Reading John Calvin

A couple of weeks ago, I offered some recommended reading on the Reformation and suggested reading John Calvin because he is surprisingly warm and easy to read. If you are interested in reading Calvin, a good place to start is, “A Little Book on the Christian Life” (It really is little…small and short!). Here is a taste:

The cross destroys the false notion of our own strength that we’ve dared to entertain, and it destroys that hypocrisy in which we have taken refuge and pleasure. It strips us of carnal self-confidence, and thus humbling us, instructs us to cast ourselves on God alone so that we won’t be crushed or defeated…It’s no little thing to be stripped of our blind self-love and thus to be made aware of our own weakness. Moreover, having been impressed with our own weakness, we learn to despair of ourselves. Then, having despaired of ourselves, we transfer our trust to God. (pgs. 63-4)

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We Need One Another

On Sunday, Lord willing, we will celebrate the sixth anniversary of Redeemer Fellowship Church. As I reflect on the Lord’s goodness to our church, I am reminded how much we all need the church. God’s plan is not for us go about our Christian walk alone, but instead with others in the local church. In his book, The Christian Life, Sinclair Ferguson says; Christians are like coals in a fire (pg. 180). If you remove a coal, isolating it from the others, it cannot produce the same amount of heat on its own and it will quickly go out. Yet, when those coals remain together they keep one another burning and produce far more heat together than they ever could separately.

So it is in the church. We are not to go at it alone. We need one another. With that in mind, reflect on these two passages and ask yourself; am I serving my church well according to these verses?

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.–Hebrews 3:12-14 (ESV)

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.–Hebrews 10:23-25 (ESV)

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A Subtle Temptation

As we study the Sermon on the Mount together, we must beware of the sneaky temptation to be known for being godly, the hunger for the fame of holiness. D.A. Carson wrote:

We human beings are a strange lot. We hear high moral injunctions and glimpse just a little the genuine beauty of perfect holiness, and then prostitute the vision by dreaming about the way others would hold us in high esteem if we were like that. The demand for genuine perfection loses itself in the lesser goal of external piety; the goal of pleasing the Father is traded for its pygmy cousin, the goal of pleasing men. (The Sermon on the Mount, pg. 55)

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Reformation Reading

As October approaches, so does the anniversary of the Reformation. Yet, this year it is not just any anniversary, no, this year marks the 500th anniversary. It was on October 31, 1517 that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Thesis to the door of Castle Church and thus unintentionally sparked the Reformation leading to the recovery of the Gospel. I’ve done it before, but let me offer an updated recommending reading list on the Reformation.

Reformation Sketches

Michael Reeves’ Unquenchable Flame is a favorite of mine. It is a quick, informative, and fun read. He looks at several leading figures in the Reformation.

Stephen Nichols’ The Reformation is similar in style and a good starting point.

Martin Luther

Roland Bainton’s Here I Stand is the classic Luther biography.

Martin Luther: A Life by Martin Marty is a well done short biography.

Carl Trueman’s Luther on the Christian Life provides a good look at the thought and teaching of Luther.

John Calvin

THL Parker’s John Calvin: A Biography is a manageable but serious biography.

Michael Horton’s Calvin on the Christian Life is the Calvin installment on his thought and teaching.

Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion are surprisingly easy to read and not surprisingly, very rewarding.

In the “Bitesize Biographies” series, I very much enjoyed the volumes on Knox and Zwingli.

John Knox

Ulrich Zwingli

Last, I love the biographies for children by Simonetta Carr. I’ve read these to my kiddos…they are excellently done!

Martin Luther

John Knox

John Calvin

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Bless Us For Your Namesake

This past Sunday the sermon was from Psalm 67. The Psalm is a prayer asking the Lord to bless Israel for the purpose of making Him known to all the earth, and this toward the end of the nations praising Him for His saving power. The church has been called to proclaim the gospel, God’s saving power, to all nations (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8). Therefore, I believe it is right for us to ask for God’s blessing for the same purpose, proclaiming His greatness to all nations (by nations I mean locally and abroad, not only foreign missions). However, what kind of blessing should we be praying for? Here are some things I am praying for in light of this Psalm:

Gospel Growth/Fruit

  • That we would glory more and more in the Gospel. As we are continually amazed by grace, we will continually be compelled to proclaim the grace by which we are amazed.
  • That we would grow in our discipleship…our helping one another follow Jesus. Although the Lord may not call you to vocational missions, He may use you to disciple those whom He will call.
    • That we would continually be stirring one another up to love and good works. (Heb. 10:24-25).
    • Also, if we aren’t committed to discipleship, which is teaching others to obey all that Christ has commanded, why would God add to our number by conversion growth?
  • Christlikeness, that we would grow in holiness looking more and more like Jesus.
  • Conversion growth, that the Lord would give fruit to our evangelism by adding to our number those who glory in His saving power.
  • That the Lord would add to our number more laborers. And this for His glory and for further Gospel proclamation.
  • That the Gospel would produce more and more financial generosity in us for the sake of the Gospel going forward.
  • That the Lord would raise up goers: pastors, missionaries, and cross-cultural supporters.

These are a few things we can pray for as a church, asking the Lord to bless us so His saving power can be made known among all nations.

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Sunday Replay

With football season upon us, I thought a little replay action from Sunday’s sermon would be appropriate. I want to emphasize the final three implications I mentioned at the end of the sermon. I wanted to highlight again how hope encourages evangelism, holiness, and suffering well. As was said Sunday, Biblical hope is the concrete certainty that the Lord will accomplish His purposes.

Evangelism

Hope: We are assured that the gospel will successfully be proclaimed to all nations (Matt. 24:14), and on the last day there will be people from every nation around the throne (Rev. 7:9-10).

The Result: This hope gives us confidence that the task will be completed and the church will be successful in fulfilling the Great Commission. We should be highly motivated by this assurance to engage in evangelism.

Holiness

Hope: The Lord has called Christians to live lives of holiness (Phil. 1:27, Eph. 4:1, 1 Pet. 1:15-16). He has also guaranteed that on the last day He will bring us to perfect glorification, completing the work He began in us (Phil. 1:6).

The Result: This hope should give us confidence to “work out what God is working in us with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12-13). We are to pursue holiness with the assurance that the Lord will form us fully into the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29).

Suffering

Hope: Although we suffer, we are sure that the Lord is using all things for our good and will one day bring everything to its rightful conclusion in Christ (Rom. 8:28-29). Christ will return setting all wrongs right and making all things new, and on that day sin, sorrow, and death will be removed forever (Rev. 20:1-5).

The Result: This hope gives us confidence that although all is not right in the present, one day it will be. We are able to endure suffering with the confidence that there is an “eternal weight of glory” ahead that makes our present suffering seem “light and momentary” (2 Cor. 4:17).

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A High Calling

As I reflect on the events of this past weekend in Charlottesville, I am reminded of the high calling given to the Church. We have been called by our Lord to be His witnesses throughout all the earth. In short, we are to represent Him before the watching the world. However, we can’t speak to these issues if we are not informed. Therefore, I wanted to point you toward some helpful resources.

Joe Carter offers a timeline of the events in Charlottesville here (note: this post also includes a link that offers more explanation as to what the “Alt-Right” is.):

Violence and Death at a White Nationalist Rally in Charlottesville

As a church who affiliates with the Southern Baptist Convention, it is important for you to know that this summer we passed a resolution denouncing the white supremacy of the Alt-Right. You can read the resolution here:

On the Anti-Gospel of Alt-Right White Supremacy

On Monday morning an article from Russell Moore, president of the ERLC of the SBC, ran on The Washington Post’s website. I would encourage you to read it.

White supremacy angers Jesus, but does it anger His church?

On Tuesday, Tim Keller offered some helpful thoughts:

Race, the Gospel, and the Moment

Here is an excellent article by Professor Javis Williams that was written two years ago.

Racial Reconciliation, the Gospel, and the Church

Also, here are some book recommendations:

The Gospel and Racial Reconciliation

Removing the Stain of Racism from the Southern Baptist Convention

Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America

Brothers and Sisters, the Gospel breaks down dividing walls of hostility and brings together people from every nation, tribe, and tongue around the throne of our Lord (Eph. 2:14; Rev. 5:9, 7:9). We must speak clearly on this issue because it is a Gospel issue.

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Are You Blind?

This past Sunday we looked into a sobering passage from the book of Amos. Two things stood out as we saw the Lord confronting His people through the Prophet. First, the people were experiencing prosperity and were taking advantage of others trying to maintain and increase their luxury (3:15, 4:1, 5:11-12). Second, although they engaged in worship, their worship was vain and self-centered (4:4-5, 5:21-23). They had mistaken their prosperity for the Lord’s approval of their actions and they seemed to think the Lord was impressed with their worship. What they didn’t realize was, their worship wasn’t really directed toward the Lord at all. Instead, they were worshiping the Lord in hopes of further blessing; which means they were actually worshiping themselves under the guise of worshiping the Lord.

In short, they were comfortable in their luxury and complacent in their worship and instead of loving God and neighbor they were loving only self. Yet, they are completely blind to this thinking the “day of the Lord” will be a day of joy when it will, in fact, be a day of judgment (5:18).

Lest we be tempted to think of this as only a danger for Old Testament Saints and not a threat for New Testament Believers, we should turn our attention to Revelation 3. Specifically to Jesus’ words to the church in Laodicea. Our Lord said:

“For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” (v. 17)

Here too, we see that New Testament Believers are also in danger of prosperity leading them to pride. What is especially sobering is that they too were completely blind to their plight. Jesus exhorted them:

“I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.” (v. 18)

Jesus purposefully points out that the things they were known for; gold, fine garments, and eye slave were not sufficient. He is saying to them, “you do not have the resources to save yourselves and I am not impressed by your greatness in the world’s eyes.” He tells them that they are instead “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” This was meant to be the bucket of cold water that would shock them out of their fantasies of self-perceived greatness. Jesus is calling them to Himself, to receive from Him what only He can provide.

What about us? Could we too be going about our lives under the impression that everything is good, all the while completely unaware of impending disaster? If you are quick to say, “not me!” Then you need to pay close attention to Jesus’s words:

“Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent…He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (vv. 19, 22)

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How Anger Can Point To the Gospel

On Sunday I made the statement that any time you become angry you are being judgmental. I owe credit to David Powlison for this insight. The point I was making was that God is the ultimate Judge and that is a good thing. We all want things to be set right and all wrong to be accounted for. Folks will often decry anything they perceive to be judgmental while ignoring that they themselves are judgmental. This is where Powlison’s comments are helpful. He wrote:

At its core anger is very simple. It expresses “I’m against that.” (Good and Angry, pg. 39)

This is exactly what God’s judgment and wrath are…they are the manifestations of Him being “against” sin. The reason it is helpful to understand this is because people often have a hard time understanding (accepting) that God is Judge. Yet, if you can point them to the fact that they are judgmental anytime they get angry and show them they aren’t as free of judgment as they think they are, you can begin to open the door to helping them understand God’s judgment as needed and necessary. Powlison continued:

Human beings come wired with the capacity to react with displeasure toward real wrongs and act forcefully to make wrongs right. In other words, we are moral beings. We are made in the image of God. (pg. 39, emphasis mine)

Now, I’m not saying that all of our anger is righteous anger. Due to sin, it certainly is not. Our anger is often out of proportion, capricious, self-righteous, directed toward the wrong things, and that’s only the beginning of how our anger goes wrong. (If you want to think more about how our anger can go right, then read Powlison’s book.) Yet, God’s anger is none of these things. His anger is always righteous, setting right the wrongs and bringing restoration through redemption. Therefore, God’s judgment is a good thing because it speaks to every human’s longing for justice. However, it can only be a good thing if they stand before God’s judgment in Christ.

I would encourage you to use this longing for justice, which is displayed in every person’s anger, to point them toward the ultimate Judge. Then tell them about the one who satisfied God’s judgment on their behalf through the cross and resurrection. Point them to Jesus, the Rock of Ages that has been cleft for them.

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Selflessness

I was reflecting on the Book of Ruth this past week and doing some reading in various commentaries when something stood out that hadn’t before. What really stood out is Boaz’s selflessness. At Naomi’s direction, Ruth approaches Boaz and asks him to be her redeemer (3:9). Boaz is willing to be her redeemer, but there is a kinsmen redeemer who is a closer relative and in line to be her redeemer first (3:12-13).

Notice what Boaz does not do. He doesn’t tell Ruth to make her request known to the nearer redeemer. No, instead he makes it clear that he will himself approach the man and settle the matter soon (3:18). This is significant, Boaz is going above and beyond in taking up the cause of Ruth (and Naomi). Ruth was a foreigner and a widow, she would have been vulnerable to being taken advantage of and strung along. Yet, Boaz will see that the matter is resolved immediately because he is a noble man (2:1).

Boaz’s conversation with the man is seen in Ruth 4:1-12. When Boaz first mentions the prospect of redeeming the land of Elimelech, Naomi’s dead husband, the man is willing. However, when he learns that the land will also come with the responsibility of providing for Ruth and Naomi by marrying Ruth and having children to inherit the land, well, the deal sours in the man’s eyes. He says he can’t be the redeemer lest he “impair his own inheritance” (4:6). Essentially, what he means is that it will cost him too much to do that. Redeeming Ruth and Naomi will reduce what he has and therefore diminish his ability to send forth his name and wealth through his offspring.

In his commentary on the passage, Iain Duguid points out that we are not told this man’s name. He is basically referred to as “Mr. So-and-So.” Duguid then wrote:

The irony is that by seeking to protect his future legacy in this way, Mr. So-and-So ended up leaving himself nameless, missing out on having a share in the biggest legacy of all: a place in God’s plan of salvation. Boaz took a different and more sacrificial approach, embracing the opportunity to leave a legacy for someone else…By trying to protect his future, Mr. So-and-So would remain forever nameless. (pgs. 182-3)

Boaz, by being selfless and sacrificial instead of self-seeking, was given a legacy by God that included David and David’s greater Son, Jesus (Matt. 1:5-6, 16). When I read Duguid’s comments I couldn’t help but think of Matthew 10:39 where Jesus said:

“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

As Jesus’s disciples, this is what we are called to. Yes, Boaz is a redeemer who points to the ultimate Redeemer, Jesus. And yes, we must know Jesus as our Redeemer by faith. Yet, the call of our Redeemer is to take up our cross and follow Him (Matt. 16:24-25). We are to follow our Savior’s example of sacrifice (Eph. 5:1-2, see previous post).

David Powlison makes this point about selflessness in the life of a Christian in his book, How Does Sanctification Work?. In the last paragraph of the book he wrote:

Perhaps the most dramatic evidence of headway in sanctification is that you no longer think so much about yourself. You are starting to do better when you are not preoccupied with “How well am I doing?” You are finding yourself when you lose yourself and worry less about who you are. (pg. 112)

In other words, you are resting secure in Christ and looking more like Him by selflessly giving of yourself for the sake of others. You are helping others follow Jesus. (Think about it, sin turns us in on ourselves. Sin means we are consumed with self. Sanctification is the process of holiness…victory over sin. Therefore, “headway in sanctification” means we are less self-obsessed.)

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus…” –Philippians 2:4-5

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