Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Preaching with Profound Simplicity

Great counsel from Prof. David Murray in "A Plea for Profound Simplicity", wherein he criticizes those of us who preach with a little "too much"...
  1. Too much material
  2. Too many words
  3. Too many long words
  4. Too many long sentences
  5. Too long arguments
  6. Simply too long
  7. Too many headings
  8. Too much logic, not enough like Jesus
  9. Too many quotations
  10. Too much clutter
  11. Too much reading
  12. Too much doctrine
Ouch! I recognize myself in several of Murray's criticism, so I am grateful for his Gospel-centered remedy:
The spiritual solution is a love for souls. That old-fashioned phrase must become a modern day reality in our pulpits. If we love our hearers and want to see them live better here, and also prepare for life hereafter, we will do everything to simplify our sermons for their benefit. If we keep the spiritual welfare and eternal destiny of our hearers in front of us at all times, making ourselves understood will become a life-or-death matter.

It’s wonderful that God is calling preachers with huge brains into the ministry of the Word. But huge brains need huge hearts if they are to lovingly and sympathetically serve God’s less gifted (but maybe more-graced?) children.

Now, back to seeking the love of souls through Micah 5.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Calvinism is Purely Supernatural Salvation

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) (Eph 2:4-5).

What is the most fundamental principle or center of the doctrines of grace, known as "Calvinism," by friends and foes alike? B.B. Warfield answered this question in his article, "Calvinism" (see Works, vol. V, pp. 353-69; online here), and his answer may surprise some.

It is not, as commonly supposed, the beloved (and berated!) doctrine of predestination, but the monergism of salvation. Or, the "I" in the familiar acrostic "TULIP." Warfield explains:
Thus it comes about that the doctrine of monergistic regeneration - or as it was phrased by the older theologians, of 'irresistible grace' or 'effectual calling' - is the hinge of the Calvinistic soteriology [doctrine of salvation], and lies much more deeply embedded in the system than the doctrine of predestination itself which is popularly looked upon as its hall-mark.

Indeed, the soteriological significance of predestination to the Calvinist consists in the safeguard it affords to monergistic regeneration - to purely supernatural salvation.

What lies at the heart of his soteriology is the absolute exclusion of the creaturely element in the initiation of the saving process, that so the pure grace of God may be magnified. Only so could he express his sense of man's complete dependence as sinner on the free mercy of a saving God; or extrude the evil leaven of Synergism (q.v.) by which, as he clearly sees, God is robbed of His glory and man is encouraged to think that he owes to some power, some act of choice, some initiative of his own, his participation in that salvation which is in reality all of grace. There is accordingly nothing against which Calvinism sets its face with more firmness than every form and degree of autosoterism (pp. 359-60).
Warfield concludes and summarizes this point in this clear and heart-warming sentence:
He who knows that it is God who has chosen him and not he who has chosen God, and that he owes his entire salvation in all its processes and in every one of its stages to this choice of God, would be an ingrate indeed if he gave not the glory of his salvation solely to the inexplicable elective love of God (p. 360).
Firmly set against "autosoterism," the Calvinist rejoices, "... by grace you have been saved!"

NB, for a practical expansion on this point into Christian life and worship, please see Ian Hamilton, "Heart-warming Calvinism." For one of the best recent treatments of regeneration, see John Piper, Finally Alive!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Gospel Light on "Black Friday"

We agree with Prof. Thomas, that "Black Friday" is incomprehensible to us and our usual commentary would sound something like Ephesians 5:5.

Yet, while we hesitate to encourage the voracious consumerism (= idolatry) today, there are a number of exceedingly helpful Christian works presently on-sale and we would be remiss not to point them out.

Several on-line Christian booksellers are having special deals this weekend, including:
Tolle lege!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Praise the Lord!
I will give thanks to the Lord with all my heart,
In the company of the upright and in the assembly
(Ps 111:1).

Now, here's a holiday that I can really get behind, it may even be my favorite. For starters, it is more biblical than Christmas (but, of course, so is Hanukkah [cf. John 10:22]), with a biblical word as its title, "Thanksgiving," and it is full of turkey and football... not to mention doughnut-holes on a cold morning with my favorite aspiring theologian. All the trappings for a great day!

Though it originated from a presidential decreed on October 3, 1863, even that rings with truth:
They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.

-Abraham Lincoln, "Thanksgiving Proclamation"
Unfortunately, even those of us Americans who actually know our Most High God through His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, may neglect the deliberate opportunity today to give thanks for His "gracious gifts" and "singular deliverances and blessings."

Psalm 111 is therefore a helpful corrective, reminding us of the wisdom and goodness of our God in our giving of thanks. Not only does thanksgiving increase our delight in the creative acts of God (vv. 2-3), our awe in the redemptive grace of God (vv. 4-9), but it reinforces our zeal to fight sin and obey our Lord (v. 10). Along these same lines, Ligon Duncan has written:
A sense of entitlement is the death of gratitude. In our comfortable and affluent world in the Christian West, we must be constantly on guard for this bane of ingratitude to God. The prime prayer-weapon that God has given to us to fight against it is thanksgiving. Without thanksgiving in our prayers we will lack assurance because when we fail to rehearse God's answers and blessings we become forgetful of them and hence are opened up to discouragement.
So, fight discouragement and disobedience today by giving sincere and earnest thanks! Recount the undeserved mercies we have received from God in our Lord Jesus Christ, particularly in view of "our national perverseness and disobedience." May each heart be full of thanks and give praise "in the company of the upright and in the assembly." Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Why Protestants are not Heretics

Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them (Rom 16:17).

In a letter to Pope Pius IX, Charles Hodge explained why American Presbyterians would not be sending delegates to the First Vatican Council in 1869. In this letter, Hodge gives an incredibly winsome, succinct, and helpful articulation of why Protestants in general are not heretics or schismatics (contrary to the claims of Roman Catholics, et al).

At the heart of the letter - and the heart of the matter - Hodge explains the frequently misunderstood truth about Christian unity:
We cordially recognize as members of Christ's visible Church on earth, all those who profess the true religion together with their children. We are not only willing but earnest to hold Christian communion with them, provided they do not require, as conditions of such communion, that we profess doctrines which the Word of God condemns, or that we should do what the Word forbids. If in any case any Church prescribes such unscriptural terms of fellowship, the error and the fault is with that church and not with us.
It is vital to remember that the guilt of division lay upon those who turn away from the truth of Christ revealed in Scripture, not upon those who refuse to discard this truth for the sake of visible or organizational coherence.

Read the full text of Hodge's letter at Banner of Truth.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Discipling Your Wife

Some good counsel even for us not-so-newly-married men:

  • Pray for your wife out loud.
  • Read the passage of Scripture preached last Lord's Day.
  • Read the passage of Scripture being preached the next Lord's Day.
  • Pray with your wife for others
Easy, but profoundly impacting from Brian Croft, "How Do You Teach a Newly-Married Man to Disciple His Wife?"

Monday, November 22, 2010

Guarding the Lord's Day for Kids

Some wise and helpful remarks on Guarding Sabbath for our Children, especially for those still wrangling little ones:
God forbid we value the discipline of a sport more than the discipline of Christian living. Both require great application of time and effort, but one is worth far more than the other. Because time is our most limited resource, how we allocate it reveals much about our hearts. Our time usage should look radically different than that of the unbelieving family. We must leave time for slow afternoons, for evening meals where we pray together and share our faith and struggles, for Sunday mornings of shared worship. God ordains Sabbath for our good and for His glory. May our homes be places where Sabbath rest is jealously guarded, that in all things God might have preeminence – even our schedules.
Personally, I cringe every time I hear of parents regularly removing their families from corporate worship, as well as personal rest, on the Lord's Day because of sports or other activities. What do you think the child is implicitly learning in that exchange?

Be not surprised to find that when the over-scheduled child grows, he or she values neither the Church nor the Lord of the Church. After all, they will just be accurately reproducing what was modeled to them as children.

Monday, November 15, 2010

TMS Chapel Audio

As an alumnus, I may have more affection than most, but I would point your attention (and your iPod) to the sermons preached in the bi-weekly chapels of The Master's Seminary.

Podcast and free downloads of these sermons are available and searchable here.

As a seminarian, the chapel gatherings on Tuesday and Thursday mornings were some of my fondest and most eagerly-anticipated times of devotion. Singing with my brothers-in-training and hearing God's Word proclaimed by our professors, visiting scholars, and alumni, were points of significant enrichment and challenge during my ministerial preparation. In fact, I can probably recall more "moments" where the Spirit of God personally addressed me during chapel, than during the lectures.

Take note of the Faculty Lecture Series, the most recent being Biblical Sanctification, as well as the other expositions (including one from this pastor, with whom some of our readers may be familiar).

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Approaching the Lord's Day

Pastor Josh Harris excellently shepherds his congregation on how we should be approaching the gathering of the church on the Lord's Day. The bottom-line:
It reveals something in our souls if we are treating the gathering of God's people on Sunday lightly.
Preach it, brother!

Eager, Expectant, and Early from Covenant Life Church on Vimeo.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

MacArthur's New Book: Slave

For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord’s freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ’s slave (1 Cor 7:22).

We have been eagerly anticipating the release of MacArthur's newest book, since we first heard it was under construction. Now, we can hardly wait for its post-Christmas release. Here's a sneak-peek via video:

Slave: The Hidden Truth about Your Identity in Christ is available for preorder now (Amazon | CBD)

Note: Murray Harris' Slave of Christ in the NSIBT series was the biblical-theological work that initially sparked MacArhtur's investment in a more popular treatment. Harris' study is worth your while.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Calvinist Crossing

We have not gotten to this in awhile, but here are some things worthy of a quick link and look:
  • Long Live the Serial Comma! Amen and amen! I wanted to stand-up and cheer when I read this. Leaving-off the final comma prior to the coordinating conjunction is for Sabellians, Socians, Arminians, and others who seem incapable of making proper distinctions in God's economy.
  • Protestant Amnesia. Another provocative and helpful piece from Prof. Trueman for those of us who are still protesting and increasingly affirming his main point:
My point here is simply that I repudiate the kind of Protestantism that claims it has no connection to past tradition. Pace such claims, only heretics reinvent the faith every Sunday....

That is what mere Christianity evangelicalism is: a movement of ecclesiastical, historical, and theological amnesia. It lacks any real appreciation of the the church and of doctrine, so crucial in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as is often evident from worship services which make no attempt to stand in continuity with the past, or from theology that is formulated with barely a nod in the direction of the creedal and confessional paths which the church has trodden for these many years.
  • Bethlehem Church of the Nativity to be Restored. It was just over three years ago we walked through this reminder of our Savior's humility at birth. I do hope that it can be restored and preserved as a testimony to future generations until the Babe from Bethlehem returns to reign as God's King.
  • Equipped for College. Articles in this month's Tabletalk are devoted to the issue of equipping students for the challenge of matriculating through college to the glory of God.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Both Hands Do It Well

Concerning evil, both hands do it well.
The prince asks, also the judge, for a bribe,
And a great man speaks the desire of his soul;
So they weave it together
(Micah 7:3).

Most excellent Christian music was written at least 200 years ago, by men like this, this and this.

Yet, there are notable stand-outs today. One of them may be Jon Foreman, frontman for Switchfoot (and fellow Monterey Bay kid!), whose adaptation of Micah 7, "Equally Skilled," is both excellent and exegetical, perceptive and poetic. In sum, this is a model for how God's Word may be adapted musically to His praise.

Listen here (the lyrics are below). Tip: Try listening to the song with your Bible open to Micah 7, and observe how Foreman moves through the text.

How miserable I am
I feel like a fruit-picker
Who arrived here
After the harvest
There's nothing here at all
Nothing at all here
That could placate my hunger
The godly people are all gone
There's not one honest soul left alive
Here on the planet
We're all murderers and thieves
Setting traps here
For even our brothers

And both of our hands
Are equally skilled
At doing evil, equally skilled
At bribing the judges
Equally skilled
At perverting justice
Both of our hands
Both of our hands

The day of justice comes
And is even now swiftly arriving
Don't trust anyone at all
Not your best friend
Or even your wife
For the son hates the father
The daughter despises even her mother
Look, your enemies arrive
Right in the room
Of your very household

And both of their hands
Are equally skilled
At doing evil
Equally skilled
At bribing the judges
Equally skilled
At perverting justice
Both of their hands
Both of their hands

No, don't gloat over me
Though I fall, though I fall
I will rise again
Though I sit here in darkness
The Lord, the Lord alone
He will be my light
I will be patient
As the Lord
Punishes me
For the wrongs I've done
Against Him
After that
He'll take my case
Bringing me
To light and the justice
For all I have suffered

And both of His hands
Are equally skilled
At ruining evil
Equally skilled
At judging the judges
Equally skilled
Administering justice
Both of His hands

Both of His hands
Are equally skilled
At showing me mercy
Equally skilled
At loving the loveless
Equally skilled
Administering justice
Both of His hands
Both of His hands

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Church as Center of Reform

And I said,
“Hear now, heads of Jacob
And rulers of the house of Israel.
Is it not for you to know justice?
(Micah 3:1)

As I alluded in a recent exposition of Micah 3, "The Cost and Courage of Christian Leadership," Christians are called to pursue change in the world, not primarily through propositions and politics, but by pursuing faithfulness in each of the spheres of influence in which the Lord has placed us.

This is not new counsel, as Pastor Edwards led his congregation in a renewal of their church covenant during the Great Awakening, a part of which included:
In all our conversation, concerns, and dealings with our neighbor, we will have a strict regard to rules of honesty, justice, and uprightness; that we don’t overreach or defraud our neighbor in any matter, and either willfully or through want of care, injure him in any of his honest possessions or rights; and in all our communication, will have a tender respect, not only to our own interest, but also to the interest of our neighbor; and will carefully endeavor in everything to do to others as we should expect, or think reasonable, that they should do to us, if we were in their case and they in ours.

- Edwards, "Memoirs," in Works, vol. 1, lx.
As we greet this post-election morning in our country, with undoubted disappointments and grateful victories on the mind of each individual, let us never forget that justice begins in the lives of those redeemed by the One who is both just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (see Rom 3:26). It is for us to know justice.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Resources for Remembering the Reformation

Celebrating the Reformation is a great way to celebrate the matters of "first importance" (1 Cor 15:3-5). So, in "Remembering the Reformation: Always Reforming" this past Lord's Day, we discussed the early ministry of Martin Luther and surveyed the ongoing relevance of the Reformation's solas.

For further (and admittedly better) resources on the Reformation see:
  • Here I Stand. Links to documentaries on Martin Luther by Justin Taylor.
  • Crash Course in Reformation History. Links to Stephen Nichols' teaching. (NB, Nichols is the church historian for the everyman-Christian. I have found him to be consistently accurate, articulate, and - most important - understandable! If you struggle with comprehending the events and teaching of our Christian heritage, Nichols is your guy).
  • Table Talk: The Reformation. Brief, but beneficial interview with Mark Dever on the on-going relevance of the Reformation for every Christian.
And then there is the "Reformation Polka, which is inexcusably silly, but nevertheless worth 3 minutes of your time (HT: RSM).

Semper Reformanda!

Update: For further study of the Reformation in brief and readable books, please see:

How Can I Serve Here?

...but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near (Heb 10:25).

Here is some great counsel from those indomitable Australians at Mathias Media, via 9Marks,

"How Members Can Serve the Church on the Lord's Day":

Before the Service

* Read the passage in advance
* Pray for the gathering
* Greet newcomers (act like you are the host)
* Think strategically about who you should sit with
* Arrive Early

During the Service

* Sing with gusto (even if you can’t sing)
* Help with logistics (if there’s a problem, help fix it)
* Don’t be distracted
* Listen carefully
* Be aware of your facial expressions (you may affect others and discourage preachers)

After the Service

* Connect newcomers with others
* Get newcomers information
* Start a conversation about the sermon
* Ask someone how they became a Christian
* Stay late

If you happen to be a member of this church, please consider this post as a loving exhortation and your pastors' prayerful expectation for each of us on each Lord's Day.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Pray for Iraq

Many nations will come and say,
“Come and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD
And to the house of the God of Jacob,
That He may teach us about His ways
And that we may walk in His paths.”

For from Zion will go forth the law,
Even the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
And He will judge between many peoples
And render decisions for mighty, distant nations.
Then they will hammer their swords into plowshares
And their spears into pruning hooks;
Nation will not lift up sword against nation,
And never again will they train for war
(Micah 4:2-3).

We prayed for the Gospel to advance in Iraq last night, so I was particularly saddened to read this report this morning, "Baghdad Church Siege Ends with 52 Dead"
Iraqi security forces stormed a Baghdad church where militants had taken an entire congregation hostage for four hours, leaving at least 52 people dead, including a priest, Iraqi officials said Monday.

(More info here from BBC).
I am sad because those who suffered were both defenseless and hopeless. Not only did these poor souls endure what must have been an unspeakably horrifying siege, but they did so under the hopeless false gospel of Roman Catholicism.

I am ever grateful to God for the Reformation we celebrated yesterday, in which God liberated His Church and the life-giving Gospel of Jesus from the Romanist errors. And I am humbled that He would allow our congregation to gather yesterday in peace and safety; a reality that I am sure most of us - if not all - took for granted.

Please pray for Iraq:
  1. A broken and demoralized society is the fruit of the harsh dictatorship.
  2. The international community has made Iraq a pariah among nations.
  3. The Christian community is largely Assyrian, with some Armenians, and most Assyrians are members of the Catholic-linked Chaldean Church.
  4. The few Evangelicals are mainly confined to the cities.
  5. Leadership for the churches is a desperate need.
  6. All peoples are unreached apart from Assyrian and Armenian minority groups.
And pray in view of that Day when the nations will stream to the mountain of the LORD and never again train for war.

Trembling on Monday

Not to us, O LORD, not to us,
But to Your name give glory
Because of Your lovingkindness, because of Your truth
(Ps 115:1).

Some very real pastoral confessions and prayers for Monday morning by Robert Murray M'Cheyne:
June 22. - Carronshore. My last. Some tears; yet I fear some like the messenger, not the message; and I fear that I am so vain as to love that love. Lord, let it not be so. Perish my honour, but let Thine be exalted for ever.

... Alas! how I tremble for my Monday mornings - those seasons of lifelessness. Lord, bless the seeds sown this day in the hearts of my friends, by the hand of my friends, and all over the world - hasten the harvest!

-Bonar, Memoir and Remains (Banner; reprint, 2004), p. 44