Sunday, December 25, 2011

Luther on Christmas

Behold Christ lying in the lap of his young mother, still a virgin. What can be sweeter than the Babe, what more lovely than the mother! What fairer than her youth! What more gracious than her virginity! Look at the Child, knowing nothing. Yet all that is belongs to him, that your conscience should not fear but take comfort in him. Doubt nothing. Watch him springing in the lap of the maiden. Laugh with him. Look upon this Lord of Peace and your spirit will be at peace. See how God invites you in many ways. He places before you a babe with whom you may take refuge. You cannot fear him, for nothing is more appealing to man than a babe. Are you affrighted? Then come to him, lying in the lap of the fairest and sweetest maid. You will see how great is the divine goodness, which seeks above all else that you should not despair. Trust him! Trust him! Here is the Child in whom is salvation. To me there is no greater consolation given to mankind than this, that Christ became man, a child, a babe, playing in the lap and at the breasts of his gracious mother. Who is there whom this sight would not comfort? Now is overcome the power of sin, death, hell, conscience, and guilt, if you come to judge this gurgling Babe and believe that he is come, not to judge you, but to save.

Martin Luther's Christmas Book (ed. Roland Bainton) p.33

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Owen again on meditating on the righteousness of Christ

Believers approve of and rejoice in this righteousness [of Christ] because it brings great peace and assurance to their souls. They remember what fears  they had before. But now 'being justified by faith, they have peace with God' (Rom 5.1). All is quiet and still. Not only is the storm over, but they are safely anchored in the harbour. They have abiding peace with God. So we have that wonderful description of Christ given to us in Isaiah (Isa 32.2). The soul, through Christ, is at perfect peace with God (Isa 26.3; Psa. 4.6-8). So the souls of believers glorify the Lord Christ because they can come boldly to God with confidence, peace, joy and assurance. They can call him Father. They can strengthen themselves in his love. They can walk in peace and live without fear. Once they ran from him for fear. Now they can approach him with love, joy and peace.

John Owen, Communion with God (Banner of Truth), p.142

Friday, November 25, 2011

Grace revealed in the righteousness of Christ - John Owen

When the righteousness of Christ is first revealed to a sinner as the only way to be accepted by God, he is amazed and full of wonder and rejoices greatly. So he heartily approves of this righteousness because it reveals the glory of the wisdom of God (1 Cor 1:21). He sees what darkness he was in. He looked into himself and found only sin, horror, fear and tremblings. He looked up and saw nothing but wrath, curses and vengeance. He saw that God was holy and righteous and that no unclean thing could abide with him. He saw that he was a poor, vile, unclean and sinful creature and he could not see how a holy God and a sinful creature could be reconciled. But in the righteousness of Christ, a world of wisdom is opened, dispelling all difficulties and darkness and revealing how reconciliation could actually happen (Rom 11.33; Col 2.3).

What grace is revealed in this righteousness of Christ! The sinner does not have to earn it. God everywhere assures us that this righteousness is of grace (Rom 11.6; Eph 2.7-9). It is given to us by grace. It is from the riches of grace and kindness that this righteousness has been provided. So believers rejoice in this righteousness because it is ours by grace only.
John Owen, Communion with God (Banner of Truth), pp.141-142

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Seek consciously the lowest place

From Francis Schaeffer, No Little People in The Complete Works of Francis A Schaeffer, vol. 3, pp.12-13

Jesus commands Christians to seek consciously the lowest room. All of us – pastors, teachers, professional religious workers and nonprofessional included – are tempted to say, “I will take the larger place because it will give me more influence for Jesus Christ.” Both individual Christians and Christian organizations fall prey to the temptation of rationalizing this way as we build bigger and bigger empires. But according to the Scripture this is backwards: we should consciously take the lowest place unless the Lord Himself extrudes us into a greater one.

The word extrude is important here. To be extruded is to be forced under pressure into a desired shape. Picture a huge press jamming soft metal at high pressure through a die, so that the metal comes out in a certain shape. This is the way of the Christian: he should choose the lesser place until God extrudes him into a position of more responsibility and authority.

Let me suggest two reasons why we ought not grasp the larger place. First, we should seek the lowest place because there it is easier to be quiet before the face of the Lord. I did not say easy; in no place, no matter how small or humble, is it easy to be quiet before God. But it is certainly easier in some places than in others. And the little places, where I can more easily be close to God, should be my preference. I am not saying that it is impossible to be quiet before God in a greater place, but God must be allowed to choose when a Christian is ready to be extruded into such a place, for only He knows when a person will be able to have some quietness before Him in the midst of increased pressure and responsibility.

Quietness and peace before God are more important than any influence a position may seem to give, for we must stay in step with God to have the power of the Holy Spirit. If by taking a bigger place our quietness with God is lost, then to that extent our fellowship with Him is broken and we are living in the flesh, and the final result will not be as great, no matter how important the larger place may look in the eyes of other men or in our own eyes. Always there will be a battle, always we will be less than perfect, but if a place is too big and too active for our present spiritual condition, then it is too big….

The second reason why we should not seek the larger place is that if we deliberately and egotistically lay hold on leadership, wanting the drums to beat and the trumpets to blow, then we are not qualified for Christian leadership. Why? Because we have forgotten that we are brothers and sisters in Christ with other Christians. I have said on occasion that there is only one good kind of fighter for Jesus Christ – the man who does not like to fight. The belligerent man is never the one to be belligerent for Jesus. And it is exactly the same with leadership. The Christian leader should be a quiet man of God who is extruded by God’s grace into some place of leadership.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Tim Chester on power and weakness in the Christian life

The Christian life is not a life of victory and power, nor a is it a life of weakness. It's a life of power in weakness. Through the Holy Spirit we experience the power of resurrection from the coming age, so that we might follow the way of the cross in the present age. We must never separate the power of the resurrection from the way of the cross. We live in the power of the Spirit, but the Spirit-empowered life is characterized by service, love and submission....

This is how we steer between hopelessness on the one hand and triumphalism on the other. Triumphalism suggests we can experience now that which truly belongs to the renewal of creation. It trumpets 'victorious Christian living' in which stress is placed upon Christian victory and joy at the expense of the needs of the world and the ongoing power of sin in our lives. But discipleship now is always to follow the way of the cross, sustained by hope through the Spirit.

Yet the alternative to triumphalism is not hopelessness and inactivity. By the Holy Spirit, the power of the resurrection is at work in the life of the Christian community. The coming kingdom has already entered history through Christ the King, and his presence continues to be mediated by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit creates the life of the future kingdom now in the Christian community. We live in the power of the future through the Holy Spirit and in that power we serve the needs of the world.

Tim Chester, The Ordinary Hero, pp.170-171

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Owen on God's mercy

Pardoning mercy comes by Christ alone. This pardoning mercy is revealed in the gospel, and in this pardoning mercy God will be glorified for ever (Eph 1.6). Pardoning mercy is not a vague general mercy which overlooks sin. This would be dishonouring to God. Pardoning mercy is God's free, gracious acceptance of a sinner because satsifaction was made to his justice consistent with his glory. It is a mercy of inconceivable wonder, for God came down from the heights of glory to bring forgiveness to sinners, whilst at the same time exacting justice and severity on sin. 

John Owen Communion with God (Banner of Truth 1991), p.80

Friday, June 10, 2011

Vanhoozer on evangelical identity and the imagination

"Intellectualism and moralism alike are fatal to genuine faith; evangelical churches must avoid them both. It is fatal, on the one hand, to equate faith with intellectual assent. Too many people in our churches identify themselves as evangelicals because they can give mental assent to a list of doctrines. We have far too many believers and far too few disciples. Bonhoeffer weas right: 'cheap grace' - the preaching of forgiveness but not of discipleship - is the enemy of the evangelical church. Moralism - the notion that to be an evangelical is to behave a certain way - is equally damaging. Going through the external motions, even when they are moral, is not the equivalent of having one's inner being renewed and transformed.

"Evangelical identity, I submit, is best viewed as formed by what we might call the evangelical imagination, namely, by the biblical narratives that display the world as it really is: created, fallen and redeemed. By imagination I am referring not to the capacity to produce images of things that are not there, but rather to the capacity to apprehend a dimension of reality that eludes sensory perception. The imagination is a distinct cognitive faculty that grasps diverse persons and events together in a kind of synoptic vision; it is the ability to grasp diverse parts in terms of a unified whole (or story). Evangelical s locate their identity in the gospel story concerning what God was doing in Jesus Christ. The gospel story should enjoy epistemic and existential primacy, serving as the norm for knowledge and ethics alike. In short: the imagination is the way to integrate the head and the heart: the unities it grasps are both thought and felt.

"The imagination is linked to another whole-grasping activity: the gaining of wisdom. It is not enough to know the facts of the Bible; one has to know how to apply and relate to them. The imagination is in this respect an ally of wisdom: the ability to see how things fit together and to know how one may oneself rightly fit in. Evangelicals must define themselves in terms of the gospel; the story of Jesus is the evangelical norm and criterion for understanding the true, the good and the beautiful. 'Evangelical' thus simultaneously names a renaissance of faith (born-again), a reformation of doctrine (Bible-believing), and a revitalization of the imagination (Bible-indwelling)."

Kevin Vanhoozer "Evangelicalism and the Church" in Bartholomew, Parry & West (eds) The Futures of Evangelicalism (IVP, 2003), pp.51-52

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Recently found excellent resources: church-planting and administration

Here are two excellent, and hugely stimulating resources on church-planting that I found recently:

FOR ALL SEASONS conference

URBAN PLANT LIFE consultations

And this is a really marvellous resource on all things related to administration
 - biblical, theological and practical:

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Timmis and Chester on Success

"Church without programmes, structures or buildings can make you very vulnerable. Leadership in which your life is open can feel scary. But we should embrace this fragility because it forces us to trust God's sovereign grace.
"I often describe our church as a group of messy people led by messy people. This is what happens when you take away performance and pretence. They are replaced by messy pastoral issues. But this is how growth takes place. This is how grace is displayed. To paraphrase the opening words of the Sermon of the Mount: 'Blessed are the broken people for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them' (Matthew 5:3). Ministry as performace does not welcome brokenness because it ruins the veneer. But God's kingdom is for broken people. When pastoral problems emerge, I do not think 'Oh no, here's another problem to solve.' I think, 'What a privilege to be serving the broken people. This is where God's blessing is found.'

"The real tragedy of leadership-as-performance is that it devalues the work of Christ. Our identity is not rooted in grace, but in the success of our ministry. And so we feel good when we have performed well and we feel down when things are not going well. We become enslaved to other people's approval. We are concerned to prove ourselves and that is just another way of talking about self-justification. We preach justification by faith on the day of judgment, but do not practice justification be faith in the daily routine of our lives. Our practical theology has become disconnected from our confessional theology. Our song becomes:
"My hope is built on something less
than Jesus´ blood and righteousness;
I trust my skills, I trust my fame
and maybe sometimes Jesus´name.

"But we cannot keep it up. Self-justification is always beyond us. The chorus of Edward Mote´s hymn which I have taken the liberty of inverting actually goes:"On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand." Leadership-as-performance is sinking sand.

Total Church, pp.193-194

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Tim Chester on humility and the cross

The pardon of the cross creates a humble confidence in those who believe. Humble confidence might sound like a contradiction. Like warm ice. Or a desert that blooms. But our humility and our confidence are looking in different directions.
Our confidence comes when we look to God in the light of the cross. We see in the cross God's great declaration of his love to us and the legal status of that love. We discover that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. And that gives us confidence in the face of sin, suffering and death. Indeed it's this confidence that enables us to be humble because we don't need to assert ourselves.
Meanwhile, humility comes when we look at ourselves in the light of the cross. There we discover that we're rebels against God. When we get the chance, we murder our Creator. That's what we are like. We discover our desperate need for grace. We're humbled. So when we see a messed-up, struggling person we don't see someone inferior. We see ourselves. We see a sinner like us in desperate need of God's grace.
Tim Chester, The Ordinary Hero: living the cross and resurrection (IVP 2009, pp.32-33)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

John Owen on grace

Grace is a word which has various meanings. But chiefly it means three things:

(1) Grace can mean grace of personal presence and beauty. So we say, 'He or she is a graceful and beautiful person'. The Song of Solomon deals mainly with the grace and beauty of Christ's person. See also Psalm 45.2

(2) Grace can mean grace of free favour and acceptance. 'By grace you are saved'. That is, we are saved by the free favour and merciful acceptance of God in Christ. So the expression 'If I have found grace in your sight' is often used. The person using this expression hopes that he will be freely and favourably accepted. So God 'gives grace', that is, favour, to the humble. (James 4.6; Gen. 39.21; 41.37; Acts 7.10; 1 Sam 2.26; 2 Kings 25.27)

(3) Grace can mean the fruit of the Spirit sanctifying and renewing our natures, enabling us to do those good things which God has purposed and planned for us to do, and holding us back from evil. 'My grace is sufficient for you,' says the Lord Christ. That is, the help which God gave was sufficient for Paul (2 Cor. 12.9; 8.6, 7; Col 3.16; Heb 12.28)

The last two meanings of the word grace, as relating to Christ, I call 'purchased grace', being purchased by him for us. And our communion with Jesus in this purchased grace is called 'a fellowship in his sufferings, and the power of his resurrection.' (Phil. 3.10)

John Owen, Communion with God (Banner of Truth, 1991), pp.46-47

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Living the Cross and Resurrection

One of the phrases the New Testament often uses to describe Christians is 'in Christ' or 'united to Christ'. You and I are in Christ. This means his death is our death and his life is our life. It means his cross is our model and his resurrection is our hope.

Perhaps rather surprisingly, when the New Testament writers tell us how we should live, they don't often point back to the life of Jesus. Instead they take us again and again to the cross and resurrection. Whether they're talking about marriage or conflict or community or money or opposition or leadership or temptation or work or suffering, they look to the cross and resurrection. So if you want to know how to live as a Christian, you need to understand how the cross and resurrection shape our lives. The pattern of the cross and resurrection needs to become our reflex, our habit, our instinct. We need to live the cross and resurrection.

Tim Chester, The Ordinary Hero: living the cross and resurrection (IVP, 2009); from the introduction, p.11

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The simplicity and tenderness of Jesus' power

I am currently reading Timothy Keller's latest book, King's Cross, which is based on a series of sermons he preached on Mark's Gospel. Like the rest of Keller's work, I am being refreshed and challenged by his profound reflections on the Scriptures. The following quote is about Jesus' raising of Jairus's daughter in Mark 5 and I am moved by the beauty and simplicity of Jesus. I cannot begin to imagine what it would have been like to have been there and witnessed it.

Do you think it is odd that when Jesus arrives at Jairus's house he says that the girl is just sleeping? The parallel accounts of this story in Matthew's and Luke's gospels make it clear that Jesus understands she's dead. She's not just mostly dead; she's all dead. Then why does he make that reference to sleep?

The answer is in what Jesus does next. Remember, Jesus sits down beside the girl, takes her by the hand, and says two things to her. The first is talitha. Literally, it means "little girl," but that does not get across the sense of what he's saying. This is a pet name, a diminutive term of endearment. Since this is a diminutive that a mother would use with a little girl, probably the best translation is "honey." The second thing Jesus says to her is koum, which means "arise." Not "be resurrected"; it just means "get up." Jesus is doing exactly what this child's parents might do on a sunny morning. He sits down, takes her hand, and sayd, "Honey, it's time to get up." And she does. Jesus is facing death, the most implacable, inexorable enemy of the human race and such is his power that he holds this child by the hand and gently lifts her right up through it. "Honey, get up." Jesus is saying by his actions, "If I have you by the hand, death itself is nothing but sleep."

But Jesus' words and actions are not just powerful; they are loving too. When you were little, if your parent had you by the hand you felt everything was okay. You were wrong, of course. There are bad parents, and even the best parents are imperfect. Even the best parents can slip up, even the best parents make wrong choices. But Jesus is the ultimate Parent who has you by the hand and will bring you through the darkest night. The Lord of the universe, the One who danced the stars into place, takes you by the hand and says, "Honey, it's time to get up."
Tim Keller, King's Cross, pp.67-68

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Os Guiness on evangelism and discipleship in the global era

A few quotes from Os Guinness, when he and David Wells addressed the Lausanne Congress 2010 on globalisation.

...The rarest commodity in the West is attention… because in the West everybody’s speaking, e.mailing, texting, tweeting, blogging, you name it. Everybody’s speaking. Nobody’s listening. And we think with better technologies we’ll get over to them. It’s not a technological problem, it’s a spiritual, moral problem. And if ever we needed the power of the Holy Spirit to say things simple and fresh that break through this barrier it’s today.

...Let me finish with a series of very simple points to ponder. Evangelism and discipleship in the global era.

First, evangelism in some ways is easier, but genuine discipleship is harder.

Secondly, social justice has become very popular but evangelism is politically incorrect.

Methodologies have run riot and are valued by everybody, but truth has become unfashionable and embarrassing.

The internet of course is fast and powerful but it’s shallow; incarnate witness is slow and costly but it’s deep.

The global and the short term are very glamorous; the local and the long-term are costly and sacrificial.

Virtual community and virtual communications are prized but they are never more than what’s called thin. Face-to-face community and face-to-face communication is discounted but of course that’s what reflects our Lord in the incarnation. 

You can catch the video here