“Merciful Father”

The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for man.” -Mark 10:45

Reflecting on this verse in light of Christmas, John Piper wrote:

Paul put it like this in Galatians 4:4-5: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” In other words, the redemption, or the ransom, frees us to be a part of God’s family. We had run away and sold ourselves into slavery. But God pays a ransom and redeems us out of slavery into the Father’s house.

To do that, God’s Son had to become human so that he could suffer and die in our place to pay the ransom. That is the meaning of Christmas. Hebrews 2:14 puts it like this: “since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death.”

In other words, the reason Christ took on our full humanity was that he could die and in dying pay a ransom and free us from the power of death. And free us to be included in his own family. The ransom is ultimately about relationship. Yours to God, your merciful Father. (The Dawning of Indestructible Joy, pgs. 53-54, emphasis mine)

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Help with Prayer

This past Sunday we started the section on prayer in our study of the Sermon on the Mount. Over the years, I have been encouraged by various people to pray the Bible, a practice that has been employed by Christians throughout history. One specific example would be Martin Luther instructing his barber, Peter, to pray in this fashion when Peter asked Luther for help in this area. Recently, Donald Whitney has written a simple book on the subject entitled, Praying the Bible. He says that Christians often get discouraged in their prayer life because they continually “return to that mental script (they’ve) repeated countless times” when they pray (pg. 15). Often this method of praying can become the thoughtless “empty phrases” our Lord warned us against (Matt. 6:7, pg. 17).

Whitney suggests that a more healthy method is praying the Bible. He says we can read through any passage and begin to pray the things that come to mind as we read. A good place to start, he says, is the Psalms. He offers this example from Psalm 23:1 on the Lord being our shepherd. He said reflecting on this truth could lead us to pray something like:

Lord, I thank you that you are my shepherd. You’re a good shepherd. You have shepherded me all my life. And, great Shepherd, please shepherd my family today: guard them from the ways of the world; guide them into the ways of God. Lead them not into temptation; deliver them from evil. O great Shepherd, I pray for my children; cause them to be your sheep. May they love you as their shepherd, as I do. And, Lord, please shepherd me in the decision that’s before me about my future. Do I make that move, that change, or not? I also pray for our under-shepherds at the church. Please shepherd them as they shepherd us. (pgs. 29-30, emphasis original)

Whitney says, from there you simply move to the next verse, reflect and pray. He later said:

By this means, the Spirit of God will use the Word of God to help the people of God pray increasingly according to the will of God. (pg. 37)

I would encourage you to incorporate this practice of praying the Bible into your prayer life. Over the past year, as a church, we have returned again and again to Ephesians 5:1-2 which says:

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

How can you pray this passage for yourself and your fellow church members this week? How can you pray this for our marriages, singleness, parenting, church life, work/neighborhood relationships, and so on?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

“All This and Jesus Too”

Over the years I have heard the story of an old Puritan recounted. The man sat down to a very small meal of a simple piece of bread (or potato) and water. He then voiced his prayer; “all this and Jesus too!” This man seems to have understood well and experienced the same grace as the Apostle Paul who wrote:

…for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Phil. 4:11a-14)

Prior to saying this Paul called the Philippians to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil. 4:4). This tells us that the contentment Paul knew in all circumstances was rooted and grounded in rejoicing in Christ and not in his circumstances.

Christian, in Christ, God has poured on us inexpressible and unsearchable riches (2 Cor. 9:15, Eph. 3:8), and this is a gift. We didn’t earn or merit salvation in Christ. In fact, we earned not blessing, but instead curse.  In his book, Chasing Contentment, Erik Raymond said; “The truth is, we deserve hell and we got mercy!” (pg. 54) In light of this proper understanding of the gospel, Raymond pointedly wrote:

If you are having a hard time being content, make a list of everything you have that you don’t deserve, and then make a list of everything you deserve that you don’t have. When you and I realize how kind and gracious God has been with us, we’re able to see things in a proper perspective. (pg. 62)

We have much for which we should be thankful. I hope we can join the old Puritan in saying, “all this and Jesus too!”

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Take Up Your Cross

Michael Lawrence offers a few quick examples of what it might look like for a believer to “deny himself and take up his cross and follow me (Jesus)” (Matt. 16:24). He wrote:

That means Jesus might make a difference in your marriage by giving you the grace to persevere with a spouse who no longer loves you. He might bring love, joy, and peace to your home by making you an agent rather than a recipient of those things. He might give you renewed purpose at work by changing your attitude rather than your job description. (Conversion, pg. 22)

What does the call to deny yourself look like in your life right now?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

“Rolling-Stone Christians”

In a sermon preached on October 24, 1869, Charles Spurgeon said:

Now I know there are some who say, “Well, I hope I have given myself to the Lord, but I do not intend to give myself to any church, because…” Now, why not? “Because I can be a Christian without it.” Now, are you quite clear about that? You can be as good a Christian by disobedience to your Lord’s commands as by being obedient?

Well, suppose everybody else did the same? Suppose all Christians in the world said, “I shall not join the Church.” Why there would be no visible Church! There would be no ordinances! That would be a very bad thing and yet, one doing it—what is right for one is right for all—why should not all of us do it? Then you believe that if you were to do an act which has a tendency to destroy the visible Church of God, you would be as good a Christian as if you did your best to build up that Church? I do not believe it, Sir! Nor do you, either. You have not any such a belief—it is only a trumpery excuse for something else.

There is a brick—a very good one. What is the brick made for? To help to build a house with. It is of no use for that brick to tell you that it is just as good a brick while it is kicking about on the ground as it would be in the house. It is a good-for-nothing brick! Until it is built into the wall, it is no good! So you rolling-stone Christians, I do not believe that you are answering your purpose—you are living contrary to the life which Christ would have you live—and you are much to blame for the injury you do!

Now, of course we can formally belong to a local church while at the same time functionally it is as if we didn’t belong to any church. In other words, we can be a church member without actively seeking to do our “best to build up that Church” as Spurgeon said above. The calling to be a part of a local church is a calling to actively and consistently pour into that body seeking to build one another up in love (Eph. 4:15-16). Let us, by God’s grace, avoid being “rolling-stone Christians” both formally and functionally.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Christian Growth 101

In his book, What is a Healthy Church Member?, Thabiti Anyabwile wrote:

This is the first and most important ministry of every Christian in the local church. Being present, being known, and being active are the only ways to make Christian love possible. (Heb. 10:24-25) (pg. 68, emphasis mine)

He later expounded this point saying:

Hebrews 10:25 instructs us not to neglect the assembly of the saints. Instead, we are to gather and encourage one another more and more as we await Jesus’ return. The public assembly is meant for the edification, the building up, the growth of the Christian. Neglecting to participate in the corporate life of the church or failing to actively serve and be served is a sure-fire way to limit our growth. Ephesians 4:11-16 offers a pretty strong argument that participation in the body of Christ is the main way in which Christ strengthens and matures us. When we serve others in the church, bear with one another, love one another, correct one another, and encourage one another, we participate in a kind of “spiritual maturity co-op” where our stores and supplies are multiplied. The end result is growth and discipleship. (pg. 91, emphasis mine)

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Did The Reformers Think Their Doctrine Was New?

In the previous post, I offered a quick survey of historical church figures leading up to the Reformation. The purpose was to show that the doctrines emphasized by the Reformers were not completely new, but that the Reformation was, in fact, a recovery of gospel doctrine. What did the Reformers themselves think about their teaching? They did not think their teaching was novel. Below I will offer a few quick remarks from them displaying their thoughts on the subject.

Luther wrote:

People should stop using my name, and instead of calling themselves Lutheran, they should be willing to be called Christian. What is Luther? The doctrine is not mine. And I have not been crucified for anybody…How would I, a bag full of maggots, come to the point that people, the children of Christ, call themselves after my unwholesome name? (quoted in Martin Luther: A Spiritual Biography, pg. 171, emphasis mine)

Luther’s main emphasis in this statement is his desire for people to cling to and honor Christ instead of himself. However, his statement “the doctrine is not mine” shows that he believes it is the Lord’s and comes from Scripture. Thus, it is certainly not new doctrine, but rather Biblical doctrine.

During the First Disputation in Zurich (1523), Zwingli was accused of preaching new doctrine. Zwingli responded:

“What is the gospel? Why, that is 1,522 years old.” (quoted in Rescuing the Gospel, pg. 145)

In his famous exchange with Cardinal Sadoleto, Calvin wrote:

…our (the Reformers) agreement with antiquity is far closer than yours (Roman Church)…all we have attempted has been to renew that ancient form of the Church. (quoted in Unquenchable Flame, pg. 105)

All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever. And this word is the good news that was preached to you. –1 Peter 1:24-25

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

What about before Luther?

Several nights ago, a group of us from the church were having a conversation about the Reformation. One of the Ladies participating asked about the time before Luther and the other Reformers. Were there any in the church leading up to the Reformation who rightly understood the gospel? We discussed how the Reformers would quote early church fathers approvingly in their writings when making arguments for gospel doctrine. We then made mention of Augustine, Anselm, Wycliffe, and Hus. However, our conversation didn’t go much deeper.

Yesterday, I was in a bookstore and spotted a new book, Long Before Luther: Tracing the Heart of the Gospel from Christ to the Reformation. With the recent conversation on my mind, I purchased a copy and devoured it. Nathan Busenitz has done a real service to the church by surveying the writing of many throughout church history and synthesizing their views on the gospel in an accessible volume.

The question is not if the teachings of the Reformers are contained in Scripture. As Protestants, we obliviously believe the 5 Solas are Scriptural. Our Elders have been teaching on such over the last few weeks. The question the book addresses is, were the Reformers the first to come to these conclusions? (Was a correct understanding of the gospel completely lost all of those years before the Reformation? Were the Reformers recovering or revising the gospel?) The answer is they were not the first; the Reformation was a recovery of the Gospel.

I will provide a quick sample of quotes from Busenitz’s book. I would urge you to pick-up a copy of the book and be encouraged by the riches of historical theology contained within. Here’s a taste:

Justin Martyr (ca. 100-165)

For Abraham was declared by God to be righteous, not on account of circumcision, but on account of faith…And we, therefore, in the uncircumcision of our flesh, believing God through Christ, and having that circumcision which is of advantage to us who have acquired it—namely, that of the heart—we hope to appear righteous before and well-pleasing to God. (pg. 71)

Origen (182-254)

Who has been justified by faith alone without works of the law? Thus in my opinion that thief [who] was crucified with Christ should suffice for a suitable example. He called out to him form the cross, “Lord Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom!” In the Gospels, nothing else is recorded about his good works, but for the sake of this faith alone Jesus said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (pg. 65)

Gregory of Nazianzus (330-390)

For where sin abounded, grace did much more abound; and if a taste condemned [us], how much more does the passion of Christ justify us? (pg. 80, emphasis original)

Augustine (354-430)

No man can say that it is by the merit of his own works, or by the merit of his own prayers, or by the merit of his own faith, that God’s grace has been conferred upon him; nor suppose that the doctrine is true which those heretics hold, that the grace of God is given us in proportion to our own merit. (pg. 110)

Julian of Toledo (642-690)

[This is] the righteousness of faith, by which we are justified. This faith is that we believe in him whom we cannot see, and that, being cleansed by faith, we will eventually see him in whom we now believe. (pg. 183)

Bede (673-735)

The apostle Paul preached that we are justified by faith without works. (pg. 184)

Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

[Question] Do you hope and believe, that not by your own merits, but by the merits of the passion of Jesus Christ, you may attain to everlasting salvation? [Answer] I do. (pg. 187)

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153)

For the sake of your sins He will die, for the sake of your justification He will rise, in order that you, having been justified through faith, may have peace with God. (pg. 155)

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Reformation Conversation

Here is a helpful panel discussion from the 2016 Together for the Gospel conference. The discussion is entitled “Courage from the Reformation,” and is a great introduction to a variety of Reformation figures. (The participants left to right are: Albert Mohler, John Piper, Ligon Duncan, Kevin DeYoung, and Mark Dever)

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

That They May Know

Brett McCracken on the beauty of unity within the church:

A unified church is one of the strongest evidences of the truth of the gospel. This is especially true in a world as fragmented and divisive as ours, where countercultural unity among diverse people stands out. When the rest of the world can’t seem to agree on anything or bear to be around people who are different, a church where natural enemies become siblings in Christ is a powerful alternative. Unity is a critical manifestation of a Spirit-empowered church. That’s why Paul told the Ephesian Christians to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3)…Where division might normally reign, unity should instead lead to an uncommon love, where believers listen to and bear with one another. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples,” said Jesus, “if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). (Uncomfortable, pgs. 166-7, emphasis mine)

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment