Saturday, March 26, 2016

a small detail

"...and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself."  (John 20:7 ESV)

Here's a little detail that the Apostle John notes about the now-empty tomb of Jesus.  The face cloth -- a separate wrapping for the head of the one prepared for burial -- was folded up, off to one side.  It was a simple act, yet with profound meaning.   

The scene that faced the witnesses at the tomb early that first Easter morning was not one of chaos or disarray. The empty tomb of Christ was not a scene of plundering.  Neither was it the scene of some strange force, or some unexplained anomaly. 

This action -- folding a cloth -- is such a human thing.  It was deliberate, calm, and personal.  Chaotic or random forces do not usually take time to fold clothing. 

It's as if Jesus, done with his work, is putting his work clothes away.  Jesus' life was not taken from him, but he freely laid down his life in his redeeming work for us.  

This cloth is additional confirmation that Christ was no longer dead, and that his death was not tragic or meaningless. Christ's enemies were chaotic and disordered and cruel, indeed.  But God's plan was purposeful, deliberate, and brought eternal restoration of order and peace.  

Like the folding of clothes.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

the scars of Jesus

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you."  
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. 
Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 

(John 20:19-20 ESV)

Edward Shillito (1872-1948), a Free Church minister in England, lived through the horrors of World War I and wrote this poem in 1919:

“Jesus of the Scars”

If we have never sought, we seek Thee now;
Thine eyes burn through the dark, our only stars;
We must have sight of thorn-pricks on Thy brow,
We must have Thee, O Jesus of the Scars. 

The heavens frighten us; they are too calm;
In all the universe we have no place.
Our wounds are hurting us; where is the balm?
Lord Jesus, by Thy Scars, we claim Thy grace.

If, when the doors are shut, Thou drawest near,
Only reveal those hands, that side of Thine;
We know to-day what wounds are, have no fear,
Show us Thy Scars, we know the countersign.

The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak;
They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,
And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.

Monday, March 21, 2016

what is an evangelical, part 2

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.  (1 Corinthians 15:3-5 ESV)

Closer to our own time, Dr. Leon Morris, founding member of the Evangelical Alliance (Victoria, Australia), uses the verse above to explain what evangelicalism is. Here are some highlights from an article he wrote... 

"An evangelical is a gospel man, a gospel woman. 'Evangelical' derives from 'evangel' : 'gospel'. By definition an evangelical is someone concerned for the gospel. This means more than that he preaches the gospel now and then. It means that for him the gospel of Christ is central. It is, of course, his message and he preaches it, constantly. But it is more than a subject of preaching. The gospel is at the centre of his thinking and living.  The Apostle Paul reminded the Corinthians of the gospel he had brought them by saying that it is of the first importance that 'Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures' (1 Cor.15:3). It seems to me that everything that matters to the evangelical arises from this basic proposition...
"The evangelical does not put his trust in human endeavors. He is a pessimist. He sees that dictatorships of the left and dictatorships of the right alike end up in oppression. He sees that democracies all too often end up in muddle and soulless bureaucracy. He will do his best to make any system work, but his trust is not in systems. Every system has to work on the raw material of sinners. The evangelical is clear-sighted about this. That man is a sinner puts a firm limit on his ability to do good...
"Confronted with the cross I may respond and turn to Christ in faith and love. Or I may harden my heart. To respond to Christ's love is to become a different person. The whole set of the life is changed. Evangelicals have always insisted on the necessity for conversion. This may happen in one sudden, blinding experience (as with Saul of Tarsus). Or it may happen gradually (as with Timothy). The time is immaterial. The turning is everything. And it happens to all who come to Christ. The evangelical despairs of no one. The evangelical is an optimist...
"Evangelicals have always put a great emphasis on the place of the Bible. This has not been out of perverse dogmatism, but from a profound conviction that it is important to the Christian faith... 
"Christianity is a historical religion in a way that no other religion is. Unless we have access to the facts we are cut off from our roots. And our access is by way of 'the Scriptures'. They are the means God has given us to bring us the gospel. So evangelicals have always thankfully received this good gift of God and have regarded it as of the utmost importance that we have a Bible on which we can rely. They point to the express teaching of our Lord himself and to that of the apostles. And they point to the necessity for the facts of the gospel to be reliably attested...
"There are other things that evangelicals hold. I am not giving an exhaustive list of evangelical convictions. I am saying that they all stem from the evangel. The whole system of the evangelical is the outworking of the gospel. With whatever blunderings and mistakes the evangelical tries to unfold the implications of salvation through the cross and to live by them. The evangelical man or woman is, above all else, a product, and a bearer of the gospel." 
(Excerpts taken from "What do we mean by 'evangelical'"? by Dr. Leon Morris.) 

See "What Is An Evangelical, Part 1".

Also, three addresses that Martyn Lloyd-Jones gave in 1971, "What Is An Evangelical", are also helpful.  Kevin DeYoung gives a summary of these in his blog: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.  

Saturday, March 19, 2016

what is an evangelical, part 1

Just what is "an evangelical"?  (As in, "a certain candidate received such a percentage of evangelical voters.")  Also, some churches are referred to as "evangelical churches", though they may be a part of a denomination or not.  What is an evangelical Christian, and what makes a church evangelical?  

Evangelicalism in the west, in the modern era, has been connected to the spiritual awakenings (revivals) of the 18th and 19th centuries in England and America. From many church backgrounds people were converted and brought to faith in Jesus Christ.  Transcending different denominations, they held a conviction in common as to the truthfulness of the gospel and its essential truths.      

Writing in 1877, the Bishop of Liverpool, J. C. Ryle, wrote about the general divisions, or movements, of people that made up the Church of England at that time.  He said there were three main groups: 
1) The high church, such as the Anglo-Catholics, who most valued the form, ceremony, liturgy, and tradition of the church, especially as it related to kinship with the Roman Catholic church.  
2) The broad church, comprised of those who were latitudinarian, having embraced a more liberal approach to religion (and today would be denoted by liberalism); and 
3) the evangelicals, or those who gave first place to the truths and experience of the gospel of Jesus Christ, or what might be called historic Christianity. 

Bishop Ryle, himself an evangelical, listed the five following features of "evangelical religion": 

(A) The first leading feature in Evangelical Religion is the absolute supremacy it assigns to Holy Scripture, as the only rule of faith and practice, the only test of truth, the only judge of controversy.  He says, "The supreme authority of the Bible, in one word, is one of the cornerstones of our system. Show us anything plainly written in that Book, and, however trying to flesh and blood, we will receive it, believe it, and submit to it."

(B) The second leading feature in Evangelical Religion is the depth and prominence it assigns to the doctrine of human sinfulness and corruption.  Ryle writes, "Man is radically diseased, and man needs a radical cure. I believe that ignorance of the extent of the fall, and of the whole doctrine of original sin, is one grand reason why many can neither understand, appreciate, nor receive Evangelical Religion."

(C) The third leading feature of Evangelical Religion is the paramount importance it attaches to the work and office of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the nature of the salvation which He has wrought out for man.  Ryle again: "We say that life eternal is to know Christ, believe in Christ, abide in Christ, have daily heart communion with Christ, by simple personal faith..."

(D) The fourth leading feature in Evangelical Religion is the high place which it assigns to the inward work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of man. He says, "Vital Christianity is a work of grace in the heart, and that until there is real experiential business within a man, his religion is a mere husk, and shell..."

(E) The fifth and last leading feature in Evangelical Religion is the importance which it attaches to the outward and visible work of the Holy Ghost in the life of man.  Ryle: "We affirm confidently that 'fruit' is the only certain evidence of a man’s spiritual condition; that if we would know whose he is and whom he serves, we must look first at his life. Where there is the grace of the Spirit there will be always more or less fruit of the Spirit."

We might summarize these five characteristics in this way, that evangelicals (at least at that time) gave highest priority to the Bible as God's revelation, knew the seriousness of human sin and guilt, believed the centrality of the person and work of Christ for salvation, held to the necessity of conversion (and new birth), and felt the importance of a supernaturally empowered, changed life. 

Ryle goes on to explain what traits did not in fact characterize evangelicalism, such as, the disparagement of education, unconcern for the church as an institution, etc.

In the last section of his paper, he shows how the gospel can be adulterated by additions, substitution, and confusion.  He says, 

"...a religion to be really 'Evangelical' and really good, must be the Gospel, the whole Gospel, and nothing but the Gospel, as Christ prescribed it and expounded it to the Apostles;—the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth;—the terms, the whole terms, and nothing but the terms,—in all their fullness, all their freeness, all their simplicity, all their presentness... A vast quantity of so-called religion in the present day appears to me to break down. It does not come up to the standard I have just given. Things are added to it, or things are taken away, or things are put in their wrong places, or things are set forth in their wrong proportions... In a word, they do not give full weight, full measure, and the prescription of the Gospel accurately made up. The parts are there, but not the proportions."
You can read the entire paper, “Knots Untied” here.  Ryle's work is still very relevant for understanding evangelicalism today!

Saturday, March 12, 2016

renounce, in order to receive

"The things we really need come to us only as gifts, and in order to receive them as gifts we have to be open. In order to be open we have to renounce ourselves, in a sense we have to die to our image of ourselves, our autonomy, our fixation upon our self-willed identity."  

(Thomas Merton)

tale of two cities

Ian Hamilton writes, "The Christian believer is always living in an inescapable tension! ...The truth is that every Christian lives simultaneously in two worlds. Our life is a tale of two cities."

He goes on to say, "The fact is that the Christian life is a life of irresolvable tension. We are, by God’s grace, aliens and strangers. We march to the beat of a heavenly drum in a world shaped by an earth-bounded horizon. We live to the glory of God in a world which lives for itself. More acutely, we live to be holy as God is holy in bodies of death, yet marked by indwelling sin. The tension is within as well as without. We cannot, this side of glory, escape the tension without becoming a disloyal traitor to our God and Saviour."

Read Ian Hamilton here: "Living in Two Worlds" 

Friday, March 11, 2016

questions for integrity

Fred Smith, Sr., successful Christian businessman and mentor to many, had an ability to ask himself questions "with toughness and objectivity.  He regularly assessed his progress.  He didn't trust the idea of achieving integrity and then putting himself on 'auto pilot.'  He took his emotional, spiritual, and intellectual temperature to maintain accuracy."

Here are a few questions he used in his personal search for integrity:

1) Do my motives have integrity?   Rationalization does more to pollute integrity of motive than any other factor. Ends never justify illegal, unjust, or unethical means.  

2) Am I ego-driven or responsibility motivated? Ego-driven people satisfy their ego from the cause while responsibility motivated people sacrifice their ego to the cause.  

3) Do I want the truth?  It takes a tough mind and a strong heart to love truth. Integrity demands trying to know and love truth for its own sake.  

4) Does my will control my feelings? Leadership demands a strong will, not a selfish or stubborn will.  It demands a will that does what needs doing.  By our will we overcome our yen for pleasure and our satisfaction with mediocrity.  

5) What is my source of joy? Hope expresses itself in joy. My personal definition of joy is "adequacy." The struggle is finding true security and complete adequacy in authentic, not synthetic sources.  

6) Is my passion focused? Passion brings purpose, unity, intensity, and concentration, assuring accomplishment.  Passion gives depth, keeping us from the shallowness of mediocrity.  Our lives become a welder's torch rather than a grass fire.  

7) How grateful am I?  Integrity in leadership demands gratitude.  Gratitude exposes our vulnerability and our dependence on others.    

8) Am I the pump or the pipe?  God is the pump and I am the pipe.  The pipe never gets tired.  When I try to substitute my power for God's, I become powerless, dissatisfied, even frantic, and depressed.  

9) Is grace real for me?  When I refuse grace, I am playing God and trying to punish myself.  Grace brings freedom.  If only we accept the gift, we face the failure and move on.

~ Fred Smith, Sr., from Breakfast With Fred.  

clement quotes hebrews

Clement of Rome wrote to the church in Corinth around AD 90.  This is perhaps the same Clement, companion of Paul, mentioned in Philippians 4:3.  Many hold him to be the first bishop / pope in Rome, aka St. Clement I.  

Clement quotes from the letter to the Hebrews.  Origin suggested that Clement was in fact the writer (as transcriber or amanuensis) of Hebrews.  Perhaps this letter began as a "word of exhortation" given by Paul at the synagogue (Heb 13:22; cf Acts 13:15) which then became a circular letter for the churches.  Other possible authors of Hebrews include Luke, Barnabas, or Apollos.  The theology is Pauline, but the transcriber is obviously second-generation (Heb. 2:3-4).

At any rate, this early church leader in Rome, is already quoting Hebrews in his letter in AD 90:   


This is the way, beloved, in which we find our Savior, even Jesus Christ, the High Priest of all our offerings, the defender and helper of our infirmity. By Him we look up to the heights of heaven. By Him we behold, as in a glass, His immaculate and most excellent visage. By Him are the eyes of our hearts opened. By Him our foolish and darkened understanding blossoms up anew towards His marvelous light. By Him the Lord has willed that we should taste of immortal knowledge, “who, being the brightness of His majesty, is by so much greater than the angels, as He hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.” For it is thus written, “Who maketh His angels spirits, and His ministers a flame of fire.” But concerning His Son the Lord spoke thus: “Thou art my Son, today have I begotten Thee. Ask of Me, and I will give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for Thy possession.” And again He saith to Him, “Sit Thou at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool.” But who are His enemies? All the wicked, and those who set themselves to oppose the will of God.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

tweetable ML-J

Martyn Lloyd-Jones probably would not have given much consideration to social media like Twitter.  He often said many people in the modern world -- including many Christians -- were much too superficial and hasty in their thinking.  

And yet, he was able to capture in brief statements some very deep truths indeed.  Here are a few (even Tweet-able) Lloyd-Jones' statements...   

"The first thing the Bible does is to make a man take a serious view of life."

"The first sign of spiritual life is to feel you are dead."

"No difficulty in believing the gospel is intellectual, it is always moral." 

"We have come to realize that a man can be educated and cultured and still be a beast." 

"Do you think that you deserve forgiveness?  If you do, you are not a Christian." 

"If a philosophy of life cannot help me to die, then in a sense it cannot help me to live."

"You cannot receive Christ in bits and pieces."

"Miracles are not meant to be understood, they are meant to be believed."

"I either submit to the authority of Scripture or else I am in a morass where there is no standing." 

"The Christian is a man who can be certain about the ultimate even when he is most uncertain about the immediate."

"By definition a Christian should be a problem and an enigma to every person who is not a Christian."

"Everything we do in the Christian life is easier than prayer."

"Sometimes we are praying when we should be resisting Satan."

"One almost invariably finds that if a man is wrong on the great central truths of the faith, he is wrong at every other point."

"I spend half my time telling Christians to study doctrine and the other half telling them that doctrine is not enough." 

"The ultimate test of our spirituality is the measure of our amazement at the grace of God."

~ Taken from Lloyd-Jones: Messenger of Grace, by Iain H. Murray (Banner of Truth, 2008).

Thursday, March 3, 2016

rich store of all that is good

"And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord..." (The Apostles' Creed)

In covering the second part of the Apostles' Creed in the Institutes, Calvin explains each phrase and then gives this lyrical summary as application...  

Now since we see that the whole sum and all parts of our salvation are contained in Jesus Christ, we must beware of ascribing the tiniest portion of it to anything else.  

If we are looking for salvation, the name of Jesus alone tells us that salvation is in him (Acts 4:12).  

If we desire the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we will find them in his anointing.  

If we seek strength, it is in his sovereign power. 

If purity is our aim, it is set before us in his conception.  

If we would find gentleness and kindness, it is in his birth, through which he was made like us, that he might learn compassion (Heb. 5:2).  

If we ask for redemption, his passion provides it.  In his condemnation we have our absolution.  

If we want pardon from sin's curse, that gift lies in his cross.  Atonement we have in his sacrifice, and cleansing in his blood.  

Our reconciliation was effected by his descent into hell; the mortification of our flesh is in his burial, and newness of life in his resurrection. 

If we look for the heavenly inheritance, it is attested for us by his ascension.  

If we seek help and comfort and abundance of all good things, we have them in his kingdom.  

If we would safely await the judgment, we have that blessing since he is our Judge.

In sum, since the rich store of all that is good resides in him, we must draw it from him and from no other source.  

For there are those who, not content with him, shift restlessly from one hope to another; and though they continue perhaps to look mostly to him, they fail to follow the proper path because they direct some of their thoughts elsewhere.  Even so, our minds can never entertain such feelings of distrust once we have truly experienced Christ's riches.  

~ John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion: Calvin's Own Essentials Edition (1541), pp 256-57.

soul, an embodied spirit

"The life of the soul, therefore, no less than the life of the body, is built on something other than caprice or accident. It is not a condition of lawlessness and anarchy but is from all sides and in all its activities determined by laws. It is subject to laws of truth and goodness and beauty and so it demonstrates that it has not generated itself. In short, man has from the very beginning his own nature and his own essence and these he cannot violate with impunity. And so much stronger is nature in these matters than theory that the adherents of the doctrine of evolution themselves keep talking of a human nature, of immutable human attributes, of laws of thought and ethics prescribed for man, and of an inborn religious sense. Thus the idea of the essence of man comes into conflict with the idea of his origin.

"In Scripture, however, there is perfect agreement between the two ideas. There the essence of man corresponds to his origin. Because man, although he was formed from the dust of the earth according to the body, received the breath of life from above, and was created by God Himself, he is a unique being, has his own nature. The essence of his being is this: he exhibits the image of God and His likeness." ...

"For soul and spirit differ from each other in this respect that the soul, too, is by nature spiritual, immaterial, invisible, and, even in man is a spiritually independent entity though it is always a spiritual power or spiritual entity which is oriented to a body, suits a body, and without such a body is incomplete and imperfect. The soul is a spirit designed for a physical life. Such a soul is proper to animals and particularly to man. When man loses his body in death, he continues to exist, but in an impoverished and bereft condition, so that the resurrection on the last day is a restoration of the lack."