John Stott, The Cross of Christ, A Book Review

April 27, 2015 at 10:35 am | Posted in Books and Movies | Leave a comment

I just finished reading John R. W. Stott’s amazing book, The Cross of Christ.  When he passed away a few years ago, I was reminded how much I have appreciated his writing and remember reading this book in the past and thinking it was the best thing I’d ever seen from Stott.  Soon after I saw a copy in a used book sale, so I latched on to it.  It took some time to get to it, and it took some time to get through it; the book is not light reading, but boy is it good stuff — well worth the time it takes to read.  Stott covers a wide range of questions about the cross and does it in a way most lay people can understand.

He begins with the centrality of the cross in Christian history, in the mind of Jesus, and in the NT writers.  He goes on to many theological questions that have been discussed the past 2000 years, summarizing various views and giving sound reasons for the traditional orthodox beliefs about what Jesus accomplished both for and in his people.  He ends with a section on how the cross affects lives today.

His two chapters on God’s Self-Satisfaction and God’s Self-Substitution are masterpieces every believer should read and understand.  Many Christians’ misunderstandings of the Gospel, and many doubts that arise in their minds, are due to a misunderstanding of these matters.  Stott not only explains what the Bible teaches, he also explains why it has to be that way.  The cross is the only possible answer to God’s perfect justice and his unfailing love. As a song we’ve recently sung in church puts it, “To the cross I look, to the cross I cling, Of its suffering I do drink, of its work I do sing. For on it my Savior, both bruised and crushed, Showed that God is love and God is just.” (Sweetly Broken by Jeremy Riddle)

Here I offer a few quotes to give you an appreciation for John Stott’s articulate explanations.  In his section on the centrality of the cross in the NT writers, Stott offers this conclusion of Revelation.  “John is telling us nothing less than that from an eternity of the past to an eternity of the future the centre stage is occupied by the Lamb of God who was slain.” (p.40)

Living under the cross, according to Stott, means that we live in a community of believers, and one of the clearest indentifying signs of that community is celebration.  Jesus’ followers are in a community of celebration, precisely because of what was accomplished on the cross.  That celebration almost always involves joyous singing.  In fact, “singing is a unique feature of Christian worship.”  All the other “great faiths” of the world, Muslim, Buddhist, do not sing.  “By contrast, whenever Christian people come together it is impossible to stop them singing.  The Christian community is a community of celebration.” (257-258)

Finally, in a section about the cross as the object of our preaching, one that obviously hits home with me, Stott contrasts the importance of integrity to the message of the cross in spite of what popularity we may lose because of it.  Commenting on Galatians, Stott says,

The alternative for the Christian evangelists, pastors and teachers is to preach either circumcision or the cross.  To preach circumcision is to preach salvation by the law, that is by human achievement. . . .  To preach the cross is to preach salvation by God’s grace alone.  Such a message is a stumbling block, because it is grievously offensive to human pride; it therefore exposes us to persecution. . . .  All Christian preachers have to face this issue.  Either we preach that human beings are rebels against God, under his judgment, and that Christ crucified who bore their sin and curse is the only available Saviour.  Or we emphasize human potential and human ability. . . .  The former is the way to be faithful, the latter the way to be popular.  It is not possible to be faithful and popular simultaneously. (347)

Wow powerful stuff!  May I be faithful to preach Christ crucified.

Cell Phones and Fast Horses

April 16, 2015 at 12:17 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts, Grace and Faith, Personal Testimony | Leave a comment

I wrote this story over ten years ago and ran across it while looking for another old file in my archives.  The lesson is just as timely today as it was then.

Cathy and I attended a Pastor’s Getaway at Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs.  We were refreshed, albeit suffering from input overload, the feeling one friend of mine called “getting a sip of water from a fire hydrant.”  We were then to have a few days vacation before returning home.  Earlier that day, I had been thinking about what one lesson God wanted me to take from the conference, or at least what one lesson, of numerous ones written down, he would have me ponder while on vacation..

Driving north to Denver, we were to have Sunday dinner with some seminary friends.  It was heavy traffic — the kind where driving the speed limit is almost impossible, because there are only two lanes — the right lane traveling below the posted speed and the left lane moving significantly faster.  A person in the right lane, who wanted to pass the vehicle in front, had a hard time moving left to do so.

There was a slow-moving, big truck in front of me.  When I finally managed to get into the left lane to pass, I noticed there was another slow truck about a quarter mile ahead.  I didn’t want to get trapped between them, so I increased my speed and stayed in the left lane.

That’s when I first saw him in my rearview mirror; he jumped into the right lane to pass the cars behind me.  I just knew he intended on passing me and cutting me off before I caught up with the truck on the right.  Instead, he cut off the car behind me and rode my bumper, until I passed the second truck and moved over, then he sped passed me on my left.  As he passed, I noticed one of his hands on the steering wheel, the other pressed a cell phone to his ear, and he seemed to be reading something on the passenger seat.  Immediately I thought, “Now, there’s an accident waiting to happen.”

It occurred to me that the cell-phone driver typified so many people in our society, always moving full speed ahead, juggling more responsibilities, tasks and adventures than one can safely manage.  Most of our lives rush on so full of activities that we are accidents just waiting to happen.  We are caught in a busyness trap, and someday it will come crashing down.  One of the breakout sessions from the conference came clearly to mind.  We had discussed Isaiah 30:15-18 and the necessity to slow down in rest and quietness rather than flee on swift horses in so many different directions.  The cell-phone driver is the perfect picture of a man on his fast horses.  I laughed at myself, because I saw my life portrayed in his driving.

I could see we were going to arrive at our destination with plenty of time to spare, so I decided to relax my pace and stay in the right lane.

A few miles later, traffic slowed to a crawl.  I could see the vehicles on the left merging into my lane, and I wondered if the cell-phone driver had an accident.  Sure enough, there was an accident ahead, but as I got closer, I saw it wasn’t the man with the cell phone.  However, I recognized one of the vehicles: a pick-up pulling a four-wheeler on a trailer that had passed me right about the moment I decided to slow down and stay in the right lane.  Had I not been reminded to slow down, I may have been the one in the accident.

God’s protection on our trip and the lessons for driving are obvious, but I hope I can also learn a lesson for life.  God reminds us that our strength is in repentance, rest, quietness and trust.  It is not found in fast driving, cell-phones and busyness; these are the things Isaiah would call “fast horses.”  It’s not from driving in the fast lane that God calls us; it is from living in the fast lane that he invites us to quietness and rest.  I have to ask if I am living life in the fast lane, if I am an accident waiting to happen.  Am I getting the necessary quiet time with the Lord which offers strength in and salvation from the rat race?  I hope memories of the cell-phone driver will remind me to slow down in quietness and rest.

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