Yearly Archives: 2013





Ray Ortlund|10:29 AM CT

Centered on one or the other

Beatles - Sgt Pepper

“. . . a friend of tax collectors and sinners!”  Luke 7:34

What does it mean for a church to be gospel-centered?  That’s a popular concept these days.  Good.  What if we were scrambling to be law-centered?  But the difference is not so easy in real terms.

A gospel-centered church holds together two things.  One, a gospel-centered church preaches a bold message of divine grace for the undeserving — so bold that it becomes the end of the law for all who believe.  Not our performance but Christ’s performance for us.  Not our sacrifices but his sacrifice for us.  Not our superiority but only his worth and prestige.  The good news of substitution.  The good news that our okayness is not in us but exterior to us in Christ alone.  Climbing down from the high moral ground, because only Christ belongs up there.  That message, that awareness, that clarity.  Sunday after Sunday after Sunday.

Two, a gospel-centered church translates that theology into its sociology.  The good news of God’s grace beautifies how we treat one another.  In fact, the horizontal reveals the vertical.  How we treat one another reveals what we really believe as opposed to what we think we believe.  It is possible to say, “We are a gospel-centered church,” and sincerely mean it, while we make our church into a law-centered social environment.  We see God above lowering his gun, and we breathe a sigh of relief.  But if we are trigger-happy toward one another, we don’t get it yet.

A gospel-centered church looks something like this album cover — my all-time favorite.  A gospel-centered church is a variegated collection of sinners.  What unifies them is Jesus, the King of grace.  They come together and stick together because they have nothing to fear from their church’s message or from their church’s culture.  The theology creates the sociology, and the sociology incarnates the theology.  And everyone is free to trust the Lord, be honest about their problems, and grow in newness of life.

The one deal-breaker in a gospel-centered church: anyone for any reason turning it into a culture of legal demandingness, negative scrutiny, finger-pointing, gossip and other community-poisoning sins.  A church with a message of grace can quickly and easily stop being gospel-centered in real terms.

A major part of pastoral ministry is preaching the doctrine of grace and managing an environment of grace.  The latter is harder to accomplish than the former.  It is more intuitive.  It requires more humility, self-awareness and trust in the Lord.  But when a church’s theological message and its relational tone converge as one, that church becomes powerfully prophetic, for the glory of Jesus.

May the Friend of sinners grant beautiful gospel-centricity in all our churches.





Ray Ortlund|11:17 AM CT

Restoration as a gospel priority


Aim for restoration.  2 Corinthians 13:11

“Aim for restoration” was highly relevant to this community in Corinth.  They were broken at multiple levels.  They were making progress, but there was much good still to accomplish.  So, “aim for restoration” was ideal as an all-encompassing intention.  For any gospel-defined church, then or now, restoration is an obvious priority.

But is it obvious?  Or, is it obvious to us today?  Few churches and movements, it seems, are free from relational strains and fractures.  A settled wholeness seems rare.  But I wonder if restoration is the priority it deserves to be.

Earlier in 2 Corinthians Paul defined his life work as “the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18).  He defined the gospel as “the message of reconciliation” (verse 19).  That is why he did not say, “We have moments of reconciliation now and then.”  No, he saw his calling as “the ministry of reconciliation.”  In other words, “Reconciliation is all I do.  It’s how I roll.  It isn’t a preference.  It is a gospel necessity, an obvious one.”

I wonder how many of our churches and movements can honestly say, with the apostle, “Reconciliation is our ministry, because it is our message.  We have no higher priority.  We want to be living proof of the gospel.  This is obvious to us.”

Aiming for restoration deserves to be a matter of prayer and priority in 2014 for every gospel-defined church and ministry.  Settling for the status quo – where is that in the gospel?  We might not succeed in renewing shalom with everyone (Romans 12:18).  Some people will always be unsatisfiable.  But have we tried?  To whatever extent God gives success, we will be more ready for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit we all long for, for the salvation of many others around us.

What wonderful things might the Lord do for us all in 2014, if we allow the gospel of reconciliation to define, or perhaps redefine, our ministry priorities?





Ray Ortlund|5:39 AM CT

How to help real people in the real world


Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me free.  Psalm 118:5

“Note the great art and wisdom of faith.  It does not run to and fro in the face of trouble.  It does not cry on everybody’s shoulder, nor does it curse and scold its enemies.  It does not murmur against God by asking, ‘Why does God do this to me?’ . . . Faith does not despair of the God who sends trouble.  Faith does not consider him angry or an enemy, as the flesh, the world and the devil strongly suggest.  Faith rises above all this and sees God’s fatherly heart behind his unfriendly exterior. . . .

Do not sit by yourself or lie on a couch . . . . Do not destroy yourself with your own thoughts by worrying.  Do not strive and struggle to free yourself, and do not brood on your wretchedness, suffering, and misery.  Say to yourself: ‘Come on, you lazy bum; down on your knees, and lift your eyes and hands toward heaven!’  Read a psalm or the Our Father, call on God, and tearfully lay your troubles before him. . . . It is his desire and will that you lay your troubles before him.  He does not want you to multiply your troubles by burdening and torturing  yourself.  He wants you to be too weak to bear and overcome such troubles; he wants you to grow strong in him.  By his strength he is glorified in you.

Out of such experiences men become real Christians.  Otherwise, men are mere babblers, who prate about faith and spirit but are ignorant of what it is all about.”

Martin Luther on Psalm 118:5

HT: Eric Ortlund.





Ray Ortlund|4:52 PM CT


“‘Immanuel, God with us.’  It is hell’s terror.  Satan trembles at the sound of it. . . . Let him come to you suddenly, and do you but whisper that word, ‘God with us,’ back he falls, confounded and confused. . . . ‘God with us’ is the laborer’s strength.  How could he preach the gospel, how could he bend his knees in prayer, how could the missionary go into foreign lands, how could the martyr stand at the stake, how could the confessor own his Master, how could men labor if that one word were taken away? . . . ‘God with us’ is eternity’s sonnet, heaven’s hallelujah, the shout of the glorified, the song of the redeemed, the chorus of the angels, the everlasting oratorio of the great orchestra of the sky. . . .

Feast, Christians, feast; you have a right to feast. . . . But in your feasting, think of the Man in Bethlehem.  Let him have a place in your hearts, give him the glory, think of the virgin who conceived him, but think most of all of the Man born, the Child given.

I finish by again saying, A happy Christmas to you all!

C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of the Old Testament (London, n.d.), III:430.





Ray Ortlund|1:03 PM CT

The true nature of Christianity


“A saying of Chrysostom’s has always pleased me very much, that the foundation of our philosophy is humility.  But that of Augustine pleases me even more: ‘. . . so if you ask me concerning the precepts of the Christian religion, first, second and third, and always I would answer ‘Humility.’”

John Calvin, Institutes, 2.2.11.

“Another observation, in a former letter of yours, has not escaped my remembrance – the three lessons which a minister has to learn:  1. Humility.  2. Humility.  3. Humility.  How long are we learning the true nature of Christianity!”

Charles Simeon, quoted in Charles Simeon, by H. C. G. Moule (London, 1956), page 65.

“According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride.  Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison.  It was through Pride that the devil became the devil.  Pride leads to every other vice.  It is the complete anti-God state of mind.”

C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York, 1958), page 94.





Ray Ortlund|4:18 PM CT

42 years ago today

DSC0438542 years ago today my Father put this lovely lady in my arms, to be my best friend and stalwart partner in life.  I thank him for this precious gift, second only to Christ himself.  What a blessing she has been every day for 42 swiftly passing years!

So, I am leaving my study now to go home, pick her up and go out together to a nice restaurant for dinner.

Back tomorrow!





Ray Ortlund|11:38 AM CT

“Why could we not cast it out?”


And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”  Mark 9:29

“You failed there, he said in effect to these disciples, because you did not have sufficient power.  You were using the power that you have, and you were very confident in it.  You did it with great assurance, you were masters of the occasion, you thought you were going to succeed at once, but you did not. . . . You will never be able to deal with ‘this kind’ unless you have applied to God for the power which he alone can give you.

You must become aware of your need, of your impotence, of your helplessness.  You must realize that you are confronted by something that is too deep for your methods to get rid of or to deal with, and you need something that can go down beneath that evil power and shatter it, and there is only one thing that can do that, and that is the power of God. . . .
We must ask ourselves how we can succeed if we do not have this authority, this commission, this might and strength and power.  We must become utterly and absolutely convinced of our need.  We must cease to have so much confidence in ourselves, and in all our methods and organizations, and in all our slickness.  We have got to realize that we must be filled with God’s Spirit.

And we must be equally certain that God can fill us with his Spirit.  We have got to realize that, however great ‘this kind’ is, the power of God is infinitely greater, that what we need is not more knowledge, more understanding, more apologetics, more reconciliation of philosophy and science and religion, and all modern techniques – no, we need a power that can enter into the souls of men and break them and smash them and humble them and then make them anew.  And that is the power of the living God.

And we must be confident that God has this power as much today as he had one hundred years ago, and two hundred years ago, and so we must begin to seek the power and to pray for it.  We must begin to plead and yearn for it.  ‘This kind’ needs prayer.”

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Revival (Wheaton, 1987), pages 18-19.





Ray Ortlund|12:28 PM CT

Oh, that we were there!

In dulci jubilo [with sweet joy]
Let us our homage show
Our heart’s joy reclineth
In praesepio [in a stable]
And like a bright star shineth
Matris in gremio [in a mother's lap]
Alpha es et O! [you are Alpha and Omega]

O Jesu parvule [O baby Jesus]
I yearn for Thee alway
Listen to my ditty
O puer optime [O best boy]
Have pity on me, pity
O princeps gloriae [O Prince of glory]
Trahe me post te! [draw me after yourself!]

O Patris caritas! [O love of the Father]
O Nati lenitas! [O gentleness of the One born]
Deeply were we stained
Per nostra crimina [through our offenses]
But Thou hast for us gained
Coelorum gaudia [the joys of heaven]
Oh, that we were there!

Ubi sunt gaudia [where are joys?]
If that they be not there?
There are angels singing
Nova cantica [new songs]
And there the bells are ringing
In Regis curia [in the King's court]
Oh, that we were there!





Ray Ortlund|12:37 PM CT

How does one give reasons for this?

“Paul ran from Christ; Christ pursued and overtook him.  Paul resisted Christ; Christ disarmed him.  Paul persecuted Christ; Christ converted him.  Paul was an alien; Christ made him a member of the family.  Paul was an enemy; Christ made him a friend.  Paul was ‘in the flesh’; Christ set him ‘in the Spirit.’  Paul was under the law; Christ set him in grace.  Paul was dead; Christ made him alive to God.  How does one give reasons for this?  He does not give reasons; he sings, ‘Blessed be God who blessed us . . . even as he chose us in him.’”

Lewis B. Smedes, Union With Christ (Grand Rapids, 1983), pages 86-87.





Ray Ortlund|3:41 PM CT

Importance, real or perceived


If I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth.  But I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me.  2 Corinthians 12:6

God had given the apostle Paul an amazing spiritual experience — apparently, some kind of guided tour of heaven.  If Paul had wanted to “wow” the rest of us, he easily could have.  But for fourteen years he told no one about it, quietly keeping it to himself, wonderful though it was.  He didn’t exploit his remarkable experience to enhance his ministry.

Paul was deeply secure in Christ.  He was content for people to perceive him and rate him on the basis of what they themselves could observe in him – not what he could claim, even rightly claim, but the ordinary human realities they could see and hear.  It was the fraudulent “super-apostles” (2 Corinthians 11:5) who trotted out their big-deal-ness.  Moreover, Paul really wasn’t impressive in some ways that typically count in this world.  He deliberately chose not to be.  He did have the power of Christ resting upon him.  But even that came out most clearly in his weaknesses.  And as I said, Paul was okay with people reaching their own conclusions about all this.  He didn’t groom an image.  He wouldn’t stoop to it.  The reality of Christ was too significant.

I wonder if the apostolic approach to clout satisfies us today.  I hope so.  But sometimes I wonder.  So much of this is down in our motives.  That makes it impossible for anyone to judge.  Who can see another person’s heart?  But whatever looks like self-promotion, even if the claims are true and accurate — it just doesn’t pass the whiff test.

Rather than justify the accepted patterns of gathering attention to oneself, maybe we should scrutinize more radically the conversation going on in our heads.  Maybe we should be asking, “How do I need to become more honest and less impressive, so that the only reason people pay attention to me is the power of Christ resting upon me?”

My own thoughts keep returning to our need for revival — an outpouring of divine power to beautify the church and compel the attention of the world.  I have to wonder what there is about me right now, the Ray Ortlund who currently exists, that inadvertently counteracts the power of God?  I wonder what changes I need to make, to become “a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21)?  Whatever those changes are, I expect they will decrease, rather than increase, my impulses toward all forms of self-importance.