Your Big Story

Dear Jesus, . . show me where my story fits inside your big Story. Help me to feel your care as the Good Shepherd, your nourishment as the Bread, your comfort as the Light, your welcome as the Door, your guidance as the Way, your sweet sustenance as the Vine, and your hope as the Resurrection and the Life.

—W. David O. Taylor, Open and Unafraid: The Psalms as a Guide to Life, chapter 5

Studying Jesus

It is profound; all other sciences are but shadows; this is a boundless, bottomless ocean; no creature has a line long enough to fathom its depths; there is height, length, depth, and breadth ascribed to it, yea it passes knowledge. Eternity itself cannot fully unfold Him. It is like exploring a newly discovered land; by degrees you search further and further into the heart of the country. Ah, the best of us are yet on the borders of this vast continent! The study of Jesus Christ is the noblest subject that ever a soul spent itself upon.

—John Flavel (1627-1691)

Worship and Prayer: in Christ, through the Spirit

Christian worship is nothing more, nor less, than the Spirit enabling us to join in with Christ’s worship of the Father. Christian prayer is nothing more, nor less, than the Spirit enabling us to join in with Christ’s prayer to the Father.

—Robin Parry, Worshiping Trinity: Coming Back to the Heart of Worship, 16

THE POWER OF THE CROSS: Testimonies from Church History

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But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14)

I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16)

THE POWER OF THE CROSS to open Paradise
The thief on the cross (born: ? ✜ born again: 32 A.D.)

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at Jesus, saying, “Are
you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when You come into your kingdom.” And He said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43)


THE POWER OF THE CROSS to convert the soul
Saul/Paul (born c. A.D. 5 ✜ born again: c. A.D. 34)
“If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ.”(Philippians 3:4b-9a; see also 1 Timothy 1:14-15; Acts 9)

THE POWER OF THE CROSS to give new life
Augustine (born: A.D. 354 ✜ born again: A.D. 386)
“I quickly returned to the bench where . . . I had put down the apostle’s book [Paul’s Epistle to the Romans] when I had left there. I snatched it up, opened it, and in silence read the paragraph on which my eyes first fell: ‘Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof’ [Romans 1313-14]. I wanted to read no further, nor did I need to. For instantly, as the sentence ended, there was infused in my heart something like the light of full certainty and all the gloom of doubt vanished away.” (Confessions 8.12)
“We glimpse our goal across the sea of the present age. . . . But to enable us to go there, the One who is our goal came to us. . . . No one may cross the sea of his age, unless he be carried by the Cross of Christ. . . . So do not forsake the Cross, and the Cross will carry you.” (Tractates on the Gospel of John, 2.2)

THE POWER OF THE CROSS to free from guilt
Martin Luther (born: 1483 ✜ born again: 1516)
“Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. . . . I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners. Thus I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience. . . . At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, ‘In it [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live”’ [Romans 1:17]. There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. . . . Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.” (Works, volume 34, pp. 336-7)

THE POWER OF THE CROSS to amaze with grace
John Newton (born: 1725 ✜ born again: 1747)
“I hope it will always be a subject of humiliating reflection to me that I was once an active instrument in a business at which my heart now shudders. ‘O to grace how great a debtor . . .’ [from “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” by Robert Robinson, 1758].” (“Thoughts upon the African Slave Trade,” 1788)
“To be inscribed upon my death: ‘John Newton, Clerk, once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa, was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the faith he had long labored to destroy.’” (Self-epitaph, on his gravestone in Olney, England)

THE POWER OF THE CROSS to convert the mind
C.S. Lewis (born: 1898 ✜ born again: 1929)
“Really, a young Atheist cannot guard his faith too carefully. Dangers lie in wait for him on every side. . . .You must picture me alone in that room at Magdalen [College, Oxford University], night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. . . . I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious thing: the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms. The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape? . . . The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.” (Surprised by Joy, chapter 14)
“It costs God nothing, so far as we know, to create nice things: but to convert rebellious wills cost him crucifixion.” (Mere Christianity, chapter 32) 

THE POWER OF THE CROSS to lead us home
Mary Ann Frazier (born: 1923   ✜   born again: c. 1929)

“I was a fortunate little girl. I had a mother and daddy that loved the Lord Jesus, and wonderful Sunday School teachers. And they would keep telling me about God, who made this whole world, became a Person to take my place on the cross; and would talk to me about the Lord Jesus, and how He shed His precious blood that cleanses me from all of my sin. And because of this, when I asked Jesus to be my Savior, God forgave me my sin, He made me His child, He brought me into His family, covered me with His righteousness, and gave me His precious Holy Spirit. And all these years the joy of my life has been experiencing the Lord Jesus with me every day. One of my wonderful Sunday School teachers, Mrs. Fanny King, loved the Lord. (You’ll meet her when you go to heaven.) She would talk to us about heaven every Sunday and teach us how the Lord Jesus was preparing a place in His glorious home in heaven for all who loved Him. And I’ve been looking forward to going and being with Him ever since. In fact, I can hardly wait!”

THE POWER OF THE CROSS to give a new beginning
Hunter Acosta (born: 1989   ✜   born again: 2011)
“I wore rage like a blanket, like a suit of armor that could be put on at any point to deflect relationships and to keep from people getting too close to me. I shunned relationships and I pushed others away, not knowing how it affected them, and definitely not knowing how it affected me. Luckily, I had a group of friends that persevered with me and continually pushed, in a good way, the Word of Christ into my life; continually asking me to come to a youth group and to experience something else. Eventually, I felt comfortable enough with them and the people around me to share my story and the fact that I had such rage and such contempt and such anger. And one night I felt it being lifted off of me. I felt it was okay to take down this suit of armor. I felt Christ take it off. With this new beginning, I am able to grow. I am able to foster relationships and love those that had been loving me all along. I am able to persevere through hardship with Him at my side; and with those people around me in Christ, I feel like I have become what God wants me to be or continually to grow as God wants me to.”

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18)


The last two people quoted are members of First Evangelical Church in Memphis, Tennessee. A worship service featuring all of the above testimonies, with musical commentary by the First Evan Worship Choir with orchestra, may be viewed HERE.

The Negotiable and the Non-Negotiable in Global Worship

If you have not seen this powerful defense of culturally diverse expressions of worship by a late, great theologian, I think it’s well worth pondering. He clearly lays out what dare not change from place to place, as well as what may profitably vary:

However much, therefore, worship and prayer may vary in linguistic and behavioural forms, as they inevitably and rightly do when they are expressed in the habits of different societies, peoples, cultures and ages, they nevertheless have embedded in them an invariant element which derives from the normative pattern of the incarnate love of God in Jesus Christ. In so far as worship and prayer are through, with and in Christ, they are not primarily forms of man’s self-expression or self-fulfilment or self-transcendence in this or that human situation or cultural context, but primarily forms of Christ’s vicarious worship and prayer offered on behalf of all mankind in all ages. However, precisely because our worship and prayer are finally shaped and structured by the invariant pattern of Christ’s mediatorial office, they are also open to change in variant human situations and societies, cultures, languages and ages, even with respect to differing aesthetic tastes and popular appeal, if only because these variant forms of worship and prayer are relativised by the invariant form of worship and prayer in Christ which they are intended to serve. Hence when worship and prayer are objectively grounded in Christ in this way, we are free to use and adapt transient forms of language and culture in our worship of God, without being imprisoned in time-conditioned patterns, or swept along by constantly changing fashions, and without letting worship and prayer dissolve away into merely cultural and secular forms of man’s self-expression and self-fulfilment.

–T. F. Torrance, “The Mind of Christ in Worship: Thee Problem of Apollinarianism in the Liturgy.” In Theology in Reconciliation (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1975), 213.

Jesus, the True and Better Way

Jesus is the true and better Adam who passed the test in the garden and whose obedience is imputed to us.

Jesus is the true and better Abel who, though innocently slain, has blood now that cries out, not for our condemnation, but for acquittal.

Jesus is the true and better Abraham who answered the call of God to leave all the comfortable and familiar and go out into the void to create a new people of God.

Jesus is the true and better Isaac who was not just offered up by his father on the mount but was truly sacrificed for us. And when God said to Abraham, “Now I know you love me because you did not withhold your son, your only son whom you love from me,” now we can look at God taking his son up the mountain and sacrificing him and say, “Now we know that you love us because you did not withhold your son, your only son, whom you love from us.”

Jesus is the true and better Jacob who wrestled and took the blow of justice we deserved, so we, like Jacob, only receive the wounds of grace to wake us up and discipline us.

Jesus is the true and better Joseph who, at the right hand of the king, forgives those who betrayed and sold him and uses his new power to save them.

Jesus is the true and better Moses who stands in the gap between the people and the Lord and who mediates a new covenant.

Jesus is the true and better Rock of Moses who, struck with the rod of God’s justice, now gives us water in the desert.

Jesus is the true and better Job, the truly innocent sufferer, who then intercedes for and saves his stupid friends.

Jesus is the true and better David whose victory becomes his people’s victory, though they never lifted a stone to accomplish it themselves.

Jesus is the true and better Esther who didn’t just risk leaving an earthly palace but lost the ultimate and heavenly one, who didn’t just risk his life, but gave his life to save his people. Who didn’t just say, “If I perish, I perish” but “When I perish, I’ll perish–for them.”

Jesus is the true and better Jonah who was cast out into the storm so that we could be brought in.

Jesus is the real Rock of Moses, the real Passover Lamb, innocent, perfect, helpless, slain so the angel of death will pass over us. He’s the true temple, the true prophet, the true priest, the true king, the true sacrifice, the true lamb, the true light, the true bread.

–Tim Keller, speaking at the Gospel Coalition, 2007

We Love Because He First Loved Us

Savior, teach me day by day
Love’s sweet lesson to obey,
With a child’s glad heart of love
At Thy bidding may I move,
Quick to serve and follow Thee,
Loving Him Who first loved me.

Teach me thus Thy steps to trace,
Strong to follow in Thy grace,
Love in loving finds employ
In obedience all her joy;
Learning how to love from Thee,
Loving Him Who first loved me.

Sweeter lesson cannot be,
Loving Him Who first loved me.
Thus may I rejoice to show
That I feel the love I owe;
Singing, till Thy face I see,
Of His love Who first loved me.

–adapted from Jane Leeson, 1842 (can be sung to the tune of “For the Beauty of the Earth”)

Pure Grace

Love bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack’d anything.

‘A guest,’ I answer’d, ‘worthy to be here:’
Love said, ‘You shall be he.’
‘I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on Thee.’
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
‘Who made the eyes but I?’

‘Truth, Lord; but I have marr’d them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.’
‘And know you not,’ says Love, ‘Who bore the blame?’
‘My dear, then I will serve.’
‘You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘and taste my meat.’
So I did sit and eat.

— George Herbert (1593-1632)

The Great Exchange

Christ was all anguish that I might be all joy,
– cast off that I might be brought in,
– trodden down as an enemy that I might be welcomed as a friend,
– surrendered to hell’s worst that I might attain heaven’s best,
– stripped that I might be clothed,
– wounded that I might be healed,
– athirst that I might drink,
– tormented that I might be comforted,
– made a shame that I might inherit glory,
– entered darkness that I might have eternal light.

My Savior wept that all tears might be wiped from my eyes,
– groaned that I might have endless song,
– endured all pain that I might have unfading health,
– bore a thorned crown that I might have a glory-diadem,
– bowed his head that I might uplift mine,
– experienced reproach that I might receive welcome,
– closed his eyes in death that I might gaze on unclouded brightness,
– expired that I might for ever live.

–from The Valley of Vision