Where Do I Like To Write? Ramblings on American Evangelicalism, Greatness, & Godliness

Poet Taylor Mali’s sarcastic response to a question about where his favorite place to write is, is humorous.

I also think it is wise and has wider implications.

The things we do in life. The decisions we make. The tasks we fulfill. The dreams we seek to achieve. They often don’t happen in some dramatic or epic fashion. They do, do that. But not always. Some come just by sitting at a desk, staring at a screen, and moving your fingers over a keyboard. The daily grind, so to speak.

Now, I don’t mean joyless. But I do mean that they are usually relatively repetitive and mundane.

Whatever it is that you want to do or be, hope to do or be, and dream to do or be, don’t wait for the right moment.

That could be your problem. Just do it.

Practice. Endure. Do what you have been doing and continue doing it. Or stop what you have been doing and do something else.

This works for spiritual disciplines and our celebrity Christian culture as well.

We want our prayers to get answered yesterday. We want our preaching to be on the biggest stage. We want our music to sell. We want to quit falling into the same sinful patterns. We want the other guy’s book deal. We want our church to be the biggest and the best. We want to be looked up to and emulated.

And when we ask these kinds of questions to our favorite authors or preachers or celebrities or great dads or wise stewards we often expect an out-of-this-world answer, but often its day-to-day endurance and faithfulness that it is the answer.

We want a great poet like Taylor to give us the magic key. But he doesn’t. His answer is pretty boring.

Sure there are Damascus Road experiences. We love to talk and hear about those. We like it when St. Paul meets Jesus in blinding light. We just don’t like the beatings that follow so much…

Want to be a great dad? Be a dad, minus the great, consistently. The great comes from days upon days, years upon years, and decades upon decades of just being one. Want to be a great writer, a great preacher, a great wife, a great whatever? Same equation. In some sense, forget about being great. Just be faithful. In other words, be godly. And do that in all you do.

Godliness is never an overnight process. Greatness has all the flash, while godliness simmers under the surface. Greatness may make the newspapers of one generation, but godliness has a lasting impact that ripples through many generations. Americans, even Christian ones, crave the great but not the godly.

How do we do this? How do we get godly? As pragmatists, we want to know this too.

Well, practically it comes not at first from doing at all. It comes from trusting. Trusting Jesus with our successes and with our failures. Believing in him for our past, present, and future.

The how is not, be like Jesus. Of course, as Christians, we should shoot for this. But that isn’t the gospel. No one becomes a Christian that way. The first step of saving faith is admitting your not Jesus and trusting the real One.

He is the one who said, “the one who endures to the end will be saved”. And we endure by faith. Faith in him, that is.

So being great at anything comes through endurance and it may not end with your name in lights in this world, but if it ends with “Well Done” in the next that’s all you really need.

How to Come to Jesus

Jonathan Edwards answers,

“If ever you truly come to Christ, you must see that there is enough in him for your pardon, though you be no better than you are. If you see not the sufficiency of Christ to pardon you, without any righteousness of your own to recommend you, you never will come so as to be accepted of him. The way to be accepted is to come–not on any such encouragement, that now you have made yourselves better, and more worthy, or not so unworthy, but–on the mere encouragement of Christ’s worthiness, and God’s mercy…You must come as a patient comes to his physician, with his diseases or wounds to be cured. Spread all your wickedness before him, and do not plead your goodness; but plead your badness, and your necessity on that account: and say, as the psalmist in the text, not Pardon mine iniquity, for it is not so great as it was, but, ‘Pardon my iniquity, for it is great.'” [“Great Guilt No Obstacle to the pardon of the Returning Sinner” in Hendrickson’s *The Works of Jonathan Edwards*, Vol. 2, 113]

Come to Jesus not when you get better, but as you are right now no matter how you are right now. Spread your sin before him, and let him spread his massive grace over you.

Judgment, Grace, & Religion on Good Friday & Easter

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German martyr of World War II, reflected on God’s grace and judgment in a sermon in 1928 as Easter and Good Friday approached,

Good Friday and Easter–the days of God’s overpowering acts in history, acts in which God’s judgment and grace were revealed to all the world–are just around the corner. Judgment in those hours in which Jesus Christ, our Lord, hung on the cross; grace in the hour in which death was swallowed up in victory. It was not human beings who accomplished anything here; no, God alone did it. He came to human beings in infinite love. He judged what is human. And he granted grace beyond any merit. [Meditations on the Cross, 20]

John Stott explains how what God accomplished at the cross by judgment and grace is different than what any other religion offers because it is no religion at all:

No other system, ideology or religion proclaims a free forgiveness and a new life to those who have done nothing to deserve it but a lot to deserve judgment instead. On the contrary, all other systems teach some form of self-salvation through good works of religion, righteousness or philanthropy. Christianity, by contrast, is not in its essence a religion at all; it is a gospel, the gospel, good news that God’s grace has turned away his wrath, that God’s Son has died our death and borne our judgment, that God has mercy on the undeserving, and that there is nothing left for us to do, or even contribute. Faith’s only function is to receive what grace offers.” [The Message of Romans, 118]

Religion itself has been crucified at the cross. The only thing human beings accomplished on Good Friday was demonstrating their own wickedness, while God accomplished the salvation of every wicked person who would simply receive his resurrected Son.

7 Evils of a Grumbling Spirit

As a sequel to my recent post “Mr. Grumbly Gills”, I thought it’d be helpful to draw from the deep wells of Jeremiah Burroughs’ old work The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment to further demonstrate the sin of grumbling. It’s easy to ignore pervasive “normal” sins like grumbling and fixate on more occasional “shocking” sins like that sexual sin that held you years ago or that time you dropped the F-bomb on your parents, kids, or spouse. But don’t be deceived: a murmuring mouth is particularly grieving to God because it reveals discontent in God. Psalm 106 says that one of the reasons God made the people of Israel “fall in the wilderness” was because they “murmured in their tents” (v. 25, 26). Therefore having a case of Mr. Grumbly Gills has serious consequences. In the following, I summarize and add to Burroughs’ section on “The Evils of a Murmuring Spirit” and offer seven evils of a grumbling, murmuring, and complaining heart within the Christian:

1. It models Satan. The angel Lucifer was the first grumbler. The onset of his fall from heaven was a result of dissatisfaction in his position and the desire to be like God.

“The Devil is the most discontented creature in the world, he is the proudest creature that is, and the most discontented creature, and the most dejected creature. Now, therefore, so much discontent as you have, so much of the spirit of Satan you have.”

2. It is contrary to who you are. You are a son and daughter with a heavenly Father who loves you, the deeply beloved bride of Christ, and actual members of Jesus’ body. When you bellyache and complain about every little thing you mar your royal and treasured position.

“Are you the King’s son, the son, the daughter, of the King of Heaven, and yet so disquieted and troubled, and vexed at every little thing that happens? As if a King’s son were to cry out that he is undone for losing a toy; what an unworthy thing would this be! So do you: you cry out as if you were undone and yet are a King’s son, you who stand in such relation to God, as to a father, you dishonor your father in this; as if either he had not wisdom, or power, or mercy enough to provide for you.”

3. It is the opposite of prayer. In prayer we come to God with requests and with praise and thankfulness in order to commune with him, but when we grumble, complain and murmur we essentially reverse prayer and rehearse all that we aren’t getting or all that God is not doing that we think he should be doing.

“By murmuring you undo your prayers, for it is exceedingly contrary to the prayer that you make to God. When you come to pray to God, you acknowledge his sovereignty over you, you come there to profess yourselves to be at God’s disposal.”

4. It is simply a waste of time. It accomplishes absolutely nothing. It accelerates personal stress and is downright annoying and draining to listen to.

“How many times do men and women, when they are discontented, let their thoughts run, and are musing and contriving, through their present discontentedness and let their discontented thoughts work in them for some hours together, and they spend their time in vain!”

5. It swallows up the blessing of mercy before it arrives. If you covet a particular mercy of God (like say a big raise), when it finally comes you won’t be thankful for it but will waste it. Coveting a blessing can turn the blessing into an idolatrous curse.

“Discontent and murmuring eats out the good and sweetness of a mercy before it comes. If God should give a mercy for the want of which we are discontented, yet the blessing of the mercy is, as it were, eaten out before we come to have it….There are many things which you desire as your lives, and think that you would be happy if you had them, yet when they come you do not find such happiness in them, but they prove to be the greatest crosses and afflictions that you ever had, and on this ground, because your hearts were immoderately set upon them before you had them.”

6. It worsens sufferings and afflictions. A murmuring attitude in the midst of affliction increases the affliction. Having a bad attitude in the midst of pleasant or mediocre circumstances poisons your heart and the hearts of others, and how much will this increase if this overwhelmingly negative spirit continues and truly difficult circumstances arrive.

“It in no way removes our afflictions, indeed, while they continue, they are a great deal the worse and heavier, for a discontented heart is a proud heart, and a proud heart will not pull down his sails when there comes a tempest and storm. If a sailor, when a tempest and storm comes, is perverse and refuses to pull down his sails, but is discontented with the storm, is his condition any better because he is discontented and will not pull down his sails? Will this help him?”

7. It wears the hopeless costume of pessimism.

This doesn’t mean you have to go all Joel Osteen on the world. It simply means consistent pessimism is not in line with the sure hope and life-changing power of the gospel. There is an inherent optimism within the gospel that produces hope, love, joy, peace, etc. Positive commands like “rejoice in the Lord” and “in everything give thanks” and negative commands like “be anxious for nothing” and “do not grumble” all reveal that there is a gospel optimism about the Christian life that is to flavor the personality of a Christian.

Of Works

This is another guest post by Dane Ortlund. He has written a book titled A New Inner Relish: Christian Motivation in the Thought of Jonathan Edwards. My interview with him is found here.

In that remarkable passage, Romans 9:30-10:4, Paul says that Gentiles have attained righteousness, a righteousness of faith, while Israel has not attained righteousness because they sought it ‘as of works.’

In Galatians 3, Paul uses the same phrase, ‘of works.’ In 3:10 he says that ‘as many as are of works of law are under a curse.’ The ESV glosses that as ‘all who rely on works of the law.’ That’s a good and sensible rendering, but more woodenly it simply speaks of those who are ‘of works.’

What are you of?

I wonder if there is a striking insight here that we usually read right over.

Paul doesn’t say Israel sought righteousness by doing works or that those who do works are under a curse. Doubtless there is overlap here, and doing is included to some degree; but Paul simply speaks of being of works.

How about you? What are you of? Not: what do you assent to doctrinally; what are you of. As the gospel sinks in more and more deeply as we walk with God, one of the first outer shells of our old life that the gospel pierces is the doing of works unto approval. But there is another, deeper level—instinct level—‘of-ness’ level—that must be gradually deconstructed and shed, too—being of works. I can go through the whole day trumpeting the futility of doing works to please God, all the while saying the right thing from an ‘of works’ heart.

To be of works is not to fall short. It is to march in the wrong direction. It isn’t running to the office only to come up a few blocks short; it is running without realizing a ride had been freely provided. Not breaking a rule but playing the wrong game. Coming to Christ is not acknowledgment of our inability to be perfect. It is throwing our entire mode of existence onto the scrapheap in surrender. And finally finding freedom.

How Love Wins According to John the Apostle – Thoughts on Rob Bells’s New Book

Rob Bell has a new book out:  Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.

Listen to Bell’s thoughts and HarperCollins’s description of the book here.

In light of this, and the controversy that is surrounding it, what follows are some points that I have arranged which are derived from Jesus’ friend John and his thoughts on how God’s love wins in the present and the after-life.

God’s love wins by giving everything to Jesus:

The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. (John 3:35)

God’s love wins by sending his Son to die for sinners:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)

God’s love wins by not condemning those who believe in Jesus and giving them eternal life:

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (John 3:18)

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

God’s love wins by condemning  those who disobey and do not believe in Jesus and pouring out his wrath on them:

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:36)

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (John 3:18)

God’s love wins by eternally tormenting those who follow the beast and reject the Lamb in the presence of the holy angels and the Lamb, Jesus:

And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.11And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.” (Revelation 14:9-11)

This last point may be especially difficult and disturbing. However, a loving God is not a deity emptied of wrath.  Stanley Grenz’s quote on God’s jealous love has always been helpful to me:

We dare not confuse God’s love with sentimentality. As the great lover, God is also the avenging protector of the love relationship. Consequently, God’s love has a dark side. Those who spurn or seek to destroy the holy love relationship God desires to enjoy with creation experience the divine love as protective jealousy or wrath.  [Theology for the Community of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000), 642]

The denial of eternal punishment for all who do not trust in Jesus may be emotionally attractive, but it is not loving. John, the apostle of love, reveals that God’s love still wins even in the display of his holy wrath upon those who reject God’s love to the world in the person of his Son, Jesus.

Therefore receive God’s great love for you by trusting in Jesus whom God sent to die in the place of sinners. If you do not trust Jesus you will perish, be condemned, and suffer eternal torment because God’s holy love is also displayed in holy wrath.

God is a jealous lover not a sentimental one.

The Difference Between Praying Presumptuously or Expectantly for Healing

Sam Storms writes,

People often confuse praying expectantly with praying presumptuously. Prayer is presumptuous when the person claims healing without revelatory warrant or on the unbiblical assumption that God always wills to heal…On the other hand, people pray expectantly when they humbly petition a merciful God for something they do not deserve but know that he delights to give (Luke 11:9-13; cf. Matt. 9:27-31; 20:29-34; Luke 17:13-14). Expectant prayer flows from the recognition that Jesus healed people because he loved them and felt compassion for them (Matt. 14:13-14; 20:34; Mark 1:41-42; Luke 7:11-17), a disposition that nothing in Scripture indicates has changed. (Are Miraculous Gifts for Today, 214)

Presumption is often mistaken for boldness and passivity is often born out of drawing unbiblical implications from the truth of the absolute sovereignty of God over all things.

Don’t be a presumptuous pray-er or a passive pray-er. Be an expectant one.