Saturday, December 3, 2016

the goodness of wisdom

Here are some recent highlights from reading The Everlasting God, by Broughton Knox, on God's wisdom and goodness...

God’s covenant relationship with creation, when expressed in personal terms, means that he is faithful; he fulfills that which he promises. He is the faithful God and we are to reflect his faithfulness in our relationships, not only with God, but with one another.

The faithfulness of God is the most important aspect of his goodness.

First, there is the relationship, then there is the responsibility of that relationship. From this flows the authority which God has over all, and which leads in turn to the obligation on all of obedience, thanksgiving and honor.

Knowledge applied purposefully but not towards the good of others is not called wisdom but cunning. Wisdom must always be good.

His infinite knowledge coupled with his infinite power and infinite goodness mean that he has infinite wisdom.

God’s wisdom is marvelously displayed in the created world. As the psalmist exclaims, “O Yahweh, how many are your works! In wisdom you have made them all.” The world has been created to accomplish ends of blessing, of joy and of fellowship with God. It marvelously achieves these ends. Take for example our body, that aspect of creation about which we know most. It has plainly been created in order that we might enjoy life. Our five senses all are vehicles of pleasure, as we see the beauty of the world, as we hear the sounds of music, as we taste the food which we need to sustain our life, as we enjoy the fragrance of a flower, as our bodies feel the sensation of the surf or of the wind. All these things are aspects of God’s wisdom in conferring on us joys. Looked at from another point of view, the body is marvelously contrived to accomplish its ends of relationship, with all the pleasure—physical, mental, emotional, spiritual—that relationship brings. The eye, the face, the language structure of our brain, are designed to express our inner being to one another. Our sexual natures, both psychological and physical, are marvelously designed to relate us in joyous fellowship.

Monday, November 21, 2016

abraham's faith

Sermon notes & quotes on Romans 4:13-25. 
Download or stream "Abraham's Faith" 

What is faith?  Is it... 
-- a feeling of dependence or that everything is going to work out?
-- sincerely believing in something but the something doesn’t really matter?
-- believing in faith itself, as in “just have enough faith”? 
-- believing a creed or set of doctrines?
-- a leap in the dark, believing in something that is empirically unproven?
-- wish fulfillment, or visualizing a future outcome that we desire?
-- making a decision or "going forward" in a church service?

Four key concepts from Romans 4:13-25, which are characteristics of Abraham's faith that apply also to believers today. 


1) PROMISE. Faith looks to God’s gracious word of promise. (4:16-17, 20) It is not wishful thinking, projection, or a feeling, but is based upon God's revelation, in words, focusing upon a promise given in grace. Unless salvation is by grace, it is an uncertain thing. 

"Promise" (4:13, 14, 16, 20) “It is written...” (17)  “as he had been told” (18) “the words, it was counted to him” (23)  So faith is taking God at his word. 

There is content, history, and doctrine to be believed.  Christianity not merely idea, ideals, or moral code, but death and resurrection of God's Son in history, and what this means.  Not just truths about God but promises from God to us.   

"We find no rest for our weary bones unless we cling to the word of grace."  (Luther)

2) POWER. Faith realizes our inability and relies upon the miraculous power of God. (4:17-21)  

An impossible, miracle birth which foreshadowed another miracle birth. the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. (4:17)  ...fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. (4:21)   Abraham “hoped against hope... a divinely given hope that went beyond normal human hopes and expectations. 

Christian faith is supernatural from beginning to end...  We rely on God’s ability to do what he promised.  The Fact-Faith-Feeling illustration [below] shows that it is the engine of God's facts (truths, power) that pull the train; our faith is attached to that; and our feelings follow.  It would be futile to try to pull the train by our faith (we do not have faith in faith itself), nor to try to pull the train by our feelings.  The power is in God and his promises. 

So faith is more than just believing words, or accepting a creed, it is believing God has the power to fulfill his words.  It is not just believing whatever makes sense in the natural (material) world.

3) POSSESSION.  Faith appropriates God’s promise and power for oneself

Abraham owned it...  In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, "So shall your offspring be."  (4:17) The words "it was counted to him" were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also.  (4:23-24)

Righteousness is not achieved, but it is to be received.  Not a promise and power that stays outside of us, or for the world in general.  But for me.  It must be laid hold of (Phil 3:12) 

"Faith is the hand that grasps the finished work of Christ and makes it my own." (Lesslie Newbigin)

4) PERSON.  Faith is trusting a Person, it is walking in relationship with God

“ the presence of the God in whom he believed...” (4:17)  He believed not just the promise of God, but the God of the promise.  He walked with God.  He was the "friend of God."  (Isaiah 41:8; James 2:23)  

Faith is relational.  It’s a turning TO God.  “Faith is the resting of the heart on God.”  (William Ames)  "But to all who did receive him..." (John 1:12) There is something to believe, to agree to, but behind and under that, there is a Someone to trust and walk with.  

Jesus our savior is a whole Person who brings a whole salvation: We do not receive a component of salvation, but a Savior, in whom is all our salvation... 
 In the Gospel of John we see this:  he is the Lamb who takes away our sin, he is the living water who quenches our thirst, he is the bread of life that nourishes and sustains us, he is the light of the world who gives us knowledge and understanding, he is the good shepherd to feed and guide and protect us, he is the resurrection who gives us eternal life, he is the vine that bears fruit in us, and he is our priest who intercedes for us.  


Not only for justification, but Abraham's faith exemplifies the lifestyle of faith for the believer:

  • Am I meditating on, thinking about, applying and clinging to the promises of God in Scripture?
  • Am I relying daily on the power of God to fulfill his purposes for me? Am I living a supernatural life to the glory of God?
  • Am I pursuing, clinging to, and making God's gracious word my very own?
  • Am I personally relating to God who is my Creator and Redeemer?  Am I walking daily with him in the light of his countenance?  

"God, hold us to what drew us first, when the Cross was the attraction and we wanted nothing else." (Amy Carmichael)

Faith does not come by looking at our faith.  It comes by hearing and believing the promises of God.  Consider them prayerfully: 

Matthew 11:28   "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." 
Acts 10:43  "To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."
Acts 16:31 "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household."
Romans 10:9, 12-13  "...if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved... For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." 
Revelation 22:17  "And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price."

the God of the covenant

Among rational and moral creatures all higher life takes the form of a covenant.  Generally, a covenant is an agreement between persons who voluntarily obligate and bind themselves to each other for the purpose of fending off an evil or obtaining a good.  Such an agreement, whether it is made tacitly or defined in explicit detail, is the usual form in terms of which all humans live and work together.  Love, friendship, marriage, as well as all social cooperation in business, industry, science, art, and so forth, is ultimately grounded in a 
covenant, that is, in reciprocal fidelity and an assortment of generally recognized moral obligations.

It should not surprise us, therefore, that also the highest and most richly textured life of human beings, namely, religion bears this character.  In Scripture "covenant" is the fixed form in which the relation of God to his people is depicted and presented.  ..covenant is the essence of true religion.

Why should this be?  First of all, because God is the Creator, man a creature; and with that statement an infinite distance between the two is given.  No fellowship, no religion between the two seems possible; there is only difference, distance, endless distinctness.  If God remains elevated above humanity in his sovereign exaltedness and majesty, then no religion is possible, at least no religion in the sense of fellowship.

...religion must be the character of a covenant.  For then God has to come down from his lofty position, condescend to his creatures, impart, reveal, and give himself away to human beings; then he who inhabits eternity and dwells in a high and holy place must also dwell with those who are of a humble spirit (Isa. 57:15)... this set of conditions in nothing other than the description of a covenant. 

This is what no religion has ever understood; all peoples either pantheistically pull God down into what is creaturely, or deistically elevate him endlessly above it.  In neither case does one arrive at true fellowship, at covenant, at genuine religion.  But Scripture insists on both: God is infinitely great and condescendingly good; he is Sovereign but also Father; he is Creator but also Prototype [ideal human pattern].  In a word, he is the God of the covenant. 

~ Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, II:568-70.

burdened or annoyed?

And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.  (Acts 2:46-47 ESV)

"Are you burdened about the state of your country?  Are you merely annoyed at the increase in sin, or is your heart full of sorrow for poor men and women who are its victims?  Are you merely annoyed with young people, or do you feel sorry for them because they do know any better, because they have never heard about God and Christ and the possibility of being children of God?  Are you just irritated by them, or does your heart bleed for them?  Do you want to show them this 'marvelous light'?  Do you want to hold before them 'the word of life'?  People come together in fellowship in order that they might shine more brightly and show this evil generation to which they belong that there is a way of which they know nothing--the way of God, the way of Christ, the way of the life of God in the soul, the way of eternal salvation."

~ Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Authentic Christianity (Crossway, 2000) p 145.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

the quotable parsons

Burk & Amber Parsons
Twitter is my main social media venue because I can receive short (140 characters short) insights from a variety of people.  I have enjoyed reading the tweets of Burk Parsons, who is editor of Tabletalk magazine and serves as co-pastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Florida. He also has the distinction of being one of the founding members of the Backstreet Boys.  See Challies' interview with Parsons here.  

Here are a few recent tweets from the quotable @BurkParsons... 

"Theology is not simply the pursuit of knowledge about God, it's the pursuit of God himself."  

"Beware of those who teach theology without using the Bible."  

"We can't do theology without doing careful exegesis."  

"Pastors, if we focus on our sermon, our people get a sermon, but if we focus on Christ, our people get Christ."  

"Seeking first God's kingdom is the antidote to worrying about tomorrow because it means we're seeking his kingdom, not control over our own."  

"If you don't believe God is sovereign, you have every reason to worry about today."

"The Christian is one who lives in a constant state of sorrow and joy. Sorrow over sin and suffering.  Joy in God's gospel and grace."  

"I want to hate my sins more than I hate the sins of others who sin differently than I do."  

"We're living in a day when it seems many Christians are hating their enemies rather than praying for their enemies."  

"The question isn't whether you and your spouse ever argue in front of your kids but whether you repent and forgive in front of them as well."  

"Are we justified by works? Yes. Jesus' works, not ours."  

"If we live each day bearing the guilt and shame of yesterday and the anxieties of tomorrow we will never experience the joys of today."  

"Our hope isn't built on the constantly changing strength of our faith but on the eternal strength of the object of our faith, Jesus Christ."  

articles by alistair roberts

Oxford (UK) city skyline
I've recently enjoyed articles by Alistair Roberts in the U.K. and his insights into the state of evangelicalism in our country.  In the first article he describes the decline of the impact of evangelical scholarship, and in the second he describes the influence of what he calls "Manichaean social justice ideology."

"Currently we face another critical juncture in the development of the American public square and Christians’ place within it. An increasingly dominant secular liberalism antagonistic to orthodox Christian faith will only accelerate the process of squeezing evangelicals out of public life."

"Rather than adopting a gentle approach to navigating the differences between groups, seeking for ways for people with different values and beliefs to live together in peace, progressive liberalism pushes them into the fiercest of opposition."