God Moves in a Mysterious Way

On Sunday I shared the poem, "God Moves in a Mysterious Way" by William Cowper (1731-1800), with Downtown Cornerstone. It's an oldie, but a goodie. You may be familiar with it. Over the years it has become deeply meaningful to me. Cowper was a contemporary and friend of John Newton (author of Amazing Grace). He struggled with significant bouts of depression throughout this life, even to the point of attempting suicide on a number of occasions. Yet, amidst his personal darkness, he learned to see and sense the mysterious, gracious and sovereign presence of God. It was out of this brokenness and despair he wrote this poem. If you're hurting, struggling or confused, take heart, my friends, God moves in a mysterious way. 

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The Blinding Glory of the Holiness of God

All inadequate doctrines of the atonement are due to inadequate doctrines of God and man. If we bring God down to our level and raise ourselves to his, then of course we see no need for a radical salvation, let alone for a radical atonement to secure it. When, on the other hand, we have glimpsed the blinding glory of the holiness of God, and have been so convicted of our sin by the Holy Spirit that we tremble before God and acknowledge what we are, namely 'hell deserving sinners', then and only then does the necessity of the cross appear so obvious that we are astonished we never saw it before.

- John Stott, The Cross of Christ, 109

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How our thoughts feed (or starve) our passion for Jesus

I recently came across this great thought by Jonathan Edwards. I am deeply thankful, and indebted, to how Edwards vigorously refused to separate the intellect from the affections. Too often we separate them, rather than recognizing how the one informs the other. What do accurate ideas about who Jesus is, what he has done and who we are in him have to do with our loving of him and enjoying his goodness? Everything. Our thoughts feed (or starve) our passion for Jesus. Right thoughts, carried by the Spirit, throw gasoline on the fire of our affections, while wrong thoughts douse them. In other words, our theology (understanding of God is, what He is like, what He has done) is the fountainhead and source of our affection for him. Here's how Edwards puts it.

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John Bunyan on what dazzles the eyes of angels

It's hard not to like John Bunyan (1628-1688). Of all the Puritans, he's among my favorite. His Pilgrim's Progress, written during his imprisonment for preaching the gospel, is one of the most beloved and translated books of all time. (I highly recommend A Dangerous Journey, an adaptation of Pilgrim's Progress for kids.) John Owen, when asked by Charles II why he went to hear the uneducated Bunyan preach, famously said, "May it please your majesty, could I possess the tinker's abilities for preaching, I would willingly relinquish all my learning." He had an incredible gift for preaching to the heart. In my study for this weekend, I came across these gospel-laden treasures...

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Lloyd Jones on the main art of following God


I have a deep respect and admiration for Martyn Lloyd Jones. If you're not familiar with him, you should alleviate that problem immediately and pick up his Studies in the Sermon on the Mount or Spiritual Depression: It's Causes and Cure. If you're a pastor and preaching is a regular part of your service to God's people, his book Preaching and Preachers is a must read. Over the last couple years many of his sermon recordings (which were originally only captured for church members who were too sick to gather with the church on Sundays) have been released here at MLJ Trust. If you're looking for more then I also recommend Iain Murray's double volume biography. There are a handful of defining principles I've learned from MLJ and one of those is the importance of knowing yourself well enough to preach to yourself. Here's a classic excerpt from Spiritual Depression

I say that we must talk to ourselves instead of allowing 'ourselves' to talk to us! ... I suggest that the main trouble in this whole matter of spiritual depression in a sense is this, that we allow our self to talk to us instead of talking to our self....Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them, but they start talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you...The main art in the matter of spiritual living is to know how to handle yourself. You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, questions yourself...And then you must go on to remind yourself of God, who God is, and what God is and what God has done, and what God has pledged Himself to do. Then having done that, end on this note: defy yourself, and defy other people, and defy the devil and the whole world, and say: 'Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within  me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.' (Spiritual Depression, 21)

Trusting and treasuring Jesus as the ultimate good

A common mistake is to value Jesus primarily for the good he can do for us - and he does offer us more good than anything in the universe - rather than valuing him as the ultimate good himself. So we ask him to make us happy, rather than finding our happiness in him. We ask him to give us a fulfilled life, rather than finding our fullness in him. We ask him to give us strength, rather than finding our strength in him. If we're looking to Jesus to give us happiness, fulfillment and strength on our terms, we'll always come up short - and feel as though Jesus has let us down. If we go to Jesus for Jesus, we'll be more happy, fulfilled and strong than we could ever imagine. The difference is subtle, but couldn't be more important. Bask in his beams and you will not lack on any account. Seek him for other things and you'll always find yourself lacking. All that you long for can be traced back to him. I love how Charles Spurgeon put this in his Lectures to my Students...

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The Urgency of a Pastor's Self-Watch

This morning we kicked-off a new two-year residency for developing eight potential pastors and church planters within our church. Our hope is to raise-up local elders, church planters and leaders for planting teams - domestically and internationally. We're beginning with a study of Charles Spurgeon's Lectures to My Students as a launch pad for discussing personal spiritual vitality. This week we covered "The Minister's Self-Watch", "The Call to Ministry", "The Preacher's Private Prayer" and "The Minister's Ordinary Conversation." Whether you are currently serving as a pastor, or working through a call to it, you should read this book - and then revisit it regularly. If you want to learn more about rolling out something similar at your church, I encourage you to connect with these guys. Here's a sample of Spurgeon's urgent call to a diligent self-watch.

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Does the gospel *affect* you?

Our external delights, our ambition and reputation, and our human relationships - for all these things our desires are eager, our appetites strong, our love warm and affectionate, our zeal ardent. Our hearts are tender and sensitive when it comes to these things, easily moved, deeply impressed, much concerned, and greatly engaged. We are depressed at our losses and excited and joyful about our worldly successes and prosperity.

But when it comes to spiritual matters, how dull we feel! How heavy and hard our hearts! We can sit and hear of the infinite height, and depth, and length, and breadth of the love of God in Christ Jesus, of his giving his infinitely dear Son - and yet be cold and unmoved! . . .

If we are going to be emotional about anything, shouldn’t it be our spiritual lives? Is anything more inspiriting, more exciting, more lovable and desirable in heaven or earth than the gospel of Jesus Christ? . . . The gospel story is designed to affect us emotionally - and our emotions are designed to be affected by its beauty and glory. It touches our hearts at their tenderest parts, shaking us deeply to the core. We should be utterly humbled that we are not more emotionally affected than we are.
— Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections

To read the Bible well in public we must love it

These are some helpful thoughts from AW Tozer on how to read the Bible well in public. There is more to it than most think and, in my experience, few who do it well. 

To read the Bible well in public we must first love it. The voice, if it is free, unconsciously follows the emotional tone. Reverence cannot be simulated. No one who does not feel the deep solemnity of the Holy Word can properly express it. God will not allow His Book to become the plaything of the rhetorician. That is why we instinctively draw back from every simulated tone in the reading of the Scriptures. The radio announcer’s artificial unction cannot hide the absence of the real thing. The man who stands to declaim the Scriptures like a schoolboy reciting a passage from Hamlet can only leave his hearers with a feeling of disappointment. They know they have been cheated, though most of them could not tell just how.

Again, to read the Bible well, one must know what the words mean and allow them to mean just that, without putting any body English on the passage to make it take a turn of meaning not found in the text. Probably the hardest part of learning to read well is eliminating ourselves. We read best when we get ourselves out of the transaction and let God talk through the imperfect medium of our voice.

The beginner should read aloud whole books of the Bible in the privacy of his own room. In that way he can learn to hear his own voice and will know how he sounds to others. Let him consult a pronouncing Bible to learn the correct pronunciations of the names and places of the Bible. Let him cultivate the habit of reading slowly and distinctly with the reverence and dignity proper to the subject matter. Surely Protestants deserve a better sort of Scripture reading than they are now getting in our churches. And we who do the reading are the only ones who can give it to them.
— A. W. Tozer, The Next Chapter after the Last, “On the Public Reading of the Scriptures"

Why we love to praise what we enjoy

This week I have been thinking a lot about the relationship between praise and joy. Have you noticed that we, as humans, love to praise? We were built for it. Praise is the outcome of what, or who, we enjoy. It is the eruption, and completion, that inevitably results in response to the joy we experience in someone or something. In other words, our joy and our praise are directly related; we praise what we enjoy and enjoy what we praise. God calls for our praise, not as a detached, isolated act, but because he is the most-to-be-enjoyed of all things we enjoy. Do you enjoy him? The best measure is your praise of him. I love how CS Lewis brings this point to life...

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