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Quotes

October 15, 2011

Yesterday I shared a strange quote from John Eldredge’s new book Beautiful Outlaw. Today I’m sharing another one. I almost feel guilty doing so since to share a quote like this is pretty much to mock the book. But as I said yesterday, Eldredge really has put himself beyond parody. Here’s another example:

I was going to call this book Jesus of a Thousand Hearts, because of the way he continually breaks into my life. He “speaks” to me through hearts. I’ll find stones in the shape of hearts in rivers where I’m fishing. I’ve seen them almost step-by-step up a mountainside when on a grueling climb. Praying in the morning I’ll look out the window and passing by will be a heart-shaped cloud. Dinner rolls, seashells, stains on my jeans. I’ve won the lottery when it comes to hearts from Jesus. But I am ashamed to admit that last summer, I grew a little impatient with them. I was going through a trying time and seeking God for the answer to many questions. Often, he would simply give me a heart in reply. I’d be walking down the sidewalk, and there in the cement see a heart-shaped hole, made by a bubble when they poured the sidewalk.

I actually grew a little dismissive of them. I didn’t want hearts—I wanted answers.

So, Jesus stopped giving these treasures of our friendship.

Last fall, while walking through an alpine meadow bow hunting, I was asking him, How come you don’t give me hearts anymore? I asked it in a pouting kind of way. At that moment something gray caught my eye. I looked down midstride, and there in the grass, about as big as a dinner plate, was a dried piece of cow manure—in the perfect shape of a heart.

If I didn’t know Jesus adores me, if I didn’t know he is playful, and if our relationship didn’t allow me to receive a playful tease, I might have misinterpreted the icon. But I loved it. It was both, Oh, so now you want a heart? and, I adore you still. A cow-pie heart. That is so Jesus. Wish I’d taken a photo of it—we could have put it on the cover of this book.

October 14, 2011

Some things go pretty far beyond parody. I’d have to put John Eldredge’s new book Beautiful Outlaw in that category. Here’s a sample quote (and yes, this is actually taken verbatim from the book). To get the full effect you should probably read it out loud.

I have had similar encounters with Jesus in healing prayer. Last year, as a wise old sage was praying with me through some of the painful memories of my life, I was immediately reminded of the time in middle school when my first girlfriend broke my heart. These wounds can linger for a lifetime if you let them—the first cut is the deepest, and all that. We asked Jesus to take me back to the memory. I saw us, the girl and me; it was that fateful summer day. We were in the living room, just as it happened. Then I saw Jesus enter the room. He was quite stern with her, and it surprised me. That mattered to you? I wondered. Very much, he said.

Then Jesus turned to me. I felt his love. I realized I could let the whole thing go. It was so healing. To understand that Jesus is angry about what happened to you is very, very important in understanding his personality but also in your relationship with him and for your healing. What I love about these encounters is that every time—every time—Jesus is so true to his real personality. Sometimes fierce, sometimes gentle, always generous, and often very playful.

My son was having a tough freshman year at college. So many students there are bound under the religious fog. It was a lonely fall, filled with misunderstanding. One afternoon, just after a classmate said something particularly hurtful to him, Blaine returned to his room and slumped onto his bed, about as low as a young man can get. He looked over to his desk, and “saw” Jesus sitting there, in his desk chair, a smile on his face. He was wearing a pirate hat. Then he disappeared. A whiff of the Emmaus road.

Well, it’s a whiff of something, I guess.

October 09, 2011

Here is a noteworthy quote from author James Spiegel. It is drawn from his book Gum, Geckos and God.


The other day I was sitting in a faculty meeting, trying not to doze off during some committee reports. As I looked around, I mused over how much each of my colleagues understands about his or her discipline. It occurred to me that if there was a single mind that possessed all of the knowledge in that room, its intelligence would be surpassed in human history. I also considered how easy it would be to trust such a person if he or she were to counsel me on some matter. From there I extrapolated: What if that person had all of the combined knowledge of everyone in Indiana? In the United States? Of the entire world population? Even if God had merely the sum of all human understanding, he should be easy to trust. Yet his wisdom and knowledge infinitely exceed the best human comprehension. Still we struggle to trust him. How twisted is that?

Faith is essentially the practice of trust. And our routine failure to properly trust an infinitely wise God reveals something of our own perversity. We all desire to control our circumstances, and faith is a surrendering of that control. So we naturally tend to rebel against faith. But God graciously counteracts this tendency by nurturing us. Like a good parent, he consistently demonstrates his love. And we, like kids, must trust him on this basis.

October 02, 2011

I’ve always found the word unction to be a bit of a strange one. I see it as a part of the Christian lexicon since, in my experience, we are pretty much the only ones who use it. We typically use it in prayer, asking that God would give unction to a man who is about to preach. I’ve never known it in another context. In Power Through Prayer, E.M. Bounds talks about this word, giving its context and explaining its importance.


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.

September 18, 2011

This topic has been much on my mind lately—possessions, stuff and contentment. Not too long ago I found a prayer by Scotty Smith that did a great job of asking God for contentment admist all the stuff we do have and amidst all the stuff we could have.

He looks to these two Scripture passages: “Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist. When your eyes light on it, it is gone, for suddenly it sprouts wings, flying like an eagle toward heaven” (Prov. 23:4–5) and “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that” (1 Tim 6:6-8).

Loving Father, we continue to live in a difficult economic season. Some of us who thought we’d be retired in a couple of years are now thinking it’s ten, if ever. Some of us have lost jobs, even homes. Some of us are selling stuff and downsizing out of necessity, not choice. Some of our marriages are being stressed to the point of breaking. Some of us are actually being tempted to steal for the first time. Lord, we need wisdom, we need a work of your Spirit, and some of us really do need jobs.

Father, we look to you. Give us the perspective and power of the gospel as we make hard decisions, and reflect on our relationship to money and “stuff.” Free us from an attitude of entitlement and place within us a Spirit of contentment. When did we first assume the right to excess? When did abundance get relabeled as need? Why did we think only first-century disciples of Jesus would ever actually have to pray for daily bread?

In our “iWorld” of new gadgets and cool widgets, help us ponder the fact that over half of the population on the earth exists on three of our American dollars, or less, a day. Free us to share with others from the much or little that we have. Help us to raise our children not to love money as much as we have. Don’t let us grow bitter, shame-filled or fearful.

Father, if we would wear ourselves out for anything, let it be to become rich toward you (Luke 12:20–21)—to have the gospel so penetrate our hearts that we cry out with spontaneous joy, “Who do I have in heaven but you, O Lord, and being with you I desire nothing on the earth . . . You are my portion, sovereign Lord.”

Lord Jesus, you who were immeasurably rich in all things became incomprehensibly poor for us, so that we, who were desperately poor in sin, might be made inconceivably rich in grace. We worship and adore, with humility and gratitude. We thank you for the daily bread of both wheat and the gospel. So very Amen we pray, in your holy and gracious name.

September 17, 2011

In reading In Light of Eternity, a biography of Leonard Ravenhill, I came across the name Samuel Chadwick. Chadwick was a Wesleyan minister who did the bulk of his ministry in the early 20th century. He was a mentor to Ravenhill and had a deep impact on his life. I found a couple of his quotes on preaching particularly helpful and challenging:

I would rather preach than do anything else I know in this world. I have never missed a chance to preach. I would rather preach than eat my dinner, or have a holiday or anything else the world can offer. I would rather pay to preach than be paid not to preach. It has its price in agony of sweat and tears and no calling has such joys and heartbreaks, but it is a calling an archangel might covet; and I thank God that of His grace He called me into this ministry. Is there any joy like that of saving a soul from death? Any thrill like that of opening blind eyes? Any reward like the love of little children to the second and third generation? Any treasures like the grateful love of hearts healed and comforted? I tell you it is a glorious privilege to share the travail and the wine of God. I wish I had been a better minister, but there is nothing in God’s world I would rather be.

And a second quote:

Nothing makes for a preacher’s effectiveness more than a true conception of his calling. He is a messenger. That which he speaks is not his own. He is not at liberty to criticize, modify, or tamper with that which is entrusted to him; neither has he any right to withhold it from any person to whom it is sent. But he is neither a postman nor a phonograph. He delivers an open message which he has received from God for men. His first business is to wait for his message, and his next is to see that it is faithfully delivered.

September 11, 2011

Yesterday I came across a quote by Richard Ganz that really jumped out to me. He is dealing with the frustration we often feel when we read the gospels. We read of Jesus’ disciples and see how time after time they just completely failed to understand who Jesus was and what he was up to. Ganz offers a biblical perspective:

We look back at the disciples, and we wonder, “What in the world was wrong with them? How could they not get it?” The reality is quite the opposite. We should ask instead, “How could they get it?” It is impossible. It is beyond comprehension. The Old Covenant sacrifices, as powerful a pointer as they were, had a limited purpose. Their purpose was simply to show us how even the most rational and beautiful picture of grace—a blood sacrifice for sin—falls flat in front of what Jesus actually did.

Jesus trained men who, because of their background, should have been ready for the great blood sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. They weren’t. They were still utterly incapable of “getting it” just from the facts. This is understandable. The ultimate fact is that it is absolutely impossible to come to an understanding of God’s grace just from an assessment of the facts.

There is nothing in human experience alone that can awaken a person to the full reality of God’s grace. What Jesus did for us, the grace that His life and death is for us, is eternally impossible to fully comprehend. The fact that people like us will live with God FOREVER is purely His gracious gift to us. Sadly, even though we know so much about grace, we continue to make obeying rules the high watermark of our lives, rather than grace.

The disciples did not catch on because they could not catch on. Even for these men, who walked and talked with Jesus, it took a supernatural awakening for them to see who Jesus was and to turn to him as Lord. In that way, their path was not a whole lot different from our own.

September 04, 2011

A few nights ago a friend shared a powerful little piece of writing that deals with the incarnation of Jesus. A bit of research shows that it comes from the end of a song by the rapper Json; this song closes with an extended quote from John Piper. For now, here it is. It seemed poetic, so I put it in the form of verse.

In order for Jesus to suffer and die,
He had to plan way ahead of time
because he couldn’t die.

Immortal, He didn’t have a body
And yet he wanted to die.
For you.

So, He planned the whole thing
by clothing himself with a body,
so that He could get hungry
and get weary
and have sore feet.

The incarnation of Jesus is the preparation
of nerve endings
for the nails,
the preparation of a brow
or thorns pressed through.

He needed to have a broad back
so that there was a place
for the whips.

He needed to have feet
so that there was a place
for spikes.

He needed to have a side
so that there was a place
for the sword to go in. 

He needed to have fleshy cheeks 
so that Judas would have a place to kiss 
and there would be a place for the spit 
to run down that the soldiers put on him. 

He needed a brain and a spinal column
with no vinegar and no gall,
so that the exquisiteness of the pain
could be fully felt.

So I plead with you, when you’re reading the Bible and you read texts like: “He loved you and gave himself for you,” you wouldn’t go too fast over it. Linger, linger, linger, and plead with Jesus that your eyes would be opened.

August 28, 2011

How can I know that I’m a Christian? This is a question most of us have faced at one time or another, and even if we have not asked it ourselves, it’s likely that someone has asked for our help in wrestling through it. I recently came across an article from Michael McKinley that provides an interesting counter-question: How Can I know that I’m not a Christian?

In II Corinthians 13:5, the apostle Paul commands his readers: “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!”

OK, that seems straightforward enough.  But what does it mean to examine yourself?  What should you be looking for?  How do you know whether or not you are “in the faith”?  What is the “test” that we might fail?  I wrote Am I Really a Christian? in order to try to help answer these questions.

Well, we should all hope that we pass “the test” (again, Paul’s words, not mine!).  And Scripture gives us a few things to look for that would indicate that in fact we are not “in the faith”.  A few examples:

You’re not a Christian if you don’t believe true doctrine: “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.” (I John 4:2-3)

You’re not a Christian if you enjoy sin: “Whoever says ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” (I John 2:4-6)

You’re not a Christian if you don’t persevere: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.” (I John 2:19)

You’re not a Christian if you don’t love others: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (I John 4:7-8)

You’re not a Christian if you love your stuff more than you love Jesus: “And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24)

August 14, 2011

Here is something worth meditating on for those who are in pastoral ministry. In his contribution to the book Reforming Pastoral Ministry, Art Azurdia shares some of the temptations that are particularly strong in the ministry of the gospel.

To be sure, the minister of the Gospel is vulnerable to trials and temptations distinct to his calling:

jealousy (“Why are his gifts more esteemed than mine?”)

bitterness (“Why does the congregation criticize everything I do?”)

fear (“Will they leave the church if I teach particular redemption?”)

depression (“Will this church ever grow?”)

grief (“Why have there been so few conversions?”)

frustration (“Why does the board appear to distrust my motivations?”)

doubt (“Why has God caused such suffering in the life of this family?”)

anxiety (“How will we ever afford to send our children to college?”)

sexual indiscretion (“Why does it seem that my wife is not as responsive to me as other women in the church?”)

despondency (“Why doesn’t the congregation love Jesus with greater fervor?”)

desperation (“Have I rightly discerned my call to ministry?”)

It is imperative, then, for pastors to structure their lives in order to insure that ample time is given in prayer for the protection and promotion of their own spiritual condition.

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