Search This Blog

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Peace WITH God

"Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God."  (Romans 5:1-2)

I recently committed to memory the passage beginning with these verses. They've been rattling around in my head for the past two weeks. I've spent a lot of time contemplating them, manipulating them in my mind to see all the various angles with the result that they increasingly captivate me and encourage my heart. They are the last thing I think of as I fall asleep at night and the first thing I bring to mind when I awake in the morning. As painful as it can be to memorize, what immense value it affords! To further develop my thoughts in this direction I decided to read Martyn Lloyd-Jones sermon on these verses. The following excerpt offers his great insight into how we need to think about the gospel in relation to ourselves and how careful we must be when presenting it to others.

What a wise teacher (Paul) is! ...Every time he mentions these glorious blessings he persists in telling us that we get them 'through our Lord Jesus Christ', that they cannot be obtained apart from Him, and that any man who thinks he knows God, or is blessed by God, except in and 'through our Lord Jesus Christ', is deluding and fooling himself. There is no other way. He is the only way.

What is it that we get through Him? The first thing is, 'peace with God'. "Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.' This is the thing He puts first. He goes on to tell us of the blessings we get from God through the Lord Jesus Christ. But that is only put in the second position. This is put first - 'peace with God'.

Why am I emphasizing that? ... there are many people today who put the blessings first, and invite people to 'Come to Jesus' in order that they may get this or that or the other blessing, without saying a word about 'peace with God'. ...'Do you want a Friend? do you need help? do you need comfort? do you want happiness, peace and joy?' These are the things they put forward and emphasize, and so Christianity is made to look like the cults and to appear to be in competition with them.

The primary business of the Christian Gospel is not to give us blessings. ...It's primary function is to reconcile us to God. ...It should ever be one of our objects to show the uniqueness of the Christian message, and so the first thing we must emphasize is 'peace with God'. Why? For the simple reason that we can have no blessings from God until we first of all have an access into God's presence and are reconciled to Him. We cannot pray to God as we are, and if we desire God to bless us, the first question we have to face is this - How can I have an entry, how can I have access to God, how can I have an audience with God? We shall never know 'the peace of God' until we first have 'peace with God'.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christian Resolutions

The beginning of a new year turns our thoughts to resolutions. It can be a good time to evaluate where we've been and start fresh on the path to where we would like to be. Nathan Busenitz offers the following observations about what New Years resolutions ought to look like from the perspective of a follower of Christ. [His entire post can be found here.]  
And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me." (Mk.8:34)

... Even a quick glance at a typical “Top Ten New Year’s Resolutions” is enough to see that it contains no major surprises. As expected, the things our world values most — such as finances, fitness, family, friends, and food — consistently top the list of popular self-made promises.

But shouldn’t there be something more to the resolutions we make as Christians? I certainly think so.
Why? Well, for starters, our purpose on this earth is totally different. While those in the world discipline themselves for physical gain, we are to discipline ourselves for godliness (1Tim.4:7–8). While they relegate sobriety to a designated driver, we are to be constantly sober in spirit for the purpose of prayer (1Pet.4:7). While they pursue the various lusts of this passing age (1Jn.2:16–17), we are to pursue holiness, in keeping with our holy calling (1Thess.4:7). They have a temporal perspective, we are to have an eternal one; they live for their own personal success, we are to live for God’s glory (1Cor.10:31); they conduct themselves however they see fit, we are to love God and keep His commandments (Mk.12:30). From our allegiance to our attitudes to our actions — we are totally different than the world around us … or at least we’re supposed to be. That’s why Peter calls us “aliens and strangers” (1Pet.2:11), "sojourners" in this foreign land called earth (cf. Heb.11:13).

So as you make your New Year’s resolutions for 2012, don’t be content with merely planning to drop a few pounds or save a few pennies. Instead remember that, as a believer, to live is Christ (Phil.1:21) and to follow Him is to deny yourself and daily take up your cross (Mk.8:34). He is to be the supreme object of all our aims and affections. He is the One we are to please; He is the One we are to praise; and He is the One we are to pursue. Everything else, in comparison, is nothing more than rubbish (cf. Phil.3:7–8)...

If that’s the case, then what kinds of resolutions should we be making?
The seventy resolutions of Jonathan Edwards serve as a wonderful example to us in this regard. Amazingly, Edwards penned these resolutions when he was only in his late teens and early twenties. Moreover, the commitments he made were lifelong pursuits; they were not limited to just the next year (as our New Year’s resolutions often are).
Here are the primary areas in which Jonathan Edwards was resolved:
1. To live for God’s glory
2. To make the most of this life, in terms of eternal impact 
3. To take sin seriously
4. To become theologically astute 
5. To be humble
6. To exhibit self-control in all things
7. To always speak with grace and truth
8. To constantly develop an eternal focus
9. To be a faithful Christian, in prayer and dedication
10. To daily pursue a fervent love for Christ

As we consider the resolutions that we make for 2012, we can definitely learn something from the man widely recognized as America’s greatest theologian. Even when Edwards resolved to use his time wisely, to eat properly, or to maintain healthy relationships with others — resolutions that seem to coincide with the secular “top ten” list — his resolve flowed out of a God-focused perspective that was eternal in its scope. Thus his resolutions were not merely temporal lifestyle adjustments designed to solve a perceived bad habit. Instead, they were earnest spiritual decisions made for the purpose of combating sin and living a God-glorifying life.

Moreover, Edwards did not solely rely on his own willpower or clever scheming to stay true to his resolutions. To be sure, his resolutions required a tremendous amount of personal discipline and hard work. Yet, unlike the self-made commitments of the world, Edwards ultimately relied on God’s grace to help him accomplish what he knew to be humanly impossible (cf. Phil.3:12–13). In the preamble to his resolutions, he wrote: “Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.”

So what kind of resolutions will you make this year? Will they be those that reflect biblical priorities? Will they be those that necessarily depend on divine grace to accomplish? Will they be those that accord with the will of God and the glory of Christ?

If not, then what makes our resolutions any different than the good intentions of the unbelieving world? But, if our perspective is eternal and our priorities are biblical, than our resolutions will be categorically different — even if our list includes things like better time management, greater self-discipline, and more love for others.

After all, as a Christian, good intentions aren’t enough … only godly intentions will do.

[from Nathan Busenitz, Cripplegate blog]
[Related Post: Eyes on God, A Lesson from Edwards]

Sunday, December 25, 2011

"Comfort One Another"

What do you think of when you hear the word "comfort"? The English word means to "soothe, console or reassure, bring cheer to." So when we read that believers are to "comfort" one another, that is naturally what comes to our mind. But the meaning of the original language goes so much deeper than that. The Greek word is variously translated "comfort", "exhort", "encourage", "urge". It's related to the word "Comforter", which Jesus uses to describe the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. Most of us don't have a problem with the idea of being comforted/encouraged in the English "I'm OK/You're OK" sense. But we might balk at the idea of being comforted/encouraged/exhorted by another believer if it involves having to change our way of thinking or our direction in life in order to line up more closely with biblical truth. And yet, just as the Holy Spirit exhorts/encourages us to holiness, so there are times when the most loving thing you can do is to exhort/encourage a fellow follower of Christ to greater holiness. Paul did so frequently in his letters to the churches.

This passage from the Octavius Winslow website reveals the SOURCE of our "comfort/encouragement/exhortation" to one another.  Real "comfort" is found only in God's promises as revealed in His Word. If you want to "comfort/encourage" another believer, point them to the truths of Scripture. Only there can true and eternal "comfort" be found.

To comfort the saints is one important end of the Scriptures: “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4) And thus the exhortation runs — ”Comfort the fainthearted.” (1Thess.5:14) “Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.” (1Thess.5:11) “Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.” (1Thess.4:17-18) Thus has the Holy Spirit testified to this subject, and thus is it clear that it is the will, and it is in the heart, of God, that His people should be comforted.

The Spirit comforts the believer by unfolding to his eye the near prospect of the coming glory. Heaven is near at hand. It is but a step out of a poor, sinful, sorrow-stricken world, into the rest that remains for the people of God. It is but a moment, the twinkling of an eye, and we are absent from the body, and are present with the Lord. Then will the days of our mourning be ended, then sin will grieve no more — affliction will wound no more — sorrow will depress no more, and God will hide Himself no more.

There will be the absence of all evil, and the presence of all good; and they who have come out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb, shall take their stand before the throne of God, and shall “serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them. They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear from their eyes." (Rev.7:14-17)  Why, beloved in the Lord, let us comfort one another with these words, and with this prospect.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Grace of God in Dark Places: Example of the "Wise Men"

Let us not be negligent in our prayers for all parts of the world. From the pen of J.C. Ryle (posted at the Ryle blog) ...
There may be true servants of God in places where we should not expect to find them. The Lord Jesus has many ‘hidden ones’ like these wise men. Their history on earth may be as little known as that of Melchizedek, Jethro and Job. But their names are in the book of life, and they will be found with Christ in the day of His appearing. It is well to remember this. We must not look round the earth and say hastily, ‘all is barren.’
The grace of God is not tied to places and families. The Holy Spirit can lead souls to Christ without the help of many outward means. Men may be born in dark places of the earth, like these wise men, and yet like them be made ‘wise unto salvation.’ There are some traveling to heaven at this moment, of whom the church and the world know nothing. They flourish in secret places like the lily among thorns, and ‘waste their sweetness on the desert air.’ But Christ loves them, and they love Christ.
 "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men..."
Titus 2:11

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Tips for Writing "Apples of Gold"

Reading through notes written to encourage my daughter Beth during her recent cancer treatments left me very thankful for those able to write an encouraging note from the heart. They included truth from God's Word and gently reminded her of who God is and of His love for her. For the most part, they were written by women who had a deep understanding of what it meant to be a child of God and a solid knowledge of His Word. They left me with a desire to be equally encouraging when I have the opportunity to write such notes. I recently came across a post at the Counseling One Another blog dealing with this very issue.

"Like apples of gold in settings of silver Is a word spoken in right circumstances."  Proverbs 25:11

"How to Write a Good Sympathy Card"

Since my mother’s death ... I have radically altered the way I write in sympathy cards. I now know more fully the pain that death brings into our lives and, having received so many impacting words of comfort from others, am convinced I will never write in a card the same way I did before...

 As I read them over, four words came to mind. I offer them to you, along with examples of what others wrote to our family, as suggestions for you to apply in order to become a more effective “minister of comfort” to those who grieve (2 Cor 1:4).

Permission: Give them permission to grieve or be shocked. Use words that communicate freedom to experience and release pain. 
The pain of your loss is greater when your heart has been touched deeply and your life affected more profoundly by the one you have loved. We are never prepared for the loss of a loved one, but God’s grace and mercy are new every morning. He is faithful in times of grief and He, with His Word and His children, will strengthen you in the days ahead.
Honesty: If you don’t know what to say then admit it. Don’t feel pressured to come up with some profound word that does not represent the real you. Include brief Scripture quotations of comfort. Remember, the one thing Job’s “comforters” did right is they sat with him for one week w/o saying a word (Job 2:13). Your unspoken presence will mean the world to those who grieve.
If we knew what to say, we would not know how to say it. We are asking God to give grace running over as you and your family deal with this difficult hour.
Empathy: Show them you understand without actually saying, "I understand what you are going through."
I was deeply saddened to hear of your mother’s death. I lost my own mother in a similarly unexpected way and I well remember the sense of shock. I pray the comfort of the Spirit of Christ will be with you and your family, especially your little ones who will be without their grandmother at Christmas.
Assistance:  Open your ears to listen to them and your heart to serve them. [Here's a very valuable comment from a reader: "If you offer to help in any way, reach out to the grieving person. They probably won't call you but if you call and say 'let's get a cup of coffee' they will probably take you up on it. When you go be ready to listen."]

Friday, December 16, 2011

Spiritual Insight from Isaiah's Vision of God

Below is an excerpt from an article by Rev. Ian Hamilton, pastor of Cambridge Presbyterian Church, UK, reflecting on Isaiah's vision in Isaiah 6:1-8. [The article may be found in its entirety here.]
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!" And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!" Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: "Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for." And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" Then I said, "Here am I! Send me."  [Isaiah 6:1-8]
The Insight Isaiah Gained by Seeing God...

It brought to Isaiah first a deep felt awareness of his sinfulness – “woe to me… I am ruined…”!! When Isaiah ‘saw’ God as he is, he was not left standing – he was not left proud and dispassionate – he was deeply humbled! There is little doubt that Isaiah already was a believing servant – but a stranger to the pulse-quickened sense of God’s ineffable greatness – Isaiah was seeing himself as God saw him.

Second, it brought Isaiah a new sense of Israel’s corruption (v.5) – his encounters with “the King” caused him to see through the fa├žade of Israel’s religion (cf. 1:10ff). – onlookers would have complimented Israel on the ‘healthy state’ of its religion – but when a man has had a sight of the majesty of God, he sees not only his own sinfulness, but the sinful state of his own generation.

Third, it brought to Isaiah a deep, personal awareness of God’s forgiving grace – as he is overwhelmed by his sinful uncleanness and un-doneness, God mercifully sends an angel to bring him God’s forgiving grace – a live coal from the altar of sacrifice – a coal which becomes the symbol of the basis on which God forgives sinners – touches Isaiah’s lips – inner pain, but “Behold… your guilt is taken away...”

To the forgiven sinner, ‘forgiveness’ is a humbling, overpowering, captivating word. Nowhere is this more highlighted in our Lord’s encounter with the “sinful woman” in Luke 7:47. The extravagance of her devotion to the Lord acutely embarrassed Simon the Pharisee, Jesus’ host. Jesus’ response is one that ought to humble all of us: “He who is forgiven little, loves little”. The depth of our love to the Savior is in proportion to the depth of our experience of and appreciation of his forgiving grace.

Fourth, it brought Isaiah to yield his life unreservedly to God! “Here am I…” – no cajoling, no pleading – the response of a man to whom inexplicable, sovereign grace has come. Grace costs us nothing, but it demands everything (Matthew 8:18-22; 10:37-39). Here is the reflex action of a man who has ‘seen’ the Lord and felt the power of his presence and grace.

Living in the Light of the Cross: Puritan Writing

Joel Beeke offers nine ways reading Puritan literature aids Christian spiritual growth. (See excerpt below.) Many, many of these works are now available in reprint and a number have been updated to modern English. I previously posted a recommendation for the modern English version of Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. Several of you borrowed or purchased it and have since mentioned to me how valuable it proved to be as both an evangelistic tool and as a spur to your own spiritual walk. Take advantage of these modern language versions if the original language is more than you care to handle! 

Beeke has co-authored a guide to Puritan literature called Meet the Puritans. It offers biographical and background information to various Puritan authors and their works, as well as a list of what is currently available, with a synopsis of each book. [Reformation Press is offering it at almost half price for a limited time! Just click on the above title.]

 1. Puritan writings help shape life by Scripture
The Puritans loved, lived, and breathed Holy Scripture. They relished the power of the Spirit that accompanied the Word. Their books are all Word-centered; more than 90 percent of their writings are repackaged sermons that are rich with scriptural exposition. The Puritan writers truly believed in the sufficiency of Scripture for life and godliness. If you read the Puritans regularly, their Bible-centeredness will become contagious.

2. Puritan writings show how to integrate biblical doctrine into daily life.
  • First, they address your mind. In keeping with the Reformed tradition, the Puritans refused to set mind and heart against each other, but viewed the mind as the palace of faith. “In conversion, reason is elevated,” John Preston wrote. The Puritans understood that a mindless Christianity fosters a spineless Christianity. An anti-intellectual gospel quickly becomes an empty, formless gospel that never gets beyond “felt needs,” which is something that is happening in many churches today.
  • Second, Puritan writings confront your conscience. The Puritans are masters at convicting us about the heinous nature of our sin against an infinite God. They excel at exposing specific sins, then asking questions to press home conviction of those sins.
  • Devotional reading should be confrontational as well as comforting. We grow little if our consciences are not pricked daily and directed to Christ. Since we are prone to run for the bushes when we feel threatened, we need daily help to be brought before the living God “naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do” (Heb.4:12-13).
  • Third, the Puritan writers engage your heart. They excel in feeding the mind with solid biblical substance and they move the heart with affectionate warmth. They write out of love for God’s Word, love for the glory of God, and love for the soul of readers.
3. Puritan writings show how to exalt Christ and see His beauty
The Puritan Thomas Adams wrote: “Christ is the sum of the whole Bible, prophesied, typified, prefigured, exhibited, demonstrated, to be found in every leaf, almost in every line, the Scriptures being but as it were the swaddling bands of the child Jesus.” Likewise, the Puritan Isaac Ambrose wrote, “Think of Christ as the very substance, marrow, soul, and scope of the whole Scriptures.” If you would know Christ better and love Him more fully, immerse yourself in Puritan literature.

4. Puritan writings reveal the Trinitarian character of theology
The Puritans were driven by a deep sense of the infinite glory of a Triune God. When they answered the first question of the Shorter Catechism that man’s chief end was to glorify God, they meant the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Puritans teach us how to remain God-centered while being vitally concerned about Christian experience, so that we don’t fall into the trap of glorifying experience for its own sake.

5. Puritan writings show you how to handle trials
Puritanism grew out of a great struggle between the truth of God’s Word and its enemies. As Robert Leighton wrote, “Affliction is the diamond dust that heaven polishes its jewels with.” The Puritans show us how God’s rod of affliction is His means to write Christ’s image more fully upon us, so that we may be partakers of His righteousness and holiness (Heb. 12:10–11).

6. Puritan writings explain true spirituality
The Puritans stress the spirituality of the law, spiritual warfare against indwelling sin, the childlike fear of God, the wonder of grace, the art of meditation, the dreadfulness of hell, and the glories of heaven.

7. Puritan writings show how to live by wholistic faith
The Puritans apply every subject they write about to practical “uses”―as they term it. These “uses” will propel you into passionate, effective action for Christ’s kingdom. Their own daily lives integrated Christian truth with covenant vision; they knew no dichotomy between the sacred and the secular. Their writings can assist you immeasurably in living a life that centers on God in every area, appreciating His gifts, and declaring everything “holiness to the Lord.”

8. Puritan writings teach the importance and primacy of preaching
To the Puritans, preaching was the high point of public worship. Preaching must be expository and didactic, they said; evangelistic and convicting, experiential and applicatory, powerful and “plain” in its presentation, ever respecting the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit.

9. Puritan writings show how to live in two worlds
The Puritans said we should have heaven “in our eye” throughout our earthly pilgrimage. They took seriously the New Testament passages that say we must keep the “hope of glory” before our minds to guide and shape our lives here on earth. They viewed this life as “the gymnasium and dressing room where we are prepared for heaven,” teaching us that preparation for death is the first step in learning to truly live (Packer, Quest, 13).

[Beeke's entire post may be found here.]

The Cross of Christ - Chapter 13 (Part 2)

As John Stott nears the end of his book, The Cross of Christ, he looks into the relationship between Christ's sufferings and the sufferings of those spiritually united to Him through faith in His substitutionary work on the cross on their behalf. Below are the first of several connections he finds revealed in Scripture.

     "Suffering and Glory" (Part 2)

First, the cross of Christ is a stimulus to patient endurance. Even though suffering has to be recognized as evil and therefore resisted, there nevertheless comes a time when it has to be realistically accepted. It is then that the example of Jesus, which is set before us in the New Testament for our imitation, becomes an inspiration.(1Pet.2:18-23) ... We need to 'fix our eyes on Jesus', for he 'endured the cross, scorning its shame'. So then: 'Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart' (Heb.12:1-3).

Mature Holiness
Secondly, the cross of Christ is the path to mature holiness. We need to consider the implications of two rather neglected verses in the letter to the Hebrews:
In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God ... should make the Author of their salvation perfect through suffering. ( Heb.2:10)
Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him. (Heb.5:8-9; cf. Heb.7:28)
Not of course that he was ever imperfect in the sense that he had done wrong ... rather that he needed further experiences and opportunities in order to become teleios, 'mature' [perfected]. In particular, 'he learned obedience from what he suffered'. He was never disobedient. But his sufferings were the testing-ground in which his obedience became full-grown.

James uses the same language of 'perfection' or 'maturity' in relation to Christians. Just as suffering led to maturity through obedience for Christ, so it leads to maturity through perseverance for us (James 1:2-4; cf. Rom.5:3-5). ...Three graphic images are developed in Scripture to illustrate ... the father disciplining his children (Deut.8:5; Prov.3:11-12), the metalworker refining silver and gold (Ps.66:10; Isa.48:10; 1Pet.1:6-7), and the gardener pruning his vine (Jn.15:1-2). ...Not that suffering (which is an evil) is the cause of growth; but it is the occasion.

Suffering Service
Thirdly, the cross of Christ is the symbol of suffering service. We are familiar with the ...'Servant Songs' of Isaiah. ...We see this clearly in Jesus, who is the suffering servant par excellence, but we need to remember that the servant's mission to bring light to the nations is also to be fulfilled by the church (Acts 13:47). For the church, therefore, as for the Savior, suffering and service go together.
The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless an ear of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates [i.e. does not prefer, value] his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me..." (Jn.12:23-26)
Paul is the most notable example of this principle (Eph.3:1, 13; Col.1:24; 2Tim.2:8-10). Paul states in all three texts that his sufferings are being endured 'for the sake of you Gentiles', 'for the sake of Christ's body' or 'for the sake of the elect'.  The place of suffering in service and of passion in mission is hardly ever taught today. But the greatest single secret of evangelistic or missionary effectiveness is the willingness to suffer and die. It may be a death to popularity (by faithfully preaching the unpopular biblical gospel) , or to pride (by the use of modest methods in reliance on the Holy Spirit), or to national prejudice (by identification with another culture), or to material comfort (by adopting a simple lifestyle). But the servant must suffer if he is to bring light to the nations, and the seed must die if it is to multiply.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Book Recommendation: "Keeping Holiday"

This suggestion may be a little late for this Christmas season, but Keeping Holiday by Starr Meade is a book you may want to consider for your family library. It's described as a cross between "Pilgrim's Progress" and "The Chronicles of Narnia". Though recommended for ages 8 and up to read on their own, many moms have read it to children as young as 5. I love a book that appeals to the parent as much as the child! Justin Taylor posted an interview with Starr Meade on his blog. Here's amazon's description of the book and a few recommendations. [Two of Meade's other books are available in the FBC Library: Grandpa's Box: Retelling the Story of Redemption and Training Hearts, Teaching Minds: Family Devotions Based on the Shorter Catechism.

"Dylan loves his family's yearly vacation to Holiday and wishes it could last all year. When he finds a flyer asking if he'd like to keep Holiday, he encounters a bigger and better Holiday than the one his family has always visited; he also learns that entering it requires the Founder's authorization. Thus begins Dylan's quest to meet the one of whom people keep saying: "You can't find the Founder; he finds you. / He's not just the Founder, he's the Finder too."

As Dylan reads of Holiday's origins, he experiences a number of adventures and meets characters who represent the sights and sounds he always finds in Holiday - characters who explain how each of these familiarities points to the Founder's previous rescue of the city's inhabitants. And the more Dylan learns, the more he longs to personally know the one who holds the key to entering the "real Holiday."

Writing for elementary-age children and older, author, teacher, and grandmother Starr Meade offers a book that families can read together, discovering along with Dylan how God brings a person to faith. Keeping Holiday is also a charming, insightful way to help children grasp the meaning of the Incarnation."

"I love it. In reading Keeping Holiday, I was reminded of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. It is delightful reading that pulls you into the adventures of Dylan and Clare and tells the story of God’s work in the lives of those who are called according to his purpose. Children from 8 to 78 will be captivated by this spellbinding story.” — R. C. Sproul, President, Ligonier Ministries

“This charming story should be repeatedly read and savored. It has the enduring and endearing quality of a good story — it lingers. It causes one to ponder gospel truth and to celebrate the Holy One of Holiday.”
— Susan Hunt

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Cross of Christ - Chapter 13 (Part 1)

In Chapter 13 of The Cross of Christ, Stott writes, "The fact of suffering undoubtedly constitutes the single greatest challenge to the Christian faith, and has been in every generation. Its distribution and degree appear to be entirely random and therefore unfair. Sensitive spirits ask if it can possibly be reconciled with God's justice and love. ...Suffering comes in many unwelcome forms, and sometimes we not only ask God our agonized questions 'Why?' and 'Why me?' but even like Job rage against him, accusing him of injustice and indifference."

He further points out, "the Bible supplies no thorough solution to the problem of evil, whether 'natural' evil or 'moral', that is, whether in the form of suffering or of sin. Its purpose is more practical than philosophical. Consequently, although there are references to sin and suffering on virtually every page, its concern is not to explain their origin but to help us to overcome them. My object in this chapter is to explore what relation there might be between the cross of Christ and our sufferings." In this first look at Chapter 13 are Stott's overview of general biblical considerations concerning suffering.

"Suffering and Glory"

First, according to the Bible suffering is an alien intrusion into God's good world, and will have no part in his new universe. It is a Satanic and destructive onslaught against the Creator. The Book of Job makes that clear. So do Jesus' description of an infirm woman as 'bound by Satan' (Lk.13:16), his 'rebuking' of disease as he rebuked demons (Lk.4:35, 39), Paul's reference to his 'thorn in the flesh' as 'a messenger of Satan' (2Cor.12:7) and Peters portrayal of Jesus' ministry as 'healing all who were under the power of the devil' (Acts 10:38). So whatever may be said later about the 'good' which God can bring out of suffering, we must not forget that it is good out of evil. 

Secondly, suffering is often due to sin. Of course originally disease and death entered the world through sin. But I am now thinking of contemporary sin. Sometimes suffering is due to the sin of others, as when children suffer from unloving or irresponsible parents, the poor and hungry from economic injustice, refugees from the cruelties of war, and road casualties caused by drunken drivers. At other times suffering can be the consequence of our own sin (the reckless use of our freedom) and even its penalty. .. At the same time we must firmly repudiate the dreadful Hindu doctrine of karma which attributes all suffering to wrong-doing in this or a previous existence, and the almost equally dreadful doctrine of Job's so-called comforters. They trotted out their conventional orthodoxy that all personal suffering is due to personal sin, and one of the major purposes of the Book of Job is to contradict that popular but wrong-headed notion. Jesus categorically rejected it too. (Lk.13:1-5; Jn.9:1-3)

Thirdly, suffering is due to our human sensitivity to pain. Misfortune is made worse by the hurt (physical and emotional) which we feel. But the pain sensors of the central nervous system give valuable warning-signals, necessary for personal and social survival. ...Nerve reactions have to hurt if we are to protect ourselves.

Fourthly, suffering is due to the kind of environment in which God has placed us. ...natural disasters such as flood, hurricane, earthquake and drought. ...If we lived in a world in which God prevented every evil from happening, like Superman in Alexander Salkind's films, free and responsible activity would be impossible. Jesus spoke of suffering as being both 'for God's glory', that God's Son might be glorified through it, and 'so that the work of God might be displayed' (Jn.11:4, 9:3).

Next time we'll look at how Stott believes the cross speaks to us in our pain.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Developing Hearts for World Missions

I've seen several recommendations for this DVD series, Dispatches from the Front. When we were raising our children we purposefully exposed them to the importance of world missions. They were blessed to develop several long-term relationships with  missionary families we supported. Missions was stressed in our prayers, in extending our hospitality, in our giving and in our letter writing. Now they are grown with children of their own, and I have noticed them starting to expose their own children to missions.

This DVD series may be something you'll want to take advantage of in your own efforts. I haven't personally seen them, so I'm not sure about age appropriateness. You'll want to make that decision for yourself.  Josh Harris has been viewing them with his family and offers the following comments.

"Our family has been watching a series of excellent DVD's called Dispatches from the Front. Today we watched the episode set in India. My three kids were enthralled. I want, and I want my kids to have, a heart for world missions. These videos stir that passion."
episode-1-islands-on-the-edge.jpegThe description of the series on their website states, "Believers everywhere desperately need a renewed vision of Christ and the unstoppable advance of His saving work in all the earth. Our view of God's Kingdom is often too small and limited to what we have experienced. Dispatches from the Front highlights the marvelous extent, diversity, and unity of Christ's Kingdom in our world. The journal format of each episode underscores the daily unfolding of God's activity on the 'frontlines,' bringing viewers up-close with sights and sounds from distant corners of the Kingdom."
All nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord, 
And they shall glorify Your name.  (Psalm 86:9)

Sunday, December 04, 2011

The Mission of the Pastor-Preacher

Commenting on an essay he wrote in honor of John Piper,  included in "For the Fame of God's Name," Greek scholar William B. Mounce wrote the following on his blog:

"My contention is that a "preacher" who spends the long hours in the study, reading, writing, practicing, focused on Sunday morning, can be just as loving as the "pastor" who is always available, visiting, consoling. A preaching pastor loves his people differently, by taking the time and energy to seriously prepare to "proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Pet 2:9, ESV)" 

Below is an excerpt from Mounce's essay.

... As the stereotypes often go, the “pastor” is viewed as a friendly person and the “preacher” as not friendly. 

After seven years in pulpit ministry I understand how this happens. There is so much to do, staff to manage and encourage, elders to train, people to visit, parking lots to plow, and lawns to mow. The pastor spends his energies loving people one-on-one, and come Saturday night he takes long hot baths trying to think of something to speak on the next day (true story I heard). 

The “preacher” on the other hand is committed to his craft, spends time in his study, rehearsing Greek paradigms, reading generally, staying up on culture, pushing his way through exegesis, crafting the sermon, and trying to determine how he is going to be misunderstood so he can massage the message and avoid foreseen pitfalls. But then the assault on his time comes. He’s not available as much for counseling. He is focused on his sermon between services, and so he is criticized for not being friendly. He wouldn’t sit by the bedside of a person nursing the latest hangnail. And he doesn’t have time to argue about the color selection for the bathroom. And when he suggests that a person go to his or her small-group leader for support and encouragement, the preacher is labeled uncaring and the gossip starts. 

But I would like to suggest that the preacher is as loving as the pastor, and my hope is that this will encourage you to study. What is the most important thing you can do? What are the most significant obstacles that need to be overcome in people’s lives? I submit that regardless of the size of a church, the mission of the pastor-preacher is to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9). Nothing is as important as that.

... when you stand before your people to preach, there is nothing more important than what you did in the quiet of your study. All of the preparation, from the first day in Greek class to your rehearsing the sermon to an empty room Saturday morning, all your hard work comes to the forefront, and with confidence and humility you stand before the expectant people and proclaim the glory of God. At that moment, you aren’t the church’s plumber. You aren’t the person who has to go to the store to buy more paper for the copier. You are the herald of the king, proclaiming clearly and truthfully the wonders of God. If you have done your work, and if God’s Spirit is so inclined to move, your words will encourage the downtrodden and chasten the sinners. If you are faithful to your king’s decree, you will love your people the most important way, because there is nothing more important than the clear, powerful, rooted-in-truth, Spirit-inspired proclamation of a vision of the glory of God. Nothing. Preachers love their people every bit as much as do pastors. Their love is just shown differently, but it is just as real and just as powerful.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

A Look at Real Faithfulness

I am not a very faithful being. I intend to do something, but the days fill up and pass by and I have trouble finding an empty Saturday. I vow I'll visit my shut-in friends ... and don't seem to do it nearly enough. I say I'll bring a book for someone ... and forget who it was or which book it was they wanted. (Never feel bad about reminding me!) I'll have endless ideas for preparing classes & self-tutorials & powerpoint lessons & devotionals, yet can't seem to find the time to execute them all. (Sorry, Julie ... I really WILL finish the one you're waiting for!) I intend to write encouraging notes and letters to college students, but few make it to their intended recipients. My desires & intentions are limited by my lack of time ... my lack of ability ... my aging memory ... my lack of power to actually accomplish it all.

I don't think I'm alone in these struggles. I've noticed there's actually an acceptable phrase now for telling people you have great intentions, but you're not going to actually DO anything. We say, "I'm thinking of you." and feel we've accomplished something. We could be regularly raising up prayers before the throne of God on their behalf. We could be helping them out with a physical need. We could send them a note with an encouraging passage from Scripture or an edifying book or a small gift to lift their spirits. We could be there listening to their grief, their pain, their frustration and giving real encouragement or needed admonishment from God's Word. We could be doing so many things ... but we settle for "thinking" of them. 

I'm so glad God IS a faithful being. He keeps His promises. His every intention is brought to fruition because He makes it happen. It's His character to be faithful, true and trustworthy. He CAN be relied upon. He is not limited by time, nor by ability, nor by memory, nor by power. Unlike me, He can be totally relied upon.
"God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?" (Num.23:19)
"... the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable." (Rom.11:29)
"God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord." (1Cor.1:9)
"No temptation/trial has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted/tried beyond what you are able, but with the temptation/trial will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it." (1Cor.10:13)
"Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right." (1Pet.4:19)

Friday, December 02, 2011

Confessions of a 1st Year Greek Student

True confessions from a Koine Greek student...
"In my first year of Greek at Biola University, I nearly failed the subject. The professor, Dr. Harry Sturz, had compassion on me and gave me a passing grade. I took a different professor in second-year Greek. He gave us a battery of exams at the beginning of the semester. One exam each week. I failed the first exam. I failed the second exam. I failed the third exam. I failed the fourth exam, but it was a high F! And I got a D on the fifth exam. “Hey,” I thought, “I’m really getting this Greek thing down!”
 The professor called me into his office and told me that I should check out of Greek. That was the wake-up call I needed. I went down to my dorm room, got on my knees, and confessed to the Lord that I had dragged his name through the mud. I reasoned that since I am in Christ and he is in me, he was failing Greek, too. And even though I was at a Christian school, I was soiling his reputation. I repented of my sin—the sin of mediocrity because I was surrounded by Christians, the sin of thinking that I did not need to do my best since I was a Christian.
I went back to the professor and asked for one more chance. He granted that to me. I ended up getting an A in the class both semesters. It still took me two more years of Greek at Biola before I even felt moderately comfortable with the language, but I had learned my lesson. Now, to be sure, my experience is not everyone’s. But, for me, learning Greek became a matter of spiritual discipline. And even though I was very sick in my fourth semester of Greek-so that I missed five and a half weeks of school-I still did well in the course.
 I don’t consider myself good at languages, but I do consider myself a steward of the life that God has given to me. And I have never recovered from the impact that the Greek New Testament has made on my walk with Christ."
The student? Daniel B. Wallace, who went on to write a standard intermediate textbook, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics... a book that has become woven into the fabric of my own Bible study. I'm so glad he persevered! I'll be teaching a first year Greek class for teens & adults at the beginning of 2012 at FBC. A few have already signed up. Let me know if you might be interested! [It will be slow and semi-painless, but WILL require self-discipline.]

[via Justin Taylor]