Thursday, March 31, 2011

doing ministry

"Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.  But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God.  And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing.  In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.  For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake.  For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.  But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us."  (2 Corinthians 4:1-7 ESV)

Some lessons on doing ministry:

1) While proclaiming the gospel, and teaching his Word, we will be prone to lose heart.  We must not become discouraged at the difficulties but remember the mercy of God toward us -- him who gives us the inestimable privilege of declaring the good news about his Son.

2) We will be tempted to make the gospel more culturally acceptable, or engage in bait-and-switch, rather than speaking plainly about both the benefits and costs of being a Christian.  We must have integrity in all our speech and claims.

3) People's unresponsiveness is not necessarily due to failure on our part.  There is a spiritual opposition manifested in the veiling of minds against Jesus.  Human depravity and spiritual blindness is real.  This means that prayer becomes a most vital component of ministry.

4) We are not bringing people to see things our way, or to become our followers.  We are not Lord -- Jesus is Lord.  Our role is as servants to others for Jesus' sake.

5) New life is primarily seen in the opening of the heart and mind (hence, "light") to see the beauty and excellence of Jesus Christ as revealed in the gospel.  Jesus himself is the glorious image of God.

6) Ministry will reveal that we are frail, fallible and very fragile.  This should not surprise us, for the truth is that our frailty actually leads others to see the true surpassing value of God himself.  We are not winning people to ourselves, but to the Lord.  Again, as in #1 above, this becomes another reason for us not "to lose heart."  

Friday, March 25, 2011

Recollecting prayer

"You are the LORD, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you.  You are the LORD, the God who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and gave him the name Abraham...  (Nehemiah 9:6-7 ESV) 

Recently, I've been reading in the book of Nehemiah and observing the work of God among those exiles returning to Judea.  The Word -- read and heard -- prompted widespread confession, joy, prayer, and a renewed covenant among the people to follow the Lord.

Chapter 9 records a lengthy prayer that takes into account God's work from creation to their present circumstance.  I've noticed in Scripture how often prayers review the breadth of God's being and works before coming to any personal request at hand.  Martyn Lloyd-Jones calls this "recollection"...

... we remind ourselves of the vital importance of the right approach, for this is the key to the understanding of successful prayer. People so often say, 'You know, I prayed and prayed, but nothing happened. I did not seem to find peace. I did not seem to get any satisfaction out of it.' Most of their trouble is due to the fact that their approach to prayer has been wrong ... We tend to be so self-centered in our prayers that when we drop on our knees before God, we think only about ourselves and our troubles and perplexities. We start talking about them at once, and of course nothing happens ... That is not the way to approach God. We must pause before we speak in prayer.

The great teachers of the spiritual life throughout the centuries, whether Roman Catholic or Protestant, have been agreed ... that the first step in prayer has always been what they call 'Recollection'. There is a sense in which every man when he begins to pray to God should put his hand upon his mouth. That was the whole trouble with Job ... He felt that God had not been dealing kindly with him, and he had been expressing his feelings freely. But when ... God began to deal with him at close quarters, when He began to reveal and manifest Himself to him, what did Job do? ... He said, '... I will lay mine hand upon my mouth'. And, strange as it may seem to you, you start praying by saying nothing; you recollect what you are about to do.

I know the difficulty in this. We are but human, and we are pressed by the urgency of our position, the cares, the anxieties, the troubles, the anguish of mind ... And we are so full of this that, like children, we start speaking at once. But if you want to make contact with God, and if you want to feel His everlasting arms about you, put your hand upon your mouth for a moment. Recollection! Just stop for a moment and remind yourself of what you are about to do.

(Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, ii, pp. 51-2)

Monday, March 21, 2011

friendship built on virtue

"It is virtue, virtue, which both creates and preserves friendship. On it depends harmony of interest, permanence, fidelity."  (Cicero)

"A man is known by the company he shuns as well as by the company he keeps."  (C. H. Spurgeon)

"The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant."  (Psalm 25:14)

"Actually, the word friendship in this verse (Psalm 25:14) can also be translated secret or intimate. This interesting word in the Hebrew refers to the confidential counsel  that you would get from a close friend. So, the secret, intimate, confidential counsel that comes from the friendship of the Lord 'is for those who fear Him.' God shares His best stuff with the people who fear Him. This is the closeness of trusting God."  (James MacDonald)

"[Christians] are accepted and received into friendship with a holy God, — a God of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, — who hates every unclean thing. And is it not necessary that they should be holy who are admitted into his presence, walk in his sight, — yea, lie in his bosom?  Should they not with all diligence cleanse themselves from all pollution of flesh and spirit, and perfect holiness in the fear of the Lord?"  (John Owen, Communion with the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, p 220).

Saturday, March 19, 2011

evangelicals divided

I think Gerry McDermott has made some valuable points on the state of American "evangelicalism" today.  He says there are two groups: Traditionalists and Meliorists, and it all goes back to their view of Scripture as authoritative.  Here are some of his insights...

The logic of the Meliorist approach would lead evangelicalism to follow the path of mainline Protestantism over the last decades, as it continued to proclaim the authority of Scripture and respect for tradition while rejecting the Tradition (and in particular its reading of Scripture) at precisely the points where the culture was at war with biblical teaching. In moral theology, for example, if the words of Scripture are culture-bound and not inspired, the particulars of Levitical or Pauline sexual admonitions must give way to the true Word behind the words—love and non-judgmentalism—when confronted by the experience of committed love and presumed new knowledge.

For most Meliorists, the Bible’s authority is primarily functional. But Vanhoozer insists that Scripture has ontological authority. God uses the words of Scripture to speak to us, but the giving of the canon itself is a divine act speaking to the world. The Spirit is active not only on those occasions when particular parts of the Bible are illuminated for us, but was also already active in the formation of the words of the canon.

In these ways and others, Vanhoozer shows in a post-foundationalist way that experience and doctrine are intrinsically tied up in one another, and that the Bible’s words (not just concepts) are given by God just as He gives them afresh every time they are read or preached. The Meliorists’ exaltation of experience over doctrine is a false dichotomy, and their dissociation of revelation from biblical words slights God’s work of revelation in history.

Meliorists say the historic Church’s understanding of Scripture should be closely scrutinized. Some of them profess respect for the Great Tradition, but because of their slippery approach to biblical inspiration and subordination of doctrine to experience, their relation to that Tradition is tenuous. Because the meaning of the Word is found not in the words of the Bible but in the theology of the Meliorist interpreter, sola scriptura can become—despite the best intentions of its leading thinkers— sola theologia, with the charismatic theologian the final authority.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

human goodness not hard-wired

From Jeff Jacoby's "Massacre of the innocents" in the Globe Columnist / March 16, 2011:
The civilized mind struggles to make sense of such savagery.
There are those who believe passionately that all human beings are inherently good and rational creatures, essentially the same once you get beyond surface disagreements. Such people cannot accept the reality of a culture that extols death over life, that inculcates a vitriolic hatred of Jews, that induces children to idolize terrorists. Since they would never murder a family in its sleep without being driven to it by some overpowering horror, they imagine that nobody would. This is the mindset that sees a massacre of Jews and concludes that Jews must in some way have provoked it. It’s the mindset behind the narrative that continually blames Israel for the enmity of its neighbors and makes it Israel’s responsibility to end their violence.

The truth is simpler, and bleaker. Human goodness is not hard-wired. It takes sustained effort and healthy values to produce good people; in the absence of those values, cruelty and intolerance are far more likely to flourish.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

on pinciple-based leadership

Fred Smith, Dallas businessman and mentor, predicted that America could not long enjoy freedom from dictatorship unless there was a widespread morality built upon spiritual vitality.  In 1977, he wrote:

Character is more than ethics because it largely determines the effect one has on one’s self.  Like the old saying, “Reputation is what others think you are… but character is what you know you are.”   Character is the true basis of genuine self-respect.

Natural desires of selfish indulgence are allowed to abridge the disciplines of character.  Our future depends on the residue of individual responsibility.  The question remains whether character can be built faster than the deterioration.

Two areas of growth exist:

1) The general recognition that character strength is a pragmatic need for the orderly conduct of civilized life.  Just as we continue to use the ancient mathematical principles even with new techniques because they work, character continues to work.  Our American style of life demands the underpinning of character.

But no doubt this recognition must come from our leadership.

2) A Christian revival that would create a personal, spiritual vitality that keeps morality and legality from merging into one.  Personal morality must always exceed legality for meaningful freedom to exist.

There is a danger that those enjoying the pleasures of the lessening character values “sin for a season is very pleasant” will expect others to supply the morality and values necessary to perpetuate America while they take an irresponsible, morality-free ride.  There have always been these character free-loaders – these weak cells in the honeycomb of our society.  Too great a concentration of weak cells will collapse the good ones.

If too many adults demand others to carry the moral load, letting personal character deteriorate, the scene is set for a strong dictator rather than a popularly elected leader.  Democracy depends on the strong individual capable of self-direction in a time where personal irresponsibility rules.

Character is the residence of those values which determine our ability to be free and self-policing.  The man who doesn’t self-discipline demands external discipline.  I remember meeting a businessman in Buenos Aires who asked, “Mr. Smith, when will the States have a dictator?”  His next words surprised me.  “The States must have a dictator- you have lost control of your freedom, and it will require a dictator to establish order.”
I pray this will never happen.

--Fred Smith, 1977

from "patristics for busy pastors"

“When we go back to the church fathers we see them defending the important Christian doctrines that are very basic to us, those doctrines that—if we’ve been Christians for a long time—we may well take for granted, doctrines we don’t question, or have any qualms about. Sometimes as important as they are, we don’t think about them much, and we don’t weave them into our teaching, nor do we express the passion for the importance of them to our people as we ought. When we go back to the patristic period and we see the church fathers defending the reality of, for example, the incarnation of Christ and showing the importance of it, we may—who have fully embraced the incarnation of Christ and never questioned it in our Christian experience—suddenly have a new sense of the significance and the absolute essential-ness of the doctrine of the incarnation in a way we hadn’t before."

Ligon Duncan, interview

Monday, March 7, 2011

bonar hymns

During the Lord's Supper on Sunday I was blessed by the lyrics of a couple of hymns by Horatius Bonar (1808-1889), a minister of the Free Church of Scotland.  He and his brother Andrew were excellent writers of devotion, history and other evangelical works.  

The first hymn was one we sung and the other was one I read afterwards in meditation...

Here, O my Lord, I see Thee face to face;
Here would I touch and handle things unseen;
Here grasp with firmer hand eternal grace,
And all my weariness upon Thee lean.

Here would I feed upon the bread of God,
Here drink with Thee the royal wine of Heaven;
Here would I lay aside each earthly load,
Here taste afresh the calm of sin forgiven.

I have no help but Thine; nor do I need
Another arm save Thine to lean upon;
It is enough, my Lord, enough indeed;
My strength is in Thy might, Thy might alone.

Mine is the sin, but Thine the righteousness:
Mine is the guilt, but Thine the cleansing blood;
Here is my robe, my refuge, and my peace;
Thy Blood, Thy righteousness, O Lord my God!

There are more verses, which can be found at  And this is the second hymn...

No, not despairingly come I to Thee;
No, not distrustingly bend I the knee:
Sin hath gone over me, yet is this still my plea,
Jesus hath died.

Ah! mine iniquity crimson hath been,
Infinite, infinite—sin upon sin:
Sin of not loving Thee, sin of not trusting Thee—
Infinite sin.

Lord, I confess to Thee sadly my sin;
All I am tell with Thee, all I have been:
Purge Thou my sin away, wash Thou my soul this day;
Lord, make me clean.

Faithful and just art Thou, forgiving all;
Loving and kind art Thou when poor ones call:
Lord, let the cleansing blood, blood of the Lamb of God,
Pass o’er my soul.

Then all is peace and light this soul within;
Thus shall I walk with Thee, the loved Unseen;
Leaning on Thee, my God, guided along the road,
Nothing between.


Sunday, March 6, 2011

sheaffers, ca 1924-28

Finished working on two more pens for a friend. These are Sheaffer Flat-top Seniors, in Jade and Black "radite" (celluloid), with Lifetime nibs.  They were manufactured in the U.S. ca 1924-28.  Below is a Sheaffer Jade ad from that period.  

More here:

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

newly restored moore

Finished work on this for a friend.  A large Moore L-96 in green marbled celluloid, with a 14K Maniflex nib. Late 1920s / early 30s. A stunning and sweet-writing pen; highly collectible.