He Is

I saw this at my friend Kim‘s blog, and because it is a longish video, it took me a while to get to it. But when I finally did – what an impact! I don’t know who the groups or individuals are who put it together, but they did a wonderful job magnifying Jesus Christ according to His Word. Well worth 11 minutes of your time.

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Nice, but still a rebel

You can hardly read Facebook, especially during election season or any kind of controversy, or just about any comments on anything online, without wishing people would be nicer to each other. We’re all so prone to forget the admonition to treat others with the same respect and grace with which we would want to be treated, especially when we deem them wrong in some way..

But is it possible to be thoroughly nice and still not right with God? Some years ago while reading Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, I came across a passage where he discusses that. It’s from the chapter “Beyond Personality” in a section concerning the truth that you can sometimes have an unsaved person who is actually nicer than some Christians. Lewis goes into many reasons for that which I won’t reproduce here, but one reason has to do with general disposition. Person A may be a quieter, calmer person and generally nice and personable, yet unsaved. Person B may have a more excitable personality and a fiery temper which the Lord has been giving him grace to overcome, and he may be a lot better than he was, yet compared with Person A he doesn’t seem as nice. Lewis then goes on to say (emphasis mine):

If you have sound nerves and intelligence and health and popularity and a good upbringing, you are likely to be quite satisfied with your character as it is. “Why drag God into it?” you may ask. A certain level of good conduct comes fairly easily to you. You are not one of those wretched creatures who are always being tripped up by sex, or dipsomania, or nervousness, or bad temper. Everyone says you are a nice chap and (between ourselves) you agree with them. You are quite likely to believe that all this niceness is your own doing: and you may easily not feel the need for any better kind of goodness. Often people who have all these natural kinds of goodness cannot be brought to recognize their need for Christ at all until, one day, the natural goodness lets them down and their self-satisfaction is shattered….

If you are a nice person — if virtue comes easily to you — beware! Much is expected from those to whom much is given. If you mistake for your own merits what are really God’s gifts to you through nature, and if you are contented with simply being nice, you are still a rebel: and all those gifts will only make your fall more terrible, your corruption more complicated, your bad example more disastrous. The Devil was an archangel once; his natural gifts were as far above yours as yours are above those of a chimpanzee.

….We must not suppose that even if we succeeded in making everyone nice we should have saved their souls. A world of nice people, content in their own niceness, looking no further, turned away from God, would be just as desperately in need of salvation as a miserable world — and might even be more difficult to save.

For mere improvement is no redemption, though redemption always improves people even here and now and will, in the end, improve them to a degree we cannot yet imagine. God became man to turn creatures into sons: not simply to produce better men of the old kind but to produce a new kind of man

If what you want is an argument against Christianity (and I well remember how eagerly I looked for such arguments when I began to be afraid it was true) you can easily find some stupid and unsatisfactory Christian and say, “So there’s your boasted new man! Give me the old kind.” But if you once have begun to see that Christianity is on other grounds probable, you will know in your heart that this is only evading the issue. What can you ever really know of other people’s souls — of their temptations, their opportunities, their struggles? One soul in the whole creation you do know: and it is the only one whose fate is placed in your hands. If there is a God, you are, in a sense, alone with Him. You cannot put Him off with speculations about your next door neighbors or memories of what you have read in books. What will all that chatter and hearsay count (will you even be able to remember it?) when the anesthetic fog which we call “nature” or “the real world” fades away and the Presence in which you have always stood becomes palpable, immediate, and unavoidable?

Jim Berg quotes Lewis in Changed Into His Image and then goes on to say:

Surprising as it may seem, there are many of us who really try to be good, not because we are allowing God to work in our lives to produce His fruit, but because it seems that life has fewer snags when we stay out of trouble. We often achieve the accolades and image we want. We can become smug around others who aren’t doing right and can become easily embittered during the times when we are being good and don’t get what we want.

We sometimes think we are pretty good people who “mess up” once in a while. The biblical picture is just the opposite: we are pretty bad people who do right only by the grace of God.

The true strength of my sinful heart…was not fully known to me until I resisted it.

“Being good” can be just our own way of making life work without God.

One of my friends had a hard time coming to the Lord for that very reason — she felt she was every bit as good as the people witnessing to her and therefore didn’t “need” to be saved. Thankfully the light finally broke through.

 The Bible tells us that “we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away” (Isaiah 64:6, KJV). Next to God’s blazing holiness, our righteousness is like filthy rags.

But how can that be, you might ask. You’re not promiscuous or hateful, you return the money when the cashier gives you too much back, you give to good causes, you drive the speed limit.

Think of it this way. Jesus said the greatest command is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. So it follows that the greatest sin is breaking this commandment…and we all fail in that way several times a day. Plus the Bible tells our our heart is deceitful, so there are likely ways we sin that we don’t realize.

This is a paltry comparison, but imagine you have a favorite white shirt that still looks pretty good to you. But one day in the store you find another white shirt and decide to get it, and, when you bring it home and hang it up next to your old one, you’re horrified to see that your old one, which looked perfectly fine to you the day before, now looks grey and worn next to the bright new one.

The only righteousness that meets all the qualifications for heaven are His.

For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes (Romans 10:2-4, ESV).

And be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith (Philippians 3:9, ESV).

Christ took our unrighteousness on Himself on the cross, and when we repent of our own way and believe on Him, He credits His righteousness to our account. As Chris Anderson’s hymn, “His Robes For Mine,” says:

His robes for mine: O wonderful exchange!
Clothed in my sin, Christ suffered ‘neath God’s rage.
Draped in His righteousness, I’m justified.
In Christ I live, for in my place He died.

So, I am all for being nice and wish the world contained more niceness. But before God, being nice is not enough. Instead of trying to make our own righteousness come up to Him, an impossible task, we need the righteousness that comes from Him. If, like me, you’ve made that exchange, rejoice with me in His grace. If not, I invite you to come to Him today.

(Revised from the archives. Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Glimpses, Soul Survival, Tell His Story, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Wise Woman)

Come, Let Us Return to the Lord

I experienced an interesting and heart-warming intersection in my devotions this morning.

I always start out with the day’s reading from Daily Light on the Daily Path, and today’s passages were all about coming back to God in repentance and being lovingly welcomed and forgiven by Him.

Then in my Bible reading, I was in Genesis 44-45 today, a picture of that very thing in the life of Joseph forgiving his brothers who had sold him into slavery 22 years before.

Blessed truth, that He’s waiting and wooing us back to Himself! It reminded me of several songs that perfectly express it, the foremost that came to my mind being this one:

 

Book Review: The Loveliness of Christ

loveliness-of-christPuritan Samuel Rutherford’s writings were the inspiration for one of my favorite hymns (“The Sands of Time Are Sinking“) and he’s the author of one of my favorite quotes, but I had never read anything else from him. So when The Loveliness of Christ came through on a 99 cent Kindle sale last week, I decided to give it a try.

I was disappointed that the selections weren’t essays or letters (except for a few letters at the very end): rather, the book is mainly a selection of quotes gleaned from Rutherford’s letters. The writing is a little hard to understand in places, but there are some gold nuggets here.

After a brief biography of Rutherford, the quotes are listed. I am not sure if they are in random of chronological order: except for the full-length letters at the end, we don’t know to whom or when they were written.

Here are some that most spoke to me:

You will not get leave to steal quietly to heaven, in Christ’s company, without a conflict and a cross.

Christ’s cross is such a burden as sails are to a ship or wings are to a bird.

Let our Lord’s sweet hand square us and hammer us, and strike off the knots of pride, self-love and world-worship and infidelity, that He may make us stones and pillars in his Father’s house.

The devil is but God’s master fencer, to teach us to handle our weapons.

They are not lost to you that are laid up in Christ’s treasury in heaven. At the resurrection ye shall meet with them: there they are, sent before but not sent away. Your Lord loveth you, who is homely to take and give, borrow and lend.

O, what I owe to the file, to the hammer, to the furnace of my Lord Jesus!

Why should I start at the plow of my Lord, that maketh deep furrows on my soul? I know He is no idle husbandman, He purposeth a crop.

How sweet a thing were it for us to learn to make our burdens light by framing our hearts to the burden, and making our Lord’s will a law.

Our fair morning is at hand, the day-star is near the rising, and we are not many miles from home. What does it matter if we are mistreated in the smoky inns of this miserable life? We are not to stay here, and we will be dearly welcomed by Him to whom we go.

When we shall come home and enter to the possession of our Brother’s fair kingdom, and when our heads shall find the weight of the eternal crown of glory, and when we shall look back to pains and sufferings; then shall we see life and sorrow to be less than one step or stride from a prison to glory; and that our little inch of time – suffering is not worthy of our first night’s welcome home to heaven.

Let not the Lord’s dealings seems harsh, rough, or unfatherly, because it is unpleasant. When the Lord’s blessed will bloweth cross your desires, it is best in humility to strike sail to him and to be willing to be laid any way our Lord pleaseth: it is a point of denial of yourself, to be as if ye had not a will, but had made a free disposition of it to God, and had sold it over to him; and to make of his will for your own is both true holiness, and your ease and peace.

Welcome, welcome, Jesus, what way soever Thou come, if we can get a sight of Thee! And sure I am, it is better to be sick, providing Christ come to the bedside and draw by the curtains, and say, “Courage, I am Thy salvation,” than to enjoy health, being lusty and strong, and never to be visited of God.

Faith liveth and spendeth upon our Captain’s charges, who is able to pay for all.

Glorify the Lord in your sufferings, and take his banner of love, and spread it over you. Others will follow you, if they see you strong in the Lord; their courage shall take life from your Christian carriage.

Ye may yourself ebb and flow, rise and fall, wax and wane; but your Lord is this day as he was yesterday; and it is your comfort that your salvation is not rolled upon wheels of your own making, neither have ye to do with a Christ of your own shaping.

If Christ Jesus be the period, the end and lodging-home, at the end of your journey, there is no fear, ye go to a friend…ye may look death in the face with joy.

My Lord Jesus hath fully recompensed my sadness with His joys, my losses with His own presence. I find it a sweet an a rich thing to exchange my sorrows with Christ’s joys, my afflictions with that sweet peace I have with Himself.

The favorite quote I mentioned at the beginning was here only in part: I had seen it in one of Amy Carmichael’s writings as having been a comfort to her when one of the children at her compound died. It was written by Rutherford to someone who had lost a child. The larger quote is “Ye have lost a child: nay she is not lost to you who is found to Christ. She is not sent away, but only sent before, like unto a star, which going out of our sight doth not die and vanish, but shineth in another hemisphere. We see her not, yet she doth shine in another country. If her glass was but a short hour, what she wanteth of time that she hath gotten of eternity; and ye have to rejoice that ye have now some plenishing up in heaven.”

As a collection of quotes, some quite thought-provoking and others requiring thought to process, it seemed to work best to read a few a day rather than trying to take in a lot at one sitting. Even doing that, though, it only took about a week to read.

As you can see from the sampling of quotes here, some of the themes of Rutherford’s writing include the goodness of God in the face of any circumstances, His ability to use those circumstances to shape us, the joy of Christ in this life but especially in the life to come.

I’m glad I spent time with this little book and I’m sure I will again in the future. I’m even inspired to go on to the fuller Letters of Samuel Rutherford some day.

Genre: Christian non-fiction
Potenti
al objectionable elements: None
My rating: 10 out of 10

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books and Carol‘s Books You Loved )

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When the Cross Is Too Great

As I was compiling our church ladies’ booklet for this month, I came across the following in my files. It made me think of a couple of women in our  church whose husbands have passed away in the last few weeks as well as one couple whose wayward son has spent time in prison and is still unrepentant. I’m sure many others are carrying crosses that I am unaware of. I know some of you are weighed down with burdens or crosses of varying kinds as well: may you be blessed in knowing God’s presence and care.

“The road is too rough,” I said;
“It is uphill all the way;
No flowers, but thorns instead;
And the skies over head are grey.”
But One took my hand at the entrance dim,
And sweet is the road that I walk with Him.

“The cross is too great,” I cried–
“More than the back can bear,
So rough and heavy and wide,
And nobody by to care.”
And One stooped softly and touched my hand:
“I know. I care.  And I understand.”

Then why do we fret and sigh;
Cross-bearers all we go;
But the road ends by-and-by
In the dearest place we know,
And every step in the journey we
May take in the Lord’s own company.

 ~ Author unknown

 “And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and
take up his cross daily and follow me.”
Luke 9:23

See the Destined Day Arise

See the destined day arise! See a willing sacrifice!
Jesus, to redeem our loss, hangs upon the shameful cross;
Jesus, who but You could bear wrath so great and justice fair?
Every pang and bitter throe, finishing your life of woe?

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Lamb of God for sinners slain!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Jesus Christ, we praise your name!

Who but Christ had dared to drain, steeped in gall, the cup of pain,
And with tender body bear thorns, and nails, and piercing spear?
Slain for us, the water flowed, mingled from your side with blood;
Sign to all attesting eyes of the finished sacrifice.

Holy Jesus, grant us grace in that sacrifice to place
All our trust for life renewed, pardoned sin, and promised good.
Grant us grace to sing your praise, ‘round your throne through endless days,
Ever with the sons of light: “Blessing, honor, glory, might!”

~ Lyrics: Venantius Fortunatus (c.530-600), tr. Richard Mant (1837), Public Domain (original lyrics here); Alt. words, chorus lyrics, and music: Matt Merker, © 2014

Book Review: Knowing God

Knowing GodEven though I’ve been posting weekly summaries of my reading from Knowing God by J. I. Packer, I still wanted to do a general review, partly for those who did not want to keep up with the weekly readings, and partly for me to have a general review to link back to.

Even though this book has been considered a classic and has been in print for over 40 years, somehow I had never gotten around to reading it before, though I had heard of it and wanted to.

Packer says the most basic definition of a Christian is that he or she is a person who has God as Father. We are not all God’s children: we become His when we believe on Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

Packer begins with the virtues of studying about God as well as the warning not to stop with just the academics, but to use what we learn to get to know God personally.

To be preoccupied with getting theological knowledge as an end in itself, to approach Bible study with no higher a motive than a desire to know all the answers, is the direct route to a state of self-satisfied self-deception. We need to guard our hearts against such an attitude, and pray to be kept from it (p. 22).

The psalmist [of Psalm 119] was interested in truth and orthodoxy, in biblical teaching and theology, not as ends in themselves, but as means to the further ends of life and godliness. His ultimate concern was with the knowledge and service of the great God whose truth he sought to understand (pp. 22-23).

He talks about what it means to know God, how knowing Him differs from knowing others, the different analogies the Scriptures use to illustrate our relationship to Him.

John 17:3: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”

Knowing God is more than knowing about him; it is a matter of dealing with him as he opens up to you, and being dealt with by him as he takes knowledge of you. Knowing about him is a necessary precondition of trusting in him (‘how could they have faith in one they had never heard of?’ [Romans 10:4 NEB]), but the width of our knowledge about him is no gauge of the depth of our knowledge of him (pp. 39-40).

He discusses the need to know God as He truly is, not as our mental picture of Him is nor as He has been falsely portrayed by others.

All speculative theology, which rests on philosophical reasoning rather than biblical revelation, is at fault here [emphasis mine here]. Paul tells us where this sort of theology ends: “The world by wisdom knew not God” (1 Cor 1:21 KJV). To follow the imagination of one’s heart in the realm of theology is the way to remain ignorant of God, and to become an idol-worshipper, the idol in this case being a false mental image of God, made by one’s own speculation and imagination (p. 48).

He discusses what it means to believe that Jesus is God Incarnate and yet also fully man, the person and ministry of the Holy Spirit, the truth of the Bible, the need for and nature of propitiation, what the Bible means by adoption, how God guides us, why we still have trials if we know Him and He loves us, and His full adequacy to handle whatever He allows in our lives. He covers in great detail several of God’s attributes: His immutability (His unchanging nature), His majesty, wisdom, love, grace, judgment, wrath, goodness, severity, and jealousy. Each of those topics is the subject of a whole chapter, and it’s impossible to give an overview of them here, but they were quite beneficial and helpful.

As I said in one week’s summaries, sometimes in the middle of a given chapter, it was easy to get occupied with the individual topics or chapters and forget that they are there in connection with how we know God, so it helped me to stop periodically and remember to tie the individual chapters back to the main point of the book. They do all have that connection even though it might not seem like it from the titles.

Though I didn’t agree with every single little point, especially those emphasizing a Calvinistic viewpoint, I did benefit from and can highly recommend the book. I appreciate that it is not full of theologicalese – terminology that only an academic could understand. I wouldn’t call it simple reading: there were a few places that were a little hard to follow. But for the most part I think an average reader could handle it fairly easily.

I am glad I finally made time for this book and thoroughly understand why it is considered a Christian classic. There were multitudes of places I marked and many memorable and helpful quotes in the book, many more than I can possibly recount here. But I’ll close with this one:

In the New Testament, grace means God’s love in action toward people who merited the opposite of love. Grace means God moving heaven and earth to save sinners who could not lift a finger to save themselves. Grace means God sending his only Son to the cross to descend into hell so that we guilty ones might be reconciled to God and received into heaven (p. 249).

For more information, my thoughts on a couple of chapters a week are as follows:

Chapters 1 and 2, “The Study of God” and “The People Who Know Their God”
Chapters 3 and 4, “Knowing and Being Known” and “The Only True God”
Chapters 5 and 6: “God Incarnate” and “He Shall Testify”
Chapters 7 and 8: “God Unchanging” and “The Majesty of God”
Chapters 9 and 10: “God Only Wise” and “God’s Wisdom and Ours”
Chapters 11 and 12: “Thy Word Is Truth” and “The Love of God”
Chapters 13 and 14: “The Grace of God” and “God the Judge”
Chapters 15 and 16: “The Wrath of God” and “Goodness and Severity”
Chapters 17 and 18: “The Jealous God” and “The Heart of the Gospel” (Propitiation)
Chapters 19 and 20: “Sons of God” and “Thou Our Guide”
Chapters 21 and 22: “These Inward Trials” and “The Adequacy of God”

(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)