Friday, December 30, 2011

Fanny Crosby: She Fixed her Eyes on Christ

Tonight I watched a documentary about Fanny Crosby--if you have Netflix, you can search for her name and you'll find it. I was so touched to hear that the Lord allowed her develop the gift of poetry early in her life, but that she did not start writing hymns until much later. By his grace and power and inspiration, it is estimated that she wrote more than 10,000 hymns and what's so amazing about this is the few years in which she did so. There were some days on which she wrote 3-5 hymns! All in all, she averaged about 200 per year, which is truly astonishing.

Perhaps just as touching to me was the fact that she gave away nearly all of the money she earned over the years from publishing royalties. For example, one of the hymnals which was almost completely comprised of her music sold over 15 million copies world wide. Think about that. It was the 1800s, there were far less people on the planet, there was no internet, no television, no radio--no mass media except for print media. And yet, 15 million copies sold. Her royalties on this resource alone would have been astronomical.

She died with $2,000 to her name which means that she gave away millions in her lifetime because she believed that the wealth she earned did not belong to her. Her eyes, blind though they may have been, were firmly fixed on Christ.

Praise God for Fanny Crosby! And I mean it just that way. Fanny's abilities and productivity and prosperity and generosity and popularity and longevity are gifts from God to the church for the manifestation of the Spirit and the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7), and therefore he alone deserves all the glory. But may we pay close attention, not only to the gifts, but to the character he developed and displayed in this woman, and may we emulate what we see.

On her original grave stone was this very simple epithet: "She hath done what she could." I don't think that means, "Well, she gave it all she had but it wasn't much!" Rather, I think that means that she made the most of the gifts God gave to her. May we likewise fan our gifts into full flame for the glory of God and the edification of the church!

Thank you, Father, for your precious daughter, Fanny.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Where does Worldliness Reside?

Over the last few days I've been reading a book that was edited by C. J. Mahaney entitled Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World (Crossway, Wheaton: 2008). C. J. wrote the opening chapter on the nature, root, and defeat of worldliness, and I've found it to be very helpful and edifying.

He defines worldliness as "loving the values and pursuits of the world that stand opposed to God. More specifically, it is to gratify and exalt oneself to the exclusion of God" (27, emphasis original). From here he goes on to discuss the root of worldliness and points out that some Christians define worldliness as existing outside of us which leads them to construct lists of rules or conservative standards by which to live. But the problem with such lists is that they miss the point. They sometimes rightly identify fruits of worldliness but they fail to get to the root of the problem.

Other Christians, reacting against rule making, throw caution to the wind and, under the guise of freedom in Christ, make room for things that bend our affections away from the glory of him who saved us out of the world.

The common mistake of both of these approaches, Mahaney argues, is that they look outside of the person and focus on behavior rather than looking inside of the person and focusing on motives. "[The Apostle] John--inspired by the Holy Spirit--takes the debate to a whole other level.

"He takes it inside.

"For that's where worldliness is. It exists in our hearts. Worldliness does not consist in outward behavior, though our actions can certainly be an evidence of worldliness within. But the real location of worldliness is internal. It resides in our hearts" (29).

What, then, is the antidote to worldliness? Training our minds and affections to fix themselves on Christ. Meditating on the cross and the glory of what he displayed and accomplished there. Filling our lives with the bright sunshine of the Almighty until the moonlight of the world fades away.

This brings to mind Paul's well-known counsel: "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things" (Philippians 4:8). Amen, Lord, help us to be doers of this Word today.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A. W. Tozer on the "New Cross"

“If I see aright, the cross of popular evangelicalism is not the cross of the New Testament. It is, rather, a new bright ornament upon the bosom of a self-assured and carnal Christianity. The old cross slew men; the new cross entertains them. The old cross condemned; the new cross amuses. The old cross destroyed confidence in the flesh; the new cross encourages it…The new cross does not slay the sinner, it redirects him. It gears him into a cleaner and jollier way of living and saves his self-respect. The old cross is a symbol of death. God salvages the individual by liquidating him and then raising him again to newness of life. God offers life, but not an improved old life. The life He offers is life out of death. It stands always on the far side of the cross”

Gems from Tozer (Christian Publications, Camp Hill: PA, 1979), 41, 44. 

Is Your Heart Diamond-Hard or Clay-Soft?

This week, during one of my morning quiet times, I read these soul-piercing words in Zechariah 7:11-14.”But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears that they might not hear. They made their hearts diamond-hard lest they should hear the law and the words that the LORD of hosts had sent by his Spirit through the former prophets. Therefore great anger came from the LORD of hosts. ‘As I called, and they would not hear, so they called, and I would not hear,’ says the LORD of hosts, and I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations that they had not known” (emphasis mine).
Hmm. That phrase “diamond-hard” really struck me. It refers to a heart that has persistently resisted the Word of the Lord and has, in this way, grown harder from one degree to another until it is virtually impenetrable. And though God is immensely merciful and patient and kind, he will eventually hand us over to our stubborn ways if we will not repent and humble ourselves before him.
In Israel’s case, this meant that they were driven from the prosperous land which God had given them as a gift and they suffered greatly in the process. Even then the merciful heart of God shone through because his intent in casting them into exile was to humble them that he might bless them again—which he did. But we should not miss the point that diamond-hard hearts led to soul-penetrating blows from the Almighty.
Paul said that the stories and prophecies of the Old Testament were written for our sake so that through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope (Romans 15:4). Thus, the design of Zechariah 7:11-14 is to warn us away from allowing diamond-hard hearts to develop within us, and to shepherd us toward the humility that eagerly receives and submits to the Word of the Lord, even when it’s hard to hear. But the question this leaves in my mind is this: how can we keep our hearts soft before the Lord?
The answer is multifaceted, of course, but I do believe that the foundation of it is fostering a love for the Word of God out of love for the God of the Word. In other words, the only medicine that will soften our hard hearts is the bright, brilliant, warm, transforming love of the Father who sent his only begotten Son that we might not perish but have everlasting life. And the capsule that contains this love is the words of God as found in the Bible.
So, my dear readers, I lovingly urge you to join me in giving ourselves to the Word of God and the God of the Word this year. Hear it, read it,  memorize it, study it, meditate upon it, apply it to life, and teach it to others. As we do, may the Lord make our hearts as soft as clay in his loving hands.

Our Salvation Exalts the Glory of God over the Worth of Human Beings

I suppose it's natural for Christians to think, "God went to such great lengths to save us in Jesus Christ, we must be worth a whole lot to him." And certainly God has assigned a measure of worth to all things including human beings. Certainly he would not humble himself and take on flesh and live a righteous life in the midst of an evil world and willingly subject himself to death by crucifixion and cause himself to be raised from the dead for beings he thought to be worthless.

However, when the Bible prophesies about our salvation or tells the story of our salvation or reflects on the salvation Christ has purchased with his blood, it does not focus on our worth but God's glory. Ponder, for example, Zechariah 9:16-17 and ask the Lord to help you orient your mind and heart around his glory rather than your worth. Paradoxically, our joy increases--greatly increases--when we take our eyes off of ourselves and fix them on the Author and Perfector of our faith.

"On that day the Lord God will save them,
as the flock of his people;
for like the jewels of a crown
they shall shine on his land.
FOR how great is HIS goodness,
and how great HIS beauty.
Grain shall make the young men flourish,
and new wine the young women.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Fate of those Who Love the World

This morning in my personal time with God I read Revelation 18 and rejoiced at the certain demise, and destruction, of the world as we know it. The day will come when the riches and pleasures of this world, which seem so strong now, will fall to pieces in a single hour. And in that day, God will speak these soul-shattering words to all who have loved the world and the things in the world:

"The fruit for which your soul longed has gone from you, and all your delicacies and your splendors are lost to you, never to be found again!" (Revelation 18:14)

This doesn't mean that we cannot enjoy things like food and drink and sex and leisure, but it does mean that we must enjoy them in the way God designed. To snub our nose at God and rebel against his designs, to give ourselves to the pleasures of this life in ways that he forbids, is to love the world and the things in the world, and to set ourselves up for a fall--a very great fall that will mean the eternal death of pleasure for those who have rebelled against God.

For instance, sex is God's idea, by which I mean both the mechanics of it and the intense pleasure in it. God purposely designed sex as he did for some very good reasons and because of these reasons he commands that it be restricted to the context of marriage. But this "restriction" is in fact the path to great sexual pleasure because in honoring God's design we gain access to God's joy--a joy which both lasts and increases in intensity.

On the other hand, when we think we know better than God and dishonor his design and indulge in sexual pleasures outside the confines of marriage, we eventually lose what we think we've gained and a whole lot more. Hugh Hefner and all who have followed him over the last 50 years are going to be shocked--eternally shocked--when the Lord speaks the words of Revelation 18:14 to them and they realize the error of their ways and the high price that has to be paid.

So, I want to close this entry with the words of the Apostle John and King David. May the Lord give us ears to hear and hearts to desire and pursue true and lasting joy in Him.

"Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (1 John 2:4).

"You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore" (Psalm 16:11).

An Evangelistic Dream: Road Rage, Texting, & the Gospel

Oh how I love having dreams in which I clearly share the gospel with others! Whenever I have dreams like this, I wake up with such joy in Christ and a desire to share him in waking life. So here's the dream.

I'm pulling into a parking space and just as the car comes to a complete stop, I notice a man walking toward me from my right to my left. I can tell he's upset. As I open the door, he begins yelling at me because he thinks I cut him off while I was driving through the parking lot. I don't remember doing this and try to explain that but he's very upset and doesn't want to hear it.

I can tell that my explanations aren't going to help so I stand up but ensure that the car door is firmly between us for, on the one hand, I'm confused rather than angry and I don't want to fight and, on the other hand, I care about the man. I can see the hurt in his eyes. I know that his anger toward me is not about me.

Without really thinking about it, I say to him, "Okay, I'll let you say whatever you want to say and I'll listen, but then can I tell you about Jesus?" He reluctantly says yes and next thing I know I'm walking with him and another man to a room, it seems like it's a motel room but I can't really tell. Dreams!

Once we're there, the other man begins lighting into me about texting while driving. He's convinced that that's why I cut his friend off. I tell him that I'll answer his concerns if he'll allow me to say a few things about Jesus, and he too agrees. So I ask him to look me right in the eyes and I calmly but firmly say that I never, ever text while driving. I may talk on the phone while driving, or look to see who e-mailed or texted me while at a stoplight, but I never text while driving (this, by the way, is true in real life). His friend checks my phone to see if what I'm saying is true and discovers that it is.

This humbles the both of them and so I begin telling them about Jesus by sharing my personal story of conversion. The second man, the one who questioned me about texting, rolls his eyes and looks down while I speak but they both listen and with that the dream ends, or at least my memory of it.

So what do I take from this dream? Well, it is just a dream so I won't make too much of it, in fact, not long after I'm done writing this post I'll probably forget it all together. But for now, here are a couple of thoughts.

First, our minds tend to generate dreams that are related to the things we ponder in waking life, so this is probably a good sign that I'm thinking about the right things during the day. Of course, there is SO much room for improvement and growth in my life, and I'm not trying to toot my own horn here. I'm just rejoicing in the fact that for some reason my mind is thinking about the things of God when it's in its nightly coma.

This brings Philippians 4:8 to mind: "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." If we'll learn to live by this verse, our dreams will be saturated with the glory of God in one way or another.

Second, this dream has reminded me that I don't need to look for ideal opportunities to share the gospel with someone. If I have a heart to overflow with the love of Christ, almost any situation becomes an opportunity to do just that.

So, Beloved, let's not wait around for the perfect set up today. Let's be loving and bold and humble and determined to share the love of Christ. Let's pray and ask the Holy Spirit to give us eyes to see the hurt in people's hearts, and then reach out and touch that hurt with the love of the God who is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.

Thanks, Father, for this dream. I pray now that you will use it in real life and cause me, and others, to surrender our hearts and habits to you this day.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Kris Lundgaard: The Enemy Within

As part of my personal pursuit of God, I try to read a section or chapter of a devotional type book during my morning quiet times. The Bible, of course, always comes first and if I'm too long in the Word I don't get to my current book, but I do try--everyday. And so over the last few months I've been reading Kris Lundgaard's book The Enemy Within: Straight Talk About the Power and Defeat of Sin (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 1998).

All I will say is this: you should read this book. It's packed with truth and it imminently readable. Kris took much of the content of the book from his reading of the Puritan John Owen, and he freely acknowledges the same. In fact, he says early in the book that if Owen was still alive he'd certainly sue him for plagiarism! But that's okay, truth is about truth, not the one who articulated that truth. And so I praise God that this modern man took the powerful, but antiquated, writings of a true man of God and made them palatable for our time. 

You can learn more about Kris Lundgaard here and you can purchase a copy of the book here. Please do! And may the Lord bless you as you prayerfully consider the wisdom he has to offer.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Al Mohler on the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ

I just read an excellent blog entry by Al Mohler, President of Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY, on the subject of the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. Having just preached on this last night, and having come to the same conclusions as him, it was a real delight to read what he wrote.

You can read the entry here, and I hope that you will. May the Lord ignite worship in our hearts as we grow in the grace and knowledge of him.

Friday, December 23, 2011

R. C. Sproul's Message at the Funeral of His Daughter-in-Law

"After a long battle with cancer, the wife of R. C. Sproul, Jr. and mother of eight children, died on Sunday morning, December 18, in Sanford, Florida. Denise was the daughter in law of the well- known writer, teacher, and pastor R. C. Sproul, founder of Ligonier Ministries" (from 

R. C. Sproul, Sr. delivered the message at her funeral this past Wednesday which you can read or listen to here. This message is a soul-stirring example of what it looks like to grieve with hope in Christ. May the Lord be near to the Sproul family and somehow use Denise's death to glorify his great name.

Athanasius on the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ

But now [Jesus] entered the world in a new way, stooping to our level in His love and Self-revealing to us. He saw the reasonable race, the race of men that, like Himself, expressed the Father’s Mind, wasting out of existence, and death reigning over all in corruption. He saw that corruption held us all the closer, because it was the penalty for the Transgression; He saw, too, how unthinkable it would be for the law to be repealed before it was fulfilled. He saw how unseemly it was that the very things of which He Himself was the Artificer should be disappearing. He saw how the surpassing wickedness of men was mounting up against them; He saw also their universal liability to death.
“All this He saw and, pitying our race, moved with compassion for our limitation, unable to endure that death should have the mastery, rather than that His creatures should perish and the work of His Father for us men come to nought, He took to Himself a body, a human body even as our own. Nor did He will merely to become embodied or merely to appear; had that been so, He could have revealed His divine majesty in some other and better way.
“No, He took our body, and not only so, but He took it directly from a spotless, stainless virgin, without the agency of human father—a pure body, untainted by intercourse with man. He, the Mighty One, the Artificer of all, Himself prepared this body in the virgin as a temple for Himself, and took it for His very own, as the instrument through which He was known and in which He dwelt. Thus, taking a body like our own, because all our bodies were liable to the corruption of death, He surrendered His body to death instead of all, and offered it to the Father.
“This He did out of sheer love for us, so that in His death all might die, and the law of death thereby be abolished because, having fulfilled in His body that for which it was appointed, it was thereafter voided of its power for men. This He did that He might turn again to incorruption men who had turned back to corruption, and make them alive through death by the appropriation of His body and by the grace of His resurrection. Thus He would make death to disappear from them as utterly as straw from fire.”

From Athanasius, On the Incarnation, chapter 2.

John Piper Interviews Rick Warren on Doctrine

I finally had a chance to sit down and listen to Pastor John's interview of Rick Warren. I was very moved by it. Rick Warren had a profound effect on my life fifteen years ago--I'll blog about that some other time--but then I became very disaffected of the seeker church movement and therefore did not see or hear or read any of Rick's material for a number of years. I actually had the privilege of meeting him in 1997 and having spent that brief time with him, I knew that he was a genuine man of God even though I strongly disagreed with some of his emphases in teaching and ministry.

John Piper has influenced my life in ministry more than any other. He is a father in ministry to me and I love him very much. I remember having lunch with him at the Old Country Buffet just north of Minneapolis in 2004 or 2005 and telling him a bit about my journey in ministry. Somewhere along the way Rick Warren's name came up and I shared my critique of several aspects of his ministry but then insisted that he's a genuine man of God. From that day forward, I began to long and pray that Pastors John and Rick would meet and get to know one another, and I can't tell you how joyous it makes me to see that that prayer was finally answered. I'm certainly not implying that my prayers had much of anything to do with their meeting, I'm just saying that this has been a longing of my heart for some time and I praise God for the fact that it actually came to pass.

I pray that as their relationship grows, Pastor John will influence Pastor Rick in some particular ways, and through him the hundreds of thousands of pastors who look to him, and I pray that Pastor Rick would influence Pastor John in some particular ways.

This interview is long, about 1.5 hours. But it will be worth your time. Why watch a stupid movie you'll forget later anyway when you could invest that same amount of time in something that will build up your heart and mind in Christ?

I'd love to hear your reactions to the interview, here's the link: John Piper Interviews Rick Warren on Doctrine.

Friday, December 16, 2011

So Proud of our Rachel

Kim and I are so proud of our baby--well, she's a big baby now! Earlier today we received the letter of notification that Rachel has been accepted at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. For the time being she's in the Liberal Arts program but will soon explore more specific possibilities.

Many of you have already been where I'm at but this is my first, and last, time and I'm SO proud! And more so, I'm thankful to the Lord Jesus who's been so gracious to us over the years and provided for us in many ways and endowed our child with a passion for learning and an ability to do so. May she heed the wisdom of 1 Corinthians 10:31 and put her hand to the plow of developing her mind for the glory of God and the good of others.

So, glory to God and...YEAH!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Coming Catholic TV Ad Blitz

Did you know that the Catholic Church has planned a massive $3.5 million TV ad campaign designed to persuade ex-Catholics to return to the Roman Catholic Church? The campaign is entitled "Catholics Come Home" and is scheduled to take place between December 16 - January 8. This morning I read a very helpful article about this by Chris Castaldo which you can read here.

Please join me in praying that the Lord will somehow use this campaign for the glory of his name and the salvation of those who are persuaded to seek out the truth about Jesus for themselves.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Oh the Beauty of the Mercy of God

Here's a devotional I wrote for our church this week.

When I came to know Jesus Christ in October of 1986, the mercy of God was very precious to me. I had lived a rough life and certainly did not deserve the kindness God had poured upon me, but now that I’ve been walking with the Lord for twenty five years, I must say that his mercy has become all the more precious.
Why is this so? Simply because over the years I’ve had the privilege of seeing more shades of it, depths of it, and expressions of it in the Word of God, the history of the church, and my own life. The mercy of God has been made manifest in so many ways in my life, and in the world around me, that I feel breath-taken by the value and beauty of the God whose heart is filled with it.
And surely God is so infinitely saturated with mercy that he ceaselessly overflows with the same, both to the righteous and the unrighteous, the evil and the good (Matthew 5:45). In fact, mercy is so central to the character of God that he would cease to be God without it, for mercy is not merely an action God takes or a substance God distributes but something God is. Mercy is endemic to his being and an essential quality of life. Indeed, without the mercy of God life itself would be unthinkable, impossible.
Now, what precisely do I mean when I speak of the mercy of God? The mercy of God is that aspect of the character of God which compels him to forgive sin, forebear offense, and restore the offender to right relationship with himself when he or she rightly deserves judgment, punishment, and wrath. So while words like compassion, understanding, patience, kindness, and forgiveness are distinct from mercy, they together help us grasp its meaning.
But having said that I must hasten to say that defining mercy is like defining beauty: I suppose it’s necessary but definitions will never capture the essence of what it is. Mercy has to be received in order to be understood. It has to be felt in order to seem beautiful in our eyes.
So I want to encourage you today, in the words of the Psalmist, to open your mouths wide that God may fill you with the goodness and beauty and joy of his mercy in Jesus Christ (Psalm 81:10). Open your hearts to the greatest gift of all, Jesus Christ, and in so doing discover the heart of Christmas. If you will do this, I promise that you will come to that place with me where your soul honestly and instinctually cries out and says, “Oh how beautiful the mercy of God!”

Breath-taken by the mercy of God in Christ,
Pastor Charlie