Wednesday, December 17, 2014

best of 2014

Here is my very own modest contribution to the best new Christian books of 2014. Caveat: I do not read many just-published books, so it's not a long list.  And one of these books was published in 2013 (Thornbury); one is a new translation of Calvin's Institutes from 1541; and one, The Sense of Style, is not a Christian book.  So there are three new Christian books from 2014 I can recommend.  I have enjoyed all these books, though, and have included snippets of the publishers' blurbs with the titles. 

In God in the Whirlwind, Wells explores the depths of the paradox that God is both holy and loving, showing how his holy-love provides the foundation for our understanding of the cross, sanctification, the nature of worship, and our life of service in the world. What’s more, a renewed vision of God's character is the cure for evangelicalism’s shallow theology, with its weightless God and sentimental gospel.

How does the church portray the beauty of Christ?  The gospel is a theological message. But this message also creates human beauty—beautiful relationships in our churches, making the glory of Christ visible in the world today.  In this timely book, Pastor Ray Ortlund makes the case that gospel doctrine creates a gospel culture. In too many of our churches, it is the beauty of a gospel culture that is the missing piece of the puzzle. But when the gospel is allowed to exert its full power, a church becomes radiant with the glory of Christ.

Can we trust the Bible completely? Is it sufficient for our complicated lives? Can we really know what it teaches?  With his characteristic wit and clarity, award-winning author Kevin DeYoung has written an accessible introduction to the Bible that answers important questions raised by Christians and non-Christians. This book will help you understand what the Bible says about itself and the key characteristics that contribute to its lasting significance.  Avoiding technical jargon, this winsome volume will encourage you to read and believe the Bible—confident that it truly is God’s Word.

The Reformer’s 1541 French edition of his Institutes really ought to be better known than it is because it offers the reader a clear yet comprehensive account of the teaching of the Bible—of the work of Father, Son and Holy Spirit in creation, revelation and redemption, in the life of the individual Christian and in the worship and witness of the church. Here is doctrine but here too is life–shaping application, for the practical use of Christian doctrine is always Calvin’s abiding concern. The author of the Institutes invites us both to know and to live the truth, and thus allow God’s Spirit to transform us.  Robert White’s new 
translation of the 1541 French edition of the Institutes makes Calvin live once again, and the reader will be truly amazed at both the power and the relevance of the Reformer’s doctrine and application for Christian living in the 21st century.

Once upon a time, evangelicalism was a countercultural upstart movement. Positioned in between mainline denominational liberalism and reactionary fundamentalism, evangelicals saw themselves as evangelists to all of culture. Billy Graham was reaching the masses with his Crusades, Francis Schaeffer was reaching artists and university students at L’Abri, Larry Norman was recording Jesus music on secular record labels and touring with Janis Joplin and the Doors, and Carl F. H. Henry was reaching the intellectuals through Christianity Today. It was the dawn of “classic evangelicalism.” Surveying the current evangelical landscape, however, one gets the feeling that we’re backpedaling quickly. We are more theologically diffuse, culturally gun-shy, and fragmented than ever before. What has happened? And how do we find our way back? Using the life and work of Carl F. H. Henry as a key to evangelicalism’s past and a cipher for its future, this book provides crucial insights for a renewed vision of the church’s place in modern society and charts a refreshing course toward unity under the banner of “classic evangelicalism.”

In The Sense of Style, the bestselling linguist and cognitive scientist Steven Pinker rethinks the usage guide for the twenty-first century. Pinker doesn’t carp about the decline of language or recycle pet peeves from the rulebooks of a century ago. Instead, he applies insights from the sciences of language and mind to the challenge of crafting clear, coherent, and stylish prose.  In this short, cheerful, and eminently practical book, Pinker shows how writing depends on imagination, empathy, coherence, grammatical know-how, and an ability to savor and reverse engineer the good prose of others. He replaces dogma about usage with reason and evidence, allowing writers and editors to apply the guidelines judiciously, rather than robotically, being mindful of what they are designed to accomplish.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

the headline above all headlines

"For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts..." (Psalm 95:7-8 ESV)

"If the living God should address mankind in any fleet moment at any point in space with but a simple sentence, with even one single Thus saith the Lord! what intelligent person would not stop, look and listen?  Yet in his revelation God has published news incomparably important to every generation, past and present, of momentous value to each of us who lives in this present opportunity for decision.  God's disclosure for us involves not simply a definitive word about the past and a remarkable declaration about the climactic future but has superscribed a decisive now.  Its dateline included today (this very day); God's disclosure is not exhausted by the revelation given once upon a time and then and there.  God has your and my personal benefit in view as present-moment objects of his address.  The plea 'Today if ye shall hear his voice, harden not your hearts' (Heb. 4:7 ASV; cf. Ps. 95:7-8) carries no less urgency than the banner headlines of this morning's New York Times or of some television documentary on momentous world events.  God's revelation is the headline above all headlines, directed to us from the world beyond all worlds, from God himself."  (Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, II:31)

[Italics in the original.]

Saturday, December 6, 2014

authority but not oppression

"When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, 'Do you understand what I have done to you?  You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.'" (John 13:12-14)

"There is no compromise to the hierarchic superiority of Jesus.  He is Lord and Teacher, and they are right to call him so.  But, as such, he washes the feet of his disciples. Compare also Jesus' words about himself as the Good Shepherd, who gives his life for the sheep (John 10:1-18).

"I conclude that the honor of the fifth commandment ["Honor your father and mother..."] is a complex honor.  Certainly the inferior must show honor to the superior, in all spheres of legitimate authority.  There is a hierarchy, an authority structure.  But in the overall relationship, the superior must care most, not for himself, but for his inferiors.  Like Jesus, the Lord who came to die, the ruler (in any sphere) must lay down his life for his subjects.

"This is the basic principle of government in Scripture.  It rejects both egalitarianism and authoritarianism. It does not regard authority as demeaning, as in some feminist thought, but as a blessing.  It does not claim that everybody is the same, in gifts or status.  But neither does it allow authority to become oppression." 

(John Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life, "The Fifth Commandment: Honoring Authorities", p 589.) 

Photo above:  "Divine Servant,” sculpture by Max Greiner, Jr., at Dallas Theological Seminary.

Friday, December 5, 2014

blessed among women

In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord." (Luke 1:39-45 ESV)

"We must therefore be quite clear about why Elizabeth calls Mary blessed.  It is because of the grace of God's Son whom she bore; and grace is something we all have in common with her.  So what this passage reveals is that, while God was pleased to exalt the Virgin, having chosen her for the precious and noble task of bearing the Saviour of the world, he nevertheless wished to show how, in her person, we are all of us blessed.

"No-one denies that Mary was unique in being the mother of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Yet as he himself declared, if we are joined to him by faith, he owns and acknowledges us as father, mother and brother (Matthew 12:49-50).  What he means is that we have a relationship which is sufficient in itself.  We do not need to be related to him in the way nephews, cousins, uncles, father, or mothers are.  In order to receive us as members of his body, he asks only that we believe in him.  There is no better union that that, which is why it ought to satisfy us.  Indeed, the promise is made to all who receive Christ, that they are joined to him.  Thus, because in him is fullness of blessing, we are freed from the curse which in Adam came upon the whole human race."  

(John Calvin, Songs of the Nativity, translated by Robert White, Banner of Truth Trust, 2008, p. 13)

Painting above is The Visitation, by Philippe de Champaigne (ca. 1643), oil on canvas, on display at the Seattle Art Museum. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Nice use of glass and steel at the Carilion NRV Hospital. 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

covenant presence

"Covenant presence, then, means that God commits himself to us, to be our God and to make us his people. He delivers us by his grace and rules us by his law (so covenant presence presupposes control and authority; we have seen earlier that they imply presence), and he rules not only from up above, but with us and within us.
"Recognizing God’s lordship affects the way we understand the world. If God is in control of the world, then the world is under his control. If God is our supreme authority, then he has the right to tell us what to believe. And if he is present everywhere, our attempts to know the world ought to recognize that presence. The most important fact about anything in the world is its relationship to God’s lordship."

Friday, November 21, 2014

faith shapes culture

"Even avowed atheists, at the end of the day, still have to come up with some sort of placeholder for the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus Christ in order to explain how the universe got here. For instance, what is Richard Dawkins’s reverential treatment of Darwinian natural selection if not an attempt to suggest that something other than the God of the Bible—in this case, the laws of biology—is absolutely necessary to explain the origin, diversity, and beauty we find on planet earth and in the cosmos? Throughout the course of human civilization, what has been seen as ultimate has been worshipped. And that which is worshipped always makes demands upon its followers. In that sense then, everyone is religious. Dawkins’s god may not be personal, but his worldview bears the marks of religious fervor. He has a list of orthodoxies and is quick to cast out heretics from his midst. Despite earnest attempts to do away with religion in modern times, it cannot and will not go away. Faith shapes culture. It is simply a matter of which belief system a society chooses and how effectively that faith nourishes the animating impulses of a people."  

--Gregory Thornbury, Recovering Classic Evangelicalism: Applying the Wisdom and Vision of Carl F. H. Henry (Crossway, 2013)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

confession leads to joy not despair

“If you are truly trusting in Christ, you can’t confess a sin for which God has not provided forgiveness in Jesus.  Indeed, if you work at the discipline of confessing your sin, it should not lead to despair at all, but rather to rejoicing over the extent of God’s love to you in Christ.”

(Mark Dever and Michael Lawrence, from It Is Well: Expositions on Substitutionary Atonement)

Saturday, November 1, 2014

the thought world

And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it." Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. (Genesis 4:4-8 ESV)

"The Christian life, true spirituality, always begins inside, in our thought world." (Francis Schaeffer, True Spirituality, p. 122)

true and false spirituality

"Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.  These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God." (Colossians 2:16-19 ESV)(See also 2:20-23) 

False spirituality described in Colossians 2:16-23.  Here are some of the "isms" we face today...

This passage also gives characteristics of true spirituality...

Christ's death applied to all of our life, from birth to death. After conversion we are not on probation or justified by our behavior. True spirituality is lived in the light and power of Christ's perfect, complete, and finished work on the cross. 

The audio of this sermon, "Shadow and Substance," can be found here

Thursday, October 30, 2014

reformation day

The photo above is of the Luther Monument in Worms, Germany.  Learn more about it here

In celebration of Reformation Day, here are a few quotes from Martin Luther (apologies for some lacking source citation): 

"Faith is a living, unshakeable confidence in God's grace; it is so certain, that someone would die a thousand times for it. This kind of trust in and knowledge of God's grace makes a person joyful, confident, and happy with regard to God and all creatures. This is what the Holy Spirit does by faith. Through faith, a person will do good to everyone without coercion, willingly and happily; he will serve everyone, suffer everything for the love and praise of God, who has shown him such grace. It is as impossible to separate works from faith as burning and shining from fire." (Introduction to the Commentary on Romans)

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

“He who believes God, recognizes Him as true and faithful, and himself as a liar; for he mistrusts his own thinking as false, and trusts the Word of God as being true, though it absolutely contradicts his own reasoning.”  (Commentary on Romans)

"We must learn that forgiveness of sins, Christ, and the Holy Spirit, are freely granted to us at the preaching of faith, in spite of our sinfulness. We are not to waste time thinking how unworthy we are of the blessings of God. We are to know that it pleased God to freely give us His unspeakable gifts. If He offers His gifts free of charge, why not take them? Why worry about our lack of worthiness? Why not accept gifts with joy and thanksgiving?”  (Commentary on Galatians) 

[On Galatians 1:4...] "Christ was given up to death not for our righteousness or holiness, but for our sins, which are true sins, great ones, infinitely many, and invincible. So do not think they are small and such as may be gotten rid of by your own works; and do not despair because of their greatness if you feel oppressed by them, either in life or in death. Rather, learn from Paul to believe that Christ was given, not for pretend sins, nor for small sins, but for great and huge sins; not for one or two, but for all of them; not for vanquished sins (for no one— not even any angel— is able to overcome the least sin that there is), but for invincible sins."  (Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians)

"There is no more lovely, friendly and charming relationship, communion or company than a good marriage." (Table Talk)

"Peace if possible, truth at all costs." 

“I am more afraid of my own heart than of the pope and all his cardinals. I have within me the great pope, Self.”

"Prayer is not overcoming God's reluctance, but laying hold of his willingness."

"We are beggars: this is true." ("The Last Written Words of Luther," Table Talk)

Monday, October 20, 2014

WSC on the Lord's prayer

"Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.  
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  
Give us this day our daily bread, and 
forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.  
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” 
(Matthew 6:9-13 ESV)

There's a wonderful summary of the meaning of the Lord's prayer in the Westminster Shorter Catechism...

“Our Father in heaven...” teaches us firstly to draw near to God with all holy reverence and confidence as children to a father able and ready to help us; and secondly, that we should pray with and for others. (Six requests follow...)

1) “Hallowed be your name...” we pray that God may enable us and others to glorify him in all in which he makes himself known; and that he would overrule all things for his own glory.

2) “Your kingdom come...” we pray that Satan's kingdom may be destroyed, that the kingdom of grace may be advanced and ourselves and others brought into it and kept in it; and that Christ's return and the kingdom of glory may come quickly.

3) “Your will be done on earth...” we pray that God, by his grace, would make us able and willing to know, obey and submit to his will in all things, as the angels do in heaven.

4) “Give us today our daily bread...” we pray that by God's free gift we may receive a sufficient share of the good things of this life, and enjoy his blessing with them.

5) “Forgive us our debts...” we pray that God, for Christ's sake, would freely pardon all our sins; and we are encouraged to ask this because, by his grace, we are enabled from the heart to forgive others.

6) “Lead us not into temptation...” we pray that God would either keep us from being tempted to sin, or support and deliver us when we are tempted.

priorities in prayer (from Paul)

We just finished several Sunday evenings studying, and then applying in prayer, the things that the Apostle Paul prayed for the churches he wrote to. 

Here in bullet summary are the prayer points found in the Pauline epistles...

o Thanksgiving for God’s work in them
o For them to know God’s will with wisdom
o To walk worthy of (live up to) our calling
o To live a life pleasing to God
o To grow in the knowledge of the Lord
o For God to give power for every good work
o To be sanctified (beautified) by the Lord
o That God be glorified in & by them
o Wisdom and revelation in knowing God
o To be enlightened to know spiritual blessings
o To be strengthened by the Spirit inwardly
o Ability to understand the love of God
o Love to abound more, with discernment
o To prove the surpassing value of Jesus
o To bear the fruit of righteousness through Christ
o To render acceptable service to God’s people
o Deliverance from evil plans of unbelievers
o For boldness in gospel proclamation

Saturday, October 18, 2014

truth about nature of reality

"...the Christian message offers the missing piece deleted by naturalism - the personal, infinite Creator God who stands above nature and has spoken. This points first, not to a religious truth, but a truth about the nature of reality; that is, the world is one way if God is there, and it is another way if He is not. However, our voice in the name of truth will have little weight if our theology has no edge and we do not order our lives any differently than those without the truth."

(Bruce A. Little, "Theology Engaging Culture")

Friday, October 17, 2014

calvin's prayer

This is John Calvin's prayer at the beginning of his short work, The Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life, published in 1550.  This was a portion of the larger Institutes that was published as a brief manual for the spiritual life of the believer. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Sunday notes (Jim Krouscas)

Some Sunday quotes & notes from the sermon by Jim Krouscas. 

"Two natures beat within my breast.
The one is foul, the other blest.
The one I love, the one I hate;
The one I feed will dominate."

"To be In Christ – that is redemption; but for Christ to be IN YOU – that is sanctification! To be IN CHRIST – that makes you fit for heaven; but for Christ to be IN YOU – that makes you fit for earth! To be in Christ – that changes your destination; but for Christ to be IN YOU – that changes your destiny! The one makes heaven your home – the other makes the world His workshop." 

(Ian Thomas, The Life of Christ in the Life of the Believer)

Treasuring Christ.  Because of Christ...

1) I am a recipient of God’s mercy. (Col 3:6)

2) I am a new person. (Col 3:3)

3) I am being renewed in the knowledge of God. (Col 3:10)

4) I am part of the universal Body of Christ. (Col 3:11)

5) I am chosen by God. (Col 3:12)

6) I am holy. (Col 3:12)

7) I am loved. (Col 3:12)

8) I am forgiven by God. (Col 3:13)

Sunday's sermon online here. 

moment by moment

Here is Francis Schaeffer on the unity of what salvation is... 

"[Salvation] is a single piece, and yet a flowing stream.  I became a Christian once for all upon the basis of the finished work of Christ through faith; that is justification.  The Christian life, sanctification, operates on the same basis, but moment by moment.  There is the same base (Christ's work) and the same instrument (faith); the only difference is that one is once for all and the other is moment by moment.  The whole unity of biblical teaching stands solid at this place.  If we try to live the Christian life in our own strength we will have sorrow, but if we live in this way, we will not only serve the Lord, but in place of sorrow, he will be our song.  That is the difference.  The 'how' of the Christian life is the power of the crucified and risen Lord, through the agency of the indwelling Holy Spirit, by faith moment by moment."   (Italics in the original)

(Francis Schaeffer, True Spirituality, p. 79)

Monday, October 6, 2014

recognizing God's lordship

"You are my witnesses," declares the LORD, "and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior. I declared and saved and proclaimed, when there was no strange god among you; and you are my witnesses," declares the LORD, "and I am God."  (Isaiah 43:10-12 ESV)

"Recognizing God’s lordship affects the way we understand the world. If God is in control of the world, then the world is under his control. If God is our supreme authority, then he has the right to tell us what to believe. And if he is present everywhere, our attempts to know the world ought to recognize that presence. The most important fact about anything in the world is its relationship to God’s lordship...

"Naturalistic thought believes that all persons in the world are the product of impersonal forces, and that they can best be understood by reducing them to impersonal bits of matter and energy or, monistically, as aspects of an impersonal oneness. In these views, persons are reducible to the impersonal. In the biblical view, the impersonal reduces to the personal. Matter, energy, motion, time, and space are under the rule of a personal Lord. All the wonderful things that we find in personality—intelligence, compassion, creativity, love, justice—are not ephemeral data, doomed to be snuffed out in cosmic calamity; rather, they are aspects of what is most permanent, most ultimate. They are what the universe is really all about."

(John Frame, Systematic Theology)

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

greatest work of the Spirit

"He [the Holy Spirit] will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you."  (John 16:14-15 ESV)

"Getting the glory of Christ before your eyes and keeping it there — is the greatest work of the Spirit that I can imagine.”  (C. John Miller, The Heart of a Servant Leader)

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

the unsearchable riches of Christ

"To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ..." (Ephesians 3:8 ESV)

"...that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." (Colossians 2:2-3 ESV)

Jeremy Walker writes...

Who can appreciate the wonder of the good news in Christ Jesus? Who has exhausted those precious promises? Who has understood all those shining certainties which are “Yes” and “Amen” in Christ to the glory of God, this revelation of life abundant that Christ has brought in and with Himself (2 Cor. 1:20)

Paul has recorded in scant outline in this letter to the Ephesians only some of the unsearchable riches of Christ. He is scratching the surface, picking up a few of the diamonds that lie in the topsoil. He could speak of the riches of Christ’s righteousness, compassion, goodness, and on and on. The apostle says that none of them can properly be fathomed. No one has ever walked through these fields, climbed these mountains, traversed these valleys; no one has ever explored these trackless seas to their depths and extents, traced the rushing rivers to their source—the Lord Jesus Christ is in Himself a whole world of wonder!

However much you think you know these things, they remain unexhausted and inexhaustible. You have barely started to know them. They are so vast that you cannot reach the end of them. They are so intricate that no matter how you trace them with the fingers of your most incisive thoughts, no matter how carefully you discern the beauty and wisdom of these works of God, you will never be able to come to the end or be able to put it all together. You must stand back and gaze again at the tapestry of God’s saving works through Christ Jesus and say, “These things are beyond searching out. Here I bow, defeated and adoring.” If you had a thousand lifetimes, you would need a thousand, thousand more even to begin to understand these things. Only eternity will give you time enough to start searching out more of the unsearchable riches of Christ.

But what every saint must grasp—what we long for all people to grasp—is that these unsearchable riches are all found in Christ... Here we find true deity (He is God) and true humanity (He becomes man) in true agony—suffering to purchase our redemption blessings.

You cannot know these blessings apart from Jesus Christ or find them other than in Him. You cannot experience them until you are in Christ. You cannot receive them without Him, because these are the unsearchable riches of Christ, belonging to and found in Him alone. As we have said, He is both treasury and treasure. You cannot open the box, take out the treasures, and walk away with them. They belong in the display cabinet and are splendid in themselves. In the abstract, love, forgiveness, truth, power, hope, and mercy are beautiful and good in themselves and can be great things. But it is when they are found in and of Christ that they are constituted unsearchable, and being of Christ, they are for salvation. To be found in Him is to come into possession of them. Because they belong to Him and are found in Him, they stretch beyond human comprehension. It is because they are of Him and in Him—our Ransomer—that they are given for human blessing.

The unsearchable riches of Christ are proclaimed in order that they might be known and enjoyed, received by sinners who have come to rest in the boundless resources of Jesus Christ as their Deliverer, the One given for the very purpose of meeting the needs of fallen people.

Grasping our new identity as those possessed of this Christ in all His matchless beauty and glory is vital to living in accordance with that new identity. As these things are given to be received, so they are given to be pondered and enjoyed: “For all things are yours: whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or things present or things to come—all are yours. And you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Cor. 3:21–23).

(Jeremy Walker, Life in Christ: Becoming and Being a Disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ)

Saturday, September 20, 2014

highlights from life in Christ (Jeremy Walker)

Enjoying Jeremy Walker's book, Life in Christ: Becoming and Being a Disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ (Reformation Heritage Books, 2013).  Here are some of my highlighted excerpts...

If you will not look to Christ, then you cannot be saved. If you have not looked to Christ, then you are not saved. But if you will look to Christ, you must be saved. If you have looked to Christ, you are saved.

...there are many who doubt this offer. Some torture themselves with fears that perhaps, after all, they were not included in this grand invitation or encompassed by this gracious command.

The church is to believe this promise, both for ourselves—we are to trust Him exclusively—and for others—we are to offer Him universally. We are to put no human limitation on divine redemption. Christ makes no exceptions: He says to any sinner, man or woman, boy or girl, “Look to Me and be saved.” We are not to refuse Christ because of our sin when Christ has not refused us on account of it. It is sinners whom Christ has come to save.

We are to look—and leave the saving to a sovereign and merciful God. 

The saved sinner is a person under assault. People often mistakenly assume that conversion means an end to spiritual battles. Although God in His mercy often grants the new believer a period of respite from strife and abounding joy, there is a real sense in which conversion is not so much the end of our battles as their beginning.

To lack food is terrible; to lack money is distressing; to lack health is miserable; to lack friends is tragic; but to lack Christ is to lack the greatest and most necessary good—it is the most awful situation imaginable.

To be “in Christ” is—in the very instant in which that is true—to be the inheritor of all that Jesus accomplished by His atoning death and glorious resurrection.

I do not mean by this that there are no more battles to fight, but that we have changed sides.

As we will see, the issue is not the outward circumstances of the conversion but the inward reality. The mark of being in Christ is the reality of the new creation, and a person can be born again under a gentle breeze as much as in a thundering storm. We do not need to undergo the kind of crisis that Saul of Tarsus experienced, but we must experience the same essential transition.

But we need to see and feel, truly to understand and appreciate the incongruity—the utter weirdness and wrongness—of being in Christ and walking in our old ways.

Let us not trust in educators, politicians, mystics, medics, moralists, philosophers, spiritualists, and scientists, though some may have their place. The new life in Christ is secured and advanced through the powerful entrance of the gospel, which effectively works in those who believe. Whoever comes to Christ in faith—repenting of his sins, seeing his misery without Christ, seeking grace to be in Christ—and earnestly desiring that one day he might see and be with Christ—will find Christ to be his Savior and Lord and will enter into the blessed realities of the new creation in himself now and look forward to a life in a new heaven and new earth with Christ in days to come, the very heaven of heaven.

Monday, September 15, 2014

finding a good master

Everybody ends up serving somebody or something in life!  Make sure you find a good master! (Hint: see John 10:10-11)

Saturday, September 6, 2014

highlights from Loving God (Bernard of Clairvaux)

Here are some excerpts from On Loving God, by Bernard of Clairvaux: 

You want me to tell you why God is to be loved and how much. I answer, the reason for loving God is God Himself; and the measure of love due to Him is immeasurable love.

He gave Himself for us unworthy wretches? And being God, what better gift could He offer than Himself? Hence, if one seeks for God's claim upon our love here is the chiefest: Because He first loved us (I John 4.19).  

But it is hard, nay rather, impossible, for a man by his own strength or in the power of free-will to render all things to God from whom they came, without rather turning them aside, each to his own account, even as it is written, For all seek their own' (Phil. 2.21); and again, The imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth' (Gen. 8.21).

His Body sown in the grave has blossomed in the Resurrection (I Cor. 15.42); and in like manner our valleys and fields which were barren or frozen, as if dead, glow with reviving life and warmth.  

So it behooves us, if we would have Christ for a frequent guest, to fill our hearts with faithful meditations on the mercy He showed in dying for us, and on His mighty power in rising again from the dead.

Creation was not so vast a work as redemption; for it is written of man and of all things that were made, He spoke the word, and they were made' (Ps. 148.5). But to redeem that creation which sprang into being at His word, how much He spoke, what wonders He wrought, what hardships He endured, what shames He suffered! Therefore what reward shall I give unto the Lord for all the benefits which He hath done unto me? In the first creation He gave me myself; but in His new creation He gave me Himself, and by that gift restored to me the self that I had lost.

Love is an affection of the soul, not a contract: it cannot rise from a mere agreement, nor is it so to be gained. It is spontaneous in its origin and impulse; and true love is its own satisfaction. It has its reward; but that reward is the object beloved. For whatever you seem to love, if it is on account of something else, what you do really love is that something else, not the apparent object of desire.

Rest is in Him alone. Man knows no peace in the world; but he has no disturbance when he is with God.

I have said already that the motive for loving God is God Himself. And I spoke truly, for He is as well the efficient cause as the final object of our love. He gives the occasion for love, He creates the affection, He brings the desire to good effect.

He has no gift for them better than Himself. He gives Himself as prize and reward: He is the refreshment of holy soul, the ransom of those in captivity.

But here is a paradox, that no one can seek the Lord who has not already found Him. It is Thy will, O God, to be found that Thou may be sought, to be sought that Thou may the more truly be found.

So then in the beginning man loves God, not for God's sake, but for his own.

No longer do we love God because of our necessity, but because we have tasted and seen how gracious the Lord is.

Whosoever praises God for His essential goodness, and not merely because of the benefits He has bestowed, does really love God for God's sake, and not selfishly.

In this life, I think, we cannot fully and perfectly obey that precept, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind' (Luke 10.27).

And to this degree no human effort can attain: it is in God's power to give it to whom He wills.

The fourth degree of love is attained for ever when we love God only and supremely, when we do not even love ourselves except for God's sake.

Neither fear nor self-interest can convert the soul. They may change the appearance, perhaps even the conduct, but never the object of supreme desire.

Sometimes a slave may do God's work; but because he does not toil voluntarily, he remains in bondage.

Charity, the law of the Lord, joins the Three Persons into the unity of the Godhead and unites the holy Trinity in the bond of peace.

Love is the eternal law whereby the universe was created and is ruled.

The eternal law of righteousness ordains that he who will not submit to God's sweet rule shall suffer the bitter tyranny of self: but he who wears the easy yoke and light burden of love (Matt. 11.30) will escape the intolerable weight of his own self-will.  Then freed from the weight of my own will, I can breathe easily under the light burden of love.

In like manner, by God's grace, it will come about that man will love his body and all things pertaining to his body, for the sake of his soul. He will love his soul for God's sake; and he will love God for Himself alone. 

Everyone really should read this classic work.  The complete text can be read here.   

Monday, September 1, 2014

Jesus died for my good works too

I made the statement last week that "Jesus died not only for my sins but also for my imperfect good works." The Apostle Paul prayed for the believers at Colossae that they "walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work..." (1:10) 

The problem that all of us face as believers is that even our best works are tainted with sin, with impure motives and designs. How can we ever truly please God with our feeble attempts at good?

There is great liberation in knowing that God views not only our past rebellion but all of our works through the lens of his Beloved Son.  The blood of Jesus cleanses us even as we are walking "in the light" (1 John 1:7).  We can please him!

The Westminster Confession states in Chapter 16...  

VI. Notwithstanding, the persons of believers being accepted through Christ, their good works also are accepted in Him; not as though they were in this life wholly unblamable and unreproveable in God's sight but that He, looking upon them in His Son, is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere, although accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections. [References: Eph 1:6; 1 Pet 2:5; Ex 28:38; Gen 4:4; Heb 11:4; Job 9:20; Ps 143:2; Heb 13:20-21; 2 Cor 8:12; Heb 6:10; Matt 25:21-23]

The Father looks upon us as being united with his Son.  He is pleased with our faith, love, gratitude, obedience to his Word, and desires to honor him -- however weak or small these may be. 

By the way, John Frame is helpful in explaining what are the criteria for good works, in The Doctrine of the Christian Life, pp. 27-28...

  • Right motive (faith working through love)
  • Right standard (the Word of God)
  • Right goal (to glorify God)

Right motive:  "But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin." (Romans 14:23)  "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love." (Galatians 5:6) "And he said to him, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" (Matthew 22:37-39)

Right standard:  "Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him."  (John 14:21)  "So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, 'If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.'" (John 8:31-32) "Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness." (1 John 3:4)

Right goal: "So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." (1 Corinthians 10:31)  " the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved." (Ephesians 1:6)  "And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." (Colossians 3:17)

5 important words to know

This from John MacArthur, quoted in David Kingston's sermon this Sunday. 

In justification, the sinner stands before God as the accused and is declared righteous.

In redemption, the sinner stands before God as the slave and is granted freedom by ransom.

In forgiveness, the sinner stands before God as a debtor, and the debt having been paid is forgotten.

In reconciliation, the sinner stands before God as an enemy, and is led to peace as a friend.

In sonship, the sinner stands before God as a stranger and is adopted as a son.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

support for Israel?

I posted a video on Facebook in support of Israel keeping current boundaries rather than reverting to those of 1948.  A friend posted the following in answer...

"Bogus. They are in violation of international law. The U.S. Knows it. That's why our embassy is in Tel Aviv and not Jerusalem. They are harassing and killing Christians, Palestinian and otherwise. Anyone who goes there with their eyes open and talks to people, especially in the West Bank will see clearly what the situation is. Our support of Israel is a huge reason for much of the international hatred of our country worldwide."

Now I don't usually debate issues on Facebook, but thought I might respond to this, or maybe just to say what I mean, and don't mean, about supporting Israel.

I do not support or approve of everything that Israel does, any more than I do for our own country. Israel offers freedom of religion within its boundaries, but I know that there are restrictions in outreach.  And there are injustices. 

Yes, I have met and had fellowship with Arab Christians living in the West Bank.  It is difficult for them, and there is unjust treatment. Yet, I dare say they would prefer the Israeli government rule over them than any of the other current governments or religious authorities in the Middle East. 

I do support Israel's right to exist and to defend its boundaries from hostile attacks. They are surrounded by enemies that seek to destroy them completely. Even though many in Israel still reject the Messiah, the nation still has a special place in God's redemptive history, and they have the right to that land.  

But the question remains, which boundaries? I think Israel is seeking to have defensible borders and keeping the land given to them as a people under the Mosaic Covenant (Ex 6:4; Josh 13). International law, then, would be secondary. Ultimately, Israel's accountability regarding borders is to the decree of God rather than to the laws of other nations.   

So, my support of Israel is qualified.  In speaking of unbelieving ethnic Israel, Paul writes, "As regards the gospel, they are enemies of God for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable." (Romans 11:28-29 ESV) Note, the same people -- Jewish opponents of the gospel -- are called "enemies" and "beloved."  They are both opponents of the gospel and yet elect for God's purpose.

I have to embrace that tension. This obviously means there will be much that should be opposed.  But one thing I believe is that God gave them that land.  And their Messiah (and mine!) will return to Jerusalem, and then will be fulfilled the word of Zechariah...

"And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn." (Zechariah 12:10 ESV)


Friday, August 29, 2014

deadly boredom

"Acedia" n. "spiritual or mental sloth; apathy." From Gr. "listlessness; without care." (From The New Oxford American Dictionary

"As acedia, boredom is one of the Seven Deadly Sins. It deserves the honor. You can be bored by virtually anything if you put your mind to it, or choose not to. You can yawn your way through Don Giovanni or a trip to the Grand Canyon or an afternoon with your dearest friend or a sunset. There are doubtless those who nodded off at the coronation of Napoleon or the trial of Joan of Arc or when Shakespeare appeared at the Globe in Hamlet or Lincoln delivered himself of a few remarks at Gettysburg. The odds are that the Sermon on the Mount had more than a few of the congregation twitchy and glassy-eyed. To be bored is to turn down cold whatever life happens to be offering you at the moment. It is to cast a jaundiced eye at life in general including most of all your own life. You feel nothing is worth getting excited about because you are yourself not worth getting excited about. To be bored is a way of making the least of things you often have a sneaking suspicion you need the most. To be bored to death is a form of suicide."

(Frederich Buechner, The Sacred Journey)

Check out Bryan Wilkerson's message on "Sloth? Seriously?" here.

XKCD cartoon permalink here.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

no gift better than himself

"The motive for loving God is God Himself. I spoke truly, for He is as well the efficient cause as the final object of our love. He gives the occasion for love, He creates the affection, He brings the desire to good effect. He is such that love to Him is a natural due; and so hope in Him is natural, since our present love would be vain did we not hope to love Him perfectly some day. Our love is prepared and rewarded by His. He loves us first, out of His great tenderness; then we are bound to repay Him with love; and we are permitted to cherish exultant hopes in Him. 'He is rich unto all that call upon Him' (Rom. 10.12), yet He has no gift for them better than Himself. He gives Himself as prize and reward: He is the refreshment of holy soul, the ransom of those in captivity. 'The Lord is good unto them that wait for Him' (Lam. 3.25). What will He be then to those who gain His presence? But here is a paradox, that no one can seek the Lord who has not already found Him. It is Thy will, O God, to be found that Thou mayest be sought, to be sought that Thou mayest the more truly be found."

(Bernard of Clairvaux, On Loving God)

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Colossians 1 prayer

Here's a way to pray for someone this week, based on Colossians 1:9-12...

Here's a PDF sheet of four of the above. 

And here's the sermon behind the graphic.

Friday, August 15, 2014

prophet, priest, and king

Been reading some recent posts about the three Old Testament offices (roles) that Christ fulfilled -- that of prophet, priest, and king. Bavinck addresses this beautifully in volume III of his Dogmatics, but here is a summary excerpt from Our Reasonable Faith... 

"We need a Christ who is all three [offices] at once.  We need a prophet who proclaims God to us, a priest who reconciles us with God, and a king who in the name of God rules and protects us.  The whole image of God must be restored in man -- knowledge, yes, but also holiness and righteousness.  The whole man must be saved, according to soul and body, according to head and heart and hand.  We need a Savior who redeems us perfectly and entirely and who fully realizes in us our original purpose.  Christ does this.  Because He Himself is prophet, priest, and king, He in turn makes us prophets, priests, and kings unto God and His Father (Rev. 1:6)." 

(Herman Bavinck, Our Reasonable Faith, p. 335)

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

the glory of the church

He [Jesus] said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"  
Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." (Matthew 16:15-18 ESV)

"How clear that no other institution in all the world is comparable to the Christian church in point of glory!  The glory of the greatest, wealthiest, most powerful and most resplendent empire of all history was as nothing, yes less than nothing, in comparison with the glory of the church of Christ.

"Small wonder that of all the countless organizations in the world the Redeemer fondly claims only the church as his very own.  'Upon this Rock,' said He, 'I will build my church.' The church alone is 'his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all.' (Ephesians 1:23)"

(R. B. Kuiper, The Glorious Body of Christ, p. 40)

The stain glass window above, "New Jerusalem," is at the First Presbyterian Church in Muskegon, Michigan. 

all races

"[you] have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.  Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all."  (Colossians 3:10-11 ESV)

"The ultimate solution to the race problem is found in Christianity.  No matter how great the differences among the races may be, in Christ they are one, and believers of all races are members of His body."   (R. B. Kuiper, The Glorious Body of Christ, p. 282)

Monday, August 4, 2014

habakkuk 2:14

HDR photo I took of the ocean from the Outer Banks, NC, this summer.  Just needed this verse to complete the idea.