Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Paul a widower?

Some neat stuff from Denny Burke via Justin Taylor:

Was the Apostle Paul a Widower?

Denny Burk makes the case. His main points are outlined below. Read the whole thing for explanation and defense.

  1. Paul puts himself in the category of being “unmarried” in 1 Corinthians 7:8.

  2. The word “unmarried” translates the Greek word agamos.

  3. Paul uses the term agamos to refer to those who have been married but now are no longer married.

  4. The context of agamos in 1 Corinthians 7:8 is dominated by Paul’s instructions to those who are married or who have been married.

  5. The Greek word for “widower” was not in use during the Koine period.

  6. The word for “unmarried” appears to be the masculine word for someone who has lost a spouse.

  7. As a good Pharisee, it is highly unlikely that Paul would have been single his entire life.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Help for which we trust

But we must trust on Christ to enable us above the strength of our own natural power, by virtue of the new nature which we have in Christ and by His Spirit dwelling and working in us; or else our best endeavours will be altogether sinful, and mere hypocrisy, notwithstanding all the help for which we trust upon Him

- Walter Marshall, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification

Monday, August 29, 2011

An irreconcilable struggle

The fact that the devil is everywhere called God's adversary and ours also ought to fire us to an unceasing struggle against him. For if we have God's glory at heart, as we should have, we ought with all our strength to contend against him who is trying to extinguish it. If we are minded to affirm Christ's Kingdom as we ought, we must wage irreconcilable war with him who is plotting its ruin. Again, if we care about our salvation at all, we ought to have neither peace nor truce with him who continually lays traps to destroy it. (Institutes 1.14.15)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Taylor on worship

Don’t Neglect the Horizontal Dimension of Singing and Worship

Godward vertical worship—in preaching, prayer, singing, communion—is our ultimate aim when the church gathers together. But we should not neglect the horizontal dimension of worship.

With singing, for example, we are not only singing to God (in adoration and confession and thanksgiving and petition) but we are simultaneously supposed to sing to one another (in encouragement and edification, correction and instruction).

For example, Paul says in Ephesians 5:18-19 that we are to be “filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.”

Or in Colossians 3:16 Paul tells us to “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly”—by means of and with the result of “teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

Along these lines, here is a good word from Greg Gilbert:

I think we ought to encourage every member of our churches to sing every song in the service with gusto, even if they don’t particularly resonate with the song. Every Christian has a certain set of hymns and songs that deeply resonate with them—the melody, the words, an experience they had when they first heard it—and our natural tendency is to give those favorites everything we’ve got … but then sort of check out when the next song is one we don’t particularly like.

But here’s the thing: When you sing in a congregation, you’re not just singing for yourself; you’re singing for every other member of the congregation, for their edification and building up in Christ, too. In I Corinthians 14:26, Paul tells us that when we come together, everything we do—including our singing—is done for each other. Singing hymns is not just an opportunity for each of us, as individuals, to worship God in our own way. It’s an opportunity for the church, as a whole, to worship God together. That means that even if you don’t like a particular song, it’s likely that someone else in the congregation resonates with it deeply—they feel about it the same way you feel about your favorites—and so you have a responsibility to love that person by singing that song with all the heart you can muster. In other words, don’t check out on songs that aren’t your favorites; sing them! And sing them loud and heartily, not because you particularly like them, but because you may be helping to edify another brother or sister whose heart is engaged deeply with those songs. Worship isn’t finally an individual experience; it’s corporate. And everything we do—everything, Paul tells us, including our singing—should be done for the building up of the saints.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Expository preaching

An intriguing post from David Murray:

Pros and consof consecutive expository preaching

Consecutive expository preaching has become vogue in many churches. I come from a background where it was not so common. In the Scottish Highlands, pastors tended to preach what the Lord “laid on their hearts and minds” each week. They were definitely expository sermons, yes, but they were not part of a months-long-series of sermons on one book, verse-by-verse and chapter-by-chapter. If one such series was being preached in, say, the morning service, usually the pastor would use the other sermon to preach on texts that had captivated or burdened him in the previous week. But the idea of having two long series (or even three if you include the midweek) running at the same time was rare and even frowned upon as “quenching the Spirit!”

George Whitefield

However, since coming to the USA, I’ve come to appreciate that there are significant advantages to this increasingly popular method of consecutive preaching:

  • The pastor and congregation are ‘stretched’ to
    preach on and hear about subjects that would not be normally chosen;
  • The preacher and hearers are immersed in one book of the Bible for many weeks and months;
  • It helps to keep passages in context;
  • It teaches people how to read and study their Bibles;
  • It provides a balanced diet and prevents pastors from sticking to their ‘hobby horses’;
  • The pastor does not need to agonize over his choice of text each week;
  • There does not need to be so much introduction and background given each week;
  • The overall argument or narrative of the book is better grasped and understood;
  • It helps people to see the overall plan of Scripture;
  • It encourages people to prepare ahead by reading and thinking about the passage;
  • It emphasizes the centrality and authority of Scripture.

Yes, many advantages, but let me now give you some tips on how to avoid the potential downsides:

  • Ensure that each sermon is complete in itself, rather than finishing this week what you didn’t finish last week;
  • The portion of Scripture for each sermon should not be too few verses, so that the series goes on too long, or too many, so that the preaching becomes shallow and superficial;
  • There should be a memorable theme and points for each sermon rather than simply making it a running commentary;
  • It may be helpful to read a related passage of Scripture rather than the same portion every week for many weeks;
  • Prayerfully consider the need for variation. For example, a series on a Pauline Epistle might be followed by a Gospel or an Old Testament narrative book;
  • Break the series from time to time to provide a change. Sometimes it may be wise to take a break for a few weeks or even months before returning to it;
  • Be prepared to preach on a text the Lord ‘lays on your heart’ even if it breaks the sermon series. Remain “open” to God’s direction each week.
  • Be conscious of your limitations. Few preachers can sustain their congregation’s interest in a long series of consecutive expository sermons, especially if two or more series are going on at the same time;
  • Before finally deciding to start a series, read the book through a few times and begin to map out preaching portions. This will also help you to decide if this is the right book and if your own gifts will stretch enough to take it on;
  • As starting a series is a major decision that will set the course of the congregation for a while, it may be wise to consult with some carefully chosen elders or mature Christians;
  • Try to avoid becoming a mere teacher or lecturer rather than a preacher;
  • There is no need for a long recap at the beginning of every sermon.
  • Remember to preach evangelistically to the lost before you, rather than just to build up the Christians in the congregation;

With these caveats in mind, I hope we will be better able to avoid some of the disadvantages of consecutive expository preaching, and use its advantages for the greater glory of God and
the good of sinners.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Decision making

Good stuff from John Bloom via Peter Cockrell:

When God’s Will Isn’t Clear

Wonderfully helpful, from John Bloom:

Most of the decisions you will make today aren’t explicitly addressed in the Bible. Questions like, should I eat out today? What should I wear? Should I respond to this instance of my child’s sin with correction or forbearance? Should I shop today or tomorrow? Should I check my email again?

The Bible doesn’t even give specific guidance on huge, life-shaping decisions like should I marry this person? Should I give more or save for retirement? Should we adopt a child? Should I pursue a different vocation? Should we homeschool? Should I pursue chemo or try an alternative cancer treatment? Should we buy this home or a less expensive one? Which college should I attend? Is it time to put my elderly parent in a nursing home? Should I go to the mission field? Should I separate from my spouse while we work on these very painful issues?

These kinds of decisions tend to have multiple acceptable options within the scope of God’s revealed moral will, his commandments. Yet he cares deeply about the details and course of our lives. So what guidance does he give to help us navigate ambiguous decisions? He says,

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 (Romans 12:2).

What does this mean? It means that God has a design in the difficulty of discerning. The motives and affections of our hearts, or “renewed minds,” are more clearly revealed in such decision making.

If God made more things explicit, we would tend to focus more on what we do rather than what we love. Like Pharisees, we would tend to whitewash our tombs with the appearance of obedience — to impress others — rather than deal with the dead bones of our self-righteous pride.

But in decisions that require discernment, the wheat is distinguished from the tares. We make such decisions based on what we really love. If deep down we love the world, this will become apparent in the pattern of decisions that we make — we will conform to this world.

But if we really love Jesus we will increasingly love what he loves — we will be transformed by renewed minds. And our love for him and his kingdom will be revealed in the pattern of small and large decisions that we make.

I say “pattern of decisions” because all of us sin and make mistakes. But conformity to the world or to Jesus is most clearly seen in the pattern of decisions we make over time.

That’s why God makes us wrestle. He wants us to mature and have our “powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14).

The wonderful thing to remember in all of our decisions is that Jesus is our Good Shepherd. He laid down his life for us so that all of our sins (including every sinful or defective decision) are covered. He will never leave or forsake us. He has a staff long enough to pull us out of every hole and a rod to guide us back when we stray.

And someday we will see that it really was him leading us through the confusing terrain of difficult decisions.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Understand these two

From The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification:

The most effectual knowledge for your salvation is to understand these two points:

the desperate sinfulness and misery of your own natural condition,
the alone sufficiency of the grace of God in Christ for your salvation,

that you may be abased as to the flesh and exalted in Christ alone.

And, for the better understanding these two main points,

you should learn how the first Adam was the figure of the second (Rom. 5:14); how sin and death came upon all the natural seed of the first Adam by his disobedience in eating the forbidden fruit, and how righteousness and everlasting life come upon all the spiritual seed of the second Adam, Jesus Christ, by His obedience unto death, even the death of the cross.

You also should learn the true difference between the two covenants, the old and the new, or the law and the gospel: that the former shuts us up under the guilt and power of sin, and the wrath of God and His curse, by its rigorous terms: 'Do all the commandments, and live; and, cursed are you if you do not do them, and fail in the least point'; the latter opens the gates of righteousness and life to all believers (i.e. the new covenant) by its gracious terms: 'Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and live,' that is, all your sins shall be forgiven, and holiness and glory shall be given to you freely by His merit and Spirit.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Should I Forget My Past?

This is an excerpt from the blog at Biblical Counseling:

As a biblical counselor, people often ask me the important question, “Should I try to forget my

I first respond with a one-word answer. “No.”

Then I respond with a blog-size answer using the words:

  • Remember

  • Reflect

  • Repent/Receive/Renew

  • Reinterpret

  • Retell

  • Resources


Even if we wanted to, we couldn’t forget the past. It’s impossible. More importantly, it’s unbiblical.


In a similar way, the Psalms are a biblical testimonial to the power and value of remembering face-to-face with God. I call it reflecting.

Repent, Receive Grace, Renew

When our memories of the past relate to our past sin, Christ’s soul-u-tion is to remember, repent, and receive grace. “Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first” (Rev. 2:5).


But what do we do with our emotional agony when we remember past suffering—being sinned against? God’s Word is clear. We never forget, we re-member.


Being human involves shaping our personal experiences into stories or narratives. That’s part of our God-given capacity of memory. We shape our sense of self and who we are in Christ from our retelling of our experiences.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tactics for reading the Bible

A brief summary of some of the info from Welcome to the Story I came across at the Crossway blog:

Tactics for Reading the Bible

Someone once said that a journalist has five friends: the questions of Who? What? When? Where? and Why?. These questions not only help journalists get the story, they can also help us
“get” a passage of Scripture. When reading God’s Word, it is essential that we pay close attention to the broader ideas and themes at work in a particular chapter or verse.

Who?: Getting the Characters. Who are the characters in the story? What roles do they play? Do they experience transformation or do they remain stagnant? How do they demonstrate the plot line of creation, fall, redemption, restoration? How is God divinely at work in these lives? What does this passage teach us about Christ?

What?: Getting the Point. What is the big idea of the passage? How does the passage develop this idea?

When? and Where?: Getting the Setting. Where is it set geographically? When did it occur? Does the timeline provide any context? Where does this text take place in light of the canon of Scripture? Where in the plot line of creation, fall, redemption, restoration does this passage fit? How does this passage relate to the grand narrative of Scripture?

Why?: Getting the Point for Life (Application).
What does the passage teach us about God and his glory? What does the passage teach us about Christ? What does this passage teach us about serving others? What does it teach us about the gospel? Based on this passage, is there anything that I am doing that would turn others off to the gospel? What does the passage reveal about me, my thinking, my values, my beliefs, and my actions? What should I change?

All of these questions boil down to paying attention. As we read Scripture, we must pay close attention to the big picture, the triune God, and the power of Christ to transform us to his likeness.

From Welcome to the Story by Stephen Nichols.

Monday, August 22, 2011

William Carey

A bit about William Carey from TGC blog:

William Carey at 250

Earlier this week, William Carey’s 250th birthday arrived. Born on August 17, 1761, he was the son of a poor school teacher in the tiny village of Paulersbury. Taught to patch shoes in a cobbler’s shop, he was converted to Christ as a teenager. Soon he was gripped with a passion for sharing the gospel with those who had never heard the name of Christ.

In those days, missions was a naughty word, something obsolescent, restricted to the days of the apostles long ago. But Carey read the Great Commission differently. “Go ye,” he said, “means you and me, here and now.” He challenged his fellow Baptists to respond to this call, to “expect great things from God, and attempt great things for God.” The result was the first missionary society organized by evangelical Christians with the aim of carrying the Good News of Christ to all parts of the world.

So on June 13, 1793, William Carey, his wife, Dorothy, and their four children—including a nursing infant—sailed from England on a Danish ship headed for India. Carey never saw his
homeland again. He spent the rest of his life in India as a pastor, teacher, linguist, agriculturalist, journalist, botanist, social activist, and statesman of the world Christian movement. He died in
India in 1834 with the words of a hymn by Isaac Watts on his lips: “A wretched, poor, and helpless worm, on thy kind arms I fall.”

Carey Today

Now, two and one-half centuries after his birth, what can we learn from Carey today? There are many lessons to be gleaned from the life of the father of modern missions, but I place these seven principles at the top of the list:

1. The sovereignty of God. Carey knew that true missionary work is rooted in the gracious, eternal purpose of the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Today, more than a new
program of missionary training or another strategy for world evangelization, the church of Jesus Christ needs a fresh vision of a full-size God—eternal, transcendent, holy, filled with compassion, sovereignly working by his Holy Spirit to call unto himself a people out of every nation, kindred, tribe, and language group on earth. Only such a vision, born of repentance, prayer, and
self-denial, can inspire a Carey-like faith in a new generation of Christian heralds.

2. The finality of Jesus Christ. Sadly the message Carey preached—Jesus Christ and him crucified, risen, coming again—has become marginalized even within large sectors of the Christian community. The uniquely divine nature of Jesus Christ and the cruciality of Christian conversion have both been called into question. Carey’s life and witness encourage us to resist the seductive power of cynicism, relativism, and syncretism, and to remain faithful to the only gospel that can deliver lost men and women from the power of sin and death.

3. The authority of Holy Scripture. Like Wycliffe,
Luther, and Tyndale before him, Carey believed that everyone should be able to read the Scriptures in their own native language. He poured his life into mastering the difficult languages of India and the East until he had either translated or personally supervised the translation of the Bible into some 40 distinct tongues. Carey’s plan to evangelize India included a three-pronged approach: preach the gospel, translate the Bible, and establish schools. Proclamation, translation, education. Carey knew that, as the letter to the Hebrews (4:12) puts it, the Word of God is “alive and powerful.” He knew firsthand the transformative effect the Bible had on those who read, cherished, and obeyed it. Today Carey’s legacy goes forward through the work of the Wycliffe Bible Translators and many others committed to sharing the life-giving Scriptures with all peoples everywhere.

4. Contextualization. Contextualization refers to the need to communicate the gospel in such a way that it speaks to the total context of the people to whom it is addressed. Carey knew the
countercultural pull of biblical faith. He had great respect for the antiquity and beauty of the cultural legacy he encountered in India. Indeed, his translations and critical editions of the
ancient Hindu classics contributed to what has been called an “Indian Renaissance.” At the same time, he was quite sure that devotion to those writings and the religions they had spawned could never lead to eternal life anymore than being born in England or America automatically made one a Christian. Carey’s ability to contextualize the gospel without compromising the nonnegotiable essentials of biblical faith provides a balanced model for a truly evangelical missiology in our own age of social upheaval and cultural disillusion.

5. Holistic missions. Carey knew that the gospel had both a propositional and an incarnational dimension. He refused to divorce conversion from discipleship. He knew that Jesus had given
food to hungry people on the same occasion that he presented himself to them as the Bread of Life. Undoubtedly, he would have been in hearty agreement with the great Methodist missionary E. Stanley Jones: “A soul without a body is a ghost; a body without a soul is a corpse.” The gospel is addressed to living persons, soul and body, in all of their broken humanity and
need for wholeness.

6. Christian unity. The modern quest for Christian unity was born on the mission field. Carey pointed the way by working closely with believers of many denominations in India and by calling for an international conference of missionaries to develop a common strategy for evangelism and witness. What would Carey think of contemporary ecumenical efforts today? He would likely be wary of an uncritical ecumenism which would sacrifice the distinctiveness of the Gospel in the interests of a bland togetherness. But he would surely rejoice in the coming together of Great Commission believers throughout the body of Christ in the task of world evangelization. Carey is a model for this kind ofcooperation among Christian believers, one rooted in Richard Baxter’s great maxim: In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.

7. Faithfulness. Carey’s work in India was a catalyst for a great missionary awakening throughout the church. Today, 250 years after the birth of William Carey, the mandate for
world evangelization still looms before us. The best lesson we can learn from Carey is the principle by which he lived and died: “You should think of us as Christ’s servants, who have been put in charge of God’s secret truths. The one thing required of such a servant is that he be faithful to his Master” (1 Cor. 4:1-2).

Timothy George is founding dean of Beeson Divinity School and general editor of the Reformation Commentary on Scripture. He was a consultant to the dramatic film Candle in the Dark about Carey’s life and work. He is also the author of the full-length biography
Faithful Witness: The Life and Mission of William Carey

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Book Filtering

An interesting post from Miscellanies that causes me o look forward to Tony Reinke's soon-coming book:

Book Filtering

Allan Jacobs makes a very good point about the importance of choosing the right books to read:

One of the most widely quoted sentences of Sir Francis Bacon—it comes from his essay “Of Studies”—concerns the reading of books: “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.” This is usually taken as a wise or sententious general comment about the worthiness of various texts, but Ann Blair shows that Bacon was making a very practical recommendation to people who were overwhelmed by the availability of books and couldn’t imagine how they were going to read them all. Bacon tells such worried folks that they can’t read them all, and so should develop strategies of discernment that enable them to make wise decisions about how to invest their time. I think Bacon would have applauded Clay Shirky’s comment that we suffer not from “information overload” but from “filter failure.” Bacon’s famous sentence is really a strategy for filtering.

Today American publishers are cranking out close to 300,000 new book titles (and new editions) each year. We need a filter. But how do we build such a filter to fit around the contours of our life? That is one of the major questions I sought to address in my forthcoming book Lit!, particularly in chapter 7, “Read with Resolve: Six Priorities That Decide What Books I Read (and Don’t Read).” My point there is simple: book readers must first determine clear reading goals. Once we determine what we want our books to accomplish (even if the goal is mere pleasure), a host of questions about what books you should read will resolve themselves, making the choice about what books to read, and which ones not to read, a more manageable decision.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Instead or through?

We can look at this emphasis on God and his glory in one way, the instead of way. Or, we can look at this emphasis on God and his glory in another way, the through way. In the instead of way, we end up seeing God and his glory instead of our interests, our pursuits, our work, our relationships, our lives. That's not Christianity. That's monasticism. If we take the approach to emphasizing God and his glory in the through way, we see how our interests, our pursuits, our work, our relationships, our lives fit. This approach allows us to see how all that we do becomes not a distraction from God's glory, but the means by which we live for and reflect God's glory. (Nichols, Stephen J. Welcome to the Story: Reading, Loving, Living God's Word. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011. Print. 114)

This concept helps us dramatically when we think about those things that do not SEEM to fall directly under the category 'spiritual'. Whether it is work or play, or anything else, it is all spiritual and we must look at all things through the lens of God's glory. We can find our lives by losing them!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Ten Commandments for Preachers

Here is an interesting mention that I came across on Justin Taylor's blog:

Ten Commandments for Preachers

Sinclair Ferguson asks:

What Ten Commandments, what rule of preaching-life, do I wish
someone had written for me to provide direction, shape, ground
rules, that might have helped me keep going in the right direction
and gaining momentum in ministry along the way?

Here is an outline of his answers:

  1. Know your Bible better.

  2. Be a man of prayer.

  3. Do not lose sight of Christ.

  4. Be deeply trinitarian.

  5. Use your imagination.

  6. Speak much of sin and grace.

  7. Use the “plain style.”

  8. Find your own voice.

  9. Learn how to transition.

  10. Love your people.

You can read the whole thing here.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Parasitic Sin

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said that not only is this a fallen world, but it is a falling-fallen world. By that he meant that sin has a life of its own. Like a parasite, it grows and grows, greedily feeding of its host. (Nichols, Stephen J. Welcome to the Story: Reading, Loving, Living God's Word. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011. Print. 47)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Boredom = Ingratitude

Boredom begets a loss of a sense of wonder. Our loss of a sense of wonder begets a loss of appreciation. And our loss of appreciation begets a loss of gratitude-quite a downward spiral ... Embracing the doctrine of creation is the antidote to boredom. When we realize that God made us, that God made everything, life is set in a whole new light. How can we yawn at what God made? When we acknowledge God as Creator of all things, we regain our sense of wonder, we regain our sense of appreciation, and we regain our sense of gratitude. ( Nichols, Stephen J. Welcome to the Story: Reading, Loving, Living God's Word. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011. Print. 37 & 39)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Preparing children for church

From the 9Marks blog:

The following is a guest post from Brian Croft. Brian serves as the senior pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. In addition to contributing to the 9Marks blog, Brian also writes regularly on his own blog at Brian is married to Cara, and they have four children.

How can a pastor prepare his children for worship service on Sunday?

At our church, we encourage our parents to spend the week preparing their children for the public gathering on Sunday. We do so by giving them the passage that will be preached the next Sunday, and sometimes a mid-week email with more details about the sermon and the content of the service to provide more guidance.

Through this being our aim for every family in our church, I have realized there exists a special opportunity for the pastor to prepare his family for Sunday services. The pastor has a more detailed knowledge about the content of the upcoming services and most importantly…the sermon, than anyone else in the church. He is the one preaching. He is typically the one planning services. I try to use this unique opportunity to prepare my family for worship in these few specific ways:

1) Family Worship always includes in some way the reading of the passage that I will preach so we can begin discussions about it with my children that carry throughout the week. Because I have the unique knowledge of the direction of my sermon, I am able to lead the discussion in such a way that prepares them to hear the Word preached on Sunday.

2) As I individually read and pray with each of my children throughout the week (See this previous post), I also get to dialogue with them as individuals about the passage I am preaching and can ask probing questions that fit their specific maturity as they look forward to sitting under the preached Word on Sunday.

3) Because I eventually know what songs will be sung, I find it helpful, especially with young children who cannot yet read well, to sing a song or two in family worship throughout the week that will be sung on that upcoming Lord’s Day. My children seem to sing more confidently and have a greater sense of participation when Sunday comes.

Pastors, we have the gift of this knowledge because of the role we play. Whether you heed my suggestions or not, please take full advantage in some way of the unique position you have to better prepare your family to gather with the church on Sunday. Your family will feel more cared for and you will be setting an excellent example to the husbands and fathers in your congregation who seek to follow your example…as they should and will.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Welcome to the Story - A Book Review

I consider myself a child of the 80s. Though I was born in 1972, the decade beginning in 1980 would take me from the age of 8 to the age of 18. These were formative years. So it should be no surprise that what first came to mind when I considered the title Welcome to the Story, sent to me from Crossway for review, was nothing other than the Guns N Roses hit Welcome to the Jungle. This hard rock anthem parades the sins and sinners prevalent in Los Angeles before the hearers. The song points to the evil and depraved practices of citizens of the Californian city. Evil and sin are part of the story; but they are not the whole story. Stephen J. Nichols wants to introduce us to the whole story in all its completeness and wonder. Yes there is sin, but there is much more besides. Welcome to the Story – Reading, Loving, & Living God's Word is a book that attempts to encourage people, primarily believers but non-believers too, to engage their minds with the Bible, enlist their hearts to enjoy God's Word, and encounter life with Scripture's principles. In his own words, Nichols' book “invites you to enter in, to participate in, the story of the Bible” (17). Analysis of The Story, as well as practical advice, are the enticements the author uses to entice the reader to 'enter in' and 'participate in' the story of the Bible.

The Story

Nichols introduces and initiates the reader to The Story, the big-picture biblical narrative, by way of literary analysis. As an English teacher, one of the ways in which I teach students to understand stories is through consideration of the elements of fiction. The elements of fiction are exactly what the name indicates. They are the building blocks of a story. The elements we consider in class are plot, conflict, setting, theme, characters and characterization, symbols, and point of view. In diagramming and detailing the big story of God's Word, Nichols focuses on plot, theme and characters.

The Plot

“The story of the Bible has not just any plot, but the best plot line of them all.” (25) With this in mind, Nichols welcomes the reader to the story through a consideration of the plot of the Bible as a whole. Nichols believes that one of the keys to understanding, appreciating, and applying the Bible is a good grounding in the Bible's storyline. In English classes we teach students that a typical plot has 5 components: an introduction, rising action, a climax, falling action and a conclusion. Nichols mirrors these components through his 4-word synopsis of the Bible's plot; creation, fall, redemption, restoration. Nichols does a thorough job of this plot analysis and this 'big picture' explanation serves the book well in giving it a solid foundation to build on but also serves the reader well in providing a crucial idea for understanding the Bible and ultimately for understanding life. If after having read the book, readers possess this concept alone it would justify the cost of buying it and the time spent reading it.

The Theme

The theme of a work of fiction is its main point or controlling idea. This is the cohesive concept of the story, the central concept of the author's narrative. Nichols introduces us to this element by writing, “the story is about God. God's ultimate end in creating and redeeming the world is his own glory. God's story is ultimately about God's glory.” (111) The author identifies the importance of understanding this theme with the title of the chapter in which he deals with it; “God's Story, God's Glory; Adventures in not Missing the Point.” If we don't realize that the quadratic plotline of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration are ultimately about God and his glory, we miss the point of life, of the Bible, of everything. We tend, the author purports, to make ourselves the point of the story which results in a minimalistic and misdirected life. “With God at the center, we live broadly and expansively. With ourselves at the center we live narrowly.” (115) Armed with the plot and the theme of the Bible, and thus life, we find ourselves a true compass bearing for life. These two elements of the biblical story dramatically affect how we read the verses, paragraphs, chapters and books of the bible. And thus they affect how we live our lives. This is a significant idea and Nichols elucidates it well.

The Characters

Any great work of literature requires characters and the development of those characters. We call this characterization. Nichols draws the reader's attention not only to the story's plot and theme, but also to its characters. Characters in general, and biblical characters in particular, can help us make sense of the world says Nichols. They make the storyline come alive and hold our interest. The characters of the Bible, according to Nichols, have their own stories that “tell the grand movement from creation to fall to redemption to restoration.” (94) The characters in the Bible point towards our own life. We see a little bit, or a lot, of ourselves in them. We see how Scripture's plot encompasses and embraces their lives and we understand that we too are enfolded in this grandest of tales that shines forth God's glory. It is this chapter where Nichols brings out a crucial point; we are also characters in the story of God's work. This directs our attention to the fact that the Bible is not a work of fiction, but a real story. “We need to read the Bible in light of the people, real people, we find in its pages.” (101) Those characters, Moses, David, Jesus, are real people and theirs was a real story. And this is significant if we are to be maximally impacted by the biblical narrative. This is the real deal. Nichols examination of the Bible's characters and their characterization reinforces the work of Christ in redeeming and restoring the creation from the fall. This was a powerful chapter.

The Gospel

Throughout the book Nichols often refers to the story within The Story; the gospel. Nichols draws our attention throughout the pages of this book to the central player in the redemption of humankind; Jesus Christ. There is a main character in The Story. It is Christ. The birth, life, death, and resurrection of the Son of God is the climax of this story and the author regularly brings that to our attention.

The Application

“We don't passively watch the story of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration play itself out. We're not off in the gallery peering down on the stage. We are part of the story.” (132) Nichols wants to help the reader with applying the Bible to our lives. He follows the head-heart-hand paradigm by encouraging readers to understand and love the Word which should be followed by participation. The author exhorts the readers in a moving chapter to both proclaim The Story and be ministers of The Story. “We are to speak and we are to minister” (139). We must propagate The Story and we must serve God in The Story. Nichols' explanation of how one might apply his teaching and the teaching of the Word is both easy to understand and encouraging to encounter.

What Next?

To answer the 'What next' question, Nichols provides some tips, tactics, and techniques for reading the Bible. He briefly summarizes some pitfalls that exist when we enter into reading God's Word. He then directs readers to pay attention to a few things:

  1. pay attention to the big picture

  2. pay attention to context

  3. pay attention to your life

Finally, Nichols presents the reader with some resource suggestions as well as some of his own resources. This is an excellent way to complete the book as it gives the reader something tangible to work on.

This book seemed to start slowly but by the end of the second chapter I was intrigued and interested to keep reading. Nichols is easy to understand and writes plainly but not without a bit of flourish. His thoughts and ideas are laid out creatively as is evidenced by the fact that, despite this topic being a popular one for centuries, he brings some freshness to it. I recommend this book for believers who are unfamiliar with these ideas, for believers who need a spark of encouragement in loving the Word, or even for non-believers who want to know what The Story is all about. Anyone who is involved and interested in literature would find this book valuable.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

How to see God's hand in your suffering

From the Desiring God blog:

John Flavel, in 1678, instructs readers to see God as the author of all circumstances in life, including suffering:

Set before you the sovereignty of God. Eye Him as the Being infinitely superior to you, at whose pleasure you and all your have subsist (Psalm 115:3), which is the most conclusive reason and argument for submission (Psalm 46:10). For if we, all we have proceeded from His will, how right is it that we be resigned up to it!

Set the grace and goodness of God before you in all afflictive providences. O see Him passing by you i the cloudy and dark day, proclaiming His name, ‘The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious’ (Exodus 34:6).
Eye the wisdom of God in all your afflictions. Behold it in the choice of the kind of your affliction, this, and not another; the time, now and not at another season; the degree, in this measure only, and not in a greater; the supports offered you under it, not left altogether helpless; the issue to which it is overruled, it is to your good, not ruin.
Set the faithfulness of the Lord before you under the saddest providences.
O what quietness will this breed! I see my God will not lose my heart, if a rod can prevent it. he would rather hear me groan here than howl hereafter. His love is judicious, not fond. He consults my good rather than my ease.
Eye the all-sufficiency of God in the day of affliction. See enough in Him still, whatever is gone. Here is the fountain still as full as ever, though this or that pipe is cut off, which was wont to convey somewhat of it to me.
Lastly, eye the immutablity of God. Look on Him as the Rock of ages, ‘The Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning (James 1:17). Eye Jesus Christ as ‘the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.’

The Mystery of Providence, 1678, (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2006), 130-132, bold and paragraphing mine.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Oft upon the same things

Why must we continually emphasize Christ, the cross, and the gospel? Why must those topics be foremost in our reading, thinking, and conversation? Why? Because, they matter. And they matter in such a way that they are preeminent in importance and thus predominate our life. Richard Baxter, in his book on the ministry called The Reformed Pastor, discusses the role that necessity plays in the pastor's life. The pastor focuses on the things mentioned above because they are dictated to him by necessity.

I confess I think NECESSITY should be the great disposer of a minister’s course of study and labor. If we were sufficient for everything, we might attempt everything, and take in order the whole Encyclopaedia: but life is short, and we are dull, and eternal things are necessary, and the souls that depend on our teaching are precious. I confess, necessity hath been the conductor of my studies and life. It chooseth what book I shall read, and tells me when, and how long. It chooseth my text, and makes my sermon ... Hence it is, that a preacher must be oft upon the same things, because the matters of necessity are few. We must not either feign necessaries, or fall much upon unnecessaries, to satisfy them that look for novelties, though we must clothe the same truths with a grateful variety in the manner of our delivery.

Let's not get distracted on peripheral issues, but rather keep the main things the main things!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Continues still

In his classic work on the sanctification of the believer, Walter Marshall emphasizes the fact that though we are new creatures in Christ not all vestiges of the old nature are eradicated from within us. We still must battle sin and its effect in our lives. We must war against the flesh and its devices. Their are benefits to affirming the fact that we still have some of the old state in us, and Marshall touches upon some of them is the following quote from The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification:

We must know that our old state, with its evil principles, continues still in a measure, or else we shall not be fit for the great duties of

confessing our sins,

loathing ourselves for them,

praying earnestly for the pardon of them,

a just sorrowing for them with a godly sorrow,

accepting the punishment of our sins and giving God the glory of His justice,

and offering to Him the sacrifice of a glory and contrite spirit, being poor in spirit, working out our salvation with fear and trembling.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Saved through judgment

Everyone who gets saved is saved through judgment. All who flee to Christ and confess that he is Lord and that God raised him from the dead (Rom. 10:9) do so because they realize their need for a Savior. They realize their need for a Savior because they have become convinced that God is holy, that they are sinful, and that God will judge. In a sense, they feel the force of God's condemning justice. They sense the weight of the wrath that remains upon them (John 3:36), and they recognize that Jesus is their only hope. Thus, historically (in Christ on the cross) and existentially (in their own experience of the wrath of God that makes them feel their need for Christ) , believers are saved through judgment.

Hamilton, James M. God's Glory in Salvation through Judgment: a Biblical Theology. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway, 2010. Print.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Certainties and uncertainties

In The Reformed Pastor, Richard Baxter indicates the importance of unity among the churches writing, " ... we must be very studious of union and communion among ourselves, and of the unity and peace of the churches that we oversee. We must be sensible how needful this is to the prosperity of the whole, the strengthening of our common cause, the good of the particular members of our flock, and the further enlargement of the kingdom of Christ." This, of course, is a difficult task. nevertheless, Baxter makes many suggestions to help us, one of which he states clearly, "We must learn to distinguish between certainties and uncertainties, necessaries and unnecessaries, catholic verities and private opinions; and to lay the stress of the Church’s peace upon the former, not upon the latter."

Note, Baxter does not say that we must have peace in the churches at any cost. Not at all. He says our peace must rest on the certainties, which really exist, and not on the uncertainties. We must choose the right hills to die on. But, we fight, and die if needs be, together!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

We hope to enjoy Him

Walter Marshall, Puritan pastor and author of The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, reminds us that we never 'arrive' in our journey of faith in Christ. But we continually hope to enjoy Him to a higher degree. The quote is from the aforementioned book and the emphasis is mine.

Let us observe, and consider diligently, in our whole conversation that though we are partakers of a new holy state by faith in Christ, yet our natural state remains in a measure with all its corrupt principles and properties. As long as we live in this present world, our apprehension of Christ and His perfections in this life is only by faith; whereas by sense and reason we may apprehend much in ourselves contrary to Christ, and this faith is imperfect, so that true believers have cause to pray to God to help their unbelief (Mark 9:24). Therefore, though we receive a perfect Christ by faith, yet the measure and degree of enjoying Him is imperfect; and we hope still, so long as we are in this world, to enjoy Him in a higher degree of perfection than we have done.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Essential vs. Peripheral Doctrine

From the Crossway Blog:

The ability to discern the relative importance importance of theological issues is vital to the health and unity of the church. There are four categories of importance into which theological
issues can fall:

  • Absolutes: Define the core beliefs of Christian faith.

  • Convictions: While not core beliefs, these may have significant
    impact on the health and effectiveness of the church.

  • Opinions: Views or personal judgments generally not worth
    dividing over.

  • Questions: Currently unsettled issues.

The category into which each theological issue falls should be
examined in light of eight different considerations.

  1. Biblical clarity

  2. Relevance to the character of God

  3. Relevance to the essence of the gospel

  4. Biblical frequency and significance (how often in Scripture it is taught, and what weight Scripture places upon it)

  5. Effects on other doctrines

  6. Consensus among Christians (past and present)

  7. Effect on personal and church life

  8. Current cultural pressure to deny a teaching of Scripture

All of these categories should be evaluated collectively when determining how important an issue is to the Christian faith. Proper discernment between core doctrines and legitimately disputable matters will spare the church from either compromising essential truths or dividing over trivial squabbles.

Modified from Life’s Biggest Questions.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The whole counsel

The Deity of Christ offers some sage and stinging advice on how we perceive Jesus. The author admonishes us to submit to the whole counsel of Scripture, not just the parts we like and/or agree with. What areas do you believe selectively?

Tradition can save us from ourselves, from the cultural static and distortion of our age. But it too has its limitations. Ultimately, if we are going to unmake our cultural christology and make a biblically faithful christology, we must submit to Scripture. As we turn to Scripture, we need to be reminded that we are required to submit to the whole counsel of God. Of course, we would prefer to pick and choose. We would prefer the loving Jesus, the merciful Jesus, the compassionate Jesus, not the Jesus of judgment, not the Jesus who curses a fig tree for not having figs when it’s not even the season (Mark 11:12–14). All one has to do is read through the
Gospel accounts to see that Jesus continually surprises his followers by challenging their most basic assumptions. We might prefer a Christ who understood the value of social hierarchies and maintained safe distances from the social undesirables—one who kept the marginalized on the margins. Instead, we find a Jesus who rebuked power and cast his lot with the poor, with those of questionable character; we find a Jesus who sat with the blind, with the lame.

Moreover, we would prefer the human Jesus, the man from Nazareth, the one we can relate to, the one who is near and dear. The God-man of dogma stretches our mind beyond that which we can conceive. But it was Paul who declared that in Christ “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col. 2:9). As Spurgeon once put it, Christ is at once infant and infinite. Such are the marvels of the mystery of our faith. And it is because of the work of him—the infinite-infant, the God-man—on the cross that our trespasses are forgiven and we are raised in newness of life (Col. 2:13). Christ is the God-man, in the ancient words of the creed, “for us and for our salvation.”

(Morgan, Christopher W., and Robert A. Peterson. The Deity of Christ. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011. Print. 36-37)

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Threats to the gospel

From the 9Marks websites comes a consideration of the threats to the gospel in our time. Well worth your contemplation.

What are the most dangerous threats to the gospel today?

It’s impossible to answer what’s “most” dangerous to the gospel today without God’s knowledge of everything. But here are some prominent threats that loom on the horizon:

  1. The prosperity “gospel.” The belief that the gospel is about God making us rich is a lie. Jesus came to save us from sin and reconcile us to God (Rom. 5:10-11; 1 Pet. 3:18), giving us every spiritual blessing (Eph. 1:3) and promising us suffering in this life and glory in the next (Acts 14:22, Rom. 8:18).
  2. The attack on penal, substitutionary atonement. Many people reject the idea that on the cross God punished Jesus for the sins of his people. But to reject this is to reject the heart of the gospel itself (Rom. 3:21-26).
  3. The rejection of the wrath of God. People today are extremely uncomfortable with the idea of a holy God who will punish sin. But if we reject the wrath of God we lie to ourselves about the fundamental problem the gospel saves us from (John 3:36; Rom. 1:18; 1 Thess. 1:10).
  4. The rejection of sin. Some argue that sin is just an idea that people in power use to make others behave the way they want them to. But the Bible presents sin—and especially God’s wrath against sin—as humanity’s fundamental problem. Reject sin and you’ve rejected our only Savior who “died for our sins” (1 Cor. 15:3).
  5. A man-centered view of the universe. We like to think that we run things around here. We like to think that no one can tell us what to do or believe—after all, we have rights! But the Bible presents exactly the opposite picture: we live in God’s universe (Rom. 11:36). He made us (Ps. 100:3). He rules over us (Dan. 4:34-35; 1 Tim. 6:15-16). We either worship him or hate him—and face the consequences (Rom. 1:18, 25; 8:5-8). A man-centered view of the universe is the opposite of the gospel and leaves no room for the gospel.
  6. “All paths lead to God.” People like to think that whatever anyone believes is fine so long as they’re sincere. People like to think that God will accept everyone in the end. After all, isn’t he a loving God? But the gospel is a radically exclusive message: Jesus alone is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12, NIV).
Other threats: widespread belief in a brand of “tolerance” which, in fact, is not very tolerant but is fundamentally a rejection of universal truth; cultural materialism; nihilism/philosophical unbelief/radical skepticism; the ever-continual attacks on Scripture, even from within the church.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The turning point

Salvation always comes through judgment. Salvation for the nation of Israel at the Exodus came through the judgment of Egypt, and this pattern is repeated throughout the Old Testament, becoming paradigmatic even into the New. When God saves his people, he delivers them by bringing judgment on their enemies. This is not limited to Old Testament enemies such as the Philistines. At the cross, the ruler of this world was cast out (John 12:31). At the consummation, Jesus will come to afflict those who afflict his people (2 Thess. 1:6, cf. 6-10).

Salvation for all believers of all ages is made possible by the judgment that falls on Jesus at the cross. The cross allows God to be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Rom. 3:24-26). The cross of Christ, the climactic expression of the glory of God in salvation through judgment, is the turning point of the ages.

(Hamilton, James M. God's Glory in Salvation through Judgment: a Biblical Theology. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010. Print. 57)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

An historical call to submission - the Creeds

Again, our ahistoricism leads us to disdain and neglect the past, but only to our peril. These early creeds offer us a sure place to stand when we think of the person of Christ. They call on us for an attitude of submission, submission to the whole Christ of the whole Scripture. Without these “statements” we easily get lost in the tall grass of our subjective experience and our cultural predilections. If this generation decides to throw off Nicaea and Chalcedon in favor of a Christ that reflects our own cultural moment, then we may very well be living on borrowed theological time. When it comes to the doctrine of Christ and a two-nature christology, the church cannot afford to be fluid. The church must be static—teaching, affirming, and abiding by the true statements of Scripture and of those who have paved the way before us.

(Morgan, Christopher W., and Robert A. Peterson. The Deity of Christ. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011. Print. 36)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Two creeds and Christiology

I am beginning a study on the Heidelberg Catechism and have been contemplating the role of creeds and confessions for Christians. I came across this quote describing the boundary-setting properties of the Nicene and Chalcedonian Creeds.

From Crossway's book entitled The Deity of Christ:
These two creeds, the Nicene Creed (325, 381) and the Chalcedonian Creed (451), form the basis of orthodox christology, informing us that Christ is fully God and fully human, and that those two natures conjoin perfectly and fully in one person. These councils and their creeds did not put an end to christological controversies, however. Such controversies continue to this day. But they do represent the boundaries for the church in her expression of the person of Christ, and they do confront the potential challenges to a biblically faithful christology. Views of Christ err when they deny or limit the humanity of Christ, deny or limit the deity of Christ, or confuse how the two natures come together. Since all christological heresies trace back to one (or more) of these three errors, Nicaea and Chalcedon provide the boundaries to keep us from such errors.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Fleeing Facebook

Here is an article written by my brother-in-law, Kevin Norcross, who is a pastor at North Park Community Church in London, Ontario.

Teenagers are fleeing facebook … will they flock to the church?

I read an article that was explaining how teenagers are fleeing Facebook (1). One line in the article was “there are too many chaperones at this party.” Facebook began with university students and then teenagers and now their grandparents commenting on photos. I also listened to an interview with Paul Robertson who was explaining how social media has made it difficult for youth to have legitimate face-to-face relationships because they are so used to the online interactions that they have with their friends (2). I am not entirely convinced that Facebook will shut down because there are no teens on it, or that teens are totally incapable of having a conversation with another human being, but it has caused me to think. My prayer is and always has been, that the youth would flock to the church and that they would not be disappointed with what they find there. I pray that they would be able to find relationship with Jesus Christ, relationship with the body of Christ, and that they would discover the church to be a place that embraces them and challenges them boldly with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Relationship with Jesus

In Genesis 33, we learn that when Moses went into the “tent of meeting” and had a face-to-face encounter with God, he was changed forever. As teenagers enter our churches, they need to encounter Jesus wherever they look. They need to see His glory revealed through our worship. They need to see His character revealed through our people. They need to see the truth about Jesus Christ through the biblical teaching that is being presented. They need to see the His holiness and be convicted of their sin and recognize their need of a Savior through the presence of the Holy Spirit in our meetings. They need to see His love and compassion and grace lived out through each one of us. We cannot manufacture or manipulate any of this, but we need to cry out to God and allow Him to form us and make us into the church that represents Him well. He will help us to become a church that reveals Jesus Christ to those whom we interact with, and through that they can a find face-to-face relationship with Jesus Christ.

Relationship with the Bride of Christ

There is a desire among the youth culture for authentic relationships, and I believe that they can find that refreshing relationship through Jesus Christ and His Bride the church. I have heard many times over my years of youth ministry: “how can we compete with what the world has to offer?” Well, the bottom line is that we can’t and the refreshing thing is that we do not need to. We have the opportunity to introduce these “relationship hungry” students to Jesus Christ and invite them to be a part of a group of people who love and care for each other through the biblical model of the church. What an incredible opportunity that we have as leaders to be available to be used by God in this way. We have the opportunity to represent Christ well and build relationship with these youth and mentor them, pray for them, support them, cry with them, rejoice with them, teach them and they will be able to find that deep, authentic and biblical relationship with other people that their heart longs for (Romans 12:9-21). We have this incredible opportunity to serve Christ and represent Him well and to be the Church that He has called us to be, and to be a place where these youth can flock to and find what they are looking for.

My Prayer: “Dear God, may the youth of this city and nation who are broken and hurting find what they are looking for as they encounter your church. Please help your church to represent you well, and please let these youth flock to the church in droves – Amen.”