Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The “Life-Fire” of God’s Word

In 1854, at the age of twenty and just four years after his conversion, Charles H. Spurgeon became pastor of London’s New Park Street Church. His ministry grew so much that the 6,000-seat Metropolitan Tabernacle was built to accommodate the congregation. In “The Mustard Seed: A Sermon for the Sabbath-School Teacher” he spoke of the power of the gospel, and his words extende to the whole of Scripture.
The human can never rival the divine, for it lacks the life-fire. It is better to preach five words of God’s Word than five million words of man’s wisdom. Men’s words may seem to be the wiser and more attractive, but there is no heavenly life in them. Within God’s Word, however simple it may be, there dwells an omnipotence like that of God, from whose lips it came.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Book that Would Understand Me

From Princeton philosopher Emile Cailliet (in Eternity Magazine, July 1974):
I was born in a small village of France and received an education that was naturalistic to the core. This could possibly have had a great deal to do with the fact that I did not even see a Bible before I reached the age of twenty-three.
To say that this naturalistically inspired education proved of little help through front-line experiences as a lad of twenty in World War I would amount to quite an understatement. When your own buddy - at the time speaking to you of his mother - dies standing in front of you, a bullet in his chest, what use is the sophistry of naturalism? Was there a meaning to it all?
One night a bullet got me, too. An American field ambulance crew saved my life and later the use of a badly shattered arm was restored. After a nine-month stay at the hospital, I was discharged and resumed graduate work.
During my stay at the American hospital, I had married a Scotch-Irish girl whom I had met in Germany on Christmas Eve the year before the war had broken out. She was, and has always remained, a deeply evangelical person. I am ashamed to confess that she must have been hurt to the very core of her being as I made it clear that religion would be taboo in our home. Little did I realize at the time that a militant attitude often betrays an inner turmoil.
I had returned to my books, but they were no longer the same books. Neither was my motivation the same motivation. Reading in literature and philosophy, I found myself probing in depth for meaning. During long night watches in the foxholes, I had in a strange way been longing - I must say it, however queer it may sound - for a book that would understand me.
But I knew of no such book. Now I would in secret prepare one for my own private use. And so, as I went on reading for my courses I would file passages that would speak to my condition, then carefully copy them in a leatherbound pocket book I would always carry with me. The quotations, which I numbered in red ink for easier reference, would mead me as it were from fear and anguish, through a variety of intervening stages, to supreme utterances of release and jubilation.
The day came when I put the finishing touch to "the book that would understand me," speak to my condition, and help me through life's happenings. A beautiful, sunny day it was. I went out, sat under a tree, and opened my precious anthology. As I went on reading, however, a growing disappointment came over me. Instead of speaking to my condition, the various passages reminded me of their context, of the circumstances of my labor over their selection.
Then I knew that the whole undertaking would not work, simply because it was of my own making. It carried no strength of persuasion. In a dejected mood, I put the little book back in my pocket.
At that very moment, my wife - who, incidentally, knew nothing of the project on which I had been working - appeared at the gate of the garden, pushing the baby carriage.
It had been a hot afternoon. She had followed the main boulevard only to find it too crowded. So she had turned to a side street which she could not name because we had only recently arrived in town. The cobblestones had shaken the carriage so badly that she had pondered what to do. Whereupon, having spotted a patch of grass beyond a small archway, she had gone in with the baby for a period of rest.
It turned out that the patch of grass led to an outside stone staircase which she had climbed without quite realizing what she was doing. At the top, she had seen a long room, door wide open. So she entered.
At the further end, a white-haired gentleman worked at a desk. He had not become aware of her presence. Looking around, she noticed the carving of a cross. Thus she suddenly realized that this office was a part of a church building - of a Huguenot church edifice hidden away as they all are, even long after the danger of persecution has passed. The venerable-looking gentleman was the pastor.
She walked to his desk and heard herself say, "Have you a Bible in French?"
He smiled and handed over to her a copy, which she eagerly took from his hand; then she walked out with a mixed feeling of both joy and guilt.
As she now stood in front of me, she meant to apologize, but I was no longer listening to her.
"A Bible, you say? Where is it? Show me. I have never seen one before!"
She complied. I literally grabbed the book and rush to my study with it. I opened and 'chanced' upon the Beatitudes! I read, and read, and read - now aloud with an indescribable warmth surging within. I could not find words to express my awe and wonder. And suddenly the realization dawned upon me: this was the book that would understand me!
I continued to read deeply into the night, mostly from the Gospels. And lo and behold, as I looked through them, the One of whom they spoke, the One who spoke and acted in them became alive to me.
The providential circumstances amid which the book had found me now made it clear that while it seemed absurd to speak of a book understanding a man, this could be said of the Bible because its pages were animated by the presence of the living God and the power of his mighty acts. To this God I prayed that night, and the God who answered was the same God of whom it was spoken in the book.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Fewer Meetings, More Parties

This past weekend we were invited to one party (a going away party for a friend) and threw another (Emily's 13th birthday party). Both were a blast and reminded me that we "should do this more often." Then I read the following today regarding Jesus' calling of Levi, the tax collector and the party that ensued.
"We seem to have forgotten an important dimension of what Christianity is all about: the kingdom of God is a party. Our Jesus was and is the Lord of the party" (Tony Campolo).
Probably the main thing my friends and I would miss if our church didn't exist would be our community parties! I think this is born from a conviction that parties can be a sign of the kingdom if they deliberately include those on the outside, those considered unacceptable by others. Today's story once again powerfully demonstrates Jesus' focus on people on the margins, with parties as a key element. In Jesus' day tax officials were extortionists, Roman collaborators, regarded as ritually unclean by the Pharisees. Still, Jesus chose to break into their world, just as he did with the man with leprosy, by calling Levi to follow him.
Jesus didn't merely call people like tax collectors to follow him; he also sat down to meals with them (29). Eating together was a sign of acceptance, and the Pharisees had strict rules about table fellowship as an indication of who were true Israelites. Jesus, however, rewrote their criteria, putting recognition of need and repentance at the heart of the matter. When they used John the Baptist as an example of religious austerity, Jesus again highlighted the party theme, a wedding feast, as a sign that a new age had come with celebration central to this. He wasn't saying that fasting was a bad thing (See Matt. 4:2; 6:16-18), but that the need was over for the type of fasting in Judaism that was a lament that God's kingdom had not yet come.
Meals feature a lot in Luke's Gospel as a radical sign of the kingdom, yet in today's church we've mostly reduced this to invitations to people like ourselves. Maybe we should have fewer meetings and more parties!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

"Missions Exists because Worship Doesn't" by John Piper

Missions is not the ultimate goal of the Church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever.
Worship, therefore, is the fuel and goal of missions. It’s the goal of missions because in missions we simply aim to bring the nations into the white hot enjoyment of God’s glory. The goal of missions is the gladness of the peoples in the greatness of God. “The Lord reigns; let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad!” (Ps 97:1). “Let the peoples praise thee, O God; let all the peoples praise thee! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy!” (Ps 67:3-4).
But worship is also the fuel of missions. Passion for God in worship precedes the offer of God in preaching. You can’t commend what you don’t cherish. Missionaries will never call out, “Let the nations be glad!” who cannot say from the heart, “I rejoice in the Lord…I will be glad and exult in thee, I will sing praise to thy name, O Most High” (Ps 104:34, 9:2). Missions begins and ends in worship.
–John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions, 2nd Ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993/2003), 17.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

I Use to Be Skinny

I'm overweight. For many who know me this will be a surprise--especially for those who knew me in high school and college. I use to be as skinny as my son, Eli. Now, the proverbial "6 pounds you gain between Thanksgiving and New Year's" have become 10. The Rubicon came last night when my wife, Heather, felt my belly and said with a shock, "What is that?!"

Something must be done.

This may seem like a very hard turn, but all this reminded me of an article I read years ago by David Wells in which he asserted that we have settled for a "skinny God." We diminish God's glory, he says. We are suspicious and ungrateful for his goodness. We would rather make ourselves the center of attention than have God be the focus of our lives. In the process, Wells points out, we substitute our importance for his greatness. Our self-obsession results in the shrinking of our souls. Diminishing God diminishes us.

Perhaps I should be less concerned about my expanding waistline and more interested in expanding my soul--spend less time gazing at my navel and more time gazing at God.

Click here to read the entire David Wells article "On My Mind: The Skinny God."