Some words to a scared, dying man

Clement Read Vaughan, writing to his old friend who was about to die and fearing death, wondering if he’d have enough faith to die well. He gave the metaphor of a traveler coming to a chasm over which a bridge was built:

What does he do to breed confidence in the bridge? He looks at the bridge; he gets down and examines it. He don’t [sic]  stand at the bridge-head and turn his thoughts curiously in on his own mind to see if he has confidence in the bridge. If his examination of the bridge gives him a certain amount of confidence, and yet he wants more, how does he make his faith grow? Why, in the same way; he still continues to examine the bridge. Now, my dear old man, let your faith take care of itself for awhile, and you just think of what you are allowed to trust in. Think of the Master’s power, think of his love; think how he is interested in the soul that searches for him, and will not be comforted until he finds him. Think of what he has done, his work. That blood of his is mightier than all the sins of all the sinners that ever lived. Don’t you think it will master yours?…

Now, dear old friend, I have done to you just what I would want you to do to me if I were lying in your place. The great theologian, after all, is just like any other one of God’s children, and the simple gospel talked to him is just as essential as it is to a milk-maid of a plow-boy. May God give you grace, not to lay too much stress on your faith, but to grasp the great ground of confidence, Christ, and all his work and all his personal fitness to be a sinner’s refuge. Faith is only an eye to see him. I have been praying that God would quiet your pains as you advance, and enable you to see the gladness of the gospel at every step. Good-bye. God be with you as he will. Think of the Bridge!

Your brother,


From Why Johnny Can’t Preach: The Media Have Shaped the Messengers by T. David Gordon, cited from The Life And Letters Of Robert Lewis Dabney (1903), by Thomas Cary Johnson

Put faith in Christ, not faith in faith.

I tend to be an introspective person. This is not a virtue or a vice; it’s simply the way God made me, and it’s complete with its benefits and struggles. Sometimes I wish I was different (something introverts do a lot), but, by God’s grace, I am what I am, and I must make do with what I’ve got.

Believe it or not, a tweet has rattled my little introverted world of self-examination. Earlier this week, Desiring God hosted a conference for pastors on the topic of prayer. Typical of these kinds of conferences, my twitter feed was bombarded with listeners tweeting good quotes from the messages. The little 140 character note that stayed with me was not a quote from any of the speakers themselves. It was a quote from the long-dead Robert Murray McCheyne:

“For every one look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ.”

I am guilty of abusing 1 Corinthians 13:5 “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith.” I’ve used that as an excuse to constantly and continually dwell upon me. Scrutinizing my every action and motivation; dissecting every word and deed. I dwell more on my faith than my Christ. And the result is a very self-centered and self-belittling lifestyle that paralyzes forward progress in Christ.

Our hope is not in faith, it’s in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the source, the sustenance, and the satisfaction of our lives. The constant need to examine my faith, examine my faith, examine my faith— is rooted it self-trust. The underlying assumption is that it’s my faith that earns God’s smile, completely forgetting that faith itself is a gift from God (Eph. 2:8-10). We can’t trust our faith, it’s often feeble and frail. What we can trust is a strong, faithful, merciful Savior. Our hope is not in faith. It’s in Christ.

I’ve thought of a few signs that might mean you’re putting faith in faith instead of Christ, or that you’re looking to closely at yourself instead of Christ:

  • You live with a low-level constant tinge of guilt, that you’re not doing enough.
  • You doubt your ability to overcome sin issues in your life.
  • You sink into depression you feel your faith is weak.

Consider this quote by A.W. Pink that I came across in his old book Spiritual Growth:

“Nor are the justified bidden to ‘live upon their faith,’ though many try to do so. No, the believer is to live upon Christ, yet it is only by faith that he can do so. Let us be as simple as possible: I break my fast with food, yet I partake of that food by means of a spoon. I feed myself, yet it is the food and not the spoon I eat…The Christian makes a serious blunder when he attempts to live upon the faith he fancies he can find or feel within himself: rather he is to feed upon the Word, and this he does on the Word, and this he does only so far as his faith is operative– as faith lays hold of and appropriates its holy and blessed contents.”

To grow in faith, look to Christ, not to faith!

Come Empty, All You Sinners!

First, we should come as we are: weak and weary sinners in need of a strong Christ. It is no virtue to pretend to be without need, especially before God. That’s pride. We are needy people; we need Christ, we need His assurance, we need His hope, we need His peace, we need His rest, we need His joy, we need contentment in Him.

Before we are able to give God anything we must first come to grips with our utter inability to give God anything.  Only in the very act of desperately acknowledging that there is nothing within us to give, we are able to give to God. But the gift we give isn’t something God needs, or doesn’t have.

What we give Him is already rightfully His. He is the Great Redeemer, the Glorious Shepherd, our Hope, our Peace, our Comfort, our Joy, and when we come to Him empty, we give him the place of Redeemer, Hope-giver, Comforter, and Burden-lifter in our lives. It is His rightful place. And, in homely, earthen vessels, He shows Himself to be magnificent.

Jesus bids us “Come,” that he may give us rest! Jesus isn’t asking anything from you except to find rest in Him!

Stop trying to give to God! Come empty, all you sinners, and let your cup be filled!

The hidden mirth of Christ

Joy, which was the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian. And as I close this chaotic volume I open again the strange small book from which all Christianity came; and I am again haunted by a kind of confirmation. The tremendous figure which fills the Gospels towers in this respect, as in every other, above all the thinkers who ever thought themselves tall. His pathos was natural, almost casual. The Stoics, ancient and modern, were proud of concealing their tears. He never concealed His tears; He showed them plainly on His open face at any daily sight, such as the far sight of His native city. Yet He concealed something.

Solemn supermen and imperial diplomatists are proud of retraining their anger. He never restrained His anger. He flung furniture down the front steps of the Temple, and asked men how they expected to escape the damnation of Hell. Yet He restrained something.

I say it with reverence; there was in that shattering personality a thread that must be called shyness. There was something that He hid from all men when He went up a mountain to pray. There was something that He covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation.

There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when he walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth.

G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Why do bad things happen to good people? PART TWO

Here is the second part in this series that aims to answer the question Why do bad things happen to good people? To catch up, here are the earlier posts in the series:

Introduction: Where We’re Going

Part One: There’s no such thing as a “good” person. All we enjoy is pure, unmerited grace.

Here’s the second point:

* * *

2. The highest good in the universe is God’s exaltation, and therefore everything God does is toward that end.

God created the world with a purpose. The single-unifying reason for everything that exists  is God’s glory. If God permits life, it is because life will bring him glory. If God takes life, it is because in taking life he is glorified.

In Isaiah 48:9-11, God defers his anger for his own glory. This is my favorite verse to demonstrate this truth because it’s so unmistakably clear. God is bent after his own glory.

“For my name’s sake I defer my anger, for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you,

That I may not cut you off.

Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver, I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.

For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it,

For how should my name be profaned?

My glory I will not give to another.”

Listen to the way Jesus prays “The Lord’s Prayer” in Matthew 6—God the Son is praying to God the Father and blessing his name. The Godhead is glorifying itself.

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name…”

We were predestined for adoption through Jesus Christ for God’s glory. Our very salvation is God acting for his own glory. He saved us for his own praise:

In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace.” (Ephesians 1:4b-6)

We serve each other by God’s power for God’s glory. God supplies the power so that he will get the glory. God gives us strength so that we will use that strength to glorify Jesus.

“…whoever serves, [serve] as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 4:11)

And here’s the kicker (I am going to come back to this in the final post)—everything was created through Jesus Christ for Jesus Christ.

“For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.”

God created everything to display his glory to the world. The way God works toward this highest good is through revealing himself. God works toward self-exaltation by self-revelation.  When God’s character is seen without obscurity, it is worshiped. The deeper we understand God, the higher our affections rise for him. No man can stand before the visible, almighty God unbroken. When God appears, people worship.

So God is unstoppably aimed at revealing himself in his creation so that he will be worshiped.

Offended? Shocked?

Are you weirded out by the fact that God always does everything for himself? This truth of scripture is everywhere, but often not thought much about. And the reason we don’t like to think about it is because we can’t reconcile a God who does everything for his own glory with a God who is infinitely loving.

For example, if I walked into a room and told you all to worship me, you’d throw tomatoes.

Why then, is it okay for God?

Why is it okay for God to demand worship and punish those who don’t?

We established yesterday that God owes us nothing but wrath and that every ounce of life and enjoyment we have is sheer grace.

Today we solidified the truth that God acts always according to his own glory. He is relentlessly dedicated to glorifying himself. Perhaps we have found it disconcerting.

Tomorrow, we will see how God’s pursuit of his own glory is actually God’s greatest act of love.

* * *


Point Three: The highest good (God’s exaltation) is also God’s greatest act of love.


Point Four: The highest good (God’s exaltation) and our highest joy (worship) could not be accomplished if evil had not entered the world.

Finding Hope Amidst Your Sin

Peter said to him, ‘Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’ Jesus answered, ‘Will you say down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.’ (John 13:37-38)

The account of Peter’s declaration of his willingness to die for his Lord is one that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. Peter has good intentions that the Lord sees straight through. Jesus knows Peter’s desires, but he also knows his weaknesses. He knows the sins of denial that Peter is about to commit.

We like to make bold claims for our Lord. But often, our eyes are bigger than our stomach. We believe we are much more capable than we actually are many times. We downplay our capacity for sin and we bank our stalwart abilities to do what’s right. We look at ourselves and think “Pshh, I could do that.” In other words, too often we are woefully self-dependent.

This story has the piercing ability to cut through self-sufficiency and self-reliance and bring us to our knees before the cross. Here are three reflections on the little story:

1. God already knows when we will sin, and what the sin will be. It is clear to him. And Jesus doesn’t forsake us because of it– his love for us doesn’t change–he still goes to the cross. O what a savior!

2. God is not dependent on our obedience to accomplish his purposes— in fact, our failures can be used for good. For example– in the Luke account of the story Jesus said to Peter, “And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (22:32). His ability to strengthen the brothers came after he was broken. It is good to get broken now and again.

3. Good intentions, commitments, or aspirations to obedience don’t mean anything. The obedience that matters is the obedience you incarnate– not the kind you hypothetically will do if such-and-such happens.

“When Satan tempts me to despair, and tells me of the guilt within, upward I look and see him there, who made an end to all my sin.” Hope in the gospel, even when your adversary the devil tells you otherwise.

Thoughts: Heaven Without Jesus

A heaven without Jesus doesn’t make any sense for the born-again believer. Such a place might be nice, but it would not be heaven. It may be a better place than here, but ultimately it would prove to be tantalizing. The reason why freedom from sin is so appealing to the Christian is not ultimately because sin is painful (though it is), or that it hurts others (which it does) but is because sin blinds the spiritual eyes from seeing the glory of Christ. Sin obscures, trivializes, and clouds Jesus Christ in all His wonderful glory. The goodness of heaven and the benefit of sinless perfection is fundamentally in the fact that we are finally able to enjoy Christ’s beauty, goodness, and perfection without the obstruction of sin. A heaven without Christ is simply not possible. And for one who is a new creation in Christ to be in such a place would be similar to the eternal punishment of Tantalus in Hades, who reached for the satisfying fruit above him but could not reach; who bent over for the satisfying water but could not drink.  To see Christ in all his glory without being able to be near him and enjoy him, would not be heaven. It would be hell.

If I Were an Invisible Time-Traveling Photographer

If I were an invisible time-traveling photographer, I would go the the upper room, where Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. I’d get my camera aimed and ready to get a shot of Jesus washing Judas’ feet.

It’d be hard to decide where to take the picture from.  Would I take it from Jesus’ back, as he held one of Judas’ dirty feet with one hand and a soaked his towel in the other, ready to gently scrub away the dirt-stains?  I could get a straight shot into Judas’ eyes– furrowed with conflicting thoughts, yet unmistakably resolute; twitchy. Mesmerized by what Jesus was doing, but always avoiding the lamb-like eyes of his Rabbi.

Or I could position myself over Judas’ shoulder and shoot directly into the face of Jesus.  His concentration intense on Judas’ feet, his strong carpenter hands moving gently like a shepherd stroking his ewe lamb. Firm, and tender– cleansing. His eyes tell of his involvement with something beyond Judas’ comprehension; like a man present in body but absent in spirit– obviously engaged in something much deeper than the mere washing of feet. Utterly humble, yet with a confidence and authority never before seen. An apparent deep sorrow and a contradicting glint of joy.

Was that a smile on his lips?


Alive King Jesus- Dead King Herod

Chris McKinny gives insight to what Jesus could have literally seen as he made his way up the Mount of Olives during entrance into Jerusalem. Here’s an excerpt:

It’s quite probable that Jesus looked to his left, towards the Judean Wilderness and the Dead Sea, and saw the tomb of the jealous “king” who once sought to have Him murdered by killing the babies of David’s city – the king who claimed to be the true king of the Jews now rotting in an illustrious tomb unloved and still posthumously trying not to be forgotten.  Jesus was about to show Israel and the whole world what true kingship was all about.

Give them Gospel

What’s the point of trying to entertain kids toward Jesus. Never works. How about some gospel?

Today I am going to share with you the pure gospel.

You who have been Christians all your lives: please do not turn off your ears.  The minute you think that the gospel is something that saved you in the past, and is not something to help you right now today is the day you cease to grow in Christ.  You can never outgrow the gospel. Listen.

The gospel is the good news that Jesus came to earth as a man, lived a perfect life and died on the cross. On the third day he rose victorious over the powers of hell, Satan, and sin.

He died the death we should have died, and offered a righteousness we didn’t deserve. So that, if we believe in him—with real authentic belief, not just “belief” on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights—we will be forgiven of our sins, and adopted by God as his sons and daughters into his eternal heavenly kingdom.

There are three categories of students in this room.

  1. Some of you know this, and you stake your life on the promises of God. You strive to live every moment by the power of the gospel. You want more people to know and understand and believe it. I thank God for students like you.
  2. Some of you know the gospel, but your life doesn’t match up. You live like a hypocrite. You say that you live for Jesus but you don’t. Christianity is just something to help you when you feel down or depressed—it’s not your everything. You know the gospel intellectually, but you haven’t tasted it. God knows your heart, not me.
  3. And then there are without a doubt some of you who either don’t know the gospel or don’t believe the gospel. You are not trusting in Jesus Christ, so you can only expect condemnation.

Here is my plea for all of you. Believe the gospel. That Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died for your sins. He rose triumphantly on the third day. Forgiveness of sins comes freely through him by faith alone. Not by following rules, but simply by faith.

Do not put it off. Please come talk to me.

This is the talk I gave today at IMPACT, the on campus ministry we have at Fallbrook High School.