

Grace can mean many things in Scripture. It sometimes acts as a comprehensive syllable for all that God has for us, beginning to end. But more precisely, it is a word that has to do with the freeness of what God offers us. A host is said to be "gracious" when his attitude toward his guests is as if to say, "What is mine is yours." And that's what God says to us. What is mine is yours. My Spirit I give you. My joy is your joy. And behind all these many gifts of God, all this wonderful sharing, lies His greatest act of graciousness: my righteousness is yours through Jesus Christ.

When the author of Hebrews speaks of failing to obtain (or falling short of) the grace of God, I believe he is talking about Christians who fail to receive and accept in faith the full measure of God’s grace for them personally. The Letter to the Hebrews is addressed to the church, so it is not about failing to obtain salvation. But it is, I believe, about failing to really live the life that grace enables.

There is a kind of parallel passage earlier in the same chapter. The author says, "let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily besets (KJV) / ensnares (NKJV) /entangles (NIV) /clings to us (ESV), and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us." (Heb 12:1) Here we see that sin is disabling, entangling, clinging to us like a dreadful tarbaby, and keeping us from running the course of the Christian life with endurance. It puts me in mind of Paul’s admonition to the legalistic Galatians, "You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth?" (Gal 5:7)

The Galatians simply could not accept the sheer graciousness of God’s gift. They came to believe–they were led to believe–that God would not consider them righteous unless they obeyed the Mosaic law of circumcision. It flabbergasted Paul that Christians who had begun with the Gospel of grace should wind up somehow in the hopeless cul de sac of the law.

That’s what it means to fall short of the grace of God. It’s to undervalue or mistrust the graciousness of God. It’s to disbelieve that God really means it when He says that we have, in His eyes, the righteousness of Jesus Christ. That’s faithless living. To mistrust God is an entangling, ensnaring, disabling thing; it’s a ball-and-chain that effectively keeps us from running well.

And perhaps it’s to misunderstand something else: that when God imputes the righteousness of Christ to a man or a woman, that is not mere talk. That is not mere labeling. The imputation of righteousness to a believer has incredible significance for the life of that believer as it is lived out from day to day. It breaks the yoke, cuts through the entanglements, frees, and enables. The grace of God empowers us to reign over sin in this life through Jesus Christ.

That’s the most radical, the most earth-shaking, life-changing truth of the Bible. Many do not grasp this. To put it another way, they have not understood the height and depth and length and breadth of the love of God. So they continue to labor along entangled in sin, ashamed of themselves, guilt-ridden, feeling they have not lived up to God’s holy standard and therefore been left out of his grace. And that is what it means to fall short of the grace of God.

The final question, how do we see to it that others in our circle of influence do not fail to obtain a full understanding of the grace of God? Well, Brother, Sister, we preach it to them. I don’t mean to be glib, but the fact is that faith comes through hearing, and so we whisper the marvelous truth of God’s grace into the struggling Christian’s ear again and again as we help them in every other way we can think of to get disentangled from sin. That’s ministry, boys and girls, pure and simple.


That Your Joy May Be Full!

The goal of God for your life is that His joy may be in you, and that thereby your joy may be complete, perfect and whole. That would be the kind of joy that Paul knew when he looked back over his life, looked back at all his years of struggle, hardship, beatings, and tribulations of all kinds, and yet could say, "In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy."

So great is the mercy and love of God that though we are egregious sinners, he offers us joy. This is the "deep truth" of the Christian faith.

Believer, here’s a prophecy for you: you will try to be good, to please God, to live in victory, to have peace with all men, to be noble-hearted and selfless, a light in the workplace, a source of joy to all who know you . . . and you will fail. Constantly. Miserably. You will try to think of others more highly than yourself, but you will fail. You will try NOT to think those sinful thoughts–you know the ones–but you will fail. All this failing will cause you to feel unworthy, dejected, purposeless, unlovely, condemned, guilty, hopeless, and just generally an ungrateful wretch.

Oh, but that’s not all. Other people, people around you, are similarly entangled. Some know it, and some don’t. Believer it or not, God would have them think more highly of you than of themselves, putting themselves last, but they’re either refusing, or they’re failing. Every one of them. All this causes trouble, disturbs peace, obliterates joy. It's a tangled mess, and it happens wherever people come together, in families, workplace, and even churches. Sometimes it gets so tangled, it reminds Jesus of a nest of squirming snakes.

Paul understood all this. The one who authored the great epistle of joy from a Roman prison, also said, "Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" And his answer to that loaded question: "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!"

Here’s the thing: God wants to fill you with his Spirit, the fruit of which is love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, and self-control. His will is that you would overflow with these things. Christ says to you, "I was, am, and shall always be your righteousness. Through me, you can disentangle yourself from the sin that so easily ensnares you, you can rise above, break free, run well, keep in step with the Spirit, and look back even on your pain and sorrow and count it all joy. Latch on to the grace of God. Know that it is pure and unalloyed, unstinting, intended to wash you utterly clean once and for all. Your sins are not ever going to be held against you, Believer. Your faith has made you well. There is now no condemnation for those who are in me. If you would only get this and get it good, your joy will be complete!”

So, knowing what we know–that is, who God is and what he has done for us–my question is, why should we hold back or sulk in a spirit of hopeless condemnation!
"Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against who the Lord will not count his sin." Romans 4:7-8

"Let us then draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." Hebrews 4:16

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race which is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." Hebrews 12:1-2


Do Not Fall Back from Grace

I've been thinking about a sentence in Hebrews. I stumbled over it a week ago, and I've been mulling it over ever since.
See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no "root of bitterness" springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. Hebrews 12:15-16
"See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God." What does this mean? Does "grace" here refer to saving faith--the grace that comes through faith in Christ Jesus? If so, we can subsitute the word "salvation" for "the grace of God."

But I don't think that's the point here. Since this letter is written to Christians (who have been known to, ahem, harbor bitterness and sexual immorality), I suspect that by "grace" the author may mean something other than salvation. The church to whom the Letter to the Hebrews is addressed is full of already "saved" people. But the warning still holds: see to it that no one fails to obtain grace.

Perhaps we get a clearer understanding if we look closely at the rest of the sentence. Set against this "obtaining" of grace, we have two counter-examples. So if I'm reading this correctly the sentence is structured something like this: See to it that (A), so that (B) or (C) do not happen.

See to it that: (A) no one fails to obtain the grace of God
So that: (B) no root of bitterness springs up
or: (C) no one is sexually immoral

The avoidance of the negative examples, (B) and (C), hinges upon the obtaining of grace (A). This may not seem clear in the ESV (above), but read it please in the Amplifed version, where the "hinge" is made clear:
Exercise foresight and be on the watch to look [after one another], to see that no one falls back from and fails to secure God's grace (His unmerited favor and spiritual blessing), in order that no root of resentment (rancor, bitterness, or hatred) shoots forth and causes trouble and bitter torment, and the many become contaminated and defiled by it--
Okay, I think I'm getting it now. "Falls back from," that's a clue. Grace is something we can have, but fall back from. So the question remains: how do I insure that someone else, someone with whom I have to do, perhaps someone who is a part of my church family, a brother or sister in the Lord, does not fall back from grace?

And what would that "falling back" look like? Well, perhaps it would look like bitterness, rancor, and hatred. Have these things been known to "contaminate" a church body? Have they been known to grow secretly underground, shooting forth their malodorous buds when the conditions are right? I think we all know the answer to that. I think it happens all the time. And I think it happens in marriages as well, and in all kinds of relationships. Roots of bitterness, growing underground. Springing up suddenly, contaminating the atmosphere in a home or a workplace.

So I ask again: how do we keep this from happening? Well, it clearly has something to do with grace. The author of Hebrews is saying, have a care for others, that they do not fall back from the gospel of grace, back into legalism and condemnation. And how do we do that? Perhaps simply by reminding them often of God's grace. Everything seems to hinge on this. Are you concerned about sexual immorality? Rather shockingly, the author of Hebrews does not tie sexual purity to will power, or fighting a good fight, or to reminding ourselves constantly that God hates sexual sin; no, he ties the sustaining of sexual purity to grace alone! Hang on to God's grace, he seems to say. Remind yourself and others of it often. Grace is the climate in which bitterness cannot thrive, and neither can lust (or as Eugene Peterson calls it), "the Esau syndrome: trading away God's lifelong gift in order to satisfy a short-term appetite."

You know, there was a time when God's glory so engulfed an entire mountain, that for anyone even to touch the hillside meant death, and His voice so thundered that people begged to hear no more. But that is not the mountain to which we have come.
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. Hebrews 12:22-24
See to it then that no one leaves the "festal gathering" through a side door, and returns again thereby to the old bitterness and lust. The blood of Jesus speaks its better word . . . and the word is grace.



This morning I read a sample of C. J. Mahaney's new book, Living the Cross-Centered Life. It was certainly a dose of what the doctor ordered. You see, I realized yesterday morning just what has been missing in my life lately. Namely, the Gospel.

This may seem strange, I suppose. After all, I go to church, I read my Bible, I read "spiritual" books, I get together with believers all the time to worship and pray and to talk about spiritual matters. But it's funny, somehow I've been missing the Gospel. It seems I haven't heard it spoken, preached, or discussed at all lately. No, not in the preaching I listen to on Sunday morning, not in the talk talk talk of the small-groups. Consequently, I've been feeling spiritually warn-out, malnourished.

Mind you, it's no one's fault but my own. That's the other conclusion I came to yesterday morning. Simply: I alone am responsible for insuring that the Gospel is central to my thinking, my writing, my praying, my talking. That is, I can't depend on anyone else. I can certainly hope and pray that the Gospel is preached in my church, but when it is not, when something else takes center-stage, it's up to me to make sure that I personally continue to hear it and to live it.

Last year I read through the Bible, using the M'Cheyne reading plan. After finishing the plan, I took a few weeks off, then began again around mid-January. But I have to admit that I've only been going through the motions these first few weeks--just keeping up with the schedule--and that the words and wisdom of the Scriptures have not been stirring my soul. Then, yesterday, when I realized that I've been Gospel-famished, I began to read with a new hunger. I began to see the Gospel both in the old and the new testament, and the Scriptures suddenly became delicious to me again.

So there you have it. I've been Gospel-famished. So I'm going to do what Mahaney advises: I'm going to preach the Gospel to myself every day. I think you'll be seeing that reflected here at gratitude & hoopla. After all, what's all the hoopla about, if not the good news of Jesus Christ.


A Fountain of Cleansing

Zecheriah 13:1
On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.
This is the Gospel: that on the day that Jesus of Nazareth was betrayed into the hands of tyrants and murderers, on the day that this innocent man was scourged, beaten, mocked, and crucified--on that day a fountain was opened not only for the house of David but for every tribe and nation. Herein lies the hope of all. In this fountain of cleansing, the inconceivable has become a living breathing reality. They struck the shepherd, but His defeat has become our victory. Repair to the fountain, you who are sinking under a burden of hopelessness, and hear Him say, "Your sins are forgiven. Go in peace."


Beloved, test the spirits!

In a recent exchange of comments Bill Gnade (Contratimes) and I (among others) have been discussing the whole matter of "testing" prophecy. Actually, Bill was commenting on a quote from the book Full Gospel, Fractured Minds:
Hundreds of times I've seen believers awed and impressed by the one who claims a 'word of knowledge.' Yet hundreds of times I've seen the same believers bored at the words of knowledge that were mined through arduous prayer and study.
Bill and I agreed that in pentecostal/charismatic circles it's considered bad form to cast doubt on someone's "prophetic" vision or word of knowledge. Bill said,
It is indeed deemed "bad form." And yet when one points out St. Paul's brief exhortation to the Thessalonians, "Test everything," even if the thing being tested is a "word of knowledge," it is interesting to see the confusion that arises: How do we test a thing, and what does it mean to "test?"
Well, I suspect Bill has his own ideas about this, but I thought I'd just mention a few things here, apropos this question.

First, the Thessalonians passage. It's quite relevant. Paul is wrapping up his letter to the Thessalonian church. He writes in summation,
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. 1 Thes 5:16-22
Amazing! Yes, we are not to despise prophecy. We are, to put it positively, to welcome it. But despising is not the problem I am addressing here. Please note: right along side these general instructions to rejoice and to pray, we are instructed to "test" prophecy. This is apparently a solemn responsibility. I would add that many have been led astray because the churches have simply not trained their people to test or discern.

For example, I recently heard about a woman who claimed that God had instructed her not to pay her taxes. This, I suppose, is an easy case. We know that Jesus said, "render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's." [Matthew 22:21] And we know also that Paul said, "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities." [Romans 13:1] So I think we have good reason to seriously doubt that woman's claim to a "word of knowledge."

So the test is against Scripture. The test is NOT--and this bears frequent repetition--that the word or revelation was accompanied by a feeling of peace, "release," or anything else. The test is not our own hearts, which are infinitely deceptive. The test is, first and foremost, Scripture.

I recently quoted A. W. Tozer's list of 7 key questions for testing the spirits. That's a great resource in these matters, and great material for small-group discussion, in my opinion. I highly recommend the complete article, entitled How to Try the Spirits. And recently I've come across yet another take on this matter. A group called Presbyterian Reformed Ministries International urges us to found our discernment on 4 Biblical questions. These are:
1. Does it give Glory to Jesus Christ in the present and in the future? [John 14:26; John 16:13-14]

2. Is it consistent with the intentions and character of God as revealed in Scripture? [John 2:22; 2 Tim 3:14-17]

Do other people who are filled with the Holy Spirit have a confirming witness?[1 Cor 14:29]

4. Is there confirmation in objectively verifiable events or facts? [Deut 18:21-22; Isa 55:10-11]
Finally, there is the explicitly stated "test" of the apostle John, who wrote:
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. 1 John 4:1-3
The devil is a deceiver. He roams about, seeking whom he may devour [1 Peter 5:8], but first he must lure them from the safety of the shepherd's flock. This is why discernment must be thoroughly taught and understood. Paul said that the ideal is that we grow up into maturity, so that we won't be "tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes." [Eph 4:14] Deceptive spirits are at work in this world, and they are able to mask themselves as children of light. [2 Cor 11:14] The enemy thrives on straying sheep, and indeed he knows our weaknesses better by far than we know them. Many false prophets there are, and they've led many astray. I have seen it happen. It is a frightful thing. "Beloved, test the spirits."


In Christ Alone

In Christ alone my heart is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My comforter, my all in all
Here in the love of Christ I stand

In Christ alone, who took on flesh
Fullness of God in helpless babe
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones He came to save
'Til on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live

There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain
Then bursting forth in glorious day
Up from the grave He rose again
And as He stands in victory
Sin's curse has lost its grip on me
For I am His and He is mine
Bought with the precious blood of Christ

No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life's first cry to final death
Jesus commands my destiny
No power of hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand
'Til He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I'll stand

No power of hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand
'Til He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I'll stand

(Words and Music by Stuart Townend & Keith Getty)
© 2002 Kingsway's Thankyou Music (ASCAP/PRS)


Think about it!

"...Pentecostal and Charismatic believers appear to have no problem accepting the notion that God may grant a 'word of wisdom' or a 'word of knowledge,' revealing information about ordinary life in an extraordinary way — and this is good. Yet many of us seem reluctant to embrace the idea that the Christian can glorify God by diligently studying ordinary or religious topics for the sake of mastering them and sharing them with others. Hundreds of times I've seen believers awed and impressed by the one who claims a 'word of knowledge.' Yet hundreds of times I've seen the same believers bored at the words of knowledge that were mined through arduous prayer and study. Why is this? Mishandling and/or misunderstanding certain Scripture passages about the nature of knowledge and the mind can easily lead to this tainted approach. Often combined with this is an unhealthy lust for the sensational. Other than these two pitfalls, there seems ultimately little excuse for this contradictory way of thinking. But it's this very line of reasoning (or lack of reasoning) that has hampered us in the realm of recapturing the intellectual dimension of paradise lost...." from Full Gospel, Fractured Minds? A Call to Use God's Gift of the Intellect, by Rick M. Nañez,

This & That

Through the invaluable Greg Burnett I found Jaeson Ma's blog. Jaeson recently featured an article by the always rewarding A. W. Tozer, called Formula for a Burning Heart. First on Tozer's list: "Get thoroughly dissatisfied with yourself." Yup, that's a start! The whole thing is worth meditating on. Never pass Tozer by skim him over.

Jaeson, btw, is very interested in campus revival. For example, something seems to be going on at Asbury College. Let's join our prayers to theirs, shall we?

Also found through Greg Burnett: an article, posted at Keith and Melody Green's Last Days Ministries website, entitled The Power of the Cross, by Noel Alexander.
Spiritual power and stability come from really knowing what Christ accomplished for us on the cross. That's where the tossing to and fro by every wind of doctrine is pushed away. The cross spells death to all things of lesser importance.

I've been a preacher for ten years and know the types of messages that get positive responses. I know for a fact that the teaching of the cross is not popular, even with Christians, because so much other stuff has been injected into the Body of Christ.

There are so many other messages and programs capturing our attention. But novelties will come and go. So will this or that emphasis. Christian leaders with their great visions will wax and wane. Yes, movements and men will rise and fall, but the cross will stand forever.
Amen to that. Read the whole article and get yourself centered on the cross again!



I don't really care about rock and roll, and I find rock n' rollers mostly a ludicrous set. I didn't watch the half-time show. And I don't own a U2 record. Not one. But I've got to admit, that was a very interesting talk Bono gave at the National Prayer breakfast.


Over at Reformation 21 you can read Sinclair Ferguson's Decalogue for Preachers (Part 1; Part 2). Now why should any but preachers or prospective preachers read this list, you may well ask? Logical question, I suppose. But some of these, at least, represent good advice for any Christian. Number six is, "Speak much of sin and grace." This is, yes, very good advice for any Christian. Ferguson explains:
Only by seeing our sin do we come to see the need for and wonder of grace. But exposing sin is not the same thing as unveiling and applying grace. We must be familiar with and exponents of its multifaceted power, and know how to apply it to a variety of spiritual conditions.
I have not acquired that skill, that insight, as much as I need to. Not yet. I don't always know how to apply grace in every situation, but Ferguson's message encourages me to make this my study. God, let me be a student of your grace.

Hat tip: Doggie's Breakfast.


Aron at Some Thoughts has been quoting Calvin lately. Get this:
For even though our eyes, in whatever direction they may turn, are compelled to gaze upon God's works, yet we see how changeable is our attention, and how swiftly are dissipated any godly thoughts that may touch us.
Hmmm. Yes, we see it. We see it every day.


The End of the Spear

I saw The End of the Spear over the weekend and loved it. I thought it was a well-told story, one of the best "Christian" movies (so-called) I've ever seen. The two major criticisms that I've heard of this movie are that the gospel message was too muted (sort of lost in translation), and the other had to do with the personal life of one onf the actors. On the first issue, while I suppose there may be some merit to this argument, we have to remember that film is story-telling, not preaching. Preaching and/or didacticism are story-killers. By the way, when did Christians lose their admiration for the power of art?

The second major criticism is one I will not address in detail. I think it's incredibly foolish. The actor in question, Chad Allen, was excellent, ernest, believable. A film company is not a church, and the movie set is not the holy of holies. This was a powerful story of forgiveness. Catez at All Things to All has said all I would have liked to say with her post entitled The End of the Spear Controversy. Note also Randy Alcorn's Perspectives on the End of the Spear and the Chad Allen Controversy.


Revival Begins in the Heart

In 2004 Dutch Sheets and Chuck Pierce stopped in Maine on their 50 state tour. I'm told that at each stop they prophesied on behalf of the state they were in. Now, my attitude is, receive a word spoken in the name of the Lord with thanksgiving, but mull it over, pray about it, and above all be careful of spiritual group-think (can you say "purpose-driven"?).

Well, Sheets and Pierce apparently prophesied that my state of Maine, which is the eastern-most in the USA, would be the place where the next great revival begins. The whole thing hinged on various Bible passages that spoke of the glory of the Lord returning to Jerusalem from the east or through the "eastern gate." And since Maine is the "eastern gate" of the United States, well, there you have it. Revival for the U.S. will begin right here in good old off-the-beaten-path Maine.

Now, some people who went to the Sheets/Pierce conference, and others who just heard about it, were very "worked up" about this prophecy, accepted it as a foregone conclusion, and have been eagerly expecting the revival-train to pull into the station ever since.

Fine. Who are they hurting? And in any case, revival is a mysterious thing (maybe someday when I read Leonard Ravenhill's Why Revival Tarries I will understand better). But as for me, I don't see any reason to think it will begin in Maine. I don't see the relevance of the " eastern gate" passages at all (and I also think there is a danger here of confusing the United States with the coming kingdom of God, and also of confusing "revival" with the return of Christ). So call me skeptical on this one. I'll just watch and pray if you don't mind.

But I thought of all this when I read a recent post of Rusty Peterman's over at Believer Blog. Rusty says:
The movement Jesus started exploded on the scene with people who longed to know more about Jesus; people hungry for the life Jesus introduced; people thirsty for the living water of the Spirit; people who loved one another.
The Jesus movement of the late 60s and early 70s interests me a good deal. Marian, a commenter over at Eight Strings, who remembers those heady days well, has this to say:
". . . what God calls us to do is to seek first His Kingdom. We can begin by praying and fasting, and, putting into action the words and works of Jesus on a daily basis in all of our own lives. We can learn to hear the Father’s voice and do what we hear the Father saying now. (Jesus only did what He saw and heard the Father say and do). We don’t have to wait for a cataclysmic outpouring like the 70’s.
Yup. You don't need a prophet to tell you to seek first the kingdom. But many of those kids in SoCal back in 1970 did seek it and find it, and, as Marian says, many still are seeking and finding. It begins, as Rusty says, with each one of us: "Nothing short of walking with Jesus every day--seeing how he loved God and other people--can open our eyes and ears and hearts to the Spirit at work within us."

I can go for that.

The 1st R

So let's keep talking about reading. I really need to create a bibliography of "books I want to read someday." Some way to keep track of the ever-expanding list. This list should be annotated, divided into categories, and perhaps even complete with capsule reviews.

What helps the most is other people's lists. Over at Together for the Gospel C. J. Mahaney has listed the books he's presently reading, and the books that have influenced him the most. From his "presently reading" list I choose 2 that I'd like to get my hands on:

The Cross He Bore, by Frederich S. Leahy. Yup, it's time for another book about the cross. Tim Challies says, "This short book is an invaluable treasure and I am certain that the reflections it contains will stay with me and come to heart and mind whenever I meditate upon the cross of Christ."

Who’s Afraid of the Holy Spirit? Edited by Daniel Wallace and James Sawyer. Forward by Wayne Grudem. So that's two people I greatly admire who endorse this book. That's good enough for me.

By the way, speaking of C. J. Mahaney, I came across this Mahaney-quote at Jacob Hantla's blog, Think about These Things: "We like to feel deeply without thinking deeply. Let us think deeply so that we may feel deeply. What we care about most deeply is that which we think about most deeply."

And since we're talking about books, how about this Richard Baxter quote, which I've stumbled across twice in a few minutes of blog-surfing: "It is not the reading of many books which is necessary to make one wise, but the well-reading of a few, could they be sure to have the best."

Amen to that.


The Other Ditch

In my recent postings I've been counseling caution with regard to "dreams and visions." The thing is, I have personally heard of a few examples lately that just seemed to me to be, well, highly questionable. So I've been focusing on the need to think critically about such matters.

Do you remember the Raiders of the Lost Ark movie where Harrison Ford stands at the edge of a great precipice? He's supposed to step out over the abyss, for he was told that if he did so, a bridge would appear miraculously beneath his feet. He would not fall! Of course he was a little reluctant to try his luck, but the situation, you may recall, left him no choice. There was no turning back. So he takes the fateful step and sure enough a stone arch appears beneath his feet. See? You just gotta believe!

A friend of mine recalled that scene recently and used it as an analogy for taking a "step of faith" in response to the prompting from God. My friend calls it a "witness in the heart." Just trust God and step out . . . sure it seems foolish, but God is faithful! To back off would be to distrust your heavenly Father.

Well, my point is, it all depends on whether that witness in the heart was really from God or not. This is really the crucial issue, it seems to me. In an age that has made an idol of the "heart," we should remember Jeremiah's warning: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" Has anyone else ever noticed that, more often than not, stepping off cliffs is sheer suicide?

But I understand that there is an alternative danger here. My blogging companion Greg Burnett commented:
There is definitely a ditch that one can fall into without being grounded in the scriptures and accepting 'words from God' indiscriminately. But there is an equally dangerous ditch on the other side of the road: one that refuses to respond to a speaking God and Who intends to lead His church in an interactive way. As Tozer also said... God is one who, by His very nature, communicates. Dreams and visions among God's people should be considered normal Christianity.
Greg is right, of course. But in my posts I happened to be investigating one ditch and not the other, that's all. I do not question that God communicates with his children in ways other than the Scriptures. However, as I said a couple of days back, even if I never receive another image, word, or gentle nudge from God, nevertheless all is well with my soul. The Scriptures, in other words, really do provide all the light I need.

But that's a purely hypothetical "if," and one I do not expect to have to abide. I know it sounds just exactly like the apologetic of a cessationist, but in fact I really do treasure the gifts of the Spirit. I try to include as many "Spirit-filled" bloggers on my blogroll as possible (like Greg Burnett, for example). To walk by the Spirit means nothing if it does not mean a living breathing Spirit-endowed life. Still, there is a reason that John said, "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world." (1 John 4:1) The sad history of the cults provides more than enough cautionary testimony to justify, in our own times, John's ancient imperative.

Aphorisms 'R' Us

Nate at Eight Strings has written another impassioned and hard-hitting post, this one called Repentance and "Cultural Drek". Be sure to read the comments as well. The interaction going on over there is a nice example of truth-seeking through dialogue within the blogosphere. Nate's writing is highly aphoristic. My two favorite examples from this post:
1) "Spirit-stifling self-absorption"--man, there's a phrase I'll probably find frequent use for. And would it be going too far to call this an epidemic in the church?

2) "I fully expect the Church to be a battered and bleeding marathon runner, limping for the finish line, but we will cross it!" Nate, where the heck did you get such wisdom? You are so right. Triumphalistic attitudes in the church are, therefore, seriously dissonant notes.
One of Nate's regular commenters is his good friend Marian. Her comment (#3) is also a very worthwhile read. Marian said:
"God is on the move--let's bless what He is doing--let'’s not wound His church anymore by railing or becoming God'’s holy correctors...."
Yup, I definitely need to hang that one on my computer monitor. Thanks, Marian, for a word fitly spoken.



I've finished reading a life of Brigham Young and have moved on now to Robert Remini's brief biography of Joseph Smith. I think by the time I finish that I will have had my fill of Mormonism.

By the way, if there is a better argument for skepticism in regard to prophetic dreams and visions than Mormonism, I don't know what it is. I regard the early history of Mormonism in somewhat the same light as I regard the rise of Nazism in Germany--I know it happened, but how on earth could it have happened! How, that is, could people believe and fervently follow such obviously delusive leaders. I know all the socio-psychological explanations, and yet . . . amazing!

Over at Together for the Gospel the conversation about reading continues. Me, I want to plan my reading carefully. I want to think about reading not one book at a time, but as one course of study at a time. I want my reading to be a means of growth and maturity, not merely a pastime. And bloggers have been a goldmine of information and guidance about books.

Keep tabs on Out of the Bloo. You won't regret it. Today Bill is writing about a "subtle shift" that happens in the life of a believer. "As we grow in faith, there is a necessary shift in our focus that I believe must take place. And it is a joyous shift! It's a changing of our focus from inward to outward." Yeah man! Read all of For you are our glory and joy. It's good stuff!