Thursday, December 31, 2009

Why I Love Jesus Christ

I love Jesus Christ because he is the high priest who is able to sympathize with my weaknesses yet has no sinfulness (Heb 4:15).

Making Disciples

Voddie Baucham drew my attention to this podcast from the White Horse Inn - "What Is Discipleship?" It is an excellent discussion, and particularly relevant to what we are trying to accomplish as a church. I can't resist saying that their aesthetic judgment needs work (who picks the music for these things?), but their biblical perspective on making disciples is much needed! Take some time to listen to it today. (Look under the Listen Now label and click on the title "What Is Discipleship?")

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Man Shall not Live by Bread Alone

There is simply no substitute for systematic exposure to the entire Scripture. As you make plans to read and study the Bible next year, the ESV Bible Reading Plans may prove helpful to you. You can choose which plan works best for you, and you can also choose to receive it in several formats. I have used this for a couple years, and I find it very helpful. Whatever you do, remember that you need every word that comes from the mouth of God.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Tell to the Coming Generation

Fathers, now is a perfect time to remind your families of the glorious deeds of the Lord in the past year.

Since we meditated upon the Lord's Prayer extensively this past year, I am using that passage as a framework to talk to my children this week. What Scripture are you using?

Understanding God's Story

As a follow-up to last Sunday's sermon on the importance of understanding the reality that the culmination of all things is near, here is good statement I came across in my reading today.

Those who know the contours of history are able to assess the significance of the present (Thomas Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude).

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Incarnation of the Son of God

As we celebrate the incarnation of the Son of God, it will be helpful for you to meditate on the person of Jesus Christ. Pastor David Doran is posting some clarifying comments on the many errors which can sneak into our beliefs about Jesus. If you have free time over the next few days, you will benefit from reading them.

Cornerstone or Stumbling Stone?

Ancient Heresies that Might Still Haunt Us

Modern Speculations and Heresy in Embryonic Form

Bad Chemistry, Worse Theology

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

"We Must Still Be Biblical"

I found this post by the Zambian pastor Conrad Mbewe to be refreshing, despite its frank recognition of worldliness among the young believers in that country. It was refreshing for the simple reason that Pastor Mbewe evidences a real conviction that the Bible, and not "culture," must be the final guide for our conduct in all areas of life. His concerns about the drinking, dress, music, and dancing at the weddings of Zambian Christians sorely need to be heard in our own country, too.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Armed and Ready

A crucial lesson for believers to learn -

Resolve to suffer rather than sin, no matter how unbelievers judge you, for God has the final judgment.

Join us this Lord's Day to give praise to God.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel (#87)
Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne (#93)
As with Gladness Men of Old (397)
The First Noel (#98)
See in Yonder Manger Low (#102)
What Child Is This? (#103)

Scripture Reading
Luke 2:1-52

Armed for Suffering - 1 Peter 4:1-6

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Why I Love Jesus Christ

I love Jesus Christ because he was made like us in every respect and became a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to satisfy God's wrath against the sins of his people (Heb 2:17).

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The Canons of the Synod of Dort (Part 8)

As we conclude the series of posts on the Synod of Dort, I have just one comment to make. As I thought on this confession, I was impressed with its theological and pastoral integrity. It synthesizes all of the biblical revelation on these topics, if not perfectly, then at least with admirable consistency. In addition, it does so with an eye to the cause of Christ and the tender care of Christ's sheep. Don't miss the love that lights up the doctrine.

The true doctrine having been explained, the Synod rejects the errors of those:

I. Who teach: That the perseverance of the true believers is not a fruit of election, or a gift of God, gained by the death of Christ, but a condition of the new covenant, which (as they declare) man before his decisive election and justification must fulfill through his free will. For the Holy Scripture testifies that this follows out of election, and is given the elect in virtue of the death, the resurrection and intercession of Christ: "But the elect obtained it and the rest were hardened," Romans 11:7. Likewise: "He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not also with him freely give us all things? Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth; who is he that condemneth? It is Christ Jesus that died, yea rather, that was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" Romans 8:32-35.

II. Who teach: That God does indeed provide the believer with sufficient powers to persevere, and is ever ready to preserve these in him, if he will do his duty; but that though all things, which are necessary to persevere in faith and which God will use to preserve faith, are made use of, it even then ever depends on the pleasure of the will whether it will persevere or not. For this idea contains an outspoken Pelagianism, and while it would make men free, it makes them robbers of God's honor, contrary to the prevailing agreement of the evangelical doctrine, which takes from man all cause of boasting, and ascribes all the praise for this favor to the grace of God alone; and contrary to the Apostle, who declares: "That it is God, who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye be unreprovable in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ," I Corinthians 1:8.

III. Who teach: That the true believers and regenerate not only can fall from justifying faith and likewise from grace and salvation wholly and to the end, but indeed often do fall from this and are lost forever. For this conception makes powerless the grace, justification, regeneration, and continued keeping by Christ, contrary to the expressed words of the Apostle Paul: "That while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Much more then, being justified by his blood, shall we be saved from the wrath of God through him," Romans 5:8,9. And contrary to the Apostle John: "Whosoever is begotten of God doeth no sin, because his seed abideth in him; and he can not sin, because he is begotten of God," I John 3:9. And also contrary to the words of Jesus Christ: "I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. My Father who hath given them to me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand," John 10:28,29.

IV. Who teach: That true believers and regenerate can sin the sin unto death or against the Holy Spirit. Since the same Apostle John, after having spoken in the fifth chapter of his first epistle, vss. 16 and 17, of those who sin unto death and having forbidden to pray for them, immediately adds to this in vs. 18: "We know that whosoever is begotten of God sinneth not (meaning a sin of that character), but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and the evil one toucheth him not," I John 5:18.

V. Who teach: That without a special revelation we can have no certainty of future perseverance in this life. For by this doctrine the sure comfort of all believers is taken away in this life, and the doubts of the papist are again introduced into the church, while the Holy Scriptures constantly deduce this assurance, not from a special and extraordinary revelation, but from the marks proper to the children of God and from the constant promises of God. So especially the Apostle Paul: "No creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord," Romans 8:39. And John declares: "And he that keepeth his commandments abideth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he gave us," I John 3:24.

VI. Who teach: That the doctrine of the certainty of perseverance and of salvation from its own character and nature is a cause of indolence and is injurious to godliness, good morals, prayers and other holy exercises, but that on the contrary it is praiseworthy to doubt. For these show that they do not know the power of divine grace and the working of the indwelling Holy Spirit. And they contradict the Apostle John, who teaches the opposite with express words in his first epistle: "Beloved, now are we the children of God, and it is not yet made manifest what we shall be. We know that, if he shall be manifested, we shall be like him, for we shall see him even as he is. And every one that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure," I John 3:2, 3. Furthermore, these are contradicted by the example of the saints, both of the Old and New Testament, who though they were assured of their perseverance and salvation, were nevertheless constant in prayers and other exercises of godliness.

VII. Who teach: That the faith of those, who believe for a time, does not differ from justifying and saving faith except only in duration. For Christ himself, in Matthew 13:20, Luke 8:13, and in other places, evidently notes, besides this duration, a threefold difference between those who believe only for a time and true believers, when he declares that the former receive the seed in stony ground, but the latter in the good ground or heart; that the former are without root, but that the latter have a firm root; that the former are without fruit, but that the latter bring forth their fruit in various measure, with constancy and steadfastness.

VIII. Who teach: That it is not absurd that one having lost his first regeneration, is again and even often born anew. For these deny by this doctrine the incorruptibleness of the seed of God, whereby we are born again. Contrary to the testimony of the Apostle Peter: "Having been begotten again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible," I Peter 1:23.

IX. Who teach: That Christ has in no place prayed that believers should infallibly continue in faith. For they contradict Christ himself, who says: "I have prayed for thee (Simon), that thy faith fail not," Luke 22:32; and the Evangelist John, who declares, that Christ has not prayed for the Apostles only, but also for those who through their word would believer: "Holy Father, keep them in thy name," and: "I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil one," John 17:11, 15, 20.

And this is the perspicuous, simple, and ingenious declaration of the orthodox doctrine respecting the five articles which have been controverted in the Belgic churches; and the rejection of the errors, with which they have for some time been troubled. This doctrine, the Synod judges to be drawn from the Word of God, and to be agreeable to the confessions of the Reformed churches. Whence it clearly appears, that some whom such conduct by no means became, have violated all truth, equity, and charity, in wishing to persuade the public:

"That the doctrine of the Reformed churches concerning predestination, and the points annexed to it, by its own genius and necessary tendency, leads off the minds of men from all piety and religion; that it is an opiate administered by the flesh and by the devil, and the stronghold of Satan, where he lies in wait for all; and from which he wounds multitudes, and mortally strikes through many with the darts both of despair and security; that it makes God the author of sin, unjust, tyrannical, hypocritical; that it is nothing more than interpolated Stoicism, Manicheism, Libertinism, Turcism; that it renders men carnally secure, since they are persuaded by it that nothing can hinder the salvation of the elect, let them live as they please; and therefore, that they may safely perpetrate every species of the most atrocious crimes; and that, if the reprobate should even perform truly all the works of the saints, their obedience would not in the least contribute to their salvation; that the same doctrine teaches, that God, by a mere arbitrary act of his will, without the least respect or view to sin, has predestinated the greatest part of the world to eternal damnation; and, has created them for this very purpose; that in the same manner in which the election is the fountain and cause of faith and good works, reprobation is the cause of unbelief and impiety; that many children of the faithful are torn, guiltless, from their mothers' breasts, and tyrannically plunged into hell; so that, neither baptism, nor the prayers of the Church at their baptism, can at all profit by them;" and many other things of the same kind, which the Reformed Churches not only do not acknowledge, but even detest with their whole soul. Wherefore, this Synod of Dort, in the name of the Lord, conjures as many as piously call upon the name of our Savior Jesus Christ, to judge of the faith of the Reformed Churches, not from the calumnies, which, on every side, are heaped upon it; nor from the private expressions of a few among ancient and modern teachers, often dishonestly quoted, or corrupted, and wrested to a meaning quite foreign to their intention; but from the public confessions of the Churches themselves, and from the declaration of the orthodox doctrine, confirmed by the unanimous consent of all and each of the members of the whole Synod. Moreover, the Synod warns calumniators themselves, to consider the terrible judgment of God which awaits them, for bearing false witness against the confessions of so many Churches, for distressing the consciences of the weak; and for laboring to render suspected the society of the truly faithful. Finally, this Synod exhorts all their brethren in the gospel of Christ, to conduct themselves piously and religiously in handling this doctrine, both in the universities and churches; to direct it, as well in discourse, as in writing, to the glory of the Divine Name, to holiness of life, and to the consolation of afflicted souls; to regulate, by the Scripture, according to the analogy of faith, not only their sentiments, but also their language; and, to abstain from all those phrases which exceed the limits necessary to be observed in ascertaining the genuine sense of the holy Scriptures; and may furnish insolent sophists with a just pretext for violently assailing, or even vilifying, the doctrine of the Reformed Churches.

May Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who, seated at the Father's right hand, gives gifts to men, sanctify us in the truth, bring to the truth those who err, shut the mouths of the calumniators of sound doctrine, and endue the faithful minister of his Word with the spirit of wisdom and discretion, that all their discourses may tend to the glory of God, and the edification of those who hear them. AMEN.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Don't Sacrifice Relationships for Drywall

Listen here to the stories of real families who are enjoying the blessings of living without debt.

Update: My wife brought this article to my attention. In it, four families talk about how they are learning to live on a cash only basis.

Friday, December 04, 2009

More Men Like Payne

Bishop Daniel Alexander Payne was a leader in the African Methodist Episcopal Church during the 19th century. I recently read this observation on Payne's approach to culture. For Payne,

Theology defined appropriate "Christian culture." Culture was not to shape theology. The Bishop opposed the preservation of folk tradition at the expense of biblical orthodoxy.
(Thabiti Anyabwile, The Decline of African-American Theology, 226)

On this score, we need more men like Payne, not just in African-American churches, but in all churches.

Blessing through Suffering

Once we see that Jesus Christ, our leader, triumphed through suffering, it is no longer so difficult to understand why we sometimes suffer for doing good. We follow him. We walk the path he walked. We should expect to experience what he experienced.

But there is even more. Not only do believers follow him, we are also spiritually united to him in his death and resurrection. Because of this, we have the great confidence that we will participate with him in his triumph. Suffering for his sake is only a means to blessing.

O Come, All Ye Faithful (#88)
Angels We Have Heard on High (#89)
Hark! the Herald Angels Sing (#90)
Once in Royal David's City (#91)
Joy to the World! (#92)
Who Is He in Yonder Stall (#120)

Scripture Reading
Luke 1:26-80

Blessing through Suffering (Part 2) - 1 Peter 3:18-22

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Perspectives on Family Ministry (Part 3)

I apologize for the hiatus in my interaction with Perspectives on Family Ministry. We will now resume our regular programming.

Part 1 consists of four chapters written by Timothy Paul Jones on why every church needs family ministry. By relating both personal experience and historical precedent, he does an excellent job of setting up the issues to be discussed in the book.

As he relates in chapter 1 ("Confessions of a Well-Meaning Youth Minister"), his experience as a youth minister led him to ask, "What if this separation between students and adults - something I had been trained to see as a solution - has actually been part of the problem? What if God never intended youth ministry staff members to become the primary sustainers of students' spiritual lives? What if something is profoundly wrong with the entire way the church has structured ministries to youth and children?"

Excellent questions, I say. So why has contemporary youth ministry followed the path of dis-integration? Jones answers that a single false assumption is the cornerstone of this flawed model. "The false assumption is simply this: Parents are not the primary persons responsible for their children's Christian formation" (13, emphasis original). Therefore he suggests that "this model is not biblical, and the results of this approach have not consistently reflected God's intentions for His people" (13). Instead, God has designed the family as the primary context for discipleship of young people.

Chapter 2 develops this last thought in a helpful way. There are some tasks, Jones suggests, which are simply too significant to delegate to someone else - "taking your spouse on a date, for example." No one else can do that job for you. In a similar way, the parents' responsibility to be the primary disciple-makers of their children is too important to be given to anyone else. This was the historic expectation of the church. Although churches have always engaged in some kind of age oriented ministry, and parents have always struggled to disciple their children, modern churches have developed an unprecedented mindset - ministry professionals are supposed to give children the spiritual training they need. While the vast majority of Christian parents verbally acknowledge that they are responsible to disciple their children, most of them rely on the church to do it for them.

So how did we get to where we are today? Chapter 3 provides the historical contexts for family ministry. Jones provides a crisp and accurate historical overview of twentieth century views on young people and ministry to young people, noting especially the invention of the teenager, the rise of age-focused ministries, and the release of parental responsibility. Bravo to Jones for this chapter.

Given where we are today, what do we do about it? This is the main question that drives the book. In chapter 4 Jones sets up the discussion between three models of family ministry.

Beginning next week, Lord willing, I will see if I can go a few rounds with the protagonists of each model without getting KO'd myself. It should be fun. I hope you can all get ringside seats.

Why I Love Jesus Christ

I love Jesus Christ because he partook of flesh and blood in order to destroy the devil and deliver me from slavery (Heb 2:14-15).

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Canons of the Synod of Dort (Part 7)

I do not believe in "eternal security"...

at least in the way many Christians use that term today. I most certainly do believe that God eternally keeps those who are his. This is a powerful biblical truth and an anchor of the soul. However, the way many Christians think of eternal security amounts to the rotten remains of a once vibrant biblical doctrine called the perseverance of the saints. "Eternal security" is reduced to sloganeering - "once saved, always saved" - with no ability to handle the warning texts and teachings of Scripture. "Eternal security" is a form of sacramentalism - "pray this prayer and then don't ever doubt your salvation." "Eternal security" gives place to carnal indifference in the pilgrimage to glory.

No, the biblical teaching on this matter is much more robust, much more challenging, much more humbling, and much more satisfying than that. Read the fifth head of doctrine below carefully, and you will understand it well.

Of the Perseverance of the Saints

Article 1. Whom God calls, according to his purpose, to the communion of his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and regenerates by the Holy Spirit, he delivers also from the dominion and slavery of sin in this life; though not altogether from the body of sin, and from the infirmities of the flesh, so long as they continue in this world.

Article 2. Hence spring daily sins of infirmity, and hence spots adhere to the best works of the saints; which furnish them with constant matter for humiliation before God, and flying for refuge to Christ crucified; for mortifying the flesh more and more by the spirit of prayer, and by holy exercises of piety; and for pressing forward to the goal of perfection, till being at length delivered from this body of death, they are brought to reign with the Lamb of God in heaven.

Article 3. By reason of these remains of indwelling sin, and the temptations of sin and of the world, those who are converted could not persevere in a state of grace, if left to their own strength. But God is faithful, who having conferred grace, mercifully confirms, and powerfully preserves them herein, even to the end.

Article 4. Although the weakness of the flesh cannot prevail against the power of God, who confirms and preserves true believers in a state of grace, yet converts are not always so influenced and actuated by the Spirit of God, as not in some particular instances sinfully to deviate from the guidance of divine grace, so as to be seduced by, and to comply with the lusts of the flesh; they must, therefore, be constant in watching and in prayer, that they be not led into temptation. When these are neglected, they are not only liable to be drawn into great and heinous sins, by Satan, the world and the flesh, but sometimes by the righteous permission of God actually fall into these evils. This, the lamentable fall of David, Peter, and other saints described in Holy Scripture, demonstrates.

Article 5. By such enormous sins, however, they very highly offend God, incur a deadly guilt, grieve the Holy Spirit, interrupt the exercise of faith, very grievously wound their consciences, and sometimes lose the sense of God's favor, for a time, until on their returning into the right way of serious repentance, the light of God's fatherly countenance again shines upon them.

Article 6. But God, who is rich in mercy, according to his unchangeable purpose of election, does not wholly withdraw the Holy Spirit from his own people, even in their melancholy falls; nor suffers them to proceed so far as to lose the grace of adoption, and forfeit the state of justification, or to commit sins unto death; nor does he permit them to be totally deserted, and to plunge themselves into everlasting destruction.

Article 7. For in the first place, in these falls he preserves them in the incorruptible seed of regeneration from perishing, or being totally lost; and again, by his Word and Spirit, certainly and effectually renews them to repentance, to a sincere and godly sorrow for their sins, that they may seek and obtain remission in the blood of the Mediator, may again experience the favor of a reconciled God, through faith adore his mercies, and henceforward more diligently work out their own salvation with fear and trembling.

Article 8. Thus, it is not in consequence of their own merits, or strength, but of God's free mercy, that they do not totally fall from faith and grace, nor continue and perish finally in their backslidings; which, with respect to themselves, is not only possible, but would undoubtedly happen; but with respect to God, it is utterly impossible, since his counsel cannot be changed, nor his promise fail, neither can the call according to his purpose be revoked, nor the merit, intercession and preservation of Christ be rendered ineffectual, nor the sealing of the Holy Spirit be frustrated or obliterated.

Article 9. Of this preservation of the elect to salvation, and of their perseverance in the faith, true believers for themselves may and ought to obtain assurance according to the measure of their faith, whereby they arrive at the certain persuasion, that they ever will continue true and living members of the church; and that they experience forgiveness of sins, and will at last inherit eternal life.

Article 10. This assurance, however, is not produced by any peculiar revelation contrary to, or independent of the Word of God; but springs from faith in God's promises, which he has most abundantly revealed in his Word for our comfort; from the testimony of the Holy Spirit, witnessing with our spirit, that we are children and heirs of God, Romans 8:16; and lastly, from a serious and holy desire to preserve a good conscience, and to perform good works. And if the elect of God were deprived of this solid comfort, that they shall finally obtain the victory, and of this infallible pledge or earnest of eternal glory, they would be of all men the most miserable.

Article 11. The Scripture moreover testifies, that believers in this life have to struggle with various carnal doubts, and that under grievous temptations they are not always sensible of this full assurance of faith and certainty of persevering. But God, who is the Father of all consolation, does not suffer them to be tempted above that they are able, but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that they may be able to bear it, I Corinthians 10:13, and by the Holy Spirit again inspires them with the comfortable assurance of persevering.

Article 12. This certainty of perseverance, however, is so far from exciting in believers a spirit of pride, or of rendering them carnally secure, that on the contrary, it is the real source of humility, filial reverence, true piety, patience in every tribulation, fervent prayers, constancy in suffering, and in confessing the truth, and of solid rejoicing in God: so that the consideration of this benefit should serve as an incentive to the serious and constant practice of gratitude and good works, as appears from the testimonies of Scripture, and the examples of the saints.

Article 13. Neither does renewed confidence or persevering produce licentiousness, or a disregard to piety in those who are recovering from backsliding; but it renders them much more careful and solicitous to continue in the ways of the Lord, which he hath ordained, that they who walk therein may maintain an assurance of persevering, lest by abusing his fatherly kindness, God should turn away his gracious countenance from them, to behold which is to the godly dearer than life: the withdrawing thereof is more bitter than death, and they in consequence hereof should fall into more grievous torments of conscience.

Article 14. And as it hath pleased God, by the preaching of the gospel, to begin this work of grace in us, so he preserves, continues, and perfects it by the hearing and reading of his Word, by meditation thereon, and by the exhortations, threatenings, and promises thereof, as well as by the use of the sacraments.

Article 15. The carnal mind is unable to comprehend this doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, and the certainty thereof; which God hath most abundantly revealed in his Word, for the glory of his name, and the consolation of pious souls, and which he impresses upon the hearts of the faithful. Satan abhors it; the world ridicules it; the ignorant and hypocrite abuse, and heretics oppose it; but the spouse of Christ hath always most tenderly loved and constantly defended it, as an inestimable treasure; and God, against whom neither counsel nor strength can prevail, will dispose her to continue this conduct to the end. Now, to this one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, forever. AMEN.