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Quotes

July 13, 2014

Who is the most important person in your church? On one level it’s kind of a silly question to ask. Yet in his book Healed at Last, Scott Blackwell provides an answer that is both sweet and encouraging. He tells about his friend Steve who has been profoundly disabled since birth.

He has been forever wheelchair-bound, and his arm and head movements are often uncontrolled or controlled with difficulty—especially when he gets excited. His speech is difficult to understand, and his vocabulary is limited. Because he was born in the 1950s, those who cared for him made certain assumptions about his ability to learn, respond and understand. He was institutionalized and given minimal stimulation and therapy—such was the state of rehabilitation for the profoundly disabled back then. It was assumed he would never be able to read, so he was never taught. Now, in his fifties, Steve is thoroughly dependent on the aid of others. He requires assistance to eat, drink, bathe, dress, toilet, and so on. Steve also constantly battles the kind of respiratory and gastro-intestinal disorders that life lived full-time in a wheelchair bring. All this is so much more difficult to witness knowing that trapped within Steve’s dysfunctional body is a sharp and inquiring mind that was left untended and ignored for years.

Yet, as Blackwell points out, Steve finds joy despite such severe challenges.

Steve is the most joy-filled and enthusiastic believer in Jesus I think I’ve ever met. He’s bright, intelligent, witty, stubborn, passionate and compassionate. He holds down a job and, every time I talk with him, he insists that he is far too busy. His grin and his “G’day” is one hundred percent genuine for every person he meets. He insists on having his Bible open at the right passage with the rest of us, even though he cannot read it. The phenomenal thing about Steve is that somehow he manages to view every day of struggle as another day of triumph, and this he does, by his own testimony, through his faith in Christ. Hope and trust in God’s promises burn brighter in Steve than in anyone else I’ve ever met. In our church it’s impossible to preach about the return of Jesus, or the great resurrection day, or even death, without being interrupted by the man in the front who is madly flailing his arms around and shouting with excitement, “No more chair!”

After telling more about Steve’s deep faith and his sure hope that one day he will stand on his feet before his Savior, Blackwell says this:

Personally, I think it is possible that this makes Steve the most important person in our church. Once, during a rare moment of melancholy, he asked me why I thought God had caused him to live out his life in a chair. I thought for a long time before I said I didn’t know for certain, but that maybe his disability and his chair were meant for our teaching, blessing and benefit. I suggested that, possibly, it was God’s intention that through Steve our church might learn great lessons about patience, love, endurance, joy, compassion, hope and faith. I said to him (and I believe it is true) that he is perhaps our most dynamic and effective evangelist and pastoral worker. His look of surprise and shock actually made me laugh out loud. It had never occurred to him that this was what he was for us. He was just Steve.

Through my friend Steve, God has worked wonderful deeds of spiritual growth and maturity in our church.

July 06, 2014

I am not the every-week preacher at Grace Fellowship Church, but this week have the privilege of proclaiming God’s Word. I am looking forward to it and find myself longing for unction—what E.M. Bounds refers to as that indefinable, indescribable something. Here is what he says about unction:

Unction is that indefinable, indescribable something which an old, renowned Scotch preacher describes thus: “There is sometimes somewhat in preaching that cannot be ascribed either to matter or expression, and cannot be described what it is, or from whence it cometh, but with a sweet violence it pierceth into the heart and affections and comes immediately from the Word; but if there be any way to obtain such a thing, it is by the heavenly disposition of the speaker.”

We call it unction. It is this unction which makes the word of God “quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” It is this unction which gives the words of the preacher such point, sharpness, and power, and which creates such friction and stir in many a dead congregation. The same truths have been told in the strictness of the letter, smooth as human oil could make them; but no signs of life, not a pulse throb; all as peaceful as the grave and as dead. The same preacher in the meanwhile receives a baptism of this unction, the divine inflatus is on him, the letter of the Word has been embellished and fired by this mysterious power, and the throbbings of life begin — life which receives or life which resists. The unction pervades and convicts the conscience and breaks the heart.

This divine unction is the feature which separates and distinguishes true gospel preaching from all other methods of presenting the truth, and which creates a wide spiritual chasm between the preacher who has it and the one who has it not. It backs and impregns revealed truth with all the energy of God. Unction is simply putting God in his own word and on his own preachers. By mighty and great prayerfulness and by continual prayerfulness, it is all potential and personal to the preacher; it inspires and clarifies his intellect, gives insight and grasp and projecting power; it gives to the preacher heart power, which is greater than head power; and tenderness, purity, force flow from the heart by it. Enlargement, freedom, fullness of thought, directness and simplicity of utterance are the fruits of this unction.

What of unction? It is the indefinable in preaching which makes it preaching. It is that which distinguishes and separates preaching from all mere human addresses. It is the divine in preaching.

June 15, 2014

I’m hardly alone in expressing love and admiration for Charles Spurgeon. He had a way with words that is nearly unsurpassed in the history of the church. These words about prayer and the Lord’s Prayer are powerful and challenging.

I very much question whether this prayer was intended to be used by Christ’s own disciples as a constant form of prayer.

It seems to me that Christ gave it as a model, whereby we are to fashion all our prayers, and I think we may use it to edification, and with great sincerity and earnestness, at certain times and seasons. I have seen an architect form the model of a building he intends to erect of plaster or wood; but I never had an idea that it was intended for me to live in. I have seen an artist trace on a piece of brown paper, perhaps, a design which he intended afterwards to work out on more costly stuff; but I never imagined the design to be the thing itself. This prayer of Christ is a great chart, as it were: but I cannot cross the sea on a chart. It is a map; but a man is not a traveler because he puts his fingers across the map. And so a man may use this form of prayer, and yet be a total stranger to the great design of Christ in teaching it to his disciples.

I feel that I cannot use this prayer to the omission of others. Great as it is, It does not express all I desire to say to my Father which is in heaven. There are many sins which I must confess separately and distinctly; and the various other petitions which this prayer contains require, I feel, to be expanded, when I come before God in private; and I must pour out my heart in the language which his Spirit gives me; and more than that, I must trust in the Spirit to speak the unutterable groanings of my spirit, when my lips cannot actually express all the emotions of my heart.

Let none despise this prayer; it is matchless, and if we must have forms of prayer, let us have this first, foremost, and chief; but let none think that Christ would tie his disciples to the constant and only use of this. Let us rather draw near to the throne of the heavenly grace with boldness, as children coming to a father, and let us tell forth our wants and our sorrows in the language which the Holy Spirit teacheth us.

June 08, 2014

I ought to be continuing my series on bestselling Christian books this morning, but found myself taken with this prayer from John Stott. It was apparently a prayer he would use to begin his day, and it’s a sweet one.

Good morning heavenly Father,
good morning Lord Jesus,
good morning Holy Spirit.
Heavenly Father, I worship you as the creator and sustainer of the universe.
Lord Jesus, I worship you, Savior and Lord of the world.
Holy Spirit, I worship you, sanctifier of the people of God.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.
Heavenly Father, I pray that I may live this day in your presence and please you more and more.
Lord Jesus, I pray that this day I may take up my cross and follow you.
Holy Spirit, I pray that this day you will fill me with yourself and cause your fruit to ripen in my life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Holy, blessed and glorious Trinity, three persons in one God, have mercy upon me.
 Amen.

May 25, 2014

It was pretty ornery preaching,” Huckleberry Finn mused when he found himself in church one particular Sunday morning, “and had such a powerful lot to say about faith and good works and free grace of preforeordestination, and I don’t know what all, that it did seem to me to be one of the roughest Sundays I had run across yet.” “But,” according to Daniel Montgomery and Timothy Paul Jones in their book PROOF, “free grace and preforeordestination” were never meant to produce rough Sundays or “ornery preaching.” Here’s what the doctrine of predestination provides for the people of God, according to the Scriptures:

May 18, 2014

Mack Stiles has a new book called simply Evangelism. I haven’t read it all yet, but I sure did enjoy this quote about the power of a church that evangelizes. Don’t you long for this kind of a church?

I long for a church that understands that it—the local church—is the chosen and best method of evangelism. I long for a church where the Christians are so in love with Jesus that when they go about the regular time of worship, they become an image of the gospel. I long for a church that disarms with love, not entertainment, and lives out countercultural confidence in the power of the gospel. I long for a church where the greatest celebrations happen over those who share their faith, and the heroes are those who risk their reputations to evangelize.

I yearn for a culture of evangelism with brothers and sisters whose backs are up to mine in the battle, where I’m taught and I teach about what it means to share our faith; and where I see leaders in the church leading people to Jesus. I want a church where you can point to changed lives, where you can see people stand up and say, ‘When I came to this church two years ago, I didn’t know God, but now I do!’ I long to be part of a culture of evangelism like that. I bet you do, too.

March 28, 2014

Praying, and especially praying in public, represents a challenge to most Christians. It represents a challenge to the one praying—a challenge to pray humbly and clearly before others. Too often it represents an even greater challenge to the ones who hear that prayer—a challenge to follow a too-long and too-rambling prayer interspersed with filler words like “I just…” and “Father God.” D. A. Carson provides some timely counsel in his book A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers. His solution is simple: Work at your prayers. Here is what he says:

If you are in any form of spiritual leadership, work at your public prayers. It does not matter whether the form of spiritual leadership you exercise is the teaching of a Sunday school class, pastoral ministry, small-group evangelism, or anything else: if at any point you pray in public as a leader, then work at your public prayers.

Some people think this advice distinctly corrupt. It smells too much of public relations, of concern for public image. After all, whether we are praying in private or in public, we are praying to God: Surely he is the one we should be thinking about, no one else.

This objection misses the point. Certainly if we must choose between trying to please God in prayer, and trying to please our fellow creatures, we must unhesitatingly opt for the former. But that is not the issue. It is not a question of pleasing our human hearers, but of instructing them and edifying them.

The ultimate sanction for this approach is none less than Jesus himself. At the tomb of Lazarus, after the stone has been removed, Jesus looks to heaven and prays, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me” (John 11:41-42). Here, then, is a prayer of Jesus himself that is shaped in part by his awareness of what his human hearers need to hear.

The point is that although public prayer is addressed to God, it is addressed to God while others are overhearing it. Of course, if the one who is praying is more concerned to impress these human hearers than to pray to God, then rank hypocrisy takes over. That is why Jesus so roundly condemns much of the public praying of his day and insists on the primacy of private prayer (Matt. 6:5-8). But that does not mean that there is no place at all for public prayer. Rather, it means that public prayer ought to be the overflow of one’s private praying. And then, judging by the example of Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus, there is ample reason to reflect on just what my prayer, rightly directed to God, is saying to the people who hear me.

In brief, public praying is a pedagogical [teaching] opportunity. It provides the one who is praying with an opportunity to instruct or encourage or edify all who hear the prayer. In liturgical churches, many of the prayers are well-crafted, but to some ears they lack spontaneity. In nonliturgical churches, many of the prayers are so predictable that they are scarcely any more spontaneous than written prayers, and most of them are not nearly as well-crafted. The answer to both situations is to provide more prayers that are carefully and freshly prepared. That does not necessarily mean writing them out verbatim (though that can be a good thing to do). At the least, it means thinking through in advance and in some detail just where the prayer is going, preparing, perhaps, some notes, and memorizing them.

Public praying is a responsibility as well as a privilege. In the last century, the great English preacher Charles Spurgeon did not mind sharing his pulpit: others sometimes preached in his home church even when he was present. But when he came to the “pastoral prayer,” if he was present, he reserved that part of the service for himself. This decision did not arise out of any priestly conviction that his prayers were more efficacious than those of others. Rather, it arose from his love for his people, his high view of prayer, his conviction that public praying should not only intercede with God but also instruct and edify and encourage the saints.

Many facets of Christian discipleship, not least prayer, are rather more effectively passed on by modeling than by formal teaching. Good praying is more easily caught than taught. If it is right to say that we should choose models from whom we can learn, then the obverse truth is that we ourselves become responsible to become models for others. So whether you are leading a service or family prayers, whether you are praying in a small-group Bible study or at a convention, work at your public prayers.

March 17, 2014

Last week John Piper spoke at Westminster Seminary, and delivered the seventh annual Gaffin Lecture on “The New Calvinism and the New Community: The Doctrines of Grace and the Meaning of Race” (audio and video). That may not sound like the most exciting lecture you’ve ever listened to, but I found some time to listen in today, and found what Piper began with fascinating (especially in light of last week’s Visual History of the New Calvinism). He began by defining what he means by New Calvinism, and to do that he offered twelve defining features of the movement. He was very careful to stress that these are not things that necessarily separate the New Calvinism from traditional Calvinism or make the new better than the old. Rather, these are simply the markers of the New. 

Here then, in brief, are John Piper’s 12 features of the New Calvinism.

1. The New Calvinism, in its allegiance to the inerrancy of the Bible, embraces the biblical truths behind the five points of Calvinism (TULIP), while having an aversion to using the acronym (or any other systematic packaging) along with a sometimes-qualified embrace of Limited Atonement. The focus is on Calvinistic soteriology but not to the exclusion or the appreciation of the broader scope of Calvin’s vision.

2. The New Calvinism embraces the sovereignty of God in salvation and all the affairs of life and history, including evil and suffering.

3. The New Calvinism has a strong complementarian flavor (as opposed to egalitarian) with an emphasis on the flourishing of men and women in relationships where men embrace a call to robust, humble, Christ-like servant-leadership.

4. The New Calvinism leans toward being culture-affirming, as opposed to culture-denying, while holding fast to some very culturally-alien positions on issues like same-sex practice and abortion.

5. The New Calvinism embraces the essential place of the local church: it is led mainly by pastors; it has a vibrant church-planting bent; it produces widely-sung worship music; and it exalts the preached Word as central to the work of God both locally and globally.

6. The New Calvinism is aggressively mission-driven, including missional impact on social evils, evangelistic impact on personal networks, and missionary impact on the unreached peoples of the world.

7. The New Calvinism is inter-denominational, with a strong (some would say oxymoronic) Baptistic element.

8. The New Calvinism includes both charismatics and non-charismatics.

9. The New Calvinism places a priority on pietism or piety in the Puritan vein, with an emphasis on the essential role of the affections in Christian living, while esteeming the life of the mind and being very productive in it, and embracing the value of serious scholarship.

10. The New Calvinism is vibrantly engaged in publishing books, and, even more remarkably, in the world of the Internet, with hundreds of energetic bloggers and social media activists, with Twitter as the increasingly-default way of signalling things new and old that should be noticed and read.

11. The New Calvinism is international in scope, multi-ethnic in expression, and culturally-diverse. There is no single geographic, racial, cultural, governing center. There are no officers, no organization, nor any loose affiliation that would encompass the whole. (As an aside, he adds: I would dare say there are outcroppings of this movement that no one in this room has ever heard of.)

12. The New Calvinism is robustly gospel-centered, cross-centered, with dozens of books rolling off the presses coming at the gospel from every conceivable angle and applying it to all areas of life, with a commitment to seeing the historic doctrine of justification finding its fruit in sanctification both personally and communally.

So what do you think? Would you have gone with the same features? Would you have added or skipped any of them?

February 09, 2014

Over the past few months I have enjoyed exploring some theological and historical themes and I have been posting the results here every Sunday morning. I hope to begin a new series next week called “The False Teachers.” The series will look at some of church history’s notorious false teachers, stretching from ancient times to today.

This morning, though, I found myself enjoying this prayer from The Valley of Vision and wanted to share it because it is ideal for the Lord’s Day. Did you know Banner of Truth has the whole of Valley of Vision at their site? (Simply visit, then scroll down and look in the right sidebar.)

This is a sweet prayer; maybe it be a prayer shared between you to your God today…

O God, My Exceeding Joy,
Singing thy praises uplifts my heart,
    for thou art a fountain of delight,
      and dost bless the soul that joys in thee.
But because of my heart’s rebellion
I cannot always praise thee as I ought;
Yet I will at all times rest myself in
  thy excellences, goodness, and loving-kindness.
Thou art in Jesus the object of inexpressible joy,
  and I take exceeding pleasure in the thought
    of thee.
But Lord, I am sometimes thy enemy;
  my nature revolts and wanders from thee.
Though thou hast renewed me,
  yet evil corruptions urge me still to oppose thee.
Help me to extol thee with entire heart-submission,
  to be diligent in self-examination,
  to ask myself
    whether I am truly born again,
    whether my spirit is the spirit of thy children,
    whether my griefs are those that tear
      repenting hearts,
    whether my joys are the joys of faith,
    whether my confidence in Christ works
      by love and purifies the soul.
Give me the sweet results of faith,
  in my secret character, and in my public life.
Cast cords of love around my heart,
  then hold me and never let me go.
May the Saviour’s wounds sway me more
    than the sceptre of princes.
Let me love thee in a love that covers
    and swallows up all,
  that I may not violate my chaste union
    with the beloved;
There is much unconquered territory
    in my nature,
  scourge out the buyers and sellers
    of my soul’s temple,
  and give me in return pure desires,
    and longings after perfect holiness.

December 29, 2013

The new year is fast approaching it. As 2013 wanes and prepares to draw to a close, I find myself pensive, reflecting on the year gone by and a new year ahead. As I’ve considered the year that is almost upon us, I have been helped by this prayer from John MacArthur’s At the Throne of Grace. I think you’ll enjoy it too.

Thank you, Lord, for calling us into Your kingdom and family. Two of our responsibilities as family are to restore with humility those who have been caught in sin’s web, and to help carry one another’s burdens. In such actions, we fulfill the royal law of Christ, which is distilled in the principle of love. We recognize that all the moral duties Your law sets forth are precisely the same virtues that arise out of authentic love. May we be faithful vessels of the love Your Spirit sheds abroad in our hearts. May we never be guilty of hiding the light of Your love under a bushel.

Your Word often reminds us of the inexorable law of sowing and reaping. Whatever we sow we reap, spiritually as well as physically. May we always sow to the Spirit and not to the flesh! We confess that we cannot do that without Your gracious enablement, and so we seek the aid of Your Spirit.

You have also taught us that the one who sows sparingly will reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will reap bountifully. May we always be liberal and open-handed in the sowing of good things. We’re reminded especially of our duty to share in all good things with those who have taught us the Word. Fill us with gratitude and with generosity; then open our hearts to be channels of blessing, especially to those who have so wonderfully blessed us.

Help us to be both wise and aggressive in taking advantage of the opportunities we have to do good to all, especially our own dear bothers and sisters in Christ. Harness our gifts and abilities—along with all our human faculties—and employ them for Your glory. Empower us to work harder, serve more faithfully, labor more diligently, and still press on—even when the trials and distractions of this life seem to offer compelling motives to turn away from the needs of others. Energize us by Your Spirit and keep us faithful to our calling.

You know, dear Lord, that our lives here on earth are full of burdens, heartaches, and disappointments. You permit those things to use them for our benefit. May we bear them with grace and courage. We thank You for the grace that sustains us in the midst of all our troubles. We pray that through the trials You send our way You will keep our hearts filled with that peace which surpasses all comprehension and guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Thank You that when we falter or fail, You always restore us. You give us grace upon grace without measure. You abundantly supply every need we have.

But we confess, Lord, that one of our greatest needs is for holiness. We are prone to sin, predisposed to folly, given to stubbornness, and easily confounded by our own self-will. Guide, guard, and sustain us to keep our feet from slipping, and keep us ever mindful of—and firmly anchored to—the solid foundation You have given us in Christ.

Give us a greater love for Him, so that all our service flows from hearts of gladness. Give us a holy longing to be free from sin in both mind and action. Whether Your plan for our immediate future entails prosperity or adversity, blessing or suffering, joy or sorrow—or a loving mixture of all those things—prepare us to respond with uprightness of heart and Christlike holiness. Your grace is sufficient for all these things, and Your truth strengthens us for all things.

We bow our hearts to worship You in Your Son’s blessed name. Amen.

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