21 October 2014

God's Work Begins When Ours Ends

Jack Miller, writing in 1987 to a fellow pastor under criticism--
God's work begins when ours comes to its end.

Sometimes His presence is not felt with power through our methods however useful they may be, especially when we are confident we have the right approach and insights. God has a way of wanting to be God and refusing to get too involved where we have our own wisdom and strength. Then when we run out of wisdom and strength, He is suddenly present, a lesson I find myself relearning practically every day that I am in my right mind. (On my crazy days I am not ready to learn much!)

I think He wants our confidence to be exclusively in Him, and when we lose our self-confidence then He moves in to show what He can do. Perhaps self-dependence--and forgetting the strength to be found in Christ-dependence--is always our biggest blind spot. There is also presumption and pride that go with self-reliance.

So let's not lose our trust in God and the power of His gospel and the spirit of praise which goes with its proclamation (Rom 15:13; 1 Cor 1:18, 22-25; Gal 6:14).
--Barbara Miller Juliani, ed., The Heart of a Servant Leader: Letters from Jack Miller (P&R, 2004), 200-201

20 October 2014

Confession, Freedom

HT: Sean Brown

17 October 2014

How Does the Holy Spirit Actually Produce Change in Us?

A rich and wise answer from Abraham Kuyper:
Dwelling in the elect, the Spirit does not slumber, nor does He keep an eternal Sabbath, in idleness shutting Himself up in their hearts; but as divine Worker He seeks from within to fill their individual persons, pouring the stream of His divine brightness through every space.

But we should not imagine that every believer is instantly filled and permeated. On the contrary, the Holy Spirit finds him filled with all manner of evil and treachery. . . . His method of procedure is not with divine power to force a man as though he were a stock or block, but by the power of love and compassion so to influence and energize the impulses of the feeble will that it feels the effect, is inclined, and finally consents to be the temple of the Holy Spirit. . . .

This operation is different in each person. In one it proceeds with marvelous rapidity; in another, progress is exceedingly slow, being checked by serious reaction which in some rare cases is overcome only with the last breath. There are scarcely two men in whom this gracious operation is completely the same.

It may not be denied that the Holy Spirit often meets serious opposition on the part of the saint. . . . And the Holy Spirit bears all this resistance with infinite pity, and overcomes it and casts it out with eternal mercy.

Who that is not a stranger to his own heart does not remember how many years it took before he would yield a certain point of resistance; how he always avoided facing it; restlessly opposed it, at last thought to end the matter by arranging for a sort of modus vivendi between himself and the Holy Spirit? But the Holy Spirit did not cease, gave him no rest; again and again that familiar knock was heard, the calling in his heart of that familiar voice. And after years of resistance he could not but yield in the end.
--Abraham Kuyper, The Work of the Holy Spirit (trans. Henri De Vries; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), 529–30

HT: Steve Porter

13 October 2014

The Fury of the Theologians

On April 17, 1560, Philip Melanchthon was two days away from death. He asked friends of his to take him into his study. He could not walk, but was placed in a bed in his study. There he silently looked around at his books.

He asked those gathered around for a piece of paper to be brought to him. With trembling hand he wrote on it the reasons why he was glad to die. On one side he wrote:
You shall be done with sin.
You shall be free from trouble and vexations and from the fury of the theologians.
On the other side he wrote:
You shall come into the light.
You shall see God.
You shall behold the Son of God.
You shall learn the secret mysteries which in this life you cannot understand--why we are created as we are, and what is the character of the union of the two natures of Christ.
HT: Dr. David Calhoun

09 October 2014

Man or Rabbit?

"Christianity will do you good--a great deal more good than you ever wanted or expected. And the first bit of good it will do you is to hammer into your head (you won't enjoy that!) the fact that what you have hitherto called 'good'--all that about 'leading a decent life' and 'being kind'--isn't quite the magnificent and all-important affair you supposed. It will teach you that in fact you can't be 'good' (not for 24 hours) on your own moral efforts. And then it will teach you that even if you were, you still wouldn't have achieved the purpose for which you were created. Mere morality is not the end of your life. You were made for something quite different than that. . . . Confucius simply didn't know what life is about. The people who keep on asking if they can't lead a decent life without Christ, don't know what life is about. . . .

"Morality is indispensable: but the Divine Life, which gives itself to us and which calls us to be gods, intends for us something in which morality will be swallowed up. We are to be re-made. All the rabbit in us is to disappear--the worried, conscientious, ethical rabbit as well as the cowardly and sensual rabbit. We shall bleed and squeal as the handfuls of fur come out; and then, surprisingly, we shall find underneath it all a thing we have never yet imagined: a real Man, an ageless god, a son of God, strong, radiant, wise, beautiful, and drenched in joy."

--C. S. Lewis, "Man or Rabbit?" in God in the Dock (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002; repr.), 112

06 October 2014

03 October 2014

Hold On and Hold Up

Remember this, that your life is short, your duties many, your assistance great, and your reward sure. Therefore faint not, hold on and hold up, in ways of well-doing, and heaven shall make amends for all. 
--Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices (Banner of Truth, 1968), 8

29 September 2014

An Ocean of Negative Scrutiny

How wonderful it is to come every Sunday into a liberating church! All week long we swim in an ocean of judgment and negative scrutiny. We constantly have to comply with the demands of a touchy world, and we never measure up. . . .

Then on Sunday we walk into a new kind of community where we discover an environment of grace in Christ alone. It is so refreshing. Sinners like us can breathe again! It’s as if God simply changes everyone’s topic of conversation from what’s wrong with us, which is plenty, to what’s right with Christ, which is endless. He replaces our negativity, finger-pointing, and self-attack with the good news of his grace for the undeserving. Who couldn’t come alive in a community which inhales that heavenly atmosphere?

Here is where every one of us can happily take our stand right now: “The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). Our self-focus was crucified with Christ. The need to conceal failure and display false superiority no longer lives. Christ is enough to complete every one of us, without adding anything of ourselves.

As we humbly keep in step with the truth of this gospel, people will find a new kind of community in our churches where sinners and sufferers can thrive.
--Ray Ortlund, The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ (Crossway, 2014), 90-91

25 September 2014

You Must Die

William Still was pastor of Gilcomston South Church in Aberdeen for over 50 years and was a friend and mentor to many who spent time studying in Scotland, such as Phil Ryken, Sinclair Ferguson, and my own dad. Rev. Still died in 1997, just a few months after leaving the pulpit.

Toward the end of his book The Work of the Pastor he lists five crucial "touchstones" for those who believe they are called to pastoral ministry. Four of them are: (1) know Christ at a deep personal level; (2) be sure of your call; (3) be patient and wait for the right timing and appointment in God's own good time; and (4) don't do it alone but rather be sure you are prayed into your place by other Christians.

The fifth is, to me, the most arresting, and I suspect the most needed today by a rising generation of young men wondering if they should enter the ministry. But while it applies uniquely to pastors, I believe what William Still says applies to all believers, and must be heard by us all. You don't find this in today's leadership books, even those by evangelical leaders.

Here are his words:
Fifthly--and most important of all--in your personal, intimate, up-to-date knowledge of Christ, secure in His calling, anchored, rooted to your right place, you must in fact die at the stake to all you are in yourself, bad and good.

Do not forget that while Jesus died with all our badness to take it away, He had to die to all the good He could have been and could have done in a long earthly life, in order that He might die with our badness. It is this, I am sure, that most, even perhaps the best-equipped ministers, find themselves not brave enough to rise to, or rather to get down to. We must die a total death to self. . . . We are to hand ourselves over to God like a defeated soldier surrendering arms--a living sacrifice. Far harder to live for Him a living death than to die for Him a death which is an escape or exodus.

If you ask why I rub this in, and make it seem so painfully hard, I answer, because I cannot make it sound too hard. It is far worse to do than you may have dreamed of. Many young ministers have come to me a year or two after they have been out in the ministry, having sought to put what they have learned into practice, and they have had a new respect for the hard things they were taught. This is a radical business. It is literally (no metaphor) a matter of life and death.

Let us put it in electrical terms. You have to die a total death to self to let the current of God's power through to others. . . . I know to my very great, sore, deadly, heartbreaking, agonizing cost, that the Word will never come through someone living. That person must be dead. (If you knew what deaths I have had to die to be here at all!) In fact, if we are not one hundred percent "with it," that is, with God in what He is doing through us, we are beating the air, wasting our breath, working for mere wages, with no product whatsoever for our pains. 
--William Still, The Work of the Pastor (Fearn, Scot.: Christian Focus, 2010), 121-23