Tuesday, February 20, 2007

They Came Alone

This is a great poem from Don Carson reflecting on the Easter story as told by four different authors in the Bible. See if you can spot which section goes with which account...
They came alone,
Some women who remembered Him
Bowed down with spices to anoint his corpse
Through darkened streets
They wept their way to honour Him
The one whose death had shattered all their hopes

"Why do you look for life, among these tombs of stone?
He is not here! He's risen as he said!
Remember how he spoke to you in Galilee?
'The Son of Man must die, and must rise up from the dead' ".

The two walked home
A portrait of defeat and loss
Explaining to a stranger why the gloom:
How Jesus seemed to be the King before his cross
Now all their hopes lay buried in His tomb

"How slow you are to see! Didn't this have to be?
Don't you believe the words the prophets said?
'Christ had to suffer first, then enter glory'"
Then He unveiled their eyes, in the breaking of the bread.

He heard their words, but not for him that easy faith
That trades the truth for sentimental sigh
Unless he saw the nail marks in His hands himself
And touched His side, did not believe the lie

Then Jesus came to them, all of the doors were locked:
“Cast away doubt and Reach in to my side;
Trace out the wounds the nails left in my broken hands!
And understand: I am the Resurrection and the Life."

Long years have passed
And still we fear the face of death
It steals our loved ones, leaving us undone
It mocks our dreams,
And calls to us with icy breath
The final terror when life's course is run

But this I know: my Lord travelled this way before
His body clothed in immortality
The sepulchre's sting is drawn
The power of sin destroyed
Death has been swallowed up
In His mighty victory!

Monday, February 19, 2007

Lloyd-Jones 'Spiritual Depression' (VI)

Yes, I'm still going on this book too! Lloyd-Jones is teaching us that an unhappy Christian is a contradiction in terms. All the obvious caveats apply, as my past posts on this book make fairly clear, I think. As it happens, the last couple of chapters are some of my very favourites. But the whole book's a cracker - accessible but far from simplistic, with a real depth to it & very practical. Oh for more preachers to preach a bit more like this!

10. The Spirit of Bondage

"For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God. And if children, then heirs; heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together." (Rom 8:15-17)

These are stunning words, standing out even in that stunning chapter. Why were they written? To protect the Christians in Rome from discouragement and despondancy. That makes it vital to see how he came to make the statement, and why he came to write this statement. They were discouraged by living the Christian life, dealing with sin - the issue Paul has been dealing with over the past few chapters.

The essence of the problem is their failure to realise certain truths about the Christian life. Ultimately they fail to understand doctrine - and that stuffs them up! They seem to fail to understand that truth must be appropriated. It is very easy to read the Bible and give a kind of nominal assent - but there is a massive danger in that, as it may well lead to nominalism.

Bondage often appears to be to the Law - even in those who are very clear as to what their theology is, their failure to appropriate suitable passages may bind them to works. Not just RCs here, but many evangelical Christians too. Such bondage always carries fear along with it - a wrong fear of God, a wrong fear of the greatness of the task, a wrong fear of the devil's power and a wrong fear of their own sin. Ultimately this is a fear of themselves and of failure. To them, Paul says Rom 8:15-17.

And this message works out in two ways. First, we are to walk in this awesome task just as Christ walked, indwelt by the glorious Holy Spirit, with his mighty power at work in us - a truth we've seen worked out all through Rom 8. Secondly, we're reminded by the Holy Spirit's presence of our relationship to God - that wonderful truth which is our calling God "Abba, Father". It doesn't do away with godly fear, but certainly does kick away that ungodly bondage Paul is addressing. How? Because our object in the Christian life is not to achieve a certain standard, but to please God because he is our Father - to which truth the Spirit witnesses.

Finally, the Spirit reminds us of our destiny - Glory! Take these truths, and having gives assent, then appropriate them. In Christ, you are glorious! 'Take your full salvation and triumph and prevail.' (175)

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Christians Need to Understand Poetry

See a great post from Ros here.

As I write I cannot remember if I ever posted on this. I know that I meant to, and have had a fairly similar rant to a number of (presumably to some extent) willing victims here at Oak Hill. I'm not even sure who I nicked the original thought off - Ros or DF. Oh well!

There's also a case that Christians need to understand narratives too, and other things. Many many Christians (imho) just need to know how to read better!

Kris Lundgaard 'The Enemy Within' (III)

So I'm summarising Kris Lundgaard's The Enemy Within. Almost all the thoughts are his, not mine - and John Owen's before Kris so delightfully made them accessible to the rest of us...

How Sin Works

Deception is the art of making someone believe things to be different to as they are, so that they do something they otherwise wouldn't. That's how our flesh works to make us serve sin. Think about it - it is a powerful definition. Gen 3 shows such deceit & Heb 3:13 speaks of sin's deceitfulness (see also Tit 3:3 & Eph 4:22).

How do you attack a huge fortress? start by killing the watchman. So also our minds come under attack - the mind, which we have already seen (here) as the sentinel of the soul. From that our will and affections so simply follow.

Deception is a fact of life. Buying a used car, playing football, etc... But it is also a fact of life inside of us, as the flesh looks to deceive us.

James 1:14-15 indicates how it goes about this. The goal is death (15) & it works by temptation (14). James has 'five degrees of temptation' a bit like this:
  • dragging away (the mind)
  • enticing (the affections)
  • conceiving sin (in the will)
  • birth of sin (in actions, words, thoughts, etc.)
  • death by sin (enslavement to sin = spiritual death)
By God's grace, the 5th degree is never reached in Christians. God often aborts sin we've conceived, but he also uses many means, and one of them is the warning of these first three degrees.

Getting Carried Away

'The mind is the watchman of the soul, commanded to judge and determine whether something is good and pleasing to God, so the affections can long for it and the will can choose it. If the mind fails to identify a sin as evil, wicked, vile and bitter, the affections will not be safe from clinging to it, nor the will from giving consent.' (63)

Remember Joseph's words in Gen 39:9 "how then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?" 2Cor 5:14 describes the same thing: 'the mind must stay fixed on God, especially his grace and goodness towards us. His love propels, fuels, drives us to obey. It is the fountain of our obedience, and our highest motive to finding out what pleases the Lord and doing it.' (64)

The flesh works to make sin look less horrible. It works to separate the remedy of grace from the design of grace - so we forget our call to be holy, and are tempted to think 'Oh, well, I can just do that quickly & be forgiven later - God will forgive, it is what he does.' Or 'go ahead and indulge - its already paid for.' How horrible it is to see those thoughts in black & white - where they look so dingy & abhorrent.

Solution? 'Your mind can only protect you against the deceit of the flesh if you're cross-eyed. that is, you can only keep the rottenness of sin and the kindness of God in mind if you fix your eyes on the cross. What shows God's hatred of sin more than the cross? What shows God's love to you more than the cross? If you want to know exactly what sin deserves, you have to understand the cross. If you want to know how infinitely deep the root of sin reaches, you have to think through all the implications of the cross. If you want to know how far God was willing to go to rescue you from sin, you have to see his precious Son hanging on the cross for you.' (66)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Kris Lundgaard 'The Enemy Within' (II)

Excitingly, Chris Watson-Lee has promised me a brief summary / outline of this excellent book, which I hope to be able to point readers to at some point shortly. Still, I'm going to persevere (it being a good biblical characteristic). Remember, I'm really doing this for my own benefit!

The Haunted House
A haunted house is scary because of what it hides. Our heart is just like a haunted house, having many many cubby-holes, wardrobes, cupboards, corners, attics and shadows. It is a maze that God alone can search and solve and is deceitful above all things (
Jer 17:9-10). Remember (the standard Puritan Reformed faculty psychology) that heart = mind (thoughts & plans & judgements) + will (choices & actions) + affections (longings, desires, feelings). All of this is a horror-house.

Now each Christian has a new heart, a new mind and new desires. Yet God's certain work is as yet incomplete - and we must fight a lurking, skulking enemy, hiding where it can't be found. Just like trick birthday-cake candles, having been blown-out once, sin can quickly and easily burst into new flame.

We must never think the battle is over in this life. There is no cease-fire, and many wars have been lost in forgetful relaxation after apparently decisive battles. If we fight, we will win ground, growing in victory - but that battle-work only ends when we meet Christ face to face.

And we go into battle (or resume battle) in the Lord's strength. The Holy Spirit knows our hearts, and takes the horror out of the haunted house's hidden depths (Ps 139).

Irreconcilable Differences
'It is impossible to make peace with hostility itself' (44). The flesh is not God's enemy, it is hatred of God, it is enmity towards God, it is hatred itself. And you can't every be at peace with hatred towards God. God has transformed all who are in Christ into new creations - but the flesh remains, as we retain our human natures until the transformation at death.

'The flesh's hatred of God explains a lot... You can feel the hostility of the flesh whenever you approach God - it makes love for him into work. Digging around the Bible to find a juicy new insight to impress your small group is like sailing the Caribbean, but poring over the Scriptures to find the Lover of your soul is like skiing up Mount Everest. Conjuring up a happy mood with some music you don't even know the words to is like solving 2 + 2 with a calculator. But savouring the glory of Christ and his tender love until your heart is softened towards him is like using mental math to calculate pi to the thousandth place. And giving a birthday present to your best friend is like forcing down double-fudge brownies. but giving up your extra bedroom to a homeless person in the name of Jesus is like eating the Rockies for breakfast.' (46-7)

There is no common ground between the flesh and God. There is no no-man's land, no place to pause or find rest this side of Glory. Our 'affections are constantly fighting the infection of sensuality or the disease of indifference.' (48)

Monday, February 12, 2007

A Great Prayer

You've got to love these words - from the great Getty / Townend combination. There's not many great songs to sing for the reading / preaching of the word. But I love this one!
SPEAK, O LORD, as we come to You
To receive the food of your holy word.
Take Your truth, plant it deep in us;
Shape and fashion us in Your likeness,
That the light of Christ might be seen today
In our acts of love and our deeds of faith.
Speak, O Lord, and fulfil in us
All Your purposes, for Your glory.

Teach us Lord full obedience,
Holy reverence, true humility.
Test our thoughts and our attitudes
In the radiance of Your purity.
Cause our faith to rise
Cause our eyes to see
Your majestic love and authority.
Words of power that can never fail;
Let their truth prevail over unbelief.

Speak, O Lord, and renew our minds;
Help us grasp the heights of Your plans for us.
Truths unchanged from the dawn of time,
That will echo down through eternity.
And by grace we'll stand on Your promises;
And by faith we'll walk as You walk with us.
Speak, O Lord, ‘til your church is built
And the earth is filled with Your glory.
It is a great song - the words are outstanding, and the tune is pretty good too. You can buy the pdf here for £1.50. Bargain!

Or just make the words a prayer...

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Islam - What do Muslims Really Believe?

Having just returned from an Islamic state the contents of these films are not a huge surprise. But they are utterly compelling to watch, and I would encourage everyone to watch them, and be very clear what Islam stands for.

For example, early in the 1st film we get the comment that Muslims do not love Jews or Christians: "we hate the khufaar". How different to Jesus' attitude to the lost...

They're all online here.

Tolle widere
(my attempt at the 'take & watch' equivalent of tolle lege = 'take & read').

Kris Lundgaard 'The Enemy Within' (I)

This was started for my own benefit, but then thought it could be useful to others. What I'm doing is outlining The Enemy Within as an aide to the every-day, every-hour fight against sin which we are guaranteed never to win - until Jesus takes us to be with him.

Not sure you want to read on. Well:
  • Why do we keep on sinning?
  • How do we keep fighting?
  • What expectation of victory should we have?
If you fancy some answers, this book is for you. Hopefully this sequence of posts is a fair / useful outline of the argument & key ideas.

Kris Lundgaard's book is an excellent modern presentation of John Owen's Indwelling Sin & The Mortification of Sin (both in vol. VI of the Banner edition of his complete works). It is an outstanding book because it offers Owen's outstanding theological mind & pastoral clarity in a 150-page book. You can see the outline / table of contents via this page. I'm not exactly following chapters & their headings, but I am following the book's flow...

Four Key Truths from Rom 7:21
"So I find this law at work: when I want to do good, evil is right there with me."
  1. Sin living in us is a law. Law expresses power, authority, constraint & control. Think of other laws like gravity, hunger, fear, each of which impels us to fulfil its demands. Indwelling sin works by enticing, threatening, even bullying. In what sense has Christ defeated sin in a believer? It is overthrown & weakened so that it will not bear the fruit of eternal death.
  2. This law is inside us. It is one thing to have a lecture on AIDS, and quite another to hear those words 'HIV-positive - I'm so sorry.' Not many people have come to terms with this idea. If they had, we'd hear more complaining about it, more urgent prayers & pleas, we'd see more struggling against it & observe less of its fruit in the world.
  3. We find this law when we're at our best. Not just when stumbling during a time of backsliding, but even on our best days we find this law at work - when we most wish to serve God. Yet though ever-present, by God's grace this desire does not rule the hearts of believers.
  4. This law never rests. It is a constant tug. Who will deliver us?
'In your struggle against sin there is only one thing more important to grasp than these four facts: the free, justifying grace of God in Christ's blood.' (27) [I'm remembering this post]

We need to know our own hearts [see Flavel here]. Fighting sin will mean getting to know our indwelling sin, which will be humiliating & discouraging. But is extremely wise if we wish to know how to please the Lord.

The Flesh is a Rhino
'If a rhinoceros were to enter this restaurant now, there is no denying he would have great power here. But I should be the first to rise and assure him that he had no authority whatever.' G. K. Chesterton
The law of sin in believers is like Chesterton's rhino. God's rule is total, and sin attempts to usurp it & force itself upon us. We must choose with Moses: "By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh's daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward." (Heb 11:24-26)
  • Indwelling sin is in us. It is at home, it doesn't just come to visit - it lives in us.
  • Indwelling sin doesn't take a day off. Want to pray? read the Bible? listen to a sermon? This hateful, wicked pest is right there kicking up a thousand distractions & exasperating use.
  • Indwelling sin works easily. There is no good you can decide to do without it resisting.
The more you discover its power, the less you suffer its effects. The better you know the rhino, the better you can fight it.
'But if you don't find yourself dodging he rhino's horn day and night in a struggle against sin, it may be that you've made peace with the rhino. You are willingly, happily under its power and rule. In which case you should doubt that you are born of God. No one who is born of God can live at peace with sin (1Jn 3:9). I appeal to you, for the sake of your soul: run to Christ! Only he can slay the rhino in your heart.' (34)