Thursdays With Spurgeon—We Are All Laborers

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

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We Are All Laborers

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. (1 Corinthians 3:6-9) 

     Remember that the ablest ministers, the most powerful evangelists, the most profound teachers are, after all, nothing but laborers together with God. Let your mind be set upon the Master and not upon the servants! Do not say, ‘We are for this man because he plants,’ or ‘We are for the other because he waters,’ or ‘We are a third party for nobody at all.’ But let us join in ascribing all honor and praise to God, Who works all our works in us, since every good gift and every perfect gift is from above and comes down from the Father of lights, to Whom be glory world without end! … 

     The church is God’s farm.… In the margin of the Revised Version, we read, ‘You are God’s tilled ground….’ 

    We begin by considering that the church is God’s farm. The Lord has made the church of His sovereign choice to be His own by purchase, having paid an immense price for it. ‘For the Lord’s portion is His people; Jacob is the lot of His inheritance’ (Deuteronomy 32:9). Because the Lord’s portion was under mortgage, therefore the only begotten Son laid down His life as the purchase price and redeemed His people to be the Lord’s portion forever and ever. Henceforth it is said to all believers, ‘You are not your own. For you were bought at a price’ (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Every acre of God’s farm cost the Savior bloody sweat, yes, the blood of His heart! He loved us and gave Himself for us; that is the price He paid! … 

     The Master’s commission is not ‘sit still and see the Spirit of God convert the nations,’ but ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature’ (Mark 16:15). 

     Alas, the loiterers are many, but the laborers are few.

From Farm Laborers

It’s sad how much time Christians spend on non-essential things. We church shop to find the pastor or the music that suits our tastes; we claim ownership over ministries and only allow others to work under us, but never alongside us; or we attend church and give our tithes and offerings and expect the pastor to do all of the ministry. 

All of this is not only unbiblical but none of this is focused on eternity. And as C.S. Lewis said, “All that is not eternal is eternally useless.” 

Jesus paid too high a price for us to keep the good news to ourselves, or claim that our ministry is superior to someone else’s, or to simply loiter and watch others do the work. All Christians are laborers in God’s field. God made an invaluable investment in the work Jesus did on the Cross, so He wants to see a return on His investment that will last for all eternity. 

It’s time for us to stop squabbling, stop protecting our turf, and stop loitering. We must get to the work because the time is short and the Master is looking for eternal results.

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That Hideous Strength (book review)

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That Hideous Strength is the conclusion of C.S. Lewis’ space trilogy. Although this was written almost 70 years ago, it sounds ominously like our culture today. 

I mentioned in a previous book review that the first two books of this trilogy—Out Of The Silent Planet and Perelandra—should be read together. Those who have read these first two books will definitely have a greater appreciation of the themes which come to their conclusion in this capstone book. But That Hideous Strength is such a well-told story and culture commentary that it may be read by itself and still be highly enjoyable. 

It’s amazing to me how much foresight Lewis had into the hideous ways the spirit of the antichrist can insinuate itself into our day-to-day culture and ultimately into our politics. This book is really a behind-the-scenes look at both how evil people propagate their evil plans, and how godly people stand in God’s strength to combat those plans. Spoiler alert for those who haven’t read the last chapters of the Bible yet: Evil always loses because Jesus Christ is the undefeated Champion even over the darkest of evil forces. 

As I’ve mentioned in a previous C.S. Lewis book review, this space trilogy is probably not the best place for first-time Lewis readers to jump in. This trilogy is more of a graduate-level course in seeing biblical themes portrayed in ways only a mastermind like Lewis could imagine. But for those who are already well steeped in Lewis’ writings, all three books of this trilogy are must-reads! 

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Watch Your Horn

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During my freshman year of college, I was once the butt of a good-natured joke. I didn’t mind it so much except for the fact that there were several people in the room that didn’t know me, so they would have walked away thinking I was a jerk. As I vented to my roommate about this, his counsel was simply, “Just forgive ‘em, man!” 

Yeah, right … easier said than done! I didn’t want forgiveness—I wanted payback! Ever been there? 

The Hebrew word Selah is a call for us to pause and calmly think about what’s going on in our heart and mind. For instance, in those moments where we may want someone to get justice for the way they hurt us. 

In Psalm 75, God is literally the One who speaks the Selah. In fact, God speaks twice in this short psalm: once in verses 2-5 and again in verse 10 to close this psalm. Putting together His two speeches, God says, “I choose the right time, I judge perfectly, I hold everything firm. Selah. I will cut off the horns of all the wicked, but the horns of the righteous will be lifted up.” 

What is meant by “the horn of the wicked” or “the horn of the righteous”? Literally, it means a show of strength, but it can be used in both a negative or a positive sense. 

In the negative sense it means:

  • boasting of your own power 
  • standing in defiant opposition to all other powers 
  • proudly trumpeting your own strength
  • the English words “arrogant” and “boast” in verse 5 are both the same word Hebrew word halal. This means to shine a light on yourself, literally to say “Hallelujah!” to or about yourself! 

This pride is so dangerous! As C.S. Lewis said, “Pride is ruthless, sleepless, unsmiling concentration on the self.”

In the positive sense, a horn means the righteous person who shines a light on God, who concentrates on Him, who knows that anything good they have comes from Him. 

The wicked lift up their own horn (literally lift up themselves), while the righteous bow their horn (literally lift up God). What does God do? God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble (1 Peter 5:5). 

This psalm essentially has God giving two warnings:

  1. To the wicked He says, “Do not lift up your horn against Me.” 
  2. To the righteous He says, “Submit to Me and do not try to rush My timing.” 

Notice that Asaph says “a cup of foaming wine” is coming to the wicked (v. 8). This symbolizes God’s judgment (Revelation 19:11-16). This was to be our just punishment too, but Jesus took the cup of God’s wrath Himself, and in its place gave us the cup of God’s blessing (Isaiah 51:22; Matthew 26:39-42; 1 Corinthians 10:16). This switching of the cups is what we celebrate every time we drink the cup of Communion. 

God was patient with us and He is still being patient with the boastful wicked, which is why He warns them—and us—to Selah. We were rescued from judgment and now God calls upon us to tell others about Him, so that they may also be reconciled to Him through Jesus Christ (Proverbs 24:11-12; 2 Peter 3:9). 

Here’s the call to Christians: Watch your horn! Don’t shine a light on yourself, but shine a light on Jesus Christ and remain on-mission to rescue those who persist in blowing their own horn. 

If you’ve missed any of the other messages in our Selah series, you can find the full list by clicking here. 

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Poetry Saturday—Philomythus To Misomythus

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The heart of Man is not compound of lies,
but draws some wisdom from the only Wise,
and still recalls him. Though now long estranged,
Man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed.
Dis-graced he may be, yet is not dethroned,
and keeps the rags of lordship once he owned,
his world-dominion by creative act:
not his to worship the great Artefact,
Man, Sub-creator, the refracted light
through whom is splintered from a single White
to many hues, and endlessly combined
in living shapes that move from mind to mind.
Though all the crannies of the world we filled
with Elves and Goblins, though we dared to build
Gods and their houses out of dark and light,
and sowed the seed of dragons, ’twas our right
(used or misused). The right has not decayed.
We make still by the law in which we’re made.—J.R.R. Tolkien, written to C.S. Lewis

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Perelandra (book review)

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Perelandra by C.S. Lewis is the second book in Lewis’ space trilogy. Of all the books in this series, this is the only book that I would recommend reading the first book—Out Of The Silent Planet—first, so that you can fully appreciate the story. 

Out Of The Silent Planet took place on Malacandra (or Mars) where our protagonist Dr. Elwin Ransom learns the Old Solar language and clashes with the antagonist Dr. Edward Weston. Perelandra (or Venus) is the setting of this second book, which essentially picks up right from the conclusion of book one. 

Although C.S. Lewis had much stricter definitions for terms like “allegory” or “parable,” his fantasy stories in both this space trilogy and his Narnian books clearly are telling a much grander and more real Story than merely the fictional accounts in these books. This concept is on full display in Perelandra. 

In the biblical account of the temptation of Eve, the whole affair is covered rather quickly. The devil says, “Eat the fruit,” to which Eve replies, “We’re not supposed to.” And then the devil says, “Nothing bad will happen to you if you do eat it,” and she does it. In Perelandra, C.S. Lewis takes us back to that scene and imagines the debate that might have happened, with Ransom counseling the Lady of Perelandra to obey, and Weston (or at least Weston’s body) trying to convince her to bravely disobey. The interplay between these three characters is quite fascinating. 

This story is a very enjoyable read on its own, but I found that the backstory of Out Of The Silent Planet increased my enjoyment in reading this book again. Whenever you choose to read this book, you are in for—with all due apologies to C.S. Lewis—a lovely allegory! 

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The “Ologies”

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…God has done marvelous things; His right hand and His holy arm have wrought salvation for Him (Psalm 98:1 AMP). 

I like The Message paraphrase of this verse too: “Sing to God a brand-new song. He’s made a world of wonders! He rolled up His sleeves, He set things right! 

This psalmist happily extols all of the ways God the Creator has revealed Himself to mankind:

  • He has done marvelous things
  • the Lord has made His salvation known
  • He has revealed His righteousness to the nations
  • the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God
  • let the sea resound, and everything in it
  • let the world praise, and all who live in it
  • let the rivers clap their hands
  • let the mountains sing together for joy

This tells me how fitting it is for us to use all of the sciences—every “ology” to declare God’s greatness: biology, astronomy, cosmology, chemistry, psychology, anthropology, and even theology. All observations point to the glory of God. 

C.S. Lewis wrote, 

“If I swallow the scientific cosmology as a whole (that excludes a rational, personal God), then not only can I not fit in Christianity, but I cannot even fit in science. If minds are wholly dependent on brains, and brains on biochemistry, and biochemistry (in the long run) on the meaningless flux of the atoms, I cannot understand how the thought of those minds should have any more significance than the sound of the wind in the trees. And this is to me the final test. … Christian theology can fit in science, art, morality, and the sub-Christian religions. The scientific point of view cannot fit in any of these things, not even science itself. I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else.” 

The apostle Paul agreed with this psalmist, telling us that creation itself is enough proof that there is a God. But God went further: He gave us His word, He gave us prophets to remind us of His word, and ultimately, He sent His Son Jesus to earth. Paul concluded that “men are without excuse—altogether without any defense or justification” for refusing to believe in God. 

Don’t ever buy into the lie that science and Christianity are incompatible. All of the discoveries of science point to a Creator. We use all of these “ologies” because we never know which one may eventually get someone’s attention. 

Famed scientist Sir Isaac Newton noted, “In the absence of any other proof, the thumb alone would convince me of God’s existence.” 

Let’s join our minds, our hearts, and our voices in declaring the greatness of our Creator at every opportunity we have! 

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Maturing Reactions

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Jesus lived out the example of wholly healthy growth. The way Dr. Luke records it, the pinnacle of Christ’s health (and our health too) is seen in our relationships with other people.  

Why is relational maturity at the peak of the pinnacle? How else could you know whether you truly have mental, physical, and spiritual health unless it’s put to the test? And the ultimate test is how we react when we’re caught off guard. Our so-called Freudian slips can reveal an area of immaturity. C.S. Lewis reminds us that the suddenness of the provocation that caused the slip didn’t create our immature response, but it actually revealed what is really inside our hearts. Surely our unplanned reactions are a better indicator of our spiritual maturity than our planned actions! 

Jesus told us that our “slips” reveal what’s really inside (Matthew 15:19), but are these really unknown to us? If we’re really honest, how many times do we think unpleasant things without saying them or doing them? The Holy Spirit—the Spirit of Truth—knows so well what’s on the inside (Psalm 139:1-4). 

When we experience one of these slip ups, the devil loves to pounce! Paul calls it “sin seizing an opportunity” (Romans 7:7-11). But even as sin pounces, Paul assures us, “Therefore there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). 

What is the “therefore” there for? After the “therefore” the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Adoption reminds us we are in Jesus and children of God, and the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Intercession help us pray perfect, childlike prayers. So what comes before the “therefore” must be something that makes us feel unworthy, distant, and condemned. 

Paul explains that “we died to sin” (Romans 6:2). That word “died” means to be separated from one thing which brings about the destruction of the other thing. When we are separated from God by our sin we are dead, when are separated from our sin by God we are alive. At that moment of salvation, we stand before Almighty God justified—just as if I’d never sinned. That is irrevocable: God will never go back on that, we will never slip away from His grace. But that moment of salvation also begins a lifelong process of sanctification—or as I like to say it saint-ification. 

Remember that pyramid of growth Jesus demonstrated for us? Paul says, “I myself in my mind am a slave (Romans 7:25). The mind is where the Spirit of Truth begins His maturing, saint-ifying process in us. As our minds are transformed, then our bodies and our mouths can live out a Christlike lifestyle (see Romans 12:1-2). It’s this mind and body transformation that matures our spiritual health, which is then revealed in our relationships with others.  

Notice that it is after we have been through this transformation of mind, body, and spirit that Paul tells us the standard for God-honoring living. This is where we see even our unplanned reactions becoming more and more Christ-like (Romans 12:9-21). We cannot live out this Romans 12 mandate solely on our own willpower. We aren’t trying to become self-made people, but instead, we are allowing the Holy Spirit to make us transformed saints. Transformed saints that are known by their unplanned Christlike reactions. 

This is why I keep stressing for Christians to not stop at salvation, but to press on to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in our series We Are: Pentecostal, you can access the full list by clicking here.

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Out Of The Silent Planet (book review)

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I truly believe that leaders are readers. But leaders need to also be discerning in the books they choose. I almost exclusively read non-fiction, but I make an exception when a fictional piece of literature is a mind-expanding book. As I am re-reading C.S. Lewis’ space trilogy, I’m reminded again how this master storyteller can pack so much into a few pages. Book one in this trilogy is Out Of The Silent Planet. 

In its simplest form, this book is about a trip to Malacandra (or Mars), but as with any fantasy work written by Lewis, the story tells a far deeper and more substantial Story. In this book, we go behind the scenes to witness the aftermath of the battle in heaven when Lucifer and his fallen angels attempted to usurp God’s throne. In the Malacandrian language, Lucifer is “the bent one,” having deviated away from God’s loving design, so those who have allowed themselves to be influenced by him are also called “bent.” The three Earthlings who have arrived on Malacandra show their level of straightness or bentness as this story unfolds. 

Another fascinating part of this book is the subtle change in language. The main protagonist is a philologist named Dr. Elwin Ransom. Watching how Lewis shows Dr. Ransom progressively learning the language of the inhabitants of Malacandra, contrasted with the way the bent men continue to speak it in “baby talk” is amazing. Ransom slowly learns more of the planet’s culture and the nuance of the language becomes more precise as he does so. And Lewis keeps pace by showing us the evolving vocabulary as the story moves along. 

If you are already a C.S. Lewis fan, this is a great book to continue your journey into his vast mind. But if you haven’t been exposed to much of Lewis’ writings yet, I would suggest holding off on this book until you have a better grasp of his more accessible works. 

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Seeing Beauty And Saying Beautifully (book review)

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Seeing Beauty And Saying Beautifully is, in my mind, a grand slam! It features one of my favorite poets (George Herbert), possibly the most prolific evangelist of history (George Whitefield), my all-time favorite author (C.S. Lewis), all tied together by my go-to theologian (John Piper). Seeing Beauty And Saying Beautifully is part 6 in Piper’s series called “The Swans Are Not Silent.” 

George Herbert was a pastor of a small country church and a prolific poet who wrote almost all of his poems uniquely. “Of the 167 poems in The Temple, 116 are written with meters that are not repeated,” which even modern poets find astounding. George Whitefield spent more hours of his life preaching than he did sleeping, and he spoke with such a captivating style that he was quite possibly the first celebrity of the American colonies. C.S. Lewis wrote everything from history to fantasy, autobiography to poetry, theology to children’s novels. Peter Kreeft says of him, he “was not a man: he was a world.” 

John Piper finds in all three of these men a common thread: They all were able to not only see the beauty of God in everything, but they were able to express it in a beautiful way that drew in others to see the beauty of God for themselves. Pastor John calls this “poetic effort.” 

Pastor John also wrestles with how the profound creativity and eloquence of his three subjects meshes with the apostle Paul’s admonition that human eloquence could drain the Cross of Jesus of its power (see 1 Corinthians 1:17-2:5). He concludes that poetic effort for the sake of exalting the speaker or poet does turn people’s eyes to man and away from God. But that poet, evangelist, or author that uses the beauty in God’s creation to point people to the Creator is doing so in a way in which God is supremely exalted. This, Pastor John says, is exactly what Herbert, Whitefield, and Lewis have done, and done so well that their poetic efforts are still fruitful and God-glorifying long after their deaths. 

Seeing Beauty And Saying Beautifully is a wonderful book for those who enjoy biographies, theology, or the craft of skilled artisans. If you don’t know about the poems of George Herbert, the preaching of George Whitefield, or the vast library of literature of C.S. Lewis, let this book be your doorway to a rich new world of discovery, enjoyment, and God-glorification. 

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“Dear Woman”

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The crucifixion of Jesus lasted about six hours. This was mercifully short compared to what typically happened to crucifixion victims. It was hard enough for Jesus to get enough air just to breathe, let alone enough air to talk, so His words are few but precious! From 9:00 until about noon, He speaks three times; from noon until about 3:00, He has no recorded words; at 3:00 there are four final statements that come pretty close together. 

As Jesus speaks His final declaration before wordlessly suffering for the next three hours, let’s take a look at who was there. They were people who deeply cared about Jesus, and people about whom Jesus deeply cared: His mother, His aunt, the mother of one of His disciples, Mary Magdalene, and His beloved disciple John. 

Also notable was who wasn’t present on Golgotha: none of Christ’s siblings or other close relatives. 

This last word from Jesus before His long silence was an incredibly loving word. As the oldest of His siblings, and with His earthly father Joseph dead, Jesus had head-of-the-household responsibilities, especially the care of His mother Mary. 

When Jesus speaks to her, He says, “Dear woman.” This is a term of kindness, respect, and endearment. To both His mother and to John, there is a Greek word that is omitted in some English translations of the Bible: Behold. Since Christ’s words were at a premium, this word was Jesus saying, “Listen very closely. Pay careful attention to this important word I’m about to speak.” 

To His mother, Jesus says, “Dear woman, behold your son.” Jesus was saying, here is one on whom you can depend. And to His dear friend Jesus says, “Behold your mother.” Literally, Jesus was asking John to care for Mary as though she were his own biological mother. 

Think about the dying declarations we’ve already heard. To those who treated Him so horribly, Jesus said, Father, forgive them.” This was a word of forgiveness that required agape love. To the hardened criminal crucified next to Him, Jesus said, “Today you will be with Me in paradise.” This was a word of salvation that also required agape love. 

Agape love is only possible in a regenerated heart. It’s an utterly selfless love that Jesus described this way: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). To forgive the unforgivable, to grant salvation to a lifelong criminal, takes the other-worldly agape love. We expect this from Jesus. 

But there are two other loves in this scene. When Jesus says, “Dear woman,” He is expressing this natural love of son to mother. This Greek love is labeled storgé. C.S. Lewis calls this “the most natural, emotive, and widely diffused of loves.” To His dear friend John, Jesus speaks a word of philos love. C.S. Lewis says philos is “the love between friends as close as siblings in strength and duration [and] the least natural of loves.” 

Jesus cared deeply for His mother and He deeply trusted His friend John. This tells me an important truth: Jesus doesn’t just care about spiritual things. 

In fact, there isn’t anything that you care about that Jesus doesn’t feel too: “He had to be made like [us] fully human in every way” (Hebrews 2:17). 

Sadly, I think we frequently hold on to some cares because we think they are too small or too insignificant—or maybe “unspiritual”—so we think they are unworthy of Christ’s attention. Let me say it again: There isn’t anything that you care about that Jesus doesn’t feel too! 

Jesus intercedes before the Father’s throne of grace on our behalf. He knows exactly what to ask for because He experienced all of our earthly pains Himself. Then the Father and Son send the Holy Spirit into our hearts to give us the love and strength we need (see Hebrews 4:14-16; Romans 5:5). 

When Jesus showed us His full love—storgé, philos, and agape—He made it possible for us to fulfill His command: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). 

Jesus showed every kind of love so that we can live every kind of love! As we live as love-filled people, we show others the path to Christ’s love for their own love-starved hearts. 

Jesus spoke this loving declaration from the Cross to show us that His love covers any need that we have to encounter. Let me repeat it again so that you don’t forget it: There isn’t anything that you care about that Jesus doesn’t feel too!

If you’ve missed any of the other messages in our series on the dying declarations of Jesus from the Cross, you can access the full list by clicking here.

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