Ray Ortlund Posts – The Gospel Coalition https://www.thegospelcoalition.org The Gospel Coalition Wed, 06 Dec 2023 06:51:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Let’s ponder this Schaeffer quote about once a week https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/the-most-important-thing-outside-the-bible-i-have-ever-read/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/the-most-important-thing-outside-the-bible-i-have-ever-read/#respond Fri, 29 Sep 2023 18:10:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/the-most-important-thing-outside-the-bible-i-have-ever-read/ 496239942_640

“The central problem of our age is not liberalism or modernism, nor the old Roman Catholicism or the new Roman Catholicism, nor the threat of communism, nor even the threat of rationalism and the monolithic consensus which surrounds us [nor, I would add today, postmodernism or materialistic consumerism or visceral sensualism or whatever]. All these are dangerous but not the primary threat. The real problem is this: the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, individually or corporately, tending to do the Lord’s work in the power of the flesh rather than of the Spirit. The central problem is always in the midst of the people of God, not in the circumstances surrounding them.”

Francis A. Schaeffer, No Little People (Wheaton, 2003), page 66.

Your life is prophetic https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/your-life-is-prophetic/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/your-life-is-prophetic/#respond Fri, 22 Sep 2023 15:35:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/your-life-is-prophetic/ In explaining what makes a great story, C. S. Lewis notes one category:

“Another very large class of stories turns on fulfilled prophecies — the story of Oedipus, or The Man Who Would Be King, or The Hobbit. In most of them the very steps taken to prevent the fulfillment of the prophecy actually bring it about. . . . Such stories produce (at least in me) a feeling of awe, coupled with a certain sort of bewilderment . . . .”

C. S. Lewis, “On Stories,” in Of Other Worlds, page 15.

Your life, my life, is a story of divine prophetic intention. An ancient and glorious purpose is playing out through us today. Our hearts sense it. The Bible confirms it. The surprise is — sometimes filling us with awe and bewilderment — the surprise is that the very obstacles to the fulfillment we long for are in fact its stepping stones.

Every burial sets the stage for a resurrection, as promised.

Revival changes how we think https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/revival-and-how-we-think/ Tue, 11 Jul 2023 18:15:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/revival-and-how-we-think/

“In all our efforts to cure the disorders of the mind, or what is the same thing, to produce or promote a revival of religion, we are to depend chiefly on the means which God himself has appointed.”

W. B. Sprague, Lectures on Revivals of Religion (Edinburgh, 1978), page 117. Italics added.

I will not take time to qualify Sprague’s wording here about producing revival. He was theologically kosher. I have another interest at this time.

I am struck by how Sprague equates revival with curing the disorders of the mind. True revival is not just an emotional catharsis, though that may well be included. But true revival cures the disorders of our minds – the invalid assumptions that have held us back, but we’ve never seen how defunct they are. Commonly, these disorders are forms of self-exaltation. Their cure includes, primarily, the repentance of God-exaltation.

The Beatitudes can help us objectify the disorders of our self-referential minds. Let’s flip the Beatitudes into their opposites:

Congratulations to the entitled, for this world lies at their feet.
Congratulations to the carefree, for they shall be comfortable.
Congratulations to the pushy, for they shall get ahead.
Congratulations to the greedy, for they shall climb the food chain.
Congratulations to the vengeful, for they shall be feared.
Congratulations to those who don’t get caught, for they shall look good.
Congratulations to the argumentative, for they shall get in the last word.
Congratulations to the popular, for this world lies at their feet.

Doesn’t that describe our world, including our worldly churches? But what happens in revival is this. The gospel captures our minds with such clarity that God is exalted again in our deepest thoughts and feelings. It shows:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:3-10

That is what revival looks like. It reveals a change in our whole way of thinking. May God raise up multitudes of Beatitudes-minded churches the whole world over.

The Ministry of Reconciliation https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/the-ministry-of-reconciliation/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/the-ministry-of-reconciliation/#respond Sat, 20 May 2023 16:00:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/the-ministry-of-reconciliation/

“But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.”  Genesis 33:4

This has long struck me as one of the most beautiful verses in the Bible. I can’t read it without being moved. We all feel the power of it. When we see ex-friends reconciling, so removing every barrier that they run and embrace and fall on one another’s necks—I love that expression—and weep, the beauty of it gets to us. Not a negotiated settlement. No face-saving hypocrisy. Honest. Unforced. Deeply felt. We all perceive true reconciliation with awe. It is of God.

The apostle Paul said, “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18). He didn’t mention “moments of reconciliation now and then, when I feel like it.” He said that God had given him “the ministry of reconciliation.” In other words, “Reconciliation is all I do. It’s how I roll. What else is there for me, as a minister of the gospel?”

Left to ourselves, we might think it’s okay to leave ex-friends as ex-friends. No further harm is being done. Why not “just move on”? That’s the glib slogan we might use. And Paul did qualify his hopes for reconciliation: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18). Some people just shut down. We try, but they’re not open. So, it doesn’t depend on you or me at that point, not any more. We have to leave it with God. But so far as it does depend on us, we seek out a real experience of shalom with all, absolutely all, for the Lord’s sake.

The gospel being what it is and always will be, “the message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19), our churches should be the most reconciling, peaceable, happy places in town. We are so open to enemies, so meek in the face of injuries, so forgiving toward the undeserving—if we do make people angry, let this be the reason. We refuse to join in their selfish battles. We’re following a higher call. We are the peacemakers, the true sons of God (Matthew 5:9).

May our ministries of reconciliation stand out with public obviousness.

Quietness vs. prominence https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/quietness-vs-prominence/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/quietness-vs-prominence/#respond Fri, 14 Apr 2023 13:47:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/quietness-vs-prominence/ return-of-the-prodigal-sons2

“I have calmed and quieted my soul.”  Psalm 131:2

How did David get into that quiet place before God? He forsook ambition. “My eyes are not raised too high,” he wrote in Psalm 131. He checked that restless impulse of ingratitude and the itch of attention-seeking. He settled into the role and place God had assigned to him (2 Corinthians 10:13). He trusted in the wisdom and goodness of God’s providential care.

“Like a weaned child is my soul within me.” No longer fretful, demanding, impatient, infantile, David’s heart came to rest with a sense of God’s plan, God’s nearness. The prodigal living near to his Father again—David was happy just to be there.

The upward glance to the higher place of visibility and recognition, the longing for more attention and acclaim—it destroys quietness of heart. Francis Schaeffer, in his sermon “No little people, no little places,” counsels us to look by faith beyond our place, wherever it may be, into the greater battle raging in the heavenlies today, the real battle of our generation that bears no necessary relation to the seeming prominence or the seeming obscurity of the soldiers involved, and trust that the Lord of hosts is deploying each of us most effectively right where we are, moment by moment. Human appearances can be false. Divine strategies are unfailing.

Unless I am extruded (Schaeffer’s wonderful word) into the higher place by the force of God’s own hand, my grasping ambition ends up counting for less than before, not more, no matter how impressive my promotion may appear.

Quietness of heart before God is more powerful than prominence of position before man.

A kind of explosion of joy https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/a-kind-of-explosion-of-joy/ Mon, 03 Apr 2023 14:00:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/a-kind-of-explosion-of-joy/ 110572-m

“There has been a long tradition which sees the mission of the Church primarily as obedience to a command. It has been customary to speak of ‘the missionary mandate.’ This way of putting the matter is certainly not without justification, and yet it seems to me that it misses the point. It tends to make mission a burden rather than a joy, to make it part of the law rather than part of the gospel. If one looks at the New Testament evidence, one gets another impression. Mission begins with a kind of explosion of joy. The news that the rejected and crucified Jesus is alive is something that cannot possibly be suppressed. It must be told. Who could be silent about such a fact? The mission of the Church in the pages of the New Testament is more like the fallout from a vast explosion, a radioactive fallout which is not lethal but life-giving.”

Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (Grand Rapids, 1989), page 116.

The mission of the church flows out of the renewal of the church.

Everything just so https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/gale-of-spirit/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/gale-of-spirit/#respond Wed, 02 Nov 2022 14:40:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/gale-of-spirit/ the-right-honourable-selina-countess-of-huntingdon-1707-1791-foundress-and-benefactress

The Countess of Huntingdon recalled the funeral service of Rev. Howell Harris in 1773:

“On the day Mr. Harris was interred we had some special seasons of Divine influence both upon converted and unconverted. It was a day never to be forgotten, but I think ought to be remembered with holy wonder and gratitude by all who were present. . . . Though we had enjoyed much of the gracious presence of God in our assemblies before, yet I think I never saw so much at any time as on that day; especially when the Lord’s Supper was administered, God poured out his Spirit in a wonderful manner. Many old Christians told me they had never seen so much of the glory of the Lord and the riches of his grace, nor felt so much of the gospel before.”

Who wrote that? Hardly a nut. She was upper-class British, 18th-century, Jane Austen’s world. A highly structured culture. Everything just so. And in that culture, in a Bible-believing, standard-brand, non-eccentric theological setting, both the converted and the unconverted were receiving an unforgettable outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones asks, “Does our doctrine of the Holy Spirit and his work leave any room for revival either in the individual or in the church, or is it a doctrine which says that we have all received everything we can have of the Spirit at regeneration, and all we need is to surrender to what we have already? Does our doctrine allow for an outpouring of the Spirit, the ‘gale’ of the Spirit coming down upon us individually and collectively? . . . Is not the greatest sin among Evangelical people today that of quenching the Spirit?”

The longer I live, the more intensely I long for the end of quenching and the return of outpouring.

Quotes from D. M. Lloyd-Jones, The Puritans: Their Origins and Successors (Edinburgh, 1987), pages 301-302.

The blessing we dread https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/the-blessing-we-dread/ Wed, 12 Oct 2022 17:50:38 +0000 http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/?post_type=ray-ortlund&p=107502

For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Psalm 32:3-4

We hate owning up. Maybe nothing is more painful than facing ourselves and admitting the ugly truth God shows us. We’d rather die than go there. So the Lord helps us get there by making us thoroughly miserable, until our hearts finally crack open, and the confession pours out. Then, what relief!

I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Psalm 32:5

It was when David came out in confession that, to his astonishment, he was “surrounded with shouts of deliverance” (verse 7) among God’s penitent people.

A strong evidence of revival power is when we get so fed up with our wretched excuses that we fall at the Lord’s feet, face into what we’ve been avoiding, and there discover new depths of his mercy for the undeserving. This is especially compelling when our confessions become public, as that may be appropriate. Consider this eyewitness account of revival in Korea from a missionary there in 1907:

“Then began a meeting the like of which I had never seen before, nor wish to see again, unless in God’s sight it is absolutely necessary. Every sin a human being can commit was publicly confessed that night. Pale and trembling with emotion, in agony of mind and body, guilty souls, standing in the white light of their judgment, saw themselves as God saw them. Their sins rose up in all their vileness, till shame and grief and self-loathing took complete possession; pride was driven out, the face of man forgotten. Looking up to heaven, to Jesus whom they had betrayed, they smote themselves and cried out with bitter wailing: ‘Lord, Lord, cast us not away forever!’ Everything else was forgotten, nothing else mattered. The scorn of men, the penalty of the law, even death itself seemed of small consequence, if only God forgave. We may have other theories of the desirability or undesirability of public confession of sin. I have had mine; but I know now that when the Spirit of God falls upon guilty souls, there will be confession, and no power on earth can stop it.”

The Lord is moving in our own day too, and we are grateful. But we are not yet consumed by this urgency to get right with God and with one another. We seldom hear such cries of repentance.

God longs to bless our churches and our ministries. But if we think, Our image must not suffer, then we don’t really want God’s blessing. And he knows how to take a hint.

But what if our long-unconfessed sins gush out in repentance before God and one another? We too will be “surrounded with shouts of deliverance” under the mighty outpouring of revival God will send down.

The peace of Christ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/the-peace-of-christ/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/the-peace-of-christ/#respond Thu, 04 Aug 2022 11:00:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/the-peace-of-christ/ “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” (Col. 3:15) The tsunami of sin flooding the world today touches us all. We add to it. We suffer from it. It is flooding our churches. If somehow we could all get together and gently swap stories, my hunch is we would be shocked at the mistreatment that has been dished out to many of us by churches—both by abusive leaders and by abusive members. There is, of course, a difference between being hurt and being harmed. I am not thinking of people who get their feathers ruffled and then...]]> “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” (Col. 3:15)

The tsunami of sin flooding the world today touches us all. We add to it. We suffer from it. It is flooding our churches.

If somehow we could all get together and gently swap stories, my hunch is we would be shocked at the mistreatment that has been dished out to many of us by churches—both by abusive leaders and by abusive members. There is, of course, a difference between being hurt and being harmed. I am not thinking of people who get their feathers ruffled and then howl their complaints. I am thinking of people who have been harmed and wronged, people who have suffered slander, lies, loss of position, loss of reputation, loss of friends, and more. Many reading this post have suffered in these and other ways. It is shocking what churches can do—both leaders and members.

Wouldn’t life be easier if we fought our battles on only one front at a time? But we usually fight on two fronts at once—not just conflict with others but also conflict with ourselves. We need God’s help to be especially aware of all that endangers us within.

What can a sufferer easily lose sight of? Keeping himself, too, under the judgment of the Word of God. A sufferer looks at the wrongs done to him, and he brings them under the judgment of God’s Word. Good. But it is easy to be so focused there that the sufferer doesn’t notice how, in his appropriate indignation, he might mistreat those who mistreated him.

Never mount a campaign to correct those who wronged you. The Bible says, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God” (Rom. 12:19). The wrath of God is all the wrath this world needs. It would be nice if unjust people finally owned up. But they don’t have the self-awareness to do that, which is what makes them unjust in the first place. They will never see it until God opens their blind eyes. But he will. And only he can. If you appoint yourself the one to open their eyes, you are putting yourself in the place of God—which is what your abuser did to you. Don’t let your abuser make you an abuser. Sit tight, and trust in the Lord. This is extremely difficult. But your own moral fervor will inevitably make things worse. So, the extremely difficult choice you are left with is this: a bad situation (of their making) versus a worse situation (of their and your making). That really stinks, doesn’t it?

Heaven will be a relief. But for now, while we’re still in this mess, our primary business is with God. In fact, our primary battle might even be with God. My recommendation, as a pastor, is that you wave the white flag of surrender to him. Not to them, but to him. Rather than be frustrated that he isn’t fighting for you the way you’d like, why not do what the Bible says and trust him to deliver you in his own time and way, and maybe not until we are all standing before him above? There is no danger in trusting the Lord. If you’re going to err, err toward waiting on him to vindicate you. When he does—not if he does, but when he does—it will be much more satisfying. What could be greater than for Almighty God to rise up and say about you, “This one you mistreated is my beloved, my friend, my servant. Back off”? That moment is coming. “He will deliver you” (Prov. 20:22).

Trust him. Trust him. Trust him. And let the peace of Christ rule in your heart.

Psalm 1, a reverse translation https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/psalm-1-new-translation/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/psalm-1-new-translation/#respond Wed, 22 Jun 2022 00:45:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/psalm-1-new-translation/ 5299578154_b5093a2286_z
Blighted is the man
who doesn’t stick his neck out,
doesn’t think for himself,
doesn’t revere anything.
But he laughs on cue
while watching TV day and night.
He is like everybody else.
In all that he does, he gets by.
The believers are not so,
they don’t move with the times.
Therefore, the godly will not stand
in the court of human approval,
nor the Christlike at the best parties in town.
For who’s to say what is right?
And doesn’t everybody go to heaven?

Happy beyond description https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/6-happy-beyond-description/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/6-happy-beyond-description/#respond Sat, 21 May 2022 14:45:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/6-happy-beyond-description/

In 1851 a group of British missionaries to Tierra del Fuego was forced to winter in the bitter cold while they waited for their supply ship to arrive. It came too late. They all died of cold and starvation. On Good Friday, April 18th, Richard Williams, a surgeon and Methodist lay preacher, wrote in his journal, “Poor and weak though we are, our abode is a very Bethel to our souls [Genesis 28:10-19], and God we feel and know is here.” On Wednesday, May 7th, he wrote, “Should anything prevent my ever adding to this, let all my beloved ones at home rest assured that I was happy beyond description when I wrote these lines and would not have changed situations with any man living.”

“If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”  John 14:23

Why I Got out of Twitter https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/why-i-got-out-of-twitter/ Mon, 09 May 2022 19:22:20 +0000 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/?post_type=ray-ortlund&p=478119 Scrolling Twitter is an intense experience. But its intensity can fool us.]]> This is personal. I’m not criticizing anyone else. For some, Twitter might even be a necessity. But I’m out. Reluctantly, because it is possible to do some good on Twitter. But still, I’m out.

Why? I’ll make it brief.

My outlook on Twitter is influenced by these Scriptures:

“Give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all” (Romans 12:17). Publicly obvious honor requires careful thought.

“Let your reasonableness be known to everyone” (Philippians 4:5). Christians should stand out for being reasonable people in this world of screaming rage.

“The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). Our moral fervor feels oh-so-good, but it is immoral and destroys righteousness.

“Let all things be done for building up” (1 Corinthians 14:26). “All things” includes every tweet. Every single one.

“A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back” (Proverbs 29:11). A thought that often occurs to me: “Ray, shut up.”

“As you enter the house, greet it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it. But if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you” (Matthew 10:12-13). Some people will never be satisfied, because they are unsatisfiable. When I find that to be so, the Lord counsels me to stop trying and, with sorrow, to turn away, allowing my peace to return to me.

Within the framework of these and other Scriptures, three considerations weigh on me:

One, the good that can be accomplished on Twitter can also be accomplished, and far more fruitfully, in real life.

Scrolling Twitter is an intense experience. But its intensity can fool us. It feels more real than it is. And the emotional demand claims too much. Twitter betrays the involvement it lures us into. We end up diminished, even injured, over and over again. For years, my own cost/benefit calculation kept tipping in favor of the benefits. I no longer see it that way.

Two, I am grieved by the behavior of Christians on Twitter. There are so many I admire! But Twitter can arouse the mean streak inside every one of us. And some of us honestly do not realize the harm we do. The reckless accusations, the eager gotchas, the angry finger-pointing, the trigger-happy reactions, the flippant slanders – I was rarely the target of such ugliness. But just observing it, my own soul began to suffer. I felt dirtied.

As I love to say, “Gospel doctrine creates gospel culture.” We all fall short of embodying the beauty of the gospel. I sure do. But when we cross the line into displaying the opposite of Jesus, repeatedly and publicly, I object. I object with every fiber of my being. I refuse to be involved.

Three, Twitter consumes time, and I have no time to waste. For a man in his 70s, I am surprisingly healthy. But sooner or later, something bad will come find me and take me out. Fine. Jesus is preparing an eternal place for me. But if I die, say, on my eightieth birthday – it’s hypothetical, but possible – then, as of today, I have only 2,677 days left in this world. And on my dying day, will I regret not spending time on Twitter? The answer is obvious.

I will miss interacting with my Twitter friends. You know who you are, and you’re magnificent. But friendship is at its best face-to-face. Wherever you are, God has given you true friends. As Shakespeare wisely urged us, “Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel!”

So why not call a friend right now and tell them how much they mean to you?

“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all” (2 Thessalonians 3:16).

P.S. I have downloaded a complete history of my Twitter activity. Everything is recorded.

Our courage is prophetic https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/courage-is-unanswerable/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/courage-is-unanswerable/#respond Thu, 03 Mar 2022 16:00:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/courage-is-unanswerable/

“. . . and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.”  Philippians 1:28

When opponents do their worst, and we’re still standing for Christ, that is “a clear sign,” a prophetic warning, that God is with us. For example, when the Empress Eudoxia, in the fourth century, threatened John Chrysostom with banishment, he told her, “You cannot banish me, for this world is my Father’s house.” “But I will kill you,” she said. “No, you cannot, for my life is hidden with Christ in God.” “Then I will take away your treasures.” “No, you cannot, for my treasure is in heaven, and my heart is there.” “But I will drive you away from your friends, and you will have no one left.” “No, you cannot, for I have a friend in heaven from whom you cannot separate me. I defy you, for there is nothing you can do to harm me.”

John Chrysostom’s courage made him “a clear sign” of the weakness of her power and of the power of his weakness.

How can our generation see the glory of Christ? Through our courage.

“One Anothers” I Can’t Find in the New Testament https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/one-anothers-i-cant-find-in-the-new-testament-2/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/one-anothers-i-cant-find-in-the-new-testament-2/#respond Tue, 04 Jan 2022 15:05:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/one-anothers-i-cant-find-in-the-new-testament-2/ The beautiful “one another” commands of the New Testament are famous. But it is also striking to notice the “one anothers” that do not appear there. For example, sanctify one another, humble one another, scrutinize one another, pressure one another, embarrass one another, corner one another, interrupt one another, defeat one another, sacrifice one another, shame one another, marginalize one another, exclude one another, judge one another, run one another’s lives, confess one another’s sins . . . . The kind of God we really believe in is revealed in how we treat one another. The lovely gospel of Jesus...]]> The beautiful “one another” commands of the New Testament are famous. But it is also striking to notice the “one anothers” that do not appear there.

For example, sanctify one another, humble one another, scrutinize one another, pressure one another, embarrass one another, corner one another, interrupt one another, defeat one another, sacrifice one another, shame one another, marginalize one another, exclude one another, judge one another, run one another’s lives, confess one another’s sins . . . .

The kind of God we really believe in is revealed in how we treat one another. The lovely gospel of Jesus positions us to treat one another like royalty, and every non-gospel positions us to treat one another like dirt.  But we will follow through horizontally on whatever we really believe vertically.

Our relationships with one another reveal to us what we really believe as opposed to what we think we believe, our convictions as opposed to our opinions. It is possible for the gospel to remain at the shallow level of opinion, even sincere opinion, without penetrating to the deeper level of conviction. But when the gospel grips us down in our convictions, we embrace its implications wholeheartedly. Therefore, when we mistreat one another, our problem is not a lack of surface niceness but a lack of gospel depth. What we need is not only better manners but, far more, true faith.

Then the watching world might start feeling that Jesus himself has come to town:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

Should or Can in 2022? https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/should-or-can-in-2022/ Thu, 30 Dec 2021 03:33:03 +0000 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/?post_type=ray-ortlund&p=441364 At the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in 1974, I heard Francis Schaeffer deliver the address which later became his essay, “Two Contents, Two Realities.” His overall point was this. If we hope to see profound gospel advance in our generation — and we do — then our churches must be marked by two contents and two realities. The two contents are (1) strong doctrine and (2) honest answers to honest questions. The two realities are (1) true spirituality and (2) the beauty of human relationships. That second reality, and even the way Schaeffer put it — “the beauty of...]]> At the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in 1974, I heard Francis Schaeffer deliver the address which later became his essay, “Two Contents, Two Realities.” His overall point was this. If we hope to see profound gospel advance in our generation — and we do — then our churches must be marked by two contents and two realities.

The two contents are (1) strong doctrine and (2) honest answers to honest questions. The two realities are (1) true spirituality and (2) the beauty of human relationships. That second reality, and even the way Schaeffer put it — “the beauty of human relationships” — has captivated me ever since.

Modifying Schaeffer’s paradigm, I will venture my own proposal for preconditions of profound gospel advance today. Three threads are woven together wonderfully in authentic Christianity:

1. Orthodox doctrine;

2. Gracious culture;

3. Lasting friendships.

Orthodox doctrine is clear enough. We all want to align closely with the Bible.

Gracious culture is harder to define. This dimension of a church is more atmospheric, intangible. It’s a matter of relational tone and vibe and feel. Hopefully, every church’s culture embodies its orthodox doctrine. But that isn’t automatic or easy. We nurture it. For example, “Therefore welcome one another, as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:7). So, where can the glory of God be clearly seen in the world today? At your church, at my church, when we welcome one another as Christ has welcomed us. Christ has not just tolerated us but welcomed us — sincerely, wholeheartedly, cheerfully. And when that gospel doctrine in the Bible translates into gospel culture in a church, the glory of God can be seen in the world today. That’s gracious culture, and it is just as authoritative, robust, serious and obligatory as orthodox doctrine.

Lasting friendships matter too, because faithful solidarity over the long haul proves the depth of our authenticity. It demonstrates our willingness to sacrifice for one another, when we feel like walking away. It’s also how we invest in the rising generation. With our track record of lasting friendships, our children can inherit the momentum and inspiration of partnerships that didn’t fragment but lasted through thick and thin.

I believe that orthodox doctrine, gracious culture and lasting friendships, if widely shared among our churches — by God’s grace, for his glory alone — can accomplish something profound in our generation. Much more could be said, of course. But I don’t see us making progress without these threads wonderfully woven together by us, among us.

So, at present, how are we doing? In my opinion, we — people who are drawn to this kind of website — we are strong on orthodox doctrine, but we’re weak in both gracious culture and lasting friendships. It seems to me that our Reformed tribe is less united and cohesive, more fragmented and aloof, than we were, say, ten years ago. Back then, I was wondering if our broad movement of gospel rediscovery might accelerate into historic revival. But by now, I wonder if we have squandered our historic opportunity.

Which leads me to wonder about the underlying quality of our commitment to orthodox doctrine. All our beliefs are of two kinds. We have opinions, on the conscious surface of our minds. We also have convictions, in the hidden depths of our hearts. If we are weak in gracious culture and lasting friendships, I wonder if our orthodox doctrine might be of the nature of opinion rather than of the nature of conviction. Strong opinion, to be sure! But not convictions that have settled deep into our hearts, changing us way down at the controlling center of our beings, sweetening us, drawing us together.

I think of myself as Exhibit A of how this can go wrong. The orthodox doctrine of justification by faith alone meant so such to me for so many years, even as I preached messages that counteracted the freeing impact of that very doctrine. I exhorted people too much, or in the wrong way. Exhortation is a biblical thing for a pastor to do. But the energy driving me deep within was not the happiness that flows from the good news of justification by faith alone. Something else was going on. I felt responsible to preach expositional sermons, marked by orthodox doctrine, to help all those sorry Christians get it together!

As proof of the disconnect between my good theological opinions and my bad ministry convictions, I found a box of hard copy sermons of mine from the 1980s. They were horrible. I was sincerely orthodox. But there wasn’t enough grace in my wretched sermons, not enough encouragement, not enough tenderness, not enough Jesus.

I am so thankful for God’s patience! He didn’t give up on me. He helped me. Now my sermons are less horrible. Hopefully, the beautiful orthodoxy of gospel doctrine is flowing into the pastoral gentleness and comfort and guidance and encouragement inherent in that beautiful orthodoxy. Hopefully, there is more gracious culture in the pulpit, and hopefully, more lasting friendships outside the pulpit. Maybe the Lord can use even me, if not for a profound movement of his power in this generation, then for you younger pastors to enter into that Promised Land through my labors, along with the labors of so many other older pastors.

Which leads me to make a suggestion. Let me ask you younger pastors to think about experimenting with your ministry in 2022. What if, in your preaching, you risk one year of deliberately restraining exhortation and deliberately emphasizing encouragement? Less “challenge,” more assurance. Less “you should,” more “we can.” Less of how your people fall short of God’s standards, more of how God has opened up his treasures in Christ to the undeserving, the stragglers, the exhausted.

If, by the end of 2022, nothing at your church improves, you can always go back. But for just one year, rather than tell people to obey God’s holy law, why not help them obey God’s holy law and live for Christ and walk in the Spirit, as you trust in the power of God’s all-sufficient grace?

Maybe we haven’t lost our historic opportunity, after all. Maybe, for you at your church, it’s only a year away. One short year of reaching out to your dear people, through your preaching, with the gentle powers for good embedded in the very orthodoxy you rightly revere. With some tears. And some confession. And rejoicing to affirm, “In Christ our Savior, we — all of us together — can get traction for the better life we long for!” So, for just one year, maybe move all your chips over onto the square of God’s heart-melting grace in Christ crucified and risen again?

I believe Francis Schaeffer, and others of our spiritual forebears, would rejoice.

It’s been a journey https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/its-been-a-journey/ Mon, 21 Jun 2021 21:11:27 +0000 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/?post_type=ray-ortlund&p=366398

Friends have asked how I came to serve in the Anglican Church in North America. It’s been a journey. A good one.

The Lord has been faithful all along. Not that I’ve always felt him to be so. Some years ago I was compelled to dig back down to the very foundations and ask, “Have I been wrong, thinking God loves me? Isn’t it possible that God hates my guts? After all, look at the facts. Look at this bombed-out, smoking rubble called my ministry. Has God rejected me?” Eventually, I realized I’d been right the first time. God does love me. And I didn’t think my way from pain to joy. I didn’t even theologize my way from there to here. God lifted me up. “He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure” (Psalm 40:2).

Those years of anguish, intense though they were, did not swallow me up. My journey in Christ started long before, and it continues long after.

God put me in a truly Christian family. My dad was a saintly man. A graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, he served for some years as a minister in the PC(USA). Then God called him to Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena, which I will always cherish as the nursery of my boyhood faith. It was a mainstream evangelical church, back when the word evangelical meant something positive. It was a Billy Graham, “The Bible says,” “You must be born again” kind of church, with Reformed theology pervasive as an unstated presence throughout. I learned about Jesus. I heard the Bible preached. I sang the hymns. My foundation went deep.

Then in the late 60s and early 70s the Jesus Movement radicalized me. I saw thousands in my crazy generation do an abrupt about-face and run toward Jesus. You cannot imagine the joy of it all. Revival became my lifelong passion.

In 1971 God entrusted to me the most magnificent person I have ever known – my wife Jani. She has been my faithful friend through good times and bad. This December we will celebrate fifty years of marriage. Under Christ, I owe her everything.

After calling me to the ministry, God gave me the privilege of attending Dallas Theological Seminary. My theology is no longer dispensationalist. But I will go to my grave thankful for the seminary’s commitment to the original languages and exegesis. I was marked for life as a biblical scholar, a man of the text.

During my doctoral work in Scotland, the Westminster Standards and Presbyterianism compelled my attention. My friends in the Church of Scotland showed me a depth of pastoral and devotional theology I had not seen before. It was profoundly enriching.

Returning home to this country, the Presbyterian Church in America graciously welcomed me into their ranks. I did a mediocre job planting a church for them. But Mission to North America stood by me, and the church was indeed planted. I will always owe the PCA a debt of gratitude for this and more.

My nine years of teaching Old Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School relocated me again within mainstream Evangelicalism. Eating lunch in the faculty lounge with such giants as Don Carson, John Woodbridge, Murray Harris, Doug Moo and others – I had to pinch myself. At times we disagreed with one another. It’s what thinkers do. But we all revered the biblical basics, and we all believed in our work together.

After more pastoral ministry in PCA churches – and as I was rediscovering the simple truth of “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so” – the Lord guided me and others to plant Immanuel Church Nashville, an Acts 29 church. The best therapy I have ever experienced is basically simple. It’s just being among Christian friends, Sunday after Sunday after Sunday, who like me and aren’t trying to fix me. Adding up the brief greetings, the lengthy conversations, the songs sung, the discoveries shared, the laughter and the tears, sharing Holy Communion, kneeling in prayer, mercy upon mercy for eleven years – the cumulative effect was, for me, life-transforming. It was how the category “gospel culture” came into clarity. I finally saw how the theological truth of the gospel proves itself in the relational beauty of the gospel, whenever the doctrine is allowed to exert its full and intended authority. Faithfulness is more than sound biblical doctrine; it includes shared human beauty.

Now Jani and I serve with Renewal Ministries. We are praying and laboring toward revival, as gospel doctrine creates gospel culture more and more, until it starts feeling like Jesus has come to town – everywhere.

Now to wind this up, one more thought looking back, and a final thought looking ahead, all the way to the end.

Looking back, I am grateful that, in my journey with Evangelicalism, Dispensationalism and Presbyterianism, at no point along the way have I heard any responsible leader say of their group, “We are the people, and wisdom will die with us” (cf. Job 12:2). Through it all, I have heard the leading voices giving thanks to God for the insights they have received, while also giving honor to other Christians who see some things differently. Each theological community has been, at their best, both rightly confident and rightly modest. I respect that.

Looking ahead, as I announced in an earlier blog post, I am grateful for my new theological community:

“The Right Rev’d Clark W. P. Lowenfield, Bishop of the Diocese of the Western Gulf Coast in the Anglican Church in North America, has graciously called me to serve him as a Catechist and Canon Theologian.”

The Creeds, the Thirty-Nine Articles, the Book of Common Prayer, the Ordinal, my Oath of Conformity, my Oath of Canonical Obedience – these are now my green pastures and still waters in Christ. And I say it in so personal a way for a very personal reason. At 71 years of age, I am in that season of life when I must begin preparing to die. Not that I am panicking. Not at all. I am just being realistic, and even expectant. I want to get ready, more and more. I watched my dad live out his final years in the nearness of God, and he was ready. I can be too. And I am convinced that the best way to navigate this final passage in my own journey is to be where communion with God has been nurtured so richly for so long. That is Anglicanism. Yes, my theology aligns with Anglican conviction and mission; but in addition, my soul needs the depth of Anglican tradition.

I look forward to learning from my new friends in the ACNA, and I hope to contribute to them, as we devote ourselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers (Acts 2:42) – all to the praise of the glory of his grace.

The fainthearted, the feeble and the ailing https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/the-fainthearted-the-feeble-and-the-ailing/ Sat, 12 Jun 2021 16:02:25 +0000 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/?post_type=ray-ortlund&p=364725

“May a merciful God preserve me from a Christian Church in which everyone is a saint! I want to be and remain in the church and little flock of the fainthearted, the feeble and the ailing, who feel and recognize the wretchedness of their sins, who sigh and cry to God incessantly for comfort and help, who believe in the forgiveness of sins.”

Martin Luther, in Luther’s Works (St. Louis, 1957), XXII:55.

At any cost, in any way, through any means https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/at-any-cost-in-any-way-through-any-means-2/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/at-any-cost-in-any-way-through-any-means-2/#respond Tue, 08 Jun 2021 21:25:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/at-any-cost-in-any-way-through-any-means-2/

“It is one thing to love the Lord and His service, and quite something else to have an inexpressible longing for revival that cannot be denied.  It is one thing to wish for revival, and yet it is something in addition to be willing for revival at any cost to come in any way through any means that God may choose.”

V. Raymond Edman, quoted by my dad in a sermon at Lake Avenue Congregational Church, Pasadena, California, 1 February 1976.

A Personal Announcement https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/a-personal-announcement/ Fri, 04 Jun 2021 18:07:30 +0000 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/?post_type=ray-ortlund&p=362926 “. . . striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27)

This post is difficult to write, not because the news is so horrible but because it is so wonderful. But first, the backstory.

Since her first public ministry on Easter Sunday 2008, Immanuel Church Nashville has experienced the most striking, sustained blessing of the Lord I have ever seen. Even as the risen Jesus breathed on his little band of fearful disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22), he breathed upon us at Immanuel, with obvious effect. Pastoring Immanuel wasn’t a non-stop joyride. We all worked hard, did our best, and made some mistakes. But the divine beauty resting upon that church, the heart-melting culture of honesty, gentleness and joy – we didn’t mastermind it. The Lord led us into those green pastures and beside those still waters, for the display of his glory.

The Acts 29 Network encouraged us all along the way. We love all our friends in A29.

Then in 2019 Pastor TJ Tims received the Lead Pastor position at Immanuel, with my joyful support. The church continues to bear fruit, and I love worshiping there when I am in town.

Since the pastoral succession at Immanuel, Jani and I have been serving together with Renewal Ministries, the non-profit my dear dad and mom handed down to us. At RM we believe that, in a world of exhaustion, everyone needs renewal. So Jani and I speak, mentor and write, spreading the life-renewing gospel of Jesus, especially among younger leaders. Our Board is fantastic, and we couldn’t – and wouldn’t – do this without them.

Now Jani and I find ourselves in our 70s. We feel like we’re in our 40s. We feel more energized now than we ever have before. But we won’t be feeling this great forever. Sooner or later, something bad will come take us out. Fine. At last, we’ll see Jesus – and be fully alive forever! But until then, we are resolved to keep serving his cause of renewal and revival and awakening with everything we’ve got.

That is why I am thrilled to announce a new path of service now opening up to me. The Right Rev’d Clark W. P. Lowenfield, Bishop of the Diocese of the Western Gulf Coast in the Anglican Church in North America, has graciously called me to serve him as a Catechist and Canon Theologian. He has kindly extended the same call to my dear friend, The Rev’d Sam Allberry.

The Bishop’s tender heart for the Lord, his sacrificial courage for the advance of the gospel, his steadfast faithfulness to the truth of the Bible, his bold and sustained prayers for revival – all this, and more, has endeared him to me and stirs me to labor with him for the sake of these sacred glories.

Jani and I will keep serving with Renewal Ministries, and we’ll keep worshiping at Immanuel Church. But now I rejoice in this added dimension of ministry within the ACNA. I am profoundly grateful, and I purpose to steward this privilege with reverence, by God’s grace.

The ongoing life of prayer, so deeply embedded in the Anglican tradition, will do my soul a lot of good, I am sure, as I walk these final years of my earthly pilgrimage.

So now, to my amazement, I find myself “striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” with so many in the Anglican Church whom I have long admired – like J. C. Ryle, Charles Simeon, C. S. Lewis, John Stott, Festo Kivengere, Alec Motyer, Derek Kidner, J. I. Packer and Bruce Waltke. I am unworthy.

God has been good to me.

And if you think of me, please pray for me. Thank you.

How to preach with biblical fullness https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/how-to-preach-with-biblical-fullness/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/how-to-preach-with-biblical-fullness/#respond Wed, 28 Apr 2021 00:10:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/how-to-preach-with-biblical-fullness/ simeon-1

“I love the simplicity of the Scriptures, and I wish to receive and inculcate every truth precisely in the way, and to the extent, that it is set forth in the sacred Volume. Were this the habit of all divines, there would soon be an end to most of the controversies that have agitated and divided the Church of Christ. My endeavor is to bring out of Scripture what is there, and not to thrust in what I think might be there. I have a great jealousy on this head—never to speak more or less than I believe to be the mind of the Spirit in the passage I am expounding. I would run after nothing, and shun nothing. . . . The truth is not in the middle, and not in one extreme, but in both extremes. . . . I formerly read Aristotle, and liked him much. I have since read Paul, and caught somewhat of his strange notions, oscillating (not vacillating) from pole to pole. Sometimes I am a high Calvinist, at other times a low Arminian, so that if extremes will please you, I am your man. Only remember, it is not one extreme that we are to go to but both extremes.”

— Charles Simeon, quoted in H. C. G. Moule, Charles Simeon (London, 1956), pages 77-78.

My brother pastor, to preach with biblical fullness, rising above our biases, our best course is to preach through the Bible, passage by passage, letting each passage make its unique contribution, confident that over time the fullness of it all will serve people well with a clear vision of the Triune God. But let us never force a passage to say what we think it ought to have said and thus complicate the work of God.

For example, if a biblical passage teaches imputed righteousness, let’s not “balance” it by inserting into the sermon a counter-emphasis on imparted righteousness. And if a passage teaches imparted righteousness, let’s not “balance” it with a forced counter-emphasis on imputed righteousness. That is not biblical preaching. And Scripture, not the categories of Systematic Theology, is our final authority.

Humility allows God to speak through his Word, yielding to him passage by passage, Sunday by Sunday, so that he enriches us with one precious gospel gift after another, each one a new facet of the many glories of Christ. This kind of preaching—oscillating, not vacillating—can raise up wise and healthy churches, not limited by any pet doctrine, but enlarged by the grandeur of Scripture.

The kind of team everyone enjoys working with https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/alignment/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/alignment/#respond Mon, 19 Apr 2021 12:46:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/alignment/ Rowing-Web

Pat Macmillan, in “The Mission-Directed Ministry Team,” RTS Ministry, Winter 1994, quotes Peter Senge: “When a team becomes more aligned, a commonality of direction emerges, and individuals’ energies harmonize. There is less wasted energy. In fact, a resonance or synergy develops.”

To achieve that powerful alignment among the individuals on a team, the stated mission must meet four criteria:

1. Relevant.  “I want it.”

2. Significant.  “It’s worth it.”

3. Achievable.  “I believe it.”

4. Clear.  “I see it.”

Macmillan goes on: “Don’t assume that the benefits are as clear to others as they are to you. Don’t gloss over the pragmatic elements of the team mission and the goals that flow out of it with eloquent generalities. Cooperation based on warm fuzzies, cliches and platitudes will soon break down.”

Interestingly, he also notes that it’s the individuals who are just a little out of alignment who blunt the effectiveness of the team. People who are way off are obvious. It’s the not-quite-there people who are more difficult to discern but who make the task tedious.

“A clear, certain mission . . . serves as a gyroscope providing stability and allowing the team to maintain its footing and sense of direction in turbulent, fast-changing environments. It provides boundary lines in which the team can set realistic, but exceptional, goals. It also enables the team to monitor and evaluate progress.”

Macmillan’s article has been important to us at Immanuel Nashville for leadership development. Highly recommended.

Here, now, us https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/here-now-us/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/here-now-us/#respond Fri, 12 Mar 2021 00:23:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/here-now-us/

“Unbelief says: Some other time, but not now; some other place, but not here; some other people, but not us. Faith says: Anything He did anywhere else He will do here; anything He did any other time He is willing to do now; anything He ever did for other people He is willing to do for us! With our feet on the ground, and our head cool, but with our heart ablaze with the love of God, we walk out in this fullness of the Spirit, if we will yield and obey. God wants to work through you!”

A. W. Tozer, The Counselor (Camp Hill, 1993), page 116.

How to build gospel culture in your church https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/how-to-build-a-gospel-culture-in-your-church/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/how-to-build-a-gospel-culture-in-your-church/#respond Fri, 05 Mar 2021 12:01:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/how-to-build-a-gospel-culture-in-your-church/

Galatians 2:11-21 has been unsettling me for forty years. Paul rebuked Peter publicly — for what? They agreed on gospel doctrine: “We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ” (verse 16). But they clashed on gospel culture: “How can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (verse 14). For that, Paul rebuked Peter openly and bluntly.

Gospel culture is not an optional add-on. It is as essential to our integrity as is gospel doctrine. But we pastors who preach the doctrine might neglect to nurture the culture, because the preaching is more easily defined, while the nurturing requires relational sensitivity and personal vulnerability. But without the ministry of gospel culture, our churches risk standing as living denials of the very truth we preach. And then we wonder why people don’t respond, why our churches don’t get more traction.

This being so, nothing is more essential to our churches than building them as gospel cultures. If we must preach the gospel in our church doctrine, then equally, we must embody the gospel in our church culture. But if we forsake the fullness of this pastoral responsibility, we allow our churches to believe the truth as theory only, while practicing lies in reality. And Jesus did not die and rise again so that we who name Him live by lies.

Several years ago I presented a paper at The Gospel Coalition national gathering in Orlando: “How to build a gospel culture in your church.” The PDF is here: GDGC. I hope it helps.


Do you believe in common grace? https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/do-you-believe-in-common-grace/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/do-you-believe-in-common-grace/#respond Mon, 15 Feb 2021 14:50:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/do-you-believe-in-common-grace/

I  believe in common grace. John Calvin taught me that it is God who lavishes giftedness on his human race. We may therefore enjoy his bestowments wherever we encounter them, with gratitude to God (Institutes 2.2.15).

That gives me three categories of music. First, music devoted to God. Hopefully, this is great music everyone will fall in love with. Second, music opposing God. Hopefully, this will be rotten music people cannot stand. Third, music neither devoted to God nor opposing God. If it happens to be good music, by God’s common grace, I for one will enjoy it and thank him for it. Good music does not have to be devoted to God for me to be okay with it — though, if it were devoted to God, I’d be thrilled.

One thing I love about the gospel is its promise of the new heaven and new earth. In eternity, God will not delete all the culture-creating we’ve done throughout human history; he will redeem it. The Bible says that, in the New Jerusalem above, “the kings of the earth will bring their glory into [the holy city]. . . . They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it” (Revelation 21:24-27).

The glory and honor of human cultures — the music, the clothing, the literature, the dance, the languages, the customs, the humor, the traditions, and so forth — it will be cleansed, perfected and brought in forever. So Eric Clapton’s blues guitar, for example, is a preview of coming attractions. The blues will be brought into heaven. But there it will be even better — fully devoted to God.

I hope and pray Eric himself will be there too.

Something profound in our generation https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/something-profound-in-our-generation/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/something-profound-in-our-generation/#respond Fri, 15 Jan 2021 00:50:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/something-profound-in-our-generation/

A nice church filled with nice people doing nice things will make no impact in the intensity of our times. Every hybrid form of “Christianity” deserves to die, and it will die, because it simply is not of God. But here is a pathway back into the prophetic power of apostolic Christianity.

In 1974 I heard Francis Schaeffer preach at the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization. His sermon was unforgettable. Schaeffer asked the question, What is the Christian’s task in the world today? A clearly focusing question. And his answer was not evangelism. Evangelism can seem canned and mechanical, he said, like a sales pitch. But when evangelism is pursued as part of something larger, something beautifully humane, it will be convincing, even captivating. What then is that larger whole, embodied in a truly biblical church? Two contents and two realities, Schaeffer proposed.

Two contents

1.  Sound doctrine

“The first content is clear doctrinal content concerning the central elements of Christianity.” This strong biblical message stands in contrast to the content-weak philosophical and pragmatic rolls-of-the-dice people are settling for all around us.

2.  Honest answers to honest questions

“The second content is honest answers to honest questions. Christianity demands that we have enough compassion to learn the questions of our generation.” We must listen respectfully to all around us and try to satisfy their questions by reasoning thoughtfully from the wisdom of the gospel.

Two realities

1.  True spirituality

“There must be something real of the work of Christ, something real in Christ’s bearing his fruit through me through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. There is nothing more ugly in all the world, nothing which more turns people aside, than a dead orthodoxy.” Moment-by-moment reality with the living Christ—apart from him, we can do nothing.

2.  The beauty of human relationships

“True Christianity produces beauty as well as truth. If we do not show beauty in the way we treat each other, then in the eyes of the world and in the eyes of our own children, we are destroying the truth we proclaim.” This is a common blind spot among us. An orthodox doctrinal statement on paper can make us proud, but it alone will not make us convincing. Gospel doctrine creates gospel culture. Without the human beauty that Jesus died to create among us, we only show that we are trifling with his truth even as we think we are upholding his truth.

“When there are the two contents and the two realities, we will begin to see something profound happen in our generation.”

Francis A. Schaeffer, 2 Contents, 2 Realities (Downers Grove, 1975), pages 1-32.

These four categories offer a hopeful agenda for any church today that, for Jesus’s sake, longs to speak with prophetic power.

Turning to God in great affliction https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/only-god-remained-and-to-god-they-turned/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/only-god-remained-and-to-god-they-turned/#respond Wed, 06 Jan 2021 12:00:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/only-god-remained-and-to-god-they-turned/

“In Kiev, where I found myself on a Sunday morning, on an impulse I turned into a church where a service was in progress.  It was packed tight, but I managed to squeeze myself against a pillar whence I could survey the congregation and look up at the altar.  Young and old, peasants and townsmen, parents and children, even a few in uniform – it was a variegated assembly. . . . Never before or since have I participated in such worship; the sense conveyed of turning to God in great affliction was overpowering.  Though I could not, of course, follow the service, I knew from Klavdia Lvovna little bits of it; for instance, where the congregation say there is no help for them save from God.  What intense feeling they put into these words!  In their minds, I knew, as in mine, was a picture of those desolate abandoned villages, the hunger and the hopelessness, the cattle trucks being loaded with humans in the dawn light.  Where were they to turn for help?  Not to the Kremlin, nor to the forces of progress and democracy in the West. . . . Every possible human agency found wanting.  So, only God remained, and to God they turned with a passion, a dedication, a humility, impossible to convey.  They took me with them; I felt closer to God then than I ever had before, or am likely to again.”

Malcolm Muggeridge, Chronicles of Wasted Time: The Green Stick (New York, 1982), pages 258-259.

Who can fight the Lord’s battles? https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/who-can-fight-the-lords-battles/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/who-can-fight-the-lords-battles/#respond Sat, 12 Dec 2020 12:30:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/who-can-fight-the-lords-battles/

“We should never come to [differences] with true Christians without regret and without tears. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Believe me, evangelicals often have not shown it. We rush in, being very, very pleased, it would seem at times, to find other men’s mistakes. We build ourselves up by tearing other men down. This can never show a real oneness among Christians.

There is only one kind of man who can fight the Lord’s battles in anywhere near a proper way, and that is the man who by nature is unbelligerent. A belligerent man tends to do it because he is belligerent; at least it looks that way.

The world must observe that, when we must differ with each other as true Christians, we do it not because we love the smell of blood, the smell of the arena, the smell of the bullfight, but because we must for God’s sake. If there are tears when we must speak, then something beautiful can be observed.”

Francis Schaeffer, The Mark of the Christian (Downers Grove, 1970), pages 26-27.

Whatever the current controversy may be, are there tears? Do we express our differences with such care that a reasonable unbeliever could say, “There is no blood-lust here. This is different. There is sincerity of heart here, even beauty”?

“Can he pray down the Holy Spirit?” https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/can-he-pray-down-the-holy-spirit/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/can-he-pray-down-the-holy-spirit/#respond Tue, 08 Dec 2020 16:03:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/can-he-pray-down-the-holy-spirit/ Worldliness in the church is the number one enemy, and that comes in when we have unspiritual people, and we have unspiritual people too often because they are nominal Christians.]]> “Worldliness in the church is the number one enemy, and that comes in when we have unspiritual people, and we have unspiritual people too often because they are nominal Christians. They have the language, they have the outward, but they don’t have the power. So, Paul’s words: ‘The kingdom of God is not in word but in power.’ That whole school of Edwards and Alexander and so on — they believed in the power of religion. You know, men candidating for the ministry, and the minister saying, ‘Can he pray down the Holy Spirit?’ Imagine that question today. Can a man pray down the Holy Spirit? It’s not perhaps exactly the sentence we would say is completely correct, but you know what they meant. . . . When those men prayed, the Holy Spirit did come down.”

Rev. Iain Murray, in a 9Marks interview with Dr. Mark Dever.

How to do serious business with God https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/how-to-do-serious-business-with-god/ Tue, 03 Nov 2020 14:06:32 +0000 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/?post_type=ray-ortlund&p=289605 I am no longer my own, but thine. Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt. Put me to doing, put me to suffering.]]> “I am no longer my own, but thine. Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt. Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low for thee. Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal. And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it. And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.”

John Wesley, in The Book of Common Prayer (2019), page 673.

Then Christ’s hand reaches out https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/then-christs-hand-reaches-out-2/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/then-christs-hand-reaches-out-2/#respond Mon, 02 Nov 2020 14:20:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/then-christs-hand-reaches-out-2/ Let us then as Christians rejoice that we see around us on every hand the decay of the institutions and instruments of power, see intimations of empires falling to pieces, money in total disarray, dictators and parliamentarians alike nonplussed by the confusion and conflicts which encompass them.]]> “Let us then as Christians rejoice that we see around us on every hand the decay of the institutions and instruments of power, see intimations of empires falling to pieces, money in total disarray, dictators and parliamentarians alike nonplussed by the confusion and conflicts which encompass them. For it is precisely when every earthly hope has been explored and found wanting, when every possibility of help from earthly sources has been sought and is not forthcoming, when every recourse this world offers, moral as well as material, has been explored to no effect… and in the gathering darkness every glimmer of light has finally flickered out, it’s then that Christ’s hand reaches out sure and firm.  Then Christ’s words bring inexpressible comfort, then his light shines brightest, abolishing the darkness forever.”

Malcolm Muggeridge, The End of Christendom (Grand Rapids, 1980), page 56.

Gospel + Safety + Time = A Church Where Anyone Can Grow https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/gospel-safety-time/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/gospel-safety-time/#respond Thu, 24 Sep 2020 18:15:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/gospel-safety-time/ Our churches must be gentle environments of gospel + safety + time. It’s where we’re finally free to grow.]]> Gospel + safety + time. It’s what everyone needs. A lot of gospel + a lot of safety + a lot of time.

Gospel: good news for bad people through the finished work of Christ on the cross and the endless power of the Holy Spirit. Multiple exposures. Constant immersion. Wave upon wave of grace and truth, according to the Bible.

Safety: a non-accusing environment. No embarrassing anyone. No cornering anyone. No shaming. But respect and sympathy and listening and understanding, so that people can exhale and open up and unburden their souls. A church environment where no one seeking the Lord has anything to fear.

Time: no pressure. Not even self-imposed pressure. No deadlines on growth. Urgency, but not hurry, because no one changes quickly. A lot of “space” for complicated people to rethink their lives at a deep level. God is patient.

This is what our churches must be: gentle environments of gospel + safety + time. It’s where we’re finally free to grow.

Strife or revival? https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/strife-or-revival/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/strife-or-revival/#respond Thu, 27 Aug 2020 18:40:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/contention-or-revival/ Labor with all diligence to keep your own minds in the peace of God, and in your connection with others ever to strive for ’the things which make for peace.]]> “It is an instructive and solemn fact, brought out in the history of more than one revival, that when a whole neighborhood had been well watered with the showers of grace, no drop of blessing has descended there where a spirit of controversy and strife had obtained a footing. The Spirit of God hovered around, but fled from, the scene of discord as from a doomed region where his dove-like temper could find no resting-place. . . . Ever remember that ‘his work is sown in peace of them that make peace,’ and no dwelling can be more distasteful, no vessel more unsuitable to him, than a heart which delights itself with matters that provoke contention and strife. . . .

Labor with all diligence to keep your own minds in the peace of God, and in your connection with others ever to strive for ‘the things which make for peace.'”

The Revival of Religion: Addresses by Scottish Evangelical Leaders delivered in Glasgow in 1840 (Edinburgh, 1984), pages 373-374.

Brothers together in Christ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/brothers-together-in-christ/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/brothers-together-in-christ/#respond Fri, 19 Jun 2020 18:10:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/brothers-together-in-christ/ Soldiers in battle comforting one anotherManly men of God loving one another intensely are a life-giving social environment, that our angry world will look upon with astonishment.]]> Intensely felt, openly demonstrated love between manly men of God—who wouldn’t want to be a part of that? Three ways to create that culture in our churches:

One, “Outdo one another in showing honor” (Rom. 12:10). No flippant put-downs. No undercutting. Not even waiting for the next guy to make the first move and open up. But me getting out of my self-concern to lift the next man up with high honor, which is what he deserves. Doing this verbally, unashamedly, openly, gladly.

Two, “Bear with one another” (Col. 3:13). Not trying to change one another, not pressuring one another. Who appointed us to that role? Our privilege is to bear with one another’s “weaknesses and oddities, which are such a trial to our patience, . . . to break through to the point where we take joy in [the other man’s quirkiness]” (Bonhoeffer, Life Together, page 101). There is room in this non-crisis calm for every man to grow.

Three, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths but only such as is good for building up” (Eph. 4:29). Nothing could be more unAmerican than us freely denying ourselves our right of free speech. But men of God filter every word according to a higher standard. Even if the words wanting to come out of my mouth are factually true, the real question is, Are my words positively helping the man listening?

Manly men of God loving one another intensely are a life-giving social environment, that our angry world will look upon with astonishment.

Prophetic power today https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/prophetic-power-today/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/prophetic-power-today/#respond Fri, 05 Jun 2020 11:30:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/prophetic-power-today/ Painting of the prophet Daniel stranding in the den with lionsLet’s remember today that, when our whole previous pattern of life is smashed, it is not destroyed but only remade into even greater usefulness to God. God’s plan for you will wreck your life in the best ways.]]> “There is not one of [the Old Testament prophets] who did not receive this new certainty of God in such a way that the whole previous pattern of his life, the thoughts and plans by which he had till now regulated his relationship to the world, was not smashed, and replaced by a mighty divine imperative obliging him to undertake something which hitherto he had not even considered as a possibility.”

Walther Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament (Philadelphia, 1961), I:345.

“There is something magnificent about these prophet-dreamers who are so sure of God.”

Ralph S. Cushman, Practicing the Presence (Nashville, 1964), page 108.

Let’s remember today that humility does not mean we are hesitant about God but only about ourselves and very sure of God. Let’s remember today that brokenness does not mean we are weakened in resolve but only fed up with our sin and very bold for God. Let’s remember today that, when our whole previous pattern of life is smashed, it is not destroyed but only remade into even greater usefulness to God. And let’s remember today that God intends to accomplish gospel miracles through us that right now we don’t even believe are possible.

How to get through this stronger than ever https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/how-to-get-through-this-stronger-than-ever/ Tue, 17 Mar 2020 16:03:42 +0000 http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/?post_type=ray-ortlund&p=237753 When we get through this dreadful COVID-19, many thousands of people will come back to church longing for personal reality with the living God. Let’s get ready. Let’s release our grip on the defunct patterns of the past and reach out by faith for what only God can do.]]> “. . . making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:16).

Hopefully, in these remarkable days, we pastors have more time for reading. We might not get this chance again in our lifetimes. Let’s make the best use of it.

I urge you to read books that can launch you into more fruitful ministry than ever before. After we get through this, people will be glad to get back into church. Many will be radically open. Let’s not disappoint them. Let’s not simply resume the tired patterns of the past. God is giving us an historic opportunity for renewal.

Here are three books on revival I recommend for this time of preparation, as we ramp up for what can become the greatest moment of our lives:

First, Jonathan Edwards on Revival contains three brief essays. “A Narrative of Surprising Conversions” tells the story of an outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Edwards’s church in 1735. He didn’t make it happen. He was surprised—hence, the title of his essay. “The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God” gives us wise categories, from the New Testament, for knowing the difference between a real experience of God and a made-up experience of our own. “An Account of the Revival of Religion in Northampton 1740-1742” is a letter Edwards wrote to a pastor in Boston, painting the picture of how God visited that church yet again.

Because Edwards is a theologically serious man, his mind-blowing experiences are all the more striking.

Second, Collin Hansen and John Woodbridge, A God-Sized Vision: Revival Stories that Stretch and Stir, is team-written by a journalist and an historian. It is not sensationalist but sober as it bears witness to the risen Christ making himself a felt presence in recent history. The conclusion sums up the take-aways that can help us today.

We pastors rightly ask God to bless the work of our hands. But what if we ask him to take the work up in his own hands? What if we open up to him at that deeper level? Here are factual accounts of Christians who did. Their stories do “stretch and stir.”

Third, Richard F. Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal, offers us pastors both theological insight and practical approaches to ministry marked by renewing power. The outline on page 75 is alone worth the price of the book. It lists the emphases that can lead our churches out of the boring same-old same-old and into regions of divine blessing that some of us have never experienced.

Here is the blurb I wrote for Lovelace’s book: “Dynamics of Spiritual Life has made a unique contribution to my ministry. No one else clarified for me the convictions that can guide a church into a revival-ready condition. The genius of this book is not that Lovelace invents new strategies for pastoring but that he shows us, in practical ways, how the gospel is the power of God for our ongoing salvation.”

When we get through this dreadful COVID-19, many thousands of people will come back to church longing for personal reality with the living God. Let’s get ready. Let’s release our grip on the defunct patterns of the past and reach out by faith for what only God can do.

You can sing Romans 8 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/can-sing-romans-8/ Sun, 12 Jan 2020 19:45:49 +0000 http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/?post_type=ray-ortlund&p=227487 The amazing band at Immanuel Nashville has composed an entire album of new songs, putting the text of Romans chapter 8 to music.]]> The amazing band at Immanuel Nashville has composed an entire album of new songs, putting the text of Romans chapter 8 to music.

If you can get through this album without tears – well, I can’t. And I’ve tried. Good luck.

Church Conflict 101 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/church-conflict-101/ Mon, 30 Dec 2019 12:08:03 +0000 http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/?post_type=ray-ortlund&p=226023 Does the Bible teach us always to see wrong on both sides in every conflict? For example, what about Cain and Abel? Or Saul and David? Or Ahab and Naboth? The Pharisees and Jesus? The whole world and the apostles?]]> “He sits in ambush in the villages; in hiding places he murders the innocent” (Ps. 10:8).

I have heard it said by a Christian leader, “In every conflict there is always wrong on both sides.” Really? In every conflict? Always wrong on both sides? That sounds plausible in this world of universal sin. But it is wrong—and dangerously so. Covered by this slogan, real wrongs can lie undisturbed, unconfronted, unrelieved, which helps no one and further injures everyone involved. And verses like Psalm 10:8 end up making no sense, because no one is innocent.

Does the Bible teach us always to see wrong on both sides in every conflict? For example, what about Cain and Abel? Or Saul and David? Or Ahab and Naboth? The Pharisees and Jesus? The whole world and the apostles? The New Testament offers this insight:

We should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. (1 John 3:11-12)

How did Abel contribute to that conflict between brothers? He behaved in a righteous manner. In other words, his crime was his godliness. And Cain’s guilty conscience looked at his wholehearted brother Abel and felt so exposed that he became consumed with one murderous thought: Down with him! But it didn’t have to go that way. Cain could have said to his brother, “Abel, your life seems to be working. Mine isn’t. You seem happy in the Lord. I am frustrated with him. And I can’t figure out what the problem is. Would you help me?” But his pride couldn’t go there. So he destroyed “the evidence against him”—his own brother.

It would be better to say, “In every conflict there are always sinners on both sides. But whether there is wrong on both sides is the very question that demands a careful, thorough, responsible answer. Is there sin on both sides contributing to this conflict? Or could there be godliness on one side contributing to this conflict?” The Bible leads us into these categories of consideration, and they are profound.

This deeper line of questioning is not far-fetched, not applicable only in rare cases. In Matthew 23:34-35, our Lord says,

Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar.

Two things stand out here. One, Jesus himself sends faithful messengers into this world and into his church. And his faithful servants are destined to suffer violence. Two, his citation of Abel in Genesis 4 and Zechariah in 2 Chronicles 24 is like saying, “From cover to cover in the Old Testament story,” since 2 Chronicles is the final book in the Hebrew Bible. In other words, Jesus saw righteous suffering as the plot-line of the Old Testament. Faithful voices being misunderstood and misjudged and opposed and even killed—this is not, to Jesus, a minor sidebar in the biblical account of reality. It is central. This insight helped Jesus understand himself and his opponents in his own day. And he foresaw this same story continuing into Christian history.

So a glib slogan like, “Well, there’s enough guilt here to go around!”—as if that settled anything—might sound humble. But it inadvertently protects predatory church people. Such a statement is moral socialism. As in economic socialism, if everyone owns it, no one really owns it. And then bad people walk away from their successful injustice with a smirk on their faces, strengthened to repeat their opposition to the gospel and to Christ himself.

Here is why I am writing this. My observation through the years has been that, after the Christ-honoring joys of the Christmas season, Satan—he is very real—rises with renewed malice and cunning to regain lost ground. January can be a hard month for faithful pastors. So my appeal to all church leaders is that you will not be caught off-guard. Expect false accusations to surface, inconsolable hysteria, church crazy in various forms, targeting your pastor. He is both imperfect and faithful simultaneously. His imperfections are obvious to all because of his visibility in your church. (Just think if you were up there every Sunday!) And some people will point to your faithful pastor’s imperfections and freak out. But their grievances are not the real issue. Something else is going on. And if you don’t dig down beneath the surface appearances, if you don’t stand up for your pastor but cave to that evil something else, you will join in the evil by presiding over the demolition of a faithful man’s credibility. And how can your church’s credibility then survive?

So the question for all church leaders is this: Where will you take your stand in the biblical story that you are, in fact, a part of? Whose side are you really on? Will you, by a lack of clarity and courage, risk the “Woe!” of Jesus in Matthew 23:29 landing on you? Or will you gently insist upon the full exposure of every accusation and stand by your faithful pastor and preserve the divine blessing on your church that is coming under attack?

If you will stand faithfully, your church will get through this drama and surge forward in 2020. The Lord will faithfully see to it.

What every pastor needs: honesty, prayer, healing https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/honesty-prayer-healing/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/honesty-prayer-healing/#respond Thu, 12 Sep 2019 16:43:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/honesty-prayer-healing/ Man praying with hands foldedTherefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed]]> Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.  James 5:16

“Orders of a Religious Society Meeting in Fetter’s Lane, in obedience to the command of God by St. James . . . May 1, 1738, it was agreed:

1.  That they will meet together once in a week to confess their faults one to another, and pray for one another, that they may be healed…

10.  That every one in order speak as freely, plainly and concisely as he can, the real state of his heart, with his several temptations and deliverances since the last time of meeting.”

Peter Bohler and John Wesley, quoted in Raymond C. Ortlund, Let the Church be the Church (Waco, 1983), page 75.

Grateful https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/grateful/ Wed, 21 Aug 2019 11:13:53 +0000 http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/?post_type=ray-ortlund&p=212012 “It is he who made us, and we are his” (Psalm 100:3).

On Sunday, September 8, 2019, I will conclude my ministry at Immanuel Church Nashville. From the earliest days of Immanuel, I told the elders I should leave by the time I turn 70, to make way for a younger man. My 70th birthday will be on September 7. So I am breaking my promise by one day, I suppose. And that younger man is already chosen by the members, Pastor TJ Tims, a magnificent pastor:

My heart is overflowing with gratitude to the Lord for the privilege of serving this wonderful church. Here are some reasons for my gratitude, in no particular order. And this is just for starters.

I love the Immanuel Mantra:

I love her Call to Worship every Sunday:

I love her people:

I love her pastors and leaders:

I love her Jesus-focused mission:

I love her music. I heard the Beatles live, and the Immanuel band is way better:

I love our Acts 29 Network, led by men who aren’t out for themselves but only for Christ:

I really love the fact that no one open to Christ has anything to fear at Immanuel Church:

I could go on and on. But the best part is this: “It is he who made us, and we are his.” Immanuel Church does not stand as a monument to our glory but as a movement of his grace. Really. That isn’t an empty slogan. I cannot account for what this amazing church has become in any other way except, Jesus did this. He gave this. He gave us himself. There is nothing greater, nothing more satisfying. I am profoundly grateful.

The Lord be with you, Immanuel.

Daily slogging in the power of the Spirit https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/daily-slogging-in-the-power-of-the-spirit/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/daily-slogging-in-the-power-of-the-spirit/#respond Tue, 20 Aug 2019 18:12:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/daily-slogging-in-the-power-of-the-spirit/ One of the books from my dad’s library that I received after his death in 2007 was this one:

Dad’s assistant used this book to keep a record of the various aspects of his pastoral ministry through the years, starting with his ordination in 1950. There are 486 pages in the book, most of them filled out—pages and pages and pages recording weddings, funerals, baptisms, new members, sermons. For example, here are his sermons from March to October 1963:

These pages record, one by one, more than 1,800 sermons preached during his ministry at Lake Avenue Congregational Church alone, and by no means a complete record even during those years.

How many hours of preparation and prayer and study are represented by this simple but eloquent written record, I wonder? Add to that the weddings, funerals, ordinations. Add to that the committee meetings, the personal evangelism and counseling, the social events. Add to that the seasons of strife and opposition he had to endure, all the while keeping up the steady output of gospel ministry without being crushed. Add to that the way he came home every evening with something emotionally positive to give to the family. Add to that the fact that he not only came to all my high-school football games but even to many practices during the week. Add to that . . . .

I am not impressed by young pastors who seem too eager to publish books and speak at big events and build “a platform.” They are doing the work of the Lord, which is good. But I’m not impressed. What impresses me is my dad’s daily slogging, year after year, in the power of the Spirit, with no big-deal-ness as the goal or the payoff.

This is the pastoral ministry that brings Jesus into the world today, and it takes a lifetime to develop.

Thank you, David Powlison https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/thank-david-powlison/ Sat, 08 Jun 2019 14:08:54 +0000 http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/?post_type=ray-ortlund&p=201941

Remembering David Powlison moves me deeply. When everything was on the line for Jani and me, David and Nan were there for us.

We spent a day together in 2007—for Jani and me, a catastrophic disaster of a year. David was an oasis of calm, gentleness and reasonableness amid a swirl of accusations, loss and heartbreak. David, with Nan, kept our hope alive.

One suggestion David made became so significant that I have passed it along to many others since then. I can’t remember his exact words. But it went something like this: “Ray and Jani, you are suffering. And it isn’t going to get better any time soon. So here is an idea. Ask the Lord for a verse of Scripture, a promise in the Bible, to help you get through this. And when that verse jumps off the page into your heart, make it the theme of your life while you slog your way forward. However dark the nighttime sky might be, you can always look up at that North Star promise, get your bearings again, and keep going. But wallpaper your reality with the Word of God.”

So we did. We asked the Lord to personalize to us some biblical encouragement of his own choosing. And he did. Jani was reading 1 Peter 5 soon thereafter, and verse 10 was a direct hit—in the best of ways: “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” We seized that verse.

We memorized 1 Peter 5:10, discussed it, prayed over it. Jani wrote it out on 3×5 cards and taped them to the inside of the kitchen cupboards, so that every time she went to get a glass or a plate, there was 1 Peter 5:10. I wrote it out and stuck it to the visor in my truck so that, at a red light, I could look up and be strengthened by 1 Peter 5:10. We never let that verse out of our sight. And in ways we could not have imagined, God has proved faithful to his promise. To this day, whenever Jani and I experience some restoring, confirming, strengthening, or establishing mercy, we look at one another and say, “1 Peter 5:10!” In fact, we did so just yesterday. That word from above didn’t merely help us cope. It redefined how we experience reality. It kept me in the ministry.

David Powlison understood human despair. He understood how God helps sufferers. He understood that what we need is a hope dependent on nothing in this world but grounded in God alone. The word himself in 1 Peter 5:10 has become, to me, one of the most precious words in all the Bible—God, not delegating the task to any angel, but God himself getting personally and directly involved with us in our real need. How glorious.

At the time, I have to admit that, though my heart resonated with 1 Peter 5:10, I struggled to believe it. Jani believed it more than I could. But David was right. And thanks to his wise counsel, I turned toward the Lord with the weak faith I had. And gradually I was enabled to believe it more and more. And now I know, at a deep and personal level, that God himself restores, confirms, strengthens, and establishes us, when we have nothing to offer him but our sorrow and need.

Thank you, David. Thank you.

When the Spirit prevails https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/holy-spirit-prevails/ Tue, 04 Jun 2019 13:11:57 +0000 http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/?post_type=ray-ortlund&p=201162

I believe we are nearing a tipping-point, as pressures upon us and within us intensify. We feel more urgency to face ourselves and come clean about our unconfessed sins. We feel less concern to save face and defend the status quo. Surely, the Lord is in this. Here is one way it could go, and should go, and must go, if we hope to have any integrity, any credibility, any prophetic edge as we go into the uncertainties of the future:

“The evening meeting connected with the Bible conference began January 6th, in the Central Church, with more than 1,500 men present. Women were excluded for lack of room. Different missionaries and Korean leaders had charge of the evening meetings, all seeking to show the need of the Spirit’s control in our lives and the necessity for love and righteousness. After a short sermon, man after man would rise, confess his sin, break down and weep, and then throw himself on the floor and beat the floor with his fists in a perfect agony of conviction. Sometimes, after a confession, the whole audience would break out into audible prayer, and the effect of that audience of hundreds of men praying together in audible prayer was something indescribable. Again, after another confession, they would break out into uncontrollable weeping and we would all weep together. We couldn’t help it. And so the meeting went on until 2:00 A.M., with confession and weeping and praying. We had prayed to God for an outpouring of His Holy Spirit upon the people, and it had come.”

“Then began a meeting the like of which I had never seen before, nor wish to see again, unless in God’s sight it is absolutely necessary. Every sin a human being can commit was publicly confessed that night. Pale and trembling with emotion, in agony of mind and body, guilty souls, standing in the white light of their judgment, saw themselves as God saw them. Their sins rose up in all their vileness, until shame and grief and self-loathing took complete possession. Pride was driven out, the face of man forgotten. Looking up to heaven, to Jesus whom they had betrayed, they smote themselves and cried out with bitter wailing, “Lord, Lord, cast us not away forever!” Everything else was forgotten, nothing else mattered. The scorn of men, the penalty of the law, even death itself seemed of small consequence, if only God forgave. We may have other theories of the desirability or undesirability of public confession of sin. I have had mine. But I know now that when the Spirit of God falls upon guilty souls, there will be confession, and no power on earth can stop it.”

Eyewitness accounts of the Korean revival of 1907, quoted in Young-Hoon Lee, “Korean Pentecost: The Great Revival of 1907,” AJPS 4/1 (2001): 77-78.

Faith in Christ: a cheerful defiance https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/faith-christ-cheerful-defiance/ Fri, 31 May 2019 17:11:33 +0000 http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/?post_type=ray-ortlund&p=200669

“I pray for you very earnestly, and I am deeply pained that you keep sucking up cares like a leech and thus rendering my prayers vain. Christ knows whether it comes from stupidity or the Spirit, but I for my part am not very much troubled about our cause. Indeed, I am more hopeful than I expected to be. God, who is able to raise the dead, is also able to uphold his cause when it is falling, or to raise it up again when it has fallen, or to move it forward when it is standing. If we are not worthy instruments to accomplish that purpose, he will find others. If we are not strengthened by his promises, where in all the world are people to whom these promises apply? But more of this another time. After all, my writing this is like pouring water into the sea.”

Martin Luther, writing to despondent Philip Melanchthon, quoted in Theodore Tappert, editor, Luther: Letters of Spiritual Counsel (London, 1955), page 147.

Stay on the anvil https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/stay-on-the-anvil/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/stay-on-the-anvil/#respond Fri, 10 May 2019 16:49:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/stay-on-the-anvil/

When God wants to drill a man
And thrill a man
And skill a man
When God wants to mold a man
To play the noblest part

When He yearns with all His heart
To create so great and bold a man
That all the world shall be amazed,
Watch His methods, watch His ways!

How He ruthlessly perfects
Whom He royally elects!
How He hammers him and hurts him
And with mighty blows converts him
Into shapes and forms of clay
Which only God can understand.

How He bends but never breaks
When his good He undertakes
How He uses whom He chooses
And with mighty power infuses him
With every act induces him
To try His splendor out —
God knows what He’s about.

Author unknown.

“We just were one” https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/we-just-were-one/ Thu, 02 May 2019 14:26:37 +0000 http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/?post_type=ray-ortlund&p=194844


In his prophetic book, The Mark of the Christian, Francis Schaeffer related two examples of reconciliation among Christians, which remains such an urgent need in our own times. Here is his first example:

One happened among the Brethren groups in Germany immediately after the last war [World War 2]. In order to control the church, Hitler commanded the union of all religious groups in Germany, drawing them together by law. The Brethren divided over this issue. Half accepted Hitler’s dictum and half refused. The ones who submitted, of course, had a much easier time, but gradually in this organizational oneness with the liberal groups their own doctrinal sharpness and spiritual life withered. On the other hand, the group that stayed out remained spiritually virile, but there was hardly a family in which someone did not die in a German concentration camp.

Now can you imagine the emotional tension? The war is over, and these Christian brothers face each other again. They had the same doctrine, and they had worked together for more than a generation. Now what is going to happen? One man remembers that his father died in a concentration camp and knows that these people in the other group remained safe. But people on the other side have deep personal feelings as well.

Then gradually these brothers came to know that this situation just would not do. A time was appointed when the elders of the two groups could meet together in a certain quiet place. I asked the man who told me this, “What did you do?” And he said, “Well, I’ll tell you what we did. We came together, and we set aside several days in which each man would search his own heart.” Here was a real difference; the emotions were deeply, deeply stirred. “My father has gone to the concentration camp; my mother was dragged away.” These things are not just little pebbles on the beach; they reach into the deep well-springs of human emotions. But these people understood the command of Christ at this place [John 13:34-35], and for several days every man did nothing except search his own heart concerning his own failures and the commands of Christ. Then they met together.

I asked the man, “What happened then?” And he said, “We just were one.”

How we sing on this day https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/how-we-sing-on-this-day/ Fri, 19 Apr 2019 15:38:19 +0000 http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/?post_type=ray-ortlund&p=192863

A Basic Twentieth-Century Text https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/a-basic-twentieth-century-text/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/a-basic-twentieth-century-text/#respond Mon, 08 Apr 2019 17:44:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/a-basic-twentieth-century-text/

“I remember on one occasion [the censor] shaking his head and saying to me, ‘You can’t say that, because it’s true.’  It seemed like a basic twentieth-century text.”

Malcolm Muggeridge, as a British journalist in Russia in the 1930s, Chronicles of Wasted Time: The Green Stick (New York, 1982), page 223.

Healthy pastors, healthy churches https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/healthy-pastors-healthy-churches/ Fri, 05 Apr 2019 14:37:48 +0000 http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/?post_type=ray-ortlund&p=190574

Attached is the text of my breakout session from Tuesday, “Pastor, you and your church can get healthy again”: Health

Spirit-filled intelligence https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/spirit-filled-intelligence/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/spirit-filled-intelligence/#respond Fri, 08 Mar 2019 23:50:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/spirit-filled-intelligence/

“In our quest for the fullness of the Spirit, we have sometimes forgotten that a Spirit-filled intelligence is one of the powerful weapons for pulling down satanic strongholds.”

Richard F. Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life (Downers Grove, 1979), page 183.

“It would be hell to me if . . .” https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/it-would-be-hell-to-me-if/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/it-would-be-hell-to-me-if/#respond Fri, 01 Mar 2019 01:30:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/it-would-be-hell-to-me-if/


Henry Martyn (1781-1812), Anglican missionary, was the guest of a Muslim friend for dinner. His host described for him a painting he had seen of Jesus bowing down before Muhammad.

Martyn tells us what happened next:

“I was cut to the soul at this blasphemy. Mirza Seid Ali perceived that I was considerably disordered and asked what it was that was so offensive? I told him ‘I could not endure existence if Jesus was not glorified; it would be hell to me if He were to be always thus dishonored.’ He was astonished and again asked ‘Why?’ ‘If anyone pluck out your eyes,’ I replied, ‘there is no saying why you feel pain; it is feeling. It is because I am one with Christ that I am thus dreadfully wounded.'”

Quoted in Constance E. Padwick, Henry Martyn: Confessor Of The Faith, page 265.

It would un-Jesus him https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/it-would-un-jesus-him-2/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/it-would-un-jesus-him-2/#respond Wed, 27 Feb 2019 21:20:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/it-would-un-jesus-him-2/

If we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.  2 Timothy 2:13

“I tell you, if he were to shut you out, dear soul, whoever you may be, if you go to him, he would deny himself. He never did deny himself yet. Whenever a sinner comes to him, he becomes his Savior. Whenever he meets a sick soul, he acts as his Physician. . . . If you go to him, you will find him at home and on the look-out for you. He will be more glad to receive you than you will be to be received. . . . I tell you again that he cannot reject you. That would be to alter his whole character and un-Christ himself. To spurn a coming sinner would un-Jesus him and make him to be somebody else and not himself any longer. ‘He cannot deny himself.’ Go and try him; go and try him.”

C. H. Spurgeon, Treasury of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, 1950), III:862.

Mercy, justice, and revival https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/mercy-justice-and-revival/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/mercy-justice-and-revival/#respond Mon, 11 Feb 2019 19:35:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/mercy-justice-and-revival/

In thinking through how to promote the cause of revival, Jonathan Edwards urged prayer and fasting, first and foremost. But he also pointed out that prayer, while vitally important, is less personally costly to us than “moral duties, such as acts of righteousness, truth, meekness, forgiveness and love towards our neighbor, which are of much greater importance in the sight of God than all the externals of his worship.” Our hearts before God are the essence of true faith, Edwards agreed. But costly acts of sacrifice and service are more opposite to our natural selfishness and are, therefore, more striking in the sight of God. He cited Luke 3:1-17 and how John the Baptist called the people to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance” and thus prepare the way of the Lord. Then Edwards wrote:

“If God’s people in this land were once brought to abound in such deeds of love, as much as in praying, hearing, singing, and religious meetings and conference, it would be a most blessed omen. Nothing would have a greater tendency to bring the God of love down from heaven to earth, so amiable would be the sight in the eyes of our loving and exalted Redeemer, that it would soon as it were fetch him down from his throne in heaven, to set up his tabernacle with men on the earth and dwell with them. I do not remember ever to have read of any remarkable outpouring of the Spirit, that continued any long time, but what was attended with an abounding in this duty.”

Jonathan Edwards, “Thoughts on the Revival,” in Works (Edinburgh, 1979), I:429.

True revival is not a private religious joyride. It is a divine power for advocacy, starting with us Christians who not only pray but also act boldly for the sake of others.

Kingdom-advancing prayer https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/frontline-prayer/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/frontline-prayer/#respond Wed, 30 Jan 2019 18:35:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/frontline-prayer/

“Maintenance prayer meetings are short, mechanical and totally focused on physical needs inside the church or on personal needs of the people present.  But frontline prayer has three basic traits: a) a request for grace to confess sins and humble ourselves, b) a compassion and zeal for the flourishing of the church, and c) a yearning to know God, to see his face, to see his glory.”

Tim Keller, “Kingdom-centered Prayer,” Redeemer Report, January 2006.

Gospel doctrine, gospel culture https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/gospel-doctrine-gospel-culture-2/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/gospel-doctrine-gospel-culture-2/#respond Sat, 19 Jan 2019 14:17:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/gospel-doctrine-gospel-culture-2/

Gospel doctrine creates a gospel culture. The doctrine of grace creates a culture of grace, as Jesus himself touches us through his truths. Without the doctrines, the culture alone is fragile. Without the culture, the doctrines alone appear pointless. But the New Testament binds doctrine and culture together. For example:

The doctrine of regeneration creates a culture of humility (Eph. 2:1-9).

The doctrine of justification creates a culture of inclusion (Gal. 2:11-16).

The doctrine of reconciliation creates a culture of peace (Eph. 2:14-16).

The doctrine of sanctification creates a culture of life (Rom. 6:20-23).

The doctrine of glorification creates a culture of hope (Rom. 5:2).

The doctrine of God creates a culture of honesty (1 John 1:5-10). And what is more basic than that?

If we want this culture to thrive, we can’t take doctrinal short cuts. If we want this doctrine to be credible, we can’t downplay the culture. But churches where the doctrine and the culture converge as one bear living witness to the power of Jesus.

Churches that do not exude humility, inclusion, peace, life, hope, and honesty—even if they have gospel doctrine on paper, they undercut their own doctrine at a functional level, where it should count in the lives of actual people.Churches that are haughty, exclusivistic, contentious, exhausted, past-oriented, and in denial are revealing not just a lack of niceness; they are revealing a gospel deficit, a doctrinal betrayal.

The current rediscovery of the gospel as doctrine is good, very good. But a further discovery of the gospel as culture—the gospel embodied in community—will be immeasurably better, filled with a divine power such as we have not yet seen.

It’s what revival will look like next.

A Person https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/a-person/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/a-person/#respond Sat, 12 Jan 2019 19:50:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/a-person/

“Our faith is a person; the gospel that we have to preach is a person; and go wherever we may, we have something solid and tangible to preach, for our gospel is a person.  If you had asked the twelve Apostles in their day, ‘What do you believe in?’ they would not have stopped to go round about with a long sermon, but they would have pointed to their Master and they would have said, ‘We believe him.’  ‘But what are your doctrines?’  ‘There they stand incarnate.’  ‘But what is your practice?’  ‘There stands our practice.  He is our example.’  ‘What then do you believe?’  Hear the glorious answer of the Apostle Paul, ‘We preach Christ crucified.’  Our creed, our body of divinity, our whole theology is summed up in the person of Christ Jesus.”

C. H. Spurgeon, in Lectures Delivered before the Young Men’s Christian Association in Exeter Hall 1858-1859 (London, 1859), pages 159-160.

Quit apologizing https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/quit-apologizing/ Wed, 02 Jan 2019 17:09:23 +0000 http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/?post_type=ray-ortlund&p=176944

Is there a valid place among us for apologies, restraint, caution? Obviously, yes. Indeed, it is mystifying how rarely we, who say we value repentance, repent and back up and correct our wrongs and reconcile with one another. But that is not my concern in this post.

In this post my concern is the opposite. When we are serving the Lord, following his call on our lives, doing the obviously right and biblical and Christ-honoring thing, advancing the gospel, we can be wrongly hesitant, timid, apologetic. But the apostolic church was bold. In fact, the key word in Acts chapter 4 is “boldness” (verses 13, 29, 31). Those stalwarts were a force to be reckoned with, for the Lord’s sake.

Some of us should resolve, by God’s grace, that in 2019 we will quit apologizing and serve him boldly. We have been intimidated too long, knocked back on our heels too long, perhaps even cowardly. But we don’t have to stay that way.

Here is an illustration of what our needed change can look like, from the life of Winston Churchill. He took up painting—of all things—for personal renewal amid his demanding responsibilities. At first, it was hard for him to throw himself into it. Something held him back. Then a friend, Hazel Lavery, herself a painter, visited Churchill one day while he was at his easel. Here is what happened, beginning with his visitor’s exclamation:

“‘Painting! But what are you hesitating about? Let me have a brush—the big one.’ Then, Churchill recalled, ‘Splash into the turpentine, wallop into the blue and white, frantic flourish on the palette—clean no longer—then several large, fierce strokes and slashes of blue on the absolutely cowering canvas. Anyone could see that it could not hit back. No evil fate avenged the jaunty violence.’ Lady Lavery had done her work well. ‘The canvas grinned in helplessness before me,’ Churchill wrote. ‘The spell was broken. The sickly inhibitions rolled away. I seized the largest brush and fell upon my victim with berserk fury. I have never felt in awe of a canvas since.'”

Martin Gilbert: Churchill: A Life (New York, 1991), pages 322-323.

Quit apologizing for serving the Lord. Go boldly into 2019. Paint onto its canvas what the gospel demands. It awaits your strokes.

Revolution is . . . https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/revolution-is/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/revolution-is/#respond Wed, 02 Jan 2019 13:00:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/revolution-is/

Jean-Paul Sartre said, “Revolution is seeing each other a lot.”

The power of a cohesive church — as in Acts 2:42-47.

Quoted in Peter Collier and David Horowitz, Destructive Generation: Second Thoughts about the Sixties, page 80.

“Why could we not cast it out?” https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/why-could-we-not-cast-it-out/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/why-could-we-not-cast-it-out/#respond Thu, 27 Dec 2018 22:50:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/why-could-we-not-cast-it-out/ Mt_17_14-15.Gustave_Dore.JesusHealingTheLunatic

And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”  Mark 9:29

“You failed there, he said in effect to these disciples, because you did not have sufficient power. You were using the power that you have, and you were very confident in it. You did it with great assurance, you were masters of the occasion, you thought you were going to succeed at once, but you did not. . . . You will never be able to deal with ‘this kind’ unless you have applied to God for the power which he alone can give you.

You must become aware of your need, of your impotence, of your helplessness. You must realize that you are confronted by something that is too deep for your methods to get rid of or to deal with, and you need something that can go down beneath that evil power and shatter it, and there is only one thing that can do that, and that is the power of God. . . . We must become utterly and absolutely convinced of our need. We must cease to have so much confidence in ourselves, and in all our methods and organizations, and in all our slickness. We have got to realize that we must be filled with God’s Spirit.

And we must be equally certain that God can fill us with his Spirit. We have got to realize that, however great ‘this kind’ is, the power of God is infinitely greater, that what we need is not more knowledge, more understanding, more apologetics, more reconciliation of philosophy and science and religion, and all modern techniques — no, we need a power that can enter into the souls of men and break them and smash them and humble them and then make them anew.  And that is the power of the living God.

And we must be confident that God has this power as much today as he had one hundred years ago, and two hundred years ago, and so we must begin to seek the power and to pray for it. We must begin to plead and yearn for it.  ‘This kind’ needs prayer.”

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Revival (Wheaton, 1987), pages 18-19.

A question every church planter must ask and answer https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/question-every-church-planter-must-ask-answer/ Wed, 26 Dec 2018 17:32:31 +0000 http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/?post_type=ray-ortlund&p=176300

“When we go to a town to start a church, are we going there with the primary motivation to build a church which is loyal to Presbyterians and the Reformed faith, or are we going there to build a church which will preach the gospel which historic, Bible-believing Christianity holds, and then on this side of that chasm teach that which we believe is true to the Bible in regard to church government and doctrine? It makes a difference to our mentality, to our motivation, and to the breadth of our outreach. I must say, to me one view is catholic, biblical and gives good promise of success; the other is introverted and self-limiting, yes, and sectarian. I spoke of a good promise of success. I mean on two levels: first, in church growth and a healthy outlook among those we reach; second, in providing leadership in the whole church of Christ. . . . To put the chasm in the wrong place is to fail to fulfill our calling, and I am convinced that when we do so we displease our Lord.”

Francis A. Schaeffer, “We Don’t Have Forever,” 1980.

Immanuel https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/immanuel/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/immanuel/#respond Sun, 23 Dec 2018 21:18:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/immanuel/

“‘Immanuel, God with us.’ It is hell’s terror. Satan trembles at the sound of it. . . . Let him come to you suddenly, and do you but whisper that word, ‘God with us,’ back he falls, confounded and confused. . . . ‘God with us’ is the laborer’s strength. How could he preach the gospel, how could he bend his knees in prayer, how could the missionary go into foreign lands, how could the martyr stand at the stake, how could the confessor own his Master, how could men labor if that one word were taken away? . . . ‘God with us’ is eternity’s sonnet, heaven’s hallelujah, the shout of the glorified, the song of the redeemed, the chorus of the angels, the everlasting oratorio of the great orchestra of the sky. . . .

Feast, Christians, feast; you have a right to feast. . . . But in your feasting, think of the Man in Bethlehem. Let him have a place in your hearts, give him the glory, think of the virgin who conceived him, but think most of all of the Man born, the Child given.

I finish by again saying, A happy Christmas to you all!

C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of the Old Testament (London, n.d.), III:430.

Right Now Counts Forever https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/right-now-counts-forever/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/right-now-counts-forever/#respond Wed, 19 Dec 2018 16:40:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/right-now-counts-forever/ “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”  2 Corinthians 5:10 This is our ultimate accountability. Let’s get ready. Let’s live with purpose. Let’s live in repentance. Let be aware, moment by moment, that right now counts forever. What we think, what we say, what we feel, what we do and don’t do—we matter. We matter to Christ. We will matter forever. And very soon we will “report in.” This is solemnizing. This is dignifying. It is...]]> “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”  2 Corinthians 5:10

This is our ultimate accountability. Let’s get ready. Let’s live with purpose. Let’s live in repentance. Let be aware, moment by moment, that right now counts forever. What we think, what we say, what we feel, what we do and don’t do—we matter. We matter to Christ. We will matter forever. And very soon we will “report in.”

This is solemnizing. This is dignifying. It is also encouraging.

What if, as you stand there before Christ your Judge on that great and final day, surrounded by all the redeemed, each one awaiting his or her moment before the Lord—what if, standing there before him, he asks, “Everyone, I want to know who among you appreciated this person’s ministry? Who would like to bear witness to how he helped you for my sake?” And no one says anything. Total silence. Awkward silence. Everyone is embarrassed. Everyone is thinking, Would somebody please say something?” You are standing there wondering, So my entire life comes down to this? What a failure I am! But then one voice does break that terrible silence. The Lord himself stands and says, “Well, I appreciated his ministry!”

It’s an improbable scenario. But putting it like that does isolate the most urgent question of all. Is the approval of Jesus enough for you and for me? Do we love him enough, do we revere him enough, that his judgment is the one we’re living for?

We care what others think. We want to please them (1 Cor. 10:33). But only one opinion will count finally and forever.

Immanuel Worship, Volume One [Live]: The Perfect Love of Christ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/immanuel-worship-volume-one-live-perfect-love-christ/ Fri, 07 Dec 2018 17:50:14 +0000 http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/?post_type=ray-ortlund&p=173714

Our hearts don’t crack open easily. Many of us who believe the gospel still live day-to-day in avoidance, rather than relief, of our pain.

In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis, Eustace needs Aslan to get through his outward dragon scales: “The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart.” But the lion’s claws only freed Eustace from the prison of his dragon-self.

Like Eustace, we need the gospel to go way down deep. We sing our Christian songs, we hear our gospel sermons, we enjoy honest fellowship—all sincerely, too. And it’s wonderful. But there are episodes in our past that are so threatening to us, so beyond our capacity for coping, we cannot face them. What we don’t realize is that our most shocking failures are where Jesus loves us the most tenderly. And he is able to break through our defenses and touch us with his gentleness in ways we have never experienced before.

Music helps. It goes deep. That’s why I love the new live CD from Immanuel Church Nashville, available today on iTunes, Apple Music, Spotify, and so on.

The fifth track, “Missing Not One,” written by Will Duvall and sung by Jessica Waterman, cracks my own heart open. It draws on Isaiah 40:26-27, Ephesians 3:17-19, and Romans 8:31-39 to help us open up to the perfect love of Christ. I hope you’ll check out all these great songs. Thanks.

Controversial then and now https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/the-first-commandment-always-controversial/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/the-first-commandment-always-controversial/#respond Thu, 15 Nov 2018 19:45:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/the-first-commandment-always-controversial/

You shall have no other gods before me.  Exodus 20:3

I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.  John 14:6

“This intolerant claim to exclusive worship is something unique in the history of religion, for in antiquity the cults [the various centers of worship] were on easy terms with one another and left devotees a free hand to ensure a blessing for themselves from other gods as well.”

Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology (New York, 1962), I:208.

Our three kinds of suffering https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/three-kinds-of-suffering/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/three-kinds-of-suffering/#respond Wed, 14 Nov 2018 17:45:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/three-kinds-of-suffering/ Cain_kills_Abel

We experience three kinds of suffering in this life.

One, deserved suffering. We sin, and we suffer misery for it. Sin always spawns misery. It’s all sin can do. So, deserved suffering is inevitable: “Be sure your sin will find you out” (Num. 32:23). When our sins catch up with us and we feel the pain, let’s humble ourselves and accept it and, as fully as we can, make right the wrong we did.

Deserved suffering is hard to bear. But our suffering can be even harder:

Two, innocent suffering. We do not sin, we do nothing wrong, but we still suffer. A natural disaster brings innocent suffering. Racial prejudice brings innocent suffering. Abortion brings innocent suffering. “Manasseh shed very much innocent blood” (2 Kings 21:16). We should respond to the innocent sufferings of a natural disaster with whatever help we can provide. And we must courageously oppose the powerful who torment the innocent, as much as we are able.

Innocent suffering is horrible. But our sufferings can be even more intense:

Three, righteous suffering. We not only do not sin, but we do what is right, we stand for Jesus and his gospel, and we suffer for it. Why did Cain murder Abel? “Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s were righteous” (1 John 3:12). Abel’s crime was his integrity, which made Cain look bad, and Cain couldn’t stand it. Abel was persecuted for righteousness’ sake (Matt. 5:10). His death was among “the righteous blood shed on earth” (Matt. 23:35). This world dishes out righteous suffering to us all: “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). It happens even in churches.

Not all of us will experience the innocent suffering of, say, racial injustice. None of us should experience it. We should oppose it bravely, no matter what the personal cost. If we chicken out and keep our heads down while innocent people are suffering, we offend our Lord and erode our own credibility. But it is righteous suffering where all of us who love the Lord, every one of us without a single exception, can gather at the feet of Jesus and weep together with the deepest understanding.

Righteous suffering is a powerfully unifying force in the body of Christ.

Why did God make toads? https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/why-did-god-make-toads/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/why-did-god-make-toads/#respond Thu, 08 Nov 2018 16:00:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/why-did-god-make-toads/

This is my grandson.  He is lost in thought, contemplating a toad.  All else has faded away, for a toad is at hand.  And, surely, this is why God made toads.  For little boys to meditate upon.  At this moment in my grandson’s existence, he has no thought but concentration, no feeling but fascination.  This is one of the ways God cares for little boys, drawing them into the experience of curiosity and even wonder — like training wheels on the bicycle that one day will become the Maserati.

What is a toad?  I think of it as a frog – already an absurd creature – but with more camo and warts.  And it prefers to walk on land.  So that little boys can see one in the back yard.  And grow up to be men in Christ with hearts alerted to the out-there-ness reality of things infinitely greater than toads, worthy of endless wonder.  So thank you, Father, for the toads of this world.  For this toad.  For this boy.  For this moment.  For all that it means for the future, including the future of the whole world.

Is there, built into the total creation, an intrinsic necessity for toads?  If all the world’s toads were suddenly to disappear, would the universe be diminished?  My hunch is, no.  But is there, built into the total creation, an intrinsic necessity for little boys?  If they were all to disappear, would the universe be diminished?  Yes.  Little boys can grow up to be mighty men of Christ, to rule majestically over all things, under their King and Brother (Psalm 8).

It all starts so humbly, so delightfully, with a toad in the back yard.

Men sure of God https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/men-sure-of-god/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/men-sure-of-god/#respond Fri, 02 Nov 2018 13:00:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/men-sure-of-god/

“. . . men sure of God, sure of his will, sure of the absolute duty to act in his sight and for his approval. Nothing else mattered by comparison. Consequences were of no account. Obedience alone held the secret of freedom, courage, peace, power, happiness and salvation.”

The Puritans, as described by F. J. Powicke, quoted in Iain H. Murray, David Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years (Edinburgh, 1982), page 97.

We should not idealize the Puritans. But the value of this statement lies in its clear description of Christian men to whom God is real and supreme, men not confident in themselves but certain about God.

In our time we have rejected certainty and replaced it with confidence. Certainty gazes outward to Another, while confidence looks within to oneself.

Men sure of God are truly humble. And they cannot be ignored. They stand out. They alone have something to say. Who is willing to bear the reproach of walking through this world humbly as a man sure of God?

How to stand tall in our troubled times https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/i-knew-by-your-looks/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/i-knew-by-your-looks/#respond Tue, 16 Oct 2018 15:00:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/i-knew-by-your-looks/

“What is the indelible mark of the Shorter Catechism?  We have the following bit of personal experience from a general officer of the United States army.  He was in a great western city at a time of intense excitement and violent rioting.  The streets were overrun daily by a dangerous crowd.  One day he observed approaching him a man of singularly combined calmness and firmness of mien, whose very demeanor inspired confidence.  So impressed was he with his bearing amid the surrounding uproar that, when he had passed, he turned to look back at him, only to find that the stranger had done the same.  On observing his turning, the stranger at once came back to him and, touching his chest with his forefinger, demanded without preface, ‘What is the chief end of man?’  On receiving the countersign, ‘Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever’ — ‘Ah!’ said he, ‘I knew you were a Shorter Catechism boy by your looks!’  ‘Why, that was just what I was thinking of you’ was the rejoinder.

It is worthwhile to be a Shorter Catechism boy. They grow up to be men. And better than that, they are exceedingly apt to grow to be men of God.”

John E. Meeter, editor, Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield (Phillipsburg, 1970), I:383-384.

They calmly sang on https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/not-afraid-to-die/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/not-afraid-to-die/#respond Tue, 02 Oct 2018 15:20:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/not-afraid-to-die/ capt-ship_storm_WIP_04

John Wesley finally saw how little he knew of Jesus in the middle of the Atlantic, on board the Simmonds, when a storm suddenly broke out. A group of Moravian missionaries happened to be having a worship service on deck at the time. Wesley records that, when the storm became intense, “a terrible screaming began among the English.” But “the Germans looked up, and without intermission calmly sang on. I asked one of them afterwards, ‘Were you not afraid?’ He answered, ‘I thank God, no.’ I asked, ‘But were not your women and children afraid?’ He replied mildly, ‘No; our women and children are not afraid to die.'” Wesley then knew that something was missing from his life. He found it in Christ. He found all he needed to face life and death in Christ alone.

As we are buffeted by the political storms hammering our nation, may we who believe in Jesus not yield to hysteria. May we calmly sing on, because we have in him a hope that nothing in this world can destroy. Our serenity will make an eternal difference to others.

The Wesley episode narrated in A. Skevington Wood, The Inextinguishable Blaze: Spiritual Renewal and Advance in the Eighteenth Century (Grand Rapids, 1968), pages 105-106.

Certainty, openness, and theological wisdom https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/certainty-and-openness/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/certainty-and-openness/#respond Thu, 06 Sep 2018 16:05:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/certainty-and-openness/ 2012-MAY-Source-Liaohe-River-Delta-Marshland-300x214
Some Christians seem “all certainty.” Maybe it makes them feel heroic. But they see too few gray areas. Everything is a federal case. They have a fundamentalist mindset.

Other Christians seem “all openness.” Maybe it makes them feel humble. But they see too few black-and-white areas. They have a liberal mindset—though they may demonstrate a surprising certainty against certainty.

The Bible is our authority as we sort out what deserves certainty and what deserves openness. For example,  1 Corinthians 15:1-4 defines the gospel of Christ crucified for our sins, Christ buried and Christ risen again on the third day, according to the Scriptures, as “of first importance.” Here is the center of our certainty.

From that “of first importance” theological address, we move out toward the whole range of theological and practical and worldview questions deserving our attention. The more clearly our logic connects back with that center, the more certain and the less open we should be. The further our thinking extrapolates from that center, the less certain and the more open we should be. When a question cannot be addressed by a clear appeal to the Bible, our conclusions should be all the more modest.

The gospel requires us to have high expectations of one another on central doctrines, unmistakable views and obvious strategies, and it cautions us to be more relaxed with one another the further we have to move out from the center.

Building our theology and worldview is not like pushing the first domino over, which pushes the next over, and so forth, down the line—each domino of equal weight and each fall equally inevitable. Rather, building our theology and worldview is more like exploring a river. We start out at the mouth of the river. It is wide. There is no decision to make. But then we start paddling up-river. As each tributary forks into the river, we must decide which way to go. Indeed, it may eventually become difficult to distinguish between the river itself and a tributary. But many decisions must be made along the way, not every one equally obvious.

This is why we need a map of the whole, noting the main features of the topography, such as 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 provides. There are other scriptures that help us globalize our biblical thinking in this way. For example, Exodus 34:6-7 is quoted multiple times throughout the rest of the Old Testament. Clearly, it is an atomically weighted passage that other biblical authors treated as a sort of theological North Star for guidance. There are other passages meant to help us improve our overall theological wisdom and a fair-minded sense of proportion and legitimate expectations of one another.

A church or movement may desire, for its own reasons, to define secondary and tertiary doctrines and convictions as important within their own ministry. That’s okay. But then it’s helpful to say, “We know this isn’t a dividing line for Christian oneness. It’s just a decision we’ve made for ourselves, because we think it will help us in our situation. We realize that other Christians will see it differently, and we respect their views.”

May we become more certain where we’ve been too open, and more open where we’ve been too certain, according to the totality of Scripture. And where it seems helpful to provide further definition on our own authority, may we do so with candor, gentleness, and humility.

How Jesus loves, how we change https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/how-jesus-loves-how-we-change/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/how-jesus-loves-how-we-change/#respond Thu, 16 Aug 2018 17:24:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/how-jesus-loves-how-we-change/ “A man may love another as his own soul, yet his love may not be able to help him. He may pity him in prison, but not relieve him, bemoan him in misery, but not help him, suffer with him in trouble, but not ease him. We cannot love grace into a child, nor mercy into a friend; we cannot love them into heaven, though it may be the greatest desire of our soul. . . . But the love of Christ, being the love of God, is effective and fruitful in producing all the good things which he wills for his beloved. He loves life, grace and holiness into us; he loves us into covenant, loves us into heaven.”

John Owen, Works (Edinburgh, 1980), II:63.  Style updated, italics added.

True faith will take risks https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/true-faith-will-take-risks/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/true-faith-will-take-risks/#respond Fri, 03 Aug 2018 17:30:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/true-faith-will-take-risks/ img_29_458_1

“Pseudo-faith always arranges a way out to serve in case God fails it.  Real faith knows only one way and gladly allows itself to be stripped of any second way or makeshift substitutes.  For true faith, it is either God or total collapse.  And not since Adam first stood up on the earth has God failed a single man or woman who trusted him.”

A. W. Tozer, “True Faith Brings Committal,” In The Root of the Righteous (Harrisburg, 1955), pages 49-50.

What new step of obedience is God calling you to venture, by the sheer audacity of taking him at his word?

Sincerity in preaching https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/sincerity-in-preaching/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/sincerity-in-preaching/#respond Thu, 26 Jul 2018 16:50:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/sincerity-in-preaching/

“A strangely fascinating power is exerted by those who are utterly sincere.  Such believers attract unbelievers, as with the case of David Hume, the eighteenth-century British deistic philosopher who rejected historic Christianity.  A friend once met him hurrying along a London street and asked him where he was going.  Hume replied that he was going to hear George Whitefield preach.  ‘But surely,’ his friend asked in astonishment, ‘you don’t believe what Whitefield preaches, do you?’  ‘No, I don’t,’ answered Hume, ‘but he does.’

I am convinced that in our day simple sincerity has not lost any of its power to appeal or to impress.  It was in 1954 that Billy Graham first hit the headlines in Britain, with his Greater London Crusade.  Approximately 12,000 people came to the Haringay Arena every night for three months.  Most nights I was there myself, and as I looked round that vast crowd, I could not help comparing it with our half-empty churches.  ‘Why do these people come to listen to Billy Graham,’ I asked myself, ‘when they don’t come to listen to us?’  Now I am sure that many answers could have been justly given to that question.  But the answer I kept giving myself was this: ‘There is an incontrovertible sincerity about that young American evangelist.  Even his fiercest critics all concede that he is sincere.  I really believe he is the first transparently sincere Christian preacher many of these people have ever heard.’  Today, twenty-five years later, I have found no reason to change my mind.”

John Stott, Between Two Worlds: The Challenge of Preaching Today (Grand Rapids, 1982), pages 269-270.

Two problems, not just one https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/two-problems-not-just-one/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/two-problems-not-just-one/#respond Mon, 23 Jul 2018 14:45:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/two-problems-not-one/

“God has two problems with us.  The relationship can be broken in two ways.  The first would be by our failure, our immorality, our vices. . . . That problem is usually quite obvious.  But the second problem is not so obvious.  It is precisely our supposed success, even our ‘morality,’ our virtues — the relationship with God is broken to the degree that we don’t think we need unconditional justification . . . .

The first problem, our failure and our immorality, is usually most easily recognized and generally condemned because it has consequences, both personally and socially.  But the second problem, while generally approved in human eyes because it is advantageous and socially useful, is more dangerous before God . . . precisely because it is praised and sought after.”

Gerhard O. Forde, “The Lutheran View,” in Christian Spirituality, edited by Donald L. Alexander (Downers Grove, 1988), page 26.

Lament https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/lament/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/lament/#respond Thu, 05 Jul 2018 17:55:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/lament/ Futuristic_Abandoned_City

Weep, weep for those
who do the work of the Lord
with a high look
and a proud heart.
Their voice is lifted up
in the streets, and their cry is heard.
The bruised reed they break
by their great strength, and the smoking flax
they trample.

Weep not for the quenched
(for their God will hear their cry
and the Lord will come to save them)
but weep, weep for the quenchers.

For when the Day of the Lord
is come, and the vales sing
and the hills clap their hands
and the light shines
then their eyes will be opened
on a waste place,
the smoke of the flax bitter
in their nostrils,
their feet pierced
by broken reed-stems . . .
Wood, hay and stubble,
and no grass springing,
and all the birds flown.

Weep, weep for those
who have made a desert
in the name of the Lord.

Evangeline Paterson, “Lament,” in Francis A. Schaeffer, The Mark of the Christian (Downers Grove, 1970), pages 37-38.

How to do the Lord’s work in the Lord’s way https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/lords-work-lords-way/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/lords-work-lords-way/#respond Sun, 01 Jul 2018 14:18:04 +0000 http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/?post_type=ray-ortlund&p=148848

This past week Jani and I had the privilege of serving the pastors and wives of the Acts 29 Network, Southeast Region, in Vail, Colorado. Here is the message I brought, which I believe is critical to our authenticity and power in these momentous days: A29SE2018.

How Spurgeon rescued a faltering prayer meeting https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/spurgeon-rescued-faltering-prayer-meeting/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/spurgeon-rescued-faltering-prayer-meeting/#respond Fri, 29 Jun 2018 14:25:41 +0000 http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/?post_type=ray-ortlund&p=148647

Richard Ellsworth Day, on pages 223-224 of The Shadow of the Broad Brim (1934), writes of “a prayer service in Metropolitan Tabernacle that dragged wretchedly,” when one of the leaders finally suggested to Spurgeon, “You had better take the meeting.”  So Spurgeon rose to pray: “O God, here is the devil doing his best to break up this prayer meeting.  I hear him say, ‘The church is dead, faith is dying out.’  I hear him, Lord, claiming that the people are satisfied with great congregations and that they are letting go of the right hand of the Lord Jesus.  It is a lie, O God!  We trust in Thee, Jesus!”  On Spurgeon went, Day relates, praising Christ, with “Amens” beginning to rise from the people.  Spurgeon continued, “Come, Lord Jesus, lift us out of ourselves and into Thee!”  An eyewitness records, “‘Amen!’ was our united shout, and the work was done.  The tide of redeeming love came in.  We were out on the ocean of God’s love, sailing.”

How many pastors today have the courage to lead the ministry of prayer in their churches so boldly?

How much difference would it make? https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/how-much-difference-would-it-make/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/how-much-difference-would-it-make/#respond Wed, 27 Jun 2018 18:00:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/how-much-difference-would-it-make/

“‘Edith, I wonder what would happen to most churches and Christian work if we awakened tomorrow, and everything concerning the reality and work of the Holy Spirit, and everything concerning prayer, were removed from the Bible.  I don’t mean just ignored, but actually cut out – disappeared.  I wonder how much difference it would make?’  We concluded it would not make much difference in many board meetings, committee meetings, decisions and activities.”

Edith Schaeffer, The Tapestry (Waco, 1981), page 356.

Running from God https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/jonah/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/jonah/#respond Mon, 25 Jun 2018 10:00:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/jonah/

The Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea.  Jonah 1:4

The lot fell on Jonah.  Jonah 1:7

The Lord appointed a great fish.  Jonah 1:17

The word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time.  Jonah 3:1

The Lord God appointed a plant.  Jonah 4:6

God appointed a worm.  Jonah 4:7

God appointed a scorching east wind.  Jonah 4:8

The Lord has more ways of confronting us than we have ways of evading him.

God attended it https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/god-attended-it/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/god-attended-it/#respond Sat, 23 Jun 2018 19:43:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/god-attended-it/

“This book [of Acts] contains unanswerable evidence of the truth of the Christian religion.  It is a record of the early triumphs of Christianity.  Within the space of thirty years after the death of Christ, the gospel had been carried to all parts of the civilized, and to no small portion of the uncivilized, world.  Its progress and its triumphs were not concealed.  Its great transactions were not ‘done in a corner.’  It had been preached in the most splendid, powerful, and corrupt cities; churches were already founded in Jerusalem, Antioch, Corinth, Ephesus, Philippi, and at Rome.  The gospel had spread in Arabia, Asia Minor, Greece, Macedon, Italy, and Africa.  It had assailed the most mighty existing institutions; it had made its way over the most formidable barriers; it had encountered the most deadly and malignant opposition; it had traveled to the capital [Rome] and had secured such a hold even in the imperial city as to make it certain that it would finally overturn the established religion and seat itself upon the ruins of paganism.

Within thirty years, it had settled the point that it would overturn every bloody altar, close every pagan temple, bring under its influence the men of office, rank, and power, and that ‘the banners of the faith would soon stream from the palaces of the Caesars.’  All this would be accomplished by the instrumentality of Jews – of fishermen – of Nazarenes.  They had neither wealth, armies, nor allies.  With the exception of Paul, they were men without learning.  They were taught only by the Holy Spirit, armed only with the power of God, victorious only because Christ was their Captain, and the world acknowledged the presence of the messengers of the Highest and the power of the Christian religion.  Its success never has been, and never can be, accounted for by any other supposition than that God attended it.  And if the Christian religion is not true, the change brought about by the twelve apostles is the most inexplicable, mysterious, and wonderful event that has ever been witnessed in this world.  Their success will stand until the end of time as an argument for the truth of God’s plan, that shall confound the infidel and sustain the Christian with the assured belief that this is a religion which has proceeded from the almighty and infinitely benevolent God.”

Albert Barnes, Notes Explanatory and Practical on the Acts of the Apostles (New York, 1851), page vi.  Italics original.

Revival and money? https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/greater-wealth/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/greater-wealth/#respond Mon, 18 Jun 2018 12:00:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/greater-wealth/
If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?  Luke 16:11

We are accustomed to the biblical message that we should trust God.  But here is another — smaller and subordinate, but still important — category: that God would trust us.  If we are not faithful (pistoi) with money, which is unrighteous and not worth much, who will entrust (pisteusei) to us the true riches of spiritual wealth and power?  In other words, if we can’t handle cheap things wisely, why would God put far more precious things into our hands?

I wonder if we have connected these dots: our prayers for revival, and our use of money.  We cannot buy the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:18-20).  But how we use our money is one indicator, in God’s sight, of our maturity and wisdom and readiness and trustworthiness with greater things, like revival.  Francis Schaeffer:

“The ‘true riches’ [of Luke 16:11] obviously have nothing to do with money.  To have spiritual power to overcome the awfulness of the post-Christian world — that is true riches.  The church is constantly saying, ‘Where’s our power? Where’s our power?’  Jesus’ statement here gives us at least part of the answer.  We must use money with a view to what counts in eternity.  If a child cannot take his father’s money, go to the store, purchase what is requested and return home with the change, it does not make sense for the father to increase his allowance.  So since . . . the money we handle is not our own, if we do not bring it under the lordship of Christ, we will not be given the greater wealth of spiritual power.”

Francis A. Schaeffer, “Ash heap lives,” in No Little People (Downers Grove, 1974), page 266.

Can we in this generation be trusted with the glorious powers of revival?  God assesses us not only by listening to how we pray and plead but also by looking at how we spend and give.

Pastoral integrity https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/pastoral-integrity/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/pastoral-integrity/#respond Wed, 13 Jun 2018 22:12:44 +0000 http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/?post_type=ray-ortlund&p=146230

“I hold myself bound, in conscience and in honor, not even to imagine that I have attained a proper knowledge of any one article of truth, much less to publish it, unless through the Holy Spirit I have had such a taste of it, in its spiritual sense, as that I may be able from the heart to say with the psalmist, ‘I have believed, and therefore have I spoken.'”

John Owen, Works (Edinburgh, 1976), X:488.

HT: Justin Taylor

A mysterious exchange https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/a-mysterious-exchange/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/a-mysterious-exchange/#respond Thu, 07 Jun 2018 11:10:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/a-mysterious-exchange/

“When we are united to Christ a mysterious exchange takes place: he took our curse, so that we may receive his blessing; he became sin with our sin, so that we may become righteous with his righteousness. . . . On the one hand, God declined to ‘impute’ our sins to us, or ‘count’ them against us, with the implication that he imputed them to Christ instead.  On the other, God has imputed Christ’s righteousness to us. . . . We ourselves have done nothing of what is imputed to us, nor Christ anything of what is imputed to him. . . . He voluntarily accepted liability for our sins.”

John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove, 1986), pages 148-149.

We are our secrets https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/you-are-your-secrets-2/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/you-are-your-secrets-2/#respond Thu, 31 May 2018 15:52:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/you-are-your-secrets-2/ confidential-files

O. Hobart Mowrer, in the course of his service as a psychologist, set himself to understand more deeply our hollowed-out emotional lives. He noted that, commonly, when we perform a good deed, we advertise it, display it, draw attention to it, at least hint at it, hoping to collect on the emotional credit of it. But when we do something cheap, evil, or stupid, we hide it, deny it, minimize it, for obvious reasons. But the emotional discredit from our bad moments stays with us and even accumulates with each successive hypocrisy. The result is, we make ourselves chronically empty in conscience and heart and feeling. Our lives are required of us, and we are found wanting. No felt “net worth.” Lost confidence, no pizzazz. Our positive energies are depleted by our fugitive concealing.

Then Mowrer wondered, What if we reversed our strategy? What if we admitted our weaknesses, owned up to our failures, named our idiot-moments, confessed our follies, errors, and debts, and also hid away from everyone’s view our smart ideas, heroic sacrifices, kind deeds, charities, and virtues? What if, instead of throwing back at the other guy his worst failure while trotting out our own best moment, we put up our worst against his best? What then? Our hearts might start filling up.

He entitled his essay “You are your secrets.” It is in his book The New Group Therapy (New York, 1964), pages 65-71. His insight has a long and honored history:

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. . . . Your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:1, 4).

Tozer: pathways into revival https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/tozer-on-pathways-into-revival/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/tozer-on-pathways-into-revival/#respond Thu, 17 May 2018 18:35:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/tozer-on-pathways-into-revival/ aw_tozer-2ygpjyscocjmxc45pde7sw

1.  Get thoroughly dissatisfied with yourself.  Complacency is the deadly enemy of spiritual progress. . . . When speaking of earthly goods Paul could say, “I have learned to be content,” but when referring to his spiritual life he testified, “I press toward the mark.”  So stir up the gift of God that is in you.

2.  Set your face like a flint toward a sweeping transformation of your life.  Timid experimenters are tagged for failure before they start.  We must throw our whole soul into our desire for God. . . .

3.  Put yourself in the way of the blessing.  It is a mistake to look for grace to visit us as a kind of benign magic, or to expect God’s help to come as a windfall apart from conditions known and met.  There are plainly marked paths which lead straight to the green pastures; let us walk in them.  To desire revival, for instance, and at the same time to neglect prayer and devotion is to wish one way and walk another.

4.  Do a thorough job of repenting.  Do not hurry to get it over with.  Hasty repentance means shallow spiritual experience and lack of certainty in the whole life.  Let godly sorrow do her healing work. . . . It is our wretched habit of tolerating sin that keeps us in our half-dead condition.

5.  Make restitution wherever possible.  If you owe a debt, pay it, or at least have a frank understanding with your creditor about your intention to pay, so your honesty will be above question.  If you have quarreled with anyone, go as far as you can in an effort to achieve reconciliation.  As fully as possible, make the crooked things straight.

A. W. Tozer, quoted in Stephen F. Olford, Heart-Cry For Revival (Westwood, 1962), page 30.

Blunt Belloc https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/tickled-refreshed/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/tickled-refreshed/#respond Wed, 28 Mar 2018 11:48:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/tickled-refreshed/ Belloc

“We sit by and watch the Barbarian.  We tolerate him.  In the long stretches of peace we are not afraid.  We are tickled by his irreverence.  His comic inversion of our old certitudes and our fixed creeds refreshes us.  We laugh.  But as we laugh we are watched by large and awful faces from beyond, and on these faces there is no smile.”

Hilaire Belloc, This and That and The Other (New York, 1912), page 282.

The ministry of advocacy https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/the-ministry-of-advocacy/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/the-ministry-of-advocacy/#respond Thu, 15 Mar 2018 20:45:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/the-ministry-of-advocacy/

In a blog post entitled “4 Types of Mercy,” Matt Perman proposes that four mercies are to be discerned in the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10.  They are:

  1. Advocacy
  2. Assistance
  3. Finances
  4. Spiritual

Matt continues: “When we think of showing mercy and serving others, we don’t often think of advocacy.  But it is often a critical, and simple, form of mercy. Just advocating for the person—taking up their cause, defending them, supporting them, advocating for them.

Advocacy is different than encouragement. Encouragement is something you do to the person—building them up and strengthening them with your words. Advocacy is something you do for them in relation to others. When the real need is advocacy, encouragement alone can come across as hollow. On the other hand, real and sincere advocacy is a very encouraging thing.”

Advocacy is also evident in the parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18. The parable is about prayer (verse 1). A widow has been wronged. She keeps appealing to an unjust judge, “Give me justice against my adversary” (verse 3). Eventually, he gives in, does the right thing, and stands up for her. The Lord’s point, of course, is that God is not an unjust but a just Judge. How much more should we keep praying to him. He will be just. The only question is, Do we believe that enough to keep praying, even until Jesus returns (verse 8)?

The parable also implies the advocacy we should assert for powerless people. Every one of us knows someone who has suffered wrong, someone who needs and deserves justice. If we say, “But justice is a misguided goal,” then we should read the parable again. The key word in the text is “justice,” appearing four times. Justice is the very thing Jesus makes prominent. Or if we say, “But there is always wrong on both sides,” then we should read the parable again. Jesus includes no hint that the widow too was at fault. For that matter, what about Cain and Abel, Saul and David, Ahab and Naboth, Paul and Alexander the coppersmith, and so many others throughout the Bible? Let’s not allow glib slogans to undermine both our relationships with one another and, even more, our understanding of the gospel itself. Justice is essential to the gospel (Rom. 3:21-26).

As in Saliger’s famous painting above, advocacy turns the abstract ideal of justice into a practical reality for an accused person when everything is on the line. To hold back from advocacy, to keep a low profile until the storm blows over, to keep quiet, to adopt a “wait and see” neutrality when an accused person justly needs courageous advocacy—to stand by in silence when we could make a real difference for a person under fire is cowardice.

Who needs your clear, biblical, courageous, non-angry, Christlike advocacy today?

A legacy worth leaving https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/a-legacy-worth-leaving/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/a-legacy-worth-leaving/#respond Thu, 22 Feb 2018 19:50:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/a-legacy-worth-leaving/ photo-e1402748742821

The following is a letter my dad wrote several years before his death, which he left in his desk, where he knew we would find it:

Dear Family,

“The time has come for my departure” (2 Timothy 4:6). It’s strange to write this when I’m feeling well and vigorous, but unless Christ returns first that departure time will come. When you read this, it will have happened.

I have had a great journey with Jesus Christ. From childhood I have known about God and revered Him. The name of Jesus has always been precious to me. I thank my dear parents for this heritage. Now, life on earth is over, and I go to meet the Lord face to face. I trust in Him as my sure Savior and rest in His grace at this momentous time of my death. I do not fear death. (I don’t like the pain, blood, and guts of it all!) Actually, I have been anticipating this new adventure and at the time you read this I will be with Christ in Heaven. So it’s happened, and I’m now in God’s presence, probably shocked at all I’m seeing for the first time.

I am sorry for my sin and failures, which have been many, but I know Christ has forgiven them. “There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Some of those sins have been against you, my dear family, and I am sorry. You probably know my sins better than I. Some you don’t know, I know all too well. But “where sin abounds grace does much more abound” (Romans 5:20).

My dear Anne has been my most treasured friend. If she is still living as you read this, I know you will treat her well. When she goes to Heaven, God will give her blue ribbons and gold medals. What a great woman and wife! She has loved and stood loyally by me all our life together. And our last years have been our best. May God reward her for hard work, a forgiving spirit, relentless faith and enthusiastic acceptance of life as it came. She is a woman of God. We shall meet on the other side and sing a duet of praise to God. As you know, Psalm 34:3 has been our verse. We trust you’ve seen that we did magnify the Lord.

Each of you children and spouses have been the joy of my life, as have been the grandchildren. I include Melinda and John in this because they are family to us, too. I have never doubted your love for me, and you have been too kind. I will see you in Heaven, and we’ll bless God together.

I urge you to remain true to your Savior. I have no doubt that you will. Love each other deeply in your marriages. Keep your family ties strong. Lay up treasure in Heaven, because the stuff of earth is empty. Bank accounts, houses and furniture mean nothing to me now. Actually, they never did. Beware of sin, and confess it as soon as you discover it in your life. And let the Spirit’s gift of joy color all your life. As you mature, remain a happy person in Christ. Get even sweeter as you get older. Sour old people are a pain.

In my death, be sure God is glorified. Jesus glorified the Father most in His death. John 17:1-5 tells us He faced impending death with that prayer for the Father to be glorified. So at my memorial service, glorify God. Have a holy party. I was saying to Anne recently that this world has become less attractive lately, and I feel a bit out of place. So it’s good to go “home” now. I’d like my burial made simple. Cremation is fine with me. Bury my remains in a simple container to wait for the resurrection of my new glorified body. If cremation upsets you, then don’t do it, of course. I want you to be comfortable with it all.

Hebrews 13:20-21: “May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

I love you all, and each one. I’ll see you sooner than you think!


Praying might make things worse—at first https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/praying-might-make-things-worse-at-first/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/praying-might-make-things-worse-at-first/#respond Sat, 17 Feb 2018 19:33:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/praying-might-make-things-worse-at-first/ Jacob

“It is very apparent from the Word of God that he is wont often to try the faith and patience of his people, when they are crying to him for some great and important mercy, by withholding the mercy sought for a season; and not only so, but at first to cause an increase of dark appearances. And yet he without fail at last succeeds those who continue instant in prayer with all perseverance and ‘will not let him go except he blesses’ (Genesis 32:26).”

In other words:

An obvious pattern in the Bible is that God tests the faith and stamina of his people as they cry out in prayer for some significant mercy. He tests them by withholding the mercy they are asking for. Not only that, but first he makes things worse, sending them discouraging setbacks. But count on it—he will eventually prosper those who push through in urgent prayer without quitting and will not take no for an answer.

Jonathan Edwards, “A Call to United Extraordinary Prayer,” in Works (Edinburgh, 1979), II:312.

No virtue without a miracle https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/no-virtue-without-a-miracle/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/no-virtue-without-a-miracle/#respond Thu, 15 Feb 2018 13:08:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/no-virtue-without-a-miracle/

“Walking around St James’s Park I thought intensely of the difference between Tolstoy and St Augustine. Tolstoy tried to achieve virtue, and particularly continence, through the exercise of his will; Augustine saw that, for Man, there is no virtue without a miracle.”

Malcolm Muggeridge, Like It Was: The Diaries of Malcolm Muggeridge (London, 1981), page 434.

The work of the gospel includes doctrinal content, which is vital, but not doctrinal content alone, nor even doctrinal content plus human resolve alone. The true work of the gospel includes the miraculous power of God entering into our experience (1 Thessalonians 1:5), and especially our experience at its worst.

Authentic Christianity is not sporadically but pervasively miraculous, moment by moment. This inspires both humility and hope. Humility, for there is no progress for which we can take credit. Hope, for there is no defeat over which we must finally despair.

My Valentine https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/my-valentine-2/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/my-valentine-2/#respond Tue, 13 Feb 2018 23:55:42 +0000 http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/?post_type=ray-ortlund&p=113503 ]]> ]]> Seven Ways We Can Guard and Repair Relationships https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/seven-ways-we-can-guard-and-repair-relationships/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/seven-ways-we-can-guard-and-repair-relationships/#respond Wed, 07 Feb 2018 21:25:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/seven-ways-we-can-guard-and-repair-relationships/ When Zacchaeus vowed to repay the people he had defrauded, the Lord didn't reply, "You don't have to. That's water under the bridge!" No, the Lord said, "Today salvation has come to this house" (Luke 19:8-9).]]>  

1.  Let’s rejoice in one another, because the Lord rejoices in us.

Psalm 16:3 sets the overall tone: “As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight.” There is excellence to admire in every Christian. And it’s easy to discern. Two questions into a conversation, and the excellence starts appearing.

2.  Let’s create an environment of trust rather than negative scrutiny.

1 Corinthians 4:5 says, “Do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart.” Human eyes are not competent to judge human hearts.

3.  Let’s judge ourselves, even as we give each other the benefit of the doubt.

Matthew 7:5 says, “First take the log out of your own eye.” And 1 Corinthians 13:7 says, “Love believes all things.” In other words, love fills in the blanks with positive assumptions.

4.  If a problem must be addressed, let’s talk to, not about. Gossip destroys.

Matthew 18:15 says, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.” The Lord didn’t say, “Go ask your brother his fault.” Let’s man up and tell him his sin. But let’s tell him to his face, rather than spread accusations around.

5.  If a problem must be addressed, let’s avoid blanket statements but identify factual specifics, offer a positive path forward and preserve everyone’s dignity.

“You are ___________” is too sweeping to be fair. It leaves a person no freedom to change.  Better to say, “In this situation, when you _____________, that was wrong. It would be helpful if, in the future, you would ______________. What do you think? And is there anything I can do that might help?”

6.  Let’s extend kindness.

Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind to one another.” That word “kind” is used in Matthew 11:30 when Jesus says, “My yoke is easy.” So kindness asks, “How can I make this situation as easy for the other person as possible? How can I make a positive response as easy as it can be?”

7.  When we wrong another, let’s admit it: “What I did to you was wrong. I am sorry. By God’s grace, I won’t do that again. Is there anything I can do now, to make up for it?”

Where a wrong has been done, as the Bible defines wrong, an apology will help. Reparations are also biblical and may be necessary in the case of a significant injury. But evading the wrongs of our past only builds hypocrisy into our future. And God cannot bless that. But God will surely bless serious repentance. When Zacchaeus vowed to repay the people he had defrauded, the Lord didn’t reply, “You don’t have to. That’s water under the bridge!” No, the Lord said, “Today salvation has come to this house” (Luke 19:8-9).

One of the most beautiful scenes in the Bible is between brothers who had been long alienated: “Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept” (Gen. 33:4). God wants that beauty to reappear in every generation, including ours right now.

How a Reformation church (amazingly) studied the Old Testament https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/reformation-church-amazingly-studied-old-testament/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/reformation-church-amazingly-studied-old-testament/#respond Thu, 18 Jan 2018 20:32:20 +0000 http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/?post_type=ray-ortlund&p=110937


Led by Zwingli, the church in Zurich studied the Old Testament at a level of care which will doubtless amaze us today but which was certainly an evidence of the power of the Spirit in their midst.  A contemporary account paints the picture:

“This gathering began with intercessions.  Uniting in common forms of prayers, they supplicated the almighty and merciful God, whose word is a lantern unto our feet and a light unto our paths, to open and enlighten our mind, that we might understand his oracles purely and holily, and be transformed into that which we had rightly understood, and that in this we might in no way displease his majesty, through Christ our Lord.

After prayers, a very young man, a scholar of the church, read over side by side with the Vulgate, which they call Jerome’s version, that passage at which they had, in the due progress of exegesis, arrived for discussion.  It should be said that persons of good and promising intelligence are supported by a payment from the ecclesiastical chest and educated in arts, languages and sacred literature, that they may one day repay the church by whom they are supported and be of the greatest service in the sacred offices . . . .

When the young man who had read in Latin the passage which came up for discussion, a Hebrew reader rose and repeated the passage in Hebrew, occasionally pointing out the idioms and peculiarities of the language, sometimes giving a rendering of the sense, sometimes translating word for word, and moreover reading the comments of the Grammarians and Rabbis. . . .

The Greek reader followed the Hebrew.  He ran through the Septuagint, or whatever Greek translation it might be, compared it with the Hebrew and showed how far it differed from it.  Sometimes too he emended it, and always fixed his attention on it with unflagging carefulness.  Zwingli himself discharged this office as long as he lived. . . .

The words which had now been read in Latin, in Greek and in Hebrew were enunciated with the utmost conscientiousness and complete good faith.  He showed how the present passage had been treated by the old writers, what the Jewish commentators had thought about it, and what the Catholic.  He taught what it had in common with the sacred literature, the putting together, coherence and force of the words, the sublimity and high morality of their meanings, the strength of substance and delicacy of style to which everything must be referred — in short, he expounded the real meaning and also the profit and use of this passage and how a lesson in faith, devotion, piety, justice and loyalty might be learned from it.”

Quoted in Edwyn Bevan and Charles Singer, The Legacy of Israel (Oxford, 1927), pages 345-347.


Our crowded mental Board Room https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/a-whole-committee-of-selves/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/a-whole-committee-of-selves/#respond Fri, 15 Dec 2017 19:29:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/a-whole-committee-of-selves/ “We are trying to be several selves at once, without all our selves being organized by a single, mastering Life within us. Each of us tends to be, not a single self, but a whole committee of selves. There is the civic self, the parental self, the financial self, the religious self, the society self, the professional self, the literary self. And each of our selves is in turn a rank individualist, not cooperative but shouting out his vote loudly for himself when the voting time comes. . . . We are not integrated. We are distraught. We feel honestly...]]> “We are trying to be several selves at once, without all our selves being organized by a single, mastering Life within us. Each of us tends to be, not a single self, but a whole committee of selves. There is the civic self, the parental self, the financial self, the religious self, the society self, the professional self, the literary self. And each of our selves is in turn a rank individualist, not cooperative but shouting out his vote loudly for himself when the voting time comes. . . . We are not integrated. We are distraught. We feel honestly the pull of many obligations and try to fulfill them all. And we are unhappy, uneasy, strained, oppressed, and fearful we shall be shallow. For over the margins of life comes a whisper, a faint call, a premonition of richer living which we know we are passing by.”

Thomas R. Kelly, A Testament of Devotion (New York, 1941), pages 114-115.

Movement, monument, mausoleum https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/movement-monument-mausoleum/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/movement-monument-mausoleum/#respond Thu, 16 Nov 2017 21:44:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/movement-monument-mausoleum/ Some years ago a friend of mine used these three simple categories to objectify the sequential stages of a church's rise and fall. ]]> Some years ago a friend of mine used these three simple categories to objectify the sequential stages of a church’s rise and fall.


A healthy church is born as a burst of positive gospel energy. It’s a Pentecost-like explosion of joy, a vital gospel movement. Such a church has a sense of mission, even a sense of destiny. It’s exciting to be in this church. Think of a steep upward trajectory.


Given human weakness, after a time, this movement becomes a monument. The spirit of the church changes from hunger to self-satisfaction, from eagerness to routine, from daring new steps of faith to maintaining the status quo, from outward to ingrown. It’s easy not to notice this shift. The self-image of the church might still be that of a vital movement. But deep within, everything has changed. Think of leveling off.


If the trend toward mediocrity is not arrested, the church will decline and become a mausoleum, a place of death. The church as an institution may have enough social momentum and financial resources to keep churning on. But as a force for newness of life, it no longer counts. Think of steep decline—indeed, a death spiral.

The responsibility of a church’s leaders is to discern when their movement is starting to level off as a monument. It is at this crucial point that they must face themselves honestly and discover why they have lost their edge, go into repentance and return to the costly commitments that made them great to begin with. They may need to deconstruct much of what they have become, which is painful and embarrassing. But if the leaders will have the humility, clarity, and courage to do this, their church will go into renewal and re-launch as a movement once more. Jesus will become real again, people will be helped again, and those bold, humble leaders will never regret the price they paid.

“Remember from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.”  Revelation 2:5

Your Church Can Be A Gospel Culture: Words https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/church-can-gospel-culture-words/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/church-can-gospel-culture-words/#respond Wed, 18 Oct 2017 21:23:10 +0000 http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/?post_type=ray-ortlund&p=102939 Here are four categories of speech that church leaders should keep in mind at all times: 1.  Wisdom Saying only Christ-honoring, life-giving things. Always asking oneself, “Do the words I feel like saying rise to the level of wisdom? If not, they have no place in my mouth. Good intentions are not enough; leaders must show good judgment. I will hold myself to a strict standard, because Christ’s honor and people’s safety are at stake.” All the words of my mouth are righteous. Proverbs 8:8 2.  Indiscretion Well-intentioned, good-hearted, “loving” but unguarded words. A sincere desire to be helpful and...]]> Here are four categories of speech that church leaders should keep in mind at all times:

1.  Wisdom

Saying only Christ-honoring, life-giving things. Always asking oneself, “Do the words I feel like saying rise to the level of wisdom? If not, they have no place in my mouth. Good intentions are not enough; leaders must show good judgment. I will hold myself to a strict standard, because Christ’s honor and people’s safety are at stake.”

All the words of my mouth are righteous. Proverbs 8:8

2.  Indiscretion

Well-intentioned, good-hearted, “loving” but unguarded words. A sincere desire to be helpful and consoling, but violating a personal boundary of information ownership. Indiscretion erodes people’s willingness to “walk in the light” with honesty about their problems (1 John 1:7). As a result, indiscretion is a spiritually dampening power.

When words are many, transgression is not lacking;
but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.  Proverbs 10:19

3.  Gossip

This might include factually true information. But still, it should not be shared, for legitimate reasons—for example, it might embarrass someone. Since gossip might not involve actual falsehood, gossips often don’t realize how harmful they really are.

. . . gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not.  1 Timothy 5:13

4.  Slander

Deliberate falsehood, intended to harm and undermine and diminish someone’s reputation, bearing false witness, cutting someone down to size, abusive transference.

Whoever utters slander is a fool.  Proverbs 10:18

If a church’s leaders will hold themselves to the high standard of #1, their influence will be conducive to a gospel culture. Not that we leaders will always live up to this standard. But defining it clearly and winsomely will help make a church into a safety zone where sinners can get real with Jesus and one another and start growing.

Intimacy: Not Repelled https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/intimacy-not-repelled-2/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/intimacy-not-repelled-2/#respond Thu, 05 Oct 2017 21:14:52 +0000 http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/?post_type=ray-ortlund&p=102937 “Intimacy is when I know somebody else as they really are. It is when I know someone inwardly and not just outwardly.”]]> “‘Intimacy’ is a word that can make you wince. It is used in sentimental settings, and it is sometimes deployed to describe relationships that are unworthy of the word.  But it actually means something important. Intimacy is when I know somebody else as they really are. It is when I know someone inwardly and not just outwardly.

Christ was uninterested, for example, in human beings from the outside in. He was only interested in people from the inside out. He pulled away from people who looked like ‘whitewashed tombs’ but whose insides were filled with ‘the bones of the dead’ (Matthew 23:27). Intimacy is the opposite of a whitewashed tomb. It is seeing into the core of a person while not being repelled by what you see.”

Paul F. M. Zahl, Grace in Practice: A Theology of Everyday Life (Grand Rapids, 2007), page 139.

Where the battle rages https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/where-battle-rages/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/where-battle-rages/#respond Wed, 20 Sep 2017 04:00:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/where-battle-rages/ “If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christianity.  Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides is mere flight and disgrace to him, if he flinches at that one point.” A follower of Martin Luther, 2 April 1526, quoted in Chronicles of the Schönberg-Cotta Family (New York, 1865), page 321.]]> peter

“If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christianity.  Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides is mere flight and disgrace to him, if he flinches at that one point.”

A follower of Martin Luther, 2 April 1526, quoted in Chronicles of the Schönberg-Cotta Family (New York, 1865), page 321.

When the Spirit makes us throw up https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/when-the-spirit-makes-us-throw-up/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/when-the-spirit-makes-us-throw-up/#respond Sat, 09 Sep 2017 04:00:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/when-the-spirit-makes-us-throw-up/ “I could tell you a case of a man back home, forty-five years old – a pagan, illiterate, who knew nothing about Christ.  Then he was brought by grace, through the preaching of the Christians, into the presence of Jesus and Him crucified; and that man was so changed that within a month, when impure thoughts came into his heart he literally went outside from a meeting and vomited.  What a standard, what sensitivity!  A man steeped in paganism, with no Bible training, no background.  And now in the light of Calvary, in that smashing, invading love, this man is...]]> Bishop-Festo-Kigezi

“I could tell you a case of a man back home, forty-five years old – a pagan, illiterate, who knew nothing about Christ.  Then he was brought by grace, through the preaching of the Christians, into the presence of Jesus and Him crucified; and that man was so changed that within a month, when impure thoughts came into his heart he literally went outside from a meeting and vomited.  What a standard, what sensitivity!  A man steeped in paganism, with no Bible training, no background.  And now in the light of Calvary, in that smashing, invading love, this man is taken, re-created, renewed, his conscience is so clean that when impure thoughts came he even went and physically vomited.  A sensitivity had been created.  The Holy Spirit had renewed the personality.  Is this your case?

I find after I have gone on with the Lord, sometimes I grow insensitive.  But the impact of the Holy Spirit, the impact of the renewal, is that you begin to move with that sensitive tact in the heart.  If it is jealousy, don’t you think the time has come when you can say, ‘My heart has been renewed, and I am going to write a letter to that person and ask for forgiveness’?  Yes, the posts of England may be very busy when God begins to work.  And the homes of your country may experience men renewed, coming to put a few things right.  That’s when Jesus comes alive: not when we enjoy lovely teaching, but when the teaching becomes so embarrassing that you walk away and do something about it.”

Bishop Festo Kivengere, “Christ the Renewer,” in The Keswick Week 1972, page 75.

Justification and violence https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/justification-and-violence/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/justification-and-violence/#respond Thu, 07 Sep 2017 04:00:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/justification-and-violence/ “[W]hen classic justification, based on the propitiatory work of Christ, is absent, human beings will grasp for substitutes, often grotesque ones. . . . We have here [in the French Revolution], among much else, a case of secular atonement.  One of the central rituals within the drama of the French Revolution was meant to achieve expiation.  It was important to be cleansed from the past, while at the same time holding up revolutionary ideals. . . . Thus, the guillotine was a counterfeit for Calvary.” William Edgar, “Justification and Violence,” in K. Scott Oliphant, editor, Justified in Christ (Fearn, 2007),...]]>

“[W]hen classic justification, based on the propitiatory work of Christ, is absent, human beings will grasp for substitutes, often grotesque ones. . . . We have here [in the French Revolution], among much else, a case of secular atonement.  One of the central rituals within the drama of the French Revolution was meant to achieve expiation.  It was important to be cleansed from the past, while at the same time holding up revolutionary ideals. . . . Thus, the guillotine was a counterfeit for Calvary.”

William Edgar, “Justification and Violence,” in K. Scott Oliphant, editor, Justified in Christ (Fearn, 2007), pages 131-134.

Moral fervor and violence go together well. We sinners know we cannot bear our own guilt, so we look for a substitute. If we are not believing and revering and savoring Jesus as our atoning substitute, we will find someone else to whom we must transfer our shame. We will make ourselves into God. We will decide who will live and who will die. And we will feel completely right about it all, because it is, after all, our religion at work.

Only the biblical gospel of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, apart from all our works—and that doctrine not merely as a formal position, but as a moment-by-moment resource deep in the heart—can save us from our self-invented rituals of substitutionary atonement. Gospel doctrine, gospel culture!

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.”  Colossians 3:15

Why we grow so slowly https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/why-we-grow-so-slowly/ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/why-we-grow-so-slowly/#respond Tue, 22 Aug 2017 04:00:00 +0000 http://tgcstaging.wpengine.com/ray-ortlund/why-we-grow-so-slowly/ In his Thoughts on Religious Experience, Archibald Alexander asked why we grow so slowly as Christians. First, he rounded up the usual suspects: “The influence of worldly relatives and companions, embarking too deeply in business, devoting too much time to amusements, immoderate attachment to a worldly object,” and so forth. But then he drilled down further and asked why such things even get a hold on us, “why Christians commonly are of so diminutive a stature and of such feeble strength in their religion.” He proposed three reasons: 1.  “There is a defect in our belief in the freeness of...]]>

In his Thoughts on Religious Experience, Archibald Alexander asked why we grow so slowly as Christians.

First, he rounded up the usual suspects: “The influence of worldly relatives and companions, embarking too deeply in business, devoting too much time to amusements, immoderate attachment to a worldly object,” and so forth.

But then he drilled down further and asked why such things even get a hold on us, “why Christians commonly are of so diminutive a stature and of such feeble strength in their religion.” He proposed three reasons:

1.  “There is a defect in our belief in the freeness of divine grace.” Even when the gospel is acknowledged in theory, he wrote, Christians define their okayness according to their moods and performances rather than looking away from themselves to Christ alone. Then, in our inevitable failure, we become discouraged, and worldliness regains strength in us, with nothing to counteract it. “The covenant of grace must be more clearly and repeatedly expounded in all its rich plentitude of mercy, and in all its absolute freeness.”

2.  “Christians do not make their obedience to Christ comprehend every other object of pursuit.” We compartmentalize our lives, and Jesus becomes a sidebar to the more compelling things of every day, like making money. “The secular employments and pursuits of the pious should all be consecrated and become a part of their religion.” That way, our work Monday through Friday is no distraction from Christ but more activity in Christ and for Christ.

3.  “We make general resolutions of improvement but neglect to extend our efforts to particulars.” Rather than be satisfied that we haven’t sinned hugely on any given day and therefore we must be doing okay as Christians, we would grow more by strategizing for specific, actionable, new steps of obedience on a daily basis.

If we are not on a growth trajectory, there is a reason. Let’s get fed up with ourselves, let’s figure out what’s holding us back, and, trusting in the Lord, let’s make some bold changes!

Archibald Alexander, Thoughts on Religious Experience (Edinburgh, 1989), pages 165-167.