Seven ways delighting in God benefits us

Ray Ortlund: Richard Baxter, in A Christian Directory (Ligonier, 1990), page 140, lists seven benefits of looking by faith to the Lord, as to no other, for our deepest delight. Updating the language a little: 1. Delight in God will prove that we know him and love him and that we are prepared for his kingdom, for all who delight in him shall enjoy him. 2. Prosperity, that is, the small addition of earthly things, will not easily corrupt us or transport us. 3. Adversity, that is, the withholding of earthly delights, will not excessively grieve us or easily deject us. 4. We will receive more profit from a sermon or book or conversation that we delight in than other people, who don’t delight in them, will receive from many such opportunities. 5. All our service will be sweet to ourselves and acceptable to God; if we delight in him, he certainly delights in us. 6. We will have a continual feast

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Is Your Church an Institution?

Ray Ortlund: To call anything an “institution” today can be its death sentence, including a church. Should we be ashamed of the institutional aspects of our churches? What is an institution? An institution is a social mechanism for making a desirable experience easily repeatable. An institution is where life-giving human activities can be nurtured and protected and sustained. Some aspects of life should be unscheduled, spontaneous, random. But not all of life should be. Some things are too wonderful to be left to chance. Football season is an institution, Thanksgiving Day is an institution, and so forth. Institutions are not a problem. But institutionalization is. An institution can enrich life, but institutionalization takes that good thing and turns it into death. How? The structure, the mechanism, the means, becomes the end. The institution itself takes on its own inherent purpose. The delivery system overshadows the experience it is meant to deliver. When, in the corporate psychology of a group of

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Defending the gospel in the right spirit

Ray Ortlund: When you must step forward and defend the gospel against poisonous teachers, defend it with all the grace that inheres within the gospel itself.  We must do the Lord’s work the Lord’s way. It is not enough for us to identify a misleading voice, and then just do or say whatever feels right. As Jonathan Edwards warned us, “There is nothing that belongs to Christian experience more liable to a corrupt mixture than zeal.” Peter illustrates the folly of misplaced zeal. When the enemies of Jesus attacked, the apostle rose up in defense. His heart was doubtless in the right place. But what did he actually do? He drew his sword, proving not how brave he was but only how foolish (John 18:10–11). Francis Schaeffer used to say that, after debating with a liberal theologian, he hoped the liberal would walk away with two equally clear impressions: one, Francis Schaeffer really disagreed with him; two, Francis Schaeffer really cared about

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Preaching today?

Ray Ortlund: Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.  2 Timothy 2:15 Do your best — An all-out effort measured by who you are, not by who you are not and can never be.  But by God’s grace you can do your best with who you are. to present yourself — He may put you before masses, or he may put you before a few.  But you are available to him for whatever role he thinks is most strategic for the redemption of the world in your generation.  You are “ready for every good work” (verse 21). to God — Not to people, primarily, but to God, who knows quality work when he sees it. as one approved — By God’s standards, which will wonderfully satisfy your own conscience, though your divinely approved work will inevitably dissatisfy some people. a worker

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What does it mean to “accept Jesus”?

Ray Ortlund: “You turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.”  1 Thessalonians 1:9 You and I are not integrated, unified, whole persons.  Our hearts are multi-divided.  There is something like a board room in every heart.  Big table.  Leather chairs.  Coffee.  Bottled water.  Whiteboard.  A committee sits around the table.  There is the social self, the private self, the work self, the sexual self, the recreational self, the religious self, the childhood memories self, and many others.  The committee is arguing and debating and voting.  Constantly agitated and upset.  Rarely can they come to a unanimous, wholehearted decision. We are like that.  We tell ourselves it’s because we are so busy, with so many responsibilities.  The truth is, we are just indecisive.  We are held back by small thoughts of Jesus. A person in this condition can “accept Jesus” in either of two ways.  One way is to invite him onto the committee.  Give Jesus

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Preaching the Ten Commandments

Ray Ortlund: When I preach through the Ten Commandments, each sermon has four points, because each commandment does four things at once. First, each of the Ten Commandments is revelation.  Each one gives us an insight into the character of God.  For example, what kind of amazing Person would say to us, “You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15)?  Only a just and generous Person who can be fully trusted, who would never rob us or defraud us, who would never lie or cheat, who would never hold out on us wrongly, who is not out for himself, who feels no need but only overflowing kindness.  This is Jesus. Secondly, each of the Ten Commandments is confrontation.  Each one gives us an insight into our own character.  What kind of people need to be told, “You shall not steal”?  People who will be unfair to one another without even realizing it.  We need to be alerted to our own unjust and

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Seven ways we can guard and repair relationships

  Ray Ortlund: 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

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Who are you married to?

  Ray Ortlund: “A married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. . . . and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.  Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another.”  Romans 7:2-4 We were married to Mr. Law.  He was a good man, in his way, but he did not understand our weakness.  He came home every evening and asked, “So, how was your day?  Did you do what I told you to?  Did you make the kids behave?  Did you waste any time?  Did you complete everything I put on your To Do list?”  So many demands and expectations.  And hard as we tried, we couldn’t be perfect.  We could never satisfy him.  We forgot things that were important to him.  We let the

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How can we tell when God is really at work?

  Ray Ortlund: In The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God (1741), Jonathan Edwards pulled out of 1 John 4 the biblical indicators that God is at work, even if the people involved are complicating it with their own imperfections and eccentricities.  And we do complicate it.  In this life, the work of the gospel is never pure, always mixed.  The light of God does not stream in unfiltered by us.  To some extent, we even block it out.  We are sorry for that.  But we do not need to be stuck in analysis-paralysis.  The real work of God is discernible, within all the mess, in four ways: One, when our esteem of Jesus is being raised, so that we prize him more highly than all this world, God is at work. Two, when we are moving away from Satan’s interests, away from sin and worldly desires, God is at work. Three, when we are believing,

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Is your church functionally liberal?

  Ray Ortlund: “It is one thing to hear God’s Word.  It is another to fear it, heeding all God’s warnings, trusting all God’s promises, and obeying all God’s commands.” Philip Graham Ryken, Jeremiah and Lamentations (Wheaton, 2001), page 551. The liberal churches I’ve known are not openly hostile to the Bible.  They like the Bible.  They want their preacher to use the Bible.  They have home Bible studies.  What makes them “liberal” is that the Bible alone is not what rules them.  They allow into their doctrine, their ethos, their decisions, other complicating factors.  The Bible is revered, in a way.  But it is not the decisive factor.  It is only one voice among others. This lack of clarity allows unbiblical ideas and behavior to get traction.  In a liberal church no one stands up, with an open Bible in his hand, and says, “Hey guys, we just don’t say/do things like that around here.  It isn’t biblical.”  That

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Your church: where Jesus calms the storm

  Ray Ortlund: “How wonderful it is to come every Sunday into a liberating church!  All week long we swim in an ocean of judgment and negative scrutiny.  We constantly have to comply with the demands of a touchy world, and we never measure up. . . . Then on Sunday we walk into a new kind of community where we discover an environment of grace in Christ alone.  It is so refreshing.  Sinners like us can breathe again!  It’s as if God simply changes everyone’s topic of conversation from what’s wrong with us, which is plenty, to what’s right with Christ, which is endless.  He replaces our negativity, finger-pointing, and self-attack with the good news of his grace for the undeserving.  Who couldn’t come alive in a community which inhales that heavenly atmosphere? Here is where every one of us can happily take our stand right now: ‘The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith

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The doctrine of grace creates a culture of grace

  10 quotes from Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ by Ray Ortlund: Gospel doctrine creates a gospel culture. The doctrine of grace creates a culture of grace. When the doctrine is clear and the culture is beautiful, that church will be powerful. But there are no shortcuts to getting there. Without the doctrine, the culture will be weak. Without the culture, the doctrine will seem pointless (21). Every one of us is wired to lean one way or the other—toward emphasizing doctrine or culture. Some of us naturally resonate with truth and standards and definitions. Others of us resonate with feel and vibe and relationships. Whole churches, too, can emphasize one or the other. Left to ourselves, we will get it partly wrong, but we won’t feel wrong, because we’ll be partly right. But only partly. Truth without grace is harsh and ugly. Grace without truth is sentimental and cowardly. The living Christ is full of grace

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Gospel doctrine creates a gospel culture

  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. – 1 John 1:7 Ray Ortlund on this passage from his book The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ: A heart aloof from God grows aloof from others. It engages in merciless comparisons and endless faultfinding. Therefore, all restoration begins by going back to God first, prodigals that we are. The wonderful thing is that, when we lose our way, God is not hard to find again. He has made himself very findable. He is “in the light” — right out there in the place of truth, honesty, openness, confession, and owning up. God himself awaits us there. We sinners can go to him freely through the cross of Christ. There in the light, but only in the light, everything gets better in our relationships

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It Multiplied

Ray Ortlund: So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied. Acts 9:31 I’m not against strategic plans. I’m for them. They have their place, as a matter of wise stewardship. But they cannot generate the astonishing outcomes described in the book of Acts. I remember hearing Michael Green at the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in 1974. He asked us, Why don’t we see anywhere in the book of Acts a man-made strategic plan for evangelizing the world? His answer: They didn’t have one. What then did they have? Two things, for starters: the fear of the Lord, and the comfort of the Holy Spirit. In the fear of the Lord, they were teachable, they were humble, they were listening to the gospel, they were open and grateful and easily bendable. They did

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Your church is where Jesus wants to show his beauty

Ray Ortlund: Today is the launch of my new book, The Gospel: How The Church Portrays The Beauty of Christ, part of the 9Marks series on Building Healthy Churches. The biblical gospel is not only a doctrine on paper, not only a theological flag to salute. The gospel also creates a relational environment, an ethos of beauty, an experience of humaneness. In other words, gospel doctrine creates a gospel culture. In this new kind of community, which only the gospel can create, desperate sinners coming to Christ have nothing to fear. They are finally safe. They can open up about what’s really going on in their lives. They can find healing for the past and hope for the future. This new kind of church feels like heaven on earth. And the way to get there is not by slick packaging but by gospel rebuilding. It’s what the doctrine is for – building a new kind of community to compel the

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The Love of Jesus is Sacred

“I apologize for putting this so bluntly, but it’s in the Bible. We need to face it. How can we hope to be true to Christ if we look away from the Bible’s stark portrayal of our natural corruption? The Bible alerts us that a blasphemous attitude lurks in all our hearts. We tell ourselves: ‘What’s the big deal about this or that compromise? He’ll understand. He’s all about grace, right?’ But what man would say: ‘What’s the big deal about my wife’s adulteries? It’s only marriage. I understand. I’m all about grace’? In the same way, our divine Husband does not think, ‘Well, she’s brought another lover into our bed, but as long as they let me sleep, what’s the big deal?’ The thought is revolting. “The love of Jesus is sacred. He gives all, and he demands all, because he is a good Husband. Only an exclusive love is real love. Only a cleansing grace is real grace.

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Christianity as it was defined originally by Christ

Ray Ortlund: “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 Three things here. One, the command of Christ, that we love one another. Two, the example of Christ, that we are to love one another as he loved us. Three, the promise of Christ, that all kinds of people will see we are real disciples of Christ, when we love one another his way. Francis Schaeffer proposed two powerful things we can do, to display observable love for one another in response to these verses and also John 17:23: One, “When I have failed to love my Christian brother, I go to him and say, ‘I’m sorry.’ That is first. It may seem a letdown — that the first thing we speak of

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Nullifying the grace of God

Ray Ortlund: I do not nullify the grace of God. Galatians 2:21 “What eloquence is able sufficiently to set forth these words: ‘to nullify grace,’ ‘the grace of God,’ also that ‘Christ died for no purpose’? The horribleness of it is such that all the eloquence in the world is not able to express it. It is a small matter to say that any man died for no purpose. But to say that Christ died for no purpose is to take him quite away.” Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, on Galatians 2:21. Paul asserted that he did not nullify the grace of God. By implication, Peter was nullifying the grace of God when his conduct was “not in step with the truth of the gospel” (Galatians 2:14). How on earth did Peter do that, and is there any chance we could do that again today? With Paul, Peter believed the gospel at the level of doctrine. Speaking for Peter and

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Why Gospel Cultures Are So Hard To Build [and Find]

Tony Reinke: Wise pastor Ray Ortlund addresses this problem throughout his forthcoming book, The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ (Crossway; April 30, 2014). He writes this on pages 82–83: A gospel culture is harder to lay hold of than gospel doctrine. It requires more relational wisdom and finesse. It involves stepping into a kind of community unlike anything we’ve experienced, where we happily live together on a love we can’t create. A gospel culture requires us not to bank on our own importance or virtues, but to forsake self-assurance and exult together in Christ alone. This mental adjustment is not easy, but living in this kind of community is wonderful. We find ourselves saying with Paul, “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things” — all the trophies of our self-importance, all the wounds of our self-pity, every self-invented thing that we lug around as a way of getting attention — “and count

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