Saturday, December 24, 2016

"The Sweet Dropper"

Have you heard of Richard Sibbes?

He was a Puritan theologian in England and lived from 1577-1635. He is known as “the sweet dropper,” because such grace-filled sweetness dropped from his pen. Charles Spurgeon, the famous London preacher of the 1800s wrote of him, “he scatters pearls and diamonds with both hands.”

Inspired by Isaiah 42:1-4, he wrote a book called The Bruised Reed. I HIGHLY recommend the whole book, so let me scatter some sweetness from his pen in hopes that your appetite will be whetted for more. 

First off, he says that the "bruising" itself is God’s work:
Our hearts, like criminals, until they be beaten from all evasions, never cry for the mercy of the judge. ... [T]his bruising makes us set a high price upon Christ. Then the gospel becomes the gospel indeed; then the fig-leaves of morality will do us no good. And it makes us more thankful, and, from thankfulness, more fruitful in our lives; for what makes many so cold and barren, but that bruising for sin never endeared God’s grace to them? (4) 
The heroic deeds of those great worthies do not comfort the church so much as their falls and bruises do. [And, he gives examples beginning with] … David [who] was bruised until he came to a free confession… (5) 
It is no easy matter to bring a man from nature to grace, and from grace to glory, so unyielding and intractable are our hearts. (6) 
Physicians, though they put their patients to much pain, will not destroy nature, but raise it up by degrees. Surgeons will lance and cut, but not dismember. (7)
 Listen to how helpfully he speaks of the winsome character of Christ:
A mother who has a sick and self-willed child will not therefore cast it away. And shall there be more mercy in the stream than in the spring? Shall we think there is more mercy in ourselves than in God, who plants the affection of mercy in us? (7) 
As a mother is tenderest to the most diseased and weakest child, so does Christ most mercifully incline to the weakest.” (10) 
…if we have this for a foundation truth, that there is more mercy in Christ than sin in us, there can be no danger in thorough dealing. It is better to go bruised to heaven than sound to hell. Therefore let us not take off ourselves too soon, nor pull off the plaster before the cure be wrought, but keep ourselves under this work till sin be the sourest, and Christ the sweetest, of all things. And when God’s hand is upon us in any way, it is good to divert our sorrow for other things to the root of it all, which is sin. Let our grief run most in that channel, that as sin bred grief, so grief may consume sin. (12-13, emphasis added)
 He also follows with implications for those who follow this Jesus as their Master:
The ambassadors of so gentle a Saviour should not be overbearing…Some think it strength of grace to endure nothing in the weaker, whereas the strongest are readiest to bear with the infirmities of the weak. (34)
That's just a taste. Get the book for more food for your soul. 

Friday, December 23, 2016

We Need More 'Both And' Believers

“Augustine expressed his faith not with his heart alone, for the heart does not think . . . nor with his mind alone, for he never grasps truth in the abstract, as if it were dead. Rather, to his task as a theologian he brought emotional tenacity, immense intellectual power, purpose of will, deep spirituality and heroic sanctity.”

“The Significance of Augustine,” Christianity Today, 11 December 1987, page 22.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

"Crappy Theology." Amen.

McGarvey family road trip not long ago. Kids watching The Sound of Music.

The "Something Good" song scene comes on.

Here are the lyrics:

Perhaps I had a wicked childhood
Perhaps I had a miserable youth
But somewhere in my wicked, miserable past
There must have been a moment of truth

For here you are, standing there, loving me
Whether or not you should
So somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good

Nothing comes from nothing
Nothing ever could
So somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good

I was just about to stop the movie and ask the kids what they thought of those words when Sam blurts out, “Well that’s pretty crappy theology.” I would have preferred a better choice of words. But I'm thankful he can recognize the anti-gospel when he hears it.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Sweet Temper of Our Savior

You've probably never heard of Benjamin Grosvenor. He was an English pastor who lived from 1676-1758. He once preached a sermon entitled, “The Temper of Jesus.” It was a reflection on Luke 24:47, “...that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”

Taste the sweetness he squeezed out of these words by his meditation on the character of the One who said them.
It is very affecting, that the first offers of grace should be made to those… who least deserved it. They of all people had most deserved the contrary! That they who had abused Christ to a degree beyond the most pitiful description, should lie uppermost in his care, and stand foremost in his pity, and find so much mercy from one to whom they showed none at all!
One would rather have expected the apostles should have received another kind of charge; and that Christ should have said, ‘Let repentance and remission of sins be preached, but carry it not to Jerusalem, that wicked city… let not the Gospel enter those gates, through which they led me, it’s author, to crucifixion…
But Gods thoughts are not as ours… our way is, to make the chief of offenders examples of justice; to avenge ourselves upon those who have done us personal injury or wrong; but Christ chooses out these, to make examples of mercy, and commands the first offer of eternal life to be made to them, and all the world are to wait.
Tell them, you have seen the prints of the nails upon my hands and feet, and the wounds of the spear in my side; and that those marks are so far from giving me vindictive thoughts, if they will but repent, that every wound they have given me speaks in their behalf, pleads with the Father for forgiveness of their sins…
If you meet that poor wretch that thrust the spear into my side, tell him there is another way, a better way, of coming at my heart, if he will repent, and look upon whom he has pierced and will mourn. I will cherish him in that very bosom he has wounded; he shall find the blood he shed an ample atonement for the sin of shedding it. And tell him from me, he will put me to more pain and displeasure by refusing this offer of my blood, then when he drew it forth.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Ask Good Questions - Help for (Potentially) Heated Conversations

John Stonestreet at Breakpoint offers six questions he's found helpful for healthy dialogue about issues of faith and culture:
What do you mean by that? The battle of ideas is always the battle over the definition of words. Thus, it’s vital in any conversation to clarify the terms being used. 
How do you know that is true? Too often, assertions are mistaken for arguments. 
Where did you get this information? 
How did you come to this conclusion? 
What if you’re wrong? 
What if you’re right?

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry (James 1:19, NIV, emphasis added).

Monday, December 19, 2016

Lay Aside the Weight of Irritability

Here's a word I need to hear...often: "Lay Aside the Weight of Irritability" by Jon Bloom. Perhaps you need it too.

A few excerpts:
We like to blame our irritability on someone or something else. We try to convince ourselves (and them) that they make us irritated. If they were different, we wouldn’t be irritated. Or we blame it on being tired, ill, or stressed. But Paul diagnoses irritability as a heart disease; a failure to love: “Love . . . is not irritable” (1 Corinthians 13:4–5). 
Our irritability never has its roots in the soils of righteousness. It springs out of the soil of selfishness and springs up fast, like the sin-weed that it is. We get irritated or easily provoked, not when God’s righteousness or justice is scorned, but when something we want is being denied, delayed, or disrupted. It works like this:
After giving some examples of the real roots of our irritability, Bloom goes on to suggest a practical strategy for laying it aside using the acronym "S.T.O.P."

Laying aside irritability, let us run the race set before us, looking to Jesus.

The Thing About Job -- And His Company of "Though-he-slay-me,-yet-will-I-hope-in-him" Sufferers

When we experience deep and protracted suffering, or compounded suffering, we are often plagued by questions and complaints:
  • God, how can you love me and allow this to happen?
  • Why am I suffering like this, while so many others are going along just swimmingly?
  • What did I do to deserve this?
  • This is too much. You must be cruel. How can you be good, and sovereign, and let this go on? 
  • Why don't you hear my cry? 
  • Why are you silent? 
  • Why don't you do something?! 
  • What good does it do to pray?
Others, who are no better or worse than we, know nothing of this kind of pain. Self-pity, jealousy, doubt, fear, bitterness, anger, and resentment gnaw at the nerves of our soul.

There are no easy answers. But what if God does want us to look around? Not at those for whom things are going swimmingly. Rather, to those who have suffered in like kind, or worse, and who have, by faith, endured. This is certainly the logic of Hebrews 11-12. It also seems to be a primary reason why the book of Job is in the canon.

Job suffered more deeply than most every human who has ever lived. He walked through this deep, dark valley with raw honesty. He wrestled deeply with God's silence and purposes. But he didn't curse God. He trusted God - "though he slay me" (Job 13:15).

The thing about Job is that his example both crushes and lifts up. It crushes our cynicism. God CAN lead a person through more significant suffering than ours AND be good and do good and bring about good. His story cuts our complaints off at the knees.

We tend to compare ourselves to others (who, undoubtedly, are less righteous than we!) and we feel we deserve better. Well, why don't we compare ourselves to one who was more righteous than we (see Job 1:1), who suffered more than we, and yet...God was FOR him and WITH him and ultimately saw him through? Stories like Job's take away our excuses, but they can give us hope. And I believe the former is necessary for us to experience the latter.

Vaneetha Rendall Risner's life is a story like Job's.

If you're in a deep, deep valley, are you willing to look at someone who has suffered more than you, yet who testifies to the sufficiency of God's sustaining grace, even when he repeatedly withholds delivering grace?

Sunday, December 18, 2016

We Are Pilgrims - Jonathan Edwards' Style

If you hear the name Jonathan Edwards, your only connotation may be that time in high school when you were assigned to read "Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God." As sobering as it is, that sermon is well worth reading (despite what was probably a very severe critique by your high school teacher). 

Jonathan Edwards did not trifle with life and eternity. He knew his Bible. He knew Hell. And he wasn't afraid to warn people. But he knew God and Heaven better. And he knew that all of this life is a journey to our eternal home. 

His writing does not make for easy reading, especially for us 21st century folk used to tweets and sound bites. But anyone willing to do the work of reading him is richly repaid by the effort. 

While we're doing this series entitled, "We Are Pilgrims," it's a great time to encourage you to read "The Christian Pilgrim" by Edwards. It's only about 4 pages worth of text (which is a rare brevity for Edwards!). It's not very hard to read. And it is GOLD. 

You can read it HERE.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Fight Porn and Lust by F.A.I.T.H.

Gavin Ortlund provides a very helpful acronym for the fight for purity.

  1. Friendship - loneliness is probably more dangerous than you think
  2. Adventure - boredom is more dangerous than you think
  3. Intimacy - emotional needs are more important than biological drives
  4. Truth - truth in your mind is more powerful than you think
  5. Healing - healing is more available than you may think
Read the whole thing HERE.