Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Breadth and Depth of the Fear of YHWH

The parallel descriptions in Ps. 33:18—“those who fear him,” and “those who hope in his steadfast love”—show something of the breadth and depth and width of the meaning of the fear of YHWH. It is not just trembling before YHWH, or trembling at his Word. It is that. There’s really no doubt about it. But the fear of YHWH is a more expansive concept as well, as many have noted.

In Ps. 33:18, hope is at the heart of the fear of YHWH, as the parallel expressions make clear. Other texts could be adduced to support other aspects of the fear of YHWH, such as trust and delight. Yet, while noting that the texture of this term is indeed important for rightly understanding the fear of YHWH, noting this richness ought never to come at the expense of the trembling element—which undoubtedly belongs to the essence of the fear of YHWH. As many passages amply attest.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Missionary Oath

"Missionary, first, do no harm." This is what I'm calling the Missionary Oath. And I've come up with it mainly with so-called "short-term missions" in mind.

You've doubtless heard of the Hippocratic Oath. A modern translation of the classical version, originally in Greek, may be found here.

The popular modern summary of this oath today, wrongly attributed to Hippocrates (though some think that the substance of a part of the Hippocratic Oath is at least somewhat summarized by it), goes like this: "First, do no harm."

So: "Physician, first, do no harm." I would likewise suggest that churches adopt—especially for "short-term missions" work—the missionary form of this: "Missionary, first do no harm." And then each missionary would take this oath: "I, said missionary, do promise, to the best of my ability, first to do no harm."

Why, you might ask, is this necessary? Well, the reasons why are well documented: "Why You Should Consider Canceling Your Short-Term Mission Trips"; "Toxic Charity"; and "When Helping Hurts."

And one of the remedies for addressing problems with "short-term missions" work would be for far more robust training and educating to prepare people to—above all else—do no harm. After which training and education the said trainee would swear the Missionary Oath.

Monday, May 11, 2015

In a Way that Hurts Abominably

C. S. Lewis:
Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to re-build that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He's doing. He's getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and which doesn't seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of—throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself. 
—C. S. Lewis, Beyond Personality: The Christian Idea of God (London: Centenary, 1944), 48.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Family Meal

Yes, the Lord's Supper is the family meal of the church of God in Christ. And so there ought to be a visible, tangible expression of this on Sunday morning.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

God-Centered Anger

In "Charity Contrary to an Angry Spirit," preached in 1738, Edwards speaks of what God-centered anger looks like:
If men's own private interest was not what men sought, but the glory of God and the common good chiefly, then their spirit would be much more stirred in God's cause than in their own. And they would not be prone to hasty, rash, inconsiderate, immoderate and long continued wrath for injuries to themselves. They would in a great measure forget themselves for God's sake, and Christ's sake; and the end, at which they would aim in their anger, would not be making themselves feared, or getting their own will, but God's glory, and others' good.
—Jonathan Edwards, Ethical Writings (vol. 8 in the Works of Jonathan Edwards; ed. Paul Ramsey; New Haven: Yale University, 1989), 279.

Anger in Relationship to God

"Love to God is opposite to a disposition in men to be angry at others' faults chiefly as they are affected and injured by them; it disposes them to resent them more as they are against God."

—Jonathan Edwards, Ethical Writings (vol. 8 in the Works of Jonathan Edwards; ed. Paul Ramsey; New Haven: Yale University, 1989), 278.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Sinful Anger versus Godly Anger

Edwards, from "Charity Contrary to an Angry Spirit," preached in 1738:
Persons sin in their anger with respect to the occasion of anger when their spirits are stirred at the faults of others chiefly as they affect themselves, and not as they are against God. We should never be angry but at sin. This should always be the evil which we oppose in our anger; and when our spirits are stirred to oppose this evil, it should be as sin, or chiefly as it is against God. If there be no sin, then we have no cause to be angry; and if there be a fault, or sin, then the sin is infinitely worse as it is against God than as it is against us, and therefore requires more opposition upon that account. Persons sin in their anger when they are selfish in it. Men are not to act as their own or for themselves singly, for they are not their own, as has been lately shown. When a fault is committed, wherein both God is sinned against and they are injured, they should be chiefly concerned and their spirits chiefly moved against it as it is against God, as they would show themselves to be more concerned for God's glory than their own temporal interest.
All anger in men is either a virtue or a vice. There is no middle sort which is neither good or bad. But there is no true virtue or goodness in opposing sin unless it be opposed as sin. The anger which is a virtue is the same which is called "zeal." Our anger should be like Christ's anger. He was like a lamb under personal injuries. And we never read of his being angry but in the cause of God against sin. So we read, Mark 3:5, "He looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts." Thus anger may be unsuitable and unchristian with respect to the occasion or cause of it.
—Jonathan Edwards, Ethical Writings (vol. 8 in the Works of Jonathan Edwards; ed. Paul Ramsey; New Haven: Yale University, 1989), 276–277.

What Is Anger?

Here's a definition of anger, slightly modified from Jonathan Edwards:

"An intense, earnest, and passionate opposition of one's spirit to any real or perceived evil or fault."

—Jonathan Edwards, Ethical Writings (vol. 8 in the Works of Jonathan Edwards; ed. Paul Ramsey; New Haven: Yale University, 1989), 272–273.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Reports versus Stories

 "Reports convey information. Stories create experience. Reports transfer knowledge. Stories transport the reader, crossing boundaries of time, space, and imagination. The report points us there. The story puts us there."

—Roy Peter Clark, Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2008), 124.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Strategic Attentiveness

I'm on a bit of a blog binge today. And so here's another post, this one by Alan Jacobs, in response to Rod Dreher's and David French's posts, in which Jacobs suggests pursuing "a strategic attentiveness to the institutions and forms of life within which Christians can flourish" in the face of the cultural seismic shifts underway.

What ought this "strategic attentiveness" look like? Jacobs give us his inclination in answering the question: "My own inclination . . . is to think that our primary focus should be on the two chief modes of Bildung: paideia and catechesis."

You should probably read first the pieces to which Jacobs is responding (which you may find within Jacob's post). I point up Jacobs' post because it sums up, clarifies, and points the way forward best.

Evangelizing the Cemetery

Mark Dever's post "How to Survive a Cultural Crisis" over at The Gospel Coalition is well worth your time to read.

Here's one choice quote from point one of seven that he makes:

"The whole Christian faith is based on the idea that God takes people who are spiritually dead and gives them new life. Whenever we evangelize, we are evangelizing the cemetery."

Thursday, April 30, 2015

An Telling African Proverb

"Until lions have their historians, the hunter will always be the hero of the story."

—As recalled by Michael W. Goheen, Introducing Christian Mission Today: Scripture, History and Issues (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2014), 28.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Selfishness Defined

"There are [those] who in their love to their own happiness place their happiness in good things which are confined and limited to themselves exclusive of others. And this is selfishness."

—Jonathan Edwards, Ethical Writings (vol. 8 in the Works of Jonathan Edwards; ed. Paul Ramsey; New Haven: Yale University, 1989), 257.

Friday, April 24, 2015

He Won for Us Forgiveness, Adoption, and Glory

Packer:
The notion which the phrase "penal substitution" expresses is that Jesus Christ our Lord, moved by a love that was determined to do everything necessary to save us, endured and exhausted the destructive divine judgement for which we were otherwise inescapably destined, and so won us forgiveness, adoption, and glory.
—James I. Packer, "What Did the Cross Achieve? The Logic of Penal Substitution," in Celebrating the Saving Work of God: The Collected Shorter Writings of J. I. Packer Volume 1 (Carlisle, Cumbria: Paternoster), 105.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Was Christum Treibet

"Luther was right in applying the criterion was Christum treibet [whatever promotes Christ], but wrong in not recognizing that the Epistle of James also 'promotes Christ' by its practical application of the Sermon on the Mount."

—Bruce M. Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance (New York: Oxford, 1997), 244, n 30.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

What Is a Christian?

"To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you."

—C. S. Lewis, "On Forgiveness," in The Weight of Glory (New York: HarperCollins, 1980), 182.

Real Forgiveness

Lewis:
Real forgiveness means looking steadily at the sin, the sin that is left over without any excuse, after all allowances have been made, and seeing it in all its horror, dirt, meanness, and malice, and nevertheless being wholly reconciled to the man who has done it.
—C. S. Lewis, "On Forgiveness," in The Weight of Glory (New York: HarperCollins, 1980), 181.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Standing in Awe of God's Word to Face the Foe

In Ps. 119:161, princes sit plotting against the psalmist. His strategy to combat this was unusual (at least it is likely to seem so to us). It was not military (at least not mainly). Instead, he stood in awe of God’s Word. He revered God’s Word. God's wonderful Word still held him and dominated his thinking and outlook—despite immense external pressure.  

And so, likewise, it ought to be, whatever we might find ourselves facing, as we face an array of foes. Whether these foes be civil, or legal, or religious, or local, or even familial, standing in awe of God’s Word and revering God’s Word ought to be the primary posture of the godly who would not be overwhelmed by the foe faced, but more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Friday, April 17, 2015

No Room for Any Reserve

Commenting on Mark 12:30, Edwards says (italics mine for emphasis):
Here is contained in these words a description of a right love to God; and they teach us that they who love him aright do devote all to him, all their hearts, and all their souls, all their mind and all their strength, or all their powers and faculties. Surely, a man who gives all this wholly to God keeps nothing back, but devotes himself wholly and entirely to God. He who gives God all his heart, and all his soul, and all his mind, and all his powers or strength, keeps nothing back; there is no room for any reserve. All who have true love to God have a spirit thus to do. This shows how much a principle of true love to God is above a selfish principle. For if self be devoted wholly to God, then there is something above self which influences the man; there is something superior to self which takes self and makes an offering of it to God. A selfish principle never devotes self to another; the nature of it is to devote all others to self. They who have true love to God, love God as God, and as the supreme good; whereas the nature of selfishness is to set up self for God, to make an idol of self. That being which men respect as God, they devote all to. They who idolize self devote all to self, but they who love God as God devote all to him. 
—Jonathan Edwards, Ethical Writings (vol. 8 in the Works of Jonathan Edwards; ed. Paul Ramsey; New Haven: Yale University, 1989), 261–262.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Christians Are Open Books

"Non-Christians do not read the Bible; they read Christians."

—Christopher W. Morgan, A Theology of James: Wisdom for God's People (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2010), xiii.

The Canonical Context of the Psalms

In a paper titled "Towards a Canonical Reading of the Psalms," Gordon Wenham asks and answers the question, "what is the canonical context in which we read each psalm?"

His answer, at least as a starting place, seems to me to be a very good answer. Here's what he says:
I tend to think three canonical contexts are more important than others. 
First, there is the canonical context of the whole Psalter. . . . [It] is imperative to read one psalm in the context of the whole collection and in particular in relation to its near neighbors.  
Second, there is reading the psalms in the context of the Jewish canon, the Hebrew Bible.  The psalms themselves invite this by their frequent reference to historical figures and episodes from the past. . . .  
Third, of course, the psalms need to be read in the context of the Christian canon of Old and New Testaments. The Psalms are the book of the Old Testament most quoted in the New Testament: it appears that the early Christians inhabited the thought world of the psalms, so that any biblical theology that would be Christian must read the psalms in this context. 
—Gordon Wenham, "Towards a Canonical Reading of the Psalms," in Canon and Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 347–348.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Christian Public Leadership

Edwards:
Especially will a Christian spirit dispose those who stand in a public capacity, such as ministers and magistrates and all public officers, to seek the public good. It will dispose magistrates to act as the fathers of the commonwealth with that care and concern for the public good that the father of a family has for the family, watchful against any public dangers, forward to improve their power to promote the public benefit, not being governed by selfish views in their administrations, seeking only or mainly to enrich themselves, or make themselves great, and advance themselves on the spoils of others as wicked rulers very often do. 
A Christian spirit will dispose ministers not to seek their own, not merely to seek a maintenance, aiming to get whatever they can out of their people to enrich themselves and their families, and to clothe themselves with the fleeces of their flock. But a Christian spirit will dispose them mainly to seek the good of their flock, to feed their souls as a good shepherd feeds his flock, and carefully watches over it, to lead it to good pasture, and defend it from wolves and others beasts of prey. 
—Jonathan Edwards, Ethical Writings (vol. 8 in the Works of Jonathan Edwards; ed. Paul Ramsey; New Haven: Yale University, 1989), 261–262.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Models for Theologizing

 Packer:
The whole study of Christian theology, biblical, historical and systematic, is the exploring of a three tier hierarchy of models: first, the "control" models given in Scripture (God, Son of God, kingdom of God, justification, adoption, redemption, new birth and so forth—in short, all the concepts analysed in Kittel's great Wörterbuch and its many epigoni); next, dogmatic models which the church crystallized out to define and defend the faith (homoousion, Trinity, nature, hypostatic union, double procession of the Spirit, sacrament, the supernatural, etc.—in short, all the concepts usually dealt wiht in doctrinal textbooks); finally, interpretive models lying between Scripture and defined dogma which particular theologians and theological schools developed for stating the faith to contemporaries (penal substitution, verbal inspiration, divinization, Barth's "Nihil"—das Nichtige—and many more.
—James I. Packer, "What Did the Cross Achieve? The Logic of Penal Substitution," in Celebrating the Saving Work of God: The Collected Shorter Writings of J. I. Packer Volume 1 (Carlisle, Cumbria: Paternoster), 93–94.

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Next Great Heresy

Chesterton back in 1926, speaking with real insight into real states of affairs:
For the next great heresy is going to be simply an attack on morality; and especially on sexual morality. And it is coming, not from a few Socialists surviving from the Fabian Society, but from the living exultant energy of the rich resolved to enjoy themselves at last, with neither Popery nor Puritanism nor Socialism to hold them back . . . The madness of tomorrow is not in Moscow, but much more in Manhattan.
—G.K. Chesterton, "The Next Heresy," in G.K.’s Weekly, June 19, 1926.

HT: Our Transgressive Daisy Chain

Now That's a Good Question

"'I was born gay!' 'Gender is a social construct!' Hmmmm . . . which is it?"

—Doug Wilson, Our Transgressive Daisy Chain

Saturday, April 4, 2015

A Gospel Spirit

"A Christian spirit and a gospel spirit are the same. That is the spirit to which the Christian revelation tends."

—Jonathan Edwards, Ethical Writings (vol. 8 in the Works of Jonathan Edwards; ed. Paul Ramsey; New Haven: Yale University, 1989), 247.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

A Christian Spirit Is a Humble Spirit

In the sixth sermon of his famous sermon series on 1 Corinthians 13—Charity and Its Fruits—Jonathan Edwards preached on verses 4–5 and humility. The doctrine of the sermon is this: "a Christian spirit is a humble spirit." And then Edwards defines what humility is.

He says, "Humility may be defined to be a sense of our own comparative meanness, with a disposition to a behavior answerable thereto."

And then he unpacks this by speaking to its primary relationship and to the phenomenon of false humility:
Humility does primarily consist in a sense of [one's] own meanness as compared with God or a sense of the infinite distance between God and us. . . . There is no true humility without this. However sensible persons may be of their meanness as compared with some of their fellow creatures, yet there is no true humility without a sense of their meanness before God. 
Some men seem to have a low opinion of themselves as compared with other men from melancholy, or from the meanness of their circumstances, or from their natural constitution, or from some other cause, who know nothing of that infinite distance which is between God and them; and therefore, though men may be ready to look upon them as humble-spirited men, yet they have no true humility; for that which above all other things concerns us to know of ourselves is what we are before God. . . . And if we are ignorant of our meanness as compared with him, the most essential thing and that which is original in true humility is wanting. 
—Jonathan Edwards, Ethical Writings (vol. 8 in the Works of Jonathan Edwards; ed. Paul Ramsey; New Haven: Yale University, 1989), 233–235.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Priest Pronounces One Clean or Unclean

I just read through Leviticus 13 before going into work today. What can all of this clean and unclean business possibly mean, not least for twenty-first century persons?

For my part, I'm convinced that the main reason the Lord gave the likes of Leviticus is to give us categories for understanding the gospel, for understanding ourselves as sinful, for understanding his holiness, and for understanding his provision in the Christ.

What struck me as of interest in Leviticus 13 as I read it this time is that it is the priest who pronounces one clean or unclean. Here yet again, then, do we have another category given for apprehending the gospel—Christ is the ultimate priest who takes on the role of the one who declares one clean or unclean.

Go have a look. Check it out, here and there and everywhere in the Gospels, including in the upper room where Jesus declares his disciples clean (John 13). He is the ultimate priest to which all other priests point, and he alone has the prerogative of declaring you or me to be clean. 

The Ground of the Being of Meaning

Kevin Vanhoozer:
The author's will acts as a control on interpretation. Thanks to an author's willing this rather than that, we can say that there is a definite meaning in texts prior to reading and interpretation. As God's will structures the universe, so the author's will structures the universe of discourse. The author is thus the ground of the "being" of meaning. 
—Kevin Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning in This Text? The Bible, the Reader, and the Morality of Literary Knowledge (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), 47.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Envy's Opposition to Others

Edwards:
Envy may be defined, a spirit of opposition to others' comparative happiness, or to the happiness of others considered as compared with their own. The thing to which envious persons are opposed is the comparative relation between that state of honor or happiness which others have, or may have, and their own state.
—Jonathan Edwards, Ethical Writings (vol. 8 in the Works of Jonathan Edwards; ed. Paul Ramsey; New Haven: Yale University, 1989), 219.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Art of Life

C. S. Lewis:
I think the art of life consists in tackling each immediate evil as well as we can. To avert or postpone one particular war by wise policy, or to render one particular campaign shorter by strength and skill or less terrible by mercy to the conquered and the civilians is more useful than all the proposals for universal peace that have ever been made; just as the dentist who can stop one toothache has deserved better of humanity than all the men who think they have some scheme for producing a perfectly healthy race.
—C. S. Lewis, "Why I Am Not a Pacifist," in The Weight of Glory (New York: HarperCollins, 1980), 79.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Great Original

"God is the Author of authors" (Kevin Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning in This Text? 47).

What It Is to Read

"To read is to fraternize with the great minds of the past" (Kevin Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning in This Text? 46).

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Redemption: Deliverance at Cost

In The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, Leon Morris argues cogently concerning the redemption-language background for the usage in the New Testament. Of this book as a whole, D. A. Carson recently said in a classroom exposition of Rom. 3:21-26 that the book is a "must read." He added, "sell your shirt for it" if you must. And I can see why. 

Here's Morris's summary of that redemption-language background:
We see then, that in Greek writings generally, in the Old Testament, and in Rabbinic writers, the basic idea in redemption is the paying of a ransom price to secure a liberation. Circumstances may vary, for the word applies to the freeing of a prisoner of war, or of a man under sentence of death because his ox has gored a man, or of articles in paw, or of a slave seeking manumission. But always there is the idea of payment of a ransom to secure the desired effect. 
When God is the subject of the verb we noticed a difference, for it is inconceivable that He should pay a ransom to men, and in those passages there tends to be a greater stress on the idea of deliverance than on the means by which it is brought about. Yet even here we saw that the Old Testament writers were not unmindful of the meaning of the words they were applying to God's dealings with His people, for they think of Him as delivering at some cost. Clearly the metaphor was one with point. 
—Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 29.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Christian Fellowship Worthy of the Name

Speaking of the "sinless Redeemer" and his body, the church, Lewis says this:
His presence, the interaction between Him and us, must always be the overwhelmingly dominant factor in the life we are to lead within the Body, and any conception of Christian fellowship which does not mean primarily fellowship with Him is out of court.
—C. S. Lewis, "Membership," in The Weight of Glory (New York: HarperCollins, 1980), 164.

A New and Deadly Disease

Lewis:
A sick society must think much about politics, as a sick man must think much about his digestion. . . . But if either comes to regard it as the natural food of the mind—if either forgets that we think of such things only in order to be able to think of something else—then what was undertaken for the sake of health has become itself a new and deadly disease.
—C. S. Lewis, "Membership," in The Weight of Glory (New York: HarperCollins, 1980), 162.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Starved for Solitude, Silence, and Privacy

"We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and privacy, and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship."

—C. S. Lewis, "Membership," in The Weight of Glory (New York: HarperCollins, 1980), 160.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Fellowship with Christ

"To become a Christian means to have fellowship with Christ in all that He has accomplished for us."

—Sinclair Ferguson, The Trinitarian Devotion of John Owen (Sanford, FL: Reformation Trust, 2014), 62.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

This is Wencel baby number four at eight weeks, measuring 1.6 centimeters and presenting with a heart rate of 163 beats per minute.



Almost needless to say, but always good to express, we're grateful to God for his kind and creative handiwork, and for sustaining this little life.

Christian Love

"Love of benevolence is that disposition which a man has who desires or delights in the good of another. And this is the main thing in Christian love, the most essential thing, and that whereby our love is most of an imitation of the eternal love and grace of God, and the dying love of Christ."

—Jonathan Edwards, Ethical Writings (vol. 8 in the Works of Jonathan Edwards; ed. Paul Ramsey; New Haven: Yale University, 1989), 213.

Christian Kindness

"To be kind is to have a disposition freely to do good. Whatever good is done, it is no proper kindness in the doer of it unless it be done freely."

—Jonathan Edwards, Ethical Writings (vol. 8 in the Works of Jonathan Edwards; ed. Paul Ramsey; New Haven: Yale University, 1989), 211.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Paul the Maverick

Speaking of how to view the apostle Paul, New Testament scholar Michael Bird suggests five images: persecutor, missionary, theologian, pastor, and martyr. But then he adds one more that wouldn't normally come to mind, and comments upon it.

Here's what he says:
We might now add another image: maverick. Paul was regarded by many Jewish Christians as a meddlesome nonconformist, by Jews as a blasphemous apostate, and by Roman authorities as a mischievous nuisance. There is no doubt that Paul was a controversialist and we we may even speak of his abrasive personality (cf. Gal. 2:11-14; Acts 15:35-41). 
—Michael F. Bird, Introducing Paul: The Man, His Mission, and His Message (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2008),

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Importance of Practicing What You Preach

In a section showing how "a Christian spirit disposes persons freely to do good to others," in the fourth sermon in his sermon series Charity and Its Fruits, Jonathan Edwards speaks about an essential element in doing good to others as we seek to instruct them in the things of Christianity.

Here's the essential element:
Persons may do good to others' souls, which is the most excellent way of doing good. . . . Men may do good to others' souls by . . . setting them good examples, which is a thing the most needful of all and commonly the most effectual of any for promoting good to others' souls. This must accompany those other means of doing good of others' souls, of instructing, counseling, warning and reproving, and is needful to give force to those means and to make them take effect. It is the most likely thing to render them effectual of anything whatsoever. And whatever warnings or reproofs are given without an answerable example, they will not be very likely to take effect. 
—Jonathan Edwards, Ethical Writings (vol. 8 in the Works of Jonathan Edwards; ed. Paul Ramsey; New Haven: Yale University, 1989), 207.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Love (3)

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
                                Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
                                From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
                                If I lacked anything.

A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
                                Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
                                I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
                                Who made the eyes but I?

Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame
                              Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
                               My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
                               So I did sit and eat.

—George Herbert, The Complete English Poems (New York: Penguin, 1991), 178.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Controlled by Culture or Christ?

Commenting on the situation in Corinth that Paul is confronting in 2 Cor. 10:1ff, Professor Carson draws out this important contemporary application:
There will always be some who are controlled by a lightly "Christianized" version of their own culture: i.e., their controlling values spring from the inherited culture, even when such values are deeply pagan and not Christian. Christian language may be there; yet the control lies, not with the gospel, but with the pervasive values of the surrounding society and heritage. At that point Paul is inflexible.  
As far as Christians are concerned, wherever there is a clash between cherished inherited culture and the gospel of Jesus Christ, it is the former that must give way and accept modification and transformation. Failure at this point calls in question one's allegiance to the gospel. Unreserved commitment to the priorities of the inherited culture, with select elements of Christianity being merely tacked on, brings with it Paul's inevitable conclusion that the Jesus being preached is "another Jesus," the gospel being proclaimed is a "different gospel," and those who proclaim such an Evangel are "deceitful workmen masquerading as apostles of Christ" (2 Cor 11:4, 13) 
Moreover, those professing Christians who, like the Corinthians, show themselves to be profoundly sympathetic to this non-Christian orientation of values must at very least examine themselves again to see if they really are in the faith (13:5). 
—D. A. Carson, From Triumphalism to MaturityAn Exposition of 2 Corinthians 10–13 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984), 40–41.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Leader and Led Alike Both Bear the Load of Responsibility

Addressing some of the crucial lessons to be learned from Paul's passionate pen in 2 Corinthians 10–13, Professor Carson speaks to one of the more important lessons, in my estimation, for the contemporary church.

Here's his insight:
Individual Christians and local churches alike must take responsibility for the styles of leadership they follow. If it is true that Christian leaders are responsible before God for the teaching they provide, the models they display, and the directions they take, it is no less true that Christians and Christian assemblies are responsible for choosing what and whom they will emulate.  
The problems at Corinth depicted in 2 Corinthians 10–13 would never have arisen if the Corinthian church had handled the intruders in a mature and biblical fashion in the first place. That they failed to do so reflects their spiritual immaturity, their unsettling inability to perceive that the norms of their own society were deeply pagan and not to be nurtured in the church. 
—D. A. Carson, From Triumphalism to MaturityAn Exposition of 2 Corinthians 10–13 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984), 28.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Dullness

Why do I languish thus, drooping and dull,
                    As if I were all earth?
O give me quickness, that I may with mirth
                           Praise thee brimfull!

—George Herbert, The Complete English Poems (New York: Penguin, 1991), 107.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Difficulty of Discernment

"It is always much more difficult for Christians to detect a fundamentally sinful attitude in other Christians than in pagans—especially if that attitude is endemic to contemporary society, thereby reducing or eliminating the 'shock' force of that sin."

—D. A. Carson, From Triumphalism to Maturity: An Exposition of 2 Corinthians 10–13 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984), 20.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Nature

         Full of rebellion, I would die,
         Or fight, or travel, or deny
That thou hast ought to do with me.
                           O tame my heart;
                   It is thy highest art
To captivate strong holds to thee.

If thou shalt let this venom lurk,
And in suggestions fume and work,
My soul will turn to bubbles straight,
                            And thence by kind
                    Vanish into a wind,
Making thy workmanship deceit.

O smooth my rugged heart, and there
Engrave thy rev'rend law and fear;
Or make a new one, since the old
                           Is sapless grown,
                  And a much fitter stone
To hide my dust, than thee to hold.

—George Herbert, The Complete English Poems (New York: Penguin, 1991), 39–40.

Monday, March 9, 2015

A Marvellous Case Study in Christian Leadership

Commenting on 2 Corinthians 10–13, and speaking of how Paul handled the crisis in Corinth generated by the accusations of intruders and interlopers, Professor Carson reflects:
Probably Paul would not even have bothered to answer these and other charges had not the gospel itself been at stake. The interlopers who were leading the Corinthian church astray were not only personally ambitious, they were preaching what Paul discerned to be a false gospel, another Jesus (2 Cor. 11:4). That left Paul no alternative but to enter the fray; and the way he does this, with wisdom, wit, humor, irony, winsomeness, yet also anguish, hurt, and stunning emotional intensity, constitutes a marvellous case study in Christian leadership and the maintenance of Christian values and priorities.
—D. A. Carson, From Triumphalism to MaturityAn Exposition of 2 Corinthians 10–13 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984), 4.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

All Authority, All Nations, All Allegiance

The following is the corporate prayer we prayed this morning at New Covenant Church. And two great texts from Matthew's gospel shaped this prayer: Matt. 28:18-20, the Great Commission; and Matt. 22:37-40, with the great command. 

The Prayers at NCC (3/8/15)

Our Lord Jesus, Lord of glory, we are gathered this Lord’s Day in your name, “name above every name” (Phil. 2:9). Because of your obedience even unto “death on a cross . . . God has highly exalted [you]” (Phil. 2:8-9). And so we bend the knee before you, we bow before you, and confess you are “Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10-11). 

We are gathered in your presence, our risen King, as your blood-bought bride, ransomed from among the nations, indwelt by your Spirit. And in your majestic presence this Lord’s Day, we consider our world. We consider the powers of the earth that strut their stuff: China and Russia; Japan and Iran; India and Korea; Germany and France and Britain; and most powerful of all, the United States.

And we consider, O sovereign Christ, how you are above all earthly powers, ruling over every nation as King of kings and Lord of lords. All these “nations are as a drop from a bucket” before you; they “are accounted as dust on the scales,” like breath, without weight, “as less than nothing and emptiness” (Isa. 40:15-17).

O risen and exalted Christ, supreme over all, "all authority in heaven and on earth" is yours! (Matt. 28:18). And your potent atonement put away all our sins, and the sins of all your people—forever! By your blood you purchased us, and made us yours. And Lord of all, you have commanded us to disciple the nations, baptizing them, and teaching them (Matt. 28:19-20). Empower us, we pray, to do what you have commanded.

And so as we give ourselves to making disciples, we ourselves eagerly desire to obey all your commands. And with crystal clarity you taught us to give our utmost attention to the great command—to love God heart, soul, mind and strength (Matt. 22:37-38; cf. Mark 12:30). Fill us then, we cry out, with the fullness of your Spirit, so that we would be enabled supernaturally to love God with the very love with which you yourself loved God the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit in the days of your flesh. Fill us, we pray, fill us with love divine.

And surely, Lord Jesus, if we are to make disciples and teach them to obey all you have commanded, surely you would have us teach a supreme love for God, finding ultimate satisfaction in him and his will, delighting in him and doing his good pleasure. Surely you would have us evangelize others and mentor others and serve others right up into fulfilling the great command—love for God "with all [our] heart and with all [our] soul and with all [our] mind" (Matt. 22:37).

So fill us, O risen Jesus, with a love that longs to imitate God’s self-giving love—that we might love our neighbors even as we love ourselves (Matt. 22:39), and love them with a divine love right up into a supreme satisfaction in God.

Help us, we pray, O risen Christ, to do this in the strength you supply (1 Pet. 4:11). “Not by [human] might, not by [human] power, but by [your] Spirit” (Zech. 4:6). That in everything God may get the glory (1 Pet. 4:11).

You have promised, Lord, saying, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). These words are more precious to us than jewels, sweeter than honey to our taste. Thank you for this promise, Lord. Thank you.

It is to you, Lord of all, we pray, gathered in your name.

Amen.  

(For the title of this prayer, see Douglas O'Donnell's short article on the melodic line of Matthew's gospel.)

Friday, March 6, 2015

Love and Imitation

"It is the nature of love, or at least love to a superior as such [e.g., God], even to incline and dispose to imitation. A child's love to his father disposes him to imitate his father, and especially does the love of God's children dispose them to imitate their Heavenly Father."

—Jonathan Edwards, Ethical Writings (vol. 8 in the Works of Jonathan Edwards; ed. Paul Ramsey; New Haven: Yale University, 1989), 193–194.

Now read Eph. 5:1-2; 1 Cor. 11:1; and Phil. 3:17.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

All of a Piece

Powlison:
Our struggles and temptations are more alike than different. An elderly man facing a health crisis is tempted to worry in ways similar to the high school senior waiting for the answer to her college application. Our circumstances can be vastly different, but the human heart tends to respond to hard things by anxiety, irritation, and pleasure-seeking. It is in those places we learn to cry out for mercy to the living God who hears and is near.
—David Powlison, "Where Do You Start," CCEF Now (2007): 3.

Don't Be Afraid

"'Do not be afraid' is the most frequent command in the Bible."

—David Powlison, "Where Do You Start," CCEF Now (2007): 3.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

What Is a Christian?

Amid much confusion in the modern world about what it means to be a Christian (yes even, lamentably, in "Christian" churches), I offer this simple and straightforward three-fold description. It's not the only way to put it, but it's an important way: a way that gets right to the heart of the matter, as I see it, and as I believe the Bible teaches us.

Here it is. Christians are those who call on the name of the Lord Jesus, who are joined to the risen Jesus, and who follow Jesus wherever he goes and directs.

So, to be a Christian—a saint, a holy one, called of God—is, first, to be one who calls on the name of the Lord Jesus (1 Cor. 1:2; Rom. 10:13; cf. Acts 2:21; 9:14). Christians call on the name of the risen and exalted Lord Jesus, seated at God's right hand, having paid for sins by his death, coming again in power and glory. That's what makes us Christians. He is preached as Lord of all, perceived to be Lord over all, and then called upon as the King of kings and Lord of lords.

Now I know that both what this calling on his name consists in and an accurate knowledge of the one who is being called upon are not at all secondary or peripheral considerations. They're crucial. And so, for example, and briefly, I'll state what is involved here: it includes consciously calling in faith and trust on the name of the one who is God become man, who died a substitute death for sinners under God's just judgment, and who rose from the grave triumphant and exalted as King and Savior and Judge of the nations—our righteousness, treasure, wisdom, new creation, everlasting hope. And so, although there much more to be said in this vein, nevertheless, one basic and compressed way of describing Christians in the matrix of right belief is by saying Christians are those who call on the name of the risen Lord Jesus (understanding that "name" in the ancient world carries with it the sense of one's character and authority; we might say, the name conveys who the person really is).

Second, to be a Christian is to be a person united with Jesus; or, which is the same thing, to be a person united with Jesus' body, the Church (1 Cor. 12:12-27; Col. 1:18). John 15:1-11 describes this union as "abiding in" Jesus as branches organically connected to a vine. The letters of Paul routinely speak of Christians being "in Christ," or being blessed "with Christ," or with some such similar expression. The occurrences of this participation language are too numerous to cite here. Reading through any of Paul's epistles will provide the perspective, but a good place perhaps to go first is Rom. 6:1-11 and 8:1-39, and then perhaps Ephesians and Colossians. Christians, then, have been joined to Jesus. And the New Testament teaches us abundantly that this happens by faith and baptism, in the power and grace of the Holy Spirit.

Third, to be a Christian—a person set apart for God—is to be one who follows the Lord Jesus in faith and obedience, in child-like trust and willing submission. That is to say, Christians are disciples of Jesus, sitting at his feet as learners, hanging on his every word, doing what pleases him. We Christians thus set ourselves to "follow the Lamb wherever he goes" (Rev. 14:4). And while many texts could be cited to point out how calling Christians "followers of Christ" is an apt description, a sample from the book of Acts will do, where the first Christians are frequently simply referred to as "disciples." See Acts 6:1, 2, 7; 9:1, 10, 19, 25, 26, 38; 11:26, 29; 13:52; 14:20, 22; 15:10; 16:1; 18:23, 27; 19:1, 9, 30; 20:1, 30; 21:4, 16.

Well, now, there you have it: Christians are those who call on the name of the Lord Jesus, who are joined to the risen Jesus, and who follow him as his disciples.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures

It's just my opinion, but the only place skinny jeans look good is on a toddler.

(And even with the sloppy-joe stain on the "sweet stuff" t-shirt, she still pulls off curly cuteness.)


And while I'm generally against more regulation, someone needs to act fast and make a law banning skinny jeans on young men.

(I hesitated calling them "men," but decided to be generous and charitable.)

Man under the Law

"Man under the law lives in a state of tension. He knows what is right; he approves what is right; but he lacks the power to do what is right."

—F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), 331.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Christian Long-suffering

Edwards on Christian meekness, from a sermon on 1 Cor. 13:4 in his justly famous series Charity and Its Fruits:
If men after they are offended and injured speak reproachfully to their neighbor, or of him to others, with a design to make others think worse of him, to the end that they may gratify that bitter spirit which they feel in themselves for the injury their neighbor has done them, that is revenge. He, therefore, who exercises Christian long-suffering towards his neighbor bears injuries from him without revenging or retaliating, either with revengeful deeds or bitter words. He bears it without doing anything against his neighbor or gratifying a bitter resentment, without talking with bitter words to him, without showing a revengeful spirit in the manner of his countenance, or air of his behavior. He receives all with a calm, undisturbed countenance, still manifesting the quietness and goodness in his behavior towards him, both to his face and behind his back.
—Jonathan Edwards, Ethical Writings (vol. 8 in the Works of Jonathan Edwards; ed. Paul Ramsey; New Haven: Yale University, 1989), 189.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Obama a Christian? A Muslim?

I'm tired of talk about whether Obama is a Christian or Muslim. I mean, seriously? A Christian? C'mon. Not if the New Testament is the standard. And a Muslim? Really? Not if serious Muslims are the standard. Not if there needs to be a sort of serious commitment to the Quran.

So I wish the media would just quit this nonsense, and I wish (hoping against hope) that the masses could just see the obvious and move on. Obama is a secularist. Through and through. This is not difficult, people.

And in this regard he's more American than he is anything else. Secularism is his operating worldview, plain for all to see, out there in the open every day, staring at us in the face, despite the occasional nod to Christ or public respect for Islam.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Justification Reconsidered

I just finished Stephen Westerholm's Justification Reconsidered. It's a cogent and concise overview of Paul's understanding of justification over against modern misunderstandings, misrepresentations, and mishandlings of the doctrine of justification. Highly recommended for anyone who wishes to understand the basics at play in present-day discussions.

So Much for a Wandering Mind

"Depend on it, Sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully."

—J. Boswell, Life of Johnson, 167 (as cited in F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, 313).

Thursday, February 26, 2015

If

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!


—Rudyard Kipling

(Source.)

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Smear and Censure

Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) and John Calvin (1509–1564), two of the world's most prominent pastor-theologians, speak eloquently to the pervasiveness and ugliness of the commonest of sins—slander.

Commenting on Jas. 1:26, Calvin says this:
When people shed their grosser sins, they are extremely vulnerable to contract this complaint. A man will steer clear of adultery, of stealing, of drunkenness, in fact he will be a shining light of outward religious observance—and yet will revel in destroying the character of others; under the pretext of zeal, naturally, but it is a lust for vilification. This explains his desire to distinguish the honest worshippers of God from the hypocrites, and the bloated pharisaical pride that feeds indulgently on a general diet of smear and censure (The Epistles of James and Jude, 274). 
Edwards, in a sermon on 1 Cor. 13:4 in his famous series Charity and Its Fruits, describes this all too common injury:
Some injure others in their good name, by reproaching them, or speaking evil of them behind their backs. Abundance is done in this way. No injury is so common as this. . . . Some injure others by making or spreading false reports of others, and so slandering them. And others, although what they say is not a direct falsehood, yet a great misrepresentation of things, represent things in their neighbors in the worst colors, and strain their faults, and set them forth beyond what they are, and speak of them in a very unfair manner. A great deal of injury is done among neighbors by uncharitably judging one another, putting injurious constructions on one another's words and actions (Ethical Writings, 187).
—John Calvin, A Harmony of the Gospels Matthew, Mark, and Luke Volume III and The Epistles of James and Jude (vol. 3 in Calvin's New Testament Commentaries; transl. A. W. Morrison; eds. David W. Torrance and Thomas F. Torrrance; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), 274; Jonathan Edwards, Ethical Writings (vol. 8 in the Works of Jonathan Edwards; ed. Paul Ramsey; New Haven: Yale University, 1989), 157–158.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Preaching Free of Charge—Because Grace Is Free

My gratitude to God, and esteem for D. A. Carson, increases by the day. I'm currently taking his course on Acts, Paul, and the General Epistles at TEDS. This morning Professor Carson walked us through 1 Corinthians 9 and Paul's radical commitment to the Gospel.

And in the course of this lecture, I found out that Carson has no speaking fee when he travels round the world to teach and preach. When asked what he charges or expects for his services, he simply says, "Nothing. It's free." He made a vow to God years ago that he'd never accept or turn down a speaking engagement based on money.

And that's right: the Gospel is free of charge. Grace is free. And those who show it forth in their living as well as speak it in their preaching hold forth the gift of God most powerfully. The Gospel embodied in deed powerfully attests to the Gospel held out in word.  

I praise God for Professor Carson, and for ministers who model free grace in their own lives. 

Monday, February 23, 2015

Paul Raw

Speaking of the Corinthian correspondence:
No part of the Pauline corpus more clearly illuminates the character of Paul the man, Paul the Christian, Paul the pastor, and Paul the apostle than do these epistles. He thereby leaves us some substance in his invitation to imitate him, and thereby imitate Christ (1 Cor. 11:1). 
—D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 450.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Twenty-First Century Face of Feminism

Over at National Review, Mary Eberstadt has just penned an insightful piece on what is going on with feminism today. Please do have a look. And please don't let the provocative language in the beginning keep you from pressing on to the end. It gets more and more insightful as it presses on.

Here's a snippet:
Feminism has become something very different from what it understands itself to be, and indeed from what its adversaries understand it to be. It is not a juggernaut of defiant liberationists successfully playing offense. It is instead a terribly deformed but profoundly felt protective reaction to the sexual revolution itself. In a world where fewer women can rely on men, some will themselves take on the protective coloration of exaggerated male characteristics — blustering, cursing, belligerence, defiance, and also, as needed, promiscuity.
You can read the whole article (definitely worth doing) here. Which is the same place above where I urged you to go on ahead and have a look.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

What ISIS Really Wants

This recent piece by Graeme Wood in The Atlantic is easily the most helpful piece I've read on ISIS. While acknowledging fully that I am a novice on matters of Islam and the world's political affairs, it appears that this piece contains substantial explanatory power and betrays unusual care, clarity, and accuracy.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Deposition

Rogier van der Weyden's Deposition, ca. 1436

For a concise exposition of this painting, see pages 65–69 in Art and Music: A Student's Guide, by Paul Munson and Joshua Farris Drake.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Antithetical to Ecclesiastical Unity

"A church full of people who are hungry to impress others and climb a little higher up the scales of social approval will not be a church characterized by deep spiritual unity."

—D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 428.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Precious in the Sight of the LORD Is the Death of His Saints

The following is what my wife Emily wrote yesterday as she reflected on the home-going of her grandpa Peter Wolfert:
Today I’m thanking God for the life of Grandpa Peter, who departed to be with Jesus early Friday morning. He married my grandma when I was in college and was such an encourager to me through each new step I took as an adult. Most of all, he encouraged me through his love for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

One Christmas he and I were discussing a message on “Comfort and Joy,” and he shared how the word "comfort" always reminded him of the Heidelberg Catechism. He then recited question one: “What is thy only comfort in life and death?” Answer: “That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.” To hear that spoken with such faith and conviction from a ninety-two-year-old saint has left an indelible mark on my life.

Thank you, Jesus, for the encouragement of the saints who’ve gone before us! I look forward to rising one day with Grandpa Peter triumphant over death because we belong to Jesus. And I can’t wait to see his glorious resurrected body in the new heavens and new earth!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Womb of Theology

"Mission is the mother of all theology" (M. Kahler, as cited in Michael F. Bird, Introducing Paul, 20).

Friday, February 6, 2015

Upsetting the World with the Gospel

On his second missionary journey, Paul (with Silas) preached Jesus as the Christ with good effect in a synagogue of the Jews in Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-3). This spawned jealously among some Jews who then stirred up men of the rabble to form a mob (Acts 17:4-5). Before the city authorities, this mob leveled a charge against Paul and his companions.

Well, what was the charge? Luke tells us in Acts 17:6-7. And F. F. Bruce paraphrases that charge:
These men who have upset the civilized world have now arrived here, and Jason has harbored them. Their practices are clean contrary to Caesar's decrees: they are proclaiming a rival emperor, Jesus (Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, 225).
I find this charge more than a little intriguing. Whatever the particulars of his proclamation in Thessalonica, Paul must have focused on Jesus as Lord (as in so much of the proclamation recorded in Acts). Jesus is Lord. His is risen and exalted and reigning. Now! Already! And so that's what the apostles preached. And this meant they routinely found themselves in a head on collision with local authorities, who found their message subversive to their own inflated authority.

Now, such charges are almost never brought against Christians today. And I submit that the reason for this is simply that we preach a different gospel than did the apostles. We don't proclaim Jesus as Lord, given all authority in heaven and on earth. But we should. And when we do, we should not be surprised when the authorities take notice and betray their panic.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

O Sovereign Lord, King of the Nations

What follows is a recent prayer offered up at New Covenant Church in Naperville, IL. On the morning we prayed this corporate prayer, we were interceding for missionaries and for the persecuted church around the world. For obvious reasons, the missionaries' identities will be obscured in the prayer below by using curly brackets, like this: {     }. 

The Prayers at NCC

Our gracious God, the great Giver of good gifts, you have poured into our laps to overflowing. We receive the gifts you’ve given us, with gratitude, and we offer back to you a portion of these gifts in worship. We offer our resources in worship for the cause of Christ, and for the work of his kingdom. Get glory for yourself, we pray, through the Gospel going forth, and make us glad in the gladness of others receiving your free grace.

O Sovereign Lord, King of the nations, thank you for the privilege of partnering with {our missionaries} for the sake of your Name among the nations. We praise you for renewing and refreshing [them] while in {_____}, and we praise you for providing work for [our brother] where he can get to know and serve multiple people.

As [they] now settle in among the “People of the Plains,” O Great God, Our gracious God, give favor with local and government officials in the northprovide a place to live nearby gospel partners; grant grace, light, and power for wise living in a foreign land; grant grace and endurance for learning the local culture and adapting well; give grace as they move into a new city with new and unknown challenges; grant grace for [our brother] in his new job to speak the word of grace with power.

And as we remember our persecuted siblings around the world, in Burma and China, in India and Egypt, in Iran and Iraq, and elsewhere, especially in the ten-forty window, we remember your word, O Lord: “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” And we remember how your servant the apostle Peter taught us not to “be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon [the church] to test [us], as though something strange were happening to [us]. And we remember how Jesus himself taught us: “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you”; “if the world hates you, know that it has hated me before you.”

And yet, we cry out with the cries of those souls slain for the Word of God and for their witness: “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge [the blood of the church]?” How long? And we hear you telling us to wait until the full number of the martyrs spill their blood in witness to the Lord Jesus.

So we pray for the endurance of the saints around the world, for perseverance for those suffering for their faith in Christ. Keep them from fearing what they are appointed to suffer. Help them “to be faithful unto death, [knowing that you] will give them the crown of life.” May they be enabled by divine grace to “hold fast to [the name of Jesus].” May they remember and believe your word that “the one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.”

We pray also, O Sovereign Lord, for our patient endurance. And we ask you to give us the grace we need to imitate the faith of the martyrs and of our brothers and sisters who steadfastly “keep the commands of God and hold fast to the testimony of Jesus.” For our Lord Jesus is worthy of all our worship, and all our devotion. And it is in his worthy name we pray. 

Amen.

Monday, February 2, 2015

The Soul Itself Becomes a Precious Jewel

The meeting house where Edwards
preached "Charity and Its Fruits"
Jonathan Edwards' sermons on 1 Corinthians 13, preached in 1738, in Northampton, MA, shortly after the fervors of the first "Great Awakening" had passed, are a precious treasure for the Christian Church. Whenever I return to Charity and Its Fruits, I find myself simultaneously devastated and invigorated. I say "devastated" because Edwards' preaching on what real faith looks like as it works itself out in love leaves me feeling my shortcomings considerably more than the much less probing preaching common in the church today, preaching that rarely disturbs the comfortable, and comforts the disturbed. And I say "invigorated" because of how life-giving and renewing and refreshing is Edward's vision of the Christian life. It is beautiful, excellent, altogether lovely. It is life-giving, since it is itself swallowed up in the life of God.

And so I wish in this place to give my reader a flavor of what I'm talking about. The following excerpt comes from the second sermon in the series, entitled: "Love More Excellent than Extraordinary Gifts of the Spirit." And here Edwards is distinguishing between the "ordinary" (by which he means what all Christians are ordinarily given in the gift of the Spirit) and "extraordinary" (by which he means "miraculous") gifts of the Spirit. One paragraph ought to be enough to send you off longing and panting for more. Note especially the last two sentences of the quoted material below, where Edwards is illustrating his point.
This blessing of the saving grace of God is a quality inherent in the nature of him who is the subject of it. This gift of the Spirit of God, working a saving Christian temper and exciting gracious exercises, confers a blessing which has its seat in the heart; a blessing which makes a man's heart and nature excellent. Yea, the very excellency of the nature consists in it.  
Now it is not so with respect to those extraordinary gifts of the Spirit. They are excellent things, but not properly the excellency of a man's nature; for they are not things which are inherent in the nature. For instance, if a man is endued with a gift of working miracles, that power is not anything inherent in his nature. It is not properly any quality of the heart and nature of the man, as true grace and holiness are. And though most commonly those who have these extraordinary gifts of prophecy, speaking in tongues, and working miracles have been holy persons, yet their holiness did not consist in their having these gifts; but holiness consists in having grace in the heart; grace and holiness are the same thing. 
Extraordinary gifts are nothing properly inherent in the man. They are something adventitious. They are excellent things; but they are not properly excellencies in the nature of the subject, any more than the garments are which he wears. Extraordinary gifts of the Spirit are, as it were, precious jewels, which a man carries about him. But true grace in the heart is, as it were, the preciousness of the heart, by which it becomes precious or excellent; by which the very soul itself becomes a precious jewel.
—Jonathan Edwards, Ethical Writings (vol. 8 in the Works of Jonathan Edwards; ed. Paul Ramsey; New Haven: Yale University, 1989), 157–158.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Weeping for Joy Over That Blessed Building

I'm slated to give my testimony ("pilgrim story," or "life story," as they call it) in my formation group at TEDS. Actually, were I not sick, I would be doing that today. But instead I'll be telling next week, not this week, what great things the Lord has done for me.

Well, as I have been thinking a little about my conversion to Christ, I went back to find the church building where the risen Lord Jesus met me in the Gospel. The people who folded me in and nurtured me there no longer meet there. I'm not sure who does. But just seeing the building, where grace came down on my sinful soul, after not being there for quite some time, brings me to tears. I'm weeping for joy!

If you click on the link and take a look at the building, it won't have for you, of course, the emotional pull that it has for me. But nevertheless I post the link to that blessed place where Christ redeemed my life from the pit. I would have posted a link to a view from the front of the building, but someone is in the front painting at the time of the picture! Moreover, in any case, the side of the building is where I always walked as I headed to the front of that blessed place to meet the Lord Jesus and his people week by week.

I hope shortly, as I've been hoping to do for some time, to post my conversion story. It should be up by next week.

(Update: Well, I've not gotten it up as of 2/25/15, due to too much press and the tyranny of the urgent, as well as an unwillingness to give up bouncing around with my little girl in generous quantities. Yet I still hope to post my testimony in the coming weeks. Lord willing.)

(Another update: So it's now 4/21/15, and I've still yet to complete my personal testimony for a post here. I've got to admit, due in large part to a fleeting and unstable memory, that putting together an overview of what the Lord did in my life has proved more demanding than originally I thought it would be. Moreover, I prefer not to think about myself or write about myself at any length, even if it is about what God has done in my life. And so I shall return to trying to finish this half-finished testimony when God moves me again to think about what great things he's done for me, and when, of course, Providence provides a season to do so.)

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Tracing the Kingdom of God Theme Across the Canon

What follows is my all too brief attempt to trace out the kingdom of God theme as it unfolds in Scripture. Since this was produced for a graduate course at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, there were space constraints imposed that limit the scope and detail of my treatment (at certain points, the footnotes fill out a thought somewhat, and suggest where more unpacking might occur). I hope to produce something far fuller and more detailed as Providence allows. Nevertheless, here is, I believe, the basics of this theme as it unfolds in Scripture.

The Kingdom of God in the Canon

The theme of “the kingdom of God” occupies enormous space in recent scholarly discourse.[1] Numerous scholars have noted how well this theme may integrate biblical theology.[2] Yarbrough labels this theme as “all-important.”[3] Waltke speaks of the “in-breaking of God’s rule” as the center of the Old Testament (OT).[4] I myself would contend that the kingdom of God functions centrally in the unfolding of salvation-history.[5] But finding a center in Scripture is not the focus of this brief paper. Rather, this paper proposes to trace out this “all-important” theme across the canon as it unfolds corpus by corpus. Finally, then, I shall attempt to tease out tersely a few implications and applications.

Although the phraseology “the kingdom of God” does not occur in the OT,[6] the idea pervades the whole.[7] Numerous texts speak of God’s kingdom (e.g., Pss 103:19; 145:11–12; Dan 4:34). Similarly, scores of texts speak of God as king or of God’s throne (e.g., Pss 24:10; 99:1, 4; Isa 6:1, 5; 66:1). The kingdom of God as it comes into clear view in the New Testament (NT) clearly depends on the notion of royal rule in the OT.[8], [9]

The Pentateuch’s Anticipatory Witness

The witness of the first five books of the Bible is one of anticipation. We see no explicit references to the “kingdom of God,” but intimations crop up repeatedly in this block of Scripture. Moreover, the whole framework within which the witness unfolds is one of God’s lordship over the cosmos in creation, in providence, and in promised redemption.[10] This lordship language links up conceptually as well as semantically with the idea and reality of God as king over all and with the kingdom theme that develops in the Bible’s storyline.[11]

Since he created all things (Gen 1:1), God rules supremely as King over his creation, and to him alone belongs all allegiance.[12] Although God gives dominion to his image-bearers (Gen 1:26–28) in Eden, their dominion never escapes the bounds of his sovereign will, but is always subject to it (Gen 2:17).[13] The Garden of Eden thus serves as the basic framework for the kingdom theme.[14] But defying their King, humanity succumbs to Satan’s seduction to be like God and plunges into rebellion and ruin, as Genesis 3 tragically recounts. And so Adam and Eve and their future progeny forfeit dominion in paradise. Yet their rebellion and resultant ruin do not utter the last word. For God promises redemption through the seed of the woman (3:15). Already, then, there is a suggestion of regaining what was lost.[15] After the fallout of the Fall (Genesis 4–11), Abraham and his progeny then become the locus of God’s promise of redemption (Genesis 12ff). Among God’s promises to Abraham and his offspring, kings shall come (Gen 17:6, 16; 35:11).[16] This coming of kings comes in keeping with the promise of nationhood made to Abram (Gen 12:2), which “assumes a political and regal destiny.”[17] Gen 49:8–12 then narrows the anticipation of dominion down to Judah. And so Genesis intimates the rise of a royal dynasty.[18]

The formation of Israel as a theocratic nation ruled by YHWH comes as an exceedingly important development.[19] Exod 19:1–6 depicts Israel at Sinai entering into covenant with YHWH, who makes her “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation,”[20] if she will obey his voice. So this watershed brings into sharper focus the ilk of kingdom developing in redemptive history: priests ruled by the righteous word of their sovereign covenant King.

Two other crucial texts in the Pentateuch’s witness need to be surveyed: Num 24:3–9, 15–19 and Deut 17:14–20.[21] In Numbers 22–24, we read of Balak’s summons of Balaam to curse Israel. Balaam’s third oracle (24:3–9), drawing upon imagery from Eden and the Exodus, foretells of the triumph of Israel over adversaries through her king, and harks back to the royal figure of Gen 49:8–12.[22] Num 24:14 introduces the fourth oracle, and also looks back to Genesis 49, with a reference to what will happen “in the latter days” (בְּאַחֲרִ֥ית הַיָּמִ) “in the latter days.”[23]

In these latter days, “a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the head of Moab . . . [and] exercise dominion” (Num 24:17–19), recalling the seed (Gen 3:15), the kings (17:6, 17), and the blessing (49:8–12). The texts cited thus far from Genesis–Numbers anticipate Deut 17:14–20.[24] When the people enter the promised land and ask for a king, they may have one—so long as God chooses him, and he is an Israelite (17:15). But he must not amass military might, marry many wives, or accumulate excessive wealth (17:16–17). Positively, the king must give himself to the Torah and observe it, “that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel” (17:18–20).

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Not Separating What God Has Joined Together

"Teaching about the resurrection of Jesus is inadequate if it does not incorporate the notions of heavenly exaltation and eternal rule. In other words, resurrection and ascension belong together in Christian theology."

—David G. Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 152.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Philosophy in the Ancient World

"In the ancient world, philosophy means something like what we mean by 'worldview.'"

—D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 33.

One of the Most Important Books a Christian Can Read

Regarding Thomas Sowell's book A Conflict of Visions: Idealogical Origins of Political Struggles, Justin Taylor says this: "I would still submit that it may be one of the most important books a Christian can read to understand what is going on in today’s culture when it comes to political struggles."

Taylor's entire post may be found here.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

O Father of Lights, Keep Us, Help Us, Save Us

The following is the corporate prayer we prayed at New Covenant Church this morning. It is shaped by Jas. 1:13–25.

The Prayers at NCC (1/11/15)

O Father of lights, Giver of every good gift, we know you are never tempted with evil. Never. We know this, Father. For you are unchangeably holy, unchangeably pure, unchangeably bright with ineffable light. In a word, you are good. Always good. And so we confess this Lord’s Day, your unqualified goodness.

But we, Father, we are not good, at least not good in and of ourselves. Not by nature. By nature, we are dark and evil. And, unlike you—the unchangeable God—we are fickle, erratic, unsteady, unstable, prone to wander. Lord we feel it! Prone to leave the God we love. We falter; we fail. We are often deceived by darkness. We are even, we confess, at times deceived into thinking that we are not prone to being deceived.

And so we confess our need for you to keep us from being deceived. Keep us, Father, from being duped by the Devil. Keep us from being deceived by the enemy within. Our pristine first parents, Adam and Eve—they were deceived. They believed satanic lies about you. They were deceived by devilish slander of your Word. They distrusted your infinitely trustworthy goodness. And they disbelieved your good Word.

So we ask you to keep us from trusting in our own wisdom. Keep us by your good Word from being deceived. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from [you,] the Father of lights.” And “with [you] there is no variation or shifting shadow.” Of your “own will [you] brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of [your] creation”—the new creation broken into this present world in the risen and exalted Lord Jesus.

And so in his risen life, participating in the new creation in Christ, we pray that we would be “swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; [knowing that] the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” We believe this, want to trust this. So help us to be ever ready to listen, especially to your Word. Slow to speak, that we might be ever ready to hear a word from you. And swift to hear, and slow to speak, that we might also be slow to anger.

And so, with your help, Father of lights, help us to "put away all moral filth and rampant wickedness" from our speech. All slander. All backbiting. All carping. All criticism. All fault-finding. Help us to put it all away, according to your Word: all harsh speech, all snide remarks, every lash of the tongue, every cutting, critical word. All, away! And help us, then, Father, to “receive with meekness the implanted Word [of God], which [alone] can save our souls.”

Save our souls, O God! Save us this morning by your Word! And make us “doers of the Word and not hearers only, deceiving ourselves.” Make us doers who act. May New Covenant Church become known as a church that does the Word! May we become, and be known as, the church that hears the Word of God and straightaway, without delay, does it! May we, being no hearers who forget but doers who act, may we thus “be blessed in our doing.”

Through our Lord Jesus we ask and pray, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Amen. 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Interpreting James

How shall we interpret the book of James? Among other things that could be said (say, for example, about the genre of James), here is an important word from one of my former professors:
Perhaps no greater mistake can be made in interpreting James than to read his letter in the light of Paul. James, we must remember, is writing . . . before Paul had written any of his letters and probably has no direct knowledge of Paul's teaching. James must be read against the background of the OT, Judaism, and the teaching of Jesus—not the apostle Paul. 
—Douglas J. Moo, The Letter of James (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 83.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Who You Are Alone, You Are

 "A season calling for the exercise of our minds in thoughts of the omnipresence and omnisicence of God is made up of our solicitudes and retirements. These give us the most genuine trials whether we are spiritually minded or no. What we are in them, that we are, and no more."

—John Owen, The Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually Minded (vol. 7 in The Works of John Owen; ed. William H. Gould; Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 1994), 375.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Can "Conservative" Churches Be Liberal?

Ray Ortlund thinks so. And explains how here. 

Here is a portion of that post:
The liberal churches I’ve known are not openly hostile to the Bible. They like the Bible. They want their preacher to use the Bible. They have home Bible studies. What makes them “liberal” is that the Bible alone is not what rules them. They allow into their doctrine, their ethos, their decisions, other complicating factors. The Bible is revered, in a way. But it is not the decisive factor. It is only one voice among others.

This lack of clarity allows unbiblical ideas and behavior to get traction. In a liberal church no one stands up, with an open Bible in his hand, and says, “Hey guys, we just don’t say/do things like that around here. It isn’t biblical.” That simple clarity just doesn’t exist in such a church. There is no authority towering over all else, rallying the people to the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Only the Word of God, received with meekness, can prevent a church from sinking lower and lower into mediocrity, irrelevance, conflict and sheer boredom.