“Focus, focus, focus.”

David VanDrunen’s essay entitled “Calvin, Kuyper, And ‘Christian Culture’” in Always Reformed: Essays in Honor of W. Robert Godfrey contained this golden observation concerning John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion:

Though it is undoubtedly dangerous to draw too many conclusions from the number of pages devoted to topics in a single work, the fact that Calvin spent nineteen chapters of book four of the Institutes on the church and its ministry and one chapter on civil government should at least give us pause when considering what Calvin regarded as important when expounding the tenets of the “Christian religion.”

In a world where I fear that Christians put far too much faith in political action committees, politicians, and political parties; I, for one, agree with Calvin in terms of what really matters: Christ’s Church. Politicians come and go, nations rise and fall, legislation is passed and rescinded, but the “gates of hell shall never prevail against” the church, neither in this world or the next. Do not misunderstand what I am trying to say: I love my country; I pray for my country; and I vote in every election (local, state, and federal); but my citizenship in the kingdom of God and my calling as a pastor always trumps my love for my country.

The hope for this country (and the world at-large) is not to be found in the voting booth, but in the faithful preaching of God’s Word, applied by God’s Spirit to the hearts of men, women, boys, and girls. Christ came to redeem sinners and to build a kingdom which will consist of people from “every nation and tribe and language and people.” Pastors, I beg of you, never allow the political or cultural appeal of the left or the right entice you away from the preaching with which you “have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior.”

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Good News about Said Musa!

For my readers who have been praying for Said Musa there is some good news to report: “International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that Said Musa, an Afghan Christian who was arrested in May and threatened with execution for his conversion to Christianity, was released from prison last week after aggressive international diplomacy engaged Afghanistan’s government.”

We are grateful to God for the mercy He has shown to Musa and his family throughout this ordeal.

To read the entire news release go here.

HT: Tom Ascol

Thank you, again, Charles Hodge!

I came across a great description by Charles Hodge in his Systematic Theology of spiritual mysticism which dove-tailed into a statement about the sufficiency of the Scripture in our lives as Christians:

“Evangelical Christians admit that the children of God are led by the Spirit of God, that their convictions as to truth and duty, their inward character and outward conduct, are moulded by His influence. They are children unable to guide themselves, who are led by an ever-present Father of infinite wisdom and love. This guidance is partly providential, ordering their external circumstances; partly through the Word, which is a lamp to their feet: and partly by the inward influence of the Spirit on the mind. This last, however, is also through the Word, making it intelligible and effectual, bringing it suitably to remembrance. God leads His people by the cords of a man, i.e., in accordance with the laws of his nature. This is very different from the doctrine that the soul, by yielding itself passively to God, is filled with all truth and goodness, or that in special emergencies it is controlled by blind, irrational impulses.” [italics mine]

Thank you, Charles Hodge, for reminding us that we need not seek for “holy” hunches, feelings, premonitions, or intuitions, but, as an alternative, rest in the sufficiency of Scripture for guidance in our daily lives.

Tuesday Hymns: “Thy Mercy, My God”

As Old School Presbyterians we are often accused of singing only old hymns because we think that old is good and new is bad. There is nothing further from the truth. We don’t love many of the old songs just because they are old, but because they are filled with truth. There are many of the old hymns which we seldom sing (especially many from the Second Great Awakening), because of the lack of Biblical truth reflected in the lyrics, or the inappropriateness of the tunes. Furthermore, we often sing newer hymns which speak of the majesty of God’s grace, and our utter dependence upon Him for our justification, sanctification, and future glorification. One example, is our Tuesday Hymn of the Week: Thy Mercy, My God . Although the tune was unfamiliar to us when we first sang it in corporate worship, the lyrics spoke loudly of man’s need, and God’s glorious provision for that need through His grace. Notice, also, the praise going forth to the Triune God in the last verse. The lyrics were written by John Stocker and the tune was composed by Sandra McCrackren in 2001.

Thy mercy my God is the theme of my song,
The joy of my heart, and the boast of my tongue.
Thy free grace alone, from the first to the last,
Hath won my affection and bound my soul fast.

Without Thy sweet mercy, I could not live here.
Sin would reduce me to utter despair,
But through Thy free goodness, my spirit’s revived
And He that first made me still keeps me alive.

Thy mercy is more than a match for my heart,
Which wonders to feel its own hardness depart.
Dissolved by Thy goodness, I fall to the ground
And weep for the praise of the mercy I’ve found.

Great Father of mercies, Thy goodness I own
In the covenant love of Thy crucified Son.
All praise to the Spirit, Whose whisper divine
Seals mercy and pardon and righteousness mine.

“Change-Agents” in Church and Society: “Dream On”

D. G. Hart takes a look at the latest church membership statistics compiled by the National Council of Churches (Yes, I realize that group is at best a nominal Christian organization…okay, I must be realistic, it is not Christian at all) in his latest article at Old Life Theological Society. Read the entire article to see all the statistics, and then you will understand Hart’s cogent and sobering statement: “the next time the emergents, hipsters, missionals, urbanists, and neo-Calvinists want to talk about how they are change-agents in both the church and society they should look at the numbers and sober up.”

Side Note: Realize that the Southern Baptists don’t know where 8 million of their 16 million members are. (Not trying to be mean here, it is just a sobering thought. To quote Paige Patterson, “They may be in heaven, they may be in hell, or they may be in L.A.” [I am pretty sure it was Dr. Patterson that made that observation.])

“For bodily exercise profiteth little”–1 Timothy 4:8

Many of you know that since August I have been trying to take off a few pounds (okay, maybe more than a few). I had gotten up to 223 pounds and was having to buy bigger clothes, my feet hurt, etc… Since then, I have managed to get as low as 186, and now I have plateaued between 186 and 188. My plans are, Deo Volente (Lord willing), to lose down to 180 and try to keep my weight between 180 and 185 for the rest of my life. (I know that you are thinking, “Dream on, dream on, teenage queen…” but that’s okay, because it is in the back of my mind, too.)

Along with cutting back on how much I eat (I really didn’t change what I ate, just how much…no broccoli for me!), I thought it might be wise to do a little cardio exercise. My thinking was: what good would it do to lose all of that weight if I die from cardiac arrest? I would just be a dead, skinny guy. My thoughts about exercise had always been similar to what the first man to walk on the moon, Neil Armstrong, had mused, “I believe the Lord has only given my heart so many beats, and I am not going to waste any of them exercising.” However, now, five or six days a week, I get on my wife’s exercise bike and get my heart beat up to 130 beats a minute for thirty minutes. Could I still die tomorrow of a heart attack? Sure; my life is in the Lord’s hands and He can call me to heaven when He chooses, but the Lord may use this exercise bike as a means to keep me around long enough to watch my grandkids grow to adulthood. It is good to remember that the Lord does use means to accomplish His purposes on earth (granted, He is also “free to work without, above, and against them, at His pleasure.” (Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter V, paragraph iii)

I had often quipped that my lifetime Scripture verse was, “For bodily exercise profiteth little” (I’ve never understood that “lifetime Scripture verse” thing, but I digress), but if one looks at that verse in its entirety, it says something very important to the people of God, “For bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” (New American Standard) As God’s people who have been justified by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone; it is “profitable” to live godly lives. But how could that ever be possible? As God said to a very aged and childless Sarah, “Is anything too hard for the LORD?”

Just as the Lord can use means to do His work in my physical life, He can also use means to grow me in His grace. The answer to Question 88 of the Shorter Catechism mentions three of those means, “The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption are, his ordinances, especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.” It is through the hearing of the Word of God read and proclaimed, seeing and taking part in the right use of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and through calling out to God in prayer, that the Lord, week in and week out, works out His sanctifying grace in our lives. It may not always give one “goose pimples” (although, there is nothing wrong with “goose pimples”) but the simple gathering together with Christ’s church on His Day to worship and praise our Triune God is a wonderful way to cooperate with our God as He builds His holiness into our lives.

It is true that one can go to corporate worship services every week and not grow in God’s grace, but I find it inconceivable that one could refuse the ordinary means of grace (unless providentially hindered) on a regular basis and still see his life full of the fruit of God’s Spirit. Having said all of that, I would like to take this opportunity to encourage all of those who are reading these words to take advantage of the means that God has chosen to “communicate to us the benefits of redemption” and worship with God’s people this Lord’s Day.

Pilate and William Ernest Henley: Two Peas in a Pod

In preparing to teach a Bible study tomorrow on John 19, two verses jumped out at me. Jesus is standing before Pilate refusing to defend Himself, and finally, Pilate, in exasperation, cries out, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” (verse 10) How arrogant! He, like William Ernest Henley, erroneously believed that he was the “master of his fate” and the “captain of his soul,” and, moreover, that he had authority over the life and death of the only begotten Son of God. However, in reality, all of the authority that Pilate wielded, he wielded at the behest of God in heaven. As Jesus boldly replied, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.”

Like so many today, Pilate did not understand that he had never truly earned anything in his life. Whatever administrative skills he exercised, whatever intelligence he possessed, whatever physical abilities he owned, and even the very air he breathed were all gifts from the “Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17) All that we have comes from Him, and we are fools if we think the answers to life are to be found within ourselves. Look outside of yourself to Christ. He is the Giver of life, the Sustainer of life, and the One who holds the future firmly in His omnipotent hand! But, I would warn you that if you are determined to be the “master of your fate” and the “captain of your soul,” expect, like Pilate and Henley before you, to end up shipwrecked on the devastating reefs of this stormy world.

“Run for the roses as fast as you can”

A few Sunday nights ago I was talking to a young man in our congregation about his upcoming wedding, he asked about the music at my wedding (well…maybe he didn’t ask, I just offered [I can be like that, you know]). I mentioned one of the songs that we had sung was a tune by Dan Fogelberg sung entitled “Longer.” He looked at me with a blank look on his face, and it dawned on me how really old I am getting.

Believe it or not, the previous paragraph segues into the topic of this blog post. This morning, as I was doing my cardio on the exercise bike, I had Dan Fogelberg going on my Ipod, and his song, “Run for the Roses,” came up. It tells a story about life describing a race horse growing up in Kentucky and his need (unless, of course, it is a filly) to “run for the roses as fast as [he] can.” In other words, take a risk and live life to its fullest. However, as I listened to the chorus, I was really thankful that I did not share his worldview:

And it’s run for the roses
As fast as you can
Your fate is delivered
Your moment’s at hand
It’s the chance of a lifetime
In a lifetime of chance
And it’s high time you joined
In the dance
It’s high time you joined
In the dance

While I agree that it is “high time [I] joined in the dance,” I am so grateful that the Bible teaches that my fate is not delivered, and that my life does not consist of chances “of a lifetime in a lifetime of chance.” It gives me great comfort to know that my God is not wringing His hands in heaven wondering what is going to happen in the future (as an open theist might surmise), but that He is in total control of all of life. As the Fifth Chapter of the Westminster Confession of Faith states:

God the great Creator of all things does uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by His most wise and holy providence, according to His infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of His own will, to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy.

The events that come into my life, whether humanly perceived as good or bad, all come from the hand of a Sovereign Lord who is working out His eternal purpose in my life for my eternal good. He is causing “all things to work together for good to those who love [Him] and to those who are called according to His purpose,” (Rom. 8:28) and because of that sustaining truth, I can “run for the roses as fast as I can,” because I am fulfilling my purpose in this fallen world for His glory.

God: Both Transcendent and Immanent

This week I received my copy of Michael Horton’s new systematic theology via UPS entitled, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims On the Way. As I glanced through the 1,052 page tome (when something is over 1000 pages, I reserve the right to call it a tome), I came across the following paragraph discussing the name of God:

“On one hand, the revelation of God’s name is a sign of transcendence, measuring the gulf between God’s majesty and the human servant. Misusing God’s name required the death penalty under the old covenant (Ex 20:7; Lev 24:16). Nevertheless, this name is also a sign of God’s immanence, having been given to his people as a pledge of his personal presence, to be invoked in danger and praised at all times.” (The Christian Faith, p. 224)

Our God is truly “wholly other” (to borrow a phrase from Karl Barth) from His creation, and we as creatures will never be able comprehend Him at any level, unless He chooses to reveal Himself to us. He is not “the man upstairs” or our “good ol’ buddy and pal” with whom we interact as we would with Bubba down at the Green Light Café. He is El Shaddai (God Almighty) and is unapproachable to sinful man without the mediation of the God-man, Jesus Christ.

However, He is also a God who has chosen to reveal Himself to man, through His natural revelation (“the heavens declare the glory of God”), and, more specifically, through the special revelation of His Written Word. This holy unapproachable God has chosen to enter into covenant with sinful man as He said through the prophet Jeremiah:

“‘Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD.  But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, “Know the LORD,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.’” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)   

We enter into this covenant totally and completely through the grace of this Transcendent and Immanent God. We “who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” and now “have access in one Spirit to the Father” through the finished work of Christ, His Son. (Eph. 2) Horatius Bonar said it so well in verse:

Not what my hands have done
Can save my guilty soul;
Not what my toiling flesh has borne
Can make my spirit whole.
Not what I feel or do
Can give me peace with God;
Not all my prayers and sighs and tears
Can bear my awful load.

Thy work alone, O Christ,
Can ease this weight of sin;
Thy blood alone, O Lamb of God,
Can give me peace within.
Thy love to me, O God,
Not mine, O Lord to thee,
Can rid me of this dark unrest
And set my spirit free.

Thy grace alone, O God,
To me can pardon speak;
Thy pow’r alone, O Son of God,
Can this sore bondage break.
No other work, save thine,
No other blood will do;
No strength, save that which is divine,
Can bear me safely through.

I bless the Christ of God;
I rest on love divine;
And with unfalt’ring lip and heart
I call this Saviour mine.
This cross dispels each doubt;
I bury in his tomb
Each thought of unbelief and fear,
Each ling’ring shade of gloom.

I praise the God of grace;
I trust his truth and might;
He calls me his, I call him mine,
My God, my joy, my light.
‘Tis he who saveth me,
And freely pardon gives;
I love because he loveth me,
I live because he lives.

“Not What These Hands Have Done”—Horatius Bonar

“Imagine all the people living for today.”—John Lennon

Last December, there was much “hoopla” about the 30th anniversary of the murder of John Lennon. He was well-known as a composer, musician, and cultural icon, especially during his days as a member of the Beatles (admittedly as a child of the 1960s, I was a big fan of the Beatles; their album, Abbey Road, was one of the first eight-track cartridges I ever purchased [Kids, ask your parents what an 8-Track is]). His 1971 hit, Imagine, still gets radio airplay, and in the 21st century, it has even been granted “elevator music” status. It is the first verse of that “classic” that has never resonated with me:

Imagine there’s no heaven,
It’s easy if you try;
No hell below us,
Above us only sky;
Imagine all the people
Living for today…

It has always been my opinion that such an attitude was innately foreign to the words of the Apostle Paul:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:1-3)

It is the fact that our focus is on Christ that enables us to “live for today.” Because we have been united to Christ by God’s grace, our life has meaning. We are more than globs of protoplasm fatalistically oozing our way through life (what verb would you use to go with glob?). We are beings created in the “image of God” for which He has an eternal purpose: “to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” Our hope can not to be found in man (remember, John Lennon was murdered by a mentally unstable man), it can only be found in the fact that through faith in Christ our lives are “hidden with Christ in God.” It is because of that wonderful truth that we desire to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Or, as Lennon might put it: “Living for today.”

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