Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Monday, July 27, 2009

Though you do not see him now...

A few paragraphs I wish I had read prior to preaching from 1 Peter 1:8-9 yesterday morning. From Paul Miller, A Praying Life, 193-4:

"Many of us wish God were more visible. We think that if we could see him better or know what is going on, then faith would come more easily. But if Jesus dominated the space and overwhelmed our vision, we would not be able to relate to him. Everyone who had a clear-eyed vision of God in the Bible fell down as if he were dead. It's hard to relate to pure light...

"When we suffer, we long for God to speak clearly, to tell us the end of the story and, most of all, to show himself. But if he showed himself fully and immediately, if he answered all the questions, we'd never grow; we'd never emerge from our chrysalis because we'd be forever dependent....No one works like him. He is such a lover of souls."

Friday, July 24, 2009

Why There are No Perfect Pastors

From Desiring God:

In my imagination, I sometimes fancy I could [create] a perfect minister. I take the eloquence of ______, the knowledge of ______, the zeal of ______, and the pastoral meekness, tenderness, and piety of ______. Then, putting them all together into one man, I say to myself, “This would be a perfect minister.”

Now there is One, who, if he chose to, could actually do this; but he never did it. He has seen fit to do otherwise, and to divide these gifts to every man severally as he will. (Richard Cecil, Memoirs of the Rev. John Newton, p. 107.)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Till Death Do Us Part

The other day I received two books that beautifully picture the permanence and joys of marriage, even in the face of severe health difficulty. A Promise Kept was written by Robertson McQuilkin, former president of Columbia International University and accounts for McQuilkin's extraordinary care for his wife, Muriel, who suffered with Alzheimer's disease from 1978 until her death in 2003. One of the most striking moments in the book was when McQuilkin was told that the reason his story impacted so many was that in times of sickness, women are generally true to their men, but men are rarely loyal to their wives. It was a moving, brief story of faithfulness over a lifetime experienced before the darkness came.

Historian Gene Genovese wrote the little book, Miss Betsey: A Memoir of Marriage. Here is a delightful, witty, honest, and grace-filled story of the marriage of two prominent historians of the American South. As Betsey suffered and died from multiple sclerosis (among other health issues), both Genoveses experienced strength in the Christian faith, each having converted to Catholicism late in life.

In the face of so many marriages which dissolve because one of the partners no longer feels invested or loving or committed, the recounting of a long love in the same direction--recountings given by men who are far more often the ones who abandon a marriage--is stirring. Even more is the basis for their faithfulness: both Genovese and McQuilkin found the strength that sustained their love in the gracious Gospel of Jesus. The one who bore the death that we deserved enables us to sustain marriage till death do us part.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


From U2's album, All You Can't Leave Behind:

She takes the blame
She covers the shame
Removes the stain
It could be her name

It's a name for a girl
It's also a thought that changed the world
And when she walks on the street
You can hear the strings
Grace finds goodness in everything

Grace, she's got the walk
Not on a ramp or on chalk
She's got the time to talk
She travels outside of karma
She travels outside of karma
When she goes to work
You can hear her strings
Grace finds beauty in everything

Grace, she carries a world on her hips
No champagne flute for her lips
No twirls or skips between her fingertips
She carries a pearl in perfect condition

What once was hurt
What once was friction
What left a mark
No longer stings
Because grace makes beauty
Out of ugly things

Grace makes beauty out of ugly things

Spiritually dead

This morning, I'm preaching on Ephesians 2:1-6 (tonight, we'll take up 2:7-10) on the theme of grace. My first point is to talk through what it means to be "dead in the trespasses and sins": namely, as those ruined by sin, we are unable to see and savor spiritual things. Our worldview is limited to the material and sensual, to this world.

I ran across this little testimony from the New York Times Magazine that illustrates this perfectly (but to which I won't have time to refer in my sermon). Written by a novelist, Dana Tierney, it depicts the inability of an individual in their natural condition, ruined by sin, captive to the course of the world, to see beyond this world. She writes, "My friends and relatives who rely on God -- the real believers, not just the churchgoers -- have an expansiveness of spirit. When they walk along a stream, they don't just see water falling over rocks; the sight fills them with ecstasy. They see a realm of hope beyond this world. I just see a babbling brook. I don't get the message."

Ultimately, the only one who can get in people's hearts and open their eyes so that they are able to see, truly see, is God himself. That is Paul's point in 2:4-6--without God, without grace, we are unable to see the excellency of Christ or his way of salvation. But when God acts to make us alive with Christ, raise us with him, and seat us in the heavenlies, when God grants us faith as a gift, when God saves us, then we can see.

"Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now I'm found, was blind, but now I see!"

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Real humility

From Thomas Charles of Bala: "To talk much about ourselves, of our own experiences and discoveries, though under pretence of giving glory to God, is a sure proof that we are as gods to ourselves, and that we would have others filled with admiration of the distinguishing favors we enjoy, and have them know what eminent saints we are...Real humility takes nothing to itself, but sin and shame; and it gives all the glory to God, who is the Giver of every good and perfect gift" (Thomas Charles' Spiritual Counsels, 22-3).

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Tragedy of Steve McNair

In about an hour from now, the funeral service for former Tennessee Titans quarterback Steve McNair will be taking place on the University of Southern Mississippi campus here in Hattiesburg. Because McNair grew up about 45 minutes away in Mt. Olive, MS, and because two of his sons live in Hattiesburg, our local news coverage has been dominated by the his tragic story.

And it is tragic: if you don't know, McNair was gunned down by his girlfriend while he was asleep on the couch in an apartment leased to him and used by them both. He leaves behind four kids and a wife as well as heart-broken family, friends, and communities who looked up to him. In many ways, it was a senseless act by a woman who was beginning to lose her grip on her life.

But it was tragic in a different way as well. As I was thinking about it this morning, McNair's death demonstrates the tragic consequence that comes from violating what Randy Alcorn calls "the purity principle": purity is always smart; impurity is always stupid. While most impurity does not end in a violent murder-suicide, the effects are wide-ranging, destructive, and devastating all the same.

The Book of Proverbs bears this out: "The lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil, but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps follow the path to Sheol; she does not ponder the path of life; her ways wander and she does not know it" (Prov 5:3-6).

Again, "Keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house, lest you give your honor to others and your years to the merciless...and you say, 'How I hated discipline, and my heart despised reproof! I did not listen to the voice of my teachers or incline my ear to my instructors. I am at the brink of utter ruin in the assembled congregation" (Prov 5:8-9, 12-14).

Again, "Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned? Or can one walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched? So is he who goes in to his neighbor's wife; none who touches her will go unpunished" (Prov 6:27-29).

Again, "With much seductive speech she persuades him; with her smooth talk she compels him. All at once he followers her, as an ox goes to the slaughter or as a stag is caught fast till an arrow pierces its liver; as a bird rushes into a snare; he does not know that it will cost him his life" (Prov 7:21-23).

In many ways, McNair's tragic and untimely death causes these biblical wisdom texts to come to life. While sexual impurity make not bring someone to the grave in the immediate and horrifying way that it did McNair, the consequences are always devastating--Sheol, the grave, the place of the dead, lurks around sexual impurity.

Why is that the case? Because throughout the Bible and especially the OT, idolatry and sexual immorality/adultery go hand-in-hand. The case of Hosea's wife Gomer was the most graphic illustration of a basic truth: when we are not satisfied with the Triune God who has come near to us in Jesus, we inevitable turn our hearts to other idols who promise satisfaction. And frequently, those gods promise sensual pleasure and delight that can calm our aching hearts. But in the end those gods--the gods of significance and security, the gods of power and influence, the gods of self-sufficiency and Independence--cannot deliver anything but the grave.

Wisdom (a.k.a. the smart life) consists of fearing and delighting in the only God who can deliver on his promises: the Triune God of the Bible, the God who came near to us in Jesus Christ and comes near to us by the Spirit of Jesus. This God's steadfast love is better than life (Psa. 63:3); this love can satisfy the deepest longings which we have, both longings of our souls and our bodies.

The tragedy of Steve McNair is a tragedy played out on a small scale in so many of our lives, including my own: it is the tragedy of failing to be utterly satisfied in God himself, the only one who can fill the eternal longings of our being.

Six week "vacation" over

Just wanted to note that the six week vacation that I've taken from blogging is over. We've been a little busy: we moved our stuff to Hattiesburg, MS, the first week of June; drove to Brevard, NC, for a week of vacation; drove to Orlando, FL, for the PCA General Assembly; drove back to Hattiesburg to unpack; and on June 30, began a regular pastoral routine. Now that I'm settling in, I feel like I return my attention to the wider world...

Wednesday, July 01, 2009