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My Top Ten Quotes: #10

Sep 06, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

“I could tell you a case of a man back home, forty-five years old – a pagan, illiterate, who knew nothing about Christ.  Then he was brought by grace, through the preaching of the Christians, into the presence of Jesus and Him crucified; and that man was so changed that within a month, when impure thoughts came into his heart he literally went outside from a meeting and vomited.  What a standard, what sensitivity!  A man steeped in paganism, with no Bible training, no background.  And now in the light of Calvary, in that smashing, invading love, this man is taken, re-created, renewed, his conscience is so clean that when impure thoughts came he even went and physically vomited.  A sensitivity had been created.  The Holy Spirit had renewed the personality.  Is this your case?

I find after I have gone on with the Lord, sometimes I grow insensitive.  But the impact of the Holy Spirit, the impact of the renewal, is that you begin to move with that sensitive tact in the heart.  If it is jealousy, don’t you think the time has come when you can say, ‘My heart has been renewed, and I am going to write a letter to that person and ask for forgiveness’?  Yes, the posts of England may be very busy when God begins to work.  And the homes of your country may experience men renewed, coming to put a few things right.  That’s when Jesus comes alive: not when we enjoy lovely teaching, but when the teaching becomes so embarrassing that you walk away and do something about it.”

Bishop Festo Kivengere, “Christ the Renewer,” in The Keswick Week 1972, page 75.

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Christ, the salvation of relevance

Sep 05, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

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“The central dogma of the Incarnation is that by which relevance stands or falls.  If Christ was only man, then He is entirely irrelevant to any thought about God; if He is only God, then He is entirely irrelevant to any experience of human life.  It is, in the strictest sense, necessary to the salvation of relevance that a man should believe rightly the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Unless he believes rightly, there is not the faintest reason why he should believe at all.”

Dorothy Sayers, Creed or Chaos? (Manchester, 1974), page 36.  Italics original.
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Schaeffer saw it coming

Sep 04, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

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In January 1977 Francis Schaeffer did a national tour with his films and lectures entitled How Should We Then Live?, also published as a book.  I was there in Oakland, California, when he premiered the series.  Schaeffer helped us see where we have landed in the flow of Western history, and it is sobering.  In the final chapter of the book, entitled “The Alternatives,” he wrote with prophetic foresight:

“Overwhelming pressures are being brought to bear on people who have no absolutes, but only have the impoverished values of personal peace and prosperity.  The pressures are progressively preparing modern people to accept a manipulative, authoritarian government.  Unhappily, many of these pressures are upon us now” (page 246).  Then he listed and commented on those pressures:

  • economic breakdown
  • war or the serious threat of war
  • the chaos of violence
  • the radical redistribution of wealth in the world
  • a growing shortage of food and other natural resources.

And that is our world today.  Then Schaeffer wrote, “In such circumstances, it seems that there are only two alternatives in the natural flow of events: first, imposed order or, second, our society once again affirming that base which gave freedom without chaos in the first place — God’s revelation in the Bible and his revelation through Christ.  We have seen in the previous chapters many of the implications of an imposed order.  But rather than throwing up our hands and giving in, we should take seriously the second alternative.”

That second alternative is revival.  Our churches are Ground Zero for cultural renewal, if only we will see our destiny and by grace live up to it.  But I do believe that only awakened churches, only unusual churches, only churches with biblical power upon them will have any voice today or offer anything meaningful and relevant today.  Everything else, everything less, will be swept away.

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By this very mimicry

Sep 03, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

“All those who wander far away and set themselves up against you are imitating you, but in a perverse way; yet by this very mimicry they proclaim that you are the Creator of the whole of nature and that in consequence there is no place whatever where we can hide from your presence.”

Augustine, Confessions, Book 2, Section 14.

Every sin is not an original composition but a fake, an imitation of something real and wonderful.  It is the photographic negative of beauty found in God alone.

There is no way to escape God.  No one, including the most extreme sinner, will ever be able to say, “God, you were completely beyond my range of awareness and experience.”  Even our sins testify to him.

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How church conflict escalates to the nuclear option

Aug 30, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

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Our friends at 9Marks provide this description of how conflict can escalate in a church:

1.  An offense occurs.
2.  A biased view of the offense is shared with friends.
3.  Friends take up the offense.
4.  Sides begin to form.
5.  Suspicion on both sides develops.
6.  Each side looks for evidence to confirm their suspicion.  You can be sure they will find it.
7.  Exaggerated statements are made.
8.  In the heat of conflict those involved hear things that were never said and say things they wish they had never said.
9.  Third parties, no matter how well intentioned, can never accurately transfer information from one offended party to the other.
10.  Past offenses unrelated to the original offense surface.
11.  Integrity is challenged.
12.  People call each other liars.
13.  Those who try to solve the problem (e.g., church leadership) are blamed for not following the proper procedure and become the new focus.
14.  Many are hurt.

“The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. . . . And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”  James 1:20; 3:18

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Jonah

Aug 29, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

The Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea.  Jonah 1:4

The lot fell on Jonah.  Jonah 1:7

The Lord appointed a great fish.  Jonah 1:17

The word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time.  Jonah 3:1

The Lord God appointed a plant.  Jonah 4:6

God appointed a worm.  Jonah 4:7

God appointed a scorching east wind.  Jonah 4:8

The Lord has more ways of confronting us than we have ways of evading him.

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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

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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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