30 September 2006

Seriously, Now...

by Phil Johnson

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29 September 2006

Grace to You on television; John MacArthur in Calvin's Pulpit

John MacArthur Preaches from Calvin's Pulpit
John MacArthur Preaches from Calvin's Pulpit. Click on image for full-size photo.
f you're a subscriber to DirecTV, you have an opportunity tomorrow at 5:00pm EDT (2:00 PDT) to view the premier broadcast of "Grace to You TV" on channel 378. If you're not a DirecTV subscriber, there's no way to view the broadcast except by getting it on DVD from Grace to You.

At the moment, John MacArthur is in Europe leading a Reformation tour. He had the privilege this week of preaching in Geneva from Calvin's pulpit. Someone e-mailed the picture above. Click on it and you'll get a fuller version, showing a video crew. If the video is of sufficient quality, we plan to use this sermon on a "Grace to You TV" broadcast within a few weeks.

Incidentally, my other chief pastoral and theological mentor, Charles Spurgeon, spoke in Calvin's Pulpit in 1860. That was the only time in his entire ministry when he wore clerical garb of any kind. It was a Geneva gown, identical to the one Calvin wore. He said this about that experience:

That glorious man, Calvin! I preached in the cathedral. I do not think half the people understood me in the Cathedral of St. Peter's; but they were very glad to see and join in heart with the worship in which they could not join with understanding.

I did not feel very happy when I came out in full canonicals, but the request was put to me in such a beautiful way that I could have worn the Pope's tiara, if by so doing I could preach the gospel the more freely. They said,—"Our dear brother comes to us from another country. Now, when an ambassador comes from another country, he has a right to wear his own costume at Court; but, as a mark of very great esteem, he sometimes condescends to the manners of the country which he visits, and wears the Court dress."

"Well," I said—"yes, that I will, certainly, if you do not require it, but merely ask it as a token of my Christian love. I shall feel like running in a sack, but it will be your fault." But it was John Calvin's cloak, and that reconciled me to it very much.

I do love that man of God, suffering all his life long, enduring not only persecutions from without but a complication of disorders from within; and yet serving his Master with all his heart.

Judging from the above picture of John MacArthur, the keepers of St. Peter's cathedral at Geneva no longer require visiting speakers to wear the Geneva gown.

I stood in that pulpit once for a brief moment, but not to preach. The cathedral was closed to visitors and therefore empty, because it had been used earlier that day as a venue for some important couple's wedding. My friend John Glass (a pastor in Geneva) talked the groundskeeper into letting us in for a brief look. The groundskeeper graciously allowed us access to the pulpit for a quick photo, then hurried us out. It was a great moment, though.

(Chris Pixley, eat your heart out.)

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28 September 2006

Safely back on earth

The Soyuz capsule streaks through the upper atmosphere
The Soyuz capsule streaks through the upper atmosphere toward the steppes of Kazakhstan
Expedition 13 Commander Pavel Vinogradov, Flight Engineer Jeff Williams and Spaceflight Participant Anousheh Ansari landed in the steppes of Kazakhstan Thursday at 9:13 p.m. EDT.

After landing
The Soyuz capsule after landing
NASA-TV showed crisp live video of Jeff, smiling, eating an apple, and talking on a cell phone, presumably to his wife, Anna-Marie, who is in Kazakhstan awaiting his return at Star City (some distance from the actual landing site).

We rejoice with thankfulness to the Lord that they landed safely and we'll post an update as soon as the World's Most-Traveled PyroManiacs reader phones home.

Jeff eats an apple
Jeff eats an apple

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People hate kids. part Deux

by Pecadillo

You know what I think, well here is even more proof.

27 September 2006

Expedition 13 Nearing Conclusion

by Phil Johnson

y friend Col. Jeff Williams will soon be on his way home from the International Space Station (ISS).

Jeff and Commander Pavel Vinogradov turned over command of the ISS to the new crew in a ceremony Wednesday. Thursday afternoon they will climb in their Soyuz capsule and close the capsule at 1:45 CDT (Houston time). They will undock from ISS about three hours later. If all goes well, they will land in a high desert area known as "the steppes" in Kazakhstan at 8:14 PM CDT Thursday night.

Returning with them will be American businesswoman, blogger, and space tourist Anousheh Ansari, who arrived at the ISS several days ago with the new crew in a Soyuz capsule. In an interview a few days ago, Ansari said the blastoff and ascent into orbit was very difficult and she experienced severe motion sickness. I'm told the trip down is ten times worse, so please pray for the whole crew.

Jeff's wife, Anna-Marie, is on her way to Kazakhstan as I write this. Please pray for her as well. We'll try to keep PyroManiacs readers informed of any important news as Expedition 13 draws to a close.

ncidentally, last week I posted this digital photo snapped by Jeff:

That's the so-called "Day Fire," which began on Labor Day. It is still raging. Wednesday afternoon one of my co-workers at Grace to You was evacuated from his home, with the fire 4 miles away and closing in. From here in Santa Clarita, the whole world smells like a big campfire.

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Worship, feelings, and what-if?

by Dan Phillips

I had a really wonderful weekend in the Sierra with my two oldest boys. There was only one real problem, for me: not enough sleep.

Thank God, I'm usually a very sound sleeper. But not last Thursday night (before our trip), nor Friday, Saturday, nor Sunday nights (during our trip). Not even back home in my own bed, Monday night.

I went to bed early (about 8:30), and just lay there. My huge Maine Coon cat, Hagrid, visited me, and purred nicely. But I still didn't get to sleep until 11-ish -- which just doesn't work when you have to get up around 4, and have had a fun but very active weekend.

So one thing I did was that I thanked God for all the blessings of the weekend. I thanked Him for my boys Matthew and Josiah, I thanked Him for our safety, for the gorgeous weather, for the brilliant starry skies, for the crisp clear streams, for our hike, our health, the car running safely; for keeping the rest of our family safe as we were gone and giving them a fun, profitable weekend together, and on and on.

But I felt nothing as I did it. In fact, if I had to identify any emotion, I felt irritated at still being awake in spite of being exhausted. I was annoyed. I felt concern about my lack of sleep, and the long day that lay before me. I felt puzzled as to why God had withheld sleep from me.

I didn't feel great wellings of the emotions of joy, gratitude, love and all those other wonderful, appropriate feelings. I wish I had, I'd not have said "no" to them -- but there you have it. They just weren't there. But (by God's grace) I said "thank You" anyway. Should I not have?

As I drove to work and reflected on that prayer, I realized that it was absolutely heartfelt, sincere, appropriate, and truthful. I was grateful for every blessing, fully credited God for every blessing, and had thanked Him without pretence, with a true heart. I meant every word.

But did the prayer, the worship, not "count," because I didn't have any of those wonderful emotions we're supposed to have? Was it not real worship, because it wasn't emotional worship? What do you do if you don't feel anything?

This is a crucial point where some of the emphases of Adrian Warnock and John Piper just lose me. Whenever I say that I think emotion in the Christian life can be a fine thing, my brother Adrian gets all giddy and surprised, and seems to think I'm ready to start babbling incoherently, dancing, and turning expectantly to the blank pages at the back of my Bible. (Hey Adrian -- this "teasing" street had better run two ways!)

But what if there is no emotion at the moment? What then? What do you do?

Here's where Piper will point to the many passages about joy and rejoicing, assert that they're feelings, and as much as say that they are absolutely essential. The Charismatic (I leave Adrian specifically, not wanting to speak for him) will agree. And so what this mindset produces is that you chase the feeling, you chase the emotion, you do whatever you have to do to get that emotion back -- because if it's not there, what you're doing isn't real. It doesn't "count."

In fact, I've known people who simply stop and refuse to budge until they get the emotions back. They don't "feel" like going to church. Therefore going wouldn't be real worship. Therefore they don't go. They don't "feel" like showing love (or respect) to their wives (or husbands). So it wouldn't be a spiritual action. So they don't do it. They don't "feel" like reading their Bibles, and it's a "dry" experience. So they don't.

Or they sing "Breathe" or some chorus ten or twenty times, or get slapped on the forehead, or babble, or do the hokey-pokey, or whatever it might take to roil up those flighty emotions. They chase the emotion, the experience, so they can get going again spiritually.

I call it "making a god of your glands." And I call it tempting God. And I call it unbelief.

You see, I envision another category besides hollow, rote, ritualistic going-through-the-motions on the one hand, and surfing in absolute thralldom to waves of emotion, on the other. There's the category of attitude, of mindset, of frame of mind. There's living from conviction. It may overlap the realm of the emotional, it may cut straight across that realm. It isn't chained to it. It survives it, it goes on -- you go on -- when emotions ebb. And when they ebb, you don't seek them, you seek God.

It's the sort of mindset that can say "When I am afraid, I put my trust in you" (Psalm 56:3). The emotion of fear, overruled and transcended by the mindset of faith, of trust. It can say, "Though he slay me, I will hope in him" (Job 13:15a). It can be "as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing" (2 Corinthians 6:10a). It is the aspect in which you can respond to commands to rejoice in the Lord always (Philippians 4:4), and to give thanks always (Ephesians 5:20). It goes beyond that idiotic "be happy" sentimentality that amounts to pouring vinegar on soda (Proverbs 25:20).

I'll be absolutely blunt and candid. There have been stretches of my Christian life -- and one long one, in particular -- where, had I followed my emotions, I would have followed them right out of Christianity. Had I not been taught and convinced from Scripture not to make de facto gods out of my feelings, not to walk by sight, not to make gods of my glands, I would have been slipped into outright unbelief.

Why didn't I? The grace of God, of course, above and beyond. And His grace visited me in this paradoxical manner: when I stopped believing my feelings, when I stopped mistaking emotion for reality, when I returned to a deeper and more hearty belief in Scripture and its truths, and in the God who speaks exclusively by it, then my emotions started coming back into line.

I've never seen this area of truth expressed better than in the eighth of C. S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters. The trainer-demon Wormwood is cautioning his trainee not to gloat over his victim's current emotional trough, as if the battle were won. And he says this:
One must face the fact that all the talk about [the Enemy's] love for men, and His service being perfect freedom, is not (as one would gladly believe) mere propaganda, but an appalling truth. He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself — creatures whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like his own, not because He has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to his. ... He cannot “tempt” to virtue as we do to vice. He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is there He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do the Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys. [Couldn't find my copy quickly enough, but thankfully found this quoted here; bolding added.]
This obedience of which I speak is the hard work caused by faith (1 Thesssalonians 1:3), the endurance that the Spirit produces through faith in the Word of God (Romans 15:4), and which comes before full possession of the reward (Hebrews 10:36).

I'll make bold to say this: Satan is not particularly worried by Christians who live for their sentimentalities, who constantly take their emotional pulse and read it as a pagan would chicken livers and tea leaves, who pursue happy feelings as a child chases a butterfly across a meadow. I think, in fact, that he finds them delightfully amusing.

But Christians who are convinced that God must be true, though all men (and all emotions) are liars (cf. Romans 3:4), and who actually walks by that faith (2 Corinthians 5:7)?

I think they scare the Hell into him.

Dan Phillips's signature

26 September 2006


by Anonymous

Tuesday went by and Phillips didn't post?

I think he's gone woggly on us!! If he posts to bump Turk tomorrow, it'll be war, I swear.

25 September 2006

A Word of Personal Testimony

How I Got Drawn into the Lordship Debate—part 1

by Phil Johnson

You'll notice from the link in our right-hand sidebar that the current theme on the Pulpit blog is "lordship salvation." We're not going to entertain a debate on that subject here at PyroManiacs. Our friend Antonio and others who want to engage me on that subject can take it over to Pulpit. There's no point in letting it spill over here.

Here's why I have so little patience with hard-core advocates of no-lordship doctrine: I've spent a number of years dealing with this issue, and I am tired of going back to square one with people who haven't really studied the doctrine in earnest. The careful arguments that have been made against Zane Hodges' system have never really been answered by him or his devotees. The current wave of interest in no-lordship doctrine does not, in my opinion, stem from any serious or careful reflection on the issues. All it seems to signify is that there is a new generation of young antinomian zealots who have not yet seriously considered the overwhelming mass of biblical evidence against their position.

Anyway, I'm sure all that ground and more will be thoroughly covered over at Pulpit. Here at PyroManiacs, I want to make a brief series of posts simply describing my own involvement in the lordship debate and recounting how I came to be involved in it. This is part 1:

     was converted to biblical Christianity during my final semester in high school. I had grown up in an extremely liberal United Methodist Church, where I had no exposure whatsoever to evangelicalism. Frankly, I don't remember ever hearing anything about the gospel in all those years in the Methodist church.

I always assumed "salvation" was a Baptist idea, irrelevant to a born-and-bred Methodist like me.

From my junior-high years on, I also got the distinct impression from most of my Sunday-School teachers that all religions are basically valid and that the Bible is not to be taken seriously.

My involvement with Christianity was cultural rather than personal. I had no concept of my need for personal salvation and no true awareness of my own sin. I had occasionally heard Christians talk about being "born again"—but I had always associated that sort of conversion experience with derelicts and religious fanatics. As far as I know, we didn't have a single person in our Methodist church who ever claimed to be "saved" from anything, much less redeemed from sin's condemnation.

So my own conversion came as a great surprise to me.

It occurred one night when I was feeling particularly dastardly about something I had done, so I decided to do something religious to make up for it. Since it was already after 10:00 PM and everyone in the household was in bed, the only religious thing I could think to do was read my Bible.

That was something I never did. I doubt I had ever read more than a verse or two of Scripture at a time. I usually just flopped the Bible open and read a couple of verses at random, figuring whatever my eyes lit on must be the message God had for me at the time. That was the only way I knew to use the Bible—pretty much the way people use the astrology column in the daily newspaper.

I suppose that also explains why the Bible never seemed to make a great deal of sense to me.

Anyway, on that particular night, April 15, 1971, I happened to flip open to the first page of 1 Corinthians. And since I was feeling especially in need of a significant act of penance that night, the thought occurred to me that I might actually try to read the entire epistle.

I had never read a full book of Scripture. So I checked it, and since it was less than 30 pages, I decided I could probably handle that much in one night.

Thus, feeling quite pleased with myself for the magnitude of the religious deed I was about to do, I started to read.

The first thing that happened was that my pride was repeatedly trampled by things I read in the first few chapters. I started encountering statements like this: "It is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent" (1 Corinthians 1:19).

Now why would God say that? I wondered. Why doesn't He condemn the foolishness of the world instead? Then I saw this:
The foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory in his presence (1 Corinthians 1:25-29).
I remember thinking, I'm in deep trouble.

But 1 Corinthians 3:18-19 completely pulverized me: "Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God."

I remember suddenly realizing for the first time that I was utterly condemned before God—not only because of the bad things I had done, but because He hated even the best things about me. I had always thought my own goodness would make me acceptable to God. I considered myself an enlightened person—morally upright (basically); politically conservative (which was unusual indeed for teenagers in my era); and spiritually savvy (after all, I had gone to Sunday School almost every Sunday of my life so far).

So I was shocked and crushed to read in Scripture that God hates worldly wisdom. Even though I was not familiar with Isaiah 64:6, it suddenly became very clear to me that "we are all as an unclean thing, and [even] our righteousnesses are as filthy rags."

I know today that it was the Holy Spirit who illuminated those truths for me. He used the Word of God to grip my heart and wring it until I despaired of all hope. And I still remember vividly the sheer misery I felt that night, realizing the awful truth that I was condemned before God, and there was absolutely nothing I could do to get myself out from under His condemnation.

Now, 1 Corinthians is probably one of the last books you would recommend to an evangelistic prospect, but the Word of God is a powerful discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And as I read on, it was as if God used what little I could understand of that epistle to open my eyes and show me the Christ revealed in Scripture for the first time in my life.

I continued reading until I reached these words in 1 Corinthians 12:3: "No man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost" (1 Corinthians 12:3).

I didn't understand the full meaning of that text at the time, but I knew that whatever else was wrapped up in it, it meant that Jesus is Lord. And I understood that that meant I needed to acknowledge His right to rule my life and yield to Him as my Lord.

In my heart that very night I turned, left my own plans and ambitions behind, and followed Christ. My life has never been the same, and I have never wished to return to the way things were before Christ saved me.

Stay tuned for more...

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24 September 2006

A minimalist BlogSpotting Post at the End of a Long Weekend

by [name or initials here]

his weekend GraceLife sponsored a family conference. Between Saturday and Sunday, I spoke a total of five times (plus a Q&A session), and that's why there was no BlogSpotting post Saturday. Here is an abbreviated make-up post. These are by no means all the links we could cite from this week, but it's as much as I can do at the end of a loooooooong weekend:

That's all I can do for now. I need to get some rest.

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On New Ideas, PostModern Doublespeak, and the Danger of an Uncertain Trumpet

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote space at the beginning of each week to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from "The Greatest Fight in the World," the inaugural address he delivered at the Pastor's College Conference in April 1891—less than a year before his death.

hat marvel if, under some men's shifty talk, people grow into love of both truth and falsehood! People will say, "We like this form of doctrine, and we like the other also." The fact is, they would like anything if only a clever deceiver would put it plausibly before them. They admire Moses and Aaron, but they would not say a word against Jannes and Jambres. We shall not join in the confederacy which seems to aim at such a comprehension.

We must preach the gospel so distinctly that our people know what we are preaching. "If the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself for the battle?" Don't puzzle your people with doubtful speeches.

"Well", said one, "I had a new idea the other day. I did not enlarge upon it; but I just threw it out."

That is a very good thing to do with most of your new ideas. Throw them out, by all means; but mind where you are when you do it; for if you throw them out from the pulpit they may strike somebody, and inflict a wound upon faith. Throw out your fancies, but first go alone in a boat a mile out to sea. When you have once thrown out your unconsidered trifles, leave them to the fishes.

We have nowadays around us a class of men who preach Christ, and even preach the gospel; but then they preach a great deal else which is not true, and thus they destroy the good of all that they deliver, and lure men to error. They would be styled "evangelical" and yet be of the school which is really anti-evangelical.
C. H. Spurgeon

22 September 2006

Comments on comments on prayer (plus an addendum)

by Dan Phillips

Some of the comments on the prayer post were exceptional. I thought it worth interaction in a post, rather than just the comment thread. It'll give me an opportunity to expand a bit.

I'll skip the frankly silly ones that generously (but inadvertently?) prove my point, by announcing Pope-like affirmations of sheer tradition and sentimentality, without even a pretence of engaging Scripture. Okey doke?

Now to the comments:

jsb—Fair enough point about Mark 9:29 (I believe that, and not v. 27, is the verse you meant). My point wasn't to say that prayer is nothing, but to say it isn't what Scripture doesn't say it is.

So to that, I'd point out that casting out demons was a directive Christ specifically gave to His apostles (Mark 3:13-15). Praying for the effective obedience of God's Word is right in line with what I'm saying.

Also, doesn't James 1:5 promise a response from God short of prophecy, i.e. wisdom?

Chris Anderson gave a great response to that, I thought. "...God's promise to give wisdom in Proverbs 2:6-9, follows several commands to diligently seek wisdom in Proverbs 2:1-5. So the promised wisdom comes, but it comes as I study the Bible; God doesn't put it under my pillow while I sleep."

I'd also add that the Holy Spirit is in our hearts, which is to say our minds. He can direct our thoughts and plans from behind the scenes (Nehemiah 2:12; 7:5; Proverbs 21:1; 2 Timothy 2:7).

You then ask about a comment of John MacArthur's. I'm no MacArthur scholar, and decline the opportunity. If Phil would like to offer his thoughts, that'd be terrific.

I do think we can retrospectively and fallibly see times when our apparently-solitary thinking, planning, analysis, and decision-making had been directed by God from "behind the scenes," as it were. That is not only on a different continent, but on a different planet than direct, inerrrant, verbal revelation such as prophets received (see the previous Nehemiah references).

Later, jsb, you bring up Packer. I just have never been able to view his work the same since his really pathetic Keep in Step with the Spirit, or since reading Iain Murray's Evangelicalism Divided. But insofar as what you quote boils down to saying that that God, in response to prayer, can direct us in Bible study (2 Timothy 2:7), and that these insights are worth recording as insights and not low-octane revelation, I'd enthusiastically agree.

Yes, Mark Hanson, God answers our prayers, always, without fail—by fulfilling our request, or doing something better. I spoke specifically of waiting for God to engage us in dialogue. Two different things.

Tom Chantry, thanks for your thought. Perhaps akin to what you said, it may happen during prayer that God the Holy Spirit directs our mind to Scripture, or even into fruitful thinking. Or He may not. I have certainly had such times, when God "speaks" to me by directing my mind through in-context, relevant Scripture. And I've had many times when He hasn't, when I struggle horribly even to focus my concentration on prayer (Psalm 86:11 itself has often been my prayer). Nothing in Scripture warrants our judging our prayers by the presence or absence of such phenomena. He's not a tame lion; maybe more to the point, He's not our trained dog.

And your 3:55 AM post had some really wonderful and well-put thoughts.

Mike D. asks about the "conversation that Abraham has with the LORD in Genesis 18 (as he pleads with God not to destroy Sodom if there are x number of righteous men living there), Psalm 3:4 (To the LORD I cry aloud, and he answers me from his holy hill), and Psalm 120:1 (I call on the LORD in my distress, and he answers me)."

Good questions. As I said, God does respond to prayer; that's different than saying that He engages us in verbal dialogue, or the modern extra-Biblical fantasies of ooey-gooey ineffible low-octane sorta-revelation.

As to Abraham, he was a prophet (Genesis 20:7), and indeed had verbal dialogue with God. You and I aren't prophets. We share that in common with everyone else.

J & J Bible Ministry—I don't have very specific thoughts about "See You at the Pole" prayer meetings, per se. If these are Christian kids gathering to pray publicly, and thus bearing witness to their faith in public, I'm inclined to say "You go, kids." If they're ecumenical meetings of Christians, Mormons, Roman Catholics, angel-worshipers, Wiccans, god-talking stoners, and whatevers... I think you can guess what I'd say. And again with the Proverbs 28:9.

C. T. Lillies—"So Dan, when are you going to do one on laying on of the hands?" How about "Never"? Does "never" work for you? Let's say "never." (c;

NOTE: when I wrote this, the last comment was 9:33 AM, September 22, 2006 .

In totally unrelated and self-indulgent news

Saturday the 23rd finds me another year further from the womb and closer to the tomb, should the Lord tarry. I delightedly share that birthday with my oldest son, Matthew. He, Josiah and I plan to be up in the Sierra, fishing, hiking, barbecuing, and just enjoying. (In my case trying to prove that advanced and extreme old age has not yet made a completely bedridden invalid of me.)

So I probably won't be able to interact much.

I thought about sharing my deep and significant thoughts, gained over the last year of my pilgrimage. But I don't know that I have that many, beyond what I share with you every week.

Which brings me to something I do want to say. As I think over the past year, one of my dominant thoughts is just how much I've enjoyed being a Pyro, and how terribly grateful I am to Phil for giving me the opportunity. Many were astonished when he invited me, never having heard of me. But I can assure you, none was more surprised than I! (Even now, my own blog is just a "crawly amphibian"!) Honestly, I was afraid even to answer his email of invitation, fearing that he might say, "Oh, sorry; wrong address!"

The opportunity to share what God's been gracious enough to give me with so many good brothers and sisters has been a highlight of my life and ministry. Nobody, Phil included, can know how much it means to me. I thank God regularly for this open door.

And thank you, Phil, for the opportunity.

And thank you, Gentle Readers, for taking the time to read, and to interact with, my scribblings here. Your graciousness and encouragement is deeply appreciated.

Dan Phillips's signature

More nuthin'

by Frank Turk

I was clicking thru Phil's "This is where I am right now" box, and I was struck by his choice of David Wells' Above all Earthly Pow'rs because I finished it up about two weeks ago and I just wanted to say this about that:

(1) If your local Christian bookstore doesn't have it, make them order you two, and give one to the owner of that bookstore. If, after a suitable amount of time has passed, they do not stock that book, just write "Ichabod" over the door and walk away.

(2) If your church is trying out "seeker friendly" or "Emergent" malarky, buy a copy for your pastor and ask him to read it. Remember to treat your pastor, who is tasked with being a preacher and teacher of the word, with double honor, not just politeness. All you can do is ask him to read it, and maybe talk about it to see if it has any impact on what he thinks the local church ought to be.

(3) You personally should read it. It is actually the last book of a 4-part treatment of the modern evangelical church by Wells. If you're really clever, you'll read all 3 -- but the real spiritual body-blows are in this book.

You think this blog is full of big ideas? That book makes this blog look like the Jon Stewart show on the Comedy Channel. Read it, and then read it again.

As far as reviews go, that's not much of a review: it's a rave. I won't review this book because then people who ought to read the book will read the review and feel like they have done their part. You read this book. You personally. Get it at the library, buy it from Amazon, whatever. You read this book.

COMPLETELY UNRELATED NOTE: My Pastor's wife is being induced today for the birth of their second child. All prayers for health, blessings, wisdom in doctors, lack of complications, good food at the hospital, a nice chair to sit in, whatever, are requested -- and because you people are "that kind" of Christian, I expect you have already started praying. Dan's previous post notwithstanding.

Comments on the sidebar links

by Phil Johnson

This is not a bona fide post. It's just a place-holder for comments about the "Where I Am Right Now®" links.

21 September 2006

What prayer is and isn't

by Dan Phillips

Preface: with all of yesterday's hilarity, I feel like some dour, prunefaced prig coming in with this serious-subject post. But Frank has decided Thursday's my day, so if I sit on it, he'll mock me. But then again, if I post it, he'll mock me, so... oh well, once more into the breach.

The minefield that is prayer. I can't think of one specific doctrine, offhand, which is more tradition-laden, and buried under sentimentality, than that of prayer.

For that very reason, it's a risky topic. Step in any direction, and you land on someone's toes. Worse, diverge from the "party line," and it's as if you're insulting Mom. Only a fool, or someone with nothing to lose, would knowingly poke a stick at that particular venerated bovine. (Say, why are you looking at me like that?)

Christianoid notions. Common Christian coinage describes prayer as a conversation, declares that "there is power in prayer," makes prayer out to be the be-all and end-all of Christian living. Prayer is "the greatest power on earth," we're told. Is this Scriptural thinking?

Think of Frank Peretti's Darkness books. I read one or two. I thought them imaginative and fast-moving, but neither great theology nor great literature.

In his imagination, Peretti pulls the curtain aside on the spiritual battle that Scripture describes. He shows demons and angels alike in action, makes up their dialogue, fantasizes their attempts to ruin or protect human beings.

Here's what sticks in my mind. What do you suppose strikes terror into Peretti's demons? When does everything start to turn around, for the demons' defeat and the saints' victory? It's when the saints pray. Nothing scares fallen angels, apparently, like praying Christians.

Now, it strikes me that all of this is backwards at worst, sideways at best.

Biblical teaching. What is prayer, in the Bible? It's one thing, and one thing only: prayer is talking to God. Period. That's it. It might be talking in the form of praise, petition, confession, supplication, exclamation, or a host of other forms. It might be talking to God while happy (Psalm 43:4), sad (Psalm 42:9), mad (Psalm 10:15), hurried (Nehemiah 2:4), guilty (Psalm 51:1), busy and distracted (Nehemiah 4:9), or near death (Acts 7:59-60). But it all boils down to that one irreducible: prayer is what you say to God.

No arguments so far? Great. Now fasten your seatbelts, and consider this:

Prayer is not a dialogue. Prayer is not a conversation. Prayer has no intrinsic power, whatever.

"What?! Heresy!"

Show me from the Bible. In the Bible, what I say to God is prayer, what He says to me is revelation, it is prophecy. If I am a Christian, I talk to Him. If He talks directly to me, unmediated, I am a prophet, or a seer. And I'm neither; nor are you.

Scripture constantly urges believers to pray, in both covenants (Psalm 32:6; 72:15; 1 Thessalonians 5:17; 1 Timothy 2:1f., etc.).

By contrast, Scripture never urges believers to pray and then wait for God to speak back in that prayer, expecting (demanding?) that God engage us in conversation as a regular facet of normal Christian living. (I am using "conversation" in the strict sense: I speak, then God talks back, unmediated, verbally). Scripture never directs us to an Eastern-style emptying of the mind and listening in and to the silence, for an imaginary "still, small," never-promised "voice" of God.

Prayer, if you will, is depressing the button on the walkie-talkie, and talking. No more, no less. It has been described as a soldier in the field calling for supplies and reinforcements, and that's not bad. Prayer is you, talking.

Now, if you want to hear God speak to you, go to His Word in faith, and He will (Proverbs 6:20-23; Hebrews 3:7ff.; 2 Peter 1:19-21, etc.).

Not only is prayer not the be-all and end-all; in fact, sometimes it is positively wrong to pray.

What? More heresy?

Not if your Bible contains Proverbs 28:9, which reads "He who turns away his ear from listening to the law, Even his prayer is an abomination" (NAS). Such prayer is appalling to God. It (so to speak) turns His stomach, when someone turns a deaf ear to His voice in Scripture, but expects God to hear him rattling off his "honey-do" (or "Deity-do") list of requests.

Nor is it heresy if your Bible still features the devastatingly wondrous first chapter of Isaiah, where we read in verse 15, "When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood." (Remind me sometime to tell you what I think of the National Day of Prayer. Or maybe you can guess.)

What does this mean? It means that sometimes, when someone says "I'll pray about that," the most Biblical response is, "Don't bother. You'll only make it worse." In such cases as these, the only appropriate prayer would be a prayer of broken, heartfelt repentance and confession (Psalms 32; 51; 1 John 1:9).

Now, wonderful things can happen in response to prayer. When prayer is expressive of a relationship with God, and in accord with God's will as revealed in the Bible alone, prayer can accomplish much (James 5:16; 1 John 5:14). But of course, in these cases, the prayer itself is of no power, whatever. It is the God who hears prayer -- He is the powerful one.

Think about it. When the bully is beating you up, and all you can choke out is "Dad!", what dooms your tormentor isn't the power of your word, your "prayer" -- it's the big, angry man who loves you, hears your voice, and comes running.

So is it prayer per se that really strikes terror into demons' hearts in this spiritual battle of ours? I do read some detail about the armor of God, crafted in Heaven to equip us for that battle (Ephesians 6:10ff.). I do read somewhere around there of prayer, and I do read of a weapon.

But the weapon isn't prayer (Ephesians 6:18). That's just us talking to God. Our words are without intrinsic power. I don't think that us talking, per se, scares demons. In fact, I'm pretty sure that sometimes it cracks them up.

The weapon is the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17). God's Word sent Satan running from our Lord (Matthew 4). It will do the same for us.

Now, there are some words with power (Psalm 33:6, 9; Jeremiah 23:29; Hebrews 4:12)! Read, them, study them, believe them, embrace them, glory in them, live them -- and use them in prayer.

That would result in some quaking, shaking, and glory.

Dan Phillips's signature

20 September 2006

People hate kids.

by Pecadillo

Well it's almost Halloween and it's time for my biannual post on Pyromaniacs. What better time to post about the millions of people that hate kids. What, you don't believe me? Check it out.

This child is not loved and he knows it.

What kind of a sick freak dresses his child up like a whoopie cushion? I don't think it's abusive or damaging to their psyche or anything like that. I just think it's really lame.

REALLY lame.

"Look ma, I'm a trash can!"

When you can't afford a decent costume and lack the creativity to make your own, do not - I repeat - DO NOT turn to Grandma's seasonal tea cozie. It's not the answer.

It's a sad day at Disneyland when Mickey goes crazy and eats the babies...

"Well since my parents hate me.
Duh Duh.
I've got to wear this outfit.
Duh Duh.
It's sad and it's lame and I wanna escape from this family..."

This kid is not saluting, he's trying to gouge his eye out to take his mind off that stupid costume.

Okay, this one's kinda cool... but I'm still very much against this.

But what about the crazy people that don't have kids? What do they do?

You had to ask.

What better way to say, "I don't have kids of my own, and it's a good thing I don't."

Somehow more offensive are the dog costumes.

This offends me as both a dog lover and a Police Officer.

This dog may look happy but don't be fooled, this dog needs rescuing NOW.

C-train, I'm ashamed of you.

For once, I am speechless.

Is it really a surprize that these people have ferrets.

Yeah, these are textbook ferret people.

Wanna know who's responsible for these crimes against humanity, these people and other freaks like them.

They must be stopped. Now.