Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Law as the Road to the Joy Producing Gospel

Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism

115 Q. No one in this life can obey the Ten Commandments perfectly: why then does God want them preached so pointedly?

A. First, so that the longer we live the more we may come to know our sinfulness and the more eagerly look to Christ for forgiveness of sins and righteousness.

Second, so that, while praying to God for the grace of the Holy Spirit, we may never stop striving to be renewed more and more after God's image, until after this life we reach our goal: perfection.

2) Scripture

Luke 18:14b: For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

1 Peter 5:5-7: Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

Comment:

“No one in this life can obey the Ten Commandments perfectly: why then does God want them preached so pointedly?” The catechism asks a good question. It's one we need to ponder at the present time, when we hear so little "pointed" preaching of the law in our churches.

The word pointedly is a reference to the absolute demand of holiness and righteousness found in the Ten Commandments. As the 16th century Lutheran reformer, Philip Melanchthon, once wrote, “The law demands impossible things.” The law is too high and holy for sinners. Melanchthon wrote, “The law condemns because we by ourselves cannot satisfy it.”

But if the law condemns us and shows us our inability, why does God want his law preached so pointedly? Does the Lord want to make us feel bad? Does he want to discourage us? I have often heard people say they come to church in order to feel good. But won’t this sort of preaching of the law’s stringent demands make people feel bad? Why does God want his law preached so pointedly?

The catechism’s answer is in two parts, but both parts are pointing to this single answer: humility. Without a proper humility before God, we won’t be able to obtain his grace. Unless we are humbled by God’s law, we won’t have hearts ready to receive the joy producing gospel.

The law of God in its perfect holiness humbles us in two areas: our justification and our sanctification. In terms of our justification, the law shows us our sinfulness, so that we might look to Christ for forgiveness and imputed righteousness. In terms of sanctification, the law shows us our inability to do anything apart from Christ (John 15:5). Just as we are dependent creatures, who depend on our Father for our next heartbeat and breath, so we also depend on Christ for our spiritual life and strength. In both justification and sanctification we are dependent creatures, who must humble ourselves under our Lord’s mighty and caring hand.

So why does the catechism insist that the law be preached so pointedly in the church? Because it knows that the only way to the eternal (now and forever) happiness of grace is by the road of humility. To quote Melanchthon once more: “It is impossible to teach correctly or fruitfully either gospel without law or law without gospel.” Or as Michael Horton says, in the spirit of Heidelberg 115, “So it always is: a low view of law always brings legalism in religion; a high view of law makes a man a seeker after grace.”

May the Lord use his law in our lives to make us seekers after his grace --- the grace that brings our hearts comfort and joy, in both time and eternity. Amen.

Discussion: What kind of preaching of the law does the catechism want? How would you answer the person who objects to the pointed preaching of God’s law because it makes them feel bad? Can we be happy without God’s grace in justification and sanctification?

Prayer Starter: Thank the Lord for his law that humbles you, so that you seek his grace for your justification (right standing with God) and sanctification (renewal in God’s image). Pray for a greater and greater appreciation of God’s forgiveness, imputed righteousness, and renewal in your life.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Staying in God's Word in 2009

With the coming of the new year it is a great time to renew our commitment to read God's Word each day. Here is a helpful post from Justin Taylor that gives links to many Bible reading plans. Check out this link from Between Two Worlds for access to these plans. --Bill

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Trinity, Glory, and Evangelism

Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism

25 Q. Since there is but one God, why do you speak of three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

A. Because that is how God has revealed himself in his Word: these three distinct persons are one, true, eternal God.

2) Scripture

Isaiah 6:1-7: In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
may the whole earth be full of his glory!”

4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

8 And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”

Comment:

“Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Once again we hear the triune God speaking in the plural. The “us” is the Father, Son, and Spirit. The words are much like Genesis 1:26, where God says, “Let us make man in our image.”

God created us to reflect his character in the world. As God’s image bearers we are to “image” or reflect the Lord, especially in his triune relationship and rule.


But another way we reflect the Lord’s glory is to proclaim (and believe) his gospel message to the world. Isaiah was sent with a message, and as this message is proclaimed it brings the triune God glory throughout the earth. As Isaiah will later say (52:7):

How beautiful upon the mountainsare the feet of him who brings good news,who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,who publishes salvation,who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

Just as the train of God’s robe filled the temple in Isaiah’s vision, so the glory of the Lord is meant to fill the earth. In fact, the earth is often envisioned as a temple in Scripture, which is to be filled with God’s glory. The glory of the Lord fills the earth when the Christians proclaim the gospel of peace and Christ’s Lordship. Though the gospel message is rejected by some, the message is salvation for those who believe and accept it. In each heart where the gospel message is accepted, our triune God is glorified, for believing the message brings God glory (
Heb. 11:6).

Won’t you fulfill your purpose in life by receiving the gospel message, which brings happiness to us and glory to God?

Discussion: Why does God speak of himself with both singular and plural pronouns in Isaiah 6:8? Can you name some ways in which we bring the triune God glory? How does evangelism bring God glory?

Prayer Starter: Praise the triune God for the privilege of reflecting his glory in the world.
Resolve in prayer to honor the Lord by your believing, supporting, and telling the gospel
message to others as you are given opportunity.

The "law-gospel-law-gospel" Pattern of the Christian Life

Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism

115 Q. No one in this life can obey the Ten Commandments perfectly: why then does God want them preached so pointedly?

A. First, so that the longer we live the more we may come to know our sinfulness and the more eagerly look to Christ for forgiveness of sins and righteousness.

Second, so that, while praying to God for the grace of the Holy Spirit, we may never stop striving to be renewed more and more after God's image, until after this life we reach our goal: perfection.

2) Scripture

Romans 3:20: For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

Ephesians 1:13-14: In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

Comment:

In questions 114 and 115, the catechism is concerned, not so much with the tenth commandment itself, but with an implication of the tenth commandment and all of the Ten Commandments, namely, our inability to keep the God’s law perfectly. What should we do with God’s holy commands that are too high and holy for sinners like us to attain? Should we water the commandments down? Should we ignore the law’s severity and our inability to keep it? How are we to use God’s holy law in our lives?

There is a law-gospel pattern in the Christian’s life that is vital to understand. First, let’s remember that there are three uses of God’s law in our lives, two of which are crucial to walking with Christ. The three uses are these:

  1. The political use of the law --- Governments use God’s laws to restrain human sin. Thus, in every society there are laws against murder, stealing, perjury, etc.

  2. The pedagogical use of the law --- In this use of God’s law we are shown our failure to keep the law perfectly. The law shows us how we have no hope of salvation apart from the gospel of Jesus Christ. By showing us our sin, the law drives us to the gospel where we can find God’s fogiveness and favor in Christ.

  3. The didactic use of the law --- In this use of God’s law, we learn God’s will for our lives. Although the progressive nature of God’s revelation and it’s fulfillment in Christ must be kept in mind, God’s law in Christ functions to show us his good, holy, and perfect will.

These latter two uses of God’s law are vital to understand in our Christian walk. There is an alternating pattern that takes place in our lives that looks like this:

  1. The 2nd use of the law convicts us of our sin and continually leads us to . . .

  2. The gospel and the forgiveness and cleansing that are found in Christ.

  3. The 3rd use of the law shows us God’s will for our lives in Christ, but we have no ability to keep the law, so we return to . . .

  4. The gospel, through which we are given grace, life, and the Holy Spirit, so that we might live a life pleasing to our Father, in conformity with his will.

Law-gospel-law-gospel is our pattern. The gospel always follows law, for we are just as dependent on the Lord and his grace for our sanctification (renewal into God’s image) as for our justification (forgiveness and a right standing with God). We cannot be justified (declared right with God) by obeying the law, so we trust in the gospel. We look to the law for guidance to live a life pleasing to the Father, but only the gospel, through which we receive life and the Spirit can enable us to obey God’s law.

And so, in our Christian lives we continually alternate between the second and third uses of the law. But we also remember that the gospel alone justifies us (gives us forgiveness and imputed righteousness) and sanctifies us (renews us in God’s image).

Discussion: Which two uses of God’s law are vital in the Christian walk? Can the law of God justify us? Can the law of God give us the power to sanctify us and renew us in the image of God?

Prayer Starter: Praise the Father for giving us all we need for life and godliness. Thank him for justifying you, and ask him to renew you more and more after his image.

Humility and Resolve in the Heart of Christ's People

Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism

The Tenth Commandment

You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

114 Q. But can those converted to God obey these commandments perfectly?

A. No. In this life even the holiest have only a small beginning of this obedience.

Nevertheless, with all seriousness of purpose, they do begin to live according to all, not only some, of God's commandments.

2) Scripture

Luke 17:10: “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”

Psalm 1:1-2:

1:1 Blessed is the man

who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

Comment:

There is a strange mixture of humility and resolve in the heart of Christ’s people. On the one hand we know we are unworthy servants. We know we are saved by the sheer, unmerited grace of our God. We know that if we were given what we deserve from the Lord, our sin, both actual and original, would justly condemn us. We know that even as those who belong to Christ by grace, we still continue to sin and make only a small beginning of obedience in this life. And so, we share the humility of the publican who pleads not his own goodness before the Lord, but only the Father’s mercy in Christ (Luke 18:9-14).

But on the other hand, there is a resolve in the heart of a true believer. We want to live according to God’s commandments. And this resolve is not partial. We don’t pick and choose areas of the Father’s will we will obey. We want to please our heavenly Father as adopted children in Christ. We don’t want to despise any part of our Father’s will.

We could put all of this in another way. As Christians we are both holy (Hebrews 10:10), and pursuing holiness (Hebrews 12:14). We are holy, because Christ’s holiness has been credited or imputed to us who believe. But as those who are justified by Christ, and set apart as holy, we also pursue holiness and godliness in our lives (2 Peter 3:11). We long to become what we already are in Christ Jesus.

Psalm one is an excellent example of all this. Who is the blessed man in Psalm one, who never walks in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers? Who is the man who always delights in the word of God and lived out that heart delight in a life of perfect obedience? There can be only one man: Jesus Christ the Son of God.

United to our dear Christ by faith we are justified and considered holy. Christ’s righteousness and holiness has been granted to us to make us right with God. But now joined to Christ, what is our desire? What do we long for? What is our goal? Our goal is to please our Lord. Our goal is to delight in and walk in the Lord’s instruction. Our desire is “to live according to all, not only some, of God's commandments.”

Discussion: Give reasons for humility as believers in Christ. Give reasons for resolve to obey the Lord as believers in Christ. Whose perfect obedience is seen in Psalm one and how does this relate to our justification and our resolve to live according to all of God’s commandments?

Prayer Starter: Thank the Lord for your justification, and pray for the Spirit’s work to give you the resolve to live a life pleasing to the Father and the Son.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Changing Sin-Damaged Emotions

Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism

The Tenth Commandment

You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

113 Q. What is God's will for you in the tenth commandment?

A. That not even the slightest thought or desire contrary to any one of God's commandments should ever arise in my heart.

Rather, with all my heart I should always hate sin and take pleasure in whatever is right.

2) Scripture

Romans 12:9-21: Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Psalm 97:10-12:

10 O you who love the Lord, hate evil!

He preserves the lives of his saints;
he delivers them from the hand of the wicked.
11 Light is sown for the righteous,
and joy for the upright in heart.
12 Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous,
and give thanks to his holy name!

Comment:

Part of the damage caused by sin is emotional. Our emotions, no less than our intellect and will, has been damaged by the fall. Sin has caused great disorder in our emotions. Sometimes we go through life with an emotional numbness. At other times we love what we should hate and hate what we should love. Instead of joy, we feel depression. Instead of hope, we feel despair.

This emotional disorder and numbness is not surprising. It is part and parcel of our idolatry. It is part of our failure to love the Lord with all of our heart. We become like whatever we worship. If we worship the Lord, who is love and light and personal, our emotions will reflect our triune God. But if we worship deaf, dumb, blind, and inanimate idols, our emotions will reflect the lifeless “gods” we have chosen to trust and love.

God’s Word calls us to live a full-orbed emotional life. The catechism calls on us “to hate sin and take pleasure in whatever is right.” Romans 9 calls us to the emotions of love, hate, joy, grief, and anger, all with their respective objects. Love for Christian brethren and enemies, hatred toward what is evil, joy in our heavenly future, grief shared with those who grieve, and anger with evil, even if we bless rather than curse those who commit the evil.

But can we change our emotions? Many would say no, but the Lord says yes! He even commands our emotions. In Psalm 97:10-12 the Lord commands us to hate evil and to rejoice in himself! But with the command he also promises to give what he commands, for in verse 11 he promises to sow light and joy in our hearts.

When I was in my 20’s I went through what I suppose could have been labeled clinical depression. It was a period of great doubt --- doubt even about God’s existence. Whether or not I was clinically depressed, there was no doubt I was unhappy and depressed. Everything seemed weary and bleak. Then I went through a study guide that took me through the Gospel of Luke, and a remarkable thing happened. At the end of the study of Luke’s Gospel I no longer was full of doubt, and I found my emotions had changed. I was no longer sad and depressed.

Why the change? It was a matter of focus. My focus shifted to the Lord and his redeeming grace, and this changed me. The word of the gospel changed my unbelief to faith, and my faith in the Lord brought about a change in my emotions.

In order to rejoice in the Lord, we must focus on the Lord and his wonderful works. In order to give thanks to him, we must focus on his many temporal and gospel blessings to us. In order to love the Lord, we must focus on his love toward us. When we trust and fear the Lord, i.e., when we worship him, we will become like him, and he is the living God, loving, joyful, merciful, and holy. May our emotions reflect his!

Discussion: What are some of the ways sin has damaged our emotions? How is idolatry related to the disorder of our emotions? What objects does Paul connect with the emotions of love, hate, joy, grief, and anger? How is a right focus and prayer important in changing our emotions?

Prayer Starter: Praise the Lord’s wonderful character and acts on our behalf. Petition the Lord to change your emotions where needed to reflect his likeness.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Bibles for Pastors in the Majority World

If you have extra Bibles you want to put to good use, check out this post by Tim Challies. --Bill

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably got quite a few Bibles lying around your home—Bibles that have been replaced at one time or another and are now just gathering dust. You don’t want to throw them out, but also don’t quite know what to do with them. Well here is one way of putting them to good use. You can bare your bookshelf and send the books to pastors in other parts of the world. Christian Resources International has a program in place that will help you do just that. “Just enter your name, address, and denomination in the form below, and then we’ll send you—free—all the mailing materials you need to send a Bible to a specific pastor, Christian worker, church member, or seeker overseas. We’ll send you the recipient’s name and address, so you can pray for the recipient by name.” You can go to the post office (if you’re in the U.S., at least) and send that envelope anywhere in the world for only $12. And, because ” the mailing materials bear CRI’s return address, you need not worry that you’ll be personally contacted by anyone overseas.” Take a look at the program and see if it may be a good way of finally clearing out some of those old Bibles.

Coming Full Circle in the Ten Commandments

Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism

The Tenth Commandment

You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

113 Q. What is God's will for you in the tenth commandment?

A. That not even the slightest thought or desire contrary to any one of God's commandments should ever arise in my heart.

Rather, with all my heart I should always hate sin and take pleasure in whatever is right.

2) Scripture

Psalm 130:3-4:

3 If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,

O Lord, who could stand?
4 But with you there is forgiveness,
that you may be feared.

Comment:

The thing that stands out in the Heidelberg Catechism’s explanation of the tenth commandment is its strictness --- its severity. The tenth commandment is broken by even the slightest thought or desire contrary to any one of God’s commandments. No such thought or desire contrary to the commandments should ever arise in my heart. Not just with a part of my heart, but with all of my heart, I should always hate sin and take pleasure in whatever is right.

This strictness or severity is not something the catechism invents. Scripture itself points to the severity of the law’s demand. Psalm 130:3 is one example, when it says, “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” The answer is no one. God’s law in its perfect holiness condemns each member of Adam’s fallen race. The law condemns us, not only for what we do, but for what we are in Adam (Eph. 2:1-3).

Some object to this perfect standard. They would argue that surely God does not condemn us for a sinful thought or a wrong desire. Surely, God cannot blame us for what we are, they would say.
But God’s law can and does condemn, not only our outward actions, but also our inward being. Our thoughts, emotions, and desires are not free of the Lord’s jurisdiction. All of our heart is to love him and his ways all of the time.

In a sense, in the tenth commandment we come full circle back to the first commandment to have no other gods before the Lord. For the New Testament defines covetousness as idolatry. Although we are free to desire the good gifts of God’s creation, yet those desires are to be subsumed in the consuming desire for the Lord himself and his kingdom (Mat. 6:30-33). We are to love his good gifts and others for his sake. All of his gifts point to the Giver who is blessed forever. Our hearts can desire nothing less than this most blessed, triune God. As Psalm 73:25 says:

Whom have I in heaven but you?

And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.

Discussion: How do we see the strictness or severity of God’s law in the catechism’s explanation of the tenth commandment? How does the severity of the law condemn not only our actual sins, but also our original sin? How does the tenth commandment bring us full circle to the first commandment?

Prayer Starter: Confess your sin of not loving the Lord with all of your heart. Confess your original sin as well as your actual sins. Thank the Lord for the forgiveness offered to you in Christ Jesus.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Courage to Preach Law and Gospel Together

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

Our family’s custom is to attend church on Christmas Eve and then to return home to open presents. We go to church at my parents’ church which is Lutheran (ELCA, and no, that doesn’t stand for Every Loser Can Apply! but rather Evangelical Lutheran Church of America).

I grew up Lutheran and I listen to at least one Lutheran sermon a year on Christmas. I am thankful for my Lutheran upbringing. The church services are full of Scripture. Not only are there readings from the Old Testament, Gospels, and Epistles, but the whole liturgy is chock full of Scripture. Generally the services are aesthetically pleasing with beautiful music and well chosen hymns. As a Lutheran I learned important things like the Apostles Creed and Lord’s Prayer by heart. So I am thankful to the Lord for my Lutheran heritage.

But I see one major flaw in Lutheran preaching, which was on display once more this Christmas. The flaw is this: Lutherans will not preach both law and gospel. More specifically, they avoid the preaching of the law like it is the plague!

Now, granted, the law is terrifying. In a sense, the law is the plague. The law condemns us and shows us our sin and how far we have fallen from our original state of glory --- of reflecting God’s image. But to avoid the law like Lutheran ministers do is unfaithful and leads to serious problems.

Let me illustrate this with the Lutheran minister’s sermon on Christmas Eve. He began with Luke 2:10 and the words, “Fear not.” He introduced his subject by telling us about our present day temporal fears, most of which are centered around economic issues, although things like terrorism and sickness were also mentioned.

He told us that the gospel was the answer to our fears. He accurately explained the incarnation and tried to show us how the gospel was the answer to our temporal problems and fears.

But what he missed was the context of the passage in Luke. What he missed was the proclamation of God’s holy law! Why did the angels need to tell the shepherds not to fear? What were the shepherds afraid of?

Were the shepherds afraid of losing their jobs as shepherds? Were the shepherds afraid of illness? No, the shepherds were afraid because “the glory of the Lord shone around them.” That’s why they were afraid!

It was God’s holy and glorious character which filled these sinful shepherds with fear. It was God’s glory and power that concerned them, not any temporal fears. Whatever temporal fears they might have had dissipated at the sight of God’s radiant, holy glory. Like Adam and Eve in the garden hiding after their sin, God’s glorious presence filled them with fear. They knew that God was holy and they were not. And, they knew that this state of affairs calls for punishment.

The minister missed all this, and so he missed the context of the gospel. The reason the gospel is such news of great joy is because the law is such bad news for sinners. This glorious, mighty, holy God who could (and should) be against us because of our sins, is now for us. We need not be afraid of God’s glory and majesty because he has sent his beloved Son into the world in our flesh. God himself came to deal with our sin problem by taking the punishment due us on account of our sins.

By missing the context of the shepherd’s fear, the minister missed his opportunity to preach the law. Without the law and the context of God’s judgment against sin, the gospel loses its force. Without the law, the gospel becomes therapy to help us cope with temporal problems which the psychologist could just as well handle. Without the law, God himself is reduced, for we no longer fear him in his holiness and adore him in his grace and mercy in Christ.

Does the gospel help us with our temporal fears? Most certainly, but only after it has dealt with our far greater problem of God’s glorious holiness and judgment. Once we know God’s favor in Christ, our heavenly Father who has given us his Son, will certainly provide for our temporal needs. But it does no one any good to ignore the true context of the gospel.

I see at least three problems with this sort of preaching that ignores the law:

First, ignoring the law is a denial of the Reformation heritage. Our Reformation forefathers were adamant that both the law and the gospel were to be preached together. Lutherans still talk of law and gospel in theory, but in practice there is a lack of courage in preaching the law from the text.

Second, by ignoring the law the gospel is trivialized. The gospel becomes mere therapy to help us cope with this life. The law shows us that God is the One with whom we have to do, and only the gospel can move us from God justly angry to God reconciled. Without the law being preached the gospel is reduced to a second-rate option behind finding a good psychiatrist to help me cope with my temporal problems and fears.

Third, by ignoring the law we reduce God. The very glory of God that shone around the angels is darkened by our refusal to preach both law and gospel. By the end of the Lutheran minister’s sermon the Lord had been reduced to “someone who just wants to hang out with us” --- I guess because we are just so cool! No doubt, God has come near to us and that is glorious! But he came near to us to pay the infinite debt of our sin, and this required his bearing our punishment on the dreadful cross.

At the cross, God’s glory in both his justice and mercy are seen, and this same glory should be seen in our preaching. But his glory will continue to be diminished unless we preach both the law and the gospel. May the Lord give his faithful ministers the courage (for it does take courage to preach the law --- see John 7:7) to preach both the law and the gospel for his glory and people’s salvation. Amen.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

That's Christmas

This video from St. Helen's Bishopgate, a church in London, deals with the meaning of Christmas.


That's Christmas! from andy pearce on Vimeo.

And here is the rest of it.

Evangelism: Kindness and Necessity

This video from Penn of Penn and Teller fame is interesting, because I think it echoes two important points about evangelism from God's Word. First, it points to the necessity of evangelism. If people are truly facing the enormity of hell apart from Christ, then they need to hear the gospel that can unite them to him. Second, we must be gentle when we tell others about our Lord. Gentleness and evangelism go together according to the apostle in 2 Timothy 2:24-26: "And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will."

Here is the video. --Bill



And here is the rest of it.

Knowing the Truth: A Question of Origin

Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism

The Ninth Commandment

You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

112 Q. What is God's will for you in the ninth commandment?

A. God's will is that I never give false testimony against anyone, twist no one's words, not gossip or slander, nor join in condemning anyone without a hearing or without a just cause.

Rather, in court and everywhere else, I should avoid lying and deceit of every kind; these are devices the devil himself uses, and they would call down on me God's intense anger.

I should love the truth, speak it candidly, and openly acknowledge it. And I should do what I can to guard and advance my neighbor's good name.

2) Scripture

John 8:42-47: Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. 43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. 46 Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? 47 Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”

Matthew 11:25-27: At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

Comment:

We tend to think that knowing the truth is a mere matter of intellect or intelligence. But if that were the case, Christ’s church would be full of straight “A” students!

Knowing God’s truth is not just about the intellect. Knowing the truth is also about the emotions and the will. What do we love? What do we want? Our emotions (what we love, rejoice in, and hope for) greatly affect our knowledge of the truth. Jesus teaches us this when he says of the Jews in John 8:44: “your will is to do your father's desires.” In other words, what we desire (emotion) affects what we want (will), and this affects what we believe (falsehood or truth).

In the end, truth belongs to the triune God. The Lord determines truth or reality. His perspective is final. Truth belongs to him. He is sovereign. The Father and the Son can hide or reveal the truth as they see fit.

In the Father’s wisdom he has chosen to reveal his truth to little children, that is, to those who are humble. These humble ones are those who have heard the truth of the gospel and have welcomed God’s Son into their lives. Having received Christ and believed in his name, “he gave the right to become children of God, who were born . . . of God” (John 1:12-13).

Ultimately, knowing the truth is about the question of origin: Where are you from? Where is your home? Who is your father? To know the truth --- to truly hear the words of God we need to be born of from above. Heaven, not this world which is passing away, must be our true home. God must be our Father, not the prince of this world (John 12:31-32). In order to know the truth, we must possess renewed intellects, emotions, and wills that come from our heavenly Father.

Psalm 87:3-4 says:

3 Glorious things of you are spoken,

O city of God.
4 Among those who know me I mention Rahab and Babylon;

behold, Philistia and Tyre, with Cush—“This one was born there,” they say.

May we also be able to say that we were born in the heavenly city of God; that we are children of God who have come to know the truth in Christ; that our minds, emotions, and wills have been changed, and are changing, in conformity to our true home and our true God.

Discussion: Why is knowing the truth about more than just the intellect? To whom does truth belong? To whom will the Father and the Son reveal the truth? How does our origin affect our view of the truth?

Prayer Starter: If you are a child of God through faith in his Son, give him thanks for the new birth from above. Pray for a continued renewal of your mind, emotions and will in conformity to God’s truth.


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Power of the Truth (Christ and his word) to Change Us

Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism

The Ninth Commandment

You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

112 Q. What is God's will for you in the ninth commandment?

A. God's will is that I never give false testimony against anyone, twist no one's words, not gossip or slander, nor join in condemning anyone without a hearing or without a just cause.

Rather, in court and everywhere else, I should avoid lying and deceit of every kind; these are devices the devil himself uses, and they would call down on me God's intense anger.

I should love the truth, speak it candidly, and openly acknowledge it. And I should do what I can to guard and advance my neighbor's good name.

2) Scripture

John 8:31-32: So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Ephesians 4:25-5:2: Therefore, having put away falsehood [the lie],
[1] let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. 28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. 29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. 5:1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Comment:

During the Christmas season we sing Charles Wesley’s wonderful hymn, Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus. In verse one, we sing:

"Come, thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free,
from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee."

Wesley echoes Jesus when he speaks of freedom, for Jesus taught that abiding in his word would cause us to know the truth, and knowing the truth would set us free.


But from what do we need to be set free? What produces the fears and sins from which we need release? What is cause of our soul’s discontent that needs the rest Christ gives?

The basic answer to these questions is the lie of idolatry. We need to be set free from the idolatry that breeds fear and discontent.

Putting away the lie, we need to put on the truth. We need to be born of God. We need to abide in Christ and his word. We need to be renewed by the truth in our mind and emotions. Then we will experience the true freedom that is life in union and communion with Christ.

We become like the thing we worship. Ephesians 4:25 shows what will happen to the person who ceases from idolatry and abides in Christ as a worshiper of the heavenly Father. Falsehood will be replaced by speaking the truth. Uncontrolled anger will be replaced by a righteous anger. Stealing will be replaced by generosity. Corrupt, complaining, and harmful speech will be replaced by speech that blesses and edifies. Malice will be replaced by kindness. In other words, the believer will become like his heavenly Father, and like his Lord, who gave himself up for us in sacrificial love.


All of this happens when we put away the lie and come to Jesus who is the truth, and then remain in Jesus by abiding in his word, which is truth. There is a great power available to us --- a power that can change our character and our lives. It is a power that can set us free. It comes from drawing near to Jesus Christ and staying near to him through his word.

Discussion: What kinds of things do we need to be set free from? In what ways do we become like the heavenly Father and Christ our Lord, according to Ephesians 4:25-5:2?

Prayer Starter: Thank the Father for sending his Son and adopting you into his family by faith. Ask him to work his own gracious character into your life that you might imitate him as one of his beloved children.

[1] The Greek words translated falsehood could be translated more literally as the lie.

Monday, December 22, 2008

To Whom Shall We Go? --- Scripture's Authority for Our Lives

This article from The Briefing emphasizes the truth that God's Word is our authority for faith and life --- a truth we need to remember and practice. --Bill

To Whom Shall We Go?
Tony Payne and Phillip Jensen

Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Can we say the same? Or do our evangelical heroes carry more authority than we care to admit?

Have you ever had this experience?

You are discussing some important issue with a Christian friend, and you find yourselves thinking about it differently. You bat a few arguments back and forth, and the discussion proceeds at a lively, though friendly, pace. After a while, you begin to feel (though modesty forbids you from saying so) that you are having the better of it. Your line of thought seems to have more weight, and to make more sense of the biblical evidence.

Then your friendly opponent delivers a low and painful blow. “Did you know that Don Carson and J. I. Packer take the same view on this as I do?”

Devastated, you beat a rapid retreat, mumbling something about it being a complex issue after all. All of a sudden, the citadel of your argument doesn't seem so invincible. Its foundation has turned to sand. If only you could come up with some names as good as that to quote in your defence ...

Having an evangelical ‘name’ on your side of an argument is undoubtedly a comfort. It gives security. It lends authority. It quietens the murmurings of our hearts (that we really don't know what we're talking about). To know that Calvin agrees with me, or that Thomas Aquinas doesn't—this gives us strength to go on.

However, one thing that Calvin would certainly not have agreed with is this very attitude towards human authorities. In the face of Roman Catholicism, the reformers fought for the principle of Sola Scriptura—that there was only one authority that could be trusted, and that was the Word of God. They knew that councils could err and that popes and churches could err. Only the Scriptures were infallible. And only the Scriptures could finally establish any point of doctrine or settle any argument, no matter what the whole world might say. They took their stand on the Word of God. They could do no other.

In this they followed the Lord Jesus himself. His method of teaching was not like the teachers of the law, who could only quote first one great rabbi and then another. He was that rare phenomenon, so marvelled at by the crowds, a teacher who spoke with authority. His words resonated with the power of the truth. He knew only two ways of introducing an argument—one was to say, “Truly, truly I say unto you”, and the other was to say “It is written”. Both statements of course meant the same thing, namely that God had spoken and that was an end of it.

One of the defining principles of evangelical belief is that God has spoken clearly, finally and enduringly in the Scriptures. Thus the evangelical method of argument is always to say, ‘What does the Bible teach on this?’. Evangelicals reject any human claims to authority, whether from popes or cardinals or councils.

We can see this easily in relation to the Pope and Roman Catholicism, but what of our own evangelical ‘popes’? What an irony it would be if we made the reformers themselves into ‘popes’, to be quoted and revered as authorities.

There are no popes. It matters little whether it is Martin Luther, John Wesley or George Whitefield. However great these men were, and however much help we gain from their wisdom, we must not trust them. We must keep reminding ourselves that they were human and fallible, just as we are.

We could well question, for example, Luther's doctrine of the eucharist; or Wesley's unusual views on health and healing; or Whitefield's stance regarding slavery. Some would say John Stott leans rather too far towards annihilationism. A great many evangelicals believe that J. I. Packer made a terrible blunder when he signed the ‘Evangelicals and Catholics Together’ document.

The list could go on. We all have blind spots. We all make mistakes. Like Augustine, we could all fill a book of ‘Retractions’ at our life's end. If the Apostle Peter could get it wrong (as he did in Antioch), why do we think that any of us is immune from error? The principle is very important, and we must keep it always before us: there are no popes. No-one can be trusted.

Implications




This simple principle has a number of important implications.

First, we must come to terms with the simple fact that even the people we know, love and respect make mistakes. We must learn not to accept blindly the pronouncements of our friends, our pastors, our bishops, our theologians—anyone. This is a nasty fact of the real world. We are all frail human beings and we are all affected not only by our sin and imperfection, but by all kinds of influences—intellectual, social, emotional and relational. Is it possible, for example, that Charles Colson's enthusiasm for joint evangelical-Roman Catholic initiatives has something to do with the fact that his wife is Roman Catholic? This is not to condemn Mr Colson (after all, we are only writing this article because our wives let us), but it is to say that we must not be naïve in assessing why they believe what they believe. The simple fact that someone is ‘one of us’ is no guarantee of the truth of their words at any particular point. Paul warned the Ephesian elders that “even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard!” (Acts 20:30-31).

Second, we must not judge people by their background, credentials, or past achievements, but by what they say and do. The current Archbishop of Canterbury is a case in point. That he has some background in evangelicalism, or that he once called himself an evangelical, means very little for weighing his current stance on a range of issues. Recently, for example, there has been controversy in England about a service held in Southwark Cathedral commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement. Some evangelicals spoke out against the idea that homosexuality should be celebrated and affirmed in this way, but the Archbishop of Canterbury (like several others) had little sympathy for their viewpoint. Instead, in a press release late last year, he described those opposed to the service as “bullying, loud-mouthed controversialists” whose “disapproving view of life has slammed the doors of the Church in the face of many who might have found a way in”. Whatever his heritage or background, at this point the Archbishop has left biblical Christianity behind. In the end, it matters not whether it is an archbishop, a theologian, or an angel from heaven—if they preach a gospel different from the one we have received, we must not follow them (Gal 1:6-9).

Third, we must resist the impulse to resolve any issue by lining up all the evangelical scholars who support our argument, as if that settles anything. John Woodhouse pointed this out in a recent speech to the Sydney Synod regarding the ordination of women to the priesthood:

  • A list of certain evangelical scholars has been represented to us as persons who would approve of what is proposed here tonight. However, the arguments, not the names, of such scholars need to be weighed. Paul Jewett has been mentioned. Paul Jewett was writing twenty years ago on this subject, and agreed entirely that the Bible texts mean what they appear to mean. He just believed quite simply that they were wrong (Man as Male and Female, pp. 112-119). David Scholer, who has also been mentioned, welcomed Jewett's arguments as “both sensitive and powerful” (cover of The Ordination of Women). Jewett actually said that the text of 1 Timothy 2 is spelled out so clearly in terms that would forbid the ordination of women “that it defies hermeneutical ingenuity” (Man as Male and Female, p. 116). It was just wrong.
  • Since then Jewett's words seem to have been taken by some as a challenge, and there have been very clever reinterpretations of these texts, the ingenuity of which Jewett could not have guessed. Most recently Dick France has a very sophisticated approach, different from, but reminiscent of, Paul Jewett. Dick France tells us that the Bible is apparently inconsistent on this question, which means that we have to decide which line of teaching we will give priority to.

In this instance, the arguments of Jewett, Scholer and France are decidedly un-evangelical. However worthy or great these men are, on this point they have erred (in saying that Scripture is either wrong, or else so inconsistent as to leave us free to choose which line to take). Their evangelical ‘name’ counts for nothing. We could well say with Paul: “... whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance” (Gal 2:6).

Fourth, and following on from this, we must not compile a list of what different evangelical scholars think in order to baptize any particular position as a ‘valid evangelical option’. This is a subtle but very damaging mistake. If you can't prove your case on a particular matter from the Bible, it is tempting simply to quote a great one who supports you, and thus feel justified in holding your ground. However, this may be nothing more than an excuse for muddled thinking and an unwillingness to obey the Scriptures.

If there are to be different ‘valid evangelical options’ on a given issue, it must be on the basis that the Bible is silent on the matter, or else teaches freedom. The mere fact that evangelical ‘great ones’ disagree means very little. Some of them could simply be wrong. Further prayerful study may be needed for the truth to become apparent. But that different evangelicals have different views on a matter is not a licence to throw up our hands and each do what is right in our own eyes.

Fifth, if we cannot trust others to be free from error, neither can we trust ourselves. We must acknowledge the possibility of our own blind spots, prejudices, and ignorance. We must come to issues with both our Bibles and our minds open. To have either one closed can only, in the end, lead to error. If we have our Bibles open but our minds closed, we will see in the Scriptures only what we want to see, or only what we believe already. The Bible will become a source book for backing up our existing beliefs and practices. If we keep our minds open but our Bibles closed, we will be prey to every new and interesting idea that comes along. We will become friends with the world, and enemies of the God whose word we are not prepared to heed.

We must therefore come to the Bible prayerfully and obediently lest, like the Pharisees, we search the Scriptures yet fail to find Christ in them, or else like the fool become hearers only of the word and so deceive ourselves (John 5:39; Jas 1:22-25).This means being willing to repent of error. And in particular it means being willing to repent of actions. This is the hardest repentance of all. Once we have taken action on the basis of a particular belief, it becomes increasingly difficult to change that belief. Once someone has had a charismatic experience of some kind (such as ‘speaking in tongues’ or being ‘slain in the Spirit’) it becomes much harder to look at what the Bible says on the issue with an open mind.

Sixth, and somewhat paradoxically, as part of not trusting ourselves, we should pay careful attention to what other people do and say. As the proverb says: “The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice” (Prov 12:15). We may not trust other people, and we will certainly not defer to their reputation or the number of letters after their name, but we will listen with humble interest to their words. We will listen to what the world says, to what non-evangelicals say (both now and historically), and we will listen to what evangelicals say and have said. By listening to others, our own views are tested, qualified, challenged or confirmed. Our blind spots are exposed. The weaknesses in our thought become apparent. In listening to the biblical arguments of others, we are forced to ask ourselves: What does the Bible actually teach? Why do I think what I think?

The seventh and final implication concerns The Briefing. We are not under any circumstances to be trusted. That we now have 200 issues under our belt means very little. That we have a reputation for biblical faithfulness and trustworthiness is something we give thanks to God for. But a blunder is never more than a page away. You must expect us to make mistakes, and so you must read and weigh what is said carefully in the light of Scripture.

Under God we will of course do our best to remain faithful to the work he has given us to do for the next 200 Briefings and beyond. But be careful. 200 issues on, we still can't be trusted.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Lie of Idolatry

Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism

The Ninth Commandment

You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

112 Q. What is God's will for you in the ninth commandment?

A. God's will is that I never give false testimony against anyone, twist no one's words, not gossip or slander, nor join in condemning anyone without a hearing or without a just cause.

Rather, in court and everywhere else, I should avoid lying and deceit of every kind; these are devices the devil himself uses, and they would call down on me God's intense anger.

I should love the truth, speak it candidly, and openly acknowledge it. And I should do what I can to guard and advance my neighbor's good name.

2) Scripture

Romans 1:24-25: Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for the lie[1] and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

Psalm 106:19-20:

19 They made a calf in Horeb

and worshiped a metal image.
20 They exchanged the glory of God
for the image of an ox that eats grass.

1 Thessalonians 1:9-10: For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.

Comment:

The context of the ninth commandment is the law courts. False testimony is not to be given in a trial. The catechism recognizes this context, but it also recognizes that the commandment exceeds the bounds of the court setting when it says, “In court and everywhere else, I should avoid lying and deceit of every kind.”

This issue of lying and deceit certainly exceeds what happens in a human court, for at the heart of the human problem is the issue of truth. It was when our first parents exchanged the truth of God for the lie, that the whole human race was plunged into slavery and death. The lie involved an exchange of gods. Instead of worshipping and serving the true and living God, human beings now worshipped created things instead.

What did Adam and Eve worship in the garden? They worshiped themselves. They determined to live by their own word and understanding, rather than the Lord’s. From now on they would seek their own honor, rather than God’s. Self-worship is pride, the pride that exalts self rather than God. Like the people at Babel who said, “let us make a name for ourselves” (Gen. 11:4), the human race has exchanged God’s glory for something far less. This exchange of gods is the lie at the root of the human dilemma.

What is the spiritual effect of idolatry? One of the primary themes of God’s Word is that we become like whatever we worship. Israel worshipped a metal image of an ox and they became as spiritually dumb and stubborn as an ox! This is why Scripture repeatedly refers to Israel’s stiff-necked resistance to the Lord. They were becoming like the thing they worshipped!

Adam and Eve worshipped self. But if you become like the thing you worship, and self is your object of worship, how do you become like yourself?

The answer is found in the idea that self-worship is nearly synonymous with pride. When we take over God’s prerogative to define and decide what is good and evil, the result is that we deify our own capacities and puff ourselves up. Making ourselves far bigger than we actually are, we seek to expand ourselves and our glory in a way that is only proper for God. Worshipping ourselves we become proud, rebellious creatures who exalt ourselves rather than "the Creator, who is blessed forever.”

What we need is another exchange. Like the Thessalonians, we need to turn “to God from idols to serve the living and true God.”

Discussion: How is the issue of truth at the heart of the human dilemma? How are self-worship and pride similar?

Prayer Starter: Confess the sin of living by your own understanding rather than God’s Word. Confess the sin of self-worship and pride, which exalts self rather than God. Ask the Father to make you compliant and receptive to his Word.


[1] A literal translation of the Greek text says, the lie, not a lie.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Threefold Cord of Love for the Truth, for Jesus, and for God's Word

Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism

The Ninth Commandment

You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

112 Q. What is God's will for you in the ninth commandment?

A. God's will is that I never give false testimony against anyone, twist no one's words, not gossip or slander, nor join in condemning anyone without a hearing or without a just cause.

Rather, in court and everywhere else, I should avoid lying and deceit of every kind; these are devices the devil himself uses, and they would call down on me God's intense anger.

I should love the truth, speak it candidly, and openly acknowledge it. And I should do what I can to guard and advance my neighbor's good name.

2) Scripture

John 17:17: Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.

Psalm 119:97: Oh how I love your law!

It is my meditation all the day.

Comment:

We are exploring the catechism’s positive explanation of the ninth commandment, namely, that we should love the truth. Yesterday we saw that Jesus is the truth. Jesus is the climax of God’s revelation to the human race. Everything in the Old Testament pointed to him. Not only were there specific predictive prophecies of his coming, but all of the institutions, offices, and ceremonies of the Old Testament foreshadowed him (we call these things types). The Old Testament was shadow, but with Jesus the substance has come. He is the truth --- the final reality, who shows us God, and unites us to God, if we place our faith in him as God’s Son.

But how do we come to know Jesus? Jesus lived 2000 years ago. We can’t walk and talk, eat and drink with him like his disciples did. So how do we get to know him?

The answer is the Word of God. We get to know Jesus, who is the truth, through the Father’s Word, which Jesus calls the truth in John 17:17. Jesus Christ and God the Father are knowable, but they are only knowable through the Word.

The triune God has always related to his creation through his word. How did God create the world? He spoke the word and it came into being. How does God sustain the world he created? Again, he sustains it with his word. So it should not come as a surprise to us that the Lord relates to us through words. We get to know the Father and the Son through the Word of God, which the Holy Spirit uses so that we might come to know our triune God.

Since this is how we get to know the Father and the Son, is it any wonder then that believers love God’s Word?! The Bible, God’s Word, is what Jesus called the truth. The Bible is what the psalmist said he loved. Because we love the truth, and because we love Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, we must also love God’s Word.

Love for the truth, love for Jesus, and love for God’s Word are intertwined. A passionate, emotional, heartfelt love for the truth, Jesus, and God’s Word cannot be separated. Keeping the ninth commandment means loving the truth, loving Jesus Christ, and loving God’s Word.

Discussion: How is Jesus the truth in terms of promise in the Old Testament and fulfillment in the New Testament? How do we come to know about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection? Can you passionately love Jesus and not also passionately love God’s Word?

Prayer Starter: Passionately express your love to the Father for the truth --- for Jesus and the Word. Pray for a greater love that you might be honest in all you think, say, and do.

Lessons About Parenting from "Apostasy Literature"

Stephen Nichols is an excellent writer. I have read a couple of his books. His book about Luther was helpful. He has written a piece about what he calls apostasy literature. It is a humorous piece, but it also makes a couple of valuable points about parenting. The link is here. --Bill

The World's Pressure and Being a Faithful Christian

Galatians 6:12, 14: It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. . . . 14 But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

Christians need to realize that there are three enemies to Christian faithfulness: the world, the flesh, and the devil. The first of these (the world) is about cultural pressure --- the pressure to be liked and well thought of by others, including society.

But if we deny the Word of God in order to avoid the offense of the cross, which clarifies the malignancy and sinfulness of sin, we are no longer light and salt in the world. As Jesus said, we are "no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet."

This portion of a post from Albert Mohler identifies the kind of pressure the world is now applying to Christians in America. Jesus is asking us this question as his professed disciples: "You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?" --Bill


The High Cost of Being (and Staying) Cool -- Rick Warren in a Whirlwind

Here is the deep irony -- Rick Warren has devoted enormous energy toward the goal of defusing the culture war and creating common ground. He has attracted the criticism of many conservative evangelicals who have been concerned about how these efforts have been positioned and for what often appears as comments at their expense. At times, Warren has even had to issue clarifications in order to make his generalized statements more specific. If the President-elect wanted to choose a figure recognized as an evangelical in the public eye, but sympathetic to much of his stated agenda to unite, he could scarcely have chosen a more recognizable figure than Rick Warren.

But now many of Obama's own supporters attack Rick Warren as if he is a hate-driven homophobe, which he clearly is not. All that was necessary to bring on this opposition is Warren's opposition to same-sex marriage and his support for Proposition 8. Now, he is grouped along with the most strident and careless apostles of hatred.

It doesn't take much. We would all like to be considered cool. Cultural opposition is a tough challenge and bearing public hatred is a hard burden. Being cool means being considered mainstream, acceptable, and admirable. Believing that same-sex marriage is wrong is enough to turn "uncool" in an instant, at least in many circles.

I am not throwing Rick Warren to the wolves over this. He now finds himself in a whirlwind, and he will not be the last. Pastor after pastor and church after church will face a similar challenge in short order. No matter how cool you think you are or think that others think you are, the hour is coming when the issue of homosexuality -- taken alone -- will be the defining issue in coolness. If you accept the full normalization of homosexuality, you will be cool. If you do not, you are profoundly uncool, no matter how much good work you do nor how much love and compassion you seek to express.

Liberal Protestantism came to this conclusion long ago, and those churches desperately want to be considered cool by the elites. Having abandoned biblical authority, there is nothing to prevent them moving fast into coolness. The only barriers are outposts of conservative opposition, but they will not last long.

Many in the "emerging" and "Emergent church" movements also state their intention to transcend the divisive issues like abortion and homosexuality. Some of these represent the quintessence of cool in cultural identification. But for how long? Eventually, the issue of homosexuality will require a decision. At that point, those churches will find themselves facing a forced decision. Choose ye this day: Will it be the Bible or coolness?

Rick Warren has just found himself in the midst of a whirlwind. We must pray that God will give him wisdom as he decides what to do -- and what to say -- as he stands in this whirlwind. But every evangelical Christian should watch this carefully, for the controversy over Rick Warren will not stop with the pastor from Saddleback. This whirlwind is coming for you and for your church. At some point, the cost of being "cool" will be the abandonment of biblical Christianity. We had better decide well in advance that this is a cost far too high to pay.




Baptism and the Trinity

Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism

25 Q. Since there is but one God, why do you speak of three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

A. Because that is how God has revealed himself in his Word: these three distinct persons
are one, true, eternal God.

2) Scripture

Matthew 28:18-20: And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Comment:

Notice that in Matthew 28:19 we are baptized into the single name of God. And yet, within this single name of God are three persons: Father, Son, and Spirit. God is one in essence, and yet, he is three persons.

Is this a contradiction? No, it is not a contradiction. A contradiction would be the belief that there is one God and three Gods at the same time, but this is not what we believe. We believe there is one God, who exists in three persons.

The trinity is not a contradiction, but rather a mystery. A contradiction is: a is not a. God doesn’t ask us to believe in contradictions, for contradictions are impossible. But God does command us to believe in him and in his Son (see John 14:1). We are not called to believe in something nonsensical, but we are called to believe that our God exists in himself in a way beyond our complete understanding. Our triune God is exalted high above us.


And yet, this triune God who is high above us graciously comes near to us. The good news of Matthew 28:19 is that this almighty, triune God makes a promise to us in our baptism to be our God. We are baptized into the name of the triune God. We have a new identity as Christians. We are in union and communion with the triune God, and we experience this union and communion, for example, when we pray to the Father in the name of the Son as the Spirit lifts our hearts into the presence of our heavenly Father and resurrected Lord.

Let’s take delight in the fact that this triune God is our God. Let’s believe the gospel promise made to us in our baptism that he wants to be our God. Let’s delight in our experience of the trinity as we enjoy daily fellowship with the Father through the Son and by the Spirit. And though we cannot completely comprehend the trinity, let’s delight in our daily experience of our triune God!

Discussion: Do we believe in three gods? Is the trinity a contradiction or a mystery? Though God is high above us, can we experience and delight in the triune God each day?

Prayer Starter: Praise the triune God who is both transcendent (beyond us) and immanent near us). Thank him for the gospel promise made to you in your baptism, when you were baptized into the one name of God, who exists in three persons.

Environmentalism and the Destruction of the World --- A Post from Andrew Barry

I found this post by Andrew Barry and The Sola Panel helpful. He hits on a truth (the destruction of the world) that is neglected in discussion of eschatology (or last things) and environmentalism. To read the article click on the button Read More. -- Bill


Environmentalism and the destruction of the world

Andrew Barry

Many Christian responses to the environment seem to obscure a very important doctrine. In their call to action, some recent books and pamphlets I have read on the topic hide the biblical notion that this world will be destroyed.

There is a hot debate running among Christians, and it is stereotypically played out as though each side owns half the evidence:

Academic and denominational publications advocating care for the environment own all the verses that talk about stewardship and the continuity of the created order with the one to come (its transformation). Grassroots individuals advocating an ‘I-don't-care attitude’ seem to own all the verses that proclaim clearly the end of the created order (its destruction).

Yet why the impasse? I think you can be concerned for the welfare of our environment and still hold to the verses that show the violent future that will come. However, often it seems as if concern for the environment silences us from announcing the news of the final judgement!

Let me propose two brief analogies that relate our dying world to mortal humans and animals:

  1. Until Christ returns, our bodies will all die. Despite this, we expect doctors to do all they can to preserve life while it lasts. This is basically their Hippocratic Oath. It is futile, in one sense, because they are fighting the inevitable decay, and yet it is worthwhile because mortal life still has inherent value. Our destiny is worm-food, and yet we still must take care of each other's bodies. In a similar way, we should take care of our world as we were created to do, even if it is destined for fire and destruction (2 Pet 3, Heb 12). The mandate to stewardship is perhaps our ‘Hippocratic Oath’.
  2. The Bible says that a righteous man is concerned for the life of his animals, whereas the wicked man is cruel to them (Prov 12:10). This verse applies especially to those animals a man eats! The underlying word is often translated ‘cattle’. Here is the parallel: even though we subdue the earth and use it, and even though it will not last forever, it is not our place as Christians to be particularly cruel or wanton in ruining the world. Just as righteous people care for the animals they ‘use’, we also must care for the world we ‘use’.

In this discussion, I take it as given that Christians should care for the environment in some way. But I want to urge us to think about our environmentalism and how it relates to our message of the final destruction and renewal of all things. The future does not hamper our efforts to care for this world; it actually gives us clarity, and avoids both the pitfalls of the new godless ‘environmental religion’ and the ‘don't-care’ attitude of some Christians.

Let's be good stewards of the environment, but let's also keep preaching the end of all things shamelessly! The devil is probably rejoicing that what seems an urgent thing (environmental concern) has silenced us from preaching an even more urgent thing (that God will destroy and renew all things himself).



Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Christmas Message from Peter Jensen

Christmas Lights Up Our Darkness

There are some people who carry cheerfulness and hope with them wherever they go. They light up a room by entering it; they create confidence by their sheer presence. Sometimes, when things appear at their most grim, the appearance of such a person can turn everything around.

Humanity has always faced problems, such as hunger, sickness and war. As 2008 ends, we are especially worried about climate change and the financial downturn.

But our deepest problem remains sin, and the consequence of sin, death. We may judge ourselves lightly. But the proper judgement for human life belongs to God. The law of God is not like human law, easily evaded. It is a law which reaches into our very hearts. Our deeds are weighed; our words are weighed; our thoughts are weighed. The verdict of the Bible on our words, thoughts and deeds is negative. We are moral failures.

More. We are spiritual failures. Our sin has alienated us from the living God, our Creator. It is as if we are divorced from him, with all the fault lying on our side. We do not want to live in his world in his way. We choose, rather, the liberty of disobedience and self-will. Even though such choices lead demonstrably to misery and pain, we prefer to rule our own life rather than to allow God to have his rightful place. The problem of atheism in the final analysis is not intellectual, but moral and spiritual.

As morally and spiritually weakened creatures, we also succumb to cultural pressures, or what the Bible calls ‘the world’. At the same time, we are vulnerable to the assaults of spiritual wickedness. The Bible regards the devil as ‘the father of lies’. In his activity against the human race he is especially skilled in deception and disinformation. He will do all he can to divide us from each other.

The spiritual corruption of human speech can be seen today, often on the anonymous blogs which malign and defame. We see here the new Babel, the way in which wonderful human technology is used to assault heaven itself.

All in all, the human party is not a pretty sight. Not pretty until a certain person enters the room and joins us.

I have seen a fair number of Christmases come and go by now. Its sheer wonder only makes me more and more glad. Jesus Christ has entered the room. He has joined the human race. He has not done so as an alien visitor, but as one of us. He has not done so as a fully formed adult. He has chosen to be born as the most vulnerable and dependent of human beings, a baby. He has chosen to go through each stage of our experience, but without sin. He has determined to do what Adam so obviously failed to do: he has been committed from the beginning to obey the law and will of God, to live human life as it was intended to be lived.

I think one of the most precious sentences ever written is this: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Timothy 1:15). It is precious in both its parts. You could say that Jesus was born to show us how to live. That is true. You could say that he was born in order to teach us the facts of the world. That is true. But the best thing of all to say is that he was born in order to save. If we simply stopped with his teaching ministry, we may flatter ourselves that we can order our own lives and save ourselves. But we cannot do this. We need to be saved. And he is the peerless Saviour.

I also like the second part of the verse. The Apostle Paul, the author, locates himself as the foremost of sinners. There is no one worse. If he could be saved, then so can we.

Occasionally we become aware of the scope of our sin. Sometimes we have committed very grave sins indeed, sins of which we are now deeply ashamed. But, however far we have strayed from the will of God into sin and evil, we cannot go further than the foremost of sinners. We may be assured of forgiveness.

“I am a great sinner,” said John Newton, “but Christ is a great Saviour”. Have a happy Christmas – happy in the knowledge that when things were at their most desperate a Saviour entered the world and no one is too far gone for him to call back to the joy of life.

Do You Love the Truth? Do You Love Jesus?

Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism

The Ninth Commandment

You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

112 Q. What is God's will for you in the ninth commandment?

A. God's will is that I never give false testimony against anyone, twist no one's words, not
gossip or slander, nor join in condemning anyone without a hearing or without a just cause.

Rather, in court and everywhere else, I should avoid lying and deceit of every kind; these
are devices the devil himself uses, and they would call down on me God's intense anger.

I should love the truth, speak it candidly, and openly acknowledge it. And I should do
what I can to guard and advance my neighbor's good name.

2) Scripture

John 14:3-6: And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. 4 And you know the way to where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

John 21:17-18: He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.”

1 Corinthians 16:22-24: If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come! 23 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. 24 My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Comment:

Recently I came across these questions in my reading: What does it feel like to be a believer? What does the Christian life feel like?[1]

Part of the answer to these questions must include heartfelt love for, and delight in, our Lord Jesus Christ. The catechism says, “I should love the truth,” but Jesus is the truth.

Jesus defines the truth, for he is God come to us in our human nature. Jesus is the sum and substance of God’s revelation to us. Not to love Jesus is a rejection of all that God has said and done for the human race. Not to love Jesus is not to love the truth.

Without love for Jesus --- love that is not just intellectual or volitional, but also emotional, we won’t carry out his commands. Without a passionate love for Jesus, a love like Peter’s, we won’t be able to effectively live a life pleasing to the Father. Love, and particularly, the emotion of love is what caused Peter to feed Christ’s sheep and to bravely face his martyrdom. Heartfelt love and devotion for Christ is the fuel of the Christian life.

Why do we love Jesus? Why did Peter love Jesus so much?

We love him because we know him. Peter knew Christ. He had seen Christ’s glory full of grace and truth (John 1:14). He came to know the Father as he came to know the Son (John 1:18). He came to know and experience the deepest of all truths, that at the heart of the universe is loving fellowship between the Father, Son, and Spirit, and united to Christ we share in that loving fellowship.

Do you love Jesus? Jesus asks you and me the same question he asked Peter, “Do you love me?” To answer this question negatively is curse and death, according to the apostle. But to answer it positively with Peter is delightful love and life now and forever.

Do you love the truth? Do you love Jesus?

Discussion: What does it feel like to be a believer in Jesus Christ? What do we do when we don’t feel the kind of love for Christ we should? Why did Peter love Christ?

Prayer Starter: Pray for the promised work (in your baptism and the gospel) of the Spirit to produce right desires and feelings for the truth and for Jesus Christ, who is the truth. Use your prayer time to ask for and/or express you feelings for your Lord.


[1] Ash, Christopher. Bible Delight, p. 11.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

"God, be merciful to me, a sinner!"

Jesus said, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." I take it that this mourning is not a one time occurrence, but that repentance and faith are a regular feature of the Christian life. Our Lord's petition, "Give us this day our daily bread," is followed by the words, "and forgive us our sins." Just as our bodies need daily bread, so our souls need daily forgiveness. Below is a prayer of confession we can use as we deeply mourn our sin against our triune God and our neighbor.

How rarely we confess our original sin! The sin of our nature should grieve and humble us. Our continued waywardness should sadden us. But let us also not compound our sin by failing to believe in the Father's good will toward us in Christ. His mercy is infinite and Christ's blood and righteousness are sufficient to cleanse and cover. As you read this prayer substitute my for "we" and me for "us" and make it a prayer of your heart and mine. --Bill

O eternal God and merciful Father, we humble ourselves before your great majesty, against which we have frequently and grievously sinned. We acknowledge that if you should enter into judgment with us, we would deserve nothing less than eternal death.

We are deeply conscious of the fact that, on account of our original sin, we are unclean before you and children of wrath. Since we are conceived and born in sin, all kinds of evil desire against you and our neighbor fill our soul.

We continually transgress your commandments, failing to do what you have commanded us, and we do what you have expressly forbidden. We all like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way. We acknowledge our waywardness, and are heartily sorry for all our sins. We confess to our humiliation and to the praise of your mercy that our transgressions are innumerable, and that our debt is so great that we cannot even begin to repay. We are not worthy to be called your children, nor to lift our eyes heavenward to you in prayer.

Nevertheless, O Lord God and gracious Father, we know that you do not desire the death of the sinner, but rather that he should turn to you and live; we know that your mercy toward those who turn to you is infinite; and so we take courage to call upon you from the depths of our hearts, trusting in our mediator Jesus Christ, the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.

We pray that you, forgiving all our sins for Christ's sake, will have compassion upon us in our infirmities. Wash us in the pure fountain of his blood, so that we may become clean and white as snow. Cover our nakedness with his innocence and righteousness, for the glory of your name.

Deliver our understanding from all blindness, and our hearts from all willfulness and rebellion. . . . Prepare our hearts to receive your Word, to understand it, and to preserve it. Inscribe your law, as you have promised, upon the tablet of our heart, and give us the desire and the strength to walk in the way of your precepts, to the praise and glory of your name, and to the edification of the church.

All this, gracious Father, we implore in the name of Jesus Christ.

A prayer from the 1976 Psalter Hymnal.

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