Five Things Every Christian Needs to Grow — Free eBook from Ligonier Ministries

Five Things Every Christian Needs to Grow — Free eBook by Nathan W. Bingham | Ligonier Ministries Blog.

5Things Christian Grows-RCSproulAlso, do not forget Ligonier’s monthly free digital book feature. This month (all of June) it is R.C. Sproul’s book Five Things Every Christian Needs to Grow.

What are those five things? Read this brief note from “R.C.” about the book:

“Being a Christian is not an acquired skill or discipline like diving or ice skating. It is a living, vital relationship with the God of the universe, a relationship that begins when a person becomes a new creation in Him and receives Jesus as Lord by faith. But like Olympic athletes, Christians are called upon to train, to make sacrifices, and to embrace certain disciplines in order to give God “our utmost for His highest.” This book deals with five of those disciplines: Bible study, prayer, worship, service, and stewardship. Just as Olympic athletes work hard to achieve their best performances, our diligence in attending to these aspects of the Christian life will help determine our effectiveness in serving our Lord.”

 

—R.C. Sproul

By the way, the print edition of this book makes a fine gift for high school and college graduates, as well as for those who may be making confession of faith.

A Dutch Poem in English: “Volgen” – “To Follow”

Sometimes tucked away in books given to or purchased by the PRC Seminary library are interesting items – from old bookmarks to receipts to newspaper clippings – to, yes, poems. Even Dutch poems. Translated into English, thankfully (though the Dutch has its own beautiful rhythm and cadence).

As part of today’s archive postings, I give you one I found just yesterday (yellowed stains and all) in a book that came from Neal Pastoor (SE PRC, Grand Rapids). I put the poem aside and then read it this morning. It contains wonderful lines about the nature of the Christian life in terms of following wherever God leads us. I pray it is a blessing to you as it was (and is!) to me (Click on it to enlarge even more.).

Poem - Volgen -To Follow_Page_1

Sunday Worship Preparation – Psalm 134

Psalm134As we get ready to enter the Lord’s courts of prayer and praise today, we turn to the fifteenth and final psalm in the series of “songs of degree” (or ascent), Psalm 134. These songs of God’s OT church, you will remember, were sung by God’s pilgrim people as they made their way “up to” Jerusalem for the special times of worship designated by the Lord. As such, they are also appropriate for us, God’s NT church, as we journey through this world on our way to the new and heavenly Jerusalem (Heb.12:22-24).

This final song of ascent is also very brief, like the previous one (Psalm 133), but it too is a significant song. It may be viewed as a farewell song by the worshiping church as she takes her leave of God’s holy city and temple and returns to her regular life. Let’s put this inspired Word of God before us so that we too may learn to sing it, both in our preparing for and in our ending of public worship:

Psalm 134

Behold, bless ye the Lord, all ye servants of the Lord, which by night stand in the house of the Lord.

Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, and bless the Lord.

The Lord that made heaven and earth bless thee out of Zion.

You will note that the psalm has two basic parts. In the first part, the people of God address the “servants of the LORD”, namely the priest and Levites who labored all day and all night in God’s covenant house. Realizing that the priestly prayers to and the priestly praise of the Lord must never cease, the church calls these special servants of the Lord to continue their work even after the people have left and the sun has gone down. “Bless ye the LORD”; “Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, and bless the LORD,” they shout.

In making this call to the priests, the people of God are deeply conscious of two things. First, that God is always to be praised and continually acknowledged to be the Fountain of all blessing. And second, that they themselves are in constant need to the Lord’s blessing.

Are we also conscious of these things? Are we likewise desirous that God’s special servants involved in public worship today – our pastors and elders – will continue to bless the Lord through prayer and praise when we have left the Lord’s sanctuary and have returned to our week of labor? When our public worship is finished and we take leave of the house of the Lord, do we still want them to pray for us and seek the blessing the Lord on our behalf? Then do we also remind them of their labors for us and call them to fulfill it? Do we also bring their needs before God during the week, so that they may carry on their vital work of blessing the Lord? We must, as the example of these OT pilgrims shows us!

And extending this now to our great High Priest in heaven, Jesus Christ, do we desire Him above all to continue His labors on our behalf in glory and bless the Lord? Do we covet His prayers for us that we will be blessed by the ever blessed God and Father? And so then, do we also call on Christ (in our own prayers) to keep standing in the Lord’s house in heaven and bless Him day and night? Do we call Him to praise God for us in perfect prayer and worship? If our hearts are full of praise and thanks to God from our own worship on the Lord’s day, then we will!

In the second part of Psalm 134 the priests respond back to the call of God’s people and convey the sure blessing of the Lord on them: “The LORD that made heaven and earth bless thee out of Zion” (v.3). That was important for them to hear, for without that blessing of the Lord all their special worship and all their earthly service was in vain. They – and we – need that favor of God in Christ on us and the gifts of His grace on us, or life is vanity, and even worse, cursed.

Do we understand that today? Will we seek  and listen for that blessing of God in Christ on us as we worship? Will we hear our blessed and only High Priest, Jesus Christ, speak and convey that blessing on us this day? Will receive in faith His blessed gifts of salvation?

When we do, we may leave our places of public worship in joy and thanksgiving, with hearts and mouths overflowing with the blessing of the Lord. God bless your and my worship this Lord’s day!

Psalter1912If you wish to meditate on this psalm through the music of the Psalter, I encourage you to make use of this versification, Ps.#372. The lyrics are posted here; the music you may find at the link provided.

1. Come, all ye servants of the Lord,
Lift up your voice with one accord
Jehovah’s Name to bless;
Ye that are standing night by night
Within the house of His delight,
His glorious Name confess.

2. Yea, in His place of holiness
Lift up your hands the Lord to bless;
And unto you be given,
The joys that Zion doth afford,
The richest blessings of the Lord
Who made the earth and heaven.

Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross (11)

ancient tombOn this Saturday of the week remembering in a special way our Lord’s passion, we are at that point between Jesus’ death on Friday and His resurrection on Sunday. On Saturday – all day – Jesus lay in the grave in which he was buried on Friday night before sundown. This too belonged to his humiliation and to his experience of the full reality of the consequences of our sin.

For the grave is the place of the dead, the place where the corruption of sin and death work to ravage even our bodies and return us to the dust from which we were originally taken. But worse, the grave (apart from Christ) is also a doorway into eternal death, the place where the sinner is destined to rise unto everlasting separation from God and the suffering of unending torment in the restless “home” of hell. The grave is a fearful place – apart from Christ!

But for Christ, the Victor over death at the cross, the grave is a place not only of humiliation and suffering but also of exaltation and blessedness. Jesus’ tomb is a place of transition, when he – because of His perfect sacrifice for sin on Calvary and His defeat of sin’s penalty (death) at Golgatha – moves from lowliness to exaltedness, from suffering to reward, and from death to life.

O, He is dead and buried alright! He is in the grave, the place of death and corruption! But only for the bare minimum of time according to the Scriptures (three days, only one being a full day)! And even then, death cannot touch Him, for His body experienced no corruption, no breakdown of tissue and decay (Psalm 16:9-11 and Acts 2:29ff.). If we may put it that way, surrounded by death and lying in death, Jesus is alive even in the grave (because He has the victory over death in hand), though on Saturday He has not yet burst forth out of the tomb of Joseph!

And so we, like Jesus did, eagerly await the dawning of the first day of the week. We know what’s coming – like our Lord did – and we cannot wait for Resurrection Sunday!

JesusKeepMeNear-NGuthrieWhile we wait and ponder this time of transition for our Lord, we post once more from the book Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross. Today we quote from chapter 18, which contains an excerpt from J.I.Packer’s Growing in Christ book (Crossway, 1994), where he is treating two phrases from the Apostles’ Creed, under the heading “He Descended Into Hell and Ascended Into Heaven”. I quote from the beginning of Guthrie’s selection of material:

Death has been called ‘the new obscenity’, the nasty thing that no polite person nowadays will talk about in public. But death, even when unmentionable remains inescapable. The one sure fact of life is that one day, with or without warning, quietly or painfully, it is going to stop. How will I, then, cope with death when my turn comes?

Christians hold that the Jesus of the Scriptures is alive, and that those who know him as Savior, Lord, and Friend find in this knowledge a way through all life’s problems, dying included. For ‘Christ leads me through no darker rooms than he went through before.’ Having tasted death himself, he can support us while we taste it, and carry us through the great change to share the life beyond death into which he himself has passed. Death without Christ is ‘the king of terrors,’ but death with Christ loses the ‘sting,’ the power to hurt, which it otherwise would have.

John Preston, the Puritan, knew this. When he lay dying, they asked him if he feared death, now that it was so close. “No,’ whispered Preston; ‘I shall change my place, but I shall not change my company.’ As if to say: I shall leave my friends, but not my Friend, for he will never leave me.

This is victory – victory over death, and the fear it brings (pp.105-06).

And then a little later Packer writes:

Suppose that Jesus, having died on the cross, had stayed dead. Suppose that, like Socrates or Confucius, he was now no more than a beautiful memory. Would it matter? We should still have his example and teaching; wouldn’t they be enough?

Had Jesus not risen, but stayed dead, the bottom would drop out of Christianity, for four things would then be true.

First, to quote Paul, 1 Corinthians 15:17: ‘If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.’

Second, there is then no hope of our rising either; we must expect to stay dead, too.

Third, if Jesus Christ is not risen, then he is not reigning and will not return, and every single item in the Creed after ‘suffered and was buried’ will have to be struck out.

Fourth, Christianity cannot be what the first Christians thought it was – fellowship with a living Lord who is identical with the Jesus of the Gospels. The Jesus of the Gospels can still be your hero, but he cannot be your Savior (pp.107-08).

All good food for thought as we got through this “transition” day between Good Friday and Easter.

Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross (7)

“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Matt. 27:46 (and Psalm 22:1)

There is no answer. God did not deliver Jesus from the cross. The only answers he received were silence and darkness, the silence of being forsaken by God and the darkness of God’s judgment descending upon the earth.

Jesus did not just feel forsaken, he was forsaken. It was not just that Jesus experienced passing sensations of alienation and rejection on the cross. It was more than that. The question Jesus shouted out from the cross pointed back to an actual experience, to an objective state of affairs, to something that had already happened to him: ‘Why have you forsaken me?’ Jesus Christ could tell when his intimacy with God the Father was interrupted. When that happened, he knew that he had been forsaken.

Why did it happen? Why did God the Father forsake the Son on the cross? We cannot comprehend it. We cannot explain it. The great theologian Martin Luther said, ‘God forsaken by God, who can understand that?’ If even Jesus himself could not fully understand it, then we cannot understand it either.

But we can at least say this: it had something to do with what Jesus was doing on the cross. What Jesus was doing on the cross was bearing sin, carrying sin, wearing sin. Jesus was taking the sins of the world upon his shoulders. It was as if God had taken a giant bucket and scooped up all the sins of his people – all the jealousy and the anger and the lying, all the rebellion and the stealing and the incest, all the hypocrisy and the envy and the swearing – and dumped them all out on Jesus Christ. ‘The LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all’ (Isa.53:6. ‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us…’ (2 Cor.5:21).

…If you want to know what God really thinks about sin and what he intends to do about it, look at Jesus rejected on the cross and listen to Jesus forsaken on the cross. That is what sin deserves: the wrath and curse of God. That is what sinners deserve: to be put to death and damned for their sins.

…The forsaking of the Son of God on the cross is a fearful thing, but it is good news for sinners who repent. It is good news because it means that when you meet Jesus Christ at the cross you are meeting someone who has experienced the full measure of the tragedy of human existence. Out of his own experience of physical suffering and spiritual rejection Jesus not only sympathizes with your pain, he empathizes with it.

The forsaking of the Son of God on the cross is also good news because it means that God’s children will never be forsaken. Jesus was God-forsaken so that you might not be forsaken (pp.86-88).

JesusKeepMeNear-NGuthriePhilip G. Ryken, “God-Forsaken”, in Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross, ed. by Nancy Guthrie; Crossway, 2009.

Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross (1)

JesusKeepMeNear-NGuthrieFor the Sundays leading up to Good Friday and Easter we plan to do a series of meditations centered on the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. For my own devotional reading during this time of reflection I recently purchased the little book Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross: Experiencing the Passion and Power of Easter, a wonderful collection of sermons and writings edited by Nancy Guthrie (Crossway, 2009). I plan to use this book as a guide, pulling quotations from it.

This is how the author introduces this collection:

In the pages that follow, gifted theologians and Bible teachers will help us to stop and longer at the cross. I’ve drawn from the writings and sermons of classic and contemporary writers and teachers to create meditations that will draw us into an experience of the passion of the cross and the power of the resurrection.

How we need to have our hearts broken again by our sin that put Jesus on the cross. How we need to have our confidence grounded by what Jesus accomplished on the cross. And how we need to have our hope anchored in the promise of resurrection. I pray that is what you will experience as you read this book. May Jesus draw you and keep you near his cross (“Preface”, p.10).

MLuther-preaching-1The first meditation Guthrie has in her book is an excerpt from a sermon of Martin Luther titled “True Contemplation of the Cross”. From this I pull a few paragraphs today.

Let us meditate a moment on the passion of Christ. Some do so falsely in that they merely rail against Judas and the Jews. Some carry crucifixes to protect themselves from water, fire, and sword, and turn the suffering of Jesus into an amulet against suffering. Some weep, and that is the end of it. The true contemplation is that in which the heart is crushed and the conscience smitten. You must be overwhelmed by the frightful wrath of God who so hated sin that he spared not his only begotten Son. What can the sinner expect if the beloved Son was so afflicted? It must be an inexpressible and unendurable yearning that causes God’s Son Himself so to suffer. Ponder this and you will tremble, and the more you ponder, the deeper you will tremble.

The whole value of the meditation of the suffering of Christ lies in this, that man should come to the knowledge of himself and sink and tremble. If you are so hardened that you do not tremble, then you have reason to tremble. Pray to God that he may soften your heart and make fruitful your meditation upon the suffering of Christ, for we of ourselves are incapable of proper reflection unless God instills its.

…The greater and more wonderful is the excellence of his love by contrast with the lowliness of his form, the hate and pain of passion. Herein we come to know both God and ourselves. His beauty is his own, and through it we learn to know him. His uncomeliness and passion are ours, and in them we know ourselves, for what he suffered in the flesh, we must inwardly suffer in the spirit. He has in truth borne our stripes. Here, then, in an unspeakably clear mirror you see yourself. You must know that through your sins you are as uncomely and mangled as you see him here (pp.11-14).

Also for our meditation I include this beautiful poem written by Thelma Westra, a member of our Faith PRC (Jenison, MI), found in the collection of her poetry titled Poems of Praise (self-published). This one is titled “He Who Was Sinless” (p.131):

‘He Who was sinless was made sin for us:’
Turning depravity into salvation
For sinners deserving only damnation.
Who but Jehovah could plan such a thing?
Jehovah of hosts, the conquering King.
It pleased Him to sacrifice His only Son
Because of His love for the wholly undone;
He loved us and changed us by mercy and grace
Into sanctified children – His chosen race.
We now glorify Him, exalting His name,
And into eternity, still will proclaim
The wonder He wrought, and the joy that He brought:
With the blood of His Son, His people He bought!
‘He Who was sinless was made sin for us!’

 

Why I Don’t (and You Shouldn’t) Observe Lent

Why I Don’t Observe Lent.

LentIf you have ever wondered why we Protestants (Reformed and other branches) do not (and ought not) observe the season of Lent as mandated by the Roman Catholic Church and currently practiced by many Protestant churches and inividuals, this article by PCA (Presbyterian Church in America) elder Roland S.Barnes is a good place to start (posted March 3, 2014). He does a fine job of summaring the history of the development of this forty-day season and why the Reformation opposed the observance of this period of self-denial and fasting.

And as he explains well, this does not mean that we are against self-denial or fasting, or the commemoration of the suffering, death, and resurrection of our Lord. I quote from a few relevant paragraphs here and encourage you to read all of it. Though a bit long, it will strengthen you as a Protestant – and as Reformed. And, if you are in the mood, here’s another fine one that appeared on The Aquila Report‘s Top 10 list this week: “Playing With Lenten Fire” by OPC (Orthodox Presbyterian Church) elder D.G.Hart.

…What started out with a full-blown deprecation of things which are lawful, food, sex, marriage, etc., has degenerated into rather trivial acts of denial, such as giving up chocolate or coffee. Of course, fasting is good as an expression of self-denial, but for the Church to decree such seasons for fasting as Lent, and thereby bind the consciences of believers, is contrary to the instructions given by the Apostle Paul. In addition it can be asked why would one voluntarily place himself under such rigorous regulations concerning food when Christ has set His people free from such regulations. Lent became a season of penance; forty days of sorrowful penance while waiting for Easter and the celebration of the resurrection. Nowhere in scripture is there any prescription for such an observance. The forty years that Moses worked for Jethro were preparatory for his mission to rescue the people of Israel from bondage in Egypt. His forty days of fasting on Mount Sinai were preparatory for the reception of the convenantal law of God. The forty days of fasting by Jesus were preparatory for spiritual battle in the wilderness. There is no pattern set forth in scripture for forty days of mourning over sin, especially when Christ has offered immediate forgiveness to everyone who repents.

…The Reformers viewed the Christian Sabbath as both a weekly celebration of the victory of the resurrection and a weekly practice of self-denial; that is, fasting from the pursuit of labor and entertainment. This weekly observance puts a curb on self-seeking pleasure and works against the self-indulgence of “Fat Tuesday.” Self-denial then becomes a way of life, the normal practice of piety, and not a seasonal event. The observance of fasting, praying, self-denial, and sober-minded reflection in the life of a believer is to be commended. I suppose someone may wish to do so as a matter of habit and regular observance by keeping some form of “Lent.”

However, the mandated observance of Lent along with its extra-biblical requirements of abstinence from things that are not withheld from us by God in His word is another matter altogether. What merit or benefit is there in abstaining from something which God Himself has given us to enjoy and to bless our lives? If something is sinful, we ought to abstain from it, fast from it, every hour of the day, every day of the week, and every week of the year. If something is not sinful and not forbidden to us by God in His Word, then we are free to partake of it or not partake of it as our conscience is our guide.

J.Calvin on Psalm 130: “…the sinner… shall find him (God) ready to be reconciled towards him.”

JCalvinBibleFor our further meditation on Psalm 130 let us also read and take to heart these words of John Calvin on v.4. While we focus on this part of Calvin’s exposition of the psalm, it would also be worth your while to read his thoughts on v.3 at the CCEL website. May his words also point us to the only One in Whom we have hope as sinners, so that by faith we come to Him and cast ourselves upon Him in Jesus Christ.

4. But with thee there is forgiveness.

This verse leads us farther. Though all men confess with the mouth that there is no human being in the world whom God may not justly adjudge to everlasting death, should it so please him, yet how few are persuaded of the truth which the Prophet now adds, that the grace of which they stand in need shall not be denied them? They either sleep in their sins through stupidity, or fluctuate amidst a variety of doubts, and, at length, are overwhelmed with despair. This maxim, “that no man is free from sin,” is, as I have said, received among all men without dispute, and yet the majority shut their eyes to their own faults, and settle securely in hiding ­ places to which, in their ignorance, they have betaken themselves, if they are not forcibly roused out of them, and then, when pursued close by the judgments of God, they are overwhelmed with alarm, or so greatly tormented as to fall into despair.

The consequence of this want of hope in men, that God will be favorable to them, is an indifference about coming into the Divine presence to supplicate for pardon. When a man is awakened with a lively sense of the judgment of God, he cannot fail to be humbled with shame and fear. Such self-dissatisfaction would not however suffice, unless at the same time there were added faith, whose office it is to raise up the hearts which were cast down with fear, and to encourage them to pray for forgiveness. David then acted as he ought to have done when, in order to his attaining genuine repentance, he first summons himself before God’s judgment seat; but, to preserve his confidence from failing under the overpowering influence of fear, he presently adds the hope which there was of obtaining pardon.

It is, indeed, a matter which comes under our daily observation, that those who proceed not beyond the step of thinking themselves deserving of endless death, rush, like frenzied men, with great impetuosity against God. The better, therefore, to confirm himself and others, the Prophet declares that God’s mercy cannot be separated or torn away from himself. “As soon as I think upon thee,” he says in amount, “thy clemency also presents itself to my mind, so that I have no doubt that thou wilt be merciful to me, it being impossible for thee to divest thyself of thy own nature: the very fact that thou art God is to me a sure guarantee that thou wilt be merciful ”

At the same time let it be understood, that he does not here speak of a confused knowledge of the grace of God, but of such a knowledge of it as enables the sinner to conclude with certainty, that as soon as he seeks God he shall find him ready to be reconciled towards him.

Encouraging the Next Generation to Read (6) – Rev.B.Huizinga

HuizingaBrianToday we also continue to post from the series of articles on reading found in The Standard Bearer (Dec.2013-Jan. 2014) and penned by Rev.Brian Huizinga, pastor of Hope PRC in Redlands, CA (For the previous installment, go here.). These articles are the text of an inspiring speech Rev.Huizinga gave at the annual RFPA meeting in September of 2013.

In the Jan.1, 2014 issue of the “SB” Rev.Huizinga gets into the practical points he presented in his speech. He lists ten “P’s” to encourage the younger generation to read. In today’s post we will continue going through these, giving you the next two points (“P’s”). I hope that these points will help all of us – but especially the “next generation” – to read!

5. Encourage Peer-Paraphrasing:

The young person has made it through a book or an article.  Do not stop there.  Now encourage them to take what they have read and paraphrase it, put it in their own words.  Paraphrase the chapter, the article, the book.  Paraphrase to peers.  This is different than partnering.  In partnering you read the same book.  With peer-paraphrasing, you paraphrase what you read to a peer—a spouse, a friend, a coworker.  That might spark an interest in them and get them to read.  But it also helps you think more deeply about what you read.  This will force us and our young people to read carefully when we do read.  And this will be a way to continue benefiting from the book after it has been read.

How about this?  Your peers are your family members.  All the children are required to read.  Now take one night a week, Wednesday night right after supper, Saturday night, Sunday afternoon, with the whole family together.  Each person gets a couple minutes to paraphrase to their peers what they have read.  There will be mutual rewards, enriching the experience of all.

RFPA2013Annual-AdPic6. Encourage Portioning

Look at that big book sitting there.  It was written by a professor of theology, by John Calvin or Abraham Kuyper.  It has 300 pages.  I cannot read it.  It is too daunting.  Encourage portioning.  You do not have to read the whole book at once, or even a whole chapter at once, but read from heading to heading.  You do not have to read the whole Standard Bearer at once, but read one article at a time.  The man sitting in seat one at the table does not eat the whole piece of meat in one bite, but he breaks it up into manageable, bite-size pieces and over the course of time devours the whole meal.  There it is, sitting on the shelf.  It was given to me at my confession of faith:  For Thy Truth’s Sake (available here -cjt).  It is huge!  Portions, portions.  Encourage the young people to take a book and divide it into manageable, bite-size portions.

More Free (Review) Books for You!

I will admit that the above heading is intended to grab your attention and make you read this post. Because, while I truly do have some free print books for you, they come with a catch. Yes, these are review books for The Standard Bearer and the “catch” is that you may have the book if you agree to write a brief review for this Reformed magazine. Call this unfair, conditional, etc., but that is the deal.

SpiritualWarfare-Borgman&VenturaIf you are intimidated by writing a review for the “SB”, don’t be. Many others have gone before you and have done well – yes, pastors and elders, but also many ordinary believers (They are extra-ordinary in my book!), including some young people! So, put away your fears, contact me if you would like one of these books and I will help guide you through the book review process. I also have some leftover titles from previous posts offering books, so look those up as well and feel free to speak for one of these.

The two new books I received recently are both published by Reformation Heritage Books here in Grand Rapids, MI. Here are the titles and links to more information on them:

Captivated-TAnyabwileP.S. Just today (Tuesday, Feb.4, 2014) I received another review book in the mail from Reformation Heritage. It is a small paperback (95 pp.) that will be of interest to our readers, especially with the season of remembering Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection coming soon. The book is titled Captivated: Beholding the Mystery of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection by Thabiti Anyabwile, pastor of First Baptist Church, Grand Cayman, the Cayman Islands. If you want to have this book and are willing to write a brief review, let me know.

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