John Stott, reminding us what Jesus did:
He was misunderstood and misrepresented, and became the victim of men’s prejudices and vested interests. He was despised and rejected by his own people, and deserted by his own friends. He gave his back to be flogged, his face to be spat upon, his head to be crowned with thorns, his hands and feet to be nailed to a common Roman gallows. And as the cruel spikes were driven home, he kept praying for his tormentors, ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.’
Tim Keller on money:
Does this mean that no Christians should ever live in wealthier neighborhoods? No—if you make $500,000 per year, it is right and important that you live in neighborhoods and move in circles with others who make your income. Why? We need Christians in every social class, every neighborhood, every circle! But Christians should always aim for the bottom end of their particular income bracket with regard to how much they spend their money on themselves. Is it possible, though, for a Christian to give away too much? Yes. Christians should keep enough a) that they can live a safe and healthy life, b) that they don’t become a burden to others, and c) so that they can continue to do good. There are many people who have made or inherited a substantial fund of money. If they gave it all away immediately they might do less good in the long run than if they gave it away slowly, allowing it to continually grow new dividends and earnings.
In summary: if we can go beyond the tithe a) without hurting our health, b) without becoming a burden to others, c) without reneging on our financial obligations, and d) without undermining our ability to live and minister among those with whom we work—then we should give sacrificially beyond the tithe.
Billy Graham on money:
Give me five minutes with a person's checkbook, and I will tell you where their heart is.
Tom Wright, making a point I alluded to in a sermon a few weeks ago about the meaning of the word ‘gospel’:
The word ‘gospel,’ in Paul’s world, meant the accession of Caesar. And when Tiberius or Nero came to power, the imperial heralds did not go around saying, ‘There is this new experience you might like to try on for size, namely, you might like to give allegiance to Caesar if that suits you and if that’s where you are right now in your own personal journey.’ No, they said, ‘Tiberius is emperor! Get down on your knees!’
Dietrich Bonhoeffer defining cheap grace:
[It] is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.
Martin Luther, on how to have assurance of salvation:
My dear brother, learn Christ and him crucified. Learn to sing…and despairing of self say, ‘Thou Lord Jesus art my righteousness and I am but sin. Thou hast taken upon thyself what is mine and hast given me what is thine; thou hast taken upon thyself what thou wast not, and hast given me what I was not.’ Christ came down from heaven, where he dwelt with the righteous, in order to dwell in sinners also; always think of this love of his and you will find sweetest consolation…if we had to find peace of conscience through our own labors…why did he die? Therefore you will find peace only in him, despairing of yourself and your own works.
All of us must be saints in this world. Holiness is a duty for you and me. So let's be saints and so give glory to the Father.
One of my favorite C. S Lewis quotations:
Meanwhile the cross comes before the crown and tomorrow is a Monday morning. A cleft has opened in the pitiless walls of the world…It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbour. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.
Gregory the Great, on the true nature of love:
The proof of love is in the works. Where love exists, it works great things. But when it ceases to act, it ceases to exist.
Will Willimon on how Americans treat the gospel:
The modern, essentially atheistic mentality despises mystery and considers enchantment and befuddlement an affront to its democratic right to know--and then use--everything for purposes of individual fulfillment. This flattened mind loves lists, labels, solutions, sweeping propositions, and practical principles. The vast, cosmic claims of the gospel get reduced to an answer to a question that consumes contemporary North Americans, though it's hardly ever treated in Scripture: What's in it for me?
Anyone who is not a continual student of Jesus, and who nevertheless reads the great promises of the Bible as if they were for him or her, is like someone trying to cash a check on another person's account. At best, it succeeds only sporadically.
A couple gems from Flannery O'Connor:
The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.
Conviction without experience makes for harshness.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from Life Together:
We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God. God will be constantly crossing our paths and canceling our plans by sending us people with claims and petitions. We may pass them by, preoccupied with our more important tasks, as the priest passed by the man who had fallen among thieves, perhaps - reading the Bible. When we do that we pass by the visible sign of the Cross raised athwart our path to show us that, not our way, but God's way must be done. It is a strange fact that Christians and even ministers frequently consider their work so important and urgent that they will allow nothing to disturb them. They think they are doing God a service in this, but actually they are disdaining God's 'crooked yet straight path' (Gottfried Arnold). They do not want a life that is crossed and balked. But it is part of the discipline of humility that we must not spare our hand where it can perform a service and that we do not assume that our schedule is our own to manage, but allow it to be arranged by God.
Nevertheless we still experience sin and death within us, wrestle with them and fight against them. You may tie a hog ever so well, but you cannot prevent it from grunting. Thus it is with the sins in our flesh.
Gerald O. Forde on the Lutheran view of vocation:
Precisely because the totality of the gift, the new being [the one justified by faith] knows that there is nothing to do to gain heaven. Thus the Christian is called to the tasks of daily life in this world, for the time being. Students, for instance, are sometimes very pious and idealistic about ‘doing something,’ and so get caught up in this or that movement ‘for good.’ It never seems to dawn on them that perhaps for the time being, at least, their calling is simply to be a good student! It is not particularly in acts of piety that we are sanctified, but in our call to live and act as Christians”
Dorothy L. Sayers, from Creed or Chaos:
How can anyone remain interested in a religion which seems to have no concern with nine-tenths of his life? The Church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays. What the Church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables….
Church by all means, and decent forms of amusement, certainly – but what use it all that if in the very centre of his life and occupation he is insulting God with bad carpentry? No crooked table legs or ill-fitting drawers ever, I dare swear, came out of the carpenter’s shop at Nazareth. Nor, if they did, could anyone believe that they were made by the same hand that made Heaven and earth….
Yet in Her own buildings, in Her own ecclesiastical art and music, in Her hymns and prayers, in Her sermons and in Her little books of devotion, the Church will tolerate, or permit a pious intention to excuse work so ugly, so pretentious, so tawdry and twaddling, so insincere and insipid, so bad as to shock and horrify any decent craftsman….
God is not served by technical incompetence; and incompetence and untruth always result when the secular vocation is treated as a thing alien to religion.
Max Stackhouse argues that American secularization is the product of a failed ecclesiology:
Modern [American] Christians lacked social significance because, contrary to what had been the case in all preceding ages, they lacked a high view of the Church.
Robert Louis Wilken on the meaning of medieval Christendom and the Great Commission:
The truth is that some form of Constantinianism is an inescapable consequence of the Church's success.
There is such depth in the Christian Scriptures that, even if I studied them, and nothing else, from early childhood to worn-out old age, with ample time and unflagging zeal, and with greater intellectual ability than I possess, I would still each day find new treasures within them. The basic truths necessary for salvation are easily found within the Scriptures. But even when a person has accepted these truths, and is both God-fearing and righteous in his actions, there remain so many things which lie under a great veil of mystery. Through reading the Scriptures, we can pierce this veil, and find the deepest wisdom in the words which express these mysteries, and in the mysteries themselves. The oldest, the ablest, and the most eager student of Scripture, will say at the end of each day: ‘I have studied hard, but my studies are only just beginning.’
Again, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from Life Together:
The most experienced psychologist or observer of human nature knows infinitely less of the human heart than the simplest Christian who lives beneath the Cross of Jesus.
The greatest psychological insight, ability, and experience cannot grasp this one thing: what sin is.
Worldly wisdom knows what distress and weakness and failure are, but it does not know the godlessness of man. And so it does not know that man is destroyed only by his sin and can be healed only by forgiveness. Only the Christian knows this.
In the presence of a psychiatrist I can only be a sick man; in the presence of a Christian brother I can dare to be a sinner.
The psychiatrist must first search my heart and yet he never plumbs its ultimate depth. The Christian brother knows when I come to him: here is a sinner like myself, a godless man who wants to confess and yearns for God’s forgiveness.
The psychiatrist views me as if there were no God. The brother views me as I am before the judging and merciful God in the Cross of Jesus Christ.
Martin Luther’s advice to a young man struggling with depression:
Whenever the devil harasses you, seek the company of men or drink more, or joke and talk nonsense, or do some other merry thing. Sometimes we must drink more, sport, recreate ourselves, and even sin a little to spite the devil, so that we leave him no place for troubling our consciences with trifles. We are conquered if we try too conscientiously not to sin at all. So when the devil says to you: do not drink, answer him: I will drink, and right freely, just because you tell me not to.
It is possible that God says every morning, 'Do it again' to the sun; and every evening, 'Do it again' to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore. Heaven may encore the bird who laid an egg.
It is absurd for the Evolutionist to complain that it is unthinkable for an admittedly unthinkable God to make everything out of nothing, and then pretend that it is more thinkable that nothing should turn itself into everything.
Philip Graham Ryken, commenting on Jeremiah 29:7:
That is not how Christians usually think about the city. Many Christians write the city off. At most, they try to establish their own fortresses within the city. But God does not tell his people to seek peace in the city; he tells them to seek the peace of the city.
Keller on contextualization and the mission of the church:
Contextualization is the giving of God's answers (which they may not want) to the questions they're asking, and in forms they can understand.
Gregory the Great on biblical interpretation:
Every time the sacred text describes a fact it reveals a mystery.
Tom Wright on the resurrection:
Christians must keep their nerve: the Resurrection isn’t a metaphor, it’s a physical fact.
Christianity, if false, is of no importance; and if true, of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important.
John Calvin, from his most famous work, the Institutes:
The Lord willingly and freely reveals himself in his Christ. For in Christ, he offers all happiness in place of our misery, all wealth in place of our neediness; in him he opens to us the heavenly treasures that our whole faith may contemplate his beloved Son, our whole expectation depend upon him, and our whole hope cleave to and rest in him. This, indeed, is that secret and hidden philosophy which cannot be wrested from syllogisms. But they whose eyes God has opened surely learnt it by heart, that in his light they may see light.
James Jordan on the centrality of the church:
The church is the first form of the kingdom. The church is also the nursery of the kingdom. It’s within the institutional church that the fundamental principles of the kingdom are taught and learned. Christians learn government through the church government of elders. Having learned that, Christians are then ready to govern in more broad circumstances. We learn finances in the church, through the administration of the tithe. We learn charity in the church because we are starving and God feeds us bread and wine.
We learn music in the church. All of western music flows out of the music of the church. All of western theatre flows out of the liturgy of the church. All of western literature flows out of the literature of the church.
The church creates civilization. The church is the nursery of culture.
More wisdom from Jordan:
The Holy Bible is given us for “doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness” that we might be “equipped for every good work.” We must become open to the Bible, so that it can do this work. In order for this to happen to us, we need total Bible saturation.
We live in an age of tremendous Bible ignorance. Even conservative seminaries do not teach much of the Bible; they teach everything else, but assume that the men will learn the Bible on their own. Pastors are told that laymen are stupid, and cannot be taught much of the Bible. They are told to give out “three point” sermons. This must not continue.
The goal of total Bible saturation is that our common sense is reshaped. This takes time. It probably takes a generation. Because we are estranged from the Biblical outlook, much of the Bible seems strange to us. The Bible comes to us as “formal language”. That is, it is “high language” that directly challenges our outlook on reality. We must learn it and live with it until what the Bible says becomes our common sense, what we instinctively operate with day by day.
Sayers on hell:
There seems to be a kind of conspiracy, especially among middle-aged writers of vaguely liberal tendency, to forget, or to conceal, where the doctrine of Hell comes from. One finds frequent references to the "cruel and abominable mediaeval doctrine of hell," or "the childish and grotesque mediaeval imagery of physical fire and worms." . . .
But the case is quite otherwise; let us face the facts. The doctrine of hell is not " mediaeval": it is Christ's. It is not a device of "mediaeval priestcraft" for frightening people into giving money to the church: it is Christ's deliberate judgment on sin. The imagery of the undying worm and the unquenchable fire derives, not from "mediaeval superstition," but originally from the Prophet Isaiah, and it was Christ who emphatically used it. . . . It confronts us in the oldest and least "edited" of the gospels: it is explicit in many of the most familiar parables and implicit in many more: it bulks far larger in the teaching than one realizes, until one reads the Evangelists [gospels] through instead of picking out the most comfortable texts: one cannot get rid of it without tearing the New Testament to tatters. We cannot repudiate Hell without altogether repudiating Christ.
Christopher Dawson, on the gospel, culture, and history:
The history of Christianity is the history of a divine intervention in history, and we cannot study it apart from the history of culture in the widest sense of the word. For the word of God was first revealed to the people of Israel and became embodied in a law and society. Secondly, the word of God became incarnate in a particular person at a particular moment of history, and thirdly this process of human redemption was carried on in the life of the Church which was the new Israel - the universal community which was the bearer of the divine revelation and the organ by which man participated in the new life of the Incarnate Word.
At every stage of our Christian development and in every sphere of our Christian discipleship, pride is the greatest enemy and humility our greatest friend.
God cannot bear with seeing his glory appropriated by the creature in even the smallest degree, so intolerable to him is the sacrilegious arrogance of those who, by praising themselves, obscure his glory as far as they can.
George Washington Carver:
How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in life you will have been all of these.
Wherever we find the Word of God surely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to the institution of Christ, there, it is not to be doubted, is a church of God.
J. I. Packer:
I want to see a focused vision of spiritual maturity -- the expansion of the soul is the best phrase I can use for it. That is, a renewed sense of the momentousness of being alive, the sheer bigness and awesomeness of being a human being alive in God's world with light, with grace, with wisdom, with responsibility, with biblical truth….
The Spirit does what he does. His supernaturalizing of our lives enables Christians, as a matter of fact, to do much for the Lord that they wouldn't be able to do otherwise. That's the whole doctrine of gifts and ministry. It's my part to see what God calls me to do, to ask the Lord to enable me to do it, then to get up off my knees and go confidently into action, watching to see what help I shall be given, and finally to give thanks for what the Spirit did in and through me.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, in 1983:
Over half a century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of older people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: 'Men have forgotten God; that's why all this has happened.'
Since then I have spent well-nigh fifty years working on the history of our revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous revolution that swallowed up some sixty million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: 'Men have forgotten God; that's why all this has happened.'
The Biblical vision is not so much concerned with life after death but about life after life after death.
Gregory the Great:
Be not anxious about what you have, but about what you are.
J. I. Packer:
Redeeming love and retributive justice joined hands, so to speak, at Calvary, for there God showed Himself to be ‘just, and the justifer of him who hath faith in Jesus’.
Do you understand this? If you do, you are now seeing to the very heart of the Christian gospel. No version of that message goes deeper than that which declares man’s root problem before God to be his sin, which evokes wrath, and God’s basic provision for man to be propitiation, which out of wrath brings peace.
…God’s wrath is his righteousness reacting against unrighteousness; it shows itself in retributive justice. But Jesus Christ has shielded us from the nightmare of retributive justice by becoming our representative substitute, in obedience to His Father’s will, and receiving the wages of our sin in our place. …Our sins have been punished; the wheel of retribution has turned; judgment has been inflicted for our ungodliness – but on Jesus, the lamb of God, standing in our place. In this way God is just – and the justifier of those who put faith in Jesus, who ‘was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification’ (Romans 4:25).
St. Therese of Lisieux
Love is the Cross, and the Cross is Love.
Remember that nothing is small in the eyes of God. Do all that you do with love.
It happens over and over again that the gospel ‘comes alive’ in a way that the evangelist had never dreamed of, and has effects which he never anticipated. The gospel is addressed to the human person as a human person in all the uncountable varieties of predicaments in which human beings find themselves.
The gospel has a sovereignty of its own and is never an instrument in the hands of the evangelist. Or, to put it more truly, the Holy Spirit, by whose secret working alone the gospel ‘comes alive,’ is not under the evangelist’s control. The wind blows freely.
Be humble, watchful, and diligent in the means, and endeavor to look through all, and fix your eye upon Jesus—and all shall be well.
All that has enriched and honored the life of all nations in all history will be brought in to enrich the new creation. The new creation will not be a blank page, as if God will simply crumple up the whole of human historical life in this creation and toss it in the cosmic bin, and then hand us a new sheet to start all over again. The new creation will start with the unimaginable reservoir of all that human civilization has accomplished in the old creation – but purged, cleansed, disinfected, sanctified and blessed. And we shall have eternity to enjoy it and to build upon it in ways we cannot dream of now as we will exercise the powers of creativity of our redeemed humanity.
Think of the prospect! All human culture, language, literature, art, music, science, business, sport, technological achievement, – actual and potential - all available to us. All of it with the poison of evil and sin sucked out of it forever. All of it glorifying God. All of it under his loving and approving smile. All of it for us to enjoy with God and indeed being enjoyed by God. And all eternity for us to explore it, understand it, appreciate it, and expand it.
If this is the new creation that the Bible promises, you can understand why I don’t want just to ‘go to heaven when I die.’ Who wants just heaven, when God promises heaven and earth?
Jesus, unlike the founder of any other major faith, holds out hope for ordinary human life. Our future is not an ethereal, impersonal form of consciousness. We will not float through the air, but rather will eat, embrace, sing, laugh, and dance in the kingdom of God, in degrees of power, glory, and joy that we can’t at present imagine.
Jesus will make the world our perfect home again. We will no longer be living ‘east of Eden,’ always wandering and never arriving. We will come, and the father will meet us and embrace us, and we will be bought into the feast.
Frederica Mathewes-Green on the church (very encouraging for a small church like ours!):
A little church on Sunday morning is a negligible thing. It may be the meekest, and least conspicuous, thing in America. Someone zipping between Baltimore’s airport and beltway might pass this one, a little stone church drowsing like a hen at the corner of Maple and Camp Meade Road. At dawn all is silent, except for the click every thirty seconds as the oblivious traffic light rotates through its cycle. The building’s bell tower out of proportion, too large and squat and short to match. Other than that, there’s nothing much to catch the eye.In a few hours heaven will strike earth like lightning on this spot. The worshipers in this little building will be swept into a divine worship that proceeds eternally, grand with seraphim and incense and God enthroned, “high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple” (Isaiah 6:1). The foundations of that temple shake with the voice of angels calling “Holy” to each other, and we will be there, lifting fallible voices in the refrain, an outpost of eternity.
If this is true, it is the most astonishing thing that will happen in our city today.
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput on the church in our culture:
We’re here to rock the boat. That’s what it means to be leaven. The Epistle of James says that faith without works is a dead faith. John Paul II says the same thing with a slightly different twist: Faith which does not become culture is dead faith. By “culture” he means the entire environment of our lives. Our culture reflects who we are and what we value. If we really believe in the Lordship of Jesus Christ, it should be obvious in our families, our work, our laws, our music, art, architecture — everything….
Faith should impregnate everything we do. It should bear fruit every day in beauty and new life. And that’s why God doesn’t need “nice” Christians, Christians who are personally opposed to sin, but too polite to do anything about it publicly. Mother Teresa was a good and holy woman . . . but she wasn’t necessarily “nice.” Real discipleship should be loving and generous, just and merciful, honest and wise – but also tough and zealous . . . and determined to turn the world toward Christ.
If God wants us to be His cooperators in transforming the world, it’s because the world needs conversion. The world is good because God created it. But the world is also sinful, because we’ve freely made it that way by our sinful choices and actions…. We need to be actively involved in the world, for the sake of the world. We need to love the world as it needs to be loved – affirming its accomplishments, and redeeming its mistakes.