What will you do with the crucified Christ? ~ Rev. J. Marcus

The latest issue of the Standard Bearer (March 15, 2017) contains, among other edifying articles, an instructive and inspirational meditation by Rev. John Marcus, pastor of First PRC in Edmonton, AB.

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Pastor Marcus’ meditation is on John 19:18, “Where they crucified him, and two other with him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst.”

Below is the ending application of that meditation. As you will see, Rev. Marcus gives us good things to ponder as we reflect on the death of the Savior, Jesus Christ.

God’s word in our text is both a warning and a comfort to everyone who faces the question concerning their response to Christ.

It’s a warning to those who want a Christ and a religion according to which they can pursue their own lusts. Both sinners came face to face with Jesus and with death. They had time enough to repent. We might think to ourselves, “I can always repent when I’m older.” But, the first thief never repented. God gives us the example of this thief as a warning to everyone who pretends they will repent on their death beds.

On the other hand, Jesus in the midst of these two sinners is also an encouragement because it shows that Jesus forgives even the greatest of sinners. Though he had lived a life of violence and wickedness, the second thief found forgiveness at the cross. We must never think to ourselves, “My sins are too many or too great.” That would be to reproach Jesus and imply that His blood was not precious enough. In fact, it cleanses even the foulest of sinners. All who go to Christ and humble themselves before Him – even in the final hour of their lives – He will in no wise cast out.

Jesus Christ suffered the curse of God for all His elect. He suffered to satisfy the justice of a holy and righteous God whose anger burns against sinners.

What will you do with the crucified Christ?

If you are not an SB subscriber and would like to become one, or would like to receive a sample copy of this Reformed magazine, visit the RFPA website (ww.rfpa.org) or the link above.

The Stadsbiblioteket (Stockholm Public Library) – Atlas Obscura

Ready to tour another world library on this Friday, compliments of Atlas Obscura?

Check out this beauty in Stockholm, Sweden. Amazing design and over 2 million volumes to browse. Visit the link below to see all of the images, but you get the idea from this one here.

Here is part of the description offered by “AO”:

The Stadsbiblioteket, the main branch of the Stockholm Public Library System, is one of the most distinctive buildings in the Swedish capital. The 360-degree tower of books at the top is a bibliophile’s temple to reading in-the-round. The graceful rotunda is open to the public, who can climb to the top of the stacks and peer down on the collections below.

The library is an example of Nordic Classicism, pioneered by Swedish architect Gunnar Asplund in the 1920s. The slightly chilly façade is, at the same time, oddly inviting, as if to say “we are here to work, but all are welcome.” This style was sometimes known as “Swedish Grace,” a simplified and accessible classicism that had great influence on everything from furniture design to sculpture.

By the way, you ought to subscribe to the Atlas Obscura emails too. Each day you will receive a list of unique places in the world to visit. Did you know there is museum of the alphabet in North Carolina? Go find out!

Source: The Stadsbiblioteket (Stockholm Public Library) – Stockholm, Sweden | Atlas Obscura

Published in: on March 24, 2017 at 6:31 AM  Leave a Comment  

Why the Reformation Still Matters – Because of Grace

In Roman Catholicism grace was seen as a ‘thing,’ a force or fuel like Red Bull. Catholics would pray, ‘Hail, Mary, full of grace,’ as if Mary were wired with spiritual caffeine.

…That is nothing how Luther and his fellow Reformers saw grace. For them, grace was not a ‘thing’ at all; it is the personal kindness of God by which he does not merely enable us but actually rescues and… freely gives us himself. Or, to be more precise: there is no such ‘thing’ as grace; there is only Christ, who is the blessing of God freely given to us. That being the case, Luther tended not to talk much about grace in the abstract, preferring to speak of Christ. For example:

  • Therefore faith justifies because it takes hold of and possesses this treasure, the present Christ… the Christ who is grasped by faith and who lives in the heart is the true Christian righteousness, on account of which God counts us righteous and grants us eternal life.

In other words, the grace and righteousness we receive in the gospel are not something other than Christ himself: ‘Christ… is the divine Power, Righteousness, Blessing, Grace, and Life.’

why-reformation-matters-reeves-2016Taken from Why the Reformation Still Matters, co-authored by Michael Reeves and Tim Chester (Crossway, 2016), Chapter 4, “Grace”, pp.88-89.

Ministering in the Vatican’s Front Yard – “Tabletalk” Interview

Under the final rubric in this month’s Tabletalk (“Last Things”) is a fascinating interview with Leonardo De Chirico, a Reformed Baptist church-planting pastor laboring in the heart of Roman Catholicism – Rome, Italy.

In connection with his work in this city (almost 20 years now) TT asked him a number of significant questions, the answers to which provide keen insights into the state of Catholicism there as well as in the U.S.

I quote several of these questions and pastor De Chirico’s answers here, encouraging you to read the complete interview at the Ligonier link below.

And by the way, De Chirico is also the author of a recent title on the Roman Catholic papacy – A Christian’s Pocket Guide to the Papacy (Christian Focus, 2015)

TT: What are the greatest obstacles to church planting in Italy and, specifically, in Rome?
LD: Italy has been shaped by the Counter-Reformation. The gospel that the country has been exposed to is a blurred and confused gospel. The reading of the Bible was forbidden, the control of the church on society was obsessive, the way people lived out their faith was and still is full of pagan elements. On top of this, the modern wave of secularism has added another layer of skepticism, thus making resistance even greater. Rome is even more unique because here the Roman Catholic Church is also a political state, thus mixing religion and power. Rome looks like the city of Ephesus described in Acts 19 where the temple and businesses were intertwined in a shrewd alliance.

TT: Do you find that Roman Catholics are hostile to hearing the gospel? Why or why not?
LD: The main problem is that most Roman Catholics presume they know what the gospel is because they assume that the Roman Church has somehow taught it to them. When they reject the church (as many do), they think that they are rejecting the gospel. We have to show them that this is not the case. It is one thing to distance oneself from the Roman Church, but we try to show them that the gospel is something different that needs to be heard outside of the Roman Catholic box and in its biblical presentation.

TT: Is the Reformation over? Why or why not?
LD: The Reformation, according to God’s Word, is an ongoing task for the church: ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda (the church reformed, always reforming). Until Christ returns, it will never be over. As far as the sixteenth-century Reformation is concerned, the issues that were highlighted then are as relevant as ever: the “formal” principle of the Reformation, the supreme authority of Scripture, is far from being accepted by Rome. According to its teaching, Tradition (capital T) precedes and exceeds the written Word. It is the church that ultimately decides what is true. The last three dogmas promulgated by Rome—the 1854 dogma of Mary’s immaculate conception, the 1870 dogma of papal infallibility, and the 1950 dogma of Mary’s assumption into heaven—are binding beliefs for Roman Catholics, and yet they totally lack biblical support. The Bible, though important, is inconclusive. As for the “material” principle, justification by faith alone, Rome rejected the forensic dimension of justification and reconstructed its meaning in a synergistic and sacramental framework that runs contrary to it. The Roman Catholic Church responded to the Reformation first by condemning its teachings and then by committing itself to a long journey of aggiornamento—an update of its doctrine and practice without altering the theological core, which remains utterly unreformed.

I found the last Q&A important too:

TT: How should Reformed Christians engage with their Roman Catholic friends and neighbors?
LD: My rule of thumb is to expose them to Scripture as much as possible. They may know some Christian vocabulary, but it is generally marred in distorted traditions and by deviant cultural baggage. It is also important to show the personal and the communal aspects of the faith in order to embody viable alternatives for their daily lives. The gospel is not only a message for individuals on how to go to heaven, but a fully orbed message centered on the lordship of Christ encompassing the whole of life.

Source: Ministering in the Vatican’s Front Yard: An Interview with Leonardo De Chirico by Leonardo De Chirico

Time to “Reset” (The Grace-Cure for Burnout) – David Murray

Reset-DMurray-2017A brand new title of interest to our readers is Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture (Crossway, 2017). The author is David Murray, pastor of the Free Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, MI and professor of Old Testament and practical theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, also in Grand Rapids, MI.

I received my review copy last Friday and over the weekend started to dig into it by reading the introduction and browsing its contents. As the publisher’s description tells us, this book confronts head on a common problem, especially among men:

“How did I get here?”

These are the words of many Christian men on the brink of burnout or in the midst of breakdown. They are exhausted, depressed, anxious, stressed, and joyless. Their time is spent doing many good things, but their pace is unsustainable— lacking the regular rest, readjustment, and recalibration they need.

But there is good news: God has graciously provided a way for men to reset their lives to a more sustainable pace. Drawing on personal experiences—and time spent counseling other men in the midst of burnout—David Murray offers weary men hope for the future, helping them identify the warning signs of burnout and offering practical strategies for developing patterns that are necessary for living a grace-paced life and reaching the finish line with their joy intact.

The Table of contents reveal the specific ways in which Murray addresses the issue of burnout (and you will immediately sense how practical this book is):

Introduction

Repair Bay 1: Reality Check
Repair Bay 2: Review
Repair Bay 3: Rest
Repair Bay 4: Re-Create
Repair Bay 5: Relax
Repair Bay 6: Rethink
Repair Bay 7: Reduce
Repair Bay 8: Refuel
Repair Bay 9: Relate
Repair Bay 10: Resurrection

Want a taste of what Murray says is the “grace-cure” for the press and stress of life? Listen to these words from the introduction, where the author points to five “deficits of grace” that cause us to burnout. The first two are a lack of motivating grace and a lack of moderating grace. He brings the two together in this paragraph:

Without motivating grace, we just rest in Christ. Without moderating grace, we just run and run – until we run out. We need the first grace to fire us up when we’re dangerously cold; we need the second to cool us down when we’re dangerously hot. The first gets us out of bed; the second gets us to bed on time. The first recognizes Christ’s fair demands upon us; the second receives Christ’s full provision for us. The first says, ‘Present your bodies a living sacrifice’; the second says, ‘Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.’ The first overcomes the resistance of the ‘flesh’; the second respects the limitations of our humanity. The first speeds us up; the second slows us down. The first says, ‘My son, give me your hands’; the second says, ‘My son, give me your heart.’ (p.13).

Sound like something you would like to read and review for the Standard Bearer? If so, let me know.

And if you simply want to read it, the Seminary library has a copy and the Seminary bookstore has a few for sale. I know I will be reading it all the way through this year. I believe the author’s message is one I need – and I don’t think I am alone.

Listen Up! How to Listen to Bad Sermons (2)

listen-up-ashWe have now finished going through the seven main points of Christopher Ash’s booklet, Listen Up! A Practical Guide to  Listening to Sermons (Good Book Co., 2009), on how to listen to good (that is, biblically faithful) sermons (cf. my Saturday and Sunday posts in January and February of this year).

But, as we pointed out at the beginning of this series of posts, Ash also has an “appendix” section in which he deals with “how to listen to bad sermons” (pp.24ff.). Ash recognizes that sometimes God’s people are subjected to bad sermons, and he wants us to understand  that in these cases too we have a responsibility to listen well. So, it is worth our time to face this as well, since we have all heard at one time or another bad sermons.

Let me add this disclaimer at this point. It has been a long time since I heard a bad sermon. The PRC is blessed with good preachers and preaching, something I am thankful for each Lord’s Day. Today, too, we heard two wonderful sermons – one from our pastor (Rev. C. Spronk) and one from Seminarian Joe Holstege.

With that understanding, let’s return to Ash’s counsel about “bad sermons.” You may recall that at the outset of this section, the author divides “bad” sermons into three types: sermons that are “dull,” sermons that are “biblically inadequate,”and sermons that are “heretical.” Having considered “dull” ones last time, we turn to “biblically inadequate” ones in this post.

According to Ash, this is the kind of sermon in which you as a listener question where the the pastor got his thoughts from. “Somehow, the sermon seems to import all sorts of things not in the passage, or to screen out important things in the passage that do not feature in the preacher’s understanding of biblical truth. The sermon seems to be wrong in places, and to lack the Bible’s balance in other” (p.26).

How do we respond to such sermons? Ash advises us to avoid two dangers:

  1. “The first danger to avoid is developing a critical spirit.” Here, he references those in Jesus’ time who listened to Him, but only because they were trying to catch him i his words (Luke 11:54). We don’t want to be like that, “fault-finders”, because then we will only “feel good about ourselves, how clever we are or how well we know our Bibles; but it will never move us to repentance and faith.”
  2. “The second danger to avoid is being gullible and credulous, believing whatever any preacher says, so long as they say it plausibly and well.” Here, Ash references the Bereans, who tested even what Paul said by the Scriptures (Acts 17:11). But here, too, he advises us not to dwell on the parts of the sermon that were wrong, but on  those areas where the preacher was correct, biblically: “Let’s pray for God to apply the bits that came from the passage to our hearts and lives” (p.26).

Does that mean the minister is above questioning or beyond being helped? No, says Ash. If Priscilla and Aquila could help Apollos (Acts 18:27,28), then we may be used by God to help even a pastor grow to be a more biblical preacher. And, as he adds, ” a wise preacher will always be glad to be gently challenged and questioned by honest enquirers” (p.27).

Which also leads us to ask, Are we praying as diligently for our pastors as we ought? Do you want better (more biblical) sermons? Pray for your preacher daily! Listen well to what he brings each week! And encourage him in his work. What a calling he has as the mouthpiece of Jesus Christ!

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Luther on Desiring the Lord’s Supper

Luther'sSmallCatechism

1943 Concordia Ed.

In his “Preface” to his Small Catechism Martin Luther admonished those new to the Protestant faith about neglecting to come to the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. His words are precise and powerful, and needed by us as much as by the members of the church in his time.

As you read the following quote, keep in mind Luther is exhorting the pastors and preachers about preparing the people to come to Lord’s Supper by faithfully teaching them (especially the children) the basics of the gospel as contained in his catechism (and others like it that would follow during the Reformation, such as the Heidelberg Catechism).

Finally, now that the pope’s tyranny is over, people no longer want to go to the Sacrament but despise it. Here again urging is necessary, however, with the understanding that we are not to force anyone into the faith or to the Sacrament, nor set any law, time, or place for it. Our preaching should instead be such that of their own accord and without our command, people feel constrained themselves and press us pastors to serve the Sacrament. The way to go about this is to tell them that if anyone does not seek or desire the Lord’s Supper at the very least four times a year, it is to be feared that he despises the Sacrament and is not Christian, just as no one is a Christian who does not believe or hear the Gospel. For Christ did not say, “Omit this” or “despise this,” but “This do, as often as you drink it,” etc. He most certainly wants it done and does not want it left undone and despised. “This do,” He says.

For a person not to prize highly the Sacrament is tantamount to saying that he has no sin, no flesh, no devil, no world, no death, no danger, no hell. That is to say, he believes in none of these although he is overwhelmed by them and is the devil’s possession twice over. On the other hand, he needs no grace, life, paradise, kingdom of heaven, Christ, God, or any good thing. Surely, if he recognized how much evil is in him and how much he needs all the good things he lacks, he would not neglect the Sacrament, which gives help against such evil and bestows so much goodness. He will not need to be forced by law to the Sacrament but will himself come running in a hurry to the Lord’s Table, constrained within himself and pressing you to give him the Sacrament.

Therefore do not set up any law concerning it, as the pope does. Only emphasize clearly the benefit, need, usefulness, and blessing connected with the Sacrament, and also the harm and danger of neglecting it. The people will then come of themselves without your using compulsion. But if they still do not come, then let them go their way and tell them that all who are insensitive or unaware of their great need and God’s gracious help belong to the devil.

To read more of Luther’s Preface, visit this link, where you will also find his Small Catechism. For another post on this catechism of Luther, visit this page.

Why You Should Absolutely Read A Whole Book This Year

Back on February 22, 2017 this informative article appeared at The Federalist website. Written by senior contributor Jennifer Doverspike, the article is a call to read entire books in addition to all the short reading we do on the Internet and elsewhere.

While it is easy to keep quoting statistics on the decline of reading and lamenting its demise, we have to keep encouraging ourselves and our children to read books. So take this article that way too. Find the positive inspiration from what this writer says to read an entire book this year. And while you are at it anyway, read more of the same!

Here are her opening points:

I encounter this meme a lot on social media: “Surprising Book Facts!” It begins with the disturbing statistic that 33 percent of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives and ends with saying reading one hour a day in your chosen field will make you an international expert in seven years.

Needless to say, there are some major difficulties with this graphic. You can even say the proliferation of this meme demonstrates why we should turn away from silly shares on Facebook and instead read a real book once in a while.

Misleading statistics aside, reading has indeed declined in the last few decades. The Pew Foundation reports that as of March 2015, 73 percent of Americans read a book at least partly in the previous 12 months, a figure lower than the 79 percent reported in 2011 but statistically in line with more recent years. This reading can be in any format—print, electronic, or audio.

Comparing to past decades, that number has dropped. Gallup polls from 1978 reported 88 percent of Americans had read a book at least partly in the past year. The numbers were 81 percent from a 1990 poll, and 85 percent from a 2001 poll.

But Doverspike also adds these thoughts to point us in the right direction:

In “Life Together,” World War II-era theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer lamented the common practice of reading daily devotional passages from the Bible without context and advocated a consecutive reading of biblical books, thereby allowing the reader to “become a part of what once took place for our salvation” and “forgetting and losing ourselves, we, too, [passing] through the Red Sea, through the desert, across the Jordan into the promised land.”

Immersive, slow, deep reading not only retrains your brain to read again, but assists in “empathy, transportation and immersion, and narrative coherence.” Many studies and articles on this subject focus on the benefits of print books versus e-readers, as opposed to Internet scrolling versus novel reading, but the common theme of limiting distractions remains the same.

Source: Why You Should Absolutely Read A Whole Book This Year

Who Was Saint Patrick and Should Christians Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day? – Stephen Nichols

On this St. Patrick’s Day 2017 it would be easy to think (judging from the secular celebration of the day) that this holiday is about green Irish stew and brew.

But, in fact, this holiday is about a Christian missionary to Ireland, indeed, the “Apostle of Ireland,” as he would come to be called. Yesterday on Ligonier’s blog Stephen Nichols posted a short article on this Christian man and his significance for Christians. Here is a portion of it:

Before he was a prisoner, Patrick’s Christian faith meant little to him. That changed during his captivity. His previously ambivalent faith galvanized and served to buoy him through those long, dark days. Now that he was back in his homeland he committed to his faith in earnest. He became a priest and soon felt a tremendous burden for the people that had kidnapped him. So he returned to Ireland with a mission.

Patrick had no less of a goal than seeing pagan Ireland converted. These efforts did not set well with Loegaire (or Leoghaire), the pagan king of pagan Ireland. Patrick faced danger and even threats on his life. He took to carrying a dagger. Yet, despite these setbacks, Patrick persisted. Eventually the king converted and was baptized by Patrick and much of the people of Ireland followed suit. A later legend would have it that Patrick rid all of Ireland of snakes. Snakes were not native to Ireland at the time. Instead, Patrick rid Ireland of marauding ways and a cultural and civil barbarianism by bringing not only Christianity to Ireland, but by bringing a whole new ethic. It was not too long ago that a New York Times’ bestselling book argued that St. Patrick and his Ireland saved civilization

To finish reading the article, including why you might consider wearing orange instead of green today, visit the Ligonier link below.

For another perspective on St. Patrick, visit my 2015 post.

Source: Who Was Saint Patrick and Should Christians Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day?

A Look at Calvin College, Betsy DeVos’s Alma Mater – The Atlantic

As discerning readers, you know how much scrutiny our new United States Education Secretary, Mrs. Betsy DeVos, has generated (a West Michigan native). Not merely due to her wealthy background and associations, but also due to her strong Christian (and Reformed – Christian Reformed Church) background, Mrs. DeVos has come under the public’s critical eye, both during her confirmation hearings and now that she has begun her service as head of the Education Department.

That scrutiny now also includes her alma mater, Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI. In a major piece written by Emily DeRuy for The Atlantic on March 1, 2017, Calvin as both a Christian and Reformed college is closely reviewed. Her Kuyperian neo-Calvinistic philosophy is openly displayed, something our readers will also have a keen interest in.

Below is a portion of the article, available in full at The Atlantic link below.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.—It would be easy enough to drive past Calvin College without giving Betsy DeVos’s alma mater a second thought. Six miles southeast of downtown, the school is a sprawling cluster of nondescript buildings and winding pathways in a quiet suburb. But to bypass Calvin would be to ignore an institution whose approach to education offers clues about how the recently appointed U.S. education secretary might pursue her new job, and about the tug religious institutions feel between maintaining tradition and remaining relevant in a rapidly diversifying world.

DeVos is now Calvin’s most famous alum, and in recent weeks, the school has been painted in some circles both online and in conversation as a conservative, insular institution that helped spawn a controversial presidential-cabinet member intent on using public dollars to further religious education. But that is a grossly simplified narrative, and one that obscures the nuances and very real tensions at the school.

And a bit further in her article DeRuy writes, referencing one of Calvin’s professors,

“Our faith commits us to engaging the world all around us,” said Kevin den Dulk, a political-science professor who graduated from Calvin in the 1990s, during an interview in the DeVos Communication Center, which sits across from the Prince Conference Center bearing the secretary’s maiden name. (Her mother, Elsa, is also an alum.)

Den Dulk’s words aren’t just PR fluff; it’s a concept borne out by the school’s 141-year history and the Dutch-influenced part of western Michigan it calls home. The Christian Reformed Church is a Protestant tradition that has its roots in the Netherlands and has been deeply influenced by the theologian Abraham Kuyper, a believer in intellectualism—specifically the idea that groups with different beliefs can operate in the same space according to their convictions while respecting and understanding others. “Fundamentalism is really anti-intellectual and Calvin is the exact opposite,” said Alan Wolfe, the author of a 2000 Atlantic piece about efforts to revitalize evangelical Christian colleges.

Source: A Look at Calvin College, Betsy DeVos’s Alma Mater – The Atlantic