J. I. Packer: A Personal Appreciation from Ray Ortlund

Ray Ortlund: Our dear friend, James Innell Packer, has been released from this life. Many of us will feel, as I do, deep personal loss. We will miss him—and for good reason. Packer embodied the personal characteristics and ministry ideals we evangelicals most revere. He was saintly and sensible, brilliant and practical, faithful and peaceable, courageous and charitable, cheerful and serene, blunt and gentle, humble and bold, submissive to Scripture and sensitive to the Spirit. Above all, Packer was Christ-honoring. So my purpose here, as the Scripture says, is to “honor such men” (Phil. 2:29). After hearing Packer preach and teach and after reading his books and essays for more than 40 years, I gratefully remember five outstanding marks of his life and ministry. 1. Packer revered the Bible and helped a whole generation settle into the same confidence. In my dad’s copy of ‘Fundamentalism’ and the Word of God: Some Evangelical Principles, this sentence is underlined: “Scripture itself is alone

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The Book of Job

  Ray Ortlund: The book of Job is not answering a theoretical question about why good people suffer.  It is answering a practical question: When good people suffer, what does God want from them?  The answer is, he wants our trust. The book is driven by tensions.  One, Job really was a good man (1:1, 8; 2:3).  He didn’t deserve what he got.  Two, neither Job nor his friends ever saw the conflict going on between God and Satan, but his friends made the mistake of thinking they were competent to judge.  Three, his friends interpreted his sufferings in moralistic, overly-tidy, accusing categories (4:7-8).  Thus, they did not serve Job but only intensified his sufferings further.  Four, Job refused to give in either to his own despair or to their cruel insinuations.  He kept looking to God, he held on, and God eventually showed up (38:1-42:17). Two observations. One, even personal suffering has a social dimension, as others look on

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Certainty, openness, and theological wisdom

Ray Ortlund: 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

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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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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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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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More honest and less impressive

Ray Ortlund: If I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth.  But I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. 2 Corinthians 12:6 God had given the apostle Paul an amazing spiritual experience — apparently, some kind of guided tour of heaven.  If Paul had wanted to “wow” the rest of us, he easily could have.  But for fourteen years he told no one about it, quietly keeping it to himself, wonderful though it was.  He didn’t exploit his remarkable experience to enhance his ministry. Paul was deeply secure in Christ.  He was content for people to perceive him and rate him on the basis of what they themselves could observe in him – not what he could claim, even rightly claim, but the ordinary human realities they could see and hear.  It was the fraudulent “super-apostles”

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Going Soft Against Wrath

Ray Ortlund: A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. What is the wise response to an angry person who says something cruel, false or demanding? Proverbs 15:1 helps us in those awkward moments at home, at work, in our churches. The key is “a soft answer.” So, you’re standing there, stunned by those words that have just exploded in your face. In that instant of decision, as your mind is forming a response, “a soft answer” is the category you need. What is that? Maybe, for Sure The word “soft” means tender, delicate, gentle, even weak. We don’t like being weak, especially when we find ourselves in the crosshairs of anger. We would rather justify ourselves. It is hard to be wronged. It is doubly hard to be wronged and not fight back but respond softly. Of course, if the angry person is a heretic, bent on wrecking your church, he or she must be confronted

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Gospel doctrine, gospel culture

Ray Ortlund: Gospel doctrine creates a gospel culture.  The doctrines of grace create 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.  For example: The doctrine of regeneration creates a culture of humility (Ephesians 2:1-9). The doctrine of justification creates a culture of inclusion (Galatians 2:11-16). The doctrine of reconciliation creates a culture of peace (Ephesians 2:14-16). The doctrine of sanctification creates a culture of life (Romans 6:20-23). The doctrine of glorification creates a culture of hope (Romans 5:2). The doctrine of God creates a culture of honesty (1 John 1:5-10).  And what could be 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 disregard the culture.  But churches where the doctrine and culture converge bear living witness to the power of Jesus.

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The greatest enemies

But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now.  Galatians 4:29 “The persecution of the true church, of Christian believers who trace their spiritual descent from Abraham, is not always by the world, who are strangers unrelated to us, but by our half-brothers, religious people, the nominal church.  It has always been so.  The Lord Jesus was bitterly opposed, rejected, mocked and condemned by his own nation.  The fiercest opponents of the apostle Paul, who dogged his footsteps and stirred up strife against him, were the official church, the Jews.  The monolithic structure of the medieval papacy persecuted all Protestant minorities with ruthless, unremitting ferocity.  And the greatest enemies of the evangelical faith today are not unbelievers, who when they hear the gospel often embrace it, but the church, the establishment, the hierarchy.  Isaac is always mocked and persecuted by Ishmael.” John.

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The greater reality

“Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him.  But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.”  Acts 7:54-55 Ray Ortlund: We are connected with two realities simultaneously.  There is the lower reality of this world of human judgement, and there is the higher reality of the throne of God and divine judgement. The lower reality can be brutal.  It was brutal not only for Stephen but far more for those who stoned him.  Frederick Buechner, Peculiar Treasures, page 182: “Stoning somebody to death, even somebody as young and healthy as Stephen, isn’t easy.  You don’t get the job done with the first few rocks and broken bottles, and even after you’ve got the man down, it’s a long, hot business.”  Living at this level takes commitment, determination.  Those stones are heavy – heavy to throw.  One really

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What saving faith looked like in Cornelius

“So Peter opened his mouth and said: ‘Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.’”  Acts 10:34-35 Ray Ortlund: Peter’s point is not that Cornelius had earned his way into God’s good graces by his own highmindedness or performance.  His point is that Cornelius, the Gentile, did not have to become a Jew to be kosher with God.  As a Gentile in Christ, Cornelius was clean and complete, for God shows no racial or national partiality. But Peter’s words say more.  “Anyone [of any race or nation] who fears God and does what is right” is acceptable to God.  Again, this is not legalism.  This does not displace the life and death of Jesus.  But it is moral sincerity.  It is the mentality that lies at the foundation of gospel faith and repentance.  It is not a moral demand made of God, but it

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Why your church matters

Ray Ortlund: “. . . the church of the living God, the pillar and buttress of the truth.”  1 Timothy 3:15 . . . the church of the living God.  A church is where the idols of our culture can be cogently discredited and the living God rallied around, rejoiced in, worshiped, studied, loved and obeyed.  If the church is dead or dormant, God’s own appointed testimony to his living reality powers down.  The felt reality of God in the world today is at stake in our churches. . . . the pillar and buttress of the truth.  A “pillar” holds something up high for all to see.  In this world, the one truth that will outlast the universe needs to be put on clear display rather than submerged under all the stuff that’s demanding our attention week in and week out.  A church can make the gospel obvious and accessible through preaching, teaching, memorizing, catechizing, blogging, etc. A “buttress” firms something up,

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How Churches Fake God’s Work

Ray Ortlund and Immanuel Church in Nashville believe simplicity is biblical. While opening doors to approach Christ, they try not to clutter what God is doing with programming. “When the Lord is at work, you don’t need heavy programs,” Ortlund tells fellow pastors Ryan Kelly and Darrin Patrick in this brief new video. “When the Lord isn’t at work, you probably have to fake it.” Watch to see how Patrick explains the dilemma for pastors approached by well-meaning church members who want to start new programs. Kelly offers his perspective on our failure to love when we’re too busy with programs.   From The Gospel Coalition.