My Daily MLJ: January 31, 2022

Chapter 20of Volume 1 of Marten Lloyd-Jones’ exposition of Romans is probably the most powerful chapter I’ve encountered so far. In it, he asks the question implied from Romans 1:16: “Why is Paul not ashamed of the Gospel?”

To be honest, I highlighted so many things in this chapter that I had a hard time trying to isolate just one quote. But here goes:

Our reason for not being ashamed of the gospel must always be special to the gospel. It must always be unique, and that means, of necessity, that it must not simply end with us and what has happened to us. “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.” Why?

Romans, Vol 1, chapter 20, p. 268.

MLJ talks about how it’s not enough to talk about the fact that you have more happiness because of the gospel, or more peace. Or that you sleep better at night. An unbeliever can go to the Christian Science church and hear the same testimony.

No. The only thing we have to offer to an unbelieving world is that the gospel is “the power of God for salvation. Jones concludes the sermon with this statement:

That is Paul’s reason for not being ashamed. And I do not hesitate to assert that it is the only true reason; it is the only reason that really glorifies God and the Lord Jesus Christ, because all other reasons can be counterfeited by the other things. The reason for not being ashamed of the Gospel… God Glorified! Christ glorified! Glorying in the Spirit! Something no one can say, save he who has been called by God’s grace, born again, given a new nature, and an understanding of how God has done it all!

Ibid, p 269.

MLJ’s preaching has been described as “logic on fire.” This is the clearest example yet.

This year I’m trying to read through Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ 14 volume exposition of Romans. Lloyd-Jones began teaching through Romans on Friday nights at Westminster Chapel in London on October 7, 1955. Thirteen years later, at the end of chapter 14, he was forced to retire from the pulpit ministry because of illness. He spent the rest of his life editing the manuscripts of his sermons. All his sermons were recorded on tape, and are available at https://www.mljtrust.org/free-sermons/book-of-romans/

Day 031: Honey, I Shrunk the LORD (Exodus 4-6)

Scene from DreamWorks The Prince of Egypt
2 But Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.” 3 Then they said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please let us go a three days' journey into the wilderness that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God, lest he fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword.”  Exodus 5:2-3

Update: please don’t read this unless you also read the retraction post I wrote after someone pointed out the errors in this one.

In Exodus 3, Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” (Exodus 3:13).

In response, God revealed to Moses His personal, covenant Name:

God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:14). 

In Hebrew, the Name is the Hebrew characters YHVH, called the Tetragrammaton by scholars. Hebrews considered the Name so holy that they literally made it unpronounceable. The vowels attached to these consonants in Masoretic texts can’t be read. When rabbis and cantors got to these consonants in their reading, they would substitute either “Adonai” (Lord) or Ha Shem (The Name).

God continued: “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations. (Exodus 3:15).

Powerful stuff. The kind of Name that mountains would bow down and seas would roar at the sound of.

Notice that Moses anticipated this question coming from the Israelites. However, the one who actually asks the question is Pharaoh. But I don’t think the response was supposed to change. Moses was supposed to say, “I AM sent me to you.”

Instead, he told Pharaoh, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please let us go a three days journey into the wilderness.” (Exodus 5:3).

Hmmm. There seems to be a big difference between “I AM WHO I AM” and “the God of the Hebrews.” The first speaks of power and authority. Mystery and transcendence. It’s a Name that offers no further explanation, fosters no discussion, allows for no negotiation, and absolutely does not have to say “please.”

I AM WHAT I AM does not require the permission of a Pharaoh to do what He desires to do.

But this is not the name with which Moses answers Pharaoh. Instead, Moses responds, “the God of the Hebrews.” You can almost hear the stammer in his voice: “th-th-the God of the Hebrews. N-n-now, please let us go. We’ll only be gone three days. “

Three days? This is the first we’ve heard anything about three days. This wasn’t what God revealed to Moses at the burning bush. I AM WHAT I AM intends to set His people free forever, not offer them a weekend pass from slavery.

This is what happens when we don’t take God at His word. We feel like we have to present Him to the world as smaller. Less demanding. More reasonable. We try to explain the unexplainable, to name the Unnameable, and to tame the One who is untameable.

So of course Pharaoh says no. Moses hasn’t introduced Pharaoh to the Great I Am. Instead, he’s described him as a regional God. The God of the Hebrews. Pharaoh feels no obligation to this God. No reverence before Him. I AM WHAT I AM should make him fall to his knees. “The God of the Hebrews” makes him suppress a yawn.

In time, Pharaoh and all his household will tremble at the Name. God’s purposes will not be thwarted. But I have to wonder how the story would have played out if Moses had responded to Pharaoh the way God had instructed him to.

Beloved, God is revealing Himself to you every single day you are in His Word. Do not diminish Him. Do not apologize for Him. And do not look for the world’s permission to obey Him.

My Daily MLJ: January 30, 2022

This year I’m trying to read through Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ 14 volume exposition of Romans. Lloyd-Jones began teaching through Romans on Friday nights at Westminster Chapel in London on October 7, 1955. Thirteen years later, at the end of chapter 14, he was forced to retire from the pulpit ministry because of illness. He spent the rest of his life editing the manuscripts of his sermons. All his sermons were recorded on tape, and are available at https://www.mljtrust.org/free-sermons/book-of-romans/

In Chapter 19 of Volume 1, Martyn Lloyd-Jones did something relatively unusual for him (at least so far as I’ve gotten into this reading project): he told a personal story. He talked about one year in which he went on vacation right after preaching the Sunday service at Westminster Chapel, which seats 1,500 people. He and his wife were out in the country, and attended church where an aging preacher had announced he was due to preach three times. “It was a very hot day,” wrote Lloyd-Jones, and out of compassion for this faithful elderly preacher, he volunteered to fill in for him that afternoon. He writes:

I went into the pulplit and looked at my congregation. Including my wife, the congregation consisted of five people! Let me afmit it quite frankly and honestly, the devil came to me and tempted me, and he did so in this way. ‘Well, of course, with only five people– just give them a little talk!’ Quite apart from the fact that I am not good at that kind of thing, I recovered myself, and this is what I said to myself: If you cannot preach to these five people in exactly the same was as you preached last Sunday in Westminster Chapel, the sooner you get out of the pulpit the better! By the grace of God I was enabled to do so, and I have never enjoyed a service more in the whole of my life! The preacher who is dependent upon [the size of] his congregation is unfit to enter the pulpit.

Romans, vol. 1, Chapter 19, p. 253

We all dream of filling huge auditoriums, preaching multiple weekend services, maybe even going multi-site with video feeds. But if we aren’t willing to give the same gospel to five people in a nursing home, we aren’t fit for the ministry. Oh, Lord, have mercy.

Day 030: “I Have Seen… So Send I You” (Exodus 1-3)

11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” 12 He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.” (Exodus 3:11-12)

The scene of God appearing to Moses at the burning bush is one of the most significant moments in the entire biblical record. After 40 years of tending sheep in the wilderness, the 80 year old Moses turns aside to marvel at the bush that is burning but not consumed. God assures his servant that He is aware of the suffering of His people in Egypt.  Notice all the pronouns. God says,

  • “I have seen their affliction… and [I] have heard their cry” (v. 7)
  • “I know their sufferings” (v. 7)
  • “I have come down to deliver them” (v. 8) 
  • “[and I will] bring them up out of that land” (v. 8)
  • “the cry of the people has come to Me” (v. 9)
  • “I have seen the oppression with which the Egyptians are oppressing them.”

Up to this point, Moses is saying, “Yes! Get ‘em, God! Sic ‘em!” I’ll bet Moses can’t wait to watch God kick some Egyptian butt. 

Then, in verse 10, God throws Moses a curve: “Therefore, I am sending you.”

Wait, what? All this time Moses is getting pumped about how God is going to work, only to have everything come crashing down when he realizes God’s plan is to work through Moses. In Exodus 4, we will look at all the excuses Moses makes for why God’s got the wrong guy. But the first two are significant:

  1. Who am I? (verse 11)
  2. Who are You? (verse 13)

Moses may have thought to himself, “God, if you were going to use me, why didn’t you do this forty years ago, when I was a prince of Egypt? Why now, when I’m a fugitive octogenarian?”

God’s answer is not “Moses, you’re awesome! Moses, you can do it!” God doesn’t give Moses a self-esteem pep talk. He simply says, “I will be with you.”

Who are you? You’re the one that I, the Lord, will be with.”

Then God answers the question Moses hasn’t asked yet. He says, “and here’s how you know that I have sent you. When you’ve brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship Me on this mountain.”

Talk about delayed gratification! Moses will not worship God on that mountain again until he receives the law in Exodus 20. After the ten plagues. After the Red Sea.  After manna and quail and water from the rock. When all is said and done, Moses will look back and realize God was with him the whole time.

We may not have the assurance that God is with us until after we begin to obey Him. But when we do obey Him, we begin to realize that who we are doesn’t matter at all. Who God is makes all the difference in the world.

My Daily MLJ: January 29, 2022

What is the first thing we look for in anybody we meet? It is quite clear that the first thing that Paul looked for in them was the Spirit that was in them… Remember how, when he arrived at Ephesus, he found certain people who were called disciples and … he said to them: Have you received the Holy Ghost since you believed? … That was what he looked for in everybody. He was not interested in the colour of their skin or in their nationality; he was not interested in their social status or standing; he was not interested in the school or university that they had attended. The thing he looked for was this: Is there a brother with the Spirit of God in him? Is there a man with who I can have fellowship because he is in Christ as I am in Christ?

Romans, vol. 1, Chapter 18, p. 233-234

What a word for our divisive times. How I need to be reminded that I have more in common with an African believer living in a hut in Kenya than I do with my non-Christian next door neighbor who votes for the same politicians, cheers for the same football team, and drives the same model car as I do.

This year I’m trying to read through Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ 14 volume exposition of Romans. Lloyd-Jones began teaching through Romans on Friday nights at Westminster Chapel in London on October 7, 1955. Thirteen years later, at the end of chapter 14, he was forced to retire from the pulpit ministry because of illness. He spent the rest of his life editing the manuscripts of his sermons. All his sermons were recorded on tape, and are available at https://www.mljtrust.org/free-sermons/book-of-romans/

Day 029: A Grievous Mourning by the… Egyptians? (Genesis 48-50)

11 When the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, saw the mourning on the threshing floor of Atad, they said, “This is a grievous mourning by the Egyptians.” Therefore the place was named Abel-mizraim; it is beyond the Jordan. Genesis 50:11

Genesis ends with Pharaoh granting permission for Joseph to return to Canaan along with his brothers in order to bury Jacob. So a “great company” (verse 9) formed the funeral procession. Seventy members of Jacob’s family had moved to Egypt (see Genesis 46:27). The text doesn’t specify how many made up the household of Jacob 17 years later, when Jacob died (Gen 47:28); only that they all returned to Canaan, except for the children, their flocks, and their herds (see verse 8).

What I find most interesting is that within less than a generation, the sons of Jacob had so thoroughly assimilated into Egyptian culture that their own neighbors assumed they were Egyptians. Genesis 50:11 says that the inhabitants of the land looked at each other and commented on how loud “the Egyptians” were as they mourned. They had become indistinguishable from the culture that surrounded them–unrecognizable even to their former neighbors. I guess it really is true that you can’t go home again.

The children of Israel had become indistinguishable from the culture that surrounded them.

We started talking about this on Day 027. If the famine was over, why didn’t the sons of Jacob go back home? Now, we see that when they did return to Canaan, it was only for a visit. They left their children, their flocks, and their herds back in Egypt. There was no doubt they would return. Clearly, their hearts remained in the land that would eventually enslave them.

I’ve noticed something interesting about my dog. When I walk with her in the morning, I can unhook her leash and let her run free, but she will never go very far from me. She has been so conditioned to look to me to meet her needs that even when she is free, she always comes back. Often, when I first unhook her, she’ll grab the leash in her mouth; tugging and tearing and pulling, never realizing that she is no longer connected to it.

This is a great thing for my dog, because I’m a good pet owner. I love her and want her to stay close so I can take care of her. But what if I’m a bad pet owner? What if i’m abusive and mistreat her? I am afraid that conditioning would still win the day. I believe she would still come back, because she’s my dog.

Beloved, it doesn’t take long. For Jacob’s children, it only took seventeen years to become so comfortable with the culture that they were indistinguishable from it.

Tomorrow, we will begin reading about what happened when a Pharaoh who “knew not Joseph” arose in the land. We will see how the Egyptians made slaves out of God’s people. Understand this: it didn’t happen overnight. A godless culture usually doesn’t have to force anyone into slavery. Give us enough time, and we will sleepwalk into slavery ourselves.

Never stop longing for your true home. And if you have been set free from the dominion of darkness, then walk as children of the light (Col. 1:13; 1 Thess 5:5). Don’t keep pulling at what you’ve been set free from.

My Daily MLJ, January 28, 2022

Congregations rather like a preacher to talk about himself. They always sit up and show a fresh interest if he starts doing so. ‘Ah!’, they say, ‘how interesting!’ when he has told them what happened to him!…

Congregations often spoil preachers; they encourage them to do certain wrong things. If the preacher starts speaking to their flesh they will respond, and they will show an interest which they were not showing in his doctrine, and the temptation to him is to give them more of the flesh, and to talk more about himself, and they will like it. They will smile, and they will enjoy it, and they will say, ‘It’s wonderful, and we have had a great time!’ And in the meantime, Christ has been forgotten, and the spiritual message has not been emphasized and has not been stressed.

Romans, vol 1; Chapter 16, p 211-212

I used to preach for a Christian youth camp. I was on staff for ten weeks, and would preach the same messages every week for the kids that were at camp that week.

I discovered as the summer went on that if a group had laughed at a story the week before, I would embellish the story a little more the following week. The illustrations would get longer and the Bible teaching would get shorter week after week.

I wish I could say I’ve matured and grown up since then. But the only real difference is that I don’t preach the same sermons every week. The temptation to talk more about me than about Jesus is just as real for me as a father and grandfather as it was when I was a single college student. It’s what congregations give the most positive feedback on.

Oh, Lord, let me preach only and always to please you, and magnify you, and bring glory to you. Let self be abased.

This year I’m trying to read through Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ 14 volume exposition of Romans. Lloyd-Jones began teaching through Romans on Friday nights at Westminster Chapel in London on October 7, 1955. Thirteen years later, at the end of chapter 14, he was forced to retire from the pulpit ministry because of illness. He spent the rest of his life editing the manuscripts of his sermons. All his sermons were recorded on tape, and are available at https://www.mljtrust.org/free-sermons/book-of-romans/

Day 028: Carry Me Out of Egypt (Genesis 46-47)

Egypt. Pyramids. The land of Goshen with pyramids in the distance (Library of Congress)
27 Thus Israel settled in the land of Egypt, in the land of Goshen. And they gained possessions in it, and were fruitful and multiplied greatly. 9 And when the time drew near that Israel must die, he called his son Joseph and said to him, “If now I have found favor in your sight, put your hand under my thigh and promise to deal kindly and truly with me. Do not bury me in Egypt, 30 but let me lie with my fathers. Carry me out of Egypt and bury me in their burying place.” He answered, “I will do as you have said.”(Genesis 47:27-30)

The famine is over, but God’s people don’t go back to Canaan. Egypt was not the land God swore to give to Israel. And deep down, I think Jacob knows this, which is why in the next verses he makes Joseph swear to take his bones back to Canaan to bury them after Jacob dies. Maybe Jacob sees his sons getting too comfortable in Egypt, so he wants to give them a reason to leave. But as we will see in tomorrow’s reading, even when they did leave, they made sure they had plenty of reasons to return to Egypt.

This is a great word for us as well. Here in America, we are incredibly blessed, especially when compared to the rest of the world. Speaking personally, I love my house. I love all the comforts of home. And I love this country. I’ve been all over the world and seen some amazing sights. But none compare to the Grand Canyon, Yosemite Valley, Muir Woods in San Francisco, or Siesta Key in Sarasota, Florida.

I love our people. I love our system of government. Flawed as it is, it’s still the best idea for running a country that human beings have come up with.

I love everything about my home except for one thing.

This world is not my home.

I should continually long for the home God is preparing for me in heaven. As beautiful as this world is, we will always and forever be strangers and aliens in it (1 Peter 2:11). As Rich Mullins so beautifully put it,

Nobody tells you when you get born here, how much you come to love it, and how you never belong here.

So I’ll call you my country, but I’ll be lonely for my home.

I wish that I could take you there with me.

Rich Mullins, “Land of My Sojourn”

However sweet we might have it in the Land of Goshen, this world is not our home. Lord, don’t let me get so attached to this place that I forget where my bones are supposed to be.

Review of “Putting it Together: How Stephen Sondheim and I Created Sunday in the Park With George” by James Lapine

I was a theater minor in college, and in one of my classes we watched the musical “Sunday in the Park With George,” about Georges Seurat’s painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. I had never heard of the musical or the painting. The most I knew was that Mandy Patinkin (who played Seurat) was Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride, and the painting was featured in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

I got obsessed with the musical, and with the painting. When my creative writing class assignment was to write a poem about a piece of art, I wrote about Seurat’s painting, choosing the most complicated form and rhyme scheme I could think of (an Italian sonnet in trochaic hexameter or something) because I wanted to capture what a precise and technical painter Seurat was. The poem was awful, by the way, and I deserved the “pretentious and lifeless” comment from my professor when I turned it in.

When I went to Chicago, I made a pilgrimage to the Art Institute to see La Grand Jatte in person. I swear to you, my breath caught in my chest when I entered the gallery where it hangs, huge and beautiful and brilliant.

So when I was looking for something to read on Scrib’d, this one caught my eye. It is an oral history by James Lapine, who collaborated with Sondheim on Sunday, and would later team with him again on Into the Woods.

Lapine’s writing flows easily between exposition and interviews with the various actors, producers, and designers he worked with, as well as conversations with Sondheim himself. The audiobook does a great job of using various voice actors to read the interview bits. An extra treat for fans of the TV show Blue Bloods is that the voice actor who reads Sondheim is Len Cariou, who plays the patriarch of the Reagan clan. Of course, if the audiobook had actually had Sondheim, Mandy Patinkin, Bernadette Peters, Kelsey Grammar, Christina Baranski, and all the others that had a hand in the development of Sunday it would be priceless.

As it is, this is still a pretty incredible history of the making of this particular musical, and it’s a fascinating glimpse into the whole process of collaboration and development for any creative work. Lapine doesn’t shy away from talking with the people he didn’t get along with on the set, and enough time has passed that no one comes across as still having an axe to grind.

If you ever saw Sunday in the Park With George, have ever listened to the music, or if you just like French Impressionism, this book is essential reading/listening. But even if you are just interested in the creative process, what it takes to put on a Broadway show, or are looking for some insight into how to work with creatives, you will enjoy this book.

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