Friday, January 31, 2014

the greatest gift

There are many blessings and gifts we receive by being united to Christ through faith.  Forgiveness of sin, adoption into God's family, answered prayers, family and church, just to name a few.  Yet the Scripture consistently presents the greatest gift and blessing of the Christian life to be a Who, and not a what.  The blessing is not a thing or any thing, but a Person...

"For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants." (Isaiah 44:3 ESV)

"If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" (Luke 11:13 ESV)

And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself." (Acts 2:38-39 ESV)

"Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us--for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree'-- so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith." (Galatians 3:13-14 ESV)

It is our calling to cherish his presence.  We are to be led by him, filled with him, and careful not to grieve him.

Monday, January 20, 2014

machen on the Jesus of our own making

Gresham Machen was a professor of New Testament at Princeton during the rise of modern liberalism and higher critical thinking.  He was an able apologist for historic Christianity, but was eventually fired for his conservative positions.  He went on to found Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.

Below are quotes from him, as he showed that the "Jesus" of modern theologians was a fiction of their own prejudices.  Rather, the entire Bible presents a complete and consistent portrait of Christ (centering on his work at the Cross), and that we must take or leave Jesus as the Scriptures so present him. 

“The truth is that the life-purpose of Jesus discovered by modern
liberalism is not the life purpose of the real Jesus, but merely
represents those elements in the teaching of Jesus--isolated and
misinterpreted--which happen to agree with the modern program...”
"It is vain, then, to speak of reposing trust in the Person without
believing the message. For trust involves a personal relation between
the one who trusts and him in whom the trust is reposed. And in this
case the personal relation is set up by the blessed theology of the
"The critical process is certainly very difficult, and the suspicion
often arises that the critic is retaining as genuine words of the
historical Jesus only those words which conform to his own
preconceived ideas...  It is not Jesus, then, who is the real
authority, but the modern principle by which the selection within
Jesus' recorded teaching has been made. Certain isolated ethical
principles of the Sermon on the Mount are accepted, not at all because
they are teachings of Jesus, but because they agree with modern
“The Jesus of the New Testament has at least one advantage over the
Jesus of modern reconstruction– He is real. He is not a manufactured
figure suitable as a point of support for ethical maxims, but a
genuine Person whom a man can love. Men have loved Him through all the Christian centuries. And the strange thing is that despite all the
efforts to remove Him from the pages of history, there are those who
love Him still.”   [Excerpts above from Christianity and Liberalism]
“That view of the Cross, it cannot be denied, runs counter to the mind
of the natural man. It is not, indeed, complicated or obscure; on the
contrary it is so simple that a child can understand, and what is
really obscure is the manifold modern effort to explain the Cross away
in such fashion as to make it more agreeable to human pride.”
(Gresham Machen, What is Faith?)
"If we put what the Bible says about Jesus together, we can even now
have contact with Him.  I am bound to say that there was a time when I was greatly troubled in my faith by the defection of the modern world from Jesus of Nazareth as He is set forth in the Scriptures; but as I observe what is becoming of the world when the contact with Jesus is broken, my faith is no longer so much troubled by the argument from modern authority, and I have come to wonder whether, after wandering in devious ways, we shall not be forced to come again, as little children, to the Lord Jesus Christ as He is set forth in the Holy Scriptures and offered to us in the gospel."  ("What the Bible Teaches About Jesus", from Selected Shorter Writings by Machen)

the sun of his soul

"I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And 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... Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." (Galatians 2:20; 6:14 ESV)

"Jesus Christ crucified was the joy and delight, the comfort and the peace, the hope and the confidence, the foundation and the resting-place, the ark and the refuge, the food and the medicine of Paul’s soul. He did not think of what he had done himself, and suffered himself. He did not meditate on his own goodness, and his own righteousness. He loved to think of what Christ had done, and Christ had suffered,--of the death of Christ, the righteousness of Christ, the atonement of Christ, the blood of Christ, the finished work of Christ. In this he did glory. This was the sun of his soul."   (J. C. Ryle, Old Paths)

Monday, January 13, 2014

more sunday quotes

...regarding the opposition the gospel faces, and having the willingness to accept the conflict that comes with following Christ...

“Totalitarian, authoritative states are not far from us. They breathe down our necks at every turn—not only communist countries, but also modern elites in the West. In each case, an authoritative society offers itself as the integration point. The Christian must always say, “I want the state and society to have its proper place. But if it tries to come into the center of my life, I am against it because Jesus only is there.” (Francis Schaeffer, No Little People, 1974)

“Jesus promised his disciples three things: that they would be entirely fearless, absurdly happy, and that they would get into trouble.” (W. Russell Maltby)

"The saddest symptom about many so-called Christians is the utter absence of anything like conflict and fight against spiritual apathy in their Christianity. They eat, they drink, they dress, they work, they amuse themselves, they get money, they spend money, they go through a brief round of formal religious services once or twice every week. But of the great spiritual warfare – its watchings and strugglings, its agonies and anxieties, its battles and contests – of all things they appear to know nothing at all. Let us take care that this case is not our own." (J.C. Ryle)

Edit: here's a bit more of the Schaeffer quote and a fuller citation:

"Having stressed that Jesus must be in the center of our lives, I want to mention ... other things that we must be careful not to put there. The first is any totalitarian state or totalitarian church. If I have the perspective the disciples were told to have on the Mount of Transfiguration — “this is my beloved Son ... hear ye him” — there is no place for a totalitarian anything! Neither a church which puts itself between the individual and God, nor a state which demands primary allegiance has such a right. There is a legitimate place for both the state and church, but not at the center. The center must be a Person [Jesus].
Totalitarian, authoritative states are not far from us. They breathe down our necks at every turn — not only communist countries, but also modern elites in the West. In each case, an authoritative society offers itself as the integration point. The Christian must always say, “I want the state and society to have its proper place. But if it tries to come into the center of my life, I am against it because Jesus only is there.” 

-- Francis Schaeffer, "Jesus Only" in No Little People. In The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer: A Christian Worldview, Volume Three, Book One, Chapter 12, p. 145. Crossway Books 2nd edition (1982).

Friday, January 10, 2014

the worth of the individual

"One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul." (Acts 16:14 ESV)

In Philippi (Acts 16) Paul encounters three individuals who are influenced by the proclamation of the gospel:  Lydia, a demonized servant girl, and a Roman jailer.  Each individual's story is different, but all experience the power of Christ.

The history of redemption (that is, real history-- the one story that rules them all) focuses largely on individuals.  From the one who disobeyed and cast our planet into darkness (Adam) to the One who restores all (the second Adam, Jesus Christ).  In between there is Abraham, and Jacob, and Joseph, and Moses, and Ruth, and Deborah, and David, and Esther... down to Zacchaeus, Martha, Mary, Bartimaeus, Nicodemus, etc... There is the one lost sheep, the one lost coin, and the prodigal son.  Paul closes his letters with reference to many individuals.  

In studying this passage I came on a number of helpful quotes, regarding the worth of the individual...

“If we could see how precious the human soul is, as Christ saw it, our ministry would approach the effectiveness of Christ’s.” (Phillip Brooks)

“Love is a personal sharing in the destiny of another.” (Quoted by Lorne Sanny, “The Worth of the Individual”)

“There are no ordinary people. You've never talked to a mere mortal.” (C. S. Lewis)

“The Bible, however, has quite a different emphasis: with God there are no little people.” (Francis Schaeffer, No Little People)

“Man’s dignity rests in God who assigns an inestimable worth to every person. Man’s origin is not an accident, but a profoundly intelligent act by One who has eternal value; by One who stamps His own image on each person. God creates men and moves heaven and earth to redeem them when they fall. Our origin is in creation and our destiny is for redemption. Between these points every human heart beat has value.” (R. C. Sproul)

“It is true that historic Christianity is in conflict at many points with the collectivism of the present day; it does emphasize, against the claims of society, the worth of the individual soul. It provides for the individual a refuge from all the fluctuating currents of human opinion, a secret place of meditation where a man can come alone into the presence of God. It does give a man courage to stand, if need be, against the world; it resolutely refuses to make of the individual a mere means to an end, a mere element in the composition of society. It rejects altogether any means of salvation which deals with men in a mass; it brings the individual face to face with his God.”  (J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism)

Monday, January 6, 2014

humanity an enigma

 Our human condition includes both greatness and misery, both beauty and brokenness.  We are made in God's image and created for a relationship with him.  We are a material creation as well as spiritual.  Both nobility and evil pervade our entire makeup. A purely materialistic explanation does not account for all dimensions of human nature.  This is described so well by the Dutch theologian, Herman Bavinck:  

“The conclusion, therefore, is that of Augustine, who said that the heart of man was created for God and that it cannot find rest unless it rests in its Father’s heart.  Hence, all men are really seeking after God, as Augustine also declared, but they do not all seek Him in the right way nor at the right place.  They seek Him down below, and He is above, they seek Him on the earth and He is in Heaven.  They seek Him afar, and He is nearby. They seek Him in money, in property, in fame, in power, and in passion; and He is to be found in the high and the holy places, and with him that is of a contrite and humble spirit (Isa. 57:15).  But they do seek Him, if haply they might feel after Him and find Him (Acts 17:27). They seek Him and at the same time they flee Him.  They have no interest in a knowledge of His ways, and yet they cannot do with Him.  They feel themselves attracted to God and at the same time repelled by Him.

"In this, as Pascal so profoundly put it out, consists the greatness and the miserableness of man. He longs for truth and is false by nature. He yearns for rest and throws himself from one diversion upon another.  He pants for a permanent and eternal bliss and seizes on the pleasures of a moment.  He seeks for God and loses himself in the creature.  He is a born son of the house and he feeds on the husks of the swine in a strange land.  He forsakes the fountain of living waters and hews out broken cisterns that can hold no water (Jer. 2:13).  He is as a hungry man who dreams that he is eating, and when he awakes finds that his soul is empty; and he is like a thirsty man who dreams that he is drinking, and when he awakes finds that he is faint and that his soul has appetite (Isa. 29:8).

"Science cannot explain this contradiction in man.  It reckons only with his greatness and not with his misery, or only with his misery and not with his greatness.  It exalts him too high, or it depresses him too far, for science does not know of his Divine origin, nor of his profound fall.  But the Scriptures know of both, and they shed their light over man and over mankind; and the contradictions are reconciled, the mists are cleared, and the hidden things are revealed.  Man is an enigma whose solution can be found only in God."  

(Herman Bavinck, "Man's Highest Good", from A Reasonable Faith)


Sunday, January 5, 2014

only three pull ups

Here are two similar views -- related to the issue of women in combat -- from two very dissimilar sources.  First from an evangelical pastor, John Piper, and then from a feminist professor of humanities, Camille Paglia:

"So it has been in almost every society that has come under the sway of Christian truth: women of valor, women ready to die in the service of family and fatherland, but not women armed by men for combat. It would have been viewed by most men as cowardly."  (John Piper, The Folly of Men Arming Women for Combat)

"Extravaganzas of gender experimentation sometimes precede cultural collapse, as they certainly did in Wiemar Germany.  Like late Rome, America too is an empire distracted by games and leisure pursuits.  Now as then, there are forces aligning outside the borders, scattered fanatical hordes where the cult of heroic masculinity still has tremendous force.  I close with this question:  is a nation whose elite education is increasingly predicated on the neutralization of gender prepared to defend itself against that growing challenge?"  (Camille Paglia, "Comet Camille Paglia comes to AU and talks gender")