Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

A Brief Biography and Pertinent Prayer of John Calvin

John Calvin was one of the great ministers of the Reformation. He was born in France, and moved to Switzerland to escape religious persecution. Being reformed in 1500′s France would get you killed. Calvin ended up in Geneva, Switzerland where he served as the minister in the church and professor in academy. From Geneva, thousands of ministers were trained and sent out as church planters and missionaries, carrying the gospel as far away as South America.

By 1555, Calvin and his Geneva supporters had planted five churches in France. Four years later, they had planted 100 churches in France. By 1562, Calvin’s Geneva, with the help of some of their sister cities, had planted more than 2,000 churches in France. Calvin was the leading church planter in Europe. He led the way in every part of the process: he trained, assessed, sent, counseled, corresponded with, and prayed for the missionaries and church planters he sent (John Starke, “John Calvin, Missionary and Church Planter”).

So much for the charge that believing the biblical teaching on election, predestination, and particular redemption lead to lazy evangelism.

According to Frank James, the average life span of church planters being sent out from Geneva to go back into France to preach the gospel was six months. John Calvin and the other ministers of the reformation were both committed to the proclamation of the gospel and clear on what it was to suffer for what they believed. When we understand this, we see quite clearly that the following prayer of Calvin was in no way merely pietistic theologizing, Calvin was quite acquainted with the hatred and enmity of mankind.

Almighty God and Father, grant unto us, because we have to go through much strife on this earth the strength of thy Holy Spirit, in order that we may courageously go through the fire, and through the water, and that we may put ourselves so under thy rule that we may go to meet death in full confidence of thy assistance and without fear.

Grant us also that we may bear all hatred and enmity of mankind, until we have gained the last victory, and that we may at last come to that blessed rest which thy only begotten Son has acquired for us through his blood. Amen (John Calvin, Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life, Baker Books, 1952.).

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Once Again, How Should We Respond?

The last few days in our country have been harrowing. For many of us, yesterday began and ended with the news of injustice ending in death. The day began with the news of yet another preventable and therefore unjust killing of an African American man by a police officer. The day ended with the news of the unjust retaliation killing of five police officers by an African American man in Dallas, TX. So again, I will write, it is very easy to be silent in times like this. It is very easy to withhold judgement until all the facts are in. It is very easy to let various situations blow over with the wind of the next big story. It is very easy to let hard realities for others have no effect on ourselves. However, the Bible calls us to a better response. At the very least, Scripture calls us to respond with tenderheartedness, self-examination, prayer, and theological precision.

We must be tenderhearted toward those in pain. This means our hearts will be broken both for the those with whom we naturally identify and those with whom we do not. Our identifying with the pain of our brothers and sisters in Christ cannot be tempered by our identity in this world.

We must examine ourselves. If we can mourn with only one side, there is a problem. If we refuse to mourn with one side until all the facts are in, but have immediately broken hearts for the other side, there is a problem. If we refuse to mourn with one side regardless of the facts, there is a problem. We must ask, are we willing, when we or someone with whom we identify has been wronged, to hear the imperatives of Romans 12:21 and 1 Peter 3:9? Both of these verses were written in the context of persecution, the latter in the context of persecution by the state.

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21, ESV).

“Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing” (1 Peter 3:9, ESV).

Are we willing not only to look to Christ in faith as the One who has made satisfaction for our sin, which we must do, but also to look to Christ in faith as the One whose selflessness is an example for all who are united to him by faith? This is precisely what Scripture calls us to.

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:21-25, ESV).

As Christians, we are to follow in the steps of our Savior who suffered at the hands of others for the sake of others. Our unwillingness to walk in this way is an unwillingness to be identified with Christ, and we must repent of such faithlessness.

We must pray. There is but one source of wisdom by which the problem of evil in this world will be solved, but there is a source for such wisdom.

We must think with theological precision, letting our thinking inform our doing. The theological issues that were forced to the fore for me last night revolved around the question of why? Why is this happening? And is there a solution?

James writes in the fourth chapter of his epistle,

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask (James 4:1-2, ESV).

In his letter James acknowledges two important points. First, our passions are longing for something we don’t have. Second, we don’t have, because we don’t ask.

What is it that our passions desire so strongly? To answer this we must understand what humanity lost in the fall. The Westminster Shorter Catechism #19 is helpful, “What is the misery of that estate whereinto man fell? All mankind by their fall lost communion with God, are under his wrath and curse, and so made liable to all the miseries of this life, to death itself, and to the pains of hell forever.” We could summarize this by saying that by the fall all mankind lost their hope, identity, and security. We lost hope in that the misery, death, and hell to which we are made liable are forever. Without something changing, without some intervention there is not hope. We lost identity in that we lost communion with the One in whose image we were created. If we are going to know ourselves rightly, we must know ourselves in relation to God, but we have lost communion with him leaving us clamoring for an identity. We lost security in that we are liable to the miseries of this life which are many.

The introductory verses of Hosea make the same point. Hosea is called to live out a real life metaphor of God and his people by taking a prostitute for a wife with whom he has three children – Jezreel, No Mercy, and Not My People. Those are rather odd names, but they were given to make a point. The meaning of the names is recorded in the book of Hosea as follows.

And the LORD said to him, “Call his name Jezreel, for in just a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. And on that day I will break the bow of Israel in the Valley of Jezreel.” She conceived again and bore a daughter. And the LORD said to him, “Call her name No Mercy, for I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all. But I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the LORD their God. I will not save them by bow or by sword or by war or by horses or by horsemen.” When she had weaned No Mercy, she conceived and bore a son. And the LORD said, “Call his name Not My People, for you are not my people, and I am not your God” (Hosea 1:4-9, ESV).

Jezreel indicates that God will put an end to the kingdom of Israel, a loss of security. No Mercy indicates just that, God will no longer have mercy on Israel, a loss of hope. Not My People again indicates something obvious, they are not the people of God and he is not their God, a loss of identity. The same point could be made from numerous texts. For example, Genesis 3 records the fall of man into sin. As a result of Adam’s disobedience we see the following happen. Adam his wife, Eve, were removed from the Garden of Eden over which they had reigned and in which they had walked with God (a loss of identity), were told that their work would produce thorns and thistles (a loss of security), and were barred from re-entering and eating from the tree of life and living (a loss of hope).

It is this lost hope, security, and identity that our passions desire. It is this lost hope, security, and identity that we try to seek out in this world. It is this lost hope, security, and identity for which we will quite literally kill. In our effort to establish hope, security, and identity on our own two things tend to happen. First, we run to whatever we can in order to find hope, security, and identity, destroying whatever and whomever we need to take hold of it. We may run to seemingly noble realities such as family, work, intellect, financial stability, ethnic heritage, etc., or we may run to ignoble realities such as sexual conquest, drugs, rank materialism, mutilation, etc. And indeed, we may find a close enough approximation of what we are looking for to remain satisfied for quite sometime. The second thing that happens is, when our worldly source of hope, security, and identity fail us, we will eventually simply turn to easing the pain of not having hope, security, and identity, often using the same false sources and often at the expense of those around us. But make no mistake, it is the lost hope, security, and identity that our passions long for.

When we live for and by a worldly hope, security, and identity, our response to a perceived threat can quickly become extreme. Yesterday I asked a hard question regarding the effect of sin on a police officer, not to accuse, but to drive a point home. Today I will turn the tables and ask a similarly hard question going the other way, again not to accuse, but to make the point. What might be the effect on how an African American man responds to injustice from police toward black men if they are seeking to find their hope, security, and identity in their ethnic heritage? Let me be clear, this is not to say that there can be no identification with or pride in our ethnic heritage, neither is this to say that finding hope, security, and identity in ehtnic heritage is an issue unique to African Americans, nor is this to say that there is only outrage over injustice because of sinfully finding hope, security, and identity in ethnic heritage, (on this point I would point you to the many African Americans who have grieved the death of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile [and many others], who have feared for their own children’s lives, who have called out injustice as such, who do strongly identify with their African American brothers and sisteres, but who, finding their hope in Christ are just as quick to call out the injustice carried out by the man in Dallas who vengefully killed 5 police officers.), rather this is to say, when we make what this world offers by way of hope, security, and identity ultimate we defend it as such.

However, recall, James made a second point. He wrote, “You do not have, because you do not ask” (James 4:2, ESV). Do you hear what he is saying? That thing that your passions so desperately long for, that lost hope, identity, and security, is yours if you ask. This is what Christ has restored by dealing with our sin on the cross. We see it so very clearly when we return to Hosea. Hosea 1:4-9 announced the loss of hope, security, and identity through the naming of Hosea’s children. Look now at what is recorded in Hosea 1:10-2:1.

Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God.” And the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and they shall appoint for themselves one head. And they shall go up from the land, for great shall be the day of Jezreel. Say to your brothers, “You are my people,” and to your sisters, “You have received mercy” (Hosea 1:10-2:1, ESV).

God immediately promises that he will do the work of restoring the hope, identity, and security of his people. “Where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ it shall be said to them, ‘Children of the living God’” (Hosea 1:10, ESV) – the promise of identity restored by God’s gracious initiative. “And the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and they shall appoint for themselves one head. And they shall go up from the land, for great shall be the day of Jezreel.” (Hosea 1:11, ESV) – the promise of security restored by God’s gracious initiative. “Say to your brothers, ‘You are my people,’ and to your sisters, ‘You have received mercy’ (Hosea 2:1, ESV) – the promise of hope restored by God’s gracious initiative. What sin stole away and our souls so desperately long for, God promises to secure for his people. Ultimately this will come through the finished work of Jesus Christ. This is why Peter writes to those Christians suffering under the heavy hand of the state,

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy (1 Peter 2:9-10, ESV).

In Christ, because of his finished work, hope, security, and identity have been restored for the people of God. We need not clamor for it in this world any longer. We can decry the injustices of this world without prejudice and without fear that by unjust means anyone in this world can rob us of the hope, security, and identity that is ours in Christ Jesus. It is this very fact that frees to suffer, to love, to fight injustice, and to conquer to the very end. Peter says as much as he continues his letter.

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation (1 Peter 2:11-12, ESV).

Once again, It is very easy to be silent in times like this. It is very easy to withhold judgement until all the facts are in. It is very easy to let various situations blow over with the wind of the next big story. It is very easy to let hard realities for others have no effect on ourselves. However, the Bible calls us to a better response. At the very least, Scripture calls us to respond with tenderheartedness, self-examination, prayer, and theological precision.

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How should we respond?

For the second day in a row, I have woken up to the news of and outrage over an African American man being killed by police in a seemingly preventable scenario. Once again, our African American brothers and sisters are mourning the death of a fellow African American at the hands of one whose job it is to preserve life by working to maintain order and enforce civil law. Within the black community, sadness, anger, fear, and questions abound. Articles, blog posts, tweets, and Facebook statuses have been published expressing the feeling of being hunted, wondering if anyone cares, wondering why there is so little being said about particular situations by the church (especially the white church), trying to figure out what the way forward is, and in many cases doing everything they can step into what seems to be a massive void and provide leadership for both hurting communities and the culture at large. How should we, the church and individual Christians, respond? How should we respond to the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile (not to mention the many others who have died in similar scenarios)? How should we respond to the African American community? How should we respond to our African American friends, neighbors, and family?

First, we should be tenderhearted toward those who are hurting and weep with those who weep. Paul writes in Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (English Standard Version) Again in 1 Corinthians 12:26 he writes, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (ESV). We may defensively object, “Yes, but that is talking about people within the body of Christ and specifically within a local body. How does that apply here?” Indeed it is, but let us not offer that up as a valid response as if there are not black Christians, who are members of both the body of Christ and our own communities who are broken and as if human compassion cannot extend beyond the bounds of our ecclesiastical relationships. Or, we may defensively object, “Well we don’t know the whole situation yet, we should withhold judgement until we do.” Indeed we don’t know the whole situation yet, and we likely never will. However, let us not offer this up as a valid response as if it is not okay to weep over death in every situation were we find it.

Second, to the degree that we struggle to be tenderhearted, we should take the opportunity to examine ourselves. Why can I not hurt with those who are hurting? Am I simply too callous to feel my brother’s pain? Then I should repent of my lack of love and, looking to Jesus in faith, ask God for the grace of a tender heart. Am I a prig, thinking I am above the fray of the brokenness of this world? Then I should repent of my arrogance and, looking to Jesus in faith, ask God for the grace of humility. Do I just not care about others? Then I should repent of my not considering others more significant than myself and, looking to Jesus in faith, ask God for the grace of being Christ like. In this situation, we can ask more pointed questions as well. Can I not be tenderhearted in this situation because I have believed a narrative that black people are dangerous or threatening or aggressive by virtue of being black? Then I should repent of my racism and willingness to uncritically accept false narratives and, looking to Jesus in faith, ask God for the grace of believing all people are created in his image. Can I not be tenderhearted toward hurting brothers and sisters in this situation because “it’s not my issue?” Then I should repent of dividing the body of Christ over race and, looking to Jesus in faith, ask God for the grace of gospel unity.

Third, we should pray. We should call out to God. We should call out to God for our brothers and sisters who feel enormous pain. We should ask God to help us examine ourselves and root out hidden sins in dark places of our lives. We should call to God to respond to the injustices of our world. We should call to God to raise up men and women in particular vocations who are wise in the ways leading a society in justice and truth. We should thank God for having ultimately responded to such injustices on the cross of Jesus Christ. We should ask God for wisdom and tenderheartedness and freedom from the insecurity of this world, a freedom that gives us a boldness to live in light of the gospel that we might respond rightly to the injustices of our world. We should pray.

Fourth, we should be precise with our theology. Three theological issue have come to the fore for me as I have processed the current situation 1) sin and sanctification, 2) justice and the sixth commandment, and 3) the doctrine of vocation. There are undoubtedly many more issues that need to be considered with as much precision.

The first issue with which I have been forced to wrestle stems from the difficulty I have with repentance over “otherisms” (racism, sexism, classism, etc). The difficulty for me is admitting that various attitudes I have toward the “other” do actually stem from a sinful insecurity and lack of faith in Christ. This difficulty shows that I need to think more precisely about sin and sanctification. Scripture teaches that we are totally depraved, that is, that all of our faculties have been impacted by the fall. By nature I am a sinner, bent in on myself, given chiefly to self-preservation. I am a master of self-justification. It is precisely because of these issues that I struggle so mightily with feeling threatened by the “other”. The fact that I have been socially conditioned to not use racist jargon or join the Klan or openly shun people of other ethnicities in ways that aren’t broadly socially acceptable is not proof that racism is a non-issue for me. Sin is deeper than my outward actions.

Theologians talk about the noetic effects of sin, that is the impact that sin has had on our minds. If the effect of the fall is so deep that my thought processes have been affected, then the self-examination discussed above must plunge to such depths as well. Indeed Paul instructs us in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Therefore, when it comes to sanctification, I should expect, even desire and pursue, a change in my thinking. If I cannot limit sin to outward actions, then I cannot limit sanctification to a change in outward actions. The Bible teaches me to assume that my mind is corrupted by the fall; therefore, when I am challenged to examine whether or not my thinking on a given situation is sinful, I should resist my first responses of self-justification and self-presevation.

The second area with which I have been forced to struggle in light of current events is the area of justice and the sixth commandment. The Westminster Shorter Catechism offers the following, simple, but penetrating exposition of the sixth commandment.

Q. 67. Which is the sixth commandment?
A. The sixth commandment is, Thou shalt not kill.

Q. 68. What is required in the sixth commandment?
A. The sixth commandment requireth all lawful endeavors to preserve our own life, and the life of others.

Q. 69. What is forbidden in the sixth commandment?
A. The sixth commandment forbiddeth the taking away of our own life, or the life of our neighbor unjustly, or whatsoever tendeth thereunto.

The Shorter Catechism’s exposition of the sixth commandment forces me to look at the current situations with Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, as well as any number of other situations, and not ask simply was it legal, but could life have been preserved by some lawful endeavor? Legal is a bad standard for just. Indeed, legal is often found to be a far lower standard than just.

While the word used for kill in Exodus 20:13 is in fact better translated murder, our application of the sixth commandment cannot be limited to premeditated murder. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus pushes the application far beyond premeditated murder, leaving us guilty of murder merely by the thoughts we think about others. The authors of the Westminster Shorter Catechism were right to push the application of the sixth commandment both to the point of seeing anything that tends to the unjust taking of life as a violation of the sixth commandment and to the point of seeing its fulfillment as being “all lawful endeavors to preserve our own life, and the life of others.” In this regard then, we must see that in our current situation preventable, not legal, is a better standard for just when it comes to the loss or taking of life. While a judge in any given case is bound by the strictures of law, the heart of the Christian should long for justice. If the death of Alton Sterling or Philando Castile (or any other number of people) were preventable by some lawful endeavor to preserve life, then while they may be ruled legal, they cannot be declared to be just.

The final theological point about which I have had to think is the doctrine of vocation. The doctrine of vocation can be understood as follows, “the notion that every legitimate kind of work or social function is a distinct ‘calling’ from God, requiring unique God-given gifts, skills, and talents. Moreover, the Reformation doctrine of vocation teaches that God himself is active in everyday human labor, family responsibilities, and social interactions” (From Modern Reformation, “The Doctrine of Vocation: How God Hides Himself in Human Work” by Gene Edward Veith). We do not get a pass on honoring God in what we count as our secular work. In whatever capacity we have been called, we should be seeking the glory of God not self or anything else. In whatever capacity we have been called, we teach the ways of justice, we call out for justice, and we work for justice as appropriate to our calling. It is precisely for this reason that we need to be precise in our thinking about sin and sanctification, justice and sixth commandment, and many other issues. It is precisely for this reason that we need to be willing to examine not only our actions, but also our thoughts as it pertains to our vocation and repent where sin is found to be shaping how we carry out our calling. I am not accusing anyone of anything, but to put a finer point on how all of these issues are related to the situation at hand I will ask the following question. What might be the effect on how a police officer carries out his or her calling if they have have failed to or refused to acknowledge, by God’s grace, the noetic of effects of sin in their own life as it pertains to how they think about certain people, or if they have not thought with precision on issues like justice and the sixth commandment? When we affirm the doctrine of vocation, we are affirming that by God’s grace we need to bring the full weight of the testimony of God’s Holy Word to bear on our work. We are not saying that the Bible teaches us what we need to know to be a police officer or politician or lawyer, but we are affirming that our theology, or more specifically the transforming effect of the gospel, should have a significant impact on how we do whatever it is we have been called and trained to do.

It is very easy to be silent in times like this. It is very easy to withhold judgement until all the facts are in. It is very easy to let various situations blow over with the wind of the next big story. It is very easy to let hard realities for others have no effect on ourselves. However, the Bible calls us to a better response. At the very least, Scripture calls us to respond with tenderheartedness, self-examination, prayer, and theological precision.

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Psalm 37 and Disciples (Devotees, not Curious Crowd or Serious Student) of Jesus

In light of yesterday’s sermon, Psalm 37 is a wonderful reminder of what it is to be a disciple of Jesus. Note in the Psalm the constant tug of the world and the quickly gained, quickly lost prosperity. David is teaching us, “that nothing is better than to practice righteousness by obeying God’s commandments” and “the ultimate goal of the happy life is to be loved by [God]” (Calvin). The fear we face when being called to turn away from the false security of the world, is the fear that God might not keep us. Take some time and meditate on Psalm 37 and the numerous promises that the Lord will not forsake you found therein.

Psalm 37 – Of David.

Fret not yourself because of evildoers;
be not envious of wrongdoers!
For they will soon fade like the grass
and wither like the green herb.
Trust in the  Lord, and do good;
dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the  Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the  Lord;
trust in him, and he will act.
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,
and your justice as the noonday.

Be still before the  Lord and wait patiently for him;
fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way,
over the man who carries out evil devices!

Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!
Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.
For the evildoers shall be cut off,
but those who wait for the  Lord shall inherit the land.

In just a little while, the wicked will be no more;
though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there.
But the meek shall inherit the land
and delight themselves in abundant peace.

The wicked plots against the righteous
and gnashes his teeth at him,
but the Lord laughs at the wicked,
for he sees that his day is coming.

The wicked draw the sword and bend their bows
to bring down the poor and needy,
to slay those whose way is upright;
their sword shall enter their own heart,
and their bows shall be broken.
Better is the little that the righteous has
than the abundance of many wicked.
For the arms of the wicked shall be broken,
but the  Lord upholds the righteous.

The Lord knows the days of the blameless,
and their heritage will remain forever;
they are not put to shame in evil times;
in the days of famine they have abundance.

But the wicked will perish;
the enemies of the  Lord are like the glory of the pastures;
they vanish—like smoke they vanish away.

The wicked borrows but does not pay back,
but the righteous is generous and gives;
for those blessed by the  Lord shall inherit the land,
but those cursed by him shall be cut off.

The steps of a man are established by the  Lord,
when he delights in his way;
though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong,
for the  Lord upholds his hand.

I have been young, and now am old,
yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken
or his children begging for bread.
He is ever lending generously,
and his children become a blessing.

Turn away from evil and do good;
so shall you dwell forever.
For the  Lord loves justice;
he will not forsake his saints.
They are preserved forever,
but the children of the wicked shall be cut off.
The righteous shall inherit the land
and dwell upon it forever.

The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom,
and his tongue speaks justice.
The law of his God is in his heart;
his steps do not slip.

The wicked watches for the righteous
and seeks to put him to death.
The  Lord will not abandon him to his power
or let him be condemned when he is brought to trial.

Wait for the  Lord and keep his way,
and he will exalt you to inherit the land;
you will look on when the wicked are cut off.

I have seen a wicked, ruthless man,
spreading himself like a green laurel tree.
But he passed away, and behold he was no more;
though I sought him, he could not be found.

Mark the blameless and behold the upright,
for there is a future for the man of peace.
But transgressors shall be altogether destroyed;
the future of the wicked shall be cut off.

The salvation of the righteous is from the  Lord;
he is their stronghold in the time of trouble.
The  Lord helps them and delivers them;
he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
because they take refuge in him.

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A Relevant Statement by Packer on the “Christmas Spirit”

“We talk glibly of the ‘Christmas spirit,’ rarely meaning more by this than sentimental jollity on a family basis. But what we have said [pertaining to Jesus' incarnation] makes it clear that the phrase should in fact carry tremendous weight of meaning. It ought to mean the reproducing in human lives of the temper of him who for our sakes became poor at the first Christmas. And the Christmas spirit itself ought to be the mark of every Christian all the year round.

“It is our shame and disgrace today that so many Christians – I will be more specific: so many of the soundest and most orthodox Christians – go through this world in the spirit of the priest and the Levite in our Lord’s parable, seeing human needs all around them, but (after pious wish, and perhaps a prayer, that God might meet those needs) averting their eyes and passing by on the other side. That is not the Christmas spirit. Nor is [the Christmas spirit] the spirit of those Christians – alas, they are many – whose ambition in life seems limited to building a nice middle-class Christian home, and making nice middle-class Christian friends, and bringing up their children in nice middle-class Christian ways, and who leave the submiddle-class sections of the community, Christian and non-Christian, to get on by themselves.

“The Christmas spirit does not shine out in the Christian snob. For the Christmas spirit is the spirit of those who, like their Master, live their whole lives on the principle of making themselves poor – spending and being spent – to enrich their fellow humans, giving time, trouble, care and concern, to do good to others – and not just to their own friends – in whatever way there seems need.

“There are not as many who show this spirit as there should be. If God in mercy revives us, one of the things he will do will be to work more of this spirit in our hearts and lives. If we desire spiritual quickening for ourselves individually, one step we should take is to seek to cultivate this spirit. ‘You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich’ (2 Cor 8:9). ‘Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus’ (Phil 2:5). ‘I will run the way of thy commandments, when thou shalt enlarge my heart‘ (Ps 119:32 KJV).”

-From Knowing God, by J.I. Packer

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Same Sex Attraction on The White Horse Inn

In lieu of my regular post on 1 John, I want to share a very helpful podcast. This week on The White Horse Inn, Michael Horton interviews Sam Allberry, the author of Is God Anti-Gay: And Other Questions about homosexuality, the Bible, and Same-Sex Attraction. Sam offers a helpful perspective on the many issues involved in this discussion. You can find the podcast here along with a host of other helpful resources.

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Praying the Bible

Praying is hard. The ever increasing number of books on prayer prove that we struggle with prayer. I have recommended A Praying Life, by Paul Miller, before, and I still do. Adding to the list of books on prayer, Crossway has recently published a book titled, Praying the Bible, by Donald Whitney. To publicize the book, Crossway released a series of video’s by Donald Whitney under the same title. I have not read the book, so I cannot speak to it. However, the videos are very helpful. In each video, which are about 5 minutes a piece, Whitney walks through a passage of Scripture showing how praying the Bible is a beneficial way to approach prayer. I would add, praying the Bible is in perfect accord with the pattern of prayer that Jesus taught his disciples. Here are the videos. I hope you find them as beneficial and invigorating for your prayer life as I have for mine. 

 

Don Whitney – Praying the Bible: Psalm 23

Don Whitney – Praying the Bible: Psalm 37

Don Whitney – Praying the Bible: Psalm 67

Don Whitney – Praying the Bible: 1 Thessalonians 2

Don Whitney – Praying the Bible: John 5

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Sermon Notes – Exodus 20.7

You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. -Exodus 20.7

When we think about the third commandment, we most often think of using the word “God” or one of the names of God as a swear word. We could add to this using an attribute of God as a swear word or word of exclamation such as holy (fill in your favorite noun: cow, moly, Mary mother of God, etc.). The problem with such language is that it empties God of his glory, it makes him common, silly even. Making God silly is exactly what is at the heart of the third commandment.

Ezekiel 36.16-32 deals with Israel’s profaning the name of God. The prophet writes, “But when they came to the nations, wherever they came, they profaned my holy name, in that people said of them, ‘These are the people of the Lord, and yet they had to go out of his land.’ But I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel profaned among the nations to which they came” (Ezekiel 36.20-21, ESV). By her disobedience, Israel profaned the name of the Lord. So to by our disobedience we profane the name of the Lord.

As the passage in Ezekiel continues we find one of the greatest pictures of God’s gracious salvation in Scripture. The Lord says, “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came” (Ezekiel 36.22, ESV). The prophet goes on to announce the plan of God to vindicate his holy name, yet he does not announce some grand punishment, as we might expect, but redemption. God will vindicate his holy name through the redemption of his people! What amazing grace this is!

The work of Christ to redeem his people from their sin was the fulfilling of the third commandment. The work of Christ vindicated the name of the Lord. The gospel fulfilled the law! What good news! By his obedience, Jesus did not take the name of the Lord in vain, but vindicated it, restoring its glory (which of course was never truly lost). For this reason we can now say, to act as if we have some righteousness by which we stand before God is to take the Lord’s name in vain for to do so is to empty the glory vindicating work of Christ of its purpose, which is redemption. Likewise, to announce the good news of Jesus Christ, to give a reason for the hope we have, to abide in Christ, to know nothing but Christ and him crucified is to honor the very name of the Lord.

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Sermon Notes – Exodus 20.3

You shall have no other gods before me.” Exodus 20.3, ESV

In the prologue to the Ten Commandments, God sets the stage for the giving of his law. He reminds Israel of his name, his nature, their relationship to him, and his work to redeem them from Egypt. In short, the prologue announces that God has the right to give laws to his people, even laws that demand absolute loyalty as does the first commandment. Yahweh rightly commanded Israel to honor him and him alone as God.

As Israel journeyed through the wilderness and into the promised land, they would be tempted to violate this first commandment numerous times. In the coming years they would face, Baals, Asherahs, Ashtoreth, Milcom, Moloch, Dagon, Chemosh, and likely many other false gods who remain unnamed in Scripture. In addition to these named idols, we see that Israel is held accountable by God for treating money, power, politics, and self as gods to be served. In short, anything (a named idol, an object, an idea, a relationship, etc.) could be exalted in such a way that as to violate the first commandment by bringing another god before Yahweh.

When the various violations and potential violations are all brought together, we can organize the violations of the first commandment into four categories:

1) Denying the existence or attributes of Yahweh;

2) Ascribing to any false god other those attributes which belong uniquely to Yahweh;

3) Ascribing to any false god the works which belong uniquely to Yahweh; and

4) Seeking from any false god the fulfillment of the promises given by Yahweh.

The New Testament, unsurprisingly, presents a similarly broad understanding of what  it means to have a false god, or be an idolator. The New Testament adds to the list of abstract gods already mentioned – possessions, pleasure and entertainment, and food. In addition, we see that Jesus is God, and he must be worshipped as God. Therefore, the four categories of idolatry apply to our thinking about Jesus as well. So, to seek the promises secured for us by Christ (promises of forgiveness, hope, security, inheritance, identity, righteousness, etc.) in any place other than Christ, whether a named idol or a speck of dust, is to violate the first commandment.

At this point, if we are honest, we find ourselves guilty of violating the first commandment in numerous ways; therefore, lest we end in despair, let us recall the work of Christ. Recall that the Father sent the Son in order that in Christ “the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8.4, ESV). We see this fulfillment clearly in the temptation of Christ. When Satan tempted Jesus with finding his comfort in the world, Jesus resisted Satan saying, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4.4, ESV). When Satan attempted to get Jesus to presume upon God’s protection, thereby exalting himself above his Father and making God his servant, Jesus resisted Satan saying, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (Matthew 4.7, ESV). When Satan commanded Jesus to bow down before him, Jesus rebuked Satan saying, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve” (Matthew 4.10, ESV). From these verses, and other like them, we see clearly why the author of Hebrews wrote, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4.15, ESV). As Paul reminds us, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5.21, ESV). Christ perfectly obeyed the law then suffered a sinner’s death in order that we sinners for whom Christ died might be accepted by God as if we had perfectly obeyed his law.

The first commandment unveils our idolatrous heart and drives us to Christ where we find the One who obeyed in our place and bore our sin on the cross.

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Sermon Notes – Exodus 20.1-2

“And God spoke all these words, saying, ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery’” (Exodus 20.1-2, ESV).

In the ancient near east many covenants between a sovereign and his subjects had a common form consisting of four parts: 1) the introduction of the sovereign; 2) a brief rehearsal of the history of the sovereign acting on behalf of his subjects; 3) the stipulations of the agreement; and 4) the consequences, blessings or curses, for obedience and disobedience to the covenant. Not surprisingly, a similar structure is found in the biblical covenants such as the Mosaic Covenant recorded in Exodus 20.

Exodus 20.1 announces to the people of Israel that it was God who spoke his Law. Moses had not gone up on the mountain, scratched a few rules in some stone tablets, and brought them back. Rather, God had revealed himself to Moses on Mount Sinai by way of giving the law. The divine origin of the law is important to keep in mind. If the Law is indeed from God, then we do not have the freedom to treat the Law as if it is not from God. Of course, the critic may say, “Well, if I was going to try and subdue a people with my own made up law, I would tell them that it came from God as well.” However, the critic’s objection is addressed by the Law itself, for the Law is introduced by a preamble that announces both who God is and what he has done for his people in recent history. In other words, the Law is announced in such a way that its divine authorship can be verified.

The preamble to many covenants in the ancient near east include an introduction of the sovereign and a rehearsal of his action toward his people, and Exodus 20.2 includes both of these covenantal elements. The phrase, “I am the Lord your God,” introduces the sovereign by announcing 1) the name of the sovereign – “the Lord” or Yahweh, 2) the nature of the sovereign – “God”, and 3) the relationship of the sovereign to the subjects – “your God”. The qualifying clauses, “who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery,” recount Yahweh’s recent history with his people. He was not only the Israelite’s God, but their God who had heard their cries for help and delivered the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt. It is on the grounds of both who God is and what he has done for his people that he expects obedience to his Law. The people of Israel could not treat the Law, delivered to them by Moses, with anything less than the utmost gravity, by introducing his Law with this preamble, the Lord had not left that option open.

As we come to God’s Law, we also must remember that it is in fact God’s Law, not man’s. Therefore, like Israel, we must come to God’s Law as God’s Word directs us. First, we come to God’s Law as God’s Word. Too often, we effectively approach the Law off as if it is simply the invention of the more scrupulous religious people. Second, we don’t seek from God’s Law what it was not intended to provide. In Scripture we find that the Law has three purposes. 1) The Law shows us our sin, thereby driving us to Christ under the conviction wrought by the Holy Spirit that we might find mercy. Romans 5.20 states, “The law came in to increase the trespass…” 2) The Law restrains (it does not eliminate) sin many by fear of punishment. Paul writes to Timothy, “Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine” (1 Timothy 1.9-10, ESV). 3) The Law, with all of God’s Word, for the one who has been united to Christ and so justified before God – that is to say, by God’s free grace pardoned for all sin and accepted as righteous in God’s sight, only because the righteousness of Christ, which is received by faith alone, has been credited to his account (see Westminster Shorter Catechism #33) – is the rule for holy living. 2 Timothy 3.16-17 state, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, or reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”

With the rest of God’s Word, the Law of God announces to us “what man is believe concerning God and what duty God requires of man” (WSC #3). Though separated by many years and cultural considerations, the Law is still valuable for the people of God when appropriated according to his Word.

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