Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Thanksgiving Poem

This poem was handed to me a church member on her way out the doors this Sunday past.


Thank You for Your healing touch
Thank You for Your mercy that I need so much
Thank You that You love me so
Thank You that You'll never let me go
Thank You that You're always near
Thank You that my prayer You'll hear
Thank You that I'm Yours today
forever, now, and for always
Thank You for the joy You bring
Thank You for the presence of my King
Thank You for true freedom's song
Thank You Father, that to You I belong
Thank you for the power that you bring
to live for You through everything
Thank You even for sorrow and pain
For it is through these things I truly gain
A deeper understanding, and a close walk with You
My God, my Lord, my very life
Thank You for just being You
And thank You Lord for one final thing
The privilege and pleasure of bringing glory to my King
The One all-deserving and worthy of my praise
Who up out of the pit of sin my life You did raise
But thank You most of all for Jesus, who gave and still gives
My light and my salvation, and Who in my heart does live
Does live to forgive and pardon, and set this captive free
From every form of bondage and doubt every pain and misery
Who heals the heart that's broken, speaks peace in the troubling storm
Who promises to never leave his child helpless and forlorn
And best of all the promises, when I call upon Your name
The gates of Heaven open, and life is never the same
For Your presence transcends everything of this world's estate
And I await and relish the promises of one day walking through the gates
To stand before and meet again, the One Who is the Gate
To see my blessed saviour and Friend, then forever face to face

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Weakness: Our Great Strength

From the recently released Weakness Is the Way by J. I. Packer:
Often linked with the sense of weakness--sometimes as cause, sometimes as effect--is the feeling of failure. The memory of having fallen short in the past can hang like a black cloud over one's present purposes and in effect program one to fail again. Christian faith, prompting solid hope and promising present help, should dispel all such fears and expectations, but does not always do so, and the encouragement that one Christian should give to another who needs it is frequently in short supply. 
The truth, however, is that in many respects, and certainly in spiritual matters, we are all weak and inadequate, and we need to face it. Sin, which disrupts all relationships, has disabled us across the board. We need to be aware of our limitations and to let this weakness work in us humility and self-distrust, and a realization of our helplessness on our own.Thus we may learn our need to depend on Christ ... to practice that dependence as one of the constant habits of our hearts ... (15-6)
Like so much of Packer's writing, this excerpt is packed full of good stuff. There are, however, a couple things that jumped out at me:

  1. Weakness and failure are a part of life; since the Fall, we have had these two debilitating companions walking alongside us on life's journey. That's just the way it is.
  2. Faith should dispel the fears of weakness and failure, even while we understand that they will visit us again.
  3. Brothers and sisters of faith can help us with this through encouragements and exhortations; but, this happens with less frequency than it ought to.
  4. Facing our weakness can actually help us. It can help us be humble. It can help us be distrustful of self-sufficiency. And it can teach us to depend on Christ.

What's the take away from this? For me, I want to be a person who encourages others. I am learning to take every opportunity to encourage and exhort those around me. I often think of nice, helpful, upbuilding things to say to friends and family, but I often leave them unsaid. I want to encourage others with the knowledge that Jesus is there for them and they ought to lean on him. I want to inspire and strengthen others with the understanding that they are weak and that their weakness is strength when they trust in Christ. And I want ot remember that myself.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

All creation displays God's love

The second chapter of Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves deals with the trinity (obviously) in regards to creation. The chapter's title indicates its direction: The Father's Love Overflows. Reeves sees creation as an overflow of the eternal love of the Father for the Son. He writes, "The Father so delighted in his Son that his love for him overflowed, so that the Son might be the firstborn among many sons" (43). God the Father has been eternally loving God the Son, and the overabundance of this love overflowed to creation giving another object for the Father's love.

Reeves ends the chapter with an encouragement for us as we live in this creation:
The triune God has not merely put a star here and there; he has lavished the skies with millions and billions of them. As Psalm 19 goes on to say, there in the sky he has placed the sun, which gives warmth, light and life to the world. There too are clouds which drop down rain to make things grow. The heavens declare the loving generosity of God. And that is why he created.

So next time you look up at the sun, moon and stars and wonder, remember: they are there because God loves, because the Father's love for the Son burst out that it might be enjoyed by many. And they remain there only because God does not stop loving. He is an attentive Father who numbers every hair on our heads, for whom the fall of every sparrow matters, and out of love he upholds all things through his Son, and breathes out natural life on all through his Spirit. (62)


Monday, September 23, 2013

Athanasius on the knowledge of God

Here is an excerpt from Athanasius' On the Incarnation:
When God the Almighty was making mankind through His own Word, He perceived that they, owing to the limitation of their nature, could not of themselves have any knowledge of their Artificer, the Incorporeal and Uncreated. He took pity on them, therefore, and did not leave them destitute of the knowledge of Himself, lest their very existence should prove purposeless. For of what use is existence to the creature if it cannot know its Maker? How could men be reasonable beings if they had no knowledge of the Word and Reason of the Father, through Whom they had received their being? They would be no better than the beasts, had they no knowledge save of earthly things; and why should God have made them at all, if He had not intended them to know Him? But, in fact, the good God has given them a share in His own Image, that is, in our Lord Jesus Christ, and has made even themselves after the same Image and Likeness. Why? Simply in order that through this gift of Godlikeness in themselves they may be able to perceive the Image Absolute, that is the Word Himself, and through Him to apprehend the Father; which knowledge of their Maker is for men the only really happy and blessed life.
Athanasius says several things about the knowledge of God in this passage. First, an existence without the knowledge of our Maker is a life to be pitied and a life a futility. He asks, " For of what use is existence to the creature if it cannot know its Maker?"

Second, our faculty of reason is comes from our knowledge of God; this separates us from all other earthly creatures and is surely part of God's image in us: we "would be no better than the beasts."

Third, our existence is defensible only because we can know God. Athanasius queries, "why should God have made them at all, if He had not intended them to know Him?" This is so contrary to modern sensibilities that think we are the be all and end all of our existence. Rather, we were created for Another.

Fourth, the reason we have been made in the image of God, distinct from the rest of creation, is that we might " be able to perceive the Image Absolute, that is the Word Himself, and through Him to apprehend the Father." Thay is why we exist; because of Him.

Finally, this ability to know God is the path to a fulfilling and purposeful life. Indeed, this is the only "happy and blessed life" available to us.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

An expression and reflection of God

I have recently began reading the highly-acclaimed book, published in 2012, by Steve DeWitt: Eyes Wide Open: Enjoying God in Everything. In the introduction DeWitt introduces what I suspect is a key theme for his book and one that resonates with me. Consider the following excerpt:
I sometimes wonder how it is possible that our culture and society could have missed this truth on such a massive scale. When every popular beauty and pleasure in our culture shouts that God is beautiful, how can so many millions of people completely miss the point? How can they not hear? How can they look and listen and touch and taste and not get it? 
What if the Grand Canyon isn’t just a hole in the ground but an expression of divine vastness? God’s self-portrait draws millions, but do they really see it? What if we were to recognize that the world’s music rings with a spiritual echo of the harmonies of the Trinity? What if the millions Who attend a NASCAR race this year would come to understand that they are doing more than cheering a favorite driver—-that they are seeking intimate connection With the ultimate Great Person. 
What if we were to realize that every sunset viewed, every sexual intimacy enjoyed, every favorite food savored, every song sung or listened to, every home decorated, and every rich moment enjoyed in this life isn’t ultimately about itself but is an expression and reflection of God’s essential character? Wouldn’t such beautiful and desirable reflections mean that their Source must be even more beautiful–and, ultimately, most desirable?
Dewitt is clearly suggesting that all good things, all beautiful things, all worder and awe-inspiring things, ultimately reflect the good, beautiful, wonderful creator of the universe. To paraphrase Matt Chandler, these things should not terminate on themselves but rather cause us to worship God. This idea is well worth some careful thinking and reflection as it pertains to your own life. Take a moment and consider all the great things in your life and how they reflect your amazing God.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Sin; not superficial, partial, or self-remedial

In preparing for a few sermons I am to preach on the trinity, I began reading The Trinity by Edward Bickersteth. It is a thoroughly biblical investigation into the trinity and I am finding it immensely helpful. To set some groundwork before proceeding into his investigation of the triunity of God, Bickersteth writes about sin. Here is a notable excerpt:

This evil of sin is not superficial, but radical. It pervades human life from the cradle to the grave: [Psalm 51:5] “Behold I was shaped in iniquity; and in sin did my [Proverbs 24:9] Mother conceive me. The thought of foolishness is sin. Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child. [Proverbs 22:15] The imagination of Man’s heart is evil from his youth. [Genesis 8: 21]. The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately [Jeremiah 27:9] wicked. From within, out of the heart of men, proceed [Mark 7:21,23] evil thoughts . . . . all these evil things come from within, and defile the man.” 
This evil is not partial, but universal. None have escaped from it. “There is not a just man upon [Ecclesiastes 7:20] earth, that does good and sins not. There is [Romans 3:10] none righteous, no, not one. All the world becomes [Verse 19] guilty before God. All have sinned, and come short [Verse 23] of the glory of God.” 
This evil is not self-remedial; but so far as lies in man, incurable. “Who can bring a clean thing out of [Jeremiah 30:15.] an unclean? Not one. How then can man be just [Job 14:4] with God? or how can he be clean that is born of a [Job 25:4] woman? Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then may you also do good that are [Jeremiah 8: 23] accustomed to do evil.” 
This evil is fatal. “In the day that thou eats thereof [Genesis 2:17] of dying thou shall die, “ was the warning of faithful love to Adam. And upon the fall moral and spiritual death marched like a pestilence through man’s noble soul. The land was as the Garden of Eden before it, and behind it a desolate wilderness. Hence disease and decay, those symbols of a deeper malady. “And sin, when it is finished, brings forth death. Death [James 1:15] passes upon all men. for that all have sinned.” And to [Romans 5:12] those who die in their sins, this death of the body is the awful introduction of that second death, of which the apostle writes, “Whosoever was not found written [Revelation 20:14,15] in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” (14-5)

Nearing the end of his chapter discussing sin, he summarily writes, "All other facts are trivial compared with this--we are sinners--for sin uncleansed and unchecked is present defilement and final death" (16). It seems to me I profit most when reading writers whose perspective on sin is deadly serious; for, that is clearly the condition we find ourselves in.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Are you struggling? Great!

Are struggling in your Christian walk? Do you battle daily with internal doubts and desires? According to J. C. Ryle, that is a good thing. Huh? That's right. The author of the Christian classic on sanctification, called Holiness, suggest that our internal struggles are a sure reason for hope in that they indicate we are in a battle and not mired in apathy and deadness. Consider the words from Holiness and let your struggles be a cause for hope and faith in your life:

We may take comfort about our souls if we know anything of an inward fight and conflict. It is the invariable companion of genuine Christian holiness. It is not everything, I am well aware, but it is something.  
Do we find in our heart of hearts a spiritual struggle? 
Do we feel anything of the flesh lusting against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh, so that we cannot do the things we would? (Gal. v. 17.) 
Are we conscious of two principles within us, contending for the mastery? 
Do we feel anything of war in our inward man? 
Well, let us thank God for it! It is a good sign. 
It is strongly probable evidence of the great work of sanctification. All true saints are soldiers. Anything is better than apathy, stagnation, deadness, and indifference. We are in a better state than many. The most part of so-called Christians have no feeling at all. We are evidently no friends of Satan. Like the kings of this world, he wars not against his own subjects. The very fact that he assaults us should fill our minds with hope.  
I say again, let us take comfort. The child of God has two great marks about him, and of these two we have one. HE MAY BE KNOWN BY HIS INWARD WARFARE, AS WELL AS BY HIS INWARD PEACE. (55, line breaks mine)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Gracious Cascade

To the question “What was God doing before He made heaven and earth?” Augustine answered humourously: “He was preparing hell,” saith he, “for those who pry into mysteries.” A witty response from one of the church's greatest theologians. However, the Bible does give us some indication of God's activity before creation. Michael Reeves, in Delighting in the Trinity, notes,
Jesus tells us explicitly in John 17:24. "Father," he says, "you loved me before the creation of the world." And that is the God revealed by Jesus Christ. Before he ever created, before he ever ruled the world, before anything else, this God was a Father loving his Son. (21)
Reeves builds on this idea moving to the idea that the overflow of the loving relationship between Father and Son "begins a gracious cascade, like a waterfall of love" (28) under which we are showered with the mercy of God. That is,
as the Father is the lover and the Son is the beloved, so Christ becomes the lover and the church the beloved. That means that Christ loves the church first and foremost: his love is not a response, given only when the church loves him; his love comes first, and we only love him because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). (28)
Reeves summarizes this section writing,
For eternity, the Father so loves the Son that he excites the Son's eternal love in response; Christ so loves the church that he excites our love in response ... Such is the spreading goodness that rolls out of the very being of this God. (29)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A Dilemma and Its Solution

In the second chapter of On The Incarnation, appropriately titled The Divine Dilemma and Its Solution in the Incarnation, Athanasius presents the predicament that is a result of humans and their sin.
He saw how the surpassing wickedness of men was mounting up against them; He saw also their universal liability to death. All this He saw and, pitying our race, moved with compassion for our limitation, unable to endure that death should have the mastery, rather than that His creatures should perish and the work of His Father for us men come to nought, He took to Himself a body, a human body even as our own.
The incarnation of the Word of God should cause us to wonder and worship; we were destined to death only had he not come to save us; Athanasius writes, "For the human race would have perished utterly had not the Lord and Savior of all, the Son of God, come among us to put an end to death." That was our inheritance as a result of sin. But, he loved us. And so he condescended and became one of us that he might live, die, and be raised for our salvation.
This He did out of sheer love for us, so that in His death all might die, and the law of death thereby be  abolished because, having fulfilled in His body that for which it was appointed, it was thereafter voided of its power for men. This He did that He might turn again to incorruption men who had turned back to corruption, and make them alive through death by the appropriation of His body and by the grace of His resurrection.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Dividing laws in to moral, civil, and ceremonial

In their massive work Kingdom Through Covenant, authors Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum address the oft-procured argument that the laws of the Old Testament are divided into three categories: moral, civil, and ceremonial. The most common purpose for which these divisions are that I come across is to decipher what laws from the Old Testament are still in effect and applicable to New Testament believers. To that end, the authors write the following:
It is common to categorise and classify the laws as (a) moral, (b) civil, and (c) ceremonial, but this classification is foreign to the material and imposed upon it from the outside rather than arising from the material and being clearly marked by the literary structure of the text. In fact, the ceremonial, civil, and moral laws are all mixed together, not only in the Judgments or ordinances but in the Ten Words as well (the Sabbath may be properly classified as ceremonial). Those who claim the distinction between ceremonial, civil, and moral law do so because they want to affirm that the ceremonial (and in some cases, civil) laws no longer apply but the moral laws are eternal ... This is an inaccurate representation of Scripture at this point. Exodus 24 clearly indicates that the Book of the Covenants consists of the Ten Words and the Judgments, and this is the covenant (bot Ten Words and Judgments) that Jesus declares that he has completely fulfilled and Hebrews declares is now made obsolete by the new covenant. What we can say to represent accurately the teaching of Scripture is that the righteousness of God codified, enshrined, and encapsulated in the old covenant has not changed, and that this same righteousness is now codified and enshrined in the new. (355)

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

A singing heart

"For my own part I tend to find the doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion than the devotional books, and I rather suspect that the same experience may await others. I believe that many who find that "nothing happens" when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand." - C. S. Lewis

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

God's transcendence and immanence as seen in the burning bush

As I have mentioned before, Scott Oliphint writing on certain things is extremely helpful. For instance, on the topic of God's condescension I have not come across anyone's writing or teaching which is more enriching or engaging; it might be out there, I just haven't come across it. Part of his discussions and writings on condescension pertain to God's aseity or transcendence. If God is a God who condescends, or stoops to our level, then he must be above, beyond, and other than us. I really appreciate Oliphint's approach on this aspect of God's character.

He touches upon this in his most recent offering, Covenantal Apologetics. Speaking of the difference between us and God he writes, "Every experience that we [humans] have in all of creation is an experience of utter dependence. But the Lord is not one who depends on anything; he, and he alone, is who he is" (60).

Oliphint sees this attribute of God in many places and in many ways in the Scriptures. But one of the examples that is a memorable one for me deals with Moses and the burning bush. Oliphint writes,
The revelation that Moses has of what is really the unburning bush is, in part, designed to reveal to Moses both of these truths [God is transcendent and immanent]. The fire, which represents the Lord himself, is in no way dependent on the bush in order to burn. The fire is, in that sense, a se [other, transcendent, independent]. It does not need the bush for fuel; it is able to burn in and of itself. But it is also with the bush. It could easily appear on its own, because it is in need of nothing to burn. Or it could appear beside the bush. Instead, it is linked inextricably with the bush, even as the Lord himself-who is who he is-has bound himself inextricably to his people. (60)
This is a beautiful picture of both God's transcendent otherness and his condescending, immanent covenanting with us.