Saturday, April 30, 2011

You Love Him Not, Because You Know Him Not

From The Essential Owen:

You that are yet in the flower of your days, full of health and strength, and, with all the vigour of your spirits, do pursue some one thing, some another, consider, I pray, what are all your beloveds to this Beloved? What have you gotten by them? Let us see the peace, quietness, assurance of everlasting blessedness that they have given you? Their paths are crooked paths, whoe’er goes in them shall not know peace. Behold here a fit object for your choicest affections,—one in whom you may find rest to your souls,—one in whom there is nothing will grieve and trouble you to eternity. Behold, he stands at the door of your souls, and knocks: reject him not, lest you seek him and find him not! Pray study him a little; you love him not, because you know him not. Why doth one of you spend his time in idleness and folly, and wasting of precious time, —perhaps debauchedly? Why doth another associate and assemble himself with them that scoff at religion and the things of God? Merely because you know not our dear Lord Jesus. Oh, when he shall reveal himself to you, and tell you he is Jesus whom you have slighted and refused, how will it break your hearts, and make you mourn like a dove, that you have neglected him! and if you never come to know him, it had been better you had never been. Whilst it is called To-day, then, harden not your hearts.

- John Owen -

from Of Communion With God, volume 2 of Works, page 53

Friday, April 29, 2011

The faculty of the will

From The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification:
As the body receives things into itself by the hands and mouth, so the soul receives these things to itself, and lays actual hold on them, by the faculty of the will, making choice of them and embracing them in a way of present enjoyment and possession, as it does by the faculty of the understanding, see and apprehend them.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A quick lesson in productvity

In The Reformed Pastor, Richard Baxter gives us an insight into godly productivity; a tidbit of wisdom to help us to what we are called to do. In speaking of the work of catechizing his congregation, Baxter confesses,
I was long convinced of it, but my apprehensions of the difficulties were too great, and my apprehensions of the duty too small., and so I was long hindered from the performance of it.
I think we often react to jobs and work in a similar way. One, we exaggerate the difficulties until the chore looks overwhelming. Second, we downplay the importance of the work, downgrading it from essential, to necessary, to optional. Thirdly, we don't do it.

A precious word of wisdom to take heed of from one of the Puritan eras great pastors. Let's evaluate the work with wisdom and honesty, and then get to it in the grace of God.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A sea of sweetness

I love this post by Justin Taylor at his blog Between Two Worlds:

Where All True Delights and Pleasures Meet

John Flavel:

Christ [is] the very essence of all delights and pleasures, the very soul and substance of them. As all the rivers are gathered into the ocean, which is congregation or meeting-place of all waters in the world: so Christ is that ocean in which all true delights and pleasures meet. . . .

His excellencies are pure and unmixed; he is a sea of sweetness without one drop of gall.

The Method of Grace, from Sermon XII.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Review of The Greener Grass Conspiracy

The Greener Grass Conspiracy: A Review

What kind of author, Christian author that is, would write a book that had the words “Greener Grass” in the title and started a chapter with the following: “Had I lived in ancient Israel, I would have been stoned. Not in the “Hey, man, pass me another doobie” way but in the “People are throwing large stones at my head” way.” (59)?

Stephen Altrogge, that's who.

According to the bio at his blog, “Stephen Altrogge works as a pastor at Sovereign Grace Church of Indiana, PA, where his main duties include leading worship, working with college students, and shining his dad’s shoes. He also has written a number of worship songs that have been included on Sovereign Grace Music albums. Stephen is the author of the book Game Day For the Glory of God: A Guide For Athletes, Fans, and Wanabes, which was published by Crossway Books in September 2008, and The Greener Grass Conspiracy: Finding Contentment on Your Side of the Fence, which will be published by Crossway Books in April 2011. When not shining his dad’s shoes, you can find Stephen drinking coffee or playing video games.”

This lighthearted playing with words can be found throughout the book. But don't let that colour your impression of the book. The Greener Grass Conspiracy is a serious book dealing with a serious topic; contentment. Altrogge's use of humor is an appreciated skill when reading a book that concerns itself with selfishness, suffering, and sin.

The Greener Grass Conspiracy is a work that seems to lean on two classics on the same subject: The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs and The Art of Divine Contentment by Thomas Watson. I have read the former but not the latter. Both these Puritan books are considered by many to be 'must-reads' on the topic of contentment and Altrogge's dependence on them is wise and winsome. By drawing from Watson's book and 'The Rare Jewel', and sprinkling in some quotes by Piper, Spurgeon, and Tada, Altrogge has produced a nice little gem.

Altrogge's writing style, simple to silly to sophisticated to serious, makes this subject approachable to many who might find the aforementioned Puritan volumes too difficult or too much work. He discusses many facets of this timeless and troublesome transgression with personal stories that help in the recognition of the problems as well as some of the answers and practical responses in dealing with being discontented.

After opening with the idea of a conspiracy that enmeshes us all and breeds a dangerous and deadening discontentment in us all, Altrogge begins to unfold the dilemma of the discontented. In the first two chapters, the author discusses the reasons for the problem of not being content. First, when it comes to discontentedness, “The problem is me. I am my own worst enemy. The raging, covetous, discontented desires come from within” (17). Secondly, discontentment “happens when I attempt to displace God from his rightful place at the center of the universe ... Discontentment results from a big view of myself and a very little view of God” (24). With this starting point of man's depravity, Altrogge begins his exhorting and explaining of true contentment.

After exposing the underlying roots of the 'Greener Grass Conspiracy', Altrogge lays the groundwork for a life of contentment by giving the reader his definition of contentment: “Contentment is a disposition of the heart that freely and joyfully submits to God's will, whatever that will may be” (28). This Borroughs-inspired definition indicates where the author would like to see his readers focus instead of grass-gazing at others.

After breaking down his definition, Altrogge works through issues related to contentment: idolatry and lies we believe about God's character and ours. This opens his discussion on the gospel. I found the chapter entitled Bloody Contentment to be my favorite. In Altrogge's opinion, to be content we need to have a relationship with God which is only possible due to the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. In similar fashion to other Sovereign Grace Ministries authors, Altrogge keeps the cross at the center of this work. The next chapters move towards practical application of what Altrogge has expounded so far.

We learn that contentment can not be conjured with a magical formula and that a sincere relationship with Jesus is the only “secret” to sustaining a disposition of contentment. We are presented with the dangers of complaining and the benefits of gratefulness. These chapters add some depth to the book and their practical bent will be appreciated by readers.

The final two chapters focus on encouragement. We can find solace in suffering when we consider the fact that God is working all things for our good. And our forward-looking view of heaven will provide motivation for a heart-posture that is submissive to God.

I found this book a great, quick read on a topic that we North Americans need constant reminder about. The Greener Grass Conspiracy stays far away from self-help therapy and cliche-ridden platitudes by focusing on God and the gospel. Altrogge's 80's allusions (Back to the Future for example), sarcasm, and willingness to poke fun at himself make a sometimes difficult discussion considerably easier. Despite the looked-for but noticeably absent bacon jokes (follower Mark on twitter for an idea about his bacon infatuation), this is a book that will work nicely as a compliment to the weightier works by the Burroughs and Watson and it just may be a better choice for a small group study or a less ambitious reader. I definitely recommend it.

For a trailer of the book, look no further:

"Greener Grass Conspiracy" Trailer - Stephen Altrogge from Crossway on Vimeo.

Monday, April 25, 2011

From doctrines to holy practice - Marshall

One of the issues that I have been working on-thinking about, reading about, talking about, praying about, preaching about hearing about-is how the gospel functions in our life. The gospel is hard-core objective truth; it is news about what has already happened-really happened, in time, eternally true. "How does this foundation work itself out in our daily lives?" is the question I have been grappling with.

Walter Marshall suggests that the gospel truths are necessary precursors to gospel practices. He believes that the comfort from the benefits and the promises that result from the grace of God works as arguments and motivations to stir us up to gospel-living.

Here is the excerpt I found so helpful:

The usual method of gospel doctrine, as it is delivered to us in the Holy Scriptures, is first, to comfort our hearts, and in this way to establish us in every good word and work (2 Thess. 2:17). And it appears how clearly this method is adjusted in several Epistles written by the apostles, in which they first acquaint the churches with the rich grace of God towards them in Christ, and the spiritual blessings which they are made partakers of for their strong consolation, and they exhort them to a holy conversation, answerable to such privileges. And it is not only the method of whole Epistles, but of many particular exhortations to duty, in which the comfortable benefits of the grace of God in Christ are made use of as arguments and motives to stir up the saints to a holy practice; which comfortable benefits must first be believed, and the comfort of them applied to our own souls, or else they will not be forcible to engage us to the practice for which they are intended.

To give you a few instances, out of a multitude that might be alleged, we are exhorted to practice holy duties because we are dead to sin and alive to God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom. 6:11); and because sin shall not have dominion over us, for we are not under the law, but under grace (Rom. 6:14); because we are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, and God will quicken our mortal bodies by His Spirit dwelling in us (Rom. 8:9, 11); because our bodies are the members of Christ and the temples of the Holy Ghost (1 Cor. 6:15, 19); because God has made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21); and has promised that He will dwell in us, and walk in us, and be to us a Father, and we shall be to Him sons and daughters (2 Cor. 6:18; 7:1); because God has forgiven us for Christ's sake, and accounts us His dear children; and Christ has loved us, and given Himself for us; and we, that were sometimes darkness, are now light in the Lord (Eph. 4:32; 5:1, 2, 8); because we are risen with Christ and, when Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall we also appear with Him in glory (Col. 3:1, 4); because God has said, 'I will never leave you,. nor forsake you' (Heb. 13:5); because of the many promises made to us (2 Cor. 7:1). Search the Scriptures, and you may with delight see that this is the vein that runs through gospel exhortations, and you may find the like vein of comfort running through the prophetical exhortations in the Old Testament.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Mark well!

Walter Marshall, in The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, on the benefits of sanctification endeavored biblically:

Now, mark well the great advantages you have for the attainment of holiness by seeking it in a right gospel order.

You will have the advantage of the love God manifested towards you,

in forgiving your sins,
receiving you into favour,
and giving you the spirit of adoption,
and the hope of His glory freely through Christ,

to persuade and constrain you by sweet allurements to love God again, who has so dearly loved you,

and to love others for His sake,

and to give up yourselves to the obedience of all His commands out of hearty love to Him.

You will also enjoy the held of the Spirit of God to incline you powerfully to obedience, and to strengthen you for the performance of it against all your corruptions and the temptations of Satan, so that you will have both wind and tide to forward your voyage in the practice of holiness.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Why God Created the Universe—For Good Friday

From the Desiring God blog:

Why God Created the Universe—For Good Friday


On the panel at The Gospel Coalition I was asked how my preaching may have become more Christocentric over the years. Here’s the summary of my answer.

My devotion to the truth that God magnifies himself in all that he does has been increasingly refined in a Christ-centered direction. I have been driven in this direction by a cluster of insights.

1. The apex of God’s display of his own glory is the display of his grace.

“God predestined . . . according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace” (Ephesians 1:5–6). Grace is the endpoint in the revelation of God’s glory.

This is seen in the way wrath serves to make God more glorious for the vessels of mercy. “Desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, God has endured with much patience vessels of wrath . . . in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy” (Romans 9:22–23).

2. God’s glorification of his grace was planned before creation.

“God chose us in him before the foundation of the world . . . to the praise of the glory of his grace” (Ephesians 1:4–6).

3. God’s glorification of his grace was to happen through the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

“He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ . . . to the praise of the glory of his grace” (Ephesians 1:5–6).

“God called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (2 Timothy 1:9).

4. From eternity the apex of God’s glorification of his grace was designed to be Christ’s crucifixion for sinners.

Before there was any human sin to die for, God planned that his Son be slain for sinners. We know this because of the name given to the book of life before creation. “Everyone [will worship the beast] whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain” (Revelation 13:8).

5. God’s glorification of his grace in the crucifixion of his Son for sinners was the ultimate purpose for creating the universe.

“All things were created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:16). For all eternity we will sing “the song of the Lamb” (Rev. 15:3). We will say, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain” (Revelation 5:9).

6. Therefore God planned from eternity that the revelation of his glory would be the ultimate reason for creating the universe.

This glory would be supremely displayed in God’s grace. This grace would be supremely glorified in Jesus. And the apex of that glorification in Jesus would be reached when he was slain to save a people who would spend eternity magnifying the greatness of that grace.

In other words the universe was created for the glorification of God’s grace at Calvary, echoing through eternity in the Christ-exalting joys of the redeemed.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

It's tough being Pentecostal

Dr. Gary Milley will soon be taking up his position at Church in the Oaks, the church where the bloggers of this blog attend. This is an article I recall reading when Milley was being considered for the position. A recent tweet by @Rich_Cherry reminded me of it. You can read the whole article here, and below you will find an excerpt.

It’s Tough being Pentecostal!
By Garry E. Milley

I grew up among the Newfoundland Pentecostals. That tells you a lot about me! I was raised in a pastor’s home and cut my teeth on the back of a pew when it wasn’t popular to be a Pentecostal. Pentecostalism now numbers close to one half a billion world wide—half the size of Roman Catholicism in one tenth of the time! The bulk of the growth is in Asia, Africa and South America. I lived through the transition from persecution to popularity, poverty to prosperity. We are celebrating what the early Pentecostals could only dream about. However, we are our own worst enemies here in North America.

It seems that no one knows about us here until some TV evangelist gets his fingers caught in the cookie jar or we are publicly embarrassed by media exposé of secret goings-on inside Pentecostal institutions. I do not want to be defined by the worst among us but, as they say, we can select our friends but we are stuck with our relatives. For better or for worse I am a Pentecostal.

But, preachers who blow people down, promise miracles for money, or who encourage strange behavior as proof of God’s work, embarrass me. I tire of being tyrannized by every religious fad. I am sick of the thin theological gruel dished out by the religious media. I want to be loyal to my roots without being blind to past errors. I oscillate between recovering the original vision and transcending traditionalism. I want the revival to mature as an expression of historic Christianity and not fossilize as a monument to the past.

I want to be positive about what is going on in the broader Christian world without being gullible and I want to offer advice on questionable issues without being merely opinionated. I, too, am a pilgrim in search of a city. I don’t have all the answers. But I’m fearful of remaining silent when something needs to be said. It’s tough being a balanced, sympathetic but self-critical Pentecostal.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Baxter, Storms, Jeremiah, and PRIDE

I love it when God orchestrates my sanctification through multiple avenues. For some reason, this captures my attention and helps me process and progress the lesson at hand. I am even learning to like it when it comes with a punch to my pride and a sidekick to my selfishness.

Last night I was roasting coffee and reading The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter. A lengthy tirade against pride in the clergy caught my attention. It is a long excerpt, but well worth the read.
One of our most heinous and palpable sins is PRIDE. This is a sin that hath too much interest in the best of us, but which is more hateful and inexcusable in us than in other men. Yet is it so prevalent in some of us, that it inditeth our discourses, it chooseth our company, it formeth our countenances, it putteth the accent and emphasis upon our words. It fills some men’s minds with aspiring desires, and designs: it possesseth them with envious and bitter thoughts against those who stand in their light, or who by any means eclipse their glory, or hinder the progress of their reputation. Oh what a constant companion, what a tyrannical commander, what a sly and subtle insinuating enemy, is this sin of pride! It goes with men to the draper, the mercer, the tailor: ‘it chooseth them their cloth, their trimming, and their fashion. Fewer ministers would ruffle it out in the fashion in hair and habit, if it were not for the command of this tyrannous vice. And I would that this were all, or the worst. But, alas! how frequently doth it go with us to our study, and there sit with us and do our work! How oft doth it choose our subject, and, more frequently still, our words and ornaments! God commandeth us to be as plain as we can, that we may inform the ignorant; and as convincing and serious as we are able, that we may melt and change their hardened hearts. But pride stands by and contradicteth all, and produceth its toys and trifles. It polluteth rather than polisheth; and, under pretense of laudable ornaments, dishonoreth our sermons with childish gauds: as if a prince were to be decked in the habit of a stage-player, or a painted fool. It persuadeth us to paint the window, that it may dim the light: and to speak to our people that which they cannot understand; to let them know that we are able to speak unprofitably. If we have a plain and cutting passage, it taketh off the edge, and dulls the life of our preaching, under pretense of filing off’ the roughness, unevenness, and superfluity. When God chargeth us to deal with men as for their lives, and to beseech them with all the earnestness that we are able, this cursed sin controlleth all, and condemneth the most holy commands of God, and saith to us, ‘What! will you make people think you are mad? will you make them say you rage or rave? Cannot you speak soberly and moderately?’ And thus doth pride make many a man’s sermons; and what pride makes, the devil makes; and what sermons the devil will make and to what end, we may easily conjecture. Though the matter be of God, yet if the dress, and manner, and end be from Satan, we have no great reason to expect success.
Pride is an oft-encountered obstacle in my walk with God. Baxter's keen writing caught my attention and caused me to contemplate my corrupted confidence ill-placed on myself.

This morning I read the devotional on 2 Corinthians by Sam Storms entitled a Sincere and Pure Devotion to Christ. In the third devotion, Storms considers 2 Corinthians 1:8-11 which reads,
For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.
Of this passage of Scripture Storms suggests that "as overwhelming, excessive, and burdensome as this brush with death was for Paul, he knew that God was in it!" (32). Paul realized that there was a point behind the tribulation, and that the point was to "make us not rely on ourselves." The crystal-clear clarion call was the second step in my recent sanctification.

The process was continued as I read in Jeremiah this morning, chapter 44 to be precise. In chapter 44 Jeremiah prophesies to the remnant of Israel who have traveled to Egypt, contrary to Jeremiah's instructions, for fear of the Chaldeans. Jeremiah urges, repeatedly, the remnant to stop whoring after their idols. However, the people reject his God-backed rebuke and aver that they will continue to worship their gods and goddesses. This passage also spoke loudly to me; let me put it all together.

Baxter reminded me that I am a prideful person prone to promote myself. Storms sought to show me that one area in which my pride surfaces is in self-reliance in struggles. Jeremiah's jolting of the Jews helped me realize that my continual returning to relying on my own means in the midst of difficulties was akin to the vulgar ignorance and conceited indifference that the Israelite remnant displayed when they refused to refrain from worshiping their idols.

God help me to rely on you and refrain from returning to my idol of self-reliance. Use your rod of discipline, particularly in my current difficulties, to cure me of whoring after the glorifying of self. Your love is evident in this as true joy can only be found when I glorify you and recognize your rightful place; first and foremost. Thank you for your teachers, dead and alive, who help to point me in this direction. Thank you most of all for your Word, which contains Your words, and leads into truth.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Baxter on forgiveness

Richard Baxter writes,
If we be so tender of ourselves, and so loath to confess, God will be the less tender of us, and he will indite our confession, or his judgements shall proclaim our iniquities to the world.
There are several things from this quote that resonate with me. First, Baxter's disdain with being tender with oneself in the face of sin strikes a chord with me. I want to be honest, and ruthless if needs be, with sin in my own life; I don't want to be a self-coddler. Second, the idea he puts forth that the loathing of confession should pale in comparison to the loathing one should have for displeasing God. That is a powerful contrast if we put our minds on it and consider our lives in light of it. Finally, I want a heart that confesses sin quickly. If fear of exposure helps that, though perhaps not the best motivation available, then I want to keep that in mind and leverage my confession should I be recoiling from it.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Sincerity not enough

In The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, Walter MArshall rails against legalism by refuting our ability to please God through our own efforts of moral performance. In the following excerpt, Marshall exposes that we often think that our sincere endeavours to live a life of dutiful holiness will secure our salvation and foment God's favour. Such is not the case. Sincerity is no more sufficient to save us than is the performance of our duties. Thus he writes,
Our consciences are informed by the common light of natural reason that it is just with God to require us to perform these duties, that we may avoid His wrath and enjoy His favour. And we cannot find any better way than this to obtain happiness, or to stir up ourselves to duty, without divine revelation. Yet, because our own consciences testify that we often fail in the performance of those duties, we are inclined by self-love to persuade ourselves that our sincere endeavours to do the best we can shall be sufficient to procure the favour of God, and pardon for all our failings.
Marshall continues to remind us that sanctification is by faith and not of works, the same as our salvation. And yet, we are called to work out our salvation as we know that it is God who works and causes us to will it.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Satisifed, and yet not

Jeremiah Burroughs in The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment:
You never learned the mystery of contentment unless it may be said of you that, just as you are the most contented man, so you are also the most unsatisfied man in the world. You will say, 'How is that?' A man who has learned the art of contentment is the most contented with any low condition that he has in the world, and yet he cannot be satisfied with the enjoyment of all the world.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Sinlessness in eternity

I used to often wonder about the Christian's future life in heaven and about how that life would be played out. One of the things that troubled me was the doubt about our ability to remain, for eternity, in a state of sinlessness. I figured, Adam and Eve lived as sinless beings and walked with God and yet they sinned. What is to insure and assure us against sinning in our afterlife; eternity is a long time.

One of the errors I was making in these thoughts was that I had wrongly assumed that the atoning work of Christ was an attempt to 'get us back to the garden.' I thought our goal in the Christian life was to become, once again, like Adam and Eve. Now, there is some truth to these ideas, but they fall short of the purpose of God's work in Christ on our behalf.

Walter Marshall discusses this in The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, saying:
... Christ aimed at a higher end in His incarnation, death and resurrection, than the restoring the decay and ruins of our natural state. He aimed to advance us to a new state, more excellent than the state of nature ever was, by union and fellowship with Himself, that we might live to God, not by the power of a natural free will, but by the power of His Spirit living and acting in us.
We can rest assured that eternal bliss will not be interrupted by iniquity because we are not being made like Adam. Rather, we are being made like Christ. And our union with Christ by the Holy Spirit seals this eternally. Praise God.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Cross Centered Lives

I spent some time this morning praying for and thinking about the various ministries that I am involved in. I am so thankful to God not only for the privilege it is to be in ministry full time, but specifically this morning I was so grateful that God has sustained these ministries over the last two years, despite my own short-comings, busyness and a difficult time of transition for the church at large.

One ministry in particular that I am so encouraged in by the fruit we've been seeing recently is the young adult ministry. It is hard to imagine four years ago Chris (my blogging comrade) and I were leading a group of twenty-somethings by getting them together to drink coffee, talk about all the things that we see wrong in the "church today", assume our generation had better ideas... and, well, occasionally open up our bibles.

This past Monday I sat as we closed in prayer, listening to the prayers pouring forth from these young people. They aren't the same people they were four years ago, or two years ago, or even one year ago. They are growing tremendously, both in their desire to know God and their desire to study and learn more about Him.

How did it happen?

Well I assure you it had little to do with me. In fact, all I really had to learn to do was get out of the way... check my own massive ego at the door and just try pointing to the cross.

We took some time to talk about God's Sovereignty (in history, in current circumstances and in salvation), then we took some time to study the gospel specifically. What is the gospel? What is necessary in the sharing of an "unadjusted gospel"? How do we articulate it and how does it make a practical difference in our day to day, post-conversion life?

This past September we went through a book together called "Living the Cross Centered Life" by CJ Mahaney and finally now we are going through the video worldview study: The Truth Project.

Gospel. Gospel. Gospel.

I go through this because it was a healthy reminder to me this morning that often times we, as church leaders, get inflated with our own "great" ideas. A series we think will penetrate hard hearts, an event we think will draw the masses. A way of teaching that will make more people, more comfortable.

The amazingly satisfying revelation in all this is that I don't save anyone. I can't change a person's life. (And quite honestly, the harder I try, the more I usually mess them up.)

What I can do though, is point people to the cross. And it seems the closer people get to the cross the more God can radically redefine their lives.

This past Monday I sat astounded as doctrines of God's Sovereignty over evil and suffering, doctrines of election, the reality of Christ's lordship and a true desire to have our will fall under the will of God laced the closing prayers.

Thank you Lord that you are Sovereign over people's hearts. And I pray that I would never forget.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

John Piper on Authenticity

This Sunday at Church in the Oaks we continue the series on Living in Community that interim Pastor Owen Black started.

Jude, Rich and I have each had an opportunity to preach in this series, and this coming Sunday I preach again, and the topic given to me is "Authenticity".

This is another broad topic, and I sought help on how to approach the subject through the lens of the cross. Who better to help me with that, then John Piper?

I really enjoyed this quote speaking of Romans 14:

"Verse 9 tells us what that divine purpose is: "For to this end (for this purpose) Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and the living." God's purpose in sending Christ to die for our sins and rise again was to purchase us out of slavery to the lordship of sin and bring us over as servants under the lordship of Christ (1 Corinthians 6:20; 7:23; 1 Peter 1:18). We are called to be servants of Christ, and there will be no abiding sense of authenticity as long as we strive against this submission and allegiance. We were made to bow before the Son of God and to live for his honor. Until we do, we will feel adrift in the universe and be plagued by a deep sense of inauthenticity."

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Sinclair on John

From Sinclair Ferguson's John Owen on the Christian Life I came across these instructions that that the author, Ferguson, summarized from Owen's writings:

Duty is man’s responsibility to God, and there are 4 reasons Owen thinks it should be so:
1. Duties are consistent with the new nature – we have a disposition towards it
2. Duties cannot be performed without the Spirit’s help
3. Duties are defined in Scripture
4. Duties must be performed by faith

We have a duty to mortify sin, which consists of three things:
1. A cherishing and improving of the principle of grace
2. Frequent exercise in all God-given duties
3. Application of the principle, power and actings of grace in opposition to sin

The first summary, speaking of duties, undermines much of what we associate with duty; duty is not a great self-generated effort to do what is right. Rather, it is the working out of a God-generated disposition with a Spirit-fuelled ability in a faith-filled context.

The second summary is also an eye opener. The mortifying of sin begins with grace as a principle, and continues with the exercise of that grace in duties and in opposition to sin.

I read this book a few years ago and am enjoying re-reading the significant quotes I recorded.

Monday, April 11, 2011

From Your Mind Matters by John Stott:
But the fact that man’s mind is fallen is no excuse for a retreat from thought into emotion, for the emotional side of man’s nature is equally fallen. Indeed, sin has more dangerous effects on our faculty of feeling than on our faculty of thinking, because our opinions are more easily checked and regulated by revealed truth than our experience.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Faith in the gospel, faith on Christ

Here is an excerpt-line breaks, bullets, and emphasis mine-from the fourth direction in Walter Marshall's classic work on sanctification entitled The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification:

A hearty affectionate trusting on Christ for all His salvation, as freely promised to us, has naturally enough in it to work in our souls a rational bent and inclination to, and ability for, the practice of holiness; because it comprehends in it a trusting that, through Christ,
  • we are dead to sin and alive to God;
  • that our old man is crucified (Rom. 6:2-4);
  • and that we live by the Spirit (Gal. 5:25);
  • and that we have forgiveness of sin;
  • and that God is our God (Ps. 48:14);
  • and that we have in the Lord righteousness and strength, by which we are able to do all things (Isa. 45:24; Phil. 4:13);
  • and that we shall be gloriously happy in the enjoyment of Christ to all eternity (Phil. 3:20, 21).

I'd like to note two things, two glorious things, about this passage. First, the inclination and ability to grow and perform godliness is inherent in faith. The trusting and treasuring of Christ, a gift of grace from God, which believes in the gospel and on Christ, comes with the things necessary for growth in Christ-likeness. This is contrary to any type of legalism which suggests we can please God through our self-centered working and striving. It is all by grace.

Secondly, consider-no, rather, feast-on the list of the benefits of faith. If that does not stir you, what will?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Spurgeon on Psalm 22

Around New years I put a lot of thought in to "how" I wanted to read my bible this year. Two years ago I invited my youth leadership team to read through the bible with me in 2009. Last year I picked a book at a time and read through a few books more slowly and carefully with one of RC Sproul's suggested commentaries.

This year I decided to continue my commentary aided, in-depth study, but planned to accompany that with a reading of a Psalm or Proverb each day.

I am currently working through the Gospel of Luke and spending time in the Psalms because I recently heard John Piper say that we should always have a good dose of the gospels and psalms in our daily in taking of the word... for it is in the gospels we see Christ most clearly, and it is in the psalms we see ourselves most clearly.

Today i was reading Psalm 22,, where there is a healthy dose of both sights. I was reflecting on some words I found of Spurgeon's on this text:

"For plaintive expressions uprising from unutterable depths of woe we may say of this Psalm, there is none like it. It is the photograph of our Lord's saddest hours, the record of his dying words, the lachrymatory of his last tears, the memorial of his expiring joys. David and his afflictions may be here in a very modified sense, but, as the star is concealed by the light of the sun, he who sees Jesus will probably neither see nor care to see David. . . . We should read reverently, putting off our shoes from off our feet, as Moses did at the burning bush, for if there be holy ground anywhere in Scripture, it is in this Psalm" (CHS).

I agree with Spurgeon that this psalm, even though it may speak of David's personal experience, is Messianic, pointing to Christ.

The opening words of the psalm are found on the lips of Jesus as he hung on the cross in Matthew 27:46. The taunt of the scorners, "... those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads", (Matt. 27:39) is from v. 7. They also challenged him in Matthew 27:43)with the very words of verse 8. And Jesus cried out from the cross, "I thirst" (John 19:28), in fulfillment of verse 15. Finally, his garments being split among those who pierced him is seen in verses 186to 18.

There comes a time, when reading certain passages of God's Word, that commentary must yield to contemplation.

For me, the psalms are a portion of scripture I am so used to seeing the depths of my own sin... and in this psalm in particular I see the suffering of my saviour and see myself in the portraits of those surrounding him on the cross.

He died for me, he suffered for me, and I will never be grateful enough for it...

Thank you Lord.

John Calvin on the Trinity

As I continue to work through The Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin, I have reached Calvin's discussion of the trinity. I particularly enjoyed this section and the seriousness and consideration with which the author tackles it. Calvin also approaches the doctrine with humility, stresses on numerous occasions that we cannot know, and should not delve, beyond what Scripture teaches about the trinity.

I section 18 of chapter 13, Calvin writes,
...the Father is attributed the beginning of activity, and the fountain and wellspring of all things; to the Son, wisdom, counsel, and the ordered disposition of all things; but to the Spirit is assigned the power and efficacy of that activity. Indeed, although the eternity of the Father is also the eternity of the Son and the Spirit, since God could never exist apart from his wisdom and power, and we must not seek in eternity a before or an after, nevertheless the observance of an order is not meaningless or superfluous, when the Father is thought of first, then from him the Son, and finally from both the Spirit.
Of course, the trinitarian discourse presented throughout is heady stuff, but it is a discussions that is of great import;
...Satan, in order to tear our faith from its very roots, has always been instigating great battles, partly concerning the distinction of the persons. He has during nearly all ages stirred up ungodly spirits to harry orthodox teachers over this matter and today also is trying to kindle a new fire from the old embers. (1.13.21)

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Old Man

I have continued to read and study about the two natures-or one, depending on how you define 'nature'-and I have come across another interesting piece. Puritan Thomas Boston preached a sermon entitled The Old and the New Man in Believers. It is a quick read and well worth the short time investment. Here is an interesting quote on the old man being crucified:
The old man may live long on the cross before he be destroyed: but then his hands and feet cannot serve him as they did before, there are nails driven through them; he may move them indeed, but then it is with pain and difficulty.
Boston later explains,
The old man in believers is in a state of death, though not dead outright. It is crucified with Christ. It may move and stir in them, and vehement struggles it may make, as a dying man struggling with the mortal disease: but whatever efforts it make, it is on the cross, whence it shall not come down till it breathe out its last.
You can read the entire sermon here.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A solid sentence!

Do you want one sentence to chew on for a good, long time? Here is one by Dane Ortlund on Justification. I came across it on his blog, Strawberry-Rhubarb Theology.

This side of several months pondering Bavinck's writings on justification, here's my best attempt at a single (run-on) sentence articulating his view--

Justification, the outstanding blessing of salvation, is the Triune God’s counterintuitive gift of forensic acquittal and right status, an end-time decision announced now in the middle of history, consisting of Christ’s own righteous obedience freely imputed to sinners united to Christ through self-divesting and Christ-riveted faith.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Praying for a Revival...

Richard Baxter to the ministers of Great Britain:

Will you show your faces in a Christian congregation, as ministers of the gospel, and there pray for a reformation, and for the conversion and salvation of your hearers, and for the prosperity of the Church; and when you have done, refuse to use the means by which all this must be effected?
There is a curious practice of attending church, praying for 'revival' or 'reformation' to happen and then ...leaving church with no change in our actions. I'm not sure if it's just Google-lore or truth, but Einstein is purported to have defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results". I think Baxter and Einstein would have agreed on this definition if they were talking about "doing the same thing over and over" as really meaning "doing nothing over and over" when it comes to Christian renewal. Pray yes, but don't refuse to use the means by which this must be effected.

What is the "means" by which this must be effected. According to Baxter, we ought to be
...catechizing, and instructing individually, all that are committed to their care, who will be persuaded to submit thereunto.
Perhaps some parallels to another book we read recently...The Trellis and The Vine.

Baxter expounds the objectives of this 'means'
... this is the work that, through the grace of God, which worketh by means, must reform indeed; that must expel our common prevailing ignorance; that must bow the stubborn hearts of sinners; that must answer their vain objections, and take off their prejudices; that must reconcile their hearts to faithful ministers, and help on the success of our public preaching; and make true godliness a commoner thing than it has hitherto been. I find that we never took the best course for demolishing the kingdom of darkness, till now.
I think that's a great goal - making true godliness a commoner thing than it has hitherto been.

As Jude said...git'er done.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Git er done!

In the dedication to his book The Reformed Pastor, Richard Baxter confesses that he procrastinated in starting the work of meeting with his congregants. He felt overwhelmed by the task at hand and figured the obstacles would too daunting to overcome. He writes,
I wonder at myself, how I was so long kept off from so clear and excellent a duty. But the case was with me, as I suppose it is with others. I was long convinced of it, but my apprehensions of the difficulties were too great, and my apprehensions of the duty too small, and so I was long hindered from the performance of it. I imagined the people would scorn it, and none but a few, who had least need, would submit to it, and I thought my strength would never go through with it, having so great burdens on me before; and thus I long delayed it, which I beseech the Lord of mercy to forgive.
It seems, not only did he find the difficulties loomed overly large, but the importance of the undertaking was undervalued. Fear of man also worked into the mix of the muddled musings of his mind. However, he went through with his plans and adds, "Whereas, upon trial, I find the difficulties almost nothing (save only through my extraordinary bodily weakness) to that which I imagined; and I find the benefits and comforts of the work to be such, that I would not wish I had forborne it, for all the riches in the world."

Once endeavored, the difficulties seemed small and the performance of the duty were beneficial and comforting. We need, I need, some gospel-initiative and gospel-ambition in my life to begin tasks I'm called to and to persevere in employments I have already begun.

In reading this passage, I was reminded of something Mark Dever said. I do not remember the exact quote, and cannot cite the source, but it was something to the effect of, "Young men over-estimate what they can accomplish in the short-term and under-estimate what they can accomplish in the long-term." That is another sound piece of advice.

To 'git er done', remember that if you have been called to something, the difficulties are never so great and the reward will exceed expectations. And hard work over a long period of time will pay off.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Releshing the goodness of the gospel

A mere recognizing of the veracity of the gospel is not saving faith. Simply believing the gospel to be factually true is not enough. Neither is believing for fear of punishment suitable for salvation. In this excerpt, Walter Marshall emphasizes the need for a love and desire and enjoyment towards Christ, as well as a relishing of the goodness and excellency of the gospel.

Our assenting to, or believing the gospel, must not be forced by mere conviction of the truth, such as wicked men and devils may be brought to, when they had rather it were false. Neither must our believing in Christ be only constrained for fear of damnation, without any hearty love and desire towards the enjoyment of Him; but we must receive the love of the truth by relishing the goodness and excellency of it; and we must 'account all things loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord, and count them but dung, that we may win Christ and be found in Him' (2 Thess. 1:10; Phil. 3:8, 9), esteeming Christ to be all our salvation and happiness (Col. 3: 11), 'in whom all fullness dwells' (Col. 1:19). And this love must be to every part of Christ's salvation - to holiness as well as forgiveness of sins. (The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification)

Sunday, April 3, 2011

An Anchor

An anchor that is fixed in firm ground, is reckoned a sure stay for the ship in all weathers;

but the anchor of our soul is entered into that within the veil, into that Rock that is in Heaven:

it is fixed there upon Christ Himself, our Almighty Mediator and Advocate ...

(William Beveridge on Hebrews 10:19-22)

Saturday, April 2, 2011

John Piper and R. C. Sproul

Justin Taylor, on his blog at The Gospel Coalition's website, recently posted about the legacies of Piper and Sproul. 'Pipes' has had a profound and penetrating effect on my faith. Justin Taylor rightly indicates some of the things I, and others, see in this proponent of Christian Hedonism.
As believers in secondary causation, it’s appropriate for us to ask why. Why, under God, are people attracted to the teaching of Dr. Sproul and Dr. Piper? Why do so many folks see them as “spiritual fathers”?

One reason is that younger believers, in particular, have highly attuned “boloney detectors” (to use the technical term). They are hypersensitive to hypocrisy and phoniness. And when they hear Dr. Sproul and Dr. Piper teach and preach, they hear authority and authenticity, truth and love, passion and power, combined in a compelling and arresting way.

It’s not merely the God-centered, biblically saturated content. It’s that this deep theology is creatively presented and passionately believed.

These men do not merely teach; they herald, they summon, they exhort, they plead, they yearn.

In a way that’s difficult to describe in a non-clichéd way, the timber of their voices contains both sorrow and joy. And in that sense, I think they echo the tone of their sorrowful-yet-always-rejoicing Savior.
Men like these do not trifle with their faith. They are serious; sometimes frighteningly and faith-edifyingly serious. And yet, joy always shines through. I'm thankful for men like these, and for how God has used them in my life.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Are you Derailing the Spiritual Development of your Youth?

This is a great blog post from a buddy of mine that has sparked some great discussion:

The question is, should pastors, or persons of influence, wrestle through theological and ecclesiological issue in front of the people they influence or are responsible for?

The question can be asked of pastors, church leaders, small group leaders, parents etc. The comments below the post have started some great dialogue... come on over and jump in!

Online Confession

So in light of a new Catholic Confessional app. that can be found on the market for Apple products, I thought I'd confess a sin of mine through this medium! But first some context.

My fellow bloggers and I (Jude, Rich, and Nate) try to go through a book together a few times a year. I've been blessed with the various titles we've covered and from the dialogue between one another from the readings. This past week we have started reading Richard Baxter's The Reformed Pastor. We've only just read the introductory notes (well I should only speak for myself because I'm pretty sure Jude doesn't actually have a job and that he stays home all day reading....he's probably already finished!) but the Holy Spirit has already convicted me.

In J.I. Packer's intro to the book he lists some less than flattering details about Baxter's life and theology:

Baxter was a big man, big enough to have big faults and make big errors.
In theology, for instance, he devised an eclectic middle route between the Reformed, Arminian and Roman doctrines of grace: interpreting the kingdom of God in terms of contemporary political ideas, he explained Christ's death as an act of universal redemption (penal and vicarious, not not substitutionary)...
Again, Baxter was a poor performer in public [...] his combative, judgemental, pedagogic way of proceeding with his peers made failure a foregone conclusion every time.
[...] his lifelong inability to see that amoung equals a triumphalist manner is counter productive was a strange blind spot.
As a pastor, however, Baxter was incomparable, and it is in this capacity that he concerns us now.

Richard Baxter had a lot of short comings; so do I. The conviction came when I began to think of how many pastors, teachers, and authors there are in the world, who's works I won't touch with a ten foot pole because of the few things I disagree with them on. It would seem like throwing the baby out with the bath water is somewhat of a specialty of mine!

I'm reading Baxter because this book was chosen by someone who I highly trust and because the guy is a Puritan...lets be honest! But I wouldn't give the same thought to some other authors, like say N.T. Wright. I've heard his work on the resurrection is a juggernaut but because I don't agree with his standing on justification I haven't touched it (plus I heard it's approximately a billion pages.... again Jude's probably already finished it.). The point is that I need to change my mindset.

This confession doesn't mean that I'm throwing discernment out the window and I'm going to read everything and anything; there's a lot of garbage out there. It just means that I'm going to try to check my biases at the door and approach some of these works honestly; letting them tell me what they're saying instead of me telling them what I think they're going to say. If I can give Baxter the benefit of the doubt, maybe some of these others guys deserve it too.