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“It is finished, there is enough”

Aug 27, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

“If today you feel that sin is hateful to you, believe in Him who has said, ‘It is finished.’  Let me link your hand in mine.  Let us come together, both of us, and say, ‘Here are two poor naked souls, good Lord; we cannot clothe ourselves,’ and He will give us a robe, for ‘it is finished.’ . . . ‘But must we not add tears to it?’  ‘No,’ says He, ‘no, it is finished, there is enough.’

Child of God, will you have Christ’s finished righteousness this morning, and will you rejoice in it more than you ever have before?”

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Treasury of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, 1950), II:675.  Style updated.

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Amy Carmichael

Aug 23, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

Amy_Carmichael_with_children2

Father, hear us, we are praying,
Hear the words our hearts are saying,
We are praying for our children.

Keep them from the powers of evil,
From the secret, hidden peril,
From the whirlpool that would suck them,
From the treacherous quicksand pluck them.

From the worldling’s hollow gladness,
From the sting of faithless sadness,
Holy Father, save our children.

Through life’s troubled waters steer them,
Through life’s bitter battle cheer them,
Father, Father, be Thou near them.

Read the language of our longing,
Read the wordless pleadings thronging,
Holy Father, for our children.

And wherever they may bide,
Lead them home at eventide.

Amy Carmichael, “For Our Children,” in Toward Jerusalem (London, 1987), page 106.  Italics original.

 

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A blind spot

Aug 22, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

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My hunch is that some of us white people feel anxiety and confusion about scenes of racially-related strife not because we ourselves feel threatened but because we just don’t know what to do.  No white person I know wants to be a racist.  But my hunch is that some of us honestly don’t know what racism is — beyond the blatantly obvious.  We then respond defensively to the forthrightness of our African-American friends, to whom the problems are clear.  Maybe we are discovering in ourselves a blind spot.

Bryan Loritts’ article reminds us all of the various levels at which we connect with one another: clichés at the surface, then deeper to facts, then opinion, then feeling, then transparency.  In my own words, “What everybody knows” to “What the facts are” to “What I think” to “How I feel” to “Who I am — really.”  If our interaction with one another stays at the level of “the facts,” it can feel objective and fair.  That’s why we get stuck at that level.  It feels solid.  But it doesn’t satisfy wounded people, nor should it.  The true value of “the facts” is greater understanding, not gaining advantage.  And reaching for more than “the facts” is not a slippery slope; it is love.

God’s loving alternative is all of us taking our discourse down to the level of “Here is who I am.  Here is who and what I really am, in my own failure and need.  Here is what troubles me about myself and all of us.  Here is how I need to grow, and here is what I need from you.”  This high-risk-high-reward transparency is biblical: “But if we walk in the light” — utter honesty with the Lord and one another — “as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

Where can all of us experience that eye-opening redemption?  Primarily, in churches with a gospel culture.  Ground Zero for progress is a relational environment of gospel + safety + time, such as a church is ideally suited to provide, where no one has anything to fear, where no one has to say everything perfectly because a good intention is taken for granted, where we are more eager to listen than to speak.

The more churches with that divine glory upon them, the more convincing our witness will be as an alternative to the flame-throwing discourse of our angry world.  So, I don’t see any quick fix.  But I do see a powerful long-term remedy: churches so honest, so gentle, that it feels like Jesus himself has come to town.

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A new opportunity

Aug 20, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

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“And I went down to the demonstration, to get my fair share of abuse.”  Jagger, Richards

We didn’t step up visibly enough back in the days of civil rights demonstrations in the early 60s.  We could have.  Our theology gave us every right to, and urged us to.  But we didn’t.  We were blind.  And now our silence at that noble moment in American history is embarrassing to us.  More of us could have been there and should have been there.  But so many of us lost that opportunity forever.  We still regret it.

But God, in mercy, is giving us a new opportunity.

If you are an American Christian who believes that the justice of God has direct implications for how we must treat one another, if you are offended that other Americans, including some you don’t warm up to personally, are treated inhumanely, if you long for revival and the moral renewal of our nation, if you don’t mind not knowing fully in advance where your next step of obedience to Christ might take you, but you’re fine with that, because you do know where disobeying Him will surely take you, if it’s okay with you to be publicly identified with some co-belligerents who disagree with you and you with them on other important questions and you might be misjudged by some of your friends because of that linkage, but you’re fine with that because you’re the only one who has to live with your conscience, if you’ve been mistreated yourself and you know what it’s like to be humiliated and excluded and shamed and rendered less than fully human by people whose lives have been so privileged they don’t even understand what they’re doing, but you’ve been rubbed so raw that by now your heart is too free to care what those people say or do, if you’re the kind of Christian who longs for your generation to see the beauty of the real Jesus publicly displayed with such clarity that he cannot be ignored any more, then you have a new opportunity.  It’s 2014, not 1964, but you haven’t missed your chance.

The first step you can take, right now, is to settle the matter in your mind, as in the presence of the living Christ, that you will not stand idly by but you will consider it an honor given by Him to rise up boldly for justice, even before all your friends appreciate what you are doing, because your stepping forward first could well be what finally cracks their hearts open to the glory of the Lord being revealed, so that all flesh can see it together.

But you must decide now.  In your heart and conscience, you must cross the line from resistance to readiness.  If you will, the Lord will see, and he will graciously arrange your opportunity to prove it.

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How sin is most deceitful

Aug 20, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

Martin

“It is rightly called the deceitfulness of sin because it deceives under the appearance of the good.  This phrase ‘the deceitfulness of sin’ ought to be understood in a much wider sense, so that the term includes even one’s own righteousness and wisdom.  For more than anything else one’s own righteousness and wisdom deceive one and work against faith in Christ, since we love the flesh and the sensations of the flesh and also riches and possessions, but we love nothing more ardently than our own feelings, judgment, purpose, and will, especially when they seem to be good.  For the same reason Christ said, when he healed the paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda, that it was impossible for such people to be able to believe: ‘How can you believe who receive glory from one another?’ (John 5:44).  Why are they not able to believe?  Because the ‘deceitfulness of sin,’ that is, the love of their own righteousness, blinds them and hardens their heart.  Yet at the same time they think it a good thing to glory in their own righteousness and be pleased with it, though that indeed is the very worst of all vices, the extreme antithesis of faith. Faith rejoices and glories in the righteousness of God alone, that is, in Christ himself.”

Martin Luther, on Hebrews 3:13.

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Exhausted

Aug 19, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

“A psychologist tells the story of a despairing young woman, spent in an endless round of parties, exhausted by the pursuit of pleasure.  When told she should simply stop, she responded, ‘You mean I don’t have to do what I want to do?’”

Charles W. Colson, “The Enduring Revolution,” 1993 Templeton Address.

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“You can’t always be nice”

Aug 18, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

95-stellingenWhen Martin Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses, he picked a fight.  It was a good fight, and he won.  He won not only because his arguments were more biblical but also because he manfully took responsibility for challenging the status quo.  It was a public challenge, right out in the open.  His courage added moral authority to his arguments.

Mature Christian leaders know the difference between petty issues that deserve zero passion, and burning issues worth dying for, and the various gradations in between.  But mature Christians leaders are willing to say hard things out loud in public, willing to face the past rather than sweep it under the rug, willing to create an awkward moment because something more important than saving face and remaining comfortable is on the line.  God is so real to men and women like this, that they will do whatever his Word clearly requires, no matter what.

Thabiti did that today on his blog.  He put something significant right out on the table so that the rest of us have to face it, think about it, feel it, and that does all of us nothing but good.  Thabiti is not one of those cruel bloggers who are more eager to vent than to serve, more eager to embarrass than to build up.  Thabiti is a mature Christian leader.

The striking thing, to me, is how rare among us is his admirable forthrightness.  I wonder how thoroughly we have applied the gospel to this aspect of our life together.  Here are two guiding principles — complementary, not contradictory — that come to mind right away, for starters:

1.  “Give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all” (Romans 12:17).  That which is honorable, that which is morally elegant, is our standard always.  Will a reasonable person, including a reasonable unbeliever, look at what we are saying and doing and admire it as honorable?  Self-serving moral fervor comes across as ugly. Selfless restraint comes across as noble.

2.  “To them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you” (Galatians 2:5).  Sometimes, in order to preserve the integrity of the gospel for others, the gospel in both principle and practice, in both doctrine and culture, we must resist. We must protest. And we must offer a positive alternative for the sake of the future.  But as my saintly and gentle dad once said to me, “You can’t always be nice.”

Thank you, Thabiti, for not being nice.

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The worst kind of evil

Aug 14, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

Evil

“The worst kind of evil is the wrong kind of love, love that clutches and possesses rather than loosening and liberating. . . . That is Lewis’ final statement on evil.  Essentially, it is the wrong kind of love. . . . What the evil man calls love is only a sort of hunger aimed at the total consumption of the emotional lives of those around him.  What he calls justice is the selfish granting of his own welfare and pleasure, whether on a personal or a universal scale.  And what he calls good is that which will benefit his own aims at the expense or despite the needs of those around him.  He is evil not because he wills to be an evil man but because he can do nothing else but will his own narrow desires.”

Janice Witherspoon Neulieb, reviewing Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis, in Christianity Today, 28 March 1975, page 16.

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What might it look like to love our enemies?

Aug 12, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

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“I imagine somebody will say, ‘Well, if one is allowed to condemn the enemy’s acts, and punish him, and kill him, what difference is left between Christian morality and the ordinary view?’  All the difference in the world.  Remember, we Christians think man lives for ever.  Therefore, what really matters is those little marks or twists on the central, inside part of the soul which are going to turn it, in the long run, into a heavenly or a hellish creature.  We may kill if necessary, but we must not hate and enjoy hating.  We may punish if necessary, but we must not enjoy it.  In other words, something inside us, the feeling of resentment, the feeling that wants to get one’s own back, must be simply killed.  I do not mean that anyone can decide this moment that he will never feel it any more.  That is not how things happen.  I mean that every time it bobs its head up, day after day, year after year, all our lives long, we must hit it on the head.  It is hard work, but the attempt is not impossible.  Even while we kill and punish we must try to feel about the enemy as we feel about ourselves – to wish that he were not bad, to hope that he may, in this world or another, be cured; in fact, to wish his good.  That is what is meant in the Bible by loving him: wishing his good, not feeling fond of him nor saying he is nice when he is not.”

C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York, 1958), pages 92-93.

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He took it lovingly

Aug 09, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

“And the legendary ‘Rabbi’ Duncan concentrated it all into a single unforgettable sentence, in a famous outburst to one of his classes: ‘D’ye know what Calvary was? what? what? what?’  Then, with tears on his face — ‘It was damnation; and he took it lovingly.’”

J. I. Packer, In My Place Condemned He Stood (Wheaton, 2007), page 95.  Italics original.

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