From the Archives: Books vs. The Bible

If there is one thing you may not know about me is my love of books.

If you saw my library you’d see I have lots of books, from many different generations, different styles, different genres, different authors, different denominations, and those don’t even cover the ones on my Logos collection. Beginning in my early days in college at an interdenominational school here in Florida we were taught to think outside the box and read from many different authors who challenge our presuppositions about ministry, theology, doctrine, and practice. I’m very grateful for those early days. It trained me to think outside of my own theological spectrum. Now, not only did my time there teach me to think outside of my boundaries, it also taught me to appreciate the value that books have in forming the Christian life.

In literature and books we have great wisdom from men and women that have gone before us. We have their application of Scripture and encouragement for times of sorrow and times of joy. We have their instruction on how to think through hard issues. We have their synthesis of Scripture to point us to a fuller understanding of the text of Scripture. However, it is important to understand those books should never take the place of Scripture in your spiritual life.

In too many cases it is easy to become overwhelmed by the knowledge of those who came after the apostles rather than the apostles, the prophets, and Jesus Himself. We must never overlook the importance of Scripture alone as the foundation for our spiritual health. You are grown most fundamentally through the Word of God. Therefore when it comes to reading apart from it, it is important that we choose books that will encourage and inform us on the truth of Scripture. Books that will encourage and push us forward in our spiritual journey. This is especially true when it comes to selecting devotionals.

Do we choose resources that encourage and inflame our love for the Scriptures? Do we choose resources that encourage and push us back to know more about what the Word of God says, or do we select devotionals that point us back to ourselves and what we think about things?

Do not be deceived by false teachers that would put their words above God’s Word. In our day and age it’s very easy to be misled by false teachers through the books that we read, especially from books sold in Christian bookstores. Just because a Christian bookstore sells it does not make it Christian or Biblical in its application of Scripture or its understanding of God’s word. But I guess the question remains what do we read?

First and foremost read the Bible.

It is the only thing that gives us hope, that truly reveals an understanding of who God is. This is not to dissuade you from reading, but rather to make sure that our foundation is set first and foremost on our understanding of God. We must read with an aim to know and see God in His Word and in the words of others.

Second, read books that will encourage you in your walk with the Christ

Now these are books that can range from daily devotionals to theological works.  Most of us since early days in our Christian faith were encouraged to do a daily devotional. Throughout Church history many great men have written their own devotionals, such as Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening, which are still used by many even today. Aside from devotionals though you’d also find great spiritual encouragement through theological works such as J. C. Ryle’s classic Holiness, or even something slightly newer like Knowing God by J. I. Packer.

On our own homepage we list the four theological works that each of us are currently reading. As you can see from the list currently both Adam and myself are reading books by Michael Horton. Adam, reading one of his newer works, Ordinary. This book encourages us to see that our lives, even though they may appear ordinary, are really the supernatural work of God. Myself, on the other hand, am reading a book that he wrote several years ago on our call to be disciple makers. Horton does this by walking us through the importance of the great commission and our job as believers to follow through with that call. You can see each of these books seek to further our knowledge of God and a reliance on Him through the Scriptures.

Third, Read a good biography

For many of you this third category seems obvious. Biographies are very common in our day and age so much so that their use to actually be a television channel dedicated to them. That should be no shock to you that we as believers should be encouraged to read good biographies especially about the lives of the saints of God who lived before us. You’d be amazed at the things that believers went through and how through the power of God they overcame their trials and temptation and found joy and contentment in Christ alone. Biographies are great blessing to the Christian as we see time and time again the work of the Lord in His saints. Now I am not saying to go out and buy the two volume George Whitefield biography collection by Arnold Dallimore, though it is a fantastic book series, but there are some great short biographies put out by Ligonier ministries, also John Piper on his website Desiring God wrote some short biographies on some great saints such as David Brainerd and Jonathan Edwards that can bring great encouragement to your Christian walk. Mostly, biographies help us to know that we are not alone in our journey, we are not the first to experience the things that we’ve experienced, just as the Lord was faithful to them so too we can trust that he will be faithful to us.

Finally, (though not least in importance) enjoy a good work of fiction.

Now this being the last category that I’ll discuss for many of us it may be our favorite category. A good fictional novel  can range from some of the great works of the past like To Kill a Mockingbird, Oliver Twist or The Lord of the Rings to some of the newer works of fiction such as the works of Stephen King, Ken Follett, George R. R. Martin or maybe J. K. Rowling. Fictional works help to expand our imaginations. They can help us to see the world in a different light, especially for ministers, fictional novels help us to think differently about the world around us. Fictional novels can open our imaginations, broaden our visual vocabulary, and allow us to get a look into the way our culture thinks and acts by the way they write about the world.

In conclusion this is an encouragement to those of us who love books, who love our libraries, who love great authors and theologians, so much so that we spend great deals of time with them, to not lose sight of the truth of God in the midst of the words of others. And to those who don’t read as often, to see, in works of theology, works of Christian growth, stories of brothers and sisters who have walked the path before, an opportunity for you to grow in your understanding of the Scriptures and to grow in your understanding of the work of God through the lives of others.

Above all else again the Bible must be central to our understanding. While we can learn from great men and women through their writings as they have experienced the work of God in them, through them, and through their knowledge of Him, they are still but mortals. Their words are but temporary while the Word of the Lord is eternal.

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The Good Shepherd and His Sheep

In John 9 by rejecting the man born blind but now healed and kicking him out of synagogue the Pharisees have shown themselves to be such horrid shepherds of Israel. As John 10 begins Jesus rebukes the Pharisees further. Here Jesus (in His last public discourse of John’s gospel) makes a clear distinction between them as false shepherds who abuse God’s people and Himself as the good shepherd who rules over and leads God’s people well.[1]

In John 10 Jesus is using a ‘figure of speech’ here, a kind of metaphor if you will. This kind of language tells a firm and grounded truth through an untruth.[2] For example, if I say ‘I’m so hungry I could eat a cow’ I’m not intending to say I could eat a cow but that I could eat a whole lot. No one would take me literally if they heard me say that. Similarly, when Jesus is speaking of Himself here as the shepherd, and speaking of all those who believe in Him as sheep, is He saying He is literally a shepherd? Or that we are literally sheep? Of course not. The language Jesus employs here, though untrue in an exact literal sense, is intended to symbolize a deeply encouraging truth. There is a profound intimacy between God and His people. They know God’s voice and when they hear it what do they do? They follow His lead. Jesus is saying He’s the true shepherd of Israel and the Pharisees are false shepherds. This is what’s in view for us here in v1-21.

Here are four takeaways from it:

Christ is our Shepherd

If you’ve repented of sin and believed in Him, Christ is your Shepherd. You belong to Him, He’s called you by name, He’s sought you out, He’s died for you, brought you into the pen, and He now leads you. The elders at your churches aren’t your shepherds. You don’t belong to them. Undershepherds they may be, but that’s all they’ll ever be. The shepherds of Israel failed, the Pharisees failed, your elders will fail you, therefore keep your eyes fixed on the Good Shepherd, He will never fail you.[3] By laying down His life for us He forever secured us in His pen, rest in Him

We’re Sheep

It seems from all accounts, that sheep aren’t the wisest members of the animal kingdom. They’re foolish, easily frightened, ever wandering, yet at other times stubbornly immovable. Some have even seen them walking directly into open fire.[4] Do not wonder that here and many other places in Scripture God likens us to be sheep. We too are often foolish, easily frightened, and wander off where we shouldn’t. But Christ, as our good shepherd, chases us down, and brings us back. I know some of you are in the midst of hard seasons of life. I want you to be encouraged here. We, like sheep, don’t often understand why things play out the way they do, or what the Shepherd is doing using both His rod and staff in leading us…but we do know our Shepherd. Trust Him, rest in His care, and take heart…“God is not calling you to make great promises to Him, He’s calling you to trust the great promises He has made to you.”[5]

Wolves are Real

In this life of following Christ, not everyone will be like Christ and not every gospel preached is Christ’s. Wolves will try to sneak in, climb over the wall, and use and abuse you for selfish purposes. Many have used this very passage to try and do just that, teaching v10 in such a way as to make us believe God wants us to be rich and materially prosperous, and that all trials that come our way are the result of our lack of faith. Take caution, be aware, and keep your eyes fixed on Christ. Even if everyone around you goes off in a different direction, you keep on Christ’s heels. How?

This leads to my last thought…

Remember, His Voice is His Word

True sheep know the voice of the shepherd. Our Shepherd not only laid down His life for us in the crucifixion, He not only took that life back up in the resurrection, our Shepherd ascended and sent His Spirit out to give us His voice. Do you know His voice? Or is His voice a stranger to you? Do you follow His voice? Or do you follow your own way? Do you sit underneath His voice and study His voice enough to be able to recognize the voice of a stranger?

 

 

Citations:

[1] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John – NICNT, page 498.

[2] Sam Storms, Kingdom Come, page 33.

[3] Sproul, page 190-192.

[4] Kent Hughes, John: That You May Believe – Preaching the Word Commentary, page 267.

[5] Kevin Dibbley, quoted in a Tim Challies meme this past week.

All I Have is Christ

All I have is Christ is one of my favorite worship songs of the last few decades, and this morning I wanted to encourage you with a visual reflection of the theological significance of this song by the Youtuber: Full of Eyes.

I pray that this quick reflection will encourage you, convict you, and spur you on in your walk with Christ this week.

More info, resources and videos can be found at Fullofeyes.com

Trinitarian Sanctification: The Spirit

The final member of the Godhead and often missing in most theological discussions (except for sanctification) is the Holy Spirit. Sanctification has been historically is the one area where the Holy Spirit is given room to be discussed. So much of what is said may not be new, but it should still be encouraging.

The Holy Spirit Secures Us

First It is the Holy Spirit who seals the saints as God’s own until the final days. The Holy Spirit is at work in every believer’s life guaranteeing their salvation and continual sanctification.[1] Ephesians 1:12–14 is key to understanding this role of the Spirit: “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.” Paul reinforces the fact that it is the Spirit that will protect and secure all believers throughout their lives. Dietrich Bonheoffer did extensive work drawing out the work of the Spirit as the “sealer” of faith. He focuses first on the fact that this seal is proof of the salvation believers have received in Christ, and explains three distinct ways this sealing maintains a Christian’s faith. First, It will keep them separated from the world, Second, it will maintain their walk in a way worthy of their calling, and finally it will secure their faith in the life of Christ himself.[2]

Holy Spirit Grows Us       

Besides the sealing work of the Spirit in sanctification, The Holy Spirit also serves as the direct agent bringing about holiness in the lives of the saints. He gives man the ability to pursue holiness along with the desire to run hard after Him. Kenneth Boa points out that the role of the Holy Spirit is “bearing witness to Jesus Christ, applying Christ’s redemptive work in human hearts, and working personally and progressively to form Christ likeness in the lives of believers.”[3] .  It is left to the Spirit to complete the work orchestrated by the Father and begun by the Son. Scriptural evidence for this role of the Spirit can be seen in 1 Corinthians 6:11: “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” This passage clearly articulate that the Spirit is the one at work in active sanctification,

He Convicts Us

The working of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers takes many different forms to produce holy lives in believers before the throne. The Holy Spirit’s work in sanctifying believers also takes on the role of convicting believers of their sins. John 16:8–11 reveals that “when he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.”[4] The role of convicting believers of their sins, either active or passive, is an important one. Here the Spirit is able to correct actions before they become habits that are destructive to a believer’s life.[5] Believers, however, do have the ability to ignore this call of the Spirit. Ephesians warns believers not to quench the Spirit. Here it is important to see that sin does cause the Spirit to be grieved and believers should not shrug it off. To grieve the Spirit is a serious offense taken seriously.

He Teaches Us

Here it is seen that “Jesus promised his disciples that the Spirit of truth would ‘guide you into all truth’ and ‘disclose to you what is to come’ (John 16:13). The divine anointing teaches us (1 John 2:27), and the Spirit glorifies the Son making Jesus’ words Known to us (John 16:14).”[6] The Spirit is working in the hearts of believers to teach them the truth of the Lord, and is connected with his role as convicting believers of their sin. The illumination of the scriptures themselves reflects this truth. As a believers read scripture it is the Spirit that illuminates the truth of who God is and how man is to respond to him and his calling on their lives.[7]

He is the Active Agent of Prayer

The final role of the Spirit is the role of prayer. Romans 8 26-27 focuses on the Spirit’s involvement in the prayer life of believers.[8] “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.  And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” Paul teaches that the Spirit is active in bringing the needs of believers to the throne of the Father.

The Holy Spirit plays an important role as the active agent in the lives of believers that brings about a holy life before God. He serves as the one who teaches believers the meaning of righteousness convicting them when they go astray. In teaching and convicting He grows them to a deeper understanding of the truth. All of these are connected directly to His work of sealing believers to the Day of Judgment. In the end, all three members have a specific function in bringing about holiness in the lives of believers.

 

[1] Dietrich Bonheoffer. The Cost of Discipleship (New York, Touchstone, 1959), 278

[2] Ibid. 279

[3] Kenneth Boa, Conformed to His Image: Biblical and Practical Approaches to Spiritual Formation (Grand Rapids, Zondervan 2001), 292.

[4] Mark Boda, A Severe Mercy: Sin and Its Remedy in the Old Testament (Winona Lake, Eisenbrauns, 2009), 293

[5] Millard Erickson, Christian Theology 2nd Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 1998), 874.

[6 Boda, 293

[7] Erickson, 875

[8] Boa, 294

Knowledge of the Holy One: The Ever-Present God

I remember vaguely, what felt like, the long rides laying in the back of my parent’s station wagon in the early hours of the morning picking up my dad from his job at the factory (this was, of course, before car seats and the bubble-wrapping of our kids for their safety). It would be late at night or early in the morning while the moon was still bright in the sky; the bumps on the road, the bed mat in the back, and the chill of the early hours. I remember it so well because I recall being afraid that the moon was following us. Every street we turned down, every intersection we crossed, every time a building would shield us from its ever-seeing eye it would emerge on the other side, never ceasing to watch over us. For a little, sleepy boy this was pretty scary.

Today, I can look back on that and laugh but it does remind me of the ever-present God who created all things and is never absent, even in the unseen world. And honestly, God’s omnipresence can be a terror for those who seek to hide themselves or their works, just as I was scared as a little boy, or a comfort to those who know Him and are known by Him. That God is omnipresent in the material realm, the spiritual realm, and even in eternity is clear from the Scriptures and I pray a comfort to you.

The Ever-present God in the Material Realm

Psalm 139:7-18 declares that from the north to the south, from the east to the west, in darkness or light, God is there; even while in our mother’s womb and before we were conceived. What a comfort! What a joy! That God is always with me,  is already where I am going, and will be there when I’m gone is my fuel, strength, and confidence in evangelism, discipleship, ministry, and missions. That we are joining God in what He’s already doing, that we are partnering with Him instead of He with us, is the confidence King David shared when he said, “…even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for you are with me…” (Psalm 23:4). Where can you go that He is already not? What has He asked you to do that He has not joined you in, led you to, and is walking with you through? Praise God!

The Ever-present God in the Spiritual Realm

Amos 9:2-3 can be seen as a “sister-text” to the Psalm 139 passage mentioned above. Here, God doesn’t reveal His presence as a comfort for His children but as a terror for those who oppose Him. “If they dig into Sheol, from there shall my hand take them; if they climb up to heaven, from there I will bring them down. If they hide…I will search them out and take them…” What a terrifying reality.

This is not so much of a statement on God’s spatial presence as it is His relational presence. Some have argued that God is so holy that He cannot be in the presence of sin but that is a distortion of His Omnipresence. God is everywhere, in His fullness, at all times but withholds good from those who hate and oppose Him.

Like a two year-old believing he is hidden as he covers his eyes, so are those who believe that God is not present in their iniquity. We laugh when we see a toddler hide behind a small lamp stand and fill his diaper because he honestly believes that no one knows what he’s doing. But God’s ever-presence spiritually is no laughing matter. As His presence is a comfort to those who love Him, His presence should be a terror to those who oppose Him; for nothing is outside of His present reality.

The Ever-present God in Eternity

Revelation 21:22-27 give believers a glimpse of the physical presence of God in eternity as God Almighty and the Lamb are the center of life and the focal point of eternity. To think of God’s intimate, personal, and very real presence in Heaven is no stretch at all. It’s the hope of our endurance!

But what of Hell, is God present in Hell? Revelation 14:9-12 paints a terrifying and tragic picture of the eternal state of those who refuse to believe in the resurrected Christ and repent. In this passage we read, “…[they] will drink of the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and [they] will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.”

In the presence of the Lamb? Jesus will be in Hell? John MacArthur writes, “Unrepentant sinners will be banished from God’s presence relationally; they will be forever barred from the loving fellowship with Him that believers will enjoy. They will not, however, be away from His presence in the sense of His sovereignty and omnipresence—even in Hell.” Yes, even in Hell. All of His Goodness withheld, all His Wrath poured out in full strength, un-watered down, un-filtered, un-relenting, all-consuming, superintended by the Savior once spurned.

God’s omnipresence can be a comfort or a terror. To those whom He has poured His ever-present grace upon, His presence is the salve of our weary sin-soaked souls. To those who spurn His call to faith and repentance, a terrifying reality that I pray God would remedy in them, by His grace and for His glory.

Trinitarian Sanctification: The SON

The second aspect of our Trinitarian understanding of Sanctification centers around the role of the Son in a believers life, for he is the example all believers are to follow. The Son has an important role in bringing believers to the Father. He also is their model for proper worship and life, teaching believers how to in holiness. According to Wayne Grudem it is evident that believer’s must understand Christ specifically as their grounding for sanctification.[1] So today we will briefly explore Christ’s role in the lives of believers; pushing them to new heights of understanding and obedience.

He Suffers

For us to truly understand Christ’ role we need to first know that he is the incarnate Word of God. His life is the example of God on earth; this is the most foundational aspects of Christ for believers to grasp. While the topic may be debated because Jesus was never sinful, he did suffer and remain faithful and true to the work of the Father, growing in obedience and truth as he lived and ministered here on earth.[2] In Luke’s gospel believers are told that He continued to grow in wisdom, and even for a moment acceptance with going to cross and accepting the will of the Father. However, Luke through these accounts shows us a picture of Christ as an example for proper living. Here it is evident that Christ as the Son is obedient to the Father’s will and seeks diligently to follow his commands, setting the pattern for all believers as adopted sons of God. 1 Peter 2:21 reveals that, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” Even in suffering He is faithful and obedient to the Father. This models the response Christians must have towards God. As discussed in my previous post it is the Father who uses suffering to bring sanctification, and it is the Son who reveals how believers can suffer well in obedience to the Father.

Therefore, the example of Christ for believers is in his obedience to the Father’s will and His law. Christ’s life is a revelation of  proper worship; in that He sought hard after his Fathers will, not settling for the pleasures of the earthly realm. While believers are not God they are given the same ability to seek after the Father and his will, it is important to see that Christ modeled a holy life for all Christians.[3]

He Serves

Not only in Suffering is Christ an example but also in service, John’s Gospel explores the importance of Christ as an example for believers to emulate In the upper room John explores the washing of the disciples feet and the importance that they follow after Him in servanthood (13:13–14). Christ sets the stage for the disciple’s life after he ascends. They are called to resemble him and his ministry on earth to all people. As servants to the world they are to bestow grace and love in such a way that people see Christ through them. There is no one who is too lowly to be treated with grace and dignity. This is example displayed in the upper room. This model is one that is to be followed by all believers as a perpetual demand.[4]

He Teaches

Another aspect of Christ work of sanctification is as teacher; this evidenced throughout the Gospels teaching but for our sake we see it clearly in the Sermon on the Mount. Christ teaches believers what it means to live a sanctified holy life that is pleasing to God. Granted, there have been questions raised as to whether this is a description of life in the present Kingdom or future. I though feel the heart of this text points to a realized kingdom, and that these are to be the natural characteristics of those who are in Christ.  In this sermon, believers are told that life in the kingdom is one of subjugation to the work of the Father and a form of holiness that surpasses that known in their own time. Here it is evident that much like His Father in the giving of the law, Christ is expounding on it and, to a degree, adding heart felt submission. The life of Christ is one of a disciple maker, teaching believers to follower of God. [5] this is evident in His application of the Law in John14:15, 21 where he reveals that, ”If you love Me, you will keep My commandments… He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.” Christ again shows the importance of keeping the Law that the Father has given as a means of sanctification as it reveals a true love for him.

His Death

The final role of Christ in the believer’s sanctification is seen in the believer’s union in His death and the motivation the gives to believers that they are no longer controlled by the sins of the Flesh but have been freed to live a holy life. Here believers are connected to Christ’s burial and resurrection. All three facets of the final acts of Christ carry into how believers are to live. Christ’s death on the Cross granted salvation to all who believed, freeing them from the power and potency of sin. It is this death to sin that grants Christians the ability to live a holy life before God now freed from the bondage of sin. This does not guarantee that Christians will not sin or fail, but that they now have the old life removed.[6] The believers union with the Son is scripturally realized in Romans 6:6: “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin” In the greater context of Romans 6 it is evident that not only does the death of Christ bring victory over sin, but his resurrection secures the ability for man live holy lives. His death killed sin and his resurrection guaranteed life to all believers to become holy children of God not only in the future but in the present.[7]

In the end Christ’s role in sanctification is as multi-faceted as the Father’s. He serves as an example of right living in communion with God’s will and as the model of servanthood. He also functions as the teacher demonstrating a sanctified life. The final function connects these two realizations together in his death and resurrection empowering believers for godly lives.

Citations:

[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Zondervan. 1994), 753.

[2]Paul Ellington, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids. Eerdmans, 1993), 291.

[3] Colin G Kruse, John, TNTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 345.

[4] Scott Wilson, Trinity and Sanctification: A proposal for understanding the doctrine of sanctification according to a triune ordering, SEBTS Ph.D. dissertation, 142.

[5] Ibid., 120-122

[6] Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1988), 251.

[7] Ibid., 129-130

Trinitarian Sanctification: The Father

The focus of Christianity is the continual and eternal worship of the Triune God. Unfortunately, the importance of the Triune nature of God is often overlooked when dealing with theology such as sanctification. Over the next few posts will explore the importance of focusing on each member of the Godhead in relation to sanctification. Each member has an important role to play in the lives of believers as he moves them to a greater state of holiness and communion with himself. This Week we begin by looking at the Fahter’s Role in our sanctification.

The Architect

The Father has multiple roles in maturing a believer, one of the key roles he plays in our sanctification is as the architect.  A house cannot be made if there is not an architect working every angle and dimension; this is a job that begins before construction and continues to its completion much like how the Father lays out the plan and works it to completion. Bruce Ware pens this best in his work on the Trinity:

“The Father is the Grand Architect, the Wise Designer of all that has occurred in

the created order. From initial creation through ultimate consummation and

everything that happens in between, it is God the Father who is the Architect, the

Designer, the one who stands behind all that occurs as the one who plans and

implements what he has chosen to do.” [1]

This understanding of God’s role is key to the rest of the work of the Godhead. The Father is the one who designed the plan for creation before the foundations of the world. In both Romans and Peter it is seen that the Apostles are connecting the work of sanctification to the Father’s work of electing his people and setting the path that they will walk, focusing on the Son and being moved by the Spirit. Ephesians 1 notes that God is at work among his people, for “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ,”[2]

The Law Giver

Another important function of the work of the Father is as the Law Giver. He gives the law to Moses in the Exodus narrative which sets the foundation for how believers are meant to live. There has been much debate as to whether or not this law is still applicable to Christians living today and to what extent. For this discussion, the use of the Law is seen as the means of obeying the calling of God to “be Holy as I am Holy”[3] This giving of the Law and commands for their fulfillment is an important part of the Father’s work in sanctification and as architect of the work. The Law lays out the way a believer is to live and worship before God.

John Frame in his work on the Christian life does an extensive study on the use of the Law to mold believers into faithful followers. Each law has many facets revealing an important character of God and his demand for holiness. The Father, in establishing the Law, displays the measure by which faithfulness will be judged in sanctification, not salvation. Frame shows his readers that God gave the Law so that believers may know how to live on earth (not to find salvation)[4]. Sanctification here is the working out of a believer’s salvation not an effort to achieve it. This is an important distinction in any discussion about the use of the Law in Christian life. The Law allows believers to measure their lives against the Holiness of God. The Father’s giving of the law was an act of grace allowing his children to know the way they are to live before him. The giving of the law would allow His people to stand out among all people revealing Himself to the nations through His people. [5]

With the giving of the Law, as a measure by which believers are to follow, comes the discipline for not seeking after it. This is an important role of the Father in molding his children, similar to the way earthly fathers teach their children by correcting their failings. Therefore discipline for failing is not done out of vengeance, but rather gentle correction teaching them how they are to live.[6] Biblically this is tied to Deuteronomy 6 and the second giving of the Law. After giving the law Moses states that” As a man chastens his son, so the Lord your God chastens you.” It is the Father’s role in sanctification to discipline those he loves guiding through correction with divine love. The purpose is that by disciplining his children they may see their errors and return to the holiness for which they were called. Discipline helps us to grow in Christlikeness.  Therefore, every instance of life’s failings and suffering can and will be used by the Father to bring his children into a greater sense of Holiness, conforming them to his will and truths.[7]

Another means of sanctification is through suffering. This is different from discipline that is a result of moral failings. Suffering can be seen as natural occurrences such as, sickness, natural disasters, or loss. In Scripture this type of sanctification is seen in the life of Job most clearly. Job has not sinned, but rather is being tested leading to a greater understanding of the nature of God.[8]  In John Piper’s work on suffering he reveals that God uses suffering to deepen the faith of believers by eliminating self-reliance. He points to Paul’s struggle in 2 Corinthians with a thorn in the flesh. While Paul does plead for it to be removed from him, he also knows that it is being used by the Father to produce a greater faith.[9] It is evident that the Father will use suffering and pain apart from discipline as a means to create deeper faith and reliance on himself for all of life’s challenges.

The Sender

The final two key features of the Father’s work are as the sender of His Son and the Spirit to the world. He sends the Son and the Spirit as agents to complete the work that He set in motion. Each of these members will be discussed, but it is the Fathers sending that must be evaluated first. Both the Son and Spirit are sent to the world revealing the imminent nature of the Godhead in sanctification. This sending of the two is connected directly to God as architect. It is clear from scripture that God’s purpose from eternity was to bring the Son to Earth, for providing salvation, and then the Spirit to secure it for eternity. [10] This connection is seen throughout the gospel of John and exemplified in 12:49 where Jesus states “The Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak.” It is the Father at work in Christ’s ministry on earth. The Father sent the Son for a specific time and function to bring about salvation and with salvation the need to become holy laid out in the process of sanctification. This means the very work of Christ in bringing about salvation and the sanctification of believer is directly connected to the sending of the Father.[11]

Similar to the sending of the Son the sending of the Spirit is equally important to the work of the Father’s plan for His people. The Spirit is sent by the Father to make the work of sanctification real in the lives of believers. The rejection of the Spirits work in Thessalonians is directly connected to the work of Father in sending Him to the people. Paul solidifies this notion in Titus 3:5—7 when he states that “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior,  so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” This reveals that it is the mission of the Father for the Spirit to work and bring about righteousness in his people[12]

In summation, the role of the Father in sanctification is as the architect of the whole doctrine. He is the one who elects believers for salvation and by proxy sanctification. The Father devised the system for sanctification by giving the Law to Moses and Israel in Exodus, then by sending his Son and His Spirit afterwards. The Father is also responsible for using the sufferings of this age, such as diseases and natural disaster to grow believers in faith. Finally, He disciplines His saints; pushing those who fall away to return to the family of God and to himself.

[1] Bruce Ware, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Relationship, Roles, and Relevance (Wheaton: Crossway, 2005) 51.

[2] Scott Wilson, Trinity and Sanctification: A proposal for understanding the doctrine of sanctification according to a triune ordering. (Ph.D. diss., Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2007), 76.

[3]Dietrich Bonheoffer. The Cost of Discipleship (New York, Touchstone, 1959), 278.

[4] John M. Frame. The Doctrine of the Christian Life (New Jersey, P&R Publishing 2008), 912.

[5] Stanley Gundry, Five Views on Sanctification (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1987), 88.

[6], Allan Coppedge, Portraits of God (Downers Grove Intervarsity, 2007), 281.

[7] Gundry, 68

[8] Mark Boda, A Severe Mercy: Sin and Its Remedy in the Old Testament (Winona Lake, Eisenbrauns, 2009), 393.

[9] John Piper and Justin Taylor. Suffering and the Sovereignty of God (Wheaton, Crossway. 2006), 92.

[10] Andreas Kostenberger, The Mission of Jesus & The disciples according to the Fourth Gospel (Grand Rapids. Eerdmans, 1998), 96.

[11] Wilson, 82

[12] David Peterson, Possessed by God: A New Testament Theology of Sanctification and Holiness (Downers Grove, Intervarsity. 1995), 127

The “Share the Gospel by Your Life” Lie

Enough is enough, really.

Have you heard it? Perhaps you’ve said it. Maybe you’ve even taught it or preached it…“You don’t have to share the Gospel with words. The most powerful Gospel is shown by your actions.” Putting it very simply and plainly, that’s nonsense. And it’s worse than nonsense when it comes from pastors, teachers, and preachers; the ones called & supernaturally equipped by God to take His Word about salvation from His wrath through Christ’s substitutionary atonement and share that Word with a world of people condemned unless they believe the Gospel and repent (Mark 1:15).

The Gospel must be presented with words. The Gospel is only fully presented with words. The Gospel comes from the Word and the Word is powerful & effective (Isaiah 55:11; Romans 1:16; Hebrews 4:12-13).

Paul writes to the Romans that belief comes from hearing and hearing comes through preaching and preachers are sent to do just that, proclaim the Good News of God’s salvation (Romans 10:14-15). And just in case the Romans, and we for that matter, didn’t get it the first time he summarizes those verses and repeats himself in verse 17 when he says, “Faith comes through hearing and hearing through the word of Christ.” Note that Paul does not say “preach the Gospel and use words when necessary.” Can you imagine if Paul would’ve evangelized the Gentiles with that lie? He’d have been a happy-go-lucky, kind-hearted, forgiving, polite, tent maker who never saw a single person saved from their sin and given eternal life.

Yes, we need to live the Gospel. The Gospel of Jesus Christ never, and I repeat, never leaves a life unchanged. Yes, you can observe, through actions, a difference between someone who is a Christ follower and someone who is not.

But being kind does not share that Jesus Christ died to pay your sin debt and that he rose from the dead for your justification (Romans 4:25).

But being polite does not share that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life and that no person will ever be in God’s presence unless they come through Christ (John 14:6).

But being joyful does not share that Christ bore in his body your sins and that by his wounds you can be healed (1 Peter 2:24).

But being nice to people does not share that their good works and their best obedience is not the measurement of God’s satisfaction of them and that their best effort will never earn them eternal life (Galatians 2:15-16).

You may be asking, “Where is this blog post coming from? Why the aggression about this topic?” Honestly, I expect this from the world. I expect the world to say things like “don’t worry about telling people about Jesus,” but I don’t hear it from the world, I hear it and read it regularly from the Christian community. Church, and church leaders, we need to stop believing and stop propagating this lie! We need to repent & tell everyone about the forgiveness of sins through Christ alone.

Christian:

“…do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord…” (2 Timothy 1:8)

“…what you have heard from me…entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also…” (2 Timothy 2:2).

“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus…preach the word; be ready in season and out of season…” (2 Timothy 4:1-2).

“…the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it” (2 Timothy 4:17).

May you find yourself in the company of Jesus Christ who “must preach the good news of the kingdom of God…for [he] was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43).

May you find yourself in the company of the Apostle Paul who was “eager to preach the gospel” to a people he had never met before (Romans 1:15).

And may you find yourself as an answer to Christ’s prayer as he prayed for laborers to harvest God’s people (Matthew 9:38).

Don’t get sucked into the lie that the Gospel is best presented by your way of life. The Gospel is best presented with the Word of God, coming from a life that has been changed by God, bearing witness to the power, love, grace and mercy of God found only in the cross of Christ.

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive…”—The Gospel of Jesus Christ, from 1 Corinthians 15:3-6

Tremble at the Word

When is the last time you trembled?

Maybe it was when a semi truck came uncomfortably close to your vehicle on the interstate or when you showed up to class only to discover the term paper was due and you forgot to finish it last night. The last time I trembled was one sunny day (or so I thought) when I was getting the kids ready to go play outside and was startled by a booming thunderclap. The flicker from the corner of my eye was met a second later with such a loud cannon blast that it left the house shaking for a few seconds. Needless to say, we stayed indoors till the storm passed. What makes us tremble in these moments? It is the sudden realization that we are not that powerful after all. In these moments we are brought down to size and reminded that we are dust and to dust we shall return.

In Isaiah 66:2, God speaks through the prophet Isaiah and declares, “But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” Then a few verses later we read, “Hear the word of the LORD, you who tremble at his word.”

The trembling that brings a blessing with it is this soul trembling God calls for in response to His Word. But what does it mean to tremble? We know it cannot mean trembling for fear of punishment, for Jesus bore all God’s wrath for the believer on the cross. What it must mean then is a humble and prayerful listening to the Word from the heart; the opposite of an independent and boastful attitude which thinks we know best apart from the Word.

Then the question arises: “What if I’ve lost this sense of trembling over God’s Word? What if the Word that once seemed so alive is now dry and lifeless to me? How can I recover this trembling at the Word?”

To rekindle this sense of the fear of God as we read His Word we must…

Read Scripture as though God were speaking to us (because He is)

2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that, “All Scripture is God-breathed,” so we must read our Bibles as though God were speaking from heaven to us. In his recent book, Reading the Bible Supernaturally, John Piper compares our Bible reading to a conversation over the lunch table with a friend. He says if he finds his mind wandering while reading the Bible, it’s just as rude as letting your mind wander when someone is talking to you over the lunch table. Since you would apologize for not listening to a real person, we should also confess to God when we aren’t listening to Him speak in His Word. We all would love to hear the audible voice of God guiding us in the course of this life like Moses did on Mount Sinai or like Peter did on the Mount of Transfiguration. Ironically, we have the voice of God before us in black and white and often don’t tremble over it. Peter himself tells us, “We ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention…” (2 Pet. 1:18-19a). As I’ve heard it said, if we want to hear God speak out loud, all we have to do is read the Bible out loud.  

Pray as though God were listening to us (because He is)

If we wish to tremble at the Word, we can’t just read it though. We’ve got to respond to it in prayer. One practice I’ve always found helpful, which I got from Piper, is to pray before you read that God would show you His glory, pray as you read that God would help you understand, and pray after you read that God would help you respond appropriately. But if we’re not careful we can even feel numb in our prayers to God. We must remember Who it is we’re praying to and what it cost us to even approach Him. At the Together for the Gospel pastor’s conference a few years back, I’ll never forget how David Platt brought this home in his prayer. Before praying, he noticed that the 10,000 pastors in the room were being irreverent in the way they were casually walking around and texting and talking when we were about to pray to our most awesome and holy God. After he rebuked us for our lackadaisical attitude to prayer in such a conference setting, a sudden hush fell over the massive gathering and it felt as though we were all united in prayer with this man. This is how we must bring ourselves to pray every time we do so; with the realization that we’re approaching the Holy of Holies.

Live as though God were watching us (because He is)

If we are faithful to read Scripture with trembling and pray with trembling, but we aren’t faithful to live with trembling, we’re missing the point. At the beginning of our text, we saw how God said, “This is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit.” It should humble us that God is the watcher of all mankind and yet it should even more greatly humble us that He will look with special affection on those who fear Him. Francis Chan has rightly noted, “The fact that a holy, eternal, all-knowing, all-powerful, merciful, fair, and just God loves you is nothing short of astonishing.” Since this holy God looks our way in Christ, we should live daily in the fear of Him. In his book The Joy of Fearing God, the late Jerry Bridges defines the fear of God as reverential awe. Our daily decisions and encounters with temptation should be marked by reverence for who God is and awe before Him. If we wouldn’t say, do, or think something if we knew people around us were fully aware of it, we shouldn’t with such a God fully aware of it. This is why Paul tells the church at Philippi to, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). This is also why the author of Hebrews tells us, “Let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:28b-29).

My great uncle Clark Harrison was paralyzed by a sniper bullet in World War II. After a period of licking his wounds so to speak, he decided he would not give up on life. He went on to be one of the founders of the Shepherd Spinal Center in Atlanta and even got his pilot’s license. One day while sitting on the wing of his plane as it sat on the tarmac, he noticed the smell of burning flesh and looked down to discover his numb, paralyzed legs had received second and third degree burns from the wing by sitting there and he didn’t even know it.

Like my great Uncle Clark, we must remember that when our hearts grow numb to God, this does not minimize in any degree His blazing holiness. If you find your heart hard and numb and cold, confess it to God and repent. Use all manner of His ordained means to once again tremble at His Word. Pray, read, and live in a way that acknowledges you are nothing without Him and He is worthy of your zealous worship. Then this holy God will once again lead you to tremble at His Word.

Have We Forgotten God?

For you have forgotten the God of your salvation and have not remembered the Rock of your refuge; therefore, though you plant pleasant plants and sow the vine-branch of a stranger, though you make them grow on the day that you plant them, and make them blossom in the morning that you sow, yet the harvest will flee away in a day of grief and incurable pain. (Isaiah 17:10-11)

In 1863, Abraham Lincoln said:

“We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.”

We can be the same way, can’t we? We too can get so preoccupied with the things of this world, even good things, that we forget God. We can become so self-reliant and self-confident that we forget our need for God in all areas of life. And that should not be.

In the above verses, from the book of Isaiah, we can see that God is bringing judgment to Israel because they had forgotten the God of their salvation. He was not on the forefront of their minds, in fact, it sounds like He was not on their minds at all. They had set Him aside and moved on to other things.

This is a dangerous way to live.

There are consequences to disregarding God.

He should never be on the back-burner. God in His mercy has rescued us from our helpless state by sending His Son, Jesus, to die in our place. He has shown us tremendous mercy and grace when we were in no place to deserve it. He is the God who has showered us with His common grace and blessed us beyond our comprehension in His Son. He is the God of our salvation. How can we now forget Him? May that not be true in our lives.

May God be at the forefront of our minds in all we do.

The Meaning of an Ending

This past Sunday I announced that I was stepping down as a possible candidate to become the Senior Pastor of Riverside Baptist, the church that I have been serving as the Interim for the past two years and on staff for the last five. It was a hard Sunday morning that capped off a hard month since being informed that someone else was also being brought into candidate, and as such I withdrew my name. But in the course of this time the Lord gave me a profound blessing and that was the continuance of His word as I prepared each week’s sermon that I had planned months in advance. For today’s post I wanted to share the over-arching theme of the sermon I preached to close out the year and reflect on how important faithfully preaching the word of God is, and on a side note how God can use the natural means of grace such as sermon planning to enrich the soul.

To close out 2017 I preached on the final day of Moses in Deuteronomy 33 & 34. In this text we see Moses giving his final farewell, calling the people to find meaning in the blessings of God as they concluded the journey. One of the things that all too often happens as we come to the end of an event, or in this case a ministry, we tend to only look at the bad and miss out on all the blessings of God that brought us to where we are today. When I look back over five years of ministry I can see the blessings of those who I baptized, the couples who I was blessed to perform their marriages, the babies we saw born, and the miracles of lives transformed through the preaching of God’s word and the faithfulness of His people. I reflect on those who have joined the church or have come back to church over that span, and seeing a renewed vitality in their Christian walk. With Moses’ Final moments he reminds us that God is good and faithful through the hardships of life, and even in the midst of an ending.

For many of you maybe 2017 brought an end to something in your life, maybe you said goodbye to a family member or lost a job. Maybe your finances took a dramatic turn that you didn’t’ expect or one of your children started school and moved away. Whatever the case is, we experience endings far more frequently than we think, and most of the time we let them slip by, but maybe this time take a second and see the blessings God gave to you which led to that moment, that lead to that goodbye. The journey reveals a God who is growing us into the image of his son, and sometimes that comes through the sun shining and sometimes through the cold bitter nights. So when you come to the end of a moment, look back and rather than look at the hardships and the brokenness, see the bright spots along the way, and joyfully sing God’s praise for he has brought you through those Cold dark nights so that you can see the bright spots (even if they be few).

The second aspect that we see, when finding meaning in our ending, is that God has a plan. After blessing the people in chapter 34 Moses ascends Mount Nebo as instructed by the Lord. When he arrives at the top God shows him all the land that will be his people’s and in that moment pours out a blessing of assurance on Moses that his work was hardly in vain. He revealed to Moses once again, one last time, that he was a faithful God and that His word was true and he would see the mission through. In this moment he helps Moses to see the beauty and splendor of His plan, and allows him to bask in the glow of it, knowing once again that the plan of God is not about him, but about God alone.

So for each of us this text reminds us that when we come to the end of a ministry, or our time serving a church, we can look back and know that God is faithful, that it is God who rules His church, it is God who directs the path of the saints, and it is in the plan of God that we trust. We get the great privilege and blessing to be a part of it as long as we are. If you would have told the 14 year old me back in 1999 when I first felt the desire to go into ministry that one day God would place me back in my home church as the interim pastor I would have thought you mad. If you would have told me when I left for seminary in 2008 that I would come back to my sending church after all the ups and downs of college and ministry I would have probably laughed, but that is exactly what God did, and I am all the more blessed for it. As it comes to and end over the next few months I want to thank God that I got to be a part of His plan in proclaiming the gospel to the People of New Port Richey, and that in some small way I got to be a part of Riverside’s 141 year legacy, and in the end, like Moses, pass the baton to the next man to carry the banner of the gospel.

The conclusion of the text involves the passing of the baton to Joshua who will run the race and keep the faith, being used by God to lead the people into the land. In my case I can sympathize with Moses, they’re had to be a part of him that wanted to keep going, that wanted to see it through, but at the same time he knew God had other plans, and he trusted God. At the end of any situation we ask ourselves, do we trust God with the next step? Do we trust God with what He is doing? We serve a faithful God and through it all He is in control, no matter what comes through the ups and downs of the remainder of the Old testament, long after Moses had died, God was still God and he was still at work, and in the fullness of time Moses entered the promise land, though now he came to comfort Christ the Son of God as he prepared for his final ministry to the people. Moses may not have experienced the promise land in this life, but he experienced the power and promises of God in his soul and into eternity, and in the end that is the experience that truly gives meaning to our endings.

 

Share The Importance of What We Do in Secret by Derek Thomas

While reading today in preparation for this upcoming Sunday morning, I came across this article by Derek Thomas that spoke deeply to the reality of our true selves being revealed in the absence of others. I hope you are equally as convicted and encouraged by His words this weekend.

Share The Importance of What We Do in Secret by Derek Thomas

According to Jesus, it is what we do in secret that matters most. Jesus is not suggesting that the outward is unimportant—far from it. “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” (James 2:14).

The answer is emphatically no. Still, it is also possible to have outward works but no inner reality. In this instance, religion is a pretense. Six times in the Sermon on the Mount, alluding to three distinct exercises, Jesus employs the term secret:

  • Give “in secret…and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt. 6:4).
  • Pray “in secret…and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (v. 6).
  • Fast “in secret…and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (v. 18).

The Sermon on the Mount is addressing the issue of authenticity. Just how genuine is our relationship with the Lord Jesus? It is altogether possible to practice an outward display of piety—to “talk the talk”—without demonstrating any inner reality of godliness. This is true of every professing Christian, and it is especially true of those engaged in Christian ministry. Authentic Christianity requires an outward and discernible “work of faith” (1 Thess. 1:3; 2 Thess. 1:11). But it also requires genuine godly affections and an inner discipline of the heart.

There is a manner of ministry that is more about self-service than self-sacrifice, self-indulgence than self-discipline, and self-promotion than self-denial. There is also giving that is designed for recognition—plaques on walls intended to be read by generations to come, or press releases informing the world of “generous donations”; prayers in pristine Cranmerlike language of the sixteenth century suggesting depths of personal piety; fasting that is shown via open-necked T-shirts revealing a ribbed torso.

But all these outward demonstrations of piety may be no more than mere hypocrisy. The Greek word translated “hypocrites” (Matt. 6:2, 5) refers to the masks worn by ancient actors as symbols of pretense and show. Thus, give with fanfare; pray with pride; fast with notice. This ministry is inauthentic. It is a sham.

Inauthentic ministry was a charge leveled against Paul. The Corinthians said that there was discrepancy between the way he wrote his letters and the way he was in person: “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account” (2 Cor. 10:10). It is a serious charge, and in his second letter to the church at Corinth, Paul spends almost the entire time defending himself. The critique came from jealousy and therefore bore no legitimacy. But the fact is, the charge can be true—not of Paul, but of us. Leadership calls for genuineness, authenticity and transparency.

True, there’s something of a cliché about the word authentic when applied to Christian ministry (add contemporary, intentional, relevant, and community to that list). If we really need to add the description authentic, we are probably trying too hard and therefore not being authentic at all. Nevertheless, hypocrisy lurks everywhere, not least in Christian ministry, and we ignore it at our peril.

Godliness must be found in the heart if it is to be genuine. The one who prays more in public than in private, or only gives at special events when likely to be thanked for it, or practices spiritual disciplines and lets everyone know just how difficult a spiritual routine he keeps, is more concerned about the outward appearance than a heart-relationship with Jesus.

Jonathan Edwards observed the pattern of the hypocrite with respect to prayer:

Perhaps they attend it on Sabbath days, and sometimes on other days. But they have ceased to make it a constant practice daily to retire to worship God alone, and to seek his face in secret places. They sometimes do a little to quiet conscience, and just to keep alive their old hope; because it would be shocking to them, even after all their subtle dealing with their consciences to call themselves converts, and yet totally to live without prayer. Yet the practice of secret prayer they have in a great measure left off.

There has been a rise in the use of “written prayers” in Presbyterian worship in the last decade. In part, it is a reflection of the desire to elevate worship. Liturgical, written, prepared prayers are certainly preferable to the (otherwise) paucity and emptiness of some extemporary prayers. But written prayers (drawn from The Valley of Vision, for example) may simply mask the emptiness of the heart.

And Thomas Cranmer seemed to understand the danger of wearing a mask of hypocrisy when he included the Collect of Purity in the Book of Common Prayer for the Anglican Church. Cranmer placed it just before the celebration of the Lord’s Supper:

Almighty God, unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid; Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy Name; through Christ our Lord.

This is a prayer for all seasons.

This post was originally published in Tabletalk magazine. and reposted on the Ligonier Webpage: https://www.ligonier.org/blog/importance-what-we-do-secret/

Bavinck on the Christian Life

Bavinck on the Christian Life: Following Jesus in Faithful Service by John Bolt

For the upcoming year I will be reading through the “On the Christian Life series.” If you have never heard of this series I would highly recommend you check it out as we begin 2018. Unlike many biographies these books deal more with the direct influences and theology of prominent figures in the history of the Church, rather than their life story. As such I will be taking time, hopefully, each month to highlight another one of these great texts and reflect on some of the important contribution they have made to life and theology.

The first book in the series which I picked up, was on one of probably the least likely to be read and that was John Bolt’s study on the life of Herman Bavinck and his theological impact on the 20th century.  Now Bavinck, for most, probably isn’t a household name like many others in the series such as Luther, Owen, or Calvin, but his contribution to the life of the church and especially the reformed branch in Holland and Europe was as shinning light of Christian orthodoxy in a world that was quickly being absorbed by liberalism and political accompaniments.

Bavinck was a scholar born in Holland and was best known by many for writing the massive text: Reformed Dogmatic and being the right-hand man to Abraham Kuyper, but as you journey through the book you begin to see that he is so much more. He is a staunch defender of both the church and academics, putting out early on the that these two should not be seen as competitors but as companions. He believed that pastors are raised up both in the church and in the schools, both are necessary to form a godly leader framed by the best of theological knowledge and pastoral love for the flock. If you drift in either direction too far(especially in the 19th and 20th century) you create and imbalanced man. This is a battle that still rages on in the modern church as the drive to “free” it from academic’s theology has in some church created pastor who love the flock, but have no knowledge of the totality scripture, while on the other hand we can create seminarians who can parse the original text and explain some deep mysterious of the gospel, but lack care and compassion for the widow and the orphan. It is from this frame work that I feel the book does some of its best work instructing us on the importance of living the Christian life, but also engaging the brain in the why. So, for ministers and churchman the goals are to know the scriptures deeply and apply them to all aspect of our lives.

The other key point that jumped out was the overarching commitment, by the author John Bolt, to frame Bavinck in his original time and place, he didn’t sugar coat all his theology or make it palatable purely to our modern sensibilities but wrestled with the early 20th century views on things like the role of women in the world. He highlights the disagreement that arose between Bavinck and Kuyper over women’s suffrage, the role of women in the home and workplace, as well as issue surrounding families choosing not to have children. Issue’ swe would have seen as long since settled yet was a reality of the early 20th century. This situation highlighted how Bavinck spent much of his time writing about practical theology. He took theology out of pure academics and applied it to real life.

His ethical applications of the scripture can be seen in his teachings on the centrality of the family, and within that family the equality of it’s members. The Trinity becomes an overarching theme for him and as such the husband taking on the figure of the Father and the wife humbling submitting to her husband as Christ submits to he Father, and the children deriving from them both and loving doing their will as the overflow of who they are to be. From these trinitarian ideas he presents the function of each member and the responsibility of each member to lovingly care for the needs and purpose of the whole. He will point out the importance of children to the life of a married couple as a further extension of shinning Gods light to the world as His image becomes more clearly seen and experienced. He points to the role of the home as a center for instruction in the truth of God.

Bavinck may not be the most well-known of theologians, but he was an essential character in the life of the church, and this book helps to put him in a context that allows us to better appreciate his work and apply some of his work to our modern context. He deals with issues such as the role of Christianity in the state, how do we deal with the breakdown of sexual norms and ethics, where is the place for the family in the whole of civil life, and how do we as believers ultimately live faithful as aliens and strangers in this world, striving for the next.

The Knowledge of the Holy One: El Shaddai

Recently, I have been on a quest to, as my wife and I joke, become ‘less fleshy.’ Beginning the Monday after Thanksgiving, I began a wholefood meal plan and workout routine (when I’m not cheating). One thing I’ve found is that in consuming small amounts of “good fuel” and then expending that “fuel” at the gym leaves me running on empty and depleted of energy. In short, I have to keep eating to keep powered. That’s not rocket-science is it?

But this is not, and never has been, true of El Shaddai, The Almighty, Omnipotent One. As A.W. Tozer so aptly penned, “…the Lord God omnipotent can do anything as easily as anything else. All His acts are done without effort. He expends no energy that must be replenished. His self-sufficiency makes it unnecessary for Him to look outside of Himself for a renewal of strength. All the power required to do all that He wills to do lies in undiminished fullness in His own infinite being.”[1] For he who holds not the power to do as He has determined is not, after all, sovereign or powerful; but God is. Just as, he who attempts to carry out his own pleasure and finds himself short of ability is not God; but God never fails to accomplish that which he desires. The Sovereign, Almighty One is just that!

Fifty eight times, the Bible refers to God as The Almighty. From the beginning of God’s Self-Revelation to the end, the omnipotence of God is directly stated, implied, demonstrated, celebrated, feared, and praised, and necessarily so. In the Old Testament, Job, was the man chosen by God to predominately declare his omnipotence. Thirty-one of the forty-eight references to God as Almighty are found in the pages of the troubled and rewarded righteous man. In the New, it is the Revelation of Jesus Christ to John that most pronounces the unbridled, unhindered power of El Shaddai. God Himself, the angelic host, the elders around the Throne, the saints awaiting Christ’s second advent, the martyrs, and the Church all profess the omnipotence of God, by declaration of identifying Him as “…the Lord God Almighty.” Nine out of ten New Testament references to “the Lord God Almighty” are found in Christ’s Revelation. It is important to note that in the entirety of Holy Writ, “Almighty” is used of God alone; never man, never beast, never any created thing. God is God alone and God alone is Omnipotent!

Ephesians 3:20-21 may, perhaps, be the greatest expression of the incomprehensibility of the omnipotence of God. The Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul encourages Christ’s Church in reminding us of the Truth in which believers find shelter and abide (Psalm 91:1). This is a familiar passage to the Publicans readership, as it is with all students of Scripture. But let me share with you Steven Lawson’s[2] exposition of this passage with nothing more than the passage itself. I pray that it moves you to a place of glorying God in Christ Jesus, as it did me. Prayerfully read and meditate on each word, each morsel of Divine Bread, and let it feed your soul.

“Now to him…”

“Now to him who is able…”

“Now to him who is able to do…”

“Now to him who is able to do far more…”

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly…”

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all…”

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask…”

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think…”

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, according to the power at work…”

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think according to the power at work within us…”

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church…”

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus…”

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations…”

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever…”

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

It is this Almighty God that has chosen to reveal Himself to us in spoken Word, written Word, and incarnate Word and we would do well to find our strength and rest in Him, for He alone is the Source of both!

As Pink leads his readers, “may [we] all tremble before such a God…[and] ‘Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and we perish from the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little’ (Psalm 2:12)…and adore such a God…[for] ‘Who is like unto you, O LORD, among the gods? who is like you, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders’ (Ex. 15:11)…and trust such a God…who ‘is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?’ (Psalm 27:1).”[3]

The God who lacks no strength or ability to accomplish that which He has purposed, that is the True and Living God and there is no other. “God’s power is like Himself: infinite, eternal, incomprehensible; it can neither be checked, restrained, nor frustrated by the creature.”[4]

[1] AW Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, pg. 67

[2] Steven Lawson, The Attributes of God DVD, Ligonier Ministries

[3] AW Pink, The Attributes of God, pg. 42-43

[4] Steven Charnock

The Year We Hope For…

…versus the year we may get.

The fireworks have streamed through the midnight sky, “Auld Lang Syne” has been sung, and 2018 has dawned fresh with possibility and, for many, a renewed sense of hope. Glasses raised we toast our friends and petition our God for a stress-free, healthy, and happy year. And while we can certainly wish, hope, and work toward this goal, reality is simple and stark: the year we hope for will very likely not be the year we receive.

Some might say that I am too down-trodden by the events of the past year to pen a post on hope for the new; but I’ve found that when we are at our low points (and often most honest points) God works and ministry rolls out. I’m tired of all the regurgitated, trite Christian idioms that we toss about to sooth our beleaguered souls but in actuality do more harm that good. I’m all for authenticity – straight up, brutal truth. So, while in one breath I wish you a happy new year, in the next breath I’ll direct your hope – if you’ll allow – beyond the flip calendar full of empty promises and misapplied Scripture, to the bigger (and deeper) picture about which God truly cares.

Each Sunday I pace back and forth before a few hundred people attempting to understand and unpack in coherence the difficult claims of Scripture. For many, if not most of them, I think they believe it comes easy for me. In reality, each week – and at times – each hour, I have to look at a burning world, a wrecked society, abandoned children, unspeakable tragedy and choose in the face of the fire to believe. In reality…faith – the clinging to hope and choosing to trust – comes harder for me than for most I am called to shepherd. For some that may sound alarms, and if they are looking for a pastor who will tug on a mask and pump them with fluff and send them into a world that in the spiritual realm eerily resembles The Walking Dead then I wish them well. My job isn’t to tell anyone that 2018 will be easy, that money will fall from the skies if you live like a worship warrior, or that if you “let go and let God” He’ll give you the best. Even the intellectual non-believing community agrees that is garbage; yet some Christians ferociously cling to this pollution that tickles their ears while hollowing out their souls.

Job got it right when he – far more wrecked than I – declared that man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward. Lazarus was faithful and begged for crumbs. Jesus’ cousin chowed on bugs and wailed truth from a wilderness only to land in prison with his head severed for the amusement of a teen. Even Jesus – the best by a long shot – was emotionally, physically, psychologically, and spiritually abused by those He came to rescue from the ruin. Simply (and Biblically stated) with every year that passes the chances of trouble, pain, heartbreak and loss rise.

A couple weeks ago, in an installment of our Advent series, I laid out, from the stage,  some of the challenges that have assaulted my life and the lives of those within BLDG 28 in 2017. Upon stating the brokenness and remarking that 2018 would likely be no better, I then sarcastically quipped, “So…merry Christmas.” A few chuckled at my snarky assertion; but as this year has rolled on I realize increasingly more that the declaration I made in jest is in actuality what my soul and yours needs as we enter 2018: to be merry.

To be absolutely clear, I am not speaking of mind-numbing, reality-denying glee. Rather  I am referencing the term in the way it was originally intended. You see, in the mid-centuries the term merry carried with it the ideas of strength, power, or might. This makes the meaning of Robin Hood’s “merry” men more serious and the lyrics of the carol “God Rest (make) Ye Merry Gentlemen” more substantive. To resound “Merry Christmas” was far more than a bypassing wish; it was a bold declaration that the Mighty One has come.

And He didn’t come to answer all our most earnest temporal petitions (as truly difficult as that is for me to swallow). He came to suffer and be murdered under the direction of God (why it had to be this way is for a much longer, much deeper, perhaps much darker conversation) to in finality crush evil and restore souls. I get it – it’s a bit less fun that smiling out our typical “Merry Christmas” and glibly believing that all will be well in 2018; but we don’t need the trite and light to amuse us this new year. Instead, we need the truth to empower and move us.

As much as we may want to pray for health, for a major hurricane to dramatically jog north leaving not a trace of devastation, or for our baby’s heart rate to recover, there is no Biblical or historical guarantee that God will answer any of these heart-wrenching entreaties. Rather, as we read Scripture and parse through history (including our own) it becomes brazenly evident that God is utterly concerned with saving and strengthening souls to bring increased fame to Himself. So we pray, hope, and strive to that end – to the end that truly, after this year is gone and we look back on 2018 with regrets, fondness, or pain, will really matter. The pain will most likely arrive at some point between now and next Christmas. Will we have the soul strength to face it?

As the new year dawns, the hope for this busted up soul is simple: no significant emotional duress, zero surgeries, and an over-abundance of personal stability, peace, and happiness throughout ’18 (and I would assume – unless you’re a masochist – that you are hoping for much the same). But my foremost prayer – or at least the one I am shooting to be foremost – is not for any of these temporal “blessings” (cause there’s absolutely no guarantee that God will gift us these). Rather, it is that in the face of triumph or tragedy, happiness or harm we will be strengthened in our souls and steadfast in our faith. This is what we need and is the prayer God is most concerned with answering.

Semper Reformanda