Thursday, December 31, 2009

Why I am a Christian...

The answer to that is multi-faceted, but it includes:

-- the evidence regarding the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, and especially regarding the reality of his Resurrection
-- the impact of the preaching of the Word of God on me
-- significant times of engaging with God in prayer, worship, contemplation
-- my most ennobling experiences in life have been connected to the times when I’m most in line with his good will
-- the testimony and example of believers who have been formed by His Spirit and Word
-- the times when I engage in preaching and teaching God’s Word, true to my calling and gifts (I believe) have been the times when I feel most fully human and most fully alive.

There is much more that could be said, and I know there are doubters and detractors, but I have come to realize more clearly than ever, in recent days, that I am, bottom line (and in spite of all my failings, weaknesses and backslidings), a believer in Jesus Christ, dedicated to being one of his faithful followers.

To God alone be the glory. (Eph. 2:8-10)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bible reading plans

Justin Taylor's blog presents a number of options regarding Bible reading plans for 2010.

The Spirit's Influence Upon Every Area of Our Lives

“Be filled with the Spirit. Seek to be more and more under His blessed influence. Strive to have every thought, word, action, and habit brought under the obedience to the leading of the Holy Ghost. Grieve Him not by inconsistencies and conformity to the world. Quench Him not by trifling with little infirmities and small besetting sins. Seek rather to have Him ruling and reigning more completely over you every week that you live.”

~ J.C. Ryle
Old Paths, “The Holy Ghost”, 289.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What Our Generation Needs Most...

"...There is nothing that our generation needs more than to hear the Word of God -- and this at a time of biblical illiteracy rising at an astonishing rate. Moreover it needs to hear Christian leaders personally submitting to Scripture, personally reading and teaching Scripture -- not in veiled ways that merely assume some sort of heritage of Christian teaching while actually focusing on just about anything else, but in ways that are reverent, exemplary, comprehensive, insistent, persistent. Nothing, nothing at all, is more urgent."

-- D.A. Carson (commenting on 2 Chron. 34) in "For the Love of God" reading for December 29 (Crossway: 1998)

Monday, December 28, 2009

Sunday, December 27, 2009

New Year...New Beginnings...New Life in Christ

Characteristics of the New Life in Christ
(Matt.4:17; Jn. 3:1-16 ; Rom. 6; 2 Cor.5:17; Eph. 4:17ff.; Titus 2:11-14; 1 Pet. 1:13-17; 1 Jn.2:15-17)

· Christ-centered vs. self/man-centered (Gal.2:20; Phil.1:21; 3:4b-11; Col.1:10, 15-18ff.)

· Spirit-empowered vs. ‘flesh’-dominated (Gal. 5:16ff.; Rom.8)

· Gospel-driven (grace) vs. performance-driven (works) (Gal.2:20-21)

· Word-obeying vs. worldly wisdom following (Deut. 8:3 à Matt.4:4; 28:18-20; 2 Tim.3:16ff; Jas. 3:13-18 ; 1 Cor.1:18-2:6; 1 Jn.2:3-6) I simply don’t know what to make of professed Christianity that seems indifferent as to whether or not it’s truly Scriptural. Because it’s in the Word that we hear His Voice. And it’s in the Bible that we have authentic Christianity (worship, experience, fellowship, witness, etc.) described in ‘black and white.’

· Others-loving vs. self-serving (Matt. 20:24-28; Mark 8:34-37; Jn.13:34-35; Matt.22:34ff.)

· World-denying vs. culture-conforming (Rom.12:1-2; 1 Jn.2:15-17)

· Holiness-pursuing vs. ‘self-fulfilling’ (Heb.12:14 ; 2 Pet.1:5ff.

· Father-glorifying vs. man-pleasing (Mt.5:16; 1 Cor. 10:31)

· The way of peace vs. the way of the transgressor (Matt.11:28-30; Rom.3:15-17)

All these different facets are interdependent and ‘synergistic’ – they are to be maintained and experienced together.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

"Labor of Love"

Jill Phillips, from Behold the Lamb of God, with scenes from the movie, The Nativity Story:

The song and YouTube video.

It was not a silent night
There was blood on the ground
You could hear a woman cryI
n the alleyways that night
On the streets of David’s town

And the stable was not clean
And the cobblestones were cold
And little Mary full of grace
With the tears upon her face
Had no mother’s hand to hold

It was a labor of pain
It was a cold sky above
But for the girl on the ground in the dark
With every beat of her beautiful heart
It was a labor of love

Noble Joseph at her side
Callused hands and weary eyes
There were no midwives to be found
In the streets of David’s town
In the middle of the night

So he held her and he prayed
Shafts of moonlight on his face
But the baby in her womb
He was the maker of the moon
He was the Author of the faith
That could make the mountains move

It was a labor of pain
It was a cold sky above
But for the girl on the ground in the dark
With every beat of her beautiful heart
It was a labor of love
For little Mary full of grace
With the tears upon her face
It was a labor of love....

HT: Justin Taylor

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas and the Cross

Christmas means "God is with us" (Matt. 1:23); the Cross means "God is for us" (Rom.8:31).

"Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!." (2 Cor. 9:15)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

"Peace, be still": Learning Psalm 131 by Heart

by David Powlison

"God speaks to us in many different ways. When you hear, “Now it came to pass,” settle down for a good story. When God asserts, I am,” trust His self-revelation. When He promises, “I will,” bank on it. When He tells you, “You shall…you shall not,” do what He says. Psalm 131 is in yet a different vein. Most of it is holy eavesdropping. You have intimate access to the inner life of someone who has learned composure, and then he invites you to come along. Psalm 131 is show-and-tell for how to become peaceful inside. Listen in."

Continue reading this article from the Spring 2000 issue of "The Journal of Biblical Counseling."

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The True Christmas Story...the Story We're Already In

“Not a Fable”

“Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” Lk.1:1-4….

“We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” 2 Pet. 1:16

The Biblical Christmas story is real history, it’s not a “Christmas Shoes” kind of story (e.g., a sentimental story of something that may or may not have happened, whether it did or didn’t doesn’t matter, you can still ‘learn the lesson’ or apply the ‘moral’ of the story…)

Christianity is the religion that insist that it rests upon what really happened, and that whether what it affirms as having happened really did happen, makes all the difference in the world. It matters crucially to the truth and claim that Christianity makes (1 Cor. 15:12-19; 2 Peter 1:16; 1 Jn.1:1ff.; Jn.20:30-32; Lk.1:1-4; cp. Acts 1:1-4). And that’s why you find the 'witness/eyewitness' theme throughout the New Testament (Lk. 24:45-49; Jn. 20:30-31; Acts 1:8; 4:20; 1 Cor. 15:14-19; Rev. 1:5; 3:14).

And think about it: how do we know anything that we know and believe about history? We know and believe it because we believe in the ‘witness/testimony’ of others who were there at the time.

The Bible is story, yes, but it is a story interpreted and applied by God himself (cp. 1 Jn. 5:9-13 regarding God’s own ‘witness/testimony’ concerning His Son).

The basic Christian message is NEWS – it’s reporting about what really happened (Lk.1:1-4), combined with a God-given explanation of what those events meant, and still mean today.

“Christ died…” that’s story/history/news “…for our sins…” that’s inspired interpretation and explanation... "according to the Scriptures" -- and the Scriptures faithfully bear witness to Christ (1 Cor. 15:1ff.; Jn. 5:39)

That a baby was born in Bethlehem is news…it happened in history. It really happened. But the Bible goes further, telling us who he was and what he had come to do…and that’s what makes it Gospel – Good News.

"Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord." (Lk.2:11)

And so the main reason a person should embrace Christianity, and become a Christian, believing in Christ – is because this Good News is really true, it really happened, and Jesus Christ is just who the Bible and the Gospel say he is – Savior, Christ/Messiah, Lord!

And the Christmas Story is a Story that always involves each of us, and always requires a response (Matt.28:18ff.; Acts 2:36ff.; Jn. 3:16)

In fact, the Biblical story is a story we’re all already in…. And in this Story, in the real and true history of God that is the history of our world, Jesus is Savior, so are to trust Him, and He is Lord, so we are to give Him our whole-souled allegiance.

Monday, December 21, 2009

"A Word About Family Tensions and the Holidays"

Here is an excellent, insightful, and sometimes hard-hitting essay from Russell Moore about how Christians should respond to family tensions during the holidays.

His counsel centers around five biblical concepts: (1) peace; (2) honor; (3) humility; (4) maturity; (5) perspective.

HT: Justin Taylor

The Father's two greatest gifts

“When God planned the great work of saving sinners, he provided two gifts. He gave his Son and he gave his Spirit. In fact each person of the Trinity was involved in the great work of salvation. The love, grace and wisdom of the Father planned it; the love, grace and humility of the Son purchased it; and the love, grace and power of the Holy Spirit enabled sinners to believe and receive it.

“The first great truth in this work of salvation is that God sent his Son to take our nature on him and to suffer for us in it. The second great truth is that God gave his Spirit to bring sinners to faith in Christ and so be saved.”

—John Owen, The Holy Spirit, ed. RJK Law (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1998), 1
posted at "Of First Importance"

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Sharing Christ over Christmas (with family....)

Chris Castaldo has a helpful post about sharing Christ during the Christmas season, including with those closest to us. Here's the intro...

"Many of us approach Christmas dinner brimming with fear. Such anxiety doesn’t come from Aunt Mary’s liver sausage pate or her sour-apple fruitcake so much as our sense of the challenge of trying to direct conversation toward the gospel. After all, last year’s attempt was a proverbial train wreck. How can this year be any different?

"If I were to give one piece of advice, it would be to understand what evangelism is, and what it is not. The following definition and subsequent explication are intended to provide this sort of perspective, to help us approach Christmas dinner with a greater measure of optimism and hope.

"Evangelism is the activity in which the entire Church prayerfully and intentionally relies on God in sharing gospel love and truth, in order to bring people one step closer to Jesus Christ."

And you can read the rest of his post here.

Friday, December 18, 2009

True Meaning of Christmas: "God with us"

Preaching on Isaiah 7:14, C. H. Spurgeon closed with this flourish:

“God with us.” It is hell’s terror. Satan trembles at the sound of it; the black-winged dragon of the pit quails before it. Let him come to you suddenly, and do you but whisper that word, “God with us,” back he falls, confounded and confused. “God with us” is the laborer’s strength; how could he preach the gospel, how could he bend his knees in prayer, how could the missionary go into foreign lands, how could the martyr stand at the stake, how could the confessor own his Master, how could men labor, if that one word were taken away? “God with us” is the sufferer’s comfort, the balm of his woe, the alleviation of his misery, the sleep which God gives to his beloved, their rest after exertion and toil. “God with us” is eternity’s sonnet, heaven’s hallelujah, the shout of the glorified, the song of the redeemed, the chorus of angels, the everlasting oratorio of the great orchestra of the sky.

-- from Ray Ortlund, Jr.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

How to Rightly Respond to Criticism

One of the most important marks of spiritual maturity (and one of the spiritual habits that is hardest to develop) is the ability to benefit from criticism. (cp. Prov. 9:7-9)

Today I came across a blog post from Justin Taylor that pointed me to three excellent, helpful treatments of this crucial practice..advice from John Newton, Tim Keller and David Powlison on how to constructively respond to criticism:

-- advice from John Newton (yes, the "Amazing Grace" John Newton):

-- an article from Tim Keller

-- a longer essay from David Powlison

Powlison's article is the longest, but it's also the most comprehensive, so it's well worth the time (although some might want to skip quickly through his section on examples related to his own work). Here's just an excerpt:

"Fair-minded criticism is one of life's best
pleasures, an acquired taste well worth the
acquiring. Someone who will take you seriously,
understand you accurately, treat you charitably,
and who then will lay it on the line is a
messenger from God for your welfare (whether
or not you end up completely agreeing). There
is nothing quite like being disagreed with
intelligently, lovingly, and openly: "Faithful are
the wounds of a friend" (Prov. 27:6). If I only
listen to my allies, or to yes-men, clones,
devotees, and fellow factionaries, then I might
as well inject narcotics into my veins. The
people of God are a large work in progress. To
engage and to interact with critics is to further
the process-in both of our lives."

-- David Powlison

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

"Come, Lord Jesus, to Redeem Us"

Come, Lord Jesus, to redeem us
from our foes and from our fears.
We await the hand of mercy
that will wipe away our tears.
We have labored long in darkness,
even now our hearts grow weak.
How we long for your appearing
and your great salvation seek.
(Rev. 21:4; Rom. 8:23; 2Tim. 4:8)

Come, Lord Jesus, true and righteous,
bring your pure and piercing light.
For we know when you appear, Lord,
ev’ry wrong shall be made right.
You will vanquish all the proud ones;
you will fill all those who thirst.
O, the first shall be the last, then
,and the last shall be the first.
(Rev. 16:5-7; Matt. 19:30; 20:16; 24:32-46)

Now prepare a path before Him:in the desert make a way.
Take the gospel to the nations
and proclaim his coming Day.
Ev’ry mountain must be leveled;
ev’ry valley must be raised.
Then all flesh shall see his glory.
God shall be forever praised!
(Isa. 40:3-5; Matt. 24:14)

Raise the cry of "Maranatha!”
We shall soon behold our King.
To the Alpha and Omega,
this one prayer and plea we sing:
joining voices with the Spirit
we, the Bride of Christ, say, "Come!”
Come, Lord Jesus, come and free us
from this death and bring us home.
(1Cor. 16:22; Rev. 22:13, 17)

Text: Gary A. Parrett (2002)
Come, thou long-expected Jesus, born to set thy people free

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Spurgeon on Authentic Earnestness in the Pulpit

(What Spurgeon says here applies to singers and musicians too....)

"Earnestness in the pulpit must be real. It is not to be mimicked..... To sham earnestness is one of the most contemptible of dodges for courting popularity; let us abhor the very thought.

"Go and be listless in the pulpit if you are so in heart. Be slow in speech, drawling in tone, and monotonous in voice, if so you can best express your soul; even that would be infinitely better than to make your ministry a masquerade and yourself an actor."

-- Charles Spurgeon in "Lecture to My Students" (part 2, p. 149 -- Baker 1980)

Conversion: a total turning to God

“The whole proclamation of Jesus…is a proclamation of unconditional turning to God, of unconditional turning from all that is against God, not merely that which is downright evil, but that which in a given case makes total turning to God impossible…." [cp. the 'rich young ruler' -- Matt.19:16-29; Mk. 10:17-30; Lk. 18:18-30]

--"Repentance (metanoia)" in “Theological Dictionary of the New Testament” (Kittel)

Monday, December 14, 2009

What Happens In a True Conversion?

‘What happens then, in a true conversion, is that faith comes to life in the mind as the reality of the truths about Christ (whether they have been read or heard) begin to take life and to felt. In some shape or form, these truths center on God’s holiness and love, Christ’s self-giving for us and in our place on the Cross, His triumph over sin, death and the devil, and our sense of corruption, guilt, misery and despair.

‘Then we hear the words of grace in the Gospel. Emotions may well be stirred, for although the perception of spiritual reality is not itself emotional, distress, fear, shame, and hopeful joy are at different times the result of coming to realize the truth of the Gospel.

‘Faith, beginning as this knowledge [this real understanding of the truths of the Christian faith] blossoms into assent in which the will is now engaged; assent issues into heartfelt trust and from this trust flows real repentance and the turning from sin to Christ.’

-- David Wells, “Turning to God” p. 146 (Eerdmans)

Christmas Sermons

Here's a collection of Christmas sermons from Alistair Begg.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Where is forgiveness to be found?

“Where must a man go for pardon? Where is forgiveness to be found? There is a way both sure and plain and that way is simply to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior. It is to cast your soul, with all its sins, unreservedly on Christ, – to cease completely from any dependence on your own works or doings, either in whole or in part – and to rest on no other work but Christ’s work, no other merit but Christ’s merit, as your ground of hope. Take this course and you are a pardoned soul.”

~ J.C. Ryle
Old Paths, “Forgiveness”, 185, 186.
J.C. Ryle Quotes

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Satan's Opposition to the Word of God

“There is nothing truer to the portrayal of Satan than a determination to undermine the word of God, to get people to live on any other basis than revelation.”

- J. A. Motyer Look to the Rock
HT: The Big Picture

Counterfeit Saviors

“If we are deeply moved by the sight of his love for us, it detaches our hearts from other would-be saviors. We stop trying to redeem ourselves through our pursuits and relationships, because we are already redeemed. We stop trying to make others into saviors, because we have a Savior.”

- Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods (New York, NY: Penguin Group, 2009), 45.
HT: Of First Importance

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

How to Know When God Is Truly at Work

"In The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God (1741), Jonathan Edwards pulled out of 1 John 4 the biblical indicators that God is at work, even if the people involved are complicating it with their own sins and eccentricities. The true gold of grace is discernible in these four ways:

"One, when our esteem of Jesus is being raised, so that we prize him more highly than all this world, God is at work.

"Two, when we are moving away from Satan’s interests, away from sin and worldly desires, God is at work.

"Three, when we are believing, revering and devouring the Bible more, God is at work.

"Four, when we love Jesus and one another more, God is at work.

"Satan not only wouldn’t produce such things, he couldn’t produce them, so opposite are these from his nature and purposes. These are sure signs that God is at work...."

-- from Ray Ortlund

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

"Santa Christ" by Sinclair Ferguson (pt. 2)

This is part 2 of Dr. Ferguson's penetrating essay on the true meaning of Christmas. (See yesterday's post for part 1).

The Christ of Christmas

"...The Scriptures systematically strip away the veneer that covers the real truth of the Christmas story. Jesus did not come to add to our comforts. He did not come to help those who were already helping themselves or to fill life with more pleasant experiences. He came on a deliverance mission, to save sinners, and to do so He had to destroy the works of the Devil (Matt. 1:21; 1 John 3:8b).

"Those whose lives were bound up with the events of the first Christmas did not find His coming an easy and pleasurable experience.

"Mary and Joseph's lives were turned upside down.

"The shepherds' night was frighteningly interrupted, and their futures potentially radically changed.

"The magi faced all kinds of inconvenience and family separation.

"Our Lord Himself, conceived before wedlock, born probably in a cave, would spend His early days as a refugee from the bloodthirsty and vindictive Herod (Matt. 2:13-21).

"There is, therefore, an element in the Gospel narratives that stresses that the coming of Jesus is a disturbing event of the deepest proportions. It had to be thus, for He did not come merely to add something extra to life, but to deal with our spiritual insolvency and the debt of our sin. He was not conceived in the womb of Mary for those who have done their best, but for those who know that their best is 'like filthy rags' (Isa. 64:6)--far from good enough--and that in their flesh there dwells no good thing (Rom. 7:18). He was not sent to be the source of good experiences, but to suffer the pangs of hell in order to be our Savior.

A Christian Christmas

The Christians who first began to celebrate the birth of the Savior saw this. Christmas for them was not (contrary to what is sometimes mistakenly said) simply adding a Christian veneer to a pagan festival--the Roman Saturnalia. They may have been doing what many Christians have done in marking Reformation Day (which happens to fall on Halloween), namely, committing themselves to a radical alternative to the world's Saturnalia, refusing to be squeezed into its mold. They were determined to fix mind, heart, will, and strength exclusively on the Lord Jesus Christ. There was no confusion in their thinking between the world and the gospel, Saturnalia and Christmas, Santa Jesus and Christ Jesus. They were citizens of another empire altogether.

In fact, such was the malice evoked by their other-worldly devotion to Christ that during the persecutions under the Emperor Diocletian, some believers were murdered as they gathered to celebrate Christmas. What was their gross offense? Worship of the true Christ -- incarnate, crucified, risen, glorified, and returning. They celebrated Him that day for giving His all for them, and as they did so, they gave their all for Him.

One Christmas Eve in my teenage years, I opened a book a friend had given to me as a present. I found myself so overwhelmed by its teaching on my recently found Savior that I began to shake with emotion at what had dawned on me: the world had not celebrated His coming, but rather had crucified Him.

Doubtless I was an impressionable teenager. But should it not cause us to tremble that "they crucified my Lord"? Or is that true only in song, not in reality? Are we not there when the world still crucifies Him in its own, often-subtle ways?

The truth is that unless the significance of what Christ did at the first Christmas shakes us, we can scarcely be said to have understood much of what it means, or of who He really is.

Who is He in yonder stall
At Whose feet the shepherds fall?
'Tis the Lord! O wondrous story!
'Tis the Lord! the King of glory!
At His feet we humbly fall,
Crown Him! Crown Him, Lord of all!

And we might add:

Who is He on yonder cross
Suffers for this dark world's loss?
'Tis the Lord! O wondrous story!
'Tis the Lord! the King of glory!
At His feet we humbly fall,
Crown Him! Crown Him, Lord of all!

"Let us not confuse Jesus Christ with Santa Claus."
This article is excerpted from Dr. Ferguson's book In Christ Alone.

Monday, December 7, 2009

"Santa Christ" by Sinclair Ferguson

This article is excerpted from Dr. Ferguson's book In Christ Alone. Today is part 1; tomorrow I'll post part 2.

"I took the hand of my toddler son (it was several decades ago now) as we made our way into the local shop on the small and remote Scottish island where earlier that year I had been installed as minister. It was Christmas week. The store was brightly decorated and a general air of excitement was abroad.

"Without warning, the conversations of the customers were brought to a halt by a questioning voice from beside me. My son's upraised index finger pointed at a large cardboard Santa Claus. 'Daddy, who is that funny-looking man?' he asked.

"Amazement spread across the faces of the jostling shoppers; accusing glances were directed at me. Such shame--the minister's son did not even recognize Santa Claus! What likelihood, then, of hearing good news in his preaching at the festive season?

"Such experiences can make us bewail how the Western world gives itself over annually to its Claus-mass or commerce-mass. We celebrate a reworked pagan Saturnalia of epic proportions, one in which the only connection with the incarnation is semantic. Santa is worshiped, not the Savior; pilgrims go to the stores with credit cards, not to the manger with gifts. It is the feast of indulgence, not of the incarnation.

"It is always easier to lament and critique the new paganism of secularism's blatant idolatry than to see how easily the church -- and we ourselves -- twist or dilute the message of the incarnation in order to suit our own tastes. But, sadly, we have various ways of turning the Savior into a kind of Santa Claus.

Santa Claus Christianity

"For one thing, in our worship at Christmas we may varnish the staggering truth of the incarnation with what is visually, audibly, and aesthetically pleasing. We confuse emotional pleasure -- or worse, sentiment -- with true adoration.

"For another thing, we may denigrate our Lord with a Santa Claus Christology. How sadly common it is for the church to manufacture a Jesus who is a mirror refection of Santa Claus. He becomes Santa Christ.

"Santa Christ is sometimes a Pelagian Jesus. Like Santa, he simply asks us whether we have been good. More exactly, since the assumption is that we are all naturally good, Santa Christ asks us whether we have been "good enough." So just as Christmas dinner is simply the better dinner we really deserve, Jesus becomes a kind of added bonus who makes a good life even better. He is not seen as the Savior of helpless sinners.

"Or Santa Christ may be a Semi-Pelagian Jesus -- a slightly more sophisticated Jesus who, Santa-like, gives gifts to those who have already done the best they could! Thus, Jesus' hand, like Santa's sack, opens only when we can give an upper-percentile answer to the none-too-weighty probe, 'Have you done your best this year?' The only difference from medieval theology here is that we do not use its Latin phraseology: facere quod in se est (to do what one is capable of doing on one's own, or, in common parlance, 'Heaven helps those who help themselves').

"Then again, Santa Christ may be a mystical Jesus, who, like Santa Claus, is important because of the good experiences we have when we think about him, irrespective of his historical reality. It doesn't really matter whether the story is true or not; the important thing is the spirit of Santa Christ. For that matter, while it would spoil things to tell the children this, everyone can make up his or her own Santa Christ. As long as we have the right spirit of Santa Christ, all is well.

"But Jesus is not to be identified with Santa Claus; worldly thinking -- however much it employs Jesus-language--is not to be confused with biblical truth...."

To view the entire article, go to

Saturday, December 5, 2009

True Meaning of Christmas, pt. 2

The Biblical message about Christmas is the wondrous truth of the Son of God becoming man to save sinners from the guilt and misery of their sin.

It is about the profound mystery of the Incarnation – the Word becoming flesh, God becoming man, dwelling among us, as one of us, fitting Him to be our sympathizing Savior and interceding High Priest.

It is about the fulfillment of promises and prophecies and about the inauguration of a new covenant, with the covenant gifts of forgiveness of sin and the indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit.

It is about the drawing near of the reign of God in the person of the Messiah whom God had promised to send.

It is about the glory of God in the way that he brings peace – shalom (the way things are supposed to be) – to earth.

It is about the momentous decision that his coming presents to every human being – will they receive or reject Him? Will they repent and believe the Good News?

And the Good News is that a Savior from sin has come – and this One who is Savior/Redeemer is also Messiah, King and Lord. Those who refuse Him will bring final judgment and everlasting ruin upon themselves. Those who receive Him are actually made the children of God!

The Biblical stories surrounding the birth of Christ also give us compelling examples (in the responses of Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Simeon etc.) of what it means to trust and obey God, and to submit to his will even when that submission is very difficult. And these examples teach us about what it means to care more about the interests of the kingdom of God than our own individual concerns.

These are the themes that a faithful church will joyfully, reverently proclaim in music and message at Christmas time!

Friday, December 4, 2009

True Meaning of Christmas?

One of the ironies of the Christmas season is how often people chime in on ‘the real meaning of Christmas’ and then proceed, in my opinion, to get it wrong. For example, ‘Christmas isn’t all about shopping and getting, it’s about family and traditions….’ While I agree that quality family time is way more important than shopping and getting stuff, that’s not the same as saying that it’s the real meaning of Christmas.

The true meaning of Christmas has to do with Christ, right? It has to do with who Jesus Christ was and is, why he came, what he said, what he did, what he accomplished, and what it means when the Bible calls him the Savior, who is Christ/Messiah, the Lord.

And since the Bible is the inspired, infallible source for all we can truly know about Christ in his person and saving work, a focus on the true meaning of Christmas will mean a careful, comprehensive look about what the Bible, centering on the Gospel accounts of his birth, says about him. The true story of Christmas is told in the opening chapters of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke (with all their connections with Old Testament prophecies and with New Testament explanations of their meaning).

So I thought I’d do some blog posts about the true meaning of Christmas – I could have said ‘meanings’ since there is so much that the Bible says, but maybe we can think of it in terms of the rich variety of the aspects of the meaning of Christmas, once we agree that the true meaning of Christmas is the coming of the Christ.

More to come soon....

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Understanding the 'Big Picture' of the Bible

I've just finished an excellent, helpful book that explains the 'big picture of the Bible's story and message, organized around the central idea of the kingdom of God.

The book is "God's Big Picture" by Vaughan Roberts (IVP).

In what follows I very lightly revise and adapt Roberts' ideas. (And I would differ with some minor points where the author's amilleniallism colors what he writes):

The kingdom is God’s people in God’s place under God’s blessing and rule (by His Word).

The OT
1. the pattern of the kingdom [Garden of Eden]
2. the perished kingdom [the Fall]
3. the promised kingdom [covenant with Abraham…beginnings with Israel]
4. the partial kingdom [the life and history of Israel, esp. under David and Solomon]
5. the prophesied kingdom [OT prophets]

The NT
6. the present kingdom [with Jesus the king present and active]
7. the proclaimed kingdom [Acts, the epistles, the Church era]
8. the perfected kingdom [millennium and the new heaven and new earth]

I highly recommend this accessible, understandable, well-written book -- which includes excellent study/discussion questions.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Vital and Influential (Transforming) Christianity

"It is a growing conviction in my mind, that vital and influential Christianity consists, much more than is ordinarily apprehended, in an intimate personal acquaintance and friendship with our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the great Revealer of God; He is the revealed Divinity.... To be a Christian, it is not enough that we know and acknowledge a system of doctrine and law, deduced from the sayings of our Lord and the writings of his apostles. It is necessary that we be acquainted with his person, his character, and his work; that we know the doctrines of Christianity as his mind, the laws of Christianity as his will. The very life of Christianity consists in loving, confiding in [trusting], obeying him, and God in him; and he plainly can be loved, confided in [trusted], and obeyed, only in the degree in which he is known."

-- John Brown

Monday, November 30, 2009

"Jesus Is Here"

From Justin Taylor...

A video chapter from the Jesus Storybook Bible, read by David Suchet.

Free from self....Jesus is all

"Let us look at our lives in the light of this experience [in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10] and see whether we gladly glory in weakness, whether we take pleasure, as Paul did, in injuries, in necessities, in distresses. Yes, let us ask whether we have learned to regard a reproof, just or unjust, a reproach from friend or enemy, an injury, or trouble, or difficulty into which others bring us, as above all an opportunity of proving how Jesus is all to us, how our own pleasure or honor are nothing, and how humiliation is in very truth what we take pleasure in. It is indeed blessed, the deep happiness of heaven, to be so free from self that whatever is said of us or done to us is lost and swallowed up in the thought that Jesus is all.”

-- Andrew Murray, Humility: The Beauty of Holiness, page 83.
HT: Ray Ortlund

Sunday, November 29, 2009

"Hast Thou Heard Him, Seen Him, Known Him?"

(The antidote to idolatry...)

Hast thou heard Him, seen Him, known Him?
Is not thine a captured heart?
Chief among ten thousand own Him;
Joyful choose the better part.

Idols oft they win thee, charm thee
Lovely things of time and sense;
Gilded thus does sin disarm thee,
Honeyed lest thou turn thee hence.

What has stripped the seeming beauty
From the idols of the earth?
Not a sense of right or duty
But the sight of peerless worth ...

...Not the crushing of those idols
With its bitter void and smart [pain],
But the beaming of His beauty
The unveiling of His heart.

Who extinguishes their taper [candle]
Till they hail the rising sun?
Who discards the garb of winter
Till the summer hath begun?

‘Tis the look that melted Peter,
‘Tis the face that Stephen saw;
‘Tis the heart that wept with Mary
Can alone from idols draw.

Draw and win and fill completely,
Till the cup o'erflow the brim;
What have we to do with idols
Who have companied with Him?

Chorus: Captivated by His beauty
Worthy tribute haste to bring;
Let His peerless worth constrain thee,
Crown Him now unrivaled King!

-Miss Ora Rowan (1834-1879)

The 'Algorithm' of the Gospel

“He that believes in the Lord Jesus Christ shall be saved, be his sins never so many. But he that does not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ must be damned, be his sins never so few.”

- Thomas Brooks

If that sounds right to you, then I think you've understood the true gospel and the only way of salvation. If it sounds wrong, I am afraid you probably haven't.... (cp. Rom. 5:20-21).

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Father and his wayward children

Do you believe, truly believe, that if you had been the prodigal, that the Father would have come running down the lane to welcome you?

(Luke 15:11-24)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Gift and Duty of Thanksgiving

Mark Galli's essay on "The Impossibility of Thanksgiving"

"The Manhattan Declaration"

The Manhattan Declaration
A Call of Christian Conscience

from their introductory page:

Christians, when they have lived up to the highest ideals of their faith, have defended the weak and vulnerable and worked tirelessly to protect and strengthen vital institutions of civil society, beginning with the family.We are Orthodox, Catholic, and evangelical Christians who have united at this hour to reaffirm fundamental truths about justice and the common good, and to call upon our fellow citizens, believers and non-believers alike, to join us in defending them. These truths are:
1. the sanctity of human life
2. the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife
3. the rights of conscience and religious liberty.

Inasmuch as these truths are foundational to human dignity and the well-being of society, they are inviolable and non-negotiable. Because they are increasingly under assault from powerful forces in our culture, we are compelled today to speak out forcefully in their defense, and to commit ourselves to honoring them fully no matter what pressures are brought upon us and our institutions to abandon or compromise them. We make this commitment not as partisans of any political group but as followers of Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Lord, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

You can read and download the declaration, and view the list of religious leaders who have signed it (and add your own signature) at their website.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

"Fill Your Affections with the Cross of Christ"

“When someone sets his affections upon the cross and the love of Christ, he crucifies the world as a dead and undesirable thing. The baits of sin lose their attraction and disappear. Fill your affections with the cross of Christ and you will find no room for sin.”

- John Owen, quoted by C. J. Mahaney in Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2008), 34.
"Of First Importance"

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Stone Will Be Rolled Back for Each of Us

"He came back.

"After that brutal Friday, and that long, quiet Saturday, he came back. And that one intake of breath in the tomb changes everything. It changes the very reason I drew breath today and the way I move about in this world because I believe he’s coming back again. The world has gone on for more than two millennia since Jesus’ feet tread the earth he made. What would they have said back then if someone had told them that some two thousand years later we’d still be waiting? They would’ve thought back to that long Saturday and said, ‘Two thousand years will seem like a breath to you when you finally lay your crown at his feet. We don’t even remember what we were doing on that Saturday, but let me tell you about Sunday morning. Now that was something.’

"These many years of waiting will only be a sentence in the story. This long day will come to an end, and I believe it will end in glory, when we will shine like suns and stride the green hills with those we love and the One who loves. We will look with our new eyes and speak with our new tongues and turn to each other and say, ‘Do you remember the waiting? The long years, the bitter pain, the gnawing doubt, the relentless ache?’ And like Mary at the tomb, we will say: ‘I remember only the light, and the voice calling my name, and the overwhelming joy that the waiting was finally over.’"

The stone will be rolled away for each of us. May we wait with faithful hearts."

—Andrew Peterson CD liner notes for Resurrection Letters Volume II (Centricity Music: 2008)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Some Things I Think Evangelicals Can Learn from Catholicism

What's printed below is the gist of the lesson I taught today, as part of the series, "Always Being Reformed by the Word of God"

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness…” 2 Tim.3:16

Christians and churches should always want to please the Lord in all things by discerning what is best which includes examining everything, holding on to the good, avoiding all that’s bad (Col. 1:10; Phil.1:10; 1 Thess.5:21;-22). In order for that to be true, we must continually allow the Word of God in Scripture to ‘reform’ our beliefs, values and practices – not only as individual Christians, but as a church together. (1 Tim.3:14-15; cp. Matt. 28:18-20).

The Protestant Reformation was triggered as Martin Luther and others began to examine beliefs and practices of the (Catholic) Church in light of the teaching of God’s Word, centered in the true Gospel. That led them to reject some beliefs and practices, to revise others, and to add others.

As Protestant, evangelical Christians, we believe the Roman Catholic Church is fundamentally and seriously mistaken about key doctrines such as justification by grace alone through faith alone, and the unique authority of Scripture. But because the Catholic Church has been influenced by Scripture, there are still things we can learn from the Catholic (and ‘high church’) stream of Christianity. To say it another way, we as evangelicals need to be continuously opened to being ‘reformed’ by the Word of God as well, including in the areas described below.

What we can learn from Catholics (and other ‘high church’ traditions):

-- reverence, sense of transcendence – Heb. 12:28-29; John 4:23-24; 2 Cor. 7:1.
*When was the last time you experienced a sense of ‘awe’ and deep reverence in relating to God? What were the causes for this? How can things like music and even architecture play a role in this?

-- respect for the Church universal, its nature, ‘authority’, and it’s place in salvation as the ordained by God for proclaiming his message and carrying out his work (Matt.16:16-19 ; Acts 2:41; Eph. 3:10-11; 4:4-6, 11-16).
*In the New Testament, it’s unimaginable that a professing Christian would not be baptized, and not be joined to the church. Why do you think baptism and church membership are considered ‘optional’ by so many professing evangelical Christians today?
*When are ‘parachurch ministries’ (e.g. a youth ministry like ‘Youth for Christ’) helpful, and when are they unhelpful?

-- the importance of ‘catechizing’
Catholic (and Lutheran and Presbyterian) churches have traditionally taken the task of ‘catechizing’ very seriously, as a means for teaching and passing on the Christian faith to new believers. Why should ‘catechizing’ be especially important to evangelical Christians and churches? (Deut.6:4-9; Matt.28:18-19; Col.1:28; 2 Tim.4:2-4)

-- The use of ‘imprimatur’ (a bishop’s granting permission to publish approved books for ‘the faithful’ to read) -- cp. Jas.3:1ff.; Tit.1:9; 2 Pet.3:16ff.)

-- benevolent service to ‘parish’ and a commitment to ‘social justice’ in the right sense (for example, in opposing abortion and in defending traditional marriage) – Matt.5:16; 1 Tim. 6:18; 1 Pet.2:11-17)

For further study: “Holy Ground: Walking with Jesus as a Former Catholic” by Chris Castaldo

“Nothing in My Hand I Bring: Understanding the Differences Between Roman Catholic and Protestant Beliefs” by Ray Galea (you can read the first chapter online at

Friday, November 20, 2009

Chris Castaldo's book, "Holy Ground"

I am very glad to recommend Chris Castaldo’s book, “Holy Ground – Walking with Jesus as a Former Catholic,” by participating in his blog tour. Chris serves as Pastor of Outreach and Church Planting at College Church in Wheaton, IL.

One of the things I most appreciate about the book was learning from Castaldo that the factors and influences leading people to journey from Catholicism to Evangelicalism are much more varied and complex than matters of belief and doctrine alone.

Still, the questions that lingered in my mind did in fact relate to doctrine and theology. What follows are Chris’s illuminating, thought-provoking answers to those questions.

1. How do people like Francis Beckwith, who seem to affirm the compatibility of at least the core of Protestant/evangelical belief with Catholic teaching, view matters like Catholic beliefs regarding Mary (immaculate conception, assumption into heaven, etc.)?

When Frank Beckwith was asked this basic question at Wheaton College’s Penner Forum in September (which I moderated), he expressed his commitment to Marian doctrines as part of the Great Tradition. In Frank’s words (elsewhere on the topic), “Like marriage to one’s spouse, when one enters into communion with the Catholic Church, he is responsible to embrace all of its teaching (no exceptions). Just as when I married my wife, I married a whole rather than a collection of parts (e.g., I can’t say, ‘You know, I’d like to marry her, but that third knuckle on her right hand is odd’), I can’t be a ‘Catholic’ and pick and choose based on differing levels of plausibility of different parts of the Catechism isolated from the whole.”

In Holy Ground I posit a historical example of the “evangelical Catholic” in the person of Cardinal Gasparo Contarini. In the year 1511, Contarini experienced a moment of illumination that was likened to Luther’s epiphany, where he was fully convinced that salvation could not be won by any human act but was God’s free gift; and, as in Luther’s case, this conviction was accompanied by a perception that the monastery could not, for himself, procure an eternal blessedness. Like Luther, Contarini found in the contemplation of Christ’s sacrifice the solvent of his fears and the resolution of his anxious striving for perfection. This fresh discovery of Jesus’ passion forged an affinity with Luther’s doctrine of faith alone and motivated Contarini to proclaim the sufficiency of the cross among Catholics. However, years later when it was time for Contarini to choose a side at the Colloquy of Regensburg between the papacy and Scripture alone, he chose the pontiff. At the end of the day his religious identity was Catholic, not Protestant.

This is the light in which I see people like Frank Beckwith. They argue for some evangelical Protestant tenets; yet, they do so as Catholics who consciously weave Catholic threads into their theological fabric, threads which from my perspective don’t fit, but somehow they put it together. Sitting down with Catholic friends to discuss these differences in a clear, objective way is important, but it’s of equal importance that we do so with genuine courtesy and respect (1 Pet 3:15-16).

One practical implication from this observation is the importance of understanding religious identity—our own and the person’s with whom we speak. Theological discussion is most fruitful when we understand where our conversation partner orients himself in the doctrinal/ecclesial universe, since such positioning naturally influences how we read texts, use language, relate to tradition, and a host of other such commitments. If we want to listen, learn, debate, persuade, grow, and glorify God in our interaction, (and not simply talk past one another) we must be attentive to such realities.

2. In light of the Decrees of Trent, wouldn’t we still have to say that official Catholic doctrine on the matter of justification rises to the level of error so serious that it amounts to ‘another gospel’ – thus warranting an apostolic anathema (Gal.1:6-9)?

The most helpful book I’ve read on this topic has been Justification by Faith in Catholic-Protestant Dialogue: An Evangelical Assessment by Anthony Lane, Professor of Historical Theology at London School of Theology. Tony Lane is a fine scholar (it’s a T&T Clark book, so if you buy it, do so when you still have a sizable chunk in your book budget). Here are a couple of Professor Lane’s conclusions, which I agree with and have found helpful.

Is the positive exposition of the Tridentine decree compatible with a Protestant understanding?

“No. When the difference in terminology is taken into account and when allowance is made for complementary formulations the gap turns out to be considerably narrower than is often popularly supposed, but a gap there remains.”

Do the Tridentine canons condemn the Protestant doctrine or only parodies of it?

“Many of the canons do not directly touch a balanced Protestant understanding, but a number clearly do. The verdict of The Condemnations of the Reformation Era (a joint ecumenical commission which met in the early 80’s) is as much a statement about the intentions of the churches today as a statement about the intentions of Trent and the Lutheran confessions.”
According to Lane’s conclusion, disagreement between the Catholic and Protestant understanding of justification remains, although it may not be as profound as we tend to think.

Still, giving the binding nature of Trent’s decrees, evangelical Protestants remain in the crosshairs of the Catholic Church’s anathematizing canons. To the extent that Catholics operate according to this Tridentine framework (i.e., defining their position over and against justification by faith alone), they appear to be skating on the same thin ice as Paul’s Galatian interlocutors and in imminent danger of falling into the frigid water of “another gospel.”

Yet, we must realize that many Catholics, including Pope Benedict himself, don’t understand justification in this Tridentine light. For instance, in the Pope’s sermon on justification in Saint Peter’s Square on November 19, 2008 he said, “Being just simply means being with Christ and in Christ. And this suffices. Further observances are no longer necessary. For this reason Luther’s phrase: ‘faith alone’ is true, if it is not opposed to faith in charity in love.” A week later on November 26 in the Paul VI Audience Hall the pontiff continued this emphasis, “Following Saint Paul, we have seen that man is unable to ‘justify’ himself with his own actions, but can only truly become ‘just’ before God because God confers his ‘justice’ upon him, uniting him to Christ his Son. And man obtains this union through faith. In this sense, Saint Paul tells us: not our deeds, but rather faith renders us ‘just.’”

Lest you think the Pope’s statements were an out of turn, momentary flash in the pan, you can also read them in his recent book Saint Paul (Pope Benedict XVI. Saint Paul. [San Francisco: Ignatius Press], 82-85). This same note is hit by many Catholic theologians, particularly those like Beckwith who identify as evangelical Catholic.

Of more immediate concern to me is the penetration of the biblical gospel—the message of divine grace accessed through faith alone—into the hearts of Catholic people who haven’t a clue why Jesus died, much less how salvation is appropriated. Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft describes this problem:

“There are still many who do not know the data, the gospel. Most of my Catholic students at Boston College have never heard it. They do not even know how to get to heaven. When I ask them what they would say to God if they died tonight and God asked them why he should take them into heaven, nine out of ten do not even mention Jesus Christ. Most of them say they have been good or kind or sincere or did their best. So I seriously doubt God will undo the Reformation until he sees to it that Luther’s reminder of Paul’s gospel has been heard throughout the church” (Peter Kreeft. “Ecumenical Jihad.” Reclaiming The Great Tradition. Ed. James S. Cutsinger. [Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1997]. 27).

This is the concern of Holy Ground—that the grace of God in salvation remains central. When talking with Catholics, there are myriads of potential rabbit trails. We may enter into a conversation to talk about how Jesus provides life with meaning and suddenly find ourselves enmeshed in a debate about the apocrypha or Humanae Vitae. Sometimes it’s right to broach these subjects, but too often we do so at the expense of the gospel. This is tragic. What does it profit a person if he explicates a host of theological conundrums without focusing attention upon the death and resurrection of Jesus? In all of our discussion with Catholics we must consider, celebrate, and bear witness to the splendor and majesty of our Savior, the one who died, rose, and now lives.
In my mind, Chris’s careful, comprehensive replies raise additional questions (e.g., if Trent’s Decrees are “binding” how does that fit with the assertion that “many Catholics, including Pope Benedict himself, don’t understand justification in this Tridentine light”?) – but those questions notwithstanding for now I again want to highly recommend this irenic, empathetic book. It is one of those rare resources that not only would benefit interested evangelicals, but could be confidently shared with Catholic friends as well.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Martin Luther on Prayer

"We must be careful not to break the habit of true prayer and imagine other works to be necessary which, after all, are nothing of the kind. Thus at the end we become lax and lazy, cool and listless toward prayer. The devil who besets us is not lazy or careless, and our flesh is too ready and eager to sin and is disinclined to the spirit of prayer."

-- Martin Luther, “A Simple Way to Pray, 1535,” in Luther’s Works (ed. Jaroslav Pelikan and Helmut T. Lehmann; 55 vols.; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1958–86), 43:194; D. Martin Luthers Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe (Weimarer Ausgabe) (127 vols.; Weimar: Böhlau, 1883–1993), 38:359.30–35.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Michael Wittmer on the Subordination of the Son

Mike Wittmer's post is intellecutally challenging, but he raises important questions for those who object to a linkage between complementarianism (in the roles of men and women) and the Son's subordination to the Father.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Law and Gospel

"The law cannot create faith because it tells us what is to be done. It can only announce to those who transgress it what they have not done; consequently, it brings despair in its wake.

"The promise [of the gospel], by contrast, tells us what has been done by someone else. That is why it brings life.

"Once the law's just sentence has been satisfied in Christ, it is no longer our executioner, but instead plots the course for our gospel-driven life...."

-- Michael Horton, "The Gospel-Driven Life" p. 139 (Baker Books 2009)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Whole-souled Devotion to Christ

“As a soldier follows his general, as the servant follows his master, as the scholar follows his teacher, as the sheep follows its shepherd, so ought the professing Christian to follow Christ. Faith and obedience are the leading marks of real followers, and will always be seen in true believing Christians. Their knowledge may be very small, and their infirmities very great; their grace very weak, and their hope very dim. But they believe what Christ says, and they strive to do what Christ commands.

“Christianity like this, receives little praise from man. It is too thorough, to decided, too strong, too real. To serve Christ in name and form is easy work, and satisfies most people; but to follow Him in faith demands more trouble than the generality of men will take about their souls. Laughter, ridicule, opposition, persecution are often the only reward which Christ’s followers get from the world.”

~ J.C. Ryle
Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: John, volume 2, 378, 379.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Supreme Way to Worship God

" glorifies God because it acknowledges that life must be lived in complete dependence on him.... The supreme way to worship God is not to work for him (Rom.4:4-5) but to trust that he will fulfill his promises."

-- Thomas Schreiner, commenting on Romans 4 in "Romans (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the NT)" p.238 (Baker Academic: 1998)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

"An Earnest Call For Evangelical Leaders To Recover The Gospel..." by Ray Ortlund, Jr.

"A wave of authentic revival sweeps over the church when three things happen together: teaching the great truths of the gospel with clarity, applying those truths to people’s lives with spiritual power, and extending that experience to large numbers of people. We evangelicals urgently need such an awakening today. We need to rediscover the gospel.

"Imagine the evangelical church without the gospel. I know this makes no sense, for evangelicals are defined by the evangel. But try to imagine it for just a moment. What might our evangelicalism, without the evangel, look like? We would have to replace the centrality of the gospel with something else, naturally. So what might take the place of the gospel in our sermons and books and cassette tapes and Sunday school classes and home Bible studies and, above all, in our hearts?

"A number of things, conceivably. An introspective absorption with recovery from past emotional traumas, for example. Or a passionate devotion to the pro-life cause. Or a confident manipulation of modern managerial techniques. Or a drive toward church growth and “success.” Or a deep concern for the institution of the family. Or a fascination with the more unusual gifts of the Spirit. Or a clever appeal to consumerism by offering a sort of cost-free Christianity Lite. Or a sympathetic, empathetic, thickly-honeyed cultivation of interpersonal relationships. Or a determination to take America back to its Christian roots through political power. Or a warm affirmation of self-esteem. The evangelical movement, stripped of the gospel, might fix upon any or several of such concerns to define itself and derive energy for its mission. In other words, evangelicals could marginalize or even lose the gospel and still potter on their way, perhaps even oblivious to their loss.

"But not only is this conceivable, it is actually happening among us right now....

"When we think of the gospel, we may have a feeling that 'We already know that. Ho-hum.' We assume the gospel as a given. We assume that the people in our churches know the gospel, and we are anxious to move on to more 'relevant' and 'practical' topics. The gospel is being set aside in our minds and hearts in favor of a broad range of issues, as broadly ranging as evangelicalism is fragmented, while the heart and soul of our faith is falling into obscurity through neglect.

"The holy mysteries of the incarnation, cross, resurrection, ascension and heavenly reign of our Lord, the great themes of election, propitiation, justification and sanctification, the power and deceitfulness of sin, the meaning of faith and repentance, our union with our crucified, buried and risen Lord, the infinitely superior value of our heavenly reward compared with anything this life has to offer (including the Christian life), the final judgment and eternity—these glorious themes which lie at the very center of our faith, which made the church great at her greatest moments in the past and which can do the same again for us today if only we will recover them and exploit them confidently, prayerfully and biblically, these infinitely precious treasures are being bypassed in favor of legitimate but secondary matters of concern. We must guard the centrality of that which is central.

"We should not think, 'Well, of course we have the gospel. The Reformation recovered it for us.' Such complacency will cost us dearly. Every generation of Christians must be retaught afresh the basic truths of our faith. The church is always one generation away from total ignorance of the gospel, and we today are making rapid progress toward that ruinous goal. Rather than carelessly assume the gospel, we must aggressively, deliberately, fully and passionately teach and preach the gospel. All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ. If we do not intentionally search them out, we will miss them....

And you, O desolate one,
what do you mean that you dress in scarlet,
that you deck yourself with ornaments of gold,
that you enlarge your eyes with paint?
In vain you beautify yourself.
Your lovers despise you; they seek your life.

– Jeremiah 4:30

"O desolate evangelicalism, what do you mean by your stylish fads and restless search for ever new “relevance”? Why are you so insecure that you long for the world’s approving recognition? They despise everything you hold dear! “All things to all men” is no license to cater to the whims of the consumer. Christ alone is Lord. Or have you yourself forgotten his majesty? And why are you so boastful of your numbers and dollars? How poor you really are! Come back to the gospel. Come back to the wellspring of true joy and life and power. Sanctify Christ again as Lord in your hearts. Wake up! Strengthen what remains, for it is on the point of death. But if you will not return to the centrality of the gospel as God’s power for the church today, then what reason does your Lord have for not abandoning you altogether?"

-- from Ray Ortlund’s book, A Passion for God.
You can read the entire "Afterword" here.

HT: Jared Wilson; Justin Taylor

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

For Veteran's Day...

Lincoln's Gettysburg Address:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Lord's Tender Mercy

“Never, never let us curtail the freeness of the glorious Gospel, or clip its fair proportions. Never let us make the gate more straight and the way more narrow than pride and the love of sin have made it already. The Lord Jesus is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.

“He does not regard the quantity of faith, but the quality. He does not measure its degree, but its truth. He will not break any bruised reed, nor quench any smoking flax. He will never let it be said that any perished at the foot of the cross. ‘Him that cometh unto Me’, He says, ‘I will in no wise cast out’ (John 6:37).”

~ J.C. Ryle

Faithfulness and Holiness: The Witness of J.C. Ryle,

“Assurance”, 210, 211.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The 'Five Solas' of the Reformation

Five ‘Solas’ of the Reformation (Lesson review and questions)
Last Sunday: Reformation Day/Sunday (Oct. 31)

Sola’ is the Latin word for ‘alone’
1. Sola scriptura ("by Scripture alone")
2. Sola fide ("by faith alone")
3. Sola gratia ("by grace alone")
4. Solus Christus or Solo Christo ("through Christ alone")
5. Soli Deo gloria ("glory to God alone")
Sola Scriptura functions to protect and preserve all the others.

Roman Catholicism believes in each of the above, but not in the sense given when you add the idea ‘alone’. E.g, re Scripture – they added ‘Tradition’; to faith and grace as the means of salvation they added ‘works and human merit’.

KEY IDEA: The motto/principle that came out of the Reformation: "The Church always/continuously needs to be reformed by the Word of God…"
The Protestant Reformation [of the Catholic/universal] Church was triggered by Martin Luther’s posting of his 95 theses on the door of the university in Wittenberg. Martin Luther wrote his 95 theses in 1517 as a protest against the selling of indulgences. An "indulgence" is 1 : a remission of part or all of the temporal and especially purgatorial punishment that according to Roman Catholicism is due for sins whose eternal punishment has been remitted and whose guilt has been pardoned.

And so the Reformation was begun as a ‘protest’ (à "Protestant") against ministry practices in the Church that did not line up with Scripture and were not consistent with the meaning of the Gospel.
Compare Gal.1 :6-9. In this passage Paul sternly condemns preacher who proclaim any other Gospel than the one he preached.
1. Why is Paul so severe in his condemnation of preachers of ‘another Gospel’?
2. Read Romans 11:5-6. What happens to ‘grace’ if you try to blend ‘works’ with it?
3. Read 2 Chron. 34:14-21, 29-33.
--What had God’s people lost?
--How is it possible for the Word of God to be ‘lost’ in an evangelical, Bible-believing church today?
4. What would it look like to apply the principle of letting the Word of God continually ‘reform’ the church in our own day?
5. What trends and ideas in evangelical Christianity today seem suspect in light of your understanding of God’s Word?

For further study: "Holy Ground – Walking with Jesus as a Former Catholic" by Chris Castaldo (Zondervan)

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Gospel and Authentic Christian Experience

“Spiritual experience that does not arise from God’s word is not Christian experience. . . . Not all that passes for Christian experience is genuine. An authentic experience of the Spirit is an experience in response to the gospel. Through the Spirit the truth touches our hearts, and that truth moves our emotions and effects our wills.”

- Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, Total Church (Wheaton, Ill.; Crossway Books, 2008), 31.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Amazing, Saving, Unconditional Grace

“To preach the Gospel of the unconditional grace of God in that unconditional way is to set before people the astonishingly good news of what God has freely provided for us in the vicarious humanity of Jesus.

"To repent and believe in Jesus Christ and commit myself to him on that basis means that I do not need to look over my shoulder all the time to see whether I have really given myself personally to him, whether I really believe and trust him, whether my faith is at all adequate, for in faith it is not upon my faith, my believing or my personal commitment that I rely, but solely upon what Jesus Christ has done for me, in my place and on my behalf, and what he is and always will be as he stands in for me before the face of the Father.

"That means that I am completely liberated from all ulterior motives in believing or following Jesus Christ, for on the ground of his vicarious human response for me, I am free for spontaneous joyful response and worship and service as I could not otherwise be.”

- TF Torrance
"Of First Importance"

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Two Essential Aspects of Authentic Conversion

“It ought always to be remembered that there are two distinct things which the Lord Jesus Christ does for every sinner whom He undertakes to save. He washes him from his sins in His own blood, and gives him a free pardon: this is his justification. He puts the Holy Spirit into his heart, and makes him an entirely new man: this is his regeneration.

“The two things are both absolutely necessary to salvation. The change of heart is as necessary as the pardon; and the pardon is as necessary as the change. Without the pardon we have no right or title to heaven. Without the change we should not be ready to enjoy heaven, even if we got there.”

~ J.C. Ryle
Regeneration, 22.

Martin Luther's Allegiance to the Word of God

From his speech at the Diet (assembly) of Worms (a small town in Germany). Martin Luther was used by God to lead in the Protestant Reformation.

HT: Martin Downes

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Reformation Sunday: "The Gospel of Jesus Christ...."

In honor of Reformation Sunday, here is the preamble of an important recent summary of the Gospel, written in the context of affirming the importance of the continuing differences between evangelical Protestantism and Roman Catholicism:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.—John 3:16

Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world.—Isaiah 12:5


The Gospel of Jesus Christ is news, good news: the best and most important news that any human being ever hears.

This Gospel declares the only way to know God in peace, love, and joy is through the reconciling death of Jesus Christ the risen Lord.

This Gospel is the central message of the Holy Scriptures, and is the true key to understanding them.

This Gospel identifies Jesus Christ, the Messiah of Israel, as the Son of God and God the Son, the second Person of the Holy Trinity, whose incarnation, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension fulfilled the Father's saving will. His death for sins and his resurrection from the dead were promised beforehand by the prophets and attested by eyewitnesses. In God's own time and in God's own way, Jesus Christ shall return as glorious Lord and Judge of all (1 Thess. 4:13-18; Matt. 25:31-32). He is now giving the Holy Spirit from the Father to all those who are truly his. The three Persons of the Trinity thus combine in the work of saving sinners.

This Gospel sets forth Jesus Christ as the living Savior, Master, Life, and Hope of all who put their trust in him. It tells us that the eternal destiny of all people depends on whether they are savingly related to Jesus Christ.

This Gospel is the only Gospel: there is no other; and to change its substance is to pervert and indeed destroy it. This Gospel is so simple that small children can understand it, and it is so profound that studies by the wisest theologians will never exhaust its riches.

All Christians are called to unity in love and unity in truth. As evangelicals who derive our very name from the Gospel, we celebrate this great good news of God's saving work in Jesus Christ as the true bond of Christian unity, whether among organized churches and denominations or in the many transdenominational co operative enterprises of Christians together.

The Bible declares that all who truly trust in Christ and his Gospel are sons and daughters of God through grace, and hence are our brothers and sisters in Christ.

All who are justified experience reconciliation with the Father, full remission of sins, transition from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light, the reality of being a new creature in Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. They enjoy access to the Father with all the peace and joy that this brings.

The Gospel requires of all believers worship, which means constant praise and giving of thanks to God, submission to all that he has revealed in his written word, prayerful dependence on him, and vigilance lest his truth be even inadvertently compromised or obscured.

To share the joy and hope of this Gospel is a supreme privilege. It is also an abiding obligation, for the Great Commission of Jesus Christ still stands: proclaim the Gospel everywhere, he said, teaching, baptizing, and making disciples.

By embracing the following declaration we affirm our commitment to this task, and with it our allegiance to Christ himself, to the Gospel itself, and to each other as fellow evangelical believers.

You can read the entire statement here.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

"The Sluggard" by Isaac Watts

a poem by Isaac Watts based on Proverbs 24:30-34.

'Tis the voice of the sluggard; I heard him complain,
"You have waked me too soon, I must slumber again."
As the door on its hinges, so he on his bed,
Turns his sides and his shoulders and his heavy head.

"A little more sleep, and a little more slumber;"
Thus he wastes half his days, and his hours without number,
And when he gets up, he sits folding his hands,
Or walks about sauntering, or trifling he stands.

I pass'd by his garden, and saw the wild brier,
The thorn and the thistle grow broader and higher;
The clothes that hang on him are turning to rags;
And his money still wastes till he starves or he begs.

I made him a visit, still hoping to find
That he took better care for improving his mind:
He told me his dreams, talked of eating and drinking;
But scarce reads his Bible, and never loves thinking.

Said I then to my heart, "Here's a lesson for me,
"This man's but a picture of what I might be:
But thanks to my friends for their care in my breeding,
Who taught me betimes to love working and reading."

-- HT: Josh Harris

It is worth noting how song/hymn-writers of the past worked very hard at 'paraphrasing' Scripture in the composing of their lyrics. They took the responsibility to be faithful to Scripture very seriously, recognizing that it's no better to sing an unbiblical idea than it is to preach one.

Gospel-inspired Generosity

Tim Keller on 2 Corinthians 8:9 -- "Jesus gave up all his treasure in heaven, in order to make you his treasure -- for you are a treasured people (1 Peter 2:9-10). When you see him dying to make you his treasure, that will make him yours. Money will cease to be the currency of your significance and security, and you will want to bless others with what you have.

"To the degree that you grasp the gospel, money will have no dominion over you. Think on his costly grace until it changes you into a generous people."

-- Timothy Keller, "Counterfeit Gods" pp.67-68 (Dutton 2009)

Friday, October 30, 2009

"Every human being must live for something...."

"[In Romans 1] Paul summarized the history of the human race in one sentence: 'They worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator (Romans 1:25). Every human being must live for something. Something must capture our imaginations, our heart's fundamental allegiance and hope. But, the Bible tells us, without the intervention of the Holy Spirit, that object will never be God himself.

"If we look to some created thing to give us the meaning, hope, and happiness that only God himself can give, it will eventually fail to deliver and break our hearts...."

"Two Jewish philosophers who knew the Scriptures intimately concluded: 'The central ... principle of the Bible is the rejection of idolatry.'...."

-- Timothy Keller, "Counterfeit Gods" pp.4-5 (Dutton 2009)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

What Is Providence?

from the Heidelberg Catechism:

27 Q. What do you understand by the providence of God?

A. Providence is the almighty and ever present power of God by which he upholds, as with his hand, heaven and earth and all creatures, and so rules them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and lean years, food and drink, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty—all things, in fact, come to us not by chance but from his fatherly hand.

Jer 23:23-24; Acts 17:24-28; Heb 1:3; 3 Jer 5:24; 4 Acts 14:15-17; Jn 9:3; 6 Job 1:21; Ps 103:19; Prov 22:2; Rom 5:3-5; Prov 16:33; Mt 10:29; Eph 1:1

28 Q. How does the knowledge of God’s creation and providence help us?

A. We can be patient when things go against us, thankful when things go well, and for the future we can have good confidence in our faithful God and Father that nothing will separate us from his love. All creatures are so completely in his hand that without his will they can neither move nor be moved.

Job 1:21-22; Ps 39:10; Rom 5:3; Jas 1:3; Deut 8:10; 1 Thes 5:18; Ps 55:22; Rom 5:3-5, 8:35, 38-39; Job 1:12, 2:6; Ps 71:7; Prov 21:1; Acts 17:24-28; 2 Cor 1:10

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Tim Keller on Hell and the Love of God

Here are some excerpts from Tim Keller's article "The Importance of Hell."

'Unless we come to grips with this "terrible" doctrine, we will never even begin to understand the depths of what Jesus did for us on the cross. His body was being destroyed in the worst possible way, but that was a flea bite compared to what was happening to his soul. When he cried out that his God had forsaken him he was experiencing hell itself. But consider--if our debt for sin is so great that it is never paid off there, but our hell stretches on for eternity, then what are we to conclude from the fact that Jesus said the payment was "finished" (John 19:30) after only three hours? We learn that what he felt on the cross was far worse and deeper than all of our deserved hells put together.

'And this makes emotional sense when we consider the relationship he lost. If a mild acquaintance denounces you and rejects you--that hurts. If a good friend does the same--that hurts far worse. However, if your spouse walks out on you saying, "I never want to see you again," that is far more devastating still.

'The longer, deeper, and more intimate the relationship, the more tortuous is any separation. But the Son's relationship with the Father was beginningless and infinitely greater than the most intimate and passionate human relationship.

'When Jesus was cut off from God he went into the deepest pit and most powerful furnace, beyond all imagining. He experienced the full wrath of the Father. And he did it voluntarily, for us.

'Fairly often I meet people who say, "I have a personal relationship with a loving God, and yet I don't believe in Jesus Christ at all." Why, I ask? "My God is too loving to pour out infinite suffering on anyone for sin." But this shows a deep misunderstanding of both God and the cross. On the cross, God HIMSELF, incarnated as Jesus, took the punishment. He didn't visit it on a third party, however willing.

'So the question becomes: what did it cost your kind of god to love us and embrace us? What did he endure in order to receive us? Where did this god agonize, cry out, and where were his nails and thorns? The only answer is: "I don't think that was necessary."

'But then ironically, in our effort to make God more loving, we have made him less loving. His love, in the end, needed to take no action. It was sentimentality, not love at all.

'The worship of a god like this will be at most impersonal, cognitive, and ethical. There will be no joyful self-abandonment, no humble boldness, no constant sense of wonder. We could not sing to him "love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all."

'Only through the cross could our separation from God be removed, and we will spend all eternity loving and praising God for what he has done (Rev 5:9-14.)

And if Jesus did not experience hell itself for us, then we ourselves are devalued. In Isaiah, we are told, "The results of his suffering he shall see, and shall be satisfied" (Isaiah 53:11). This is a stupendous thought. Jesus suffered infinitely more than any human soul in eternal hell, yet he looks at us and says, "It was worth it." What could make us feel more loved and valued than that?

'The Savior presented in the gospel waded through hell itself rather than lose us, and no other savior ever depicted has loved us at such a cost.'

You can read the whole thing here.

HT: Martin Downes "Against Heresies"

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Nature of Idolatry

"Granting something ultimate value does not necessarily mean attributing a set of metaphysical divine attributes; the act of granting ultimate value involves a life of devotion and ultimate commitment to something or someone.

"Absolute value can be conferred on many things... In this extension of worship, religious attitude is perceived not as part of metaphysics or as an expression of customary rituals, but as a form of absolute devotion, an attitude that makes something into a godlike being.

"What makes something into an absolute is that it is both overriding and demanding. It claims to stand superior to any competing claim.... Any nonabsolute value that is made absolute and demands to be the center of dedicated life is idolatry."

-- "Idolatry" by Moshe Halbertal and Avishai Margalit (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1992), pp.245-246. (in a footnote, p. 181, of Tim Keller's "Counterfeit Gods")

Monday, October 26, 2009

How to Make a God

"What is an idol? It is anything [or anyone] more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give."

-- Timothy Keller, "Counterfeit Gods" p. xvii (Dutton)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Beholding Christ as the Key to Growing in Holiness

John Owen on the effects of seeing Christ’s glory:

"It is by beholding the glory of Christ by faith that we are spiritually edified and built up in this world, for as we behold his glory, the life and power of faith grow stronger and stronger. It is by faith that we grow to love Christ. So if we desire strong faith and powerful love, which give us rest, peace and satisfaction, we must seek them by diligently beholding the glory of Christ by faith.

"In this duty I desire to live and to die. On Christ’s glory I would fix all my thoughts and desires, and the more I see of the glory of Christ, the more the painted beauties of this world will wither in my eyes and I will be more and more crucified to this world. It will become to me like something dead and putrid, impossible for me to enjoy."

–The Glory of Christ (1684)
HT: Gospel Coalition blog

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Way of Simplicity

"If we would find God amid all the religious externals, we must first determine to find him, and then proceed in the way of simplicity. Now as always God discovers himself to ‘babes’ and hides himself in thick darkness from the wise and the prudent. We must simplify our approach to him. We must strip down to essentials, and they will be found to be blessedly few. We must put away all effort to impress and come with the guileless candor of childhood. If we do this, without doubt God will quickly respond."

--A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God, page 18

HT: The Gospel Coalition blog

Thursday, October 22, 2009

What is faith?

"True faith is not only a sure knowlede whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us by his Word, but also a firm confidence which the Holy Spirit works in my heart by the gospel that not only to others but to me also, remission [forgiveness] of sins, everlasting righteousness and salvation are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ's merits."

-- Heidelberg Catechism

The Danger of Drifting from Being Authentically Evangelical

"... David Gibson said in a classic essay, Assumed Evangelicalism: Some Reflections en route to Denying the Gospel, movements begin by proclaiming the gospel, pass through a phase of assuming it but not making it central, and end by rejecting and denying it. All Gibson is really saying is that draft happens, especially generational drift. But he’s such a great worrier that he says it very well:
Assumed evangelicalism believes and signs up to the gospel. It certainly does not deny the gospel. But in terms of priorities, focus, and direction, assumed evangelicalism begins to give gradually increasing energy to concerns other than the gospel and key evangelical distinctives, to gradually elevate secondary issues to a primary level, to be increasingly worried about how it is perceived by others and to allow itself to be increasingly influenced both in content and method by the prevailing culture of the day."

-- excerpt from a blog post by Fred Sanders

"We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away." -- Heb. 2:1

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"Idols of the Heart...."

Another helpful notice from Justin Taylor about a penetrating essay from David Powlison (and essay that has been crucial for the thinking of Tim Keller) on the crucial issue of identifying and overcoming our idolatries of the heart.

I think Powlison is one of the best when it comes to integrating Biblical truth and authentic pastoral/psychological counseling.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Monday, October 19, 2009

Weak Believers Are Believers Still

"Let us never set down men in a low place, as graceless and godless, because their faith is feeble and their love is cold. Let us remember the case of Thomas, and be very pitiful and of tender mercy. Our Lord has many weak children in His family, many dull pupils in His school, many raw soldiers in His army, many lame sheep in His school. Yet He bears with them all, and casts none away.

“Happy is that Christian who has learned to deal likewise with his brethren. There are many in the Church, who, like Thomas, are dull and slow, but for all that, like Thomas, are real and true believers.”

~ J.C. Ryle Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: John, volume 3, 456, 457.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

"Dug Down Deep"

Justin Taylor's blog gives a helpful introduction to what looks like a very, very good book from Josh Harris with the theme "unearthing what I believe and why it matters." You can read the first chapter online.

One of my favorite quotes from the book: "We are all theologians. The question is whether what we know [or, think] about God is true."