Monthly Archives: February 2013
In Tolkien’s The Two Towers we are introduced to Grima Wormtongue who, under the pretense of caring for Theoden the King, has wickedly ingratiated himself and usurped his moral authority. Indeed, as Wormtongue’s influence over Thedoen grows, the king’s power dissipates. In the Peter Jackson film, we see this vividly in the way Theoden is depicted as a mere shell of a man, somewhat skeletal with a gray pallor and dull, glazed eyes. His counselor has a parasitic effect. It’s a dramatic link, to be sure, but I think of this relationship when I ponder the ambitions of the emergents, the neo-evangelicals, or whatever they’re calling themselves now (or not calling themselves) in seeking to commandeer the the conversation of the evangelical movement. “Christianity must change or die,” a satanic bishop wrote a few years back. His spiritual progeny are catching up to agree with new books and new publishing houses, new conferences, blogs, and talk shows. But we’ve seen the trajectory for years. They can take us no place worth going. Talking out of both sides of their mouths, we ought not be surprised when the forked tongues become more evident.
Professing to be wise, they reveal themselves to be fools. “Did God actually say?” they begin. Then they’ll tell you the answer: “No.” Before long, they insist the gospel cannot expand in this brave new world without a brave new faith that coddles disbelief and calls sin …
Just noodling around with this theory. I think there are three levels of generosity a local church can process through given the gospel’s dominion in the place and the leadership’s determination to be humble and not insecure. From easiest to hardest:
Generous with Facilities
This is the first generosity and the easiest for most churches to engage in. Sometimes even for reasons of conceit — the appearance of busy-ness or the desire to impress others — but most often out of sincere hospitality and graciousness, churches can open their facilities for use by other churches or community groups. Churches have been doing this for a long time, running soup kitchens or community dinners in their fellowship halls, opening classrooms for daycares or Boy/Girl Scout troop meetings, 12-step groups, etc. When a church is generous with its facilities, it shows a gratitude for what’s been stewarded to them and often that their building is not a sacred cow to them.
Generous with Money
Sometimes the first generosity and this one are flip-flopped and churches are more readily generous with money than with their building, but for many, this is a harder generosity, especially in tough economic times. A church’s budget will tell you what is most important to them, just like our bank statements reveal what is most important to us. It can be difficult for a church to be generous with its money because the drift to inward focus and enhancing the internal experience of the church is automatic. When the gospel takes more …
“How excellent is that inner goodness and true religion that comes from this sight of the beauty of Christ! Here you have the most wonderful experiences of saints and angels in heaven. Here you have the best experience of Jesus Christ Himself. Even though we are mere creatures, it is a sort of participation in God’s own beauty. ‘Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature.’ (2 Pet 1:4) ‘God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.’ (Heb 12:10) Because of the power of this divine working, there is a mutual indwelling of God and His people. ‘God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.’ (1 John 4:16)
“This special relationship has to make the person involved as happy and as blessed as any creature in existence. This is a special gift of God, which he gives only to his special favorites. Gold, silver, diamonds, and earthly kingdoms are given by God to people who the Bible calls dogs and pigs. But this great gift of beholding Christ’s beauty, is the special blessing of God to His dearest children. Flesh and blood cannot give this gift: only God can bestow it. This was the special gift which Christ died to obtain for his elect. It is the highest token of his everlasting love, the best fruit of his labours, and the most precious purchase …
“So, then, what is this effectual, internal call that we are speaking about? Well, the most we can say about it is — and this must of necessity be true in the light of these scriptures — that it is the exercise of the power of the Holy Spirit in the soul. It is a direct operation of the Holy Spirit within us. It is immediate, it is spiritual, it is supernatural, miraculous. And what it does is to make a new mode of spiritual activity possible within us. Without this operation we are incapable of any true spiritual activity but as the result of this operation of the Holy Spirit upon us, we are rendered capable, for the first time, of spiritual activity and that is how this call now becomes effectual, that is what enables us to receive it.
“Now this is very important and I want to emphasise the immediacy, the direct action. You see, what happens when the call comes to men and women effectually is not simply that the moral influence of the truth is exercised upon them. Some people have thought that; they have said that the gospel is preached and that the truth has a kind of general moral effect upon people. For instance, to take a human theme, a capable orator, a man wanting to persuade men and women to vote at an election for a given party, can put the case so well that he can exercise a moral influence upon …
My wife Becky turns 40 today. She’s so cool she doesn’t even care if you know how old she is. “What’s it feel like to be married to an old person?” she said to me yesterday. (I turn 38 this fall, by the way.) “I wouldn’t know,” I said.
Last week we attended a Valentine’s sweethearts dinner for pastors and their wives in the area hosted by another local church. They had set up a collection of tables for two and volunteers served us chicken piccata over linguine by candlelight. They gave us a sheet of suggested questions for “couple talk.” We played the Newlywed Game (and a pair of actual newlyweds won). The whole night we enjoyed playing by the rules, but we also enjoyed — don’t tell anybody — making light fun of the questions. One of the listed instructions said to “reflect quietly on your life together,” so I rested my chin on my fist and stared dreamily off to space. Becky laughed out loud.
We’ve spent our married life (17 years this summer) not playing by the rules, really. Got married in college. Becky never finished. Went into debt. Moved away from family. Becky became the breadwinner, while I did the stay-at-home dad thing for about eight years.
We broke the rules of grace too — me especially. I broke the rules of God and I broke our marriage. But Becky broke the rule of common sense. She didn’t love me for a while, and especially didn’t …
“The Arminians say, ‘Christ died for all men.’ Ask them what they mean by it. Did Christ die so as to secure the salvation of all men? They say, ‘No, certainly not.’ We ask them the next question: Did Christ die so as to secure the salvation of any man in particular? They answer ‘No.’ They are obliged to admit this, if they are consistent. They say, ‘No; Christ has died that any man may be saved if ?’ and then follow certain conditions of salvation. Now, who is it that limits the death of Christ? Why, you. You say that Christ did not die so as infallibly to secure the salvation of anybody. We beg your pardon, when you say we limit Christ’s death; we say, ‘No, my dear sir, it is you that do it.’ We say Christ so died that he infallibly secured the salvation of a multitude that no man can number, who through Christ’s death not only may be saved, but are saved, must be saved and cannot by any possibility run the hazard of being anything but saved. You are welcome to your atonement; you may keep it. We will never renounce ours for the sake of it.”
– Charles Spurgeon, “The Death of Christ: What Did it Accomplish?”
Our Gracie has been hard at work the last few days writing her first book. She’s got about 7 pages already, which is a lot when you’re 9 years old and writing longhand with pencil in a legal pad. She watched me sit down at my computer today and quipped, “I don’t have it easy like you.” (I told her I wrote the first drafts of my first three books longhand, pen in notebooks, but she didn’t seem too impressed.) I asked her what her book was about. This is what she said:
“It’s about a lady who is pregnant but she’s stressed out because she doesn’t have a place for the baby, so she starts driving to a motel to stay there because it’s near the hospital but she falls asleep when she’s driving and goes off the road and when she wakes up, she’s lost and doesn’t know how to get back to where she wants to go, and then the car blows up, so she’s out in the snow, pregnant and lost.”
“Wow. Sounds pretty heavy,” I said.
“Yeah,” she said. “But it all ends well.”
Indeed it does.
How Grace is Like Grace (and How Grace Isn’t)
Ignore my punchy title, really. Just my shameless ploy at getting your attention. Here is an interesting perspective from a site that is new to me on why rural ministry seems to be off the radar of the church planting crowd otherwise attracted to organic produce, going “local,” and living simply, etc. Darryl Hart on “If Cooking Slowly and Growing Organically are In, Why is Rural Ministry Out?” An excerpt:
Signs are not encouraging though that the growing concern among evangelical Protestants about the environment is having any effect on their church’s estimation of the people who work on farms and live near them. A recent story in Christianity Today on Tim Keller, a popular Presbyterian pastor in New York City, suggests that for all the desires that evangelicals have to be cutting edge and socially aware, a ministry accessible to the rhythms of farming and local communities does not qualify as hip. The story fawns over Keller for his ability to carve out a multiple-congregation structure in the Big Apple, for a theology of the city that says cites are where redemption happens, and for the model of ministry he exhibits to a crop of younger pastors who aspire to make an impact.
According to the news story, “New York attracts the best and the most ambitious.” Keller senses this and ministers accordingly. He told the reporter, “Suppose you are the best violist in Tupelo, Mississippi. You go to Manhattan, and when you get out of the subway, you hear …
“The text says, ‘From the beginning God chose you to be saved;’ but our opponents say, that God chooses people because they are good; that He chooses them on account of the many works which they have done. Now, we ask, in reply to this, what works are those that the ‘chosen’ did that caused God to elect His people? Are they what we commonly call ‘works of law’–works of obedience which the creature can do? If so, we reply to you, if men cannot be justified by the works of the law, it seems to us pretty clear that they cannot be elected by the works of the law; if they cannot be justified by their good works, they cannot be saved by them. Then the teaching of election could not have been formed on good works.
“‘But,’ others say, ‘God elected them on the foresight of their faith.’ Now, God gives faith therefore He could not have elected them on account of faith, which He foresaw. If there were twenty beggars in the street, and I determine to give one of them a dollar, will anyone say that I determined to give that one a dollar, that I elected him to have the dollar, because I foresaw that he would have it? That would be talking nonsense. Likewise, to say that God elected men because He foresaw they would have faith, would be too absurd for us to listen to for a moment. Faith is the gift of …