Thursday, December 28, 2017

best books I read in 2017

In no particular order...

Reformation:Yesterday, Today & Tomorrowby Carl Trueman (Christian Focus, Reprint 2011).  In this reprint, Trueman (professor of church history) gives a number of important applications for today's church from the Reformation.  

How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Oddsby Alan Jacobs (Currency, 2017).  Hard to describe this little book, but it is profound. How community  affects the way we think. 

I enjoyed two collections of sermons by Martyn Lloyd-Jones:
Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled, (Crossway reissue, 2009).
The Cross: God's Way of Salvation, (Crossway, 1986) 

Awakening the Evangelical Mind: An Intellectual History of the Neo-Evangelical Movementby Owen Strachan (Zondervan, 2015)  Along with Confessions of a Theologian, by Carl F. H. Henry (Word Books, 1986).  Strachan chronicles the rise of the new evangelicals in the 1950s and beyond.  Carl Henry figures prominently in that movement.  I also finished Volume 4 of Henry's magisterial God, Revelation and Authority, and read portions of Vols. 5 & 6.  Carl Henry (who also founded Christianity Today) is probably the least known, but extremely gifted theologian to impact the church in America in the second half of the twentieth century.  His works are immensely valuable to evangelicals today. 





The Everlasting God, by Broughton Knox (Matthias Media, 2012).  
Excellent (and brief) overview of the nature and character of God by Australian clergyman and former president of Moore College.   

God, Marriage, and Family (Second Edition): Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation,
by Andreas J. Kostenberger (Crossway, 2010).  Thorough, clear, biblical, and much needed explanation of marriage, family, and gender.  

He Is Not Silent, by Albert Mohler (Moody, 2008).  I picked this up at the Basics Conference last May.  Mohler connects God's use of words in making covenant and our use of words in preaching

Seeing the Unseen, Expanded Edition: A 90-Day Devotional to Set Your Mind on Eternityby Randy Alcorn (Multnomah; Expanded edition, 2017)  This is a daily devotional that my wife and I enjoy reading together

I read three smaller works by J. Gresham Machen, best known for Christianity and LiberalismThese were... 
-- The Person of Jesus (radio addresses, 1935)
-- The Christian Faith in the Modern World (1936)
-- What Is Faith (1937)
Machen, former professor of New Testament at Princeton and later founder of Westminster Seminary, had an uncanny ability to take profound theological truths and state them simply, clearly, and forcefully.  


Friday, December 22, 2017

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

and he will be our peace



"And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth.  And he shall be their peace."  (Micah 5:4-5a ESV*)

"And he shall be their peace."  (5:5a)  Literally, “this one will be peace”.  By "this one" is understood the Shepherd-King previously mentioned (5:2-4), so some translations have, "and he will be..."  Also translators have varied as to which possessive pronoun should be understood here, whether to add to the text either “their", "our", or "your".  "Their peace" would be those who would trust Messiah in that future generation.  But "our" would be viewing Messiah from the reader's perspective, as the peace of Israel past, present, or future.  And we could certainly apply to ourselves -- "your peace" -- as believers in Christ today. 



And he will not just bring peace or establish it, but he IS peace.  He is the source and essence of peace.   The well-being our hearts long for is found in a Person ("this one").  When Simeon looked upon the baby Jesus, he said, “my eyes have seen your salvation” (Lu 2:30).  He did not say, "savior" but "salvation".   The completed work that Simeon saw was Jesus himself, even as a baby.   He WAS the salvation promised.  Likewise, when Jesus was teaching his disciples later in his life, he did not say to them, “I will show the way, tell the truth, and give the life”, but rather, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6)  And so truly, "And he shall be their peace." 

In the Old Testament "peace" is shalom.  It denotes well-being, or dwelling securely.   More than just a feeling of peace, or of peaceful circumstances, it means the restoration of relationships, and the absence of war or conflict.  Sometimes it is translated as “completeness, soundness, welfare, peace, 
tranquility, safety, or comfort.”  

We, like the Israelites, tend to equate peace either with feelings of well-being (we are secure, all is right) due to circumstances, or to a confidence that things will turn out well because of capable political leadership, a strong military, a thriving economy, having good harvests and weather, and religious activity, usually pluralistic in form (idolatry).   In Micah's day the popular (false) prophets were proclaiming "peace" (at least when they were paid well) (Micah 3:5).  But the Lord says through Isaiah, "'There is no peace,' says the LORD, 'for the wicked'." (48:22)

Peace, or actual well-being, comes from God and involves a restoration of good relationships with God, with others, and with the land (creation).  Hence, peace is never considered apart from righteousness.  See, for example, Isaiah 9:6-7 ... "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given...  and his name shall be called ... Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore."  

There is true security and lasting peace only under the reign of God's Messiah, Jesus Christ. 

At his second advent (coming) he will end all injustice, judge the nations, and bring an end to history as we know it.  This will be the peace which will be restored over all creation (Isaiah 11:1-9; Philippians 3:20-21; 2 Peter 3:11-13), where the wolf lies down peacefully with the lamb.  Just as Jesus said, “Peace, be still” and stilled the storm and sea he can do this for all of creation.  

Meanwhile, we live between the two advents.  He has come as a baby born in Bethlehem (Micah 5) and he will come again upon the clouds of heaven (Daniel 7).  How do we experience his peace today, between these two comings of Jesus?

(1)  The peace of being reconciled to God.  "Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." 
(Romans 5:1; cf. Isaiah 53:5)  We can have assurance that Christ’s death is the answer not just for sins, but for our sins, my sins, your sins.  And thereby we are reconcile to the Father, who gives us peace that we belong to him forever as his children.  The Lord Jesus says to us today what he said to the woman in Luke 7... "Your sins are forgiven... Your faith has saved you; go in peace." (Luke 7:48-50)  In the words of Charles Wesley, "Glory to the newborn King: peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!"  (“Hark the Herald Angels Sing.")

Further, when we proclaim the gospel to others we are "publishing peace".  In evangelism we work for reconciliation of others with God.  "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, 'Your God reigns.'"  (Isaiah 52:7)   Once again, peace comes with righteousness, when we come under the reign of God, not when we seek to be apart from it.

(2)  Confidence in facing trials and the opposition of the world.   In Jesus' last discourse with his disciples before being arrested (John 14-16) he spoke much about the peace he gives.  "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. " (John 14:27; see also 16:33)  He gives a peace unlike the world.  The world promises security through power, self-confidence, wealth, good health, having powerful friends or politicians, etc.  However, he promises a well-being which doesn't come from changing circumstances, but rather from the unchanging character and power of the Lord Jesus Christ.  

Further, when we face needs and anxieties, we can, through prayer and thanksgiving, experience his peace.   The Apostle Paul wrote from jail, "...do
not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."  (Philippians 4:6-7)

(3)  When we work for the upbuilding and unity of God’s people, he gives us grace to live in harmony with others:  "So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding."  (Romans 14:19)  We are to be "eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." (Ephesians 4:3)  When we work for reconciliation between people and other people, when we forgive and receive forgiveness, when we work that others may have justice and fairness in life... we are acting as peacemakers.  (Matthew 5:9)  When we are careful not to promote racial, ethnic, cultural, or moral superiority, then we are helping to break down dividing walls:  "For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility..."  (Ephesians 2:14)  

Where others find their peace in wealth, good health, military, power, politics, education, science, culture, and technology, we know that lasting, true, 
eternal, objective, and righteous peace is only found in the Prince of Peace.   As valid as these things may be in their place for our well-being, they do not in themselves bring us lasting security, or a peace with God that will enable us to face him in the final day of judgment.

Is the Lord Jesus himself -- himself alone -- your peace? 

____________  


*All Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2007 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved. 







Friday, December 15, 2017

remembering r c sproul

“We are secure, not because we hold tightly to Jesus, but because he holds tightly to us.” – R. C. Sproul (1939–2017)

A great theologian and teacher has passed to glory.  R. C. Sproul has been a strong help to so many in this confused generation, including me.  I first read The Holiness of God, which struck a vital chord missing from modern and post-modern evangelicalism.  

Then, too, I was blessed by his work, Chosen By God, which clarified Reformed principles for me, and is still one of the first books I recommend to those seeking to understand Calvinistic theology.  I found R. C. Sproul so capable of expounding great truths in simple ways.  

He loved God in his greatness, and he also loved the church.  He wrote the following words for the bicentenary of the First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, South Carolina:

The church of God triumphant
Shall in that final day
Have all her sons and daughters
Home from the well-fought fray.

Then come, O saints of Zion
In sweet communion wed
The bride awaits her Glory
Lord Jesus Christ, her Head.

~ From the hymn, "Saints of Zion", by R. C. Sproul.

Indeed, he is now "home from the well-fought fray."  Lord, send more men like him!









Wednesday, December 13, 2017

theology of the cross



Martin Luther was a "theologian of the cross", whereas medieval scholastics were in his view, "theologians of glory."  That is, many theologians considered God in himself in ways that did not begin with the "alien" (his incomprehensible) work of Christ in his humanity and upon the cross.  There is a cradle and a cross to be understood before we can see the glory of God.  

Carl Trueman explains this further...  

"The theology of the cross is more than just a way of looking at God, however. For Luther, it brings to the fore both the depth of God’s love for sinful humanity, that God himself was willing to undergo such suffering, weakness and humiliation on behalf of helpless sinners, and also underlines that suffering and weakness is a central part of the Christian’s strength experience here on earth. In Christ, God has so identified himself with humanity as to become one with fellow humans. He has endured not only the mundane inconveniences of our existence but has even suffered in a supreme sense on our behalf, that suffering which is captured in a deep and inexplicable way in the cry of dereliction on the cross. These are, of course, deep theological waters, but for Luther the crucial dimension of God’s saving power was precisely this profound humiliation of himself in human weakness. He had a saying: Don’t give me God without giving me his humanity. The point was simple: it is in the incarnation, in the flesh of Christ, that God both is, and shows himself to be, gracious towards us. Luther rejoiced in the fact that he did not worship a God who was far way, a despot, an abstract and anonymous philosophical principle. No—he worshiped a God who had come close, so close that he even clothed himself in human flesh; a God who was so merciful that he was prepared to welcome sinners into his presence as if they had never sinned; a God who was so loving that he happily freed men and women from all manner of physical and spiritual bondage so that they might know true life; and a God who was so strong that he was prepared to make himself nothing and die that terrible death on the cross in order that human beings should never have to die.  

"At the centre of Luther’s doctrine of God, then, stands the humanity of Christ, for it is there that God is merciful and gracious.
                
"One does not become a theologian by knowing a lot about God; one becomes a theologian by suffering the torments and feeling the weakness which union with Christ must inevitably bring in its wake.
                
"‘Why me? Why is this terrible thing happening to me? I’ve done nothing wrong.’ For Luther, the question must be answered by looking to the cross: if suffering, persecution, injustice, hatred and scorn are the lot of Christ, and if it is through these very means that God, in a manner incomprehensible and unexpected, achieves his goal of saving helpless sinners, then are we to expect our lot to be any better?

"God always achieves his proper work in us (i.e. our salvation) through his alien work (our suffering and weakness)."

~ Carl Trueman, Reformation:Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow (Christian Focus, 2011 reprint)

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

but first the bad news



Our first Advent sermon this year was taken from Micah 1:1-7 and spoke of the judgment of God upon all of us.   It was not exactly a conventional Christmas season message. 

In the sermon, "Know Justice, Know Peace",  Jim said that to know the judgment of God becomes a gateway for us to know forgiveness.  And God's judgment becomes a key for us in showing forgiveness to others.  

What did he mean?  And why do we begin with bad news, rather than go straight to the Good News of Christ coming into the world?

It is a principle throughout Scripture that the knowledge of our sin and judgment must precede our experience of his mercy and forgiveness.  

Romans chapters 1 through 3 ("all have sinned...") comes before chapters 4 and following ("having been justified by faith...").  The book of judgment in Isaiah (1-39) precedes the book of comfort (40-66).  And in Micah, the threat of judgment looms over the people, before the promise is given of the mighty Ruler coming from Bethlehem (5:2-5).  

The following words are found in the prologue of the Gospel of John:   "In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  ... The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him."  (John 1:4-5, 9-10 ESV)   

The traditional Advent wreath uses the lighting of candles to symbolize the coming of Christ into a world of darkness.  Thus the Child is born into a world characterized by hostility and ignorance toward God and his Son (See Revelation 12:1-5).

So the bad news comes before the good news.  We must be confronted with our own need, helplessness, alienation, and sinfulness before we can receive the coming King rightly.  "Most people assume they're good with God, so sharing the good news of Jesus Christ without the bad news about sin, hell, and God's wrath just confirms their self-deception," writes Burk Parsons.   

And C. S. Lewis puts it this way...

“The road to the promised land runs past Sinai. The moral law may exist to be transcended: but there is no transcending it for those who have not first admitted its claims upon them, and then tried with all their strength to meet that claim, and fairly and squarely faced the fact of their failure.”  (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain)

So, first we are humbled and see our desperate need for forgiveness:  "Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God."  (Romans 3:19 ESV)  We do not come before God with any sense of pride or self-sufficiency or bargaining or pleading our intents and attempts at goodness, however sincere.  We come to receive a mercy we don't in any way deserve.

But further, knowing God's judgment enables us to humbly forebear with those who have harmed us, and also to extend mercy to them:  

Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord."  To the contrary, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head."  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  (Romans 12:17-21 ESV)

Miroslav Volf, whose family suffered so much during the Bosnian wars, has written that we can only let go of our right to return harm to our enemies only when we trust that God himself is just and he alone has the right to bring the books into balance.  He writes, 

My thesis is that the practice of non-violence requires a belief in divine vengeance…My thesis will be unpopular with man in the West…But imagine speaking to people (as I have) whose cities and villages have been first plundered, then burned, and leveled to the ground, whose daughters and 
sisters have been raped, whose fathers and brothers have had their throats slit…Your point to them–we should not retaliate? Why not? I say–the only means of prohibiting violence by us is to insist that violence is only legitimate when it comes from God…Violence thrives today, secretly nourished by the belief that God refuses to take the sword… It takes the quiet of a suburb for the birth of the thesis that human nonviolence is a result of a God who refuses to judge. In a scorched land–soaked in the blood of the innocent, the idea will invariably die, like other pleasant captivities of the liberal mind… if God were NOT angry at injustice and deception and did NOT make a final end of violence, that God would not be worthy of our worship.  (Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace)

God is not passive, and he is not non-judgmental.  His justice will not be long in coming.  Only those in Christ will be spared from eternal judgment, because Christ has born that justice, the holy wrath of God, upon himself.  

Those outside of Christ, those finally unrepentant, will have no hope before God.  Now, when we have been extended a mercy that we do not deserve, then we are able to extend mercy to others who also do not deserve mercy.  So, knowing the judgment of God (upon us and upon all others) enables us to receive mercy and also to rest in his perfect -- and perfectly timed -- justice.



  

Friday, November 24, 2017

the right kind of stupid

Photo by Hunter Bryant on Unsplash

"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; 
fools despise wisdom and instruction."  (Proverbs 1:7 ESV)

It's a strange thing to receive a lecture from a fool.  Or to have amoral people pronounce moral judgments upon you.  This seems to be the operating principle behind much of the arrogance in social media today.  What seems to be lacking is not only wisdom, but the "meekness of wisdom" (James 3:13). 

I have spent the last couple of months in the book of Proverbs.   The book opens with a refrain -- and repeats it in various forms -- "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom..." (See 1:7; 4:7; 9:10: 15:33.)  Over and over again, we are told to listen, to heed, to think about, to ponder, to humble ourselves, and to diligently pursue wisdom.  And it's always God's wisdom, which is a moral, obedient wisdom, not the fool's kind of arrogant wisdom.  Teachability comes first, and teachability is hard to come by when we are being foolish.  

The book closes with two collections of sayings, that of Agur (30:1-33) and that of King Lemuel (31:1-31).  Agur gives a fitting summary of the biblical view of knowledge and wisdom...    

"Surely I am too stupid to be a man. 
I have not the understanding of a man.  
I have not learned wisdom, 
nor have I knowledge of the Holy One.  
Who has ascended to heaven and come down? 
Who has gathered the wind in his fists? 
Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment? 
Who has established all the ends of the earth? 
What is his name, and what is his son's name? Surely you know!  
Every word of God proves true; 
he is a shield to those who take refuge in him."  (30:2-5)

There is a right kind of stupid -- there is hope even for a fool -- when he realizes his limitation, his ignorance, his folly, and then in humility turns to what God himself has revealed.   This is not our universe.  We did not produce our eyes which see, our ears which hear, or our minds which think. This is God's universe.  And even the tools of our perception are given to us by him.  We are, however, severely limited in our perceptions, and our thinking is distorted by willfulness, sin, and the unbelief of our hearts.

Bruce Waltke's commentary on Proverbs is most helpful on this passage: 
  
"Having failed in the enterprise [of unaided human reason], the Enlightenment's heirs have drawn the perverse conclusion that there are no absolutes, except that one!  Agur, however, points the way out of their nihilism.  Verse 2 presents the earthbound human predicament of being unable to attain wisdom; v. 3 points to 'knowledge of the Holy One' as the way out of ignorance (cf. 3:5-6) ... he implies that to be truly human entails knowing God... he is less than human because he lacks both understanding of the divinely established moral order and, though presumably instructed, he had not learned wisdom..."   ~ Bruce Waltke, The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 15-31, (Eerdmans, 2005 ) p. 469. 

Waltke adds two other quotations...

"If the whole of reality comes from one wise and sovereign Lord, who has ordered all things, reality is all of one piece; nothing is independent of God, and nothing can be truly interpreted independently of God."  ~ Henri Blocher, "The Fear of the Lord as the 'Principle' of Wisdom", Tyndale Bulletin 28 (1977) p. 21.

And finally, "If one does not make human knowledge wholly dependent upon the original self-knowledge and consequent revelation of God to man, then man will have to seek knowledge within himself as the final reference point.  The he will have to seek an exhaustive understanding of reality. He will have to hold that if he cannot attain to such an exhaustive understanding of reality, he has no true knowledge of anything at all.  Either man must then know everything or he knows nothing.  This is the dilemma that confronts every form of non-Christian epistemology."  ~ Cornelius van Til, A Christian Theory of Knowledge (P&R, 1969) p. 17. 

The fool, then, is one whose final reference point is himself, or in his circle of friends, usually, his foolish friends.  Something is gained when we widen our reference point to those who are more wise, or good, such as family or forebears.  But ultimately all such wisdom fails unless God is the "final reference point."

Waltke concludes, "Earthbound mortals cannot find transcendent wisdom apart from the transcendent Lord.  Real wisdom must find its starting point in God's revelation; in his light, we see light (Ps. 36:9)." (p. 471)

So, we must begin with our stupidity.  But it's the right kind of stupidity.  It's the kind that humbles us, and leads us to look to God and his revealed word for true wisdom.  And this in turn leads to other good things...

"But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.  And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace."  (James 3:17-18 ESV)

Monday, November 20, 2017

new earth to be heaven incarnate

"When Jesus Christ came to Earth, one of the names given to Him was Immanuel, which means 'God with us.' The Incarnation means that God became man and lived with us. And when Jesus ascended to Heaven in His resurrected body, it demonstrated that the Incarnation wasn’t temporary but permanent. This has great bearing on where God might choose for us and Him to dwell together. The New Earth will be Heaven incarnate, just as Jesus Christ is God incarnate." 

~ Randy Alcorn, Seeing the Unseen.


education as Christian formation

"We traditional Christians in America can learn from both Eastern European examples [of Czechoslovakia and Poland under Communist rule].  We face nothing so terrible as the Czechs did under Soviet domination, of course, but the more insidious forces of secular liberalism are steadily achieving the same aim: robbing us and future generations of our religious beliefs, moral values, and cultural memory, and making us pawns of forces beyond our control.  This is why we have to focus tightly and without hesitation on education."
  
~ Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option, p. 145. 


Friday, November 10, 2017

the course of history



Lest you be wise in your own sight, I want you to understand this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in...  (Romans 11:25 ESV) 

"Of course, human beings perceive the course of history and events as they occur...  The point is that the mere observation of these events does not translate into an understanding of what God is doing in history.  Human beings see the bare events as they transpire, but they do not perceive the saving plan of God that is being accomplished in and through these events."  

~ Thomas Schreiner, Romans (Baker Academic, 1998), p. 634.


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

because God so wills

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.  (Hebrews 1:1-2 ESV)

God's self-revelation to us -- in nature, the Scriptures, and his Son -- is his own freely chosen act of self-disclosure, in the words of Carl Henry.  We did not seek or find God, but he himself takes the initiative to reveal his nature, mind, and will to us.  This includes historical acts and facts, but also includes the God-given meaning of those acts and facts.  Henry writes...

"Only because God so wills is there a special revelation that centers in the redemptive acts of Hebrew history from the exodus to the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, and in the communication of the meaning of these saving acts in both the prophetic and the apostolic word.  Only because God so wills is the truth of God given in the special form of inspired writings; only because God so wills is his special revelation crowned by the incarnation of the Logos in Jesus of Nazareth.  God has chosen to reveal himself in different times and in different modes (Heb. 1:1)...


"In an amazing variety of ways--in every way except in his final eschatological revelation (and for the sake of those who still reject we may be glad that this end-time revelation has not yet been given) -- God has made himself known.  In both general and special revelation--in nature and in history, in the mind and conscience of man, in written Scriptures, and in Jesus of Nazareth -- he has disclosed himself." 

~ Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation and Authority, II:10.


Saturday, November 4, 2017

the God who stays

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.  (Romans 11:36 ESV)

I am studying the second half of the 11th chapter of Romans.  How much of the glorious nature and character of God is included in the doxology of 11:33-36!  I was also reading in Carl Henry's 6th volume of God, Revelation and Authority and came upon these words, a good overview of what it means that all things come from God, through him, and unto him, for his glory... 

"The Bible depicts God as the providential sustainer of the universe by his omnipotent omnipresence and also the divine governor of all things. The living God everywhere upholds and maintains the created universe; he does so, moreover, for the sovereign purpose and goal for which he initially created it.

"God who stands -- who eternally exists -- and who stoops -- first in voluntarily creating the finite universe and then in voluntarily redeeming his fallen creation -- is also God who stays to preserve and to renew and finally to consummate his purposeful creation.

"From its first moment of creation the space-time universe has been pervasively dependent on the Creator.  Without his omnipresent power it would have reverted to the nihil or nothingness that prevailed before God's ex nihilo creation.  ... 

"The providence of God, in short, attests the fact that nature is not metaphysically ultimate; its continuity is no less contingent that its origin, and both its creation and continuance are dependent on the one sovereign God.  Thus every pretension to creaturely independence, to self-sufficiency, to inherent existence, is shattered by the certainty that man and cosmos alike are entirely contingent, moment by moment upon the God who stays."

~ Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation and Authority (Word Books, 1983), VI:455.



onward

I'm currently reading two books on Christian engagement, Rod Dreher's The Benedict Option, and Russell Moore's Onward.  There's much to think about in both, but I'm attracted to Moore's prophetic-minority engagement model.  

Here are a few early highlights... 

I don’t accept the narrative of progressive secularization, that religion itself will inevitably decline as humanity evolves toward more and more consistent forms of rationalism. As a matter of fact, I think the future of the church is incandescently bright. That’s not because of promises made at Independence Hall, but a promise made at Caesarea Philippi—“I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). I believe that promise because I believe the One who spoke those words is alive, and moving history toward his reign. That is not to say that the church’s witness in the next generation will be the same. The secularizing forces mentioned before are real—obvious now in New England and in the Pacific Northwest but moving toward parts of the country insulated so far from such trends. One can almost track these forces as one would a tropical depression on a hurricane radar map. The Bible Belt is teetering toward collapse, and I say let it fall. ... 

Such attempts have too often created subcultures of “us” versus “them,” that divide people up into categories of “red state” and “blue state” rather than that of church and mission field. At their best, such efforts have reminded us that all of our lives are to be framed by what is permanent and what is ultimate: the kingdom of God. ...

Our call is to an engaged alienation, a Christianity that preserves the distinctiveness of our gospel while not retreating from our callings as neighbors, and friends, and citizens. ...

Our end goal is not a Christian America, either of the made-up past or the hoped-for future. Our end goal is the kingdom of Christ, made up of every tribe, tongue, nation, and language. We are, in Christ, the heirs of this kingdom. The worst thing that can happen to us is crucifixion under the curse of God, and we’ve already been there, in Christ. The best thing that can happen to us is freedom from death and life at the right hand of God, and that’s already happened to us too, in Christ. That should free us to stand and to speak, not because we’re a majority, moral or otherwise, but because we are an embassy of the future, addressing consciences designed to long for good news.

~ Russell Moore, Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel
(B&H Publishing, 2015)


homesick for Eden's happiness

My wife and I are enjoying Randy Alcorn's updated book of "Seeing the Unseen" devotions.  It's wonderful to find books that we both like reading together.  It's a great way to start the day, reading aloud to each other.  

Here's one highlight from Day 63, "Homesick for Eden's Happiness"

When we separate God from happiness and from our longing for happiness, we undermine the Christian worldview...

Were we merely the product of natural selection and survival of the fittest, we’d have no grounds for believing any ancient happiness existed. But even those who have never been taught about the Fall and the Curse intuitively know that something has gone seriously wrong. Why else would we long for happiness and sense what a utopian society should look like if we’ve never seen one? We are nostalgic for an Eden we’ve only heard echoes of. What if God made us for happiness, and therefore our desire to be happy is inseparable from our longing for God? What if He wired His image bearers for happiness before sin entered the world, and what if that wiring can be properly directed at Him and all He wants for us?

~ Randy Alcorn, Seeing the Unseen, Expanded Edition: A 90-Day Devotional to Set Your Mind on Eternity (Multnomah, 2017)


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

what endures after movements come and go

I have found some striking thoughts from a book that D A Carson co-authored almost 25 years ago.  It’s a novel that consists of letters from an older pastor to a younger pastor.  I was struck by the timeliness (and timelessness) of the following paragraphs.  The movements he is referring to are the various American religious movements on the rise among Evangelicals at that time, like the health and wealth gospel, a return to high church, and the Vineyard movement.  The “rapidly changing society” he speaks of is America in 1993, before the Internet really takes off...

But there is another sense in which these movements are reaching
out to people and giving them a sense of spiritual reality often missing
in formally orthodox but rather dead churches. In no country in
the English-speaking world are churches fuller and the sermons emptier 
than in America. Of course, there are magnificent exceptions. But
I am not surprised by the flight from evangelical orthodoxy into
high-church ritual on the one hand (Webber's Evangelicals on the
Canterbury Trail -- at least they have aesthetics) and into the
Vineyard movement on the other. If people are not nurtured by the
spirituality of the Word, they will try to locate "spirituality" elsewhere.
A desperate hunger for spiritual experience is abroad in the
land. It is not altogether surprising that in this day of fast food,
microwave ovens, ten-minute tune-ups and drive-up banks, many
will opt for what they perceive to be the fastest, most efficient doses
of spiritual experience available. Nevertheless I judge that the
strongest impetus for such movements lies in the spiritual anemia of
so many evangelical churches.

So "preach up" and live out full-bodied Christianity without fear or 
favor. It is better than all substitutes, which are inevitably reductionistic.
Insist on the spirituality of the Word; insist that Christianity
be public as well as private, corporate as well as personal, pious as
well as doctrinal, self-denying as well as orthodox, passionate as well
as thoughtful, evangelistic as well as Biblical, spiritual as well as
creedal, joyful as well as serious, worshipful as well as enjoyable. And
in this day of over-realized eschatology, work hard at making people
homesick for Heaven, for only then will they be of much use on
earth.

If I were you, I would not worry too much about the popularity
of this or that movement. I will probably sound old when I say it,
but I have seen a lot of movements come and go. The ones currently
with us will be around for quite a while, but I suspect they will crest
rather soon. Just as the political liberalism of the '60s triumphed in
1968 and immediately crashed, losing the confidence of the
American people and giving Nixon his strongest majority, so the rising
profile of evangelicalism during the past few years is cresting, and
in its moment of triumph (a charismatic TV evangelist running for
President!) it is about to crash. There is simply not enough substance
to sustain it.

But always remember that what endures after various movements
come and go is the local church. At this stage in your life and ministry,
do not worry too much about what is happening at the national
level. Simply build the people to whom God has called you. Feed
people the Word of God, pray for them, love them, convey the reality
of God's presence to them by word and deed. What is important
at the end of the day is the church-ordinary churches trying to live
faithfully in a rapidly changing society. Ordinary churches pastored
by ordinary people like you and me, knowing that we cannot do
everything, but trying to do what we can and seeking God's face for
His presence and blessing so that His dear Son might be honored and
His people strengthened.

~ D. A. Carson and John D. Woodbridge, Letters Along the Way (Crossway, 1993), pp 225-27. 

This book is free as a PDF from here

Friday, October 27, 2017

sad indeed that day in Eden

"I will put enmity between you and the woman, 
and between your offspring and her offspring; 
he shall bruise your head, 
and you shall bruise his heel."  

(Genesis 3:15 ESV)

This passage is often called the Proto-evangelium, or the first proclamation of the Gospel.  Here the story-line of the Bible becomes clear... creation, fall, redemption, and final restoration -- the new creation.  Or, as it is put by the Welsh preacher and hymn-writer, William Williams...

In Eden -- sad indeed that day --
My countless blessings fled away,
My crown fell in disgrace.
But on victorious Calvary
That crown was won again for me --
My life shall all be praise.

Faith, see the place, and see the tree
Where heaven’s Prince, instead of me,
Was nailed to bear my shame.
Bruised was the dragon by the Son,
Though two had wounds, there conquered One --
And Jesus was His name.

~ William Williams, aka Pantycelyn  (1717-91)



Thursday, October 19, 2017

tribulation in the world

"In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world."  (Jn 16:33)  

This was true when Jesus uttered these words to his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion.  These words are just as true 2000 years later.  We may have greater knowledge and better technology, but humanity's problems persist: wars, strife, injustice, poverty, lust, anger, fear, loneliness, and despair.  

Many people feel that it was (and is) the church's job to change the world for the better, to improve things, to make this world a better place to live.  They would say Christianity has not been the answer to the world's problems, and that the church has held up the world in its progress, and therefore needs to be discarded.  But our Lord did not promise that the world would ever become a  better place or improve over time, even given exposure to the gospel.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in preaching on John 16, makes these statements...

What is your view of what is happening in the world at the present time?

Are you driven into the depths of despair by what is happening in the world today? Is this something that has come crashing into all your calculations and ideas, or is it something that fits naturally and inevitably into your view of life and of the whole course of history? What is your forecast of the future? What are you expecting of life?

Does this doctrine of the Second Coming seem remote to you or irrelevant?

In their perplexity [people] regard the gospel as something that is to be applied to life, and by its application they think life can be reformed and improved. So it follows that they often feel that this teaching of the Second Coming of Christ is so remote as to be finally irrelevant.
                
He tells them that they will have troubles and trials and tribulations. What comfort does he have to give them? Do you notice what he does? He talks about his death and the cross, and then he goes straight from his death and resurrection to the Second Coming.

The Bible teaches, quite categorically, that sin is such a radical problem that the world cannot now and never will improve itself.

~ Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled (Crossway, 2009)

Friday, September 29, 2017

what to do with announcements

Tim Scheiderer writes about the various ways local churches present their announcements on Sunday morning: "The problem with these delivery styles is that the stated motivations don’t match the glory and weight of what the congregation is being asked to participate in. The magnificent blessing of the event or service opportunity is masked by the mediocre delivery system. Churches shouldn’t take an event intended to display the truth of God and serve it on a platter of mediocrity.  We can do better."




And a long-time friend and fellow-pastor in New England recently sent the following out to his congregation:

Sometimes I feel like our Sunday mornings are becoming a stream of commercials or recruiting infomercials for favorite ministries. We are even probed more and more to “book” ministry teams from all kinds of good and profitable outreach organizations—even asking for a whole Sunday morning service to promote their ministry or share their experiences. They will even demand a certain minimum offering in order to come to our church to do this!  All of this places me in a feeling of some conflict. While I very much desire our church to be a hub for supporting all kinds of creative outreaches and missions (and we are), at the same time I feel like our Sunday morning worship should be completely devoted to directing focus to Him, our God, our Savior, our King and our Head. Worship is a unique experience for Christians. He is worth giving Him our complete focus, and that focus should be individually prepared for, entered into carefully and not too casually. Ideally preparation for Sunday morning could begin Saturday night, and then also not be rushed by other Sunday commitments. Indeed, we tread a fine line between legalism, rigidity and formalism on the one hand, but sloppy relaxation on the other. You will see me up front before the services, praying, settling my mind, singing the prelude song and re-calibrating my spirit. I sit up front to minimize distraction before we begin and to enjoy our worship team prelude song (not because I view myself as the head honcho). I try to get all my visiting and hello-giving done before that song begins. I usually wear a tie on Sunday mornings.  Isn’t that funny?  When I came to Christ in 1972 I was very much NOT that kind of guy. I don’t expect any other men to do that, but I just don’t feel completely comfortable without one. It is a tiny gesture towards the process of worship which says, “hey this is a special thing we’re doing, and it is a thing I rarely do for any other event.”  I suppose I am expressing my desire that we all privately and individually go out of our way to place the focus on the Lord on Sunday mornings.  New Christians will learn this from us.  Our kids will learn this from us.  Just a thing that is on my heart…