Apr

17

2014

Ray Ortlund|9:14 AM CT

On this Maundy Thursday — and every day

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  John 13:34-35

Three things here.  One, the command of Christ, that we love one another.  Two, the example of Christ, that we are to love one another as he loved us.  Three, the promise of Christ, that all kinds of people will see we are real disciples of Christ, when we love one another his way.

Francis Schaeffer proposed two powerful things we can do, to display observable love for one another in response to these verses and also John 17:23:

One, “When I have failed to love my Christian brother, I go to him and say, ‘I’m sorry.’  That is first.  It may seem a letdown — that the first thing we speak of should be so simple.  But if you think it is easy, you have never tried to practice it. . . .”

Two, “There must also be open forgiveness.  And though it’s hard to say ‘I’m sorry,’ it’s even harder to forgive.  The Bible, however, makes plain that the world must observe a forgiving spirit in the midst of God’s people. . . .”

“[Does the world] observe that we say ‘I’m sorry,’ and do they observe a forgiving heart?  Let me repeat: Our love will not be perfect, but it must be substantial enough for the world to be able to observe it, or it does not fit into the structure of John 13 and 17.  And if the world does not observe this among true Christians, the world has a right to make the two awful judgments which these verses indicate: that we are not Christians, and that Christ was not sent by the Father.”

Francis Schaeffer, “The Mark of the Christian,” in The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century (Downers Grove, 1970), pages 143-146.

The primary barrier to the advance of the gospel in our generation is not out in the world.  The primary barrier is us Christians who do not practice Christianity as it was defined originally by Christ.  We have our Christianity, with layers of historical accretions separating us from the real thing.  Christ had his Christianity, and we need to peel away our layers and go back and recover Christ’s Christianity.  In other words, what is needed in our time is nothing less than the re-Christianization of us Christians.  Isn’t it obvious that we who say we are Christians should understand Christianity?  Its greatest mark is our observable love for one another.  Christ himself said so.

 
 

Apr

15

2014

Ray Ortlund|9:29 AM CT

Weil on fantasy versus reality

Simone_Weil_1921

“Nothing is so beautiful, nothing is so continually fresh and surprising, so full of sweet and perpetual ecstasy as the good.  No deserts are so dreary, monotonous and boring as evil.  But with fantasy it is the other way round.  Fictional good is boring and flat, while fictional evil is varied, intriguing, attractive and full of charm.”

Simone Weil, quoted in Geoffrey Barlow, editor, Vintage Muggeridge (Grand Rapids, 1985), pages 91-92.

 
 

Apr

11

2014

Ray Ortlund|9:06 AM CT

The only thing we have to do

Francisco_de_Zurbarán_006

“The only thing we have to do with Christ Jesus crucified is just to lift him up and preach him.  There is many a man who could only speak in a ploughman’s dialect, who will wear a bright and starry crown in heaven, because he lifted Christ up, and sinners saw and lived.  And there is many a learned doctor, who spoke with the brogue of the Egyptian and, with the dark and mysterious language, he talked he knew not what, who, after having ended his course, shall enter heaven without a solitary star in his crown, never having lifted up Christ nor won crowns for his Master.

Let each of us who are called to the solemn work of the ministry remember that we are not called to lift up doctrine or church governments or particular denominations.  Our business is to lift up Christ Jesus and to preach him fully.  There may be times when church government is to be discussed and particular doctrines are to be vindicated.  God forbid that we should silence any part of the truth.  But the main work of the ministry — its every day work — is just exhibiting Christ and crying out to sinners, ‘Believe, believe, believe on him who is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.’”

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Treasury of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, 1950), II:279.

 
 

Apr

10

2014

Ray Ortlund|11:50 AM CT

Chivalry

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“What is meant by chivalry? . . . It was the code of conduct evolved for the knights of the Middle Ages, that is to say for an elite and increasingly hereditary class of warriors; it accepted fighting as a necessary and indeed glorious activity, but set out to soften its potential barbarity by putting it into the hands of men committed to high standards of behavior. . . . The ideal knight was brave, loyal, true to his word, courteous, generous and merciful.  He defended the Church and the wrongfully oppressed but respected and honored his enemies in war, as long as they obeyed the same code as he did.  Failure to keep to accepted standards meant dishonor, to which death was preferable.”

Mark Girouard, The Return to Camelot: Chivalry and the English Gentleman (London, 1981), page 16.

As Christians, we resist the corrosive, everything-debunking cynicism of our times.  Our gracious Warrior puts some idealism back into us.  His glory sets us apart to chivalry and honor and bravery and selflessness and dignity.

“Fight the good fight of the faith”  1 Timothy 6:12

 
 

Apr

08

2014

Ray Ortlund|10:29 AM CT

The ministry of advocacy

In a blog post entitled “4 Types of Mercy”, Matt Perman proposes that four mercies are all seen in the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10.  They are:

  1. Advocacy
  2. Assistance
  3. Finances
  4. Spiritual

Matt continues: “When we think of showing mercy and serving others, we don’t often think of advocacy.  But it is often a critical, and simple, form of mercy.  Just advocating for the person — taking up their cause, defending them, supporting them, advocating for them.

Advocacy is different than encouragement.  Encouragement is something you do to the person — building them up and strengthening them with your words.  Advocacy is something you do for them in relation to others.  When the real need is advocacy, encouragement alone can come across as hollow.  On the other hand, real and sincere advocacy is a very encouraging thing.”

Advocacy is also evident in the parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18.  The parable is about prayer (verse 1).  A widow has been wronged.  She keeps appealing to an unjust judge, “Give me justice against my adversary” (verse 3).  Eventually, he gives in, does the right thing, and stands up for her.  The Lord’s point, of course, is that God is not an unjust but a just Judge.  How much more should we keep praying to him.  He will be just.  The only question is, Do we believe that enough to keep praying, even until Jesus returns (verse 8)?

The parable also implies the advocacy we should assert for powerless people.  Every one of us knows someone who has suffered wrong, someone who needs and deserves justice.  If we say, “But justice is a misguided goal,” read the parable again.  The key word in the text is “justice,” appearing four times.  Justice is the very thing Jesus makes prominent.  Or if we say, “But there is always wrong on both sides,” read the parable again.  Jesus includes no hint that the widow too was at fault.  For that matter, what about Cain and Abel, Saul and David, Ahab and Naboth, and so many others throughout the Bible?  Let’s not allow glib slogans to undermine both our relationships with one another and, even more, our understanding of the gospel itself.  Justice is essential to the gospel (Romans 3:21-26).

As in Saliger’s famous painting above, advocacy turns the abstract ideal of justice into a practical reality for an accused person when everything is on the line.  To hold back from advocacy, to keep a low profile until the storm blows over, to take a “wait and see” neutrality when advocacy is called for — to stand by in silence when we could make a real difference for a person under fire is cowardice.

Who needs your clear, biblical, courageous, non-angry, Christlike advocacy today?

 
 

Apr

03

2014

Ray Ortlund|9:50 AM CT

Let’s stick together

BandOfBrothers

I came to cast fire on the earth.  Luke 12:49

“It was the incendiary character of the early Christian fellowship which was amazing to the contemporary Romans.  It was amazing precisely because there was nothing in their experience that was remotely similar to it.  Religion they had in vast quantities, but it was nothing like this. . . . Much of the uniqueness of Christianity, in its original emergence, consisted of the fact that simple people could be amazingly powerful when they were members one of another.

As everyone knows, it is almost impossible to create a fire with one log, even if it is a sound one, while several poor logs may make an excellent fire if they stay together as they burn.  The miracle of the early church was that of poor sticks making a grand conflagration.”

Elton Trueblood, The Incendiary Fellowship (New York, 1967), pages 107-108.  Italics added.

Individualistic Christianity, however intense and euphoric, does not catch fire.  It is blazing churches who stick together, who demonstrate a quality of community unimaginable to the watching world, that spread the prophesied fire.

 
 

Apr

02

2014

Ray Ortlund|6:08 PM CT

Within my lifetime

Within my lifetime, we have come to see how stupid this is. How reassuring that our superior vantage point today means our grandchildren will never laugh at any of our ideas.

 
 

Apr

01

2014

Ray Ortlund|9:38 AM CT

Nothing mechanical

“The Christian life, true spirituality, can never have a mechanical solution.  The real solution is being cast up into moment-by-moment communion, personal communion, with God himself, and letting Christ’s truth flow through me through the agency of the Holy Spirit.”

Francis A. Schaeffer, True Spirituality (Wheaton, 1971), page 88.

 
 

Mar

29

2014

Ray Ortlund|11:51 AM CT

How to stand tall in our troubled times

“What is the indelible mark of the Shorter Catechism?  We have the following bit of personal experience from a general officer of the United States army.  He was in a great western city at a time of intense excitement and violent rioting.  The streets were overrun daily by a dangerous crowd.  One day he observed approaching him a man of singularly combined calmness and firmness of mien, whose very demeanor inspired confidence.  So impressed was he with his bearing amid the surrounding uproar that, when he had passed, he turned to look back at him, only to find that the stranger had done the same.  On observing his turning, the stranger at once came back to him and, touching his chest with his forefinger, demanded without preface, ‘What is the chief end of man?’  On receiving the countersign, ‘Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever’ — ‘Ah!’ said he, ‘I knew you were a Shorter Catechism boy by your looks!’  ‘Why, that was just what I was thinking of you’ was the rejoinder.

It is worthwhile to be a Shorter Catechism boy. They grow up to be men. And better than that, they are exceedingly apt to grow to be men of God.”

John E. Meeter, editor, Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield (Phillipsburg, 1970), I:383-384.

 
 

Mar

28

2014

Ray Ortlund|11:03 AM CT

Nullifying the grace of God

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I do not nullify the grace of God.  Galatians 2:21

“What eloquence is able sufficiently to set forth these words: ‘to nullify grace,’ ‘the grace of God,’ also that ‘Christ died for no purpose’?  The horribleness of it is such that all the eloquence in the world is not able to express it.  It is a small matter to say that any man died for no purpose.  But to say that Christ died for no purpose is to take him quite away.”

Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, on Galatians 2:21.

Paul asserted that he did not nullify the grace of God.  By implication, Peter was nullifying the grace of God when his conduct was “not in step with the truth of the gospel” (Galatians 2:14).  How on earth did Peter do that, and is there any chance we could do that again today?

With Paul, Peter believed the gospel at the level of doctrine.  Speaking for Peter and himself, Paul writes, “We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ” (Galatians 2:16).  Peter’s theology was right.  He nullified the grace of God by conduct – not doctrine, but conduct – that was not in step with the truth of the gospel.

That is astounding to me.  I am instructed and warned.  It was possible for no one less than an apostle to nullify the grace of God in Jesus Christ crucified.  He did that not by rejecting gospel doctrine but by injuring the relational culture consistent with the gracious doctrine.  Gospel doctrine without gospel culture nullifies the grace of God.  Gospel doctrine, however pure, cannot stand alone.  Faithfulness to the gospel is a matter of both profession and conduct.  Paul thought so.  He was so certain about it and felt so strongly about it that he rebuked Peter publicly over it.

If nullifying the grace of God was possible for an apostle in the first century, it is also possible for us and our churches and organizations today.  Nullifying the grace of God, as Luther points out, is a horrible thing.  But it isn’t hard for us to do a horrible thing without even realizing it.  It is easy for us, as it was for Peter and these other Christian leaders, to be witnesses against the gospel even as we think we are being witnesses for the gospel.  All we have to do, to counteract our own doctrine, is fail to build a culture that embodies that doctrine.

Words, blog posts, tweets, emails, personal encounters, and so forth – these are how we can build a gospel culture with one another every day, and these are how we can tear it down.  We are either living proof of the grace of God, or we are a living denial of the grace of God, but we are never neutral.  And pointing to our orthodox doctrinal statements, wonderful as they are, is no refuge.  Faithfulness is also a matter of pressing the grace revealed in our doctrine into our every relationship all the time.  This is not a matter of personal niceness; it is a matter of biblical authority.  We have no future without it.

Theological acuity matched by relational obliviousness nullifies the grace of God.  But bold theological proclamation embedded in beautiful human relationships makes it obvious that the grace of God is working among us in power.