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October 11, 2015

One of the most important books I have ever read is a book about joy and wonder. Steve DeWitt’s Eyes Wide Open impacted me in many ways, but perhaps foremost by opening my eyes to the beauty behind the beauty. Here is a short quote in which he describes our problem with beauty.

Creation is beautiful precisely because its Creator is beautiful. God defines beauty by His very essence. He is the source and standard of all beauty. But the concept of God’s beauty is hard for us to imagine. For one thing, God is spirit, a reality that in itself poses problems; we are limited in our ability to understand God’s beauty in that our experience of beauty is essentially sensory. We cannot see God or smell God or touch God. He is “the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15).

Yet this invisible God has chosen to express the fullness of His beauty in physical ways. The display is not the beauty itself. We must not confuse God’s expression of His beauty with its essential character. That would be like mistaking a woman’s taste in fashion for her virtue. The created world in all its beauty is an expression of God’s beauty, but it is not the essence of His beauty. (Although if God’s visual display of His beauty in creation is so awe-inspiring, imagine how wonderful His essential beauty must be!) We are accustomed to thinking about beauty as visual; to think of God as beautiful requires a definition that goes beyond the senses to the quintessence—core—of essential beauty.

Our second problem with understanding the beauty of God is that beauty is generally viewed as a category of personal preference. When judging beauty, people often say, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Our assessment of the beauty of an object or person is shaped by cultural influences and perceptions. …

Studies show that we are heavily influenced by our parents’ and our culture’s definitions of beauty. These factors make it difficult for us to consider the beauty of God, which doesn’t fit into cultural or conditioned categories of thinking. God’s beauty is divine, eternal, and infinite. He is beautiful. He always has been and eternally will be.

Our final difficulty is that God’s beauty defies our ability to comprehend. A helpful word in grappling with divine beauty is ineffable. This word is one of the few that apply because it means “beyond comprehension.” God transcends all aesthetic definition. Human language cannot produce a word that adequately describes something infinitely desirable. A popular phrase captures the ineffability of God’s beauty: It blows our minds. We cannot see God’s beauty (God is spirit); we cannot evaluate it (God transcends humanity’s ability for critique); and we cannot comprehend it (God is infinite, and we are not).

So why even attempt to wrap our minds around the beauty of God? … We seek expressions of beauty because what we can see and comprehend draws us to wonders too awesome not to enjoy. Their ineffability is entwined with their desirability. What I cannot see is mysteriously interesting to me and compels me to look all the more. The same is true of God’s beauty and attributes.

October 04, 2015

My sister shared these words with me—words written by Susannah Spurgeon after the death of her husband Charles. She reflects on life together and the Lord who gives and takes away. They are sweet and precious words.

I have traveled far now on life’s journey; and, having climbed one of the few remaining hills between earth and Heaven, I stand awhile on this vantage-ground, and look back across the country through which the Lord has led me.

A well-defined pathway is visible, but it appears devious and wandering; sometimes skirting a mountain-top, whence one could catch glimpses of “the land that is very far off”; and, further on, descending into a valley shadowed by clouds and darkness. At one time, it runs along amidst steep places, and overhanging rocks; at another time, it winds across an open plain, brilliant with the sunshine of goodness and mercy, and fanned by breezes which are wafted from the fields of Heaven.

There are flowers of joy and love growing all along the way, even in the dark places; and “trees which the Lord has planted,” give shade and shelter from too great heat.

I can see two pilgrims treading this highway of life together, hand in hand—heart linked to heart. True, they have had rivers to ford, and mountains to cross, and fierce enemies to fight, and many dangers to go through; but their Guide was watchful, their Deliverer unfailing, and of them it might truly be said, “In all their suffering he also suffered, and he personally rescued them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them. He lifted them up and carried them through all the years.”

Mostly, they went on their way singing; and for one of them, at least, there was no joy greater than to tell others of the grace and glory of the blessed King to whose land He was hastening. And when he thus spoke, the power of the Lord was seen, and the angels rejoiced over repenting sinners.

But, at last, they came to a place on the road where two ways met; and here, amidst the terrors of a storm such as they had never before encountered, they parted company—the one being caught up to the invisible glory—the other, battered and bruised by the awful tempest, henceforth toiling along the road—alone.

But the “goodness and mercy” which, for so many years, had followed the two travelers, did not leave the solitary one; rather did the tenderness of the Lord “lead on softly,” and choose green pastures for the tired feet, and still waters for the solace and refreshment of His trembling child. He gave, moreover, into her hands a solemn charge—to help fellow-pilgrims along the road, filling her life with blessed interest, and healing her own deep sorrow by giving her power to relieve and comfort others.

September 27, 2015

Be kind to Your little children, Lord.
Be a gentle teacher,
patient with our weakness and stupidity.
And give us the strength and discernment to do what You tell us,
and so grow in Your likeness.
May we all live in the peace that comes from You.

May we journey towards Your city,
sailing through the waters of sin untouched by the waves,
borne serenely along by the Holy Spirit.

Night and day may we give you praise and thanks,
because You have shown us that all things belong to You,
and all blessings are gifts from You.

To You,
the essence of wisdom,
the foundation of truth,
be glory for evermore.

(A prayer of Clement of Alexandria)

How to Lose Your Zeal for Christ
September 20, 2015

Are you zealous for Christ? Do you have a genuine zeal to live for him and to advance his cause in the world? Or have you lost the zeal that once marked you? Here, courtesy of Joel Beeke and James La Belle are 9 ways you may lose your zeal.

Major in speculative religion. Speculative religion is religion whose primary concern is that which is theoretical or conjectural. Look to the pastoral epistles and you will often find Paul warning Timothy and Titus that they must avoid anything like this—anything vain and unprofitable, anything obsessed with fables and genealogies (see 1 Timothy 4:2, 2 Timothy 2:14, Titus 3:9, etc). Christianity is meant to be an experiential religion, one that is meant to reach the heart and the will and to work itself out in action. “Christian faith begins with an experiential renovation of the heart and progresses by an experiential relationship that impacts all of life.”

Love the world. “How can we be zealous for heaven when our hearts are wrapped up in earthly things? How can we lift our spirits heavenward when our minds are weighed down with the cares of this life? How can we be zealous for God when our love is divided between Him and this world? Worldly mindedness will starve our zeal.” Jesus promised us that we can serve only one master; our zeal will diminish when our loyalties are torn between God and mammon, God and this world.

Be spiritually presumptuous. Some people start out in the Christian faith, but then assume that they have nothing more to do. They presume upon the riches and grace of Christ, but invest little effort in battling sin and putting sin to death. Some take an opposite view and claim that they are no longer sinful, that they have attained perfection. In either case, these people are dangerously presumptuous and will necessarily see their zeal decline and disappear.

Neglect the means of grace. “When we presume that we no longer need to gird up our loins (1 Peter 1:13), lay aside every weight and every besetting sin, and run the race set before us (Hebrews 12:1-2), we will naturally neglect those means that God has appointed to keep our zeal burning. Zeal will grow so cold that it will inevitably die out. To neglect the means of grace is to neglect the fuel that feeds this spiritual fire. We must be aware of neglecting anything that God has given us to help us grow in Christ-likeness.”

Remain impenitent. We know that we ought to confess and repent of the most significant sins, but can grow lax in confessing and repenting of the smaller sins. But be warned: “Impenitence with regard to any known sin will surely quench all zeal for God.”

Indulge in any known sin. “When we indulge ourselves in any known sin, or absolve ourselves of any known duty, how can we avoid the charge of hypocrisy in condemning the sins and failings of others? Do we think God is pleased with our crying down the sins of others while we commit the same sins? Do we imagine that God is pleased when we accuse others of failure, while we excuse ourselves from the very same duties? Sacred zeal reaches to all of God’s commandments and all of Christian duty. If we would keep a fire in our heart for God, we must take caution not to indulge in any known sin, or neglect any known duty.”

Be indifferent or unbelieving. “It is not enough to have an interest in religious questions, an understanding of basic religious doctrine, or even a small stock of memorized Scripture verses, if all this fails to touch the heart, because out of the heart, as Solomon says, flow the issues of life (Proverbs 4:23). An unmoved, indifferent heart will not give rise to zeal. Light in the head must be matched by warmth in the heart.”

Remain ignorant. “How can we be zealous for the things of God if we dwell in the darkness of ignorance about divine truth? If we persist in ignorance of ‘the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord’ (2 Peter 1:2), our comfort must speedily diminish, and our zeal will soon give way to indifference of heart and langour of spirit.”

Be a coward. “We cannot advance God’s cause in the world if we fail to be bold for Him. Sin will comfortably abide in our churches unless it is put out by great boldness. Hypocritical professors will continue to bring shame to the name of Christ unless exposed by great boldness.”

September 13, 2015

In his book Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion, Os Guinness portrays three types of fools in the Bible: The Fool Proper, The Fool Bearer, and The Fool Maker. I found it a fascinating discussion.

There are three types of fool in the Bible, and Erasmus restored the way of the third fool to recover the power of subversive persuasion in order to make his point. His point is crucial to our discussion, for the way of the third fool carries the power of the cross and contains the secret of creative persuasion that our Christian advocacy needs today.

The first type of fool in the Bible is the character that might be called the fool proper. … [T]here is one fool in the Bible whose folly is seen as absolutely foolish and who is pronounced a real fool—the person who is truly, objectively and actually a fool because God says so: the practical atheist who has no fear of the Lord and roundly refuses to acknowledge God in practice. …

[T]his first type of fool offers little help to us, except to stand as a warning sign to mark off a way of life that people of faith should avoid. …

The second type of fool in the Bible is quite different and takes us significantly closer to the secret of persuasion. This is the fool bearer, the person who is not actually a fool at all, but who is prepared to be seen and treated as a fool—the “fool for Christ’s sake.” [1 Corinthians 4:10] …

The apostles were anything but fools, but they were ready to be seen as fools and treated as fools. … On the great day that is coming, truth will be set right and they would be vindicated. But until then, Paul would gladly bear any derision and rejection that came his way so long as he was able to preach the gospel and remain true to his calling.

… Followers of Jesus who count the cost and are wiling to take up their crosses after him must have broad shoulders. …

If the specific words “fools for Christ’s sake” go back to Paul’s letter to Corinth, the idea of the fool bearer goes back earlier still. King David, for example, danced in public with such abandoned joy before the Lord that his own wife Michal thought he was a fool, and the prophet Jeremiah lamented that his stand for God had reduced him painfully to a laughing stock among his own people. Faithfulness in a fallen world carries a cost.

All these examples fade into insignificance beside the supreme fool bearer in the Scriptures. This is of course Jesus himself, when he was made a mock king. … Jesus was cruelly mocked before the highest religious leaders of his day, before the representatives of the best law of the day, and before the mightiest political and military power of his day.

This point leads us right to the third type of fool in the Bible—the fool maker. The fool maker is the person who (once again) is not a fool at all, but who is prepared to be seen and treated as a fool, so that from the position of derided folly, he or she may be able to bounce back and play the jester, addressing truth to power, pricking the balloons of the high and mighty, and telling the emperor that he has no clothes. This, says, Paul, is what God did on the cross. If Jesus was the supreme fool bearer, God is the supreme fool maker. …

It takes the full folly and weakness of the cross to find us out and win us back.

September 06, 2015

All across the world today, Christians are gathering to worship. They worship Jesus Christ. Why? This great little quote (published as “The Incomparable Christ”) tells us:

More than nineteen hundred years ago, there was a Man born contrary to the laws of life. This Man lived in poverty and was reared in obscurity. He did not travel extensively. Only once did He cross the boundary of the country in which He lived; that was during His exile in childhood.

He possessed neither wealth nor influence. His relatives were inconspicuous and had neither training nor formal education.

In infancy He startled a king; in childhood He puzzled doctors; in manhood He ruled the course of nature, walked upon the waves as pavement, and hushed the sea to sleep.

He healed the multitudes without medicine and made no charge for His service.

He never wrote a book, and yet perhaps all the libraries of the world could not hold the books that have been written about Him.

He never wrote a song, and yet He has furnished the theme for more songs than all the songwriters combined.

He never founded a college, but all the schools put together cannot boast of having as many students.

He never marshaled an army, nor drafted a soldier, nor fired a gun; and yet no leader ever had more volunteers who have, under His orders, made more rebels stack arms and surrender without a shot fired.

He never practiced psychiatry, and yet He has healed more broken hearts than all the doctors far and near.

Once each week multitudes congregate at worshiping assemblies to pay homage and respect to Him.

The names of the past, proud statesmen of Greece and Rome have come and gone. The names of the past scientists, philosophers, and theologians have come and gone. But the name of this Man multiplies more and more. Though time has spread nineteen hundred years between the people of this generation and the mockers at His crucifixion, He still lives. His enemies could not destroy Him, and the grave could not hold Him.

He stands forth upon the highest pinnacle of heavenly glory, proclaimed of God, acknowledged by angels, adored by saints, and feared by devils, as the risen, personal Christ, our Lord and Savior.

August 16, 2015

I am gearing up to join a few hundred people in reading J.I. Packer’s Knowing God. And as I began to read, I encountered this powerful quote from Charles Spurgeon, the introduction to a sermon he preached when he was just 20. Spurgeon called upon his church to commit themselves to the study of God—the best and highest study of all.

It has been said by some one that “the proper study of mankind is man.” I will not oppose the idea, but I believe it is equally true that the proper study of God’s elect is God; the proper study of a Christian is the Godhead. The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father.

There is something exceedingly improving to the mind in a contemplation of the Divinity. It is a subject so vast, that all our thoughts are lost in its immensity; so deep, that our pride is drowned in its infinity. Other subjects we can compass and grapple with; in them we feel a kind of self-content, and go our way with the thought, “Behold I am wise.” But when we come to this master-science, finding that our plumb-line cannot sound its depth, and that our eagle eye cannot see its height, we turn away with the thought, that vain man would be wise, but he is like a wild ass’s colt; and with the solemn exclamation, “I am but of yesterday, and know nothing.” No subject of contemplation will tend more to humble the mind, than thoughts of God.

But while the subject humbles the mind it also expands it. He who often thinks of God, will have a larger mind than the man who simply plods around this narrow globe. He may be a naturalist, boasting of his ability to dissect a beetle, anatomize a fly, or arrange insects and animals in classes with well nigh unutterable names; he may be a geologist, able to discourse of the megatherium and the plesiosaurus, and all kinds of extinct animals; he may imagine that his science, whatever it is, ennobles and enlarges his mind. I dare say it does, but after all, the most excellent study for expanding the soul, is the science of Christ, and him crucified, and the knowledge of the Godhead in the glorious Trinity. Nothing will so enlarge the intellect, nothing so magnify the whole soul of man, as a devout, earnest, continued investigation of the great subject of the Deity.

And, whilst humbling and expanding, this subject is eminently consolatary. Oh, there is, in contemplating Christ, a balm for every wound; in musing on the Father, there is a quietus for every grief; and in the influence of the Holy Ghost, there is a balsam for every sore. Would you lose your sorrows? Would you drown your cares? Then go, plunge yourself in the Godhead’s deepest sea; be lost in his immensity; and you shall come forth as from a couch of rest, refreshed and invigorated. I know nothing which can so comfort the soul; so calm the swelling billows of grief and sorrow; so speak peace to the winds of trial, as a devout musing upon the subject of the Godhead.

If you’d like to join me in reading Knowing God, you can get information right here.

August 09, 2015

Satan is a formidable foe. He opposes all those who are created in the image of God and is bent on their complete and utter destruction. What makes Satan so skillful at tempting us to sin? In his little book Fighting Satan, Joel Beeke offers 6 reasons.

Satan’s Spiritual Being and Intellectual Power

When people tempt each other, they do so with overt actions. For example, Joseph tempted his brothers’ devotion to their youngest brother, Benjamin, by asking his steward to hide his cup in Benjamin’s sack. But Satan, who is a spirit, doesn’t have to use overt actions. He can prey directly on the mind, tempting us to yield to his devices. Satan could enter the heart of Judas Iscariot and tempt the disciple to betray Christ (John 13:2), and he could enter the heart of Ananias and tempt him to lie to the Holy Ghost (Acts 5:3).

Though fallen, Satan is still an angel, so he is intellectually far superior to us. That makes him very dangerous. … Satan’s great intellect and cunning deceit should make us especially wary, for we know that we cannot defeat him through our limited intellectual abilities.

Satan’s Experience and Work

The devil is old, but not infirm. His temptations are like the arrows of a skillful archer that seldom fail to hit their target (Jer. 50:9). Over the centuries he has mastered the art of wickedness. Satan knows by experience when the best time is to shoot his arrows. He knows what bait to use whenever he fishes. He tempts young people with beauty, the thrifty with money, and the ambitious with power. He has remarkable experience in overcoming every defense against yielding to his temptations.

Satan is adept at deflecting our defenses. Believers are often startled and perplexed when they are tempted because Satan responds so quickly and effectively to their arguments against sinning. Satan’s rapid response ought to teach us to deny him totally and immediately rather than dispute with him.

Satan’s Tireless Energy for Promoting Evil

Satan relentlessly and endlessly tempts man to keep him from God. He has a one-track mind, and that single-minded purpose makes him formidable. An ancient Italian proverb says, “Lord, deliver me from a man who has but one business to do.” Satan tempts us to be idle, but he is never idle.

Satan’s Kingdom of Demons

Daniel 7:10 says that “thousand thousands” of angels minister to God, and “ten thousand times ten thousand” stand before Him. Fallen angels who serve Satan are also numerous since Scripture describes Satan and his demons as a powerful kingdom.

Satan’s kingdom is also united in purpose. Every demon hates God’s glory and our happiness. Every demon unitedly promotes Satan’s doctrine, distinctions, domination, and distractions. Every demon unitedly opposes God’s position, precepts, purity, and people. There are no divisions in Satan’s kingdom (Matt. 12:26), no uprisings because of poor pay, no complaints about strenuous marches, no balking at difficult tasks. We expect the angels in heaven who dwell with the triune God to be united. But is it not remarkable that the devils in hell are more united in purpose than the church on earth? What a tragedy that the communion of devils so often exceeds the communion of saints. If devils are filled with pride, wrath, envy, and bitterness, how can they be so united? Just as enemies on earth can be united through mutual hatred of a third party, so Satan’s demons are united by their mutual hatred of God and man. As good angels rejoice over the repentance of a sinner, evil angels rejoice over the destruction of a sinner.

Satan’s Evil Suggestions

It is difficult at times to know whether a sinful thought originates with Satan or with us. It is difficult to distinguish between evil that is sown in the mind by the tempter and evil that is ours by nature. As the old saying goes: “The devil’s boots don’t creak.” Spurstowe says that a bird will hatch an egg and nourish a young bird until it discovers that the young one is not its own. Then the mother bird pushes the intruder out of the nest. Likewise, if we would recognize promptings as given by Satan, we would have the strength to repudiate them. If King David had known that Satan was tempting him to number the people of Israel, he undoubtedly would have stopped counting immediately (1 Chron. 21:1).

Satan’s Skill at Matching His Suggestions with Our Corrupt Reason

Satan cannot conquer our soul by force; his success depends on confusing us about the origin of his suggestions. Satan is a master at suggesting that we believe what we want to believe rather than believe the truth. To the atheist, Satan suggests that worshiping God is a crutch for the weak-minded. To the convicted, Satan suggests that a little religion will do. To the nominal Christian, Satan suggests that intellectual faith is sufficient. To the true believer, Satan suggests that the worldly do not suffer as the righteous do (Ps. 73).