Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Reformation Day 2007

It is Reformation Day once again! There is much to celebrate and remember on this day commemorating the recovery of the gospel. This year I want to highlight two related points that I don’t think are thought of enough in connection with the Reformation. They are: suffering and missions.

The Reformation had a missionary impulse from the beginning. As people understood the gospel for the first time they instinctively sought ways to take this gospel to their neighbors and other countries around them. As they went with the gospel, then, many of these individuals were killed for their allegiance to this gospel. Through the years many have criticized the Reformation for not being missionary enough because there were no mission ‘boards’ and little was done outside of Europe. However, this criticism of people who gave their lives for the gospel by people who suffer little for the gospel rings hollow. Europe it self was a dangerous mission field in the 16th century, and Calvin did support the first mission endeavor to the Americas. I have written elsewhere on Calvin’s missionary concern and a recent significant book has detailed Luther’s concern for missions.

At this time preaching the gospel of grace almost certainly brought persecution. So, I want to post here a hymn Luther wrote in response to the first martyrs for the evangelical cause. The background of the hymn is given by cyberhymnal:

On June 23, 1523, two young Augustinian monks, Heinrich Voes and Johann Esch, from Antwerp, had been, after examination by the Cologne Inquisitor, Jacob von Hogstraten, and at the instigation of the Louvain professors, condemned to death and burnt at the stake in Brussels. On receipt of the news of this first martyrdom for the Evangelical cause Luther’s spirit was fired, and he wrote this spirited narrative, ending with the prophetic words [translated by Richard Massie, 1854]:
Summer is even at our door,
The winter now hath vanished,
The tender flowerets spring once more,
And He, Who winter banished,
Will send a happy Summer.

Here is the hymn:

Flung to the heedless winds,
Or on the waters cast,
The martyrs’ ashes, watched,
Shall gathered be at last.

And from that scattered dust,
Around us and abroad,
Shall spring a plenteous seed,
Of witnesses for God.

The Father hath received,
Their latest living breath,
And vain is Satan’s boast,
Of victory in their death.

Still, still, though dead, they speak,
And, trumpet tongued, proclaim,
To many a wakening land,
The one availing Name.

[Words: Martin Luther, 1523 (Ein neues Lied wir heben an); translated from German to English by John A. Messenger.]

May we be so faithful with this glorious gospel.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Aging and Maturity

Yesterday I commented on an article by Carl Trueman which criticized infatuation with youth and appearance. Just this morning I read Dorothy Sayers essay “Strong Meat” in her book Creed or Chaos and it addressed this very issue. The entire piece- indeed the whole book- is valuable reading, but here are just a few samples on this topic:

“There is a popular school of thought (or, more strictly, of feeling) which violently resents the operation of Time upon the human spirit. It looks upon age as something between a crime and an insult. Its prophets have banished from their savage vocabulary all such words as adult, mature, experienced, venerable; they know only snarling and sneering epithets, like middle-aged, elderly, stuffy, senile, and decrepit. With these they flagellate that which they themselves are, or must shortly become, as if abuse were an incantation to exorcize the inexorable. Theirs is neither the thoughtless courage that ‘makes mouths at the invisible event’ [Shakespeare] nor
the reasoned courage that foresees the event and endures it; still less is it the ecstatic courage that embraces and subdues the event. It is the vicious and desperate fury of a trapped beast; and it is not a pretty sight.”

“From the relentless reality of age they seek escape into a fantasy of youth – their own or other people’s.”

“Now, children differ in many ways, but they have one thing in common. Peter Pan – if indeed he exists otherwise than in the nostalgic imagination of an adult – is a case for the pathologist. All normal children (however much we discourage them) look forward to growing up.”

Monday, October 29, 2007

Trueman on Pandering to Youthfulness

Carl Trueman has written a good piece on how too often churches and pastors pander to the culture in an immature effort to be Cool” or “hip.” He starts with a humorous discussion of baldness. I encourage you to check it out.

Trueman is really on to something. We need to get over ourselves and get more caught up with God. My generation is really too concerned with appearing young. We need to lead the way in showing that the goal is to grow in wisdom and grace as we age in years- not to follow Peter Pan in a puerile pursuit of being forever young. Idolizing youth is adolescent.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Pondering the Omnipotence of God

I am looking over my notes for Sunday School in the morning. We are covering the doctrine of God and are currently discussing some of his attributes. Last week we discussed God's omnipresence and omniscience, so in the morning I am to cover omnipotence. What an exhilarating, awe-inspiring topic!

I was just reading Dagg's section on this in his Manual of Theology and
came across this quote:

We are filled with awe in contemplating the omnipotence of God. When we hear the voice of his thunder in the heavens, or feel the earth quake under the tread of his foot, how do solemn thoughts of things divine fill our minds! From the rending cloud, and the quaking earth, let us look back to the power which brought creation into being, and forward to that display of his power which we are to witness on the last day. Such a being, who will not fear?

The whole section is helpful. Dagg goes on to note that all of the universe is under God's "immediate and perfect control." He helpful contrasts our power which causes a finger to move and God's will which launches planets into orbit "with a force which the cannon-ball gives
but a very faint conception."

So much could be said here but let me briefly note some benefits of thinking deeply on this truth about God:

  • As C. J. Mahaney notes, thinking of God's power in contrast to our weakness cultivates humility
  • As noted by Dagg knowing the overwhelming power of this God to whom we will all give account cultivates the fear of God, which is the beginning of wisdom. Surely it is the height of folly to scorn such a God and good proof of wisdom to submit to such a One.
  • This is the fountainhead of assurance, certainty and stability. God is the bedrock of faith and He cannot be forced to change. My salvation is secure because God has declared and no one is 'big enough or bad enough' to reverse or resist his decree. (see Rom 8:33-34)
  • This is the basis of courage. How shall we obey God in spite of those who would intimidate and threaten us? By being convinced that God reigns, that His will will triumph, and that we would rather spurn any man than spurn this God. By being convinced that he is able to keep that which we have committed to Him (2 Timothy 1:12; cf. 2 Timothy 4:17-18). If this all powerful God is with us, who can stand against us?! (Rom 8:31-19).

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Student response, Pastors

I have a quote from a student response to an assignment in my survey class today. I have not addressed issues surrounding pastoral ministry in this class so far. However, the students in reading Mark Strom’s Symphony of Scripture were asked to respond to this question from Strom:
Peter described leaders as shepherd in 1 Peter 5:1-4. What do the pictures of Jesus as the Good Shepherd (see John 10) and the one who washed feet suggest about the way church leaders should function? Do you see many leaders acting this way? …
One student wrote this:
I don’t think church leaders today act like shepherds for Christianity. Leaders seem to be more wrapped up in how big their church is and how they need bigger offerings to support their church fund.
Of course this is not true of all pastors, but this is the perception of too many. May we, each in our own sphere, provide a different model, showing to those around us the way of Christ.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Rejoice, the Lord is King!

I mentioned in a previous post having preached last week in our chapel on Psalm 97. Charles Wesley’s hymn, “Rejoice, the Lord is King” is a wonderful exposition of the truth of this psalm. The ground of all our joy is the fact that “Jesus, the savior reigns”. This hymn is rich for meditation as it communicates these biblical truths, partiuclarly the benefits of knwoing God's providence. Here are the lyrics including verses typically left out of hymnals.

Rejoice, the Lord is King! Your Lord and King adore;
Mortals give thanks and sing, and triumph evermore;
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice;
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

Jesus, the Savior, reigns, the God of truth and love;
When He had purged our stains He took His seat above;
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice;
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

His kingdom cannot fail, He rules o’er earth and Heav’n,
The keys of death and hell are to our Jesus giv’n;
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice;
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

He sits at God’s right hand till all His foes submit,
And bow to His command, and fall beneath His feet:
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice;
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

He all His foes shall quell, shall all our sins destroy,
And every bosom swell with pure seraphic joy;
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice,
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

Rejoice in glorious hope! Jesus the Judge shall come,
And take His servants up to their eternal home.
We soon shall hear th’archangel’s voice;
The trump of God shall sound, rejoice!

Words: Charles Wes­ley, Mor­al and Sac­red Po­ems, 1744

Monday, October 22, 2007

Two New Books from B&H Academic

It is really encouraging to see the high quality of books now being published by B&H. Two recent books I have been looking at are Passionate Conviction: Contemporary Discourses on Christian Apologetics and Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective: An Introductory Christology.

Passionate Conviction, edited by Paul Copan and William Lane Craig, is a collection of addresses from the Evangelical Philosophical Society, the C. S. Lewis Institute and the Christian Apologetics program at Biola. The essays are divided into six categories: Why apologetics?, God, Jesus, Comparative Religions, Postmodernism and relativism, and Practical application. The contributors are top flight scholars such as, in addition to the editors, Craig Evans, Charles Quarles, N. T. Wright, J. P. Moreland, and Francis Beckwith. These are helpful essays.

Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective, edited by Fred Sanders and Klaus Issler, is a collection of 6 essays dealing with the person and work of Christ in light of the Trinity as a whole. These are significant, helpful essays of serious theological work. Bruce Ware contributed a chapter titled, “Christ’s Work, A Work of the Trinity.” I have been particularly intrigued with Donald Fairbairn essay on the Patristic witness to the unity of Christ. Fairbairn, a significant Patristics scholar, corrects a common error in the understanding of the debates about Christ’s person and nature. Particularly Fairbairn seeks to rehabilitate Cyril of Alexandria arguing that Cyril was “the Christian church’s most significant Christological teacher” (80). These essays are not light reading but they are informative and helpful.

May we continue to see such substantive, thoughtful, helpful materials form B&H in the future.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Groothuis on Techno Temptation

Doug Groothuis has posted at his blog a column he wrote for the Denver Seminary Magazine. It is well worth the read. He addresses the problem of plagiarizing sermons and the problem of relying on the ease of technology to look up verses rather than really learning the Bible for ourselves. The first issue has been discussed here before. The second has not. But every time I read great preachers of old or open A. T. Robertson’s big grammar I am reminded that the references these men made to other scriptures were not culled from a quick computer search but flowed out of their deep awareness of Scripture. Technology has benefits, but as all things has its limitations. Let us beware the temptation of the appearance of biblical awareness with out the reality which is what shapes the soul and leads us in Christ-likeness. I encourage you to read Groothuis’ article.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Leupold on Psalm 97

Today I was privileged to preach in chapel here at Union, and I preached on Psalm 97 which is a wonderful exhortation to rejoice in the sovereignty of God. I may post some thoughts from the Psalm in the future, but here I will simply post a few quotes from H. C. Leupold’s Exposition of The Psalms. I did not quote these in the sermon, but I appreciated them in the preparation. I was also pleased to ‘discover’ Leupold. I have not really heard much of his work, though I have seen it around. I picked up this volume second hand and have been pleased with it. I am always on the look out for good material on the Psalms. Leupold is older now, but he engages the text seriously, commenting on the Hebrew text while also commenting theologically for the church today.

vv. 2-3- “Clouds and thick darkness are all around him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne. Fire goes before him, and burns up his adversaries all around.” (ESV)
Leupold comments: “This brief description is blinding in its brilliance, but such a God is our Lord.” (688)

On v. 3- “There is no good reason for changing ‘His adversaries’ to ‘His steps’ in the Hebrew text and giving another meaning to the verb. It would appear to be a part of the trend of modern thinking to remove every possible trace of divine wrath from the concept of the deity.” (690)

On v. 10- “O you who love the LORD, hate evil!” (ESV)
Leupold comments: “Those interpreters who believe that an exhortation to hate all evil is out of place at this point will alter the text to arrive at the result: ‘The Lord loves those who hate evil’ (RSV). In place of the forceful statement of the Hebrew text a mild platitude is obtained by such a change.” (691)

Monday, October 15, 2007

Burk on Osteen

Those who have been in my classes (at school or church) know of my concern about the influence of Joel Osteen. Denny Burk has written a good post interacting with Osteen’s appearance on 60 Minutes. Too few people note the serious danger inherent in Osteen’s ministry. Some see the shallowness and assume no one will really be taken in by this. Others note his popularity but say that while they may not agree with him on everything he is not saying anything really wrong. Both of these are mistaken. Pastors, we are commanded to guard the flock by warning them about false teaching (Acts 20:28-29; Titus 1:9).

I encourage you to check out Denny’s analysis. Here are his closing words:
Listen to Joel Osteen at your own risk. He is peddling death. And he is affable enough to make you feel like it’s life. But do not be deceived. Nothing could be further from the truth.
James Grant provides helpful links on this topic here.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Hating Sin, Again

Some time back I posted on the topic of hating sin including an exhortation I preach to myself. This is such an important topic for me- both to learn myself and to pass on to others. Here is a quote I have found helpful from Richard Sibbes commenting on Psalm 97:10:

Ver. 10. Ye that love the LORD, hate evil. It is evident that our conversion is sound when we loathe and hate sin from the heart: a man may know his hatred of evil to be true, first, if it be universal: he that hates sin truly, hates all sin. Secondly, true hatred is fixed; there is no appeasing it but by abolishing the thing hated. Thirdly, hatred is a more rooted affection than anger: anger may be appeased, but hatred remains and sets itself against the whole kind. Fourthly, if our hatred be true, we hate all evil, in ourselves first, and then in others; he that hates a toad, would hate it most in his own bosom. Many, like Judah, are severe in censuring others (Ge 38:24), but partial to themselves. Fifthly, he that hates sin truly, hates the greatest sin in the greatest measure; he hates all evil in a just proportion. Sixthly, our hatred is right if we can endure admonition and reproof for sin, and not be enraged; therefore, those that swell against reproof do not appear to hate sin.
—Richard Sibbes (from Spurgeon’s Treasury of David, on Ps 97:10)

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Testimonies and Building Community

At our church part of the process of coming a member is sharing your testimony with the church in our Sunday night prayer time. Since we uphold regenerate church membership and since it is the congregation that will accept people into membership we realized it is important for the body to have the opportunity to hear how prospective members came to faith. Another benefit however is the community building effect of hearing each other's stories. These testimony sharing times have become especially special times. Tonight we had the opportunity to hear the testimonies of 10 people. It was moving and greatly encouraging to hear once more the grace of God in saving and transforming lives. What better way to be reminded of grace, be encouraged and knit your hearts together.

Friday, October 05, 2007

The Power of Grace, Newton

I just received the latest copy of the John Newton Project Prayer Letter, and it contained a few lines from Newton’s hymn “The Power of Grace.” I checked out cyberhymnal for the rest of the hymn but they don’t have it. I finally found it at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library. I really appreciated the poem so here it is in its entirety.

The Power of Grace

Happy the birth where grace presides
To form the future life!
In wisdom’s paths the soul she guides,
Remote from noise and strife.

Since I have known the Savior’s name
And what for me he bore;
No more I toil for empty fame,
I thirst for gold no more.

Placed by his hand in this retreat,
I make his love my theme;
And see that all the world calls great,
Is but a waking dream.

Since he has ranked my worthless name
Amongst his favored few;
Let the mad world who scoff at them
Revile and hate me too.

O thou whose voice the dead can raise,
And soften hearts of stone,
And teach the dumb to sing thy praise,
This work is all thine own!

Thy wond’ring saints rejoice to see
A wretch, like me, restored
And point, and say, “How changed is he,
Who once defied the LORD!”

Grace bid me live, and taught my tongue
To aim at notes divine;
And grace accepts my feeble song,
The glory, LORD, be thine!

- John Newton, #60 in Olney Hymns

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Thoughts from Ray Ortlund, Jr.

Ray Ortlund was one of my professors in seminary and is a man I esteem in many categories including teacher, pastor, husband and father. He recently posted some weekend thoughts that I have found challenging and helpful. These are the sort of deeply searching, application oriented sort of questions I need to confront myself with often that I might truly progress in being shaped by the gospel not only in my words but in the depths of my being.