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Quotes

September 02, 2012

John Flavel was one of the great Puritan preachers and authors. Much of Flavel’s ministry was toward sailors, so he often relied on nautical metaphors and terminology. In An Honest, Well Experienced Heart, Adam Embry shares a poem titled “My Naughty Heart.” “Naughty” rhymes with “knotty,” a play on words that falls in the middle of the piece. Flavel writes of a heart that is so often steered in the wrong direction.

A ship of greatest burthen will obey
The rudder; he that sits at helm, may sway
And guide its motion: If the pilot please,
The ship bears up, against both wind and seas.
My soul’s the ship, affections are its sails,
Conscience is the rudder. Ah! But Lord, what ails
My naughty heart, to shuffle in and out,
When its convictions bid it tack about?
Temptations blow a counter blast, and drive
The vessel where they please, tho’ conscience strive.
And by its stronger persuasions it would force,
My stubborn will to steer another course.
Lord, if I run this course, thy word doth tell,
How quickly I must needs arrive in hell.
Then rectify my conscience, change my will;
Fan in thy pleasant gales, my God, and fill,
All my affections, and let nothing carry,
My soul from its due course, or make it vary;
Then if the pilot’s work thou wouldst perform.
I should bear bravely up against the storm.

August 31, 2012

I have been reading (or, more accurately, listening to) the book Columbine by Dave Cullen. Written ten years after the 1999 school shootings in Littleton, Colorado, it seeks to be the definitive account of an event that left an indelible mark on America and the world. As I listened yesterday on my way home from the office, there was a short section that leapt out at me. It takes place in the immediate aftermath, just hours after the shootings erupted. The last survivors have been brought to their parents and a few families remain, grappling with the reality that their children will never return.  

At Leawood, even the resilient families were faltering. Nothing had changed: no buses, no word, for hours on end. District Attorney Dave Thomas tried to comfort the families. He knew which ones would need it. He had thirteen names in his breast pocket. Ten students had been identified in the library, and two more outside, based on their clothing and appearance. One teacher lay in Science Room 3. All deceased. It was a solid list, but not definitive. Thomas kept it to himself. He told the parents not to worry.

At eight o’clock, they were moved to another room. Sheriff Stone introduced the coroner. She handed out forms asking for descriptions of their kids’ clothing and other physical details. That’s when John Tomlin realized the truth. The coroner asked them to retrieve their kids’ dental records. That went over unevenly. Many took it gravely; others perked up. They had a task, finally, and hope for resolution.

A women leapt up. “Where is that other bus!” she demanded.

There was no bus. “There was never another bus,” Doreen Tomlin said later. “It was like a false hope they gave you.” Many parents felt betrayed. Brian Rohrbough later accused the school officials of lying; Misty Bernall also felt deceived. “Not intentionally, perhaps, but deceived nonetheless,” she wrote. “And so bitterly that it almost choked me.”

Sheriff Stone told them that most of the dead kids had been in the library. “John always went to the library,” Doreen said. “I felt like I was going to pass out. I felt sick.”

She felt sadness but not surprise. Doreen was an Evangelical Christian, and believed the Lord had been preparing her for the news all afternoon. Most of the Evangelicals reacted differently than the other parents. The press had been cleared from the area, but Lynn Duff was assisting the families as a Red Cross volunteer. A liberal Jew from San Francisco, she was taken aback by what she saw.

“The way that those families reacted was markedly different,” she said. “It was like a hundred and eighty degrees from where everybody else was. They were singing; they were praying; they were comforting the other parents, especially the parents of Isaiah Shoels [the only African American killed]. They were thinking a lot about the other parents, the other families, and responding a lot to other people’s needs. They were definitely in pain, and you could see the pain in their eyes, but they were very confident of where their kids were. They were at peace with it. It was like they were a living example of their faith.”

I think every parent wonders how they would react in the face of tragedy, and especially a tragedy as painful as the loss of a child. Here at Columbine we see Christians being Christians even at that darkest hour. Here we see the reality that God really does give grace when grace is needed.

August 26, 2012

John and Betty Stam served with China Inland Missions in the 1930’s. In December of 1934 they fell into the hands of Communist insurgents and were soon executed, dying as missionary martyrs. Both had been raised in Christian homes and both had parents who supported their desire to be missionaries. A short time after they were put to death, John’s father wrote this beautiful letter in which he so powerful expressed both joy and grief, declaring that there is no sacrifice too great to make for the One who gave all he had for us.

Our dear children, John Stam and Elisabeth Scott Stam, have gone to be with the Lord. They loved him, they served him, and now they are with him. What could be more glorious? It is true, the manner in which they were sent out of this world was a shock to us all, but whatever of suffering they may have endured is now past, and they are both infinitely blessed with the joys of heaven.

As for those of us who have been left behind, we were once more reminded of our sacred vows by a telegram received from one of John’s schoolmates in the Midwest—”Remember, you gave John to God, not to China.” Our hearts, though bowed for a little while with sadness, answered “Amen!” It was our desire that he, as well as we, should serve the Lord, and if that could be better done by death than by life, we would have it so. The sacrifice may seem great now, but no sacrifice is too great to make for him who gave himself for us.

We are earnestly praying that it will all be for God’s glory and the salvation of souls. How glad we shall be if through this dreadful experience many souls shall be won for the Lord Jesus! How glad we shall be if many dear Christian young people shall be inspired to give themselves to the Lord as never before, for a life of sacrifice and service!

We were honored by having sons and daughters minister for our Lord among the heathen, but we are more signally honored that two of them have won the martyr’s crown. We are sure that our dear brother and sister, Dr. and Mrs. Charles Scott, both join us in saying, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

August 19, 2012

Here is some wisdom from Mark Dever, drawn from What Is a Healthy Church?. He offers up six considerations for before you decide to leave a church and four to apply if you decide that you must leave.

Before You Decide to Leave

  1. Pray.
  2. Let your current pastor know about your thinking before you move to another church or make your decision to relocate to another city. Ask for his counsel.
  3. Weigh your motives. Is your desire to leave because of sinful, personal conflict or disappointment? If it’s because of doctrinal reasons, are these doctrinal issues significant?
  4. Do everything within your power to reconcile any broken relationships.
  5. Be sure to consider all the “evidences of grace” you’ve seen in the church’s life—places where God’s work is evident. If you cannot see any evidences of God’s grace, you might want to examine your own heart once more (Matt. 7:3-5).
  6. Be humble. Recognize you don’t have all the facts and assess people and circumstances charitably (give them the benefit of the doubt).

If You Go

  1. Don’t divide the body.
  2. Take the utmost care not to sow discontent even among your closest friends. Remember, you don’t want anything to hinder their growth in grace in this church. Deny any desire to gossip (sometimes referred to as “venting” or “saying how you feel”).
  3. Pray for and bless the congregation and its leadership. Look for ways of doing this practically.
  4. If there has been hurt, then forgive—even as you have been forgiven.

August 12, 2012

I have been reading a lot of history and biography in recent weeks, from books on the history of Mormonism to books portraying characters as diverse as Abraham Lincoln and Queen Elizabeth II. One thing that has stood out to me in my reading is how seldom unbelieving authors accurately portray the beliefs of Christians. I read only some of Mary Rubio’s Lucy Maud Montgomery: The Gift of Wings (a fitting read while on Prince Edward Island) before coming across this quote:

The Presbyterian church was located in the centre of the community, on land provided by Maud’s Mcneill clan. The Presbyterian Church was organized democratically, with power resting at the local level: historically, in Scotland, it had been a hothouse of violent internal feuds. Indeed, in Cavendish, there was also a Baptist church—founded by disgruntled Presbyterians—at the other end of the village. Serious doctrinal differences divided the two churches. The Baptists believed in salvation from sin by the ritual of immersion and public confession. Presbyterians thought sinful man could not achieve salvation so easily: many still believed in “Predestination,” the doctrine holding that man was inherently sinful, and only God determined who would be “saved.” These “Elect” (the “chosen ones”) were believed to be picked by an omnipotent God’s arbitrary will and pleasure—not necessarily by their good deeds in life. Still, children were taught to behave themselves, as there was no point in taking chances. Bad behavior suggested exclusion from the “Elect.”

I hardly know where to begin! Rubio is a lifelong scholar and student of her subject’s life, yet she could hardly have packed more mistakes into such a small paragraph. I suppose you might say that Presbyterian churches are “organized democratically” and you might say that “power rests at the local level,” but that requires some degree of nuance since Presbyterian churches are not independent and the quote suggests. Baptists do not believe in salvation by immersion and confession and, in fact, are very likely, especially in that day, to believe just what Presbyterians believe about predestination. Speaking of which, no Presbyterian (or Baptist, for that) holds that God chooses his people by “arbitrary will and pleasure.” The word “necessarily” should necessarily be removed when she seems to suggest that some Presbyterians would hold that God chooses on the basis of works. I also doubt too many genuine believers were raising their children to put on a good show because bad childish behavior suggested exclusion from the “Elect.”

This is just one example of the many, many faulty attempts I’ve witnessed.

August 05, 2012

I have been reading Jeremy Walker’s The Brokenhearted Evangelist and in that book he includes a powerful section dealing with the importance of prayer in the practice of evangelism. After quoting John Sutcliff, who cries out against lukewarmness, Walker asks and answers this question: How do we keep our prayers fiery?

How do we keep our prayers fiery? By engaging in hand-to-hand combat with Satan’s hosts, for those who are yet under his dominion. Why do we keep our spiritual weapons sharp? So that we can fight. How do we learn how to use those weapons? When we engage with lost men. Where are our graces brought to their highest pitch and exercised to their greatest degree? It is often when we are locked in mortal combat for the salvation of a soul. Where are our minds fired with holy truth so that we begin to understand, to press, and to be in earnest? When are our hearts most ablaze with love for Jesus Christ? When, in short, are we most alive as Christians? With the possible exception of the gatherings of the saints for worshiping God, it is when we are involved in the life business of the redeemed men and women of Jesus Christ, engaging with transgressors and seeking their salvation for the glory of God in Jesus Christ. There is little that so elevates us—that so engages the totality of our redeemed humanity—as the holy cut and thrust of evangelism. Nothing so casts us upon the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Nothing so reminds us of our need and sends us in desperation to God for increased measures of His Spirit as the reality of wrestling for souls.

July 29, 2012

In his much-praised book Killing Calvinism, Greg Dutcher writes about the tendency many Calvinists may have to be more enamored by their theology than by God himself. I suppose this may be a temptation for those who adhere to any faith or any system of theology, but it does seem particularly prevalent among Calvinists. At the close of a chapter he offers this helpful prayer:

Mighty God,

Thank you for giving me eyes, ears, memory, and intellect. You have enabled me to see the wonder of your sovereign mercy throughout your Word. Had you not chosen me, I would not be your child. Had you not loved me first, never would I have loved you at all.

May I never be more enamored with the theology that helps me see these things clearly than with seeing you. Forgive me for the times when I have made my understanding of you and your saving ways an idol rather than an aid.

When others see me, may they see a person completely captivated by your glory and humbled by your mercy.

For Jesus’ sake, amen.

July 28, 2012

In her book A Place of Quiet Rest, Nancy Leigh DeMoss includes several chapters on prayer. In a chapter titled “The Privilege of Prayer” she discusses a period of prayerlessness in her life and her growing conviction that she had to get to the root of it. “As God opened my eyes to this matter of prayerlessness, I asked Him to let me see it from His point of view. Here is what I wrote in my journal one day when God first began to deal with my heart.” She does not attempt to provide a doctrine of prayer or prayerlessness as much as a reflection on what prayerlessness means in her own life. I found it very helpful.

Here is what she says:

I am convicted that prayerlessness …

  • is a sin against God (1 Samuel 12:23).
  • is direct disobedience to the command of Christ (“watch and pray,” Matthew 26:41).
  • is direct disobedience to the Word of God (“pray without ceasing,” 1 Thessalonians 5:17).
  • makes me vulnerable to temptation (“watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation,” Matthew 26:41).
  • expresses independence—no need for God.
  • gives place to the Enemy and makes me vulnerable to his schemes (Ephesians 6:10-20; Daniel 10).
  • results in powerlessness.
  • limts (and defines) my relationship with God.
  • hinders me from knowing His will, His priorities, His direction.
  • forces me to operate in the realm of the natural (what I can do) versus the supernatural (what He can do).
  • leaves me weak, harried, and hassled.
  • is rooted in pride, self-sufficiency, laziness, and lack of discipline.
  • reveals a lack of real burden and compassion for others.

July 22, 2012

The Lord calls us to work hard to rest well. Scotty Smith recently shared a prayer on this very subject that looks to what he calls “a glorious paradox and beautiful irony.” He bases it on words from Hebrews 4 (which I’ve included at the end). Here is what he prays:

Heavenly Father, what a most glorious paradox and beautiful irony this portion of your Word presents. You’re calling us to work diligently, to invest great effort, to strive with all our might to rest from our works that we might enter the rest of your work. Work hard to rest well. Work hard to cease working.

Once again I’m confronted with how the gospel contradicts the fundamental way I’ve been trained to approach every sphere of life—athletics, education, finances, career, reputation. “Do it the good ole’ fashioned way—earn it.” “God helps those who help themselves.” “You’ll always get what’s coming to you.” “You can do anything you set your mind to do.” These mantras have been my motivation for much of life; but they also been my madness, because performance-based living never really brings rest, just more restlessness.

Father, because the gospel is true, fortunately, I didn’t get what’s coming to me. You gave that to Jesus at the cross. You put my sin on him. You punished him with the punishment I deserve. And in exchange, you’ve given me what I never could’ve earned: complete forgiveness, the righteousness of Jesus, and your permanent favor resting on me.

You don’t help those who help themselves. You help those who admit they can’t help themselves. Salvation is of the Lord! There’s no greater rest than to know you are at peace with me—to be certain that you are resting and rejoicing in great love over me.

Jesus, you created the world in six days and then entered a Sabbath rest. Likewise, when you died on the cross, securing our salvation and the restoration of creation, you cried, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Your work was over and you rested, and now we enter your rest. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah!

Our never-ending work is to hear and believe this gospel. “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:29). What a most liberating vocation you have given us. So very Amen I pray, in your holy and gracious name.

Here is the text for the prayer:

“Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest. … So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest” (Hebrews 4:1-3, 9-11).

July 15, 2012

While John Newton will always be known as the man who wrote “Amazing Grace,” that is just one of hundreds of hymns he penned. Another beautiful and powerful hymn of comfort and assurance is “Pensive, Doubting, Fearful Heart.” I have it on good authority that it will be on the next album by Indelible Grace; it was also on one of Red Mountain Music’s albums (you can hear it below). Read these lyrics as a poem or read them as you listen to the song.

Pensive, doubting, fearful heart,
Hear what Christ the Savior says;
Every word should joy impart,
Change thy mourning into praise:
Yes, he speaks, and speaks to thee,
May he help thee to believe!
Then thou presently wilt see,
Thou hast little cause to grieve.

“Fear thou not, nor be ashamed,
All thy sorrows soon shall end
I who heav’n and earth have framed,
Am thy husband and thy friend
I the High and Holy One,
Israel’s GOD by all adored;
As thy Savior will be known,
Thy Redeemer and thy Lord.

For a moment I withdrew,
And thy heart was filled with pain;
But my mercies I’ll renew,
Thou shalt soon rejoice again:
Though I scorn to hide my face,
Very soon my wrath shall cease;
‘Tis but for a moment’s space,
Ending in eternal peace.

When my peaceful bow appears
Painted on the wat’ry cloud;
‘Tis to dissipate thy fears,
Lest the earth should be o’erflowed:
‘Tis an emblem too of grace,
Of my cov’nant love a sign;
Though the mountains leave their place,
Thou shalt be for ever mine.

Though afflicted, tempest‐tossed,
Comfortless awhile thou art,
Do not think thou canst be lost,
Thou art graven on my heart
All thy walls I will repair,
Thou shalt be rebuilt anew;
And in thee it shall appear,
What a God of love can do.

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