God’s Work through the Means of Grace: It’s All So Ordinary

Means-of-Grace-3The following are theologian Michael Horton’s further thoughts on being content with God’s “ordinary” means of grace for the Christian’s faith and life:

‘Expect a miracle!’ That’s good counsel if there is a promise in Scripture to back it up. The problem today is that many Christians are not looking for God’s miraculous activity where he has promised it, namely, through his ordinary means of grace. Through these means, he has pledged to raise us from spiritual death, to forgive sins, to assure us of God’s favor, and to conform us to Christ’s image.

…Typically, we identify ‘acts of God’ with the big stuff: earthquakes, hurricanes, and parting seas. Or perhaps a better way of putting it: we identify the big stuff with what can be measured and recognized as an obvious miraculous intervention by God. Millions of people around the world will turn out for a prosperity evangelist’s promise of signs and wonders. But how many of us think that God’s greatest signs and wonders are being done every week through the ordinary means of preaching, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper?

…If our God is so keen to work in and through the ordinary, maybe we should rethink the way we confine him to the theatrical spectacles, whether the pageantry of the Mass or the carefully staged crusade. It takes no honor away from God that he uses ordinary – even physical – means to bring about extraordinary results. On the contrary, it underscores the comprehensive breadth of his sovereignty over, in, and within creation as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

To be content with Christ’s kingdom is to be satisfied also with his ordinary means of grace.

…Just as we wouldn’t have expected to find the Creator of the universe in a feeding trough of a barn in some obscure village, much less hanging, bloody, on a Roman cross, we do not expect to find him delivering his extraordinary gifts in such human places and in such humble ways as human speech [preaching], a bath [baptism], and a meal [the Lord’s supper]. This can’t be right, we reason. We need signs and wonders to know that God is with us. Yet it is only because God has promised to meet us in the humble and ordinary places, to deliver his inheritance, that we are content to receive him in these ways.

CNN will not be showing up at a church that is simply trusting God to do extraordinary things through his ordinary means of grace delivered by ordinary servants. But God will. Week after week. These means of grace and the ordinary fellowship of the saints that nurtures and guides us throughout our life may seem frail, but they are jars that carry a rich treasure: Christ with all his saving benefits.

ordinary-MHorton-2014Taken from chapter 7 of Michael Horton’s Or-di-nary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World (Zondervan, 2014), which I am currently making my way through. The chapter is simply titled “Contentment.” The paragraphs I have quoted are found on pp.139-49.

Horton’s words leave us with some questions: Are we content with God’s ordinary means of grace? And if so, are we using them as He intends?

The Suffering Prophet – M. Schipper

Betrayal-Jesus

The suffering Prophet must follow the prophetic Scripture as He treads the way of suffering—all the way to the cross!

And so, when He chooses Judas to betray Him, He was only walking precisely in the way the Father had mapped out for Him. Not only had the Lord God determined in His counsel the fact and the manner in which the Savior should suffer, but He had also prescribed in the Scriptures all the steps the Savior would have to follow as He descended as it were into the valley of suffering. This prescription the Redeemer had to follow in detail. Hence, the Scripture must be fulfilled!

Now it should be remembered that when David wrote by inspiration the history of his betrayal by Ahithophel he was at the same time reflecting on the suffering of Christ. And Christ, Who understood clearly that these Scriptures were the revelation of God’s counsel concerning Himself and His way of suffering, chose Judas as the betrayer, both to fulfill the Scripture and to enter into the depths of His suffering—also into that aspect of it as inflicted on Him by Judas Iscariot.

But why could not the Lord Jesus have been captured and crucified without a betrayal? Why must He be delivered into the hands of sinful men by a familiar friend?

The answer is: Judas’ sin is our sin!

We have lifted up the heel against our Friend, and that Friend is our Covenant God. Jesus must bear away in His suffering all our sin and make satisfaction for all our sin, also this sin. Let us not in pride condemn Judas, though he is to be condemned; but let us humble ourselves before the face of God and taste His salvation.

Now the suffering Prophet may prophecy to His disciples, and to us!

Almost a year before He had told them that one of them was a devil and would betray Him. But they had not understood. And it was well that they had not understood, for had they known they might have cast Judas from their midst. But now the Prophet must speak clearly so that the betrayer can also understand: “The Scripture must be fulfilled, He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me.”

And the reason why they must know now is expressed in the verse following our text: “Now I tell you before it come, that, when it is come to pass, ye may believe that I am he.”

That ye may know that in spite of all that is about to take place, I am the Messiah; and that I am the One of Whom David did write in the Psalms. And that I am the One Who took your sins upon Me, also the sin of lifting up your heel against your Covenant Friend, the God of your salvation.

That ye may believe!

And believing, ye may be saved!

Taken from a Lenten meditation on John 13:18 and Psalm 41:9 by Marinus Schipper (then minister of the Word in SE PRC, Grand Rapids, MI) published in the February 15, 1969 issue of the Standard Bearer.

The Death of the Michigan Wilderness

…originally the lumberman was highly selective. He wanted nothing but pines, and they had to be fully grown; he took only the larger ones, and only those that grew near running water. Now [That is, after the development of better tree-cutting instruments and the construction of narrow-gauge railroads deep into the Michigan forest.] he realized that he wanted everything, and so he took everything. He could use small pines as well as big ones; more important, he could use hardwoods as well, because the railroad could move hardwood logs as readily as logs of pine.

All of the old limitations were gone. The lumberman could go into every corner of the forest and cut down all the trees, and that is exactly what he did. He still preferred pine, but by the 1890s the end of the pine supply was in sight, and so while a number of operators dismantled their mills and tracks and moved out of the state in search of virgin timber farther west, a good many remained and went after the hardwoods. Grand Rapids took walnut, oak, maple and black cherry and before long was boasting that it was the furniture capital of the United States, or possibly of the entire world. Traverse City suddenly discovered that it[s] largest single employer of labor was a mill that made hardwood chopping bowls, salad bowls, butter bowls and so on. Out of the dwindling forest came railroad ties, telephone poles, fence posts, shipyard timber, and blocks cut from pine stumps to be used for matchsticks. Even the supposedly worthless aspen, that came up in matted profusion when a stand of pine was removed, became an article of commerce; men could use it to make boxwood, or feed it into the pulp mills to make paper, and boats and trains that once carried saw logs went off to market loaded down with the slim logs of aspen.

So over most of the state of Michigan the forest was destroyed, with single-minded dedication and efficiency. Sometimes it seemed as if men of that time actually hated trees….

waiting-train-catton-1987Taken from chapter 6, “Death of a Wilderness,” in Bruce Catton’s Waiting for the Morning Train (Wayne State University Press, 1987), pp.117-118.

As promised in my last post on this book, we have to face what the greedy lumber industry did to the Michigan wilderness. Catton doesn’t hide the sad history of what man did to the beautiful forests of Michigan’s north country. While there are still glimpses of what once was, it is hard to imagine the trees that formerly covered the area of Benzonia County and beyond. And with that destruction of the wilderness, as Catton notes, went the killing of bird (passenger pigeon) and fish (the grayling in the Au Sable River, for example), and even people, for the industry also produced massive forest fires.

Such is another manifestation of the sinfulness of man. Created a steward of the land and its resources, in his fallen state he recklessly rapes the land and ruins its resources, leaving a trail of barren wilderness, vacated towns, dilapidated buildings, and ruined lives. Such was “progress” in the industrial age, just as it is still man’s “progress” in this information age. Just the resources and tools have changed.

Will we learn from this history?

A Valentine Word Wednesday: Amare, to love

Amo-LatinOn this Valentine’s Day 2018, let’s use it for a “Word Wednesday” and consider the Latin word for love, amare, with its common base forms ama and amo.

In the Dictionary of Latin and Greek Origins: A Comprehensive Guide to the Classical Origins of English Words (Barnes & Noble, 2000 –  co-authored by Bob Moore and Maxine Moore) we find this entry, along with this description and explanation of the word:

An AMAteur is one who plays for the love of the game rather than for money. When something is said to be AMAteurish, however, it is considered not only unprofessional but inept, inexpert, and inadequate as well.

…An AMOrous person is one who tends to fall in love; amorous or AMAtory literature is concerned with love. An AMOur is a love affair; to be enAMOred is to be inflamed with love. “We were enamored of the the colorful countryside.”

An AMOretto is a cherub or cupid. An inAMOrata is a female lover. An inAMOrato is a male lover [that is, in licit relationships]; if it is an illicit affair, he or she is a parAMOur [from the Greek preposition meaning one “beside or along side of” your true love].

We remember, of course, that God has the first, the last, and the best word on love, as revealed in His holy Word. Because He IS love, and manifested His love for us in Jesus Christ. Dwell on this love.

“O love the LORD, all ye his saints: for the LORD preserveth the faithful, and plentifully rewardeth the proud doer.” Ps.31:23

“He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love.” Song of Songs 2:4

“Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it: if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned.” Song of Songs 8:6,7

“The LORD hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.” Jer.31:3

“I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him.” Hos.14:4

“As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.” Jn.15:9

“But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Rom.5:8

“And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour.’ Eph.5:2

“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;” Eph.5:25

“And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you:” I Thess.3:12

“Let brotherly love continue.” Heb.13:1

“My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.” I Jn.3:18

“Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.” Jude 21

“As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.” Rev.3:19

 

Published in: on February 14, 2018 at 11:05 PM  Leave a Comment  

A Whole Issue on Bullying?! Yes, and Necessary – The March 2018 “Beacon Lights”

Anti-Bully BL-ad-2018

Soon the March 2018 issue of the Beacon Lights will be out (the Protestant Reformed youth magazine), and it is an entire issue devoted to the subject of bullying.

Yes, bullying, that subject which has received so much attention in the world about us and which is now also being confronted in the church of Christ and kingdom of God. Bullying, that hateful, shameful, powerful conduct that has such tragic consequences in the lives of children and young people – covenant, Christian children and young people too. Perhaps all the more so because it has been carried out by fellow professing covenant, Christian children and young people. Indeed, it is time for this conduct to be called out and confronted, confessed and killed – with the sword of the Spirit and the blood of Jesus.

Are we ready to face the sad sin of bullying?

In this special March issue you will read the subject introduced by managing editor Ryan Kregel. Part of what he has to say is this:

Today, the violence of bullying exists in homes and workplaces. Bullying happens in schools, public and Christian. Bullies come in all ages, male and female. Bullies use many means to accomplish their goal of dominating another person. Sometimes physical abuse is the method, whether a violent, even bloody assault at one time or the daily slapping, spitting, and tripping of the victim. Bullying is also manifest in words. Sometimes the victim endures a barrage of insults day after day. Other times the words are written in notes passed around the classroom, sent as text messages, scratched into the wall of the bathroom stall, or posted on social media. No matter their form, they are meant to hurt, cut down, and kill.

Maybe you have witnessed bullying at school or elsewhere. You probably noticed that the victim didn’t go on the defensive because most victims do not. So did you do anything about it? Did you make their unspoken voice heard? Did you defend the victim or did you join in? Keep in mind that helping a victim of bullying must go further than just “telling off” the bully. Helping ought to include befriending the victim. Through this action we show an awareness of how we ourselves have been befriended by God through Jesus Christ.

From the editor, Dewey Engelsma, you will read about “Murder on a School Bus” and “Delivering the Helpless” (more on these in another post). You will also find articles on “The Offense of Cyberbullying” and “A Letter of Comfort for the Bullied Young Person.”

Yes, the sin of bullying is exposed in this BL issue. It is a painful matter.  But the marvelous mercy of God is also laid bare. Mercy that leads to confession and prayer for help. Mercy that forgives and heals. Mercy that makes us merciful to confront the bully and to help the helpless. As Mr. Kregel adds at the end of his introduction,

Thanks be to God that there is comfort for the
victim of bullying. God promises to “give his angels
charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways” (Ps.
91:11). He also says of the one in need of help, “He
shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be
with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honor
him” (v. 15).

BL-logoWatch for this issue, and when it comes read it carefully and prayerfully. If you are not yet a subscriber, visit the Beacon Light’s subscription page where you will find information on how to become one. Now would be a good time to join the ranks.

What’s the Value in Reading Secular Classics? – L. Ryken

litclassicsAs we continue working our way slowly through Leland Ryken’s recent book, A Christian Guide to the Classics (Crossway, 2015), we are up chapter 9, where he treats “secular classics” (pp.80-90).

After defining what he means by “secular” (“a non-Christian work that does not explicitly endorse a Christian view of reality”, p.80), and distinguishing various types of literature that fall into this category, Ryken seeks to answer the question, “Why should Christians read secular classics?” And he begins with this point:

“One of the values that secular classics offer us is implicit in my labels the literature of common humanity and the literature of clarification. The subject of literature is human experience. Literature overwhelmingly ‘delivers the goods’ in putting us in touch with bedrock human experience. Flannery O’Conner said that the writer ‘should never be ashamed of staring’ at life (Mystery and Manners). The same is true of readers. One of the functions of authors is ‘to stare, to look at the created world, and to lure the rest of us into a similar act of contemplation’ (Nathan A. Scott, Modern Literature and the Religious Frontier). As we stare at human experience, we come to understand it. Literature gives us knowledge in the form of right seeing, and this applies to secular literature too.”

But to that Ryken adds this value:

“Christian and secular classics both give us this form of knowledge, but the clarifying power of literature (its focus on human experience) assumes a larger proportion of the take-away value when we read secular literature. We do not have our souls nurtured in the same way that we do when we read Christian literature, so truthfulness to human experience and clarification of life loom larger as the things that occupy us.”

And finally, the author adds this point concerning the value of reading non-Christian works of literature:

“…Reading secular literature can help us form a bond with the human race, and sometimes this is even truer when we read the literature of unbelief. Literature highlights the human condition to which the Christian faith speaks. Often we feel this more strongly when we know that we are being addressed by an unbelieving author who gives testimony to a viewpoint of experience that we do not know directly.”

GuidetoClassics-LRykenWhat do you think of Ryken’s answer to that question? Is there value in reading secular literature? If so, how should the Christian read them in a distinctively Christian way?

Next time we will consider Ryken’s points about “how not to read a secular classic” and “how to read a secular classic.” His points will certainly help us further answer the question concerning whether we should read secular literature.

Warfare Prayer and Our Need of “All-Prayer”

SpiritualWarfare-Borgman&VenturaTonight we gathered again for fruitful fellowship and discussion with our Sunday night discussion group. We are coming to the end of our study of spiritual warfare using the book Spiritual Warfare: A Biblical & Balanced Perspective by Brian Borgman & Rob Ventura (Reformation Heritage Books, 2014). This valuable book is basically an exposition of Ephesians 6:10-18, the classic NT passage on the Christian’s spiritual battles against his spiritual enemies.

This evening we focused on the final verses of this section, covering the apostle’s appeal to prayer as a fitting conclusion to our calling to stand while putting on the whole armor of God. Chapter 11 is titled “Warfare Prayer” and the authors give a detailed and profitable explanation of v.18 where Paul writes, “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints.”

The following is part of that exposition:

…Why does Paul focus on prayer so much in this letter?

Clinton Arnold provides a simple, straightforward reason: ‘Prayer is the essence of spiritual warfare and the most important means by which believers are strengthened by God.’ There is a grammatical connection between verses 14 and 18: ‘stand…praying.’ The command in verse 14 is to stand. Putting on each piece of the armor explains how we stand in warfare. That is, we are to stand by putting on the armor. However, when we get to verse 18, we learn that we stand by putting on the armor, and we stand by praying.

Prayer is not a seventh piece of the armor but the means by which each piece is effectively employed. No doubt, Paul mentions prayer last for the sake of emphasis. The passage that begins with ‘be strong in the Lord’ (v.10) ends with ‘praying always with all prayer and supplication’ (v.18). Prayer is the critical component of our warfare, saturating each piece of our armor.

…We can only appropriate the armor through prayer. The armor of God does not consist of literal pieces we can put on; rather, it consists of spiritual truths that the Christian appropriates through prayer. Prayer imparts effectiveness to the armor and employs God’s strength, enabling us to stand [Kindle ed., location 1435-1453].

And the authors end with these fine words:

As trembling pilgrims know, the weapon ‘all-prayer’ is most needful. [The chapter began by referring to Christian’s need of “all-prayer” as he walked through the Valley of the Shadow of Death in Bunyan’s classic The Pilgrim’s Progress.] The soldier of Christ employs prayer in applying the armor. Once we put the armor on with prayer, it continues to be a fundamental weapon in our warfare, as we, in reliance on the Spirit, constantly call to our heavenly headquarters for help, both for ourselves and our fellow soldiers [location 1541].

David, the Believer, and Christ in Psalm 22

The psalm begins with a section dominated by the agonized prayer of David (vv.1-21). David is expressing in the first place his own experience of feeling abandoned by God. Here is the most intense suffering God’s servant can know – not just that enemies surround him (vv.7, 12-13) and that his body is in dreadful pain (vv.14-16), but that he feels that God does not hear him and does not care about his suffering. And this is not just the experience of David. It is the experience of all God’s people in the face of terrible trouble. We wonder how our loving Father can stand idly by when we are in such distress.

And then after pointing out the faith and hope of David expressed in that deep cry, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? (v.1), showing that David still held on to the truth that God was his God, Godfrey returns to that idea of God’s apparent abandonment:

John Calvin in his commentary concluded that a sense of being forsaken by God, far from being unique to Christ or rare for the believer, is a regular and frequent struggle for believers. He wrote, ‘There is not one of the godly who does not daily experience in himself the same thing. According to the judgment of the flesh, he thinks he is cast off and forsaken by God, while yet he apprehends by faith the grace of God, which is hidden from the eye of sense and reason.’ We must not think that living the Christian life is easy or that we will not daily have to bear the cross.

But then the author takes us to Christ, in whom these words are fulfilled – for our salvation:

This psalm  is not only the experience of every believer, but it is also a very remarkable and specific prophecy of the sufferings of Jesus. We see the scene of the crucifixion especially clearly in the words, ‘A company of evil doers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet – I can count all my bones – they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots’ (vv.16-18). Here we see that indeed this psalm comes to its fullest realization in Jesus.

Jesus knew this psalm and quoted its first words to identify with us in our suffering since He bore on the cross our agony and suffering. ‘Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death’ (Heb.2:14). Jesus does deliver us by becoming our substitute and the sacrifice for our sins.

Learning-love-psalms-Godfrey-2017Taken from W. Robert Godfrey’s new book Learning to Love the Psalms (Reformation Trust, 2017). I am now reading through the sections that treat various psalms from each of the five books into which the Psalter is divided. This is drawn from the author’s explanation of Psalm 22 (Book 1).

For a beautiful arrangement of this Psalm put to music, listen to this video of the Protestant Reformed Psalm Choir (Psalter #47).

Mrs. Frisby and the Library of Nimh

Rats-of-nimh-OBrienThe room they entered was big, square, well lit, and had a faint musty smell. ‘It’s reasonably comfortable, and if you like to read…’ he gestured at the walls. They were lined with shelves from floor to ceiling, and on the shelves stood – Mrs. Frisby dredged in her memory. ‘Books,’ she said. ‘They’re books.’

‘Yes,’ said Justin. ‘Do you read much?’

‘Only a little,’ said Mrs. Frisby. ‘My husband taught me. And the children…’ She started to tell him how.

…Mrs. Frisby looked around her. The room – the library, Nicodemus had called it – had, in addition to its shelves of books, several tables with benches beside them, and on these were stacked more books, some of them open.

Books. Her husband, Jonathan, had told her about them. He had taught her and the children to read (the children had mastered it quickly, but she herself could barely manage the simplest words; she had thought perhaps it was because she was older). He had also told her about electricity. He had known these things – and so, it emerged, did the rats. It never occurred to her until now how he knew them. He had always known so many things, and she had accepted that as a matter of course. But who had taught him to read?

Found in the chapter “In the Library” in Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh by Robert C. O’Brien (Aladdin Paperpacks, 1975) a Newbery Medal book I recently picked up for my grandchildren, but was told to read myself before I gave it to them. It is a fun and easy read, filling the mind with imagination and adventure in the world of soft, furry animals. I just had to share the library part of the story with you. 🙂

 

Published in: on February 9, 2018 at 6:27 AM  Leave a Comment  

Knowing God and Our Sinfulness in Jesus Christ: “The Mind on Fire” – B. Pascal

The Christian faith teaches men these two truths: there is a God whom men are capable of knowing, and they have a corrupt nature which makes them unworthy of him. It is equally important for men to know both of these points. It is as equally dangerous for man to know God without knowing his own sinfulness as it is for him to know about his sinfulness without knowing the Redeemer can cure him. Knowing only one of these aspects leads either to the arrogance of the philosophers, who have known God but not their own sinfulness, or to the despair of the atheists, who know their own wretched state without knowing their Redeemer.

Thus it is equally necessary for man to know these two issues, so it is equally merciful of God to reveal them to us. The Christian faith comprises both of these.

…Jesus Christ is the object of all things, the center upon which all things focus. Whoever knows him knows the reason for everything. But those who go astray only do so for a lack of seeing one of these two tenets. For it is perfectly possible to know God but not our own wretched condition, or to know our own wretchedness but not God. It is not possible to know Christ without knowing both God and our wretchedness.

That is why I am not trying to prove naturally the existence of God, or indeed the Trinity, or the immortality of the soul or anything of that kind. This is not just because I do not feel competent to find natural arguments that will convince obdurate atheists, but because such knowledge, without Christ, is useless and empty.

Mind-on-fire-pascalBlaise Pascal (1623-1662) in his Pensees (Christian apology, that is, defense of the Christian faith) as found in the anthology of his writings The Mind on Fire, part of the “Classics of Faith and Devotion” series published by Multnomah Press (1989), edited by James M. Houston, with an introduction by Os Guinness.

This quotation is taken from section XIV titled “The Transition from Human Knowledge to Knowing God” (pp.148-49). I plan to post such portions of the Pensees throughout this year.