What Gospel Do You Hear in Church?

The second article from this month’s Tabletalk that I reference is taken from this past weekend’s devotional. Written by John P. Sartelle, senior pastor of Tates Creek Presbyterian Church in Lexington, KY, it is entitled “Grace-Based Ethics”. It is a marvelous follow-up to the treatment of the 10 commandments which were covered in the previous weeks. His take-off point is the Scripture in Romans 6:1, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” He argues that it is only the gospel of pure grace that answers this question properly. For the gospel of sovereign grace is that God has not only justified His people freely in Christ but also sanctified them freely by His Spirit. It is a grace that changes them to live in holiness and glad obedience to God.  And then he writes this:

Why do we then see church members who speak of the grace and love of God and yet sin with abandon? The grace they have learned from their pulpits is counterfeit. It is not a grace freely given by a holy and just God who has sworn a righteous judgment on all sin. Rather, it is a permissive leniency of a god who winks at sin. It is a grace that knows nothing of God’s hatred of sin, the awful justice of Calvary, and the sinner’s redemption from the righteous wrath of God. Thus, the recipient of this pseudo-grace regards his mediocre salvation with a levity that allows him to ‘enjoy’ God and continue his selfish, materialistic, immoral life unchanged. We must ask the church: ‘Where is the preaching and teaching of the fearsome holiness and justice of God, the odious nature and wages of sin, and the terrible price that was paid at Calvary for the redemption of sinners?’ Without such truth, there will be no understanding of true gospel grace (p.63).

Those are powerful words for us to weigh. And a searching question to answer. So I write again, What gospel do you hear in your church? CJT

A Word to the Older Generation

I have not yet spoken of anything in this month’s issue of Tabletalk, the monthly devotional published by Ligonier Ministries (R.C. Sproul). Being the last day of August, I thought I’d better get something in, because there were some gem articles again. The theme this month was actually devoted to the church in the 10 century (at least once a year the editors are tracing the history of the church century by century – very important to know our church history, you know – especially those obscure centuries!).

But I do not  refer to any of these feature articles this time. Rather, I pluck a few gems from other sections of the devotional. And the first one is this, taken from the rubric “Generation to Generation”. Usually, these articles are written by some older members of the church, and they “talk” to the younger generation, passing on their wisdom. But this article is written by a younger member of the church, and he pleads for the older members to “tell us your stories”. I truly appreciated his perspective and his wise counsel. Here is how the article opens. You may read the full article at the link below:

Tell Us Your Stories

by Collin Hansen

Sometimes younger Christians give the impression that we have things figured out. We’re the future. We’ve found the old methods wanting, so we’ve developed new ones. We’re the generation that will strike the right balance where our forebears fell over to one side or the other. We’ve learned from your mistakes. And we don’t mind telling you.

Older believers recognize this youthful arrogance for what it is. You’ve been there, done that, grown out of it. You wait patiently for us to do likewise. But I want to encourage you not to let us younger believers off the hook so easily. Don’t berate us, for we excel at tuning out what we don’t want to hear. Don’t patronize us, as our pride will kick in and make us defensive. Still, there is one thing you can do: Tell us your stories.

Your stories give us the perspective we haven’t yet gained with experience. We don’t yet understand how much we don’t know. Our youthful bluster masks insecurity. We stand tall against withering attacks from our peers, but we’ve hardly been tested. We fear that when harder times come our faith will prove ephemeral. But your stories gird us against these doubts. So look underneath our confident exterior. You’ll find that younger Christians actually want to hear from older believers about how God demonstrated His faithfulness in their generation.

I’m worried, however, that these stories will be lost. Evangelicals suffer from self-inflicted amnesia. Our churches segregate age groups in order to foster relationships between peers. If you’re not deliberate about developing intergenerational friendships, they will not happen. Worse, our relentless effort to contextualize the gospel by chasing new cultural trends leads us to disparage the past. After all, what can the past teach us about spreading the gospel in the age of social media? Innovation is indeed necessary as we take the gospel into all the nations. And those committed to semper reformanda will always re-evaluate their practices by the standard of Scripture. But the line between innovation and fashion appears dangerously faint these days.


Stewardship Vs. Stealing

Today we take a look at the 8th commandment, as we continue our little series on the 10 commandments. We do so because our church has been going through the section of the Heidelberg Catechism on the law of God again, and because I have been reading two books on the 10 commandments as we cover this section. This morning (Sunday, Aug.29, 2010) our pastor preached on Lord’s Day 42 of the catechism in the light of Lu.16 and the parable of the unjust steward. The catechism explains the 8th commandment in this way:

Question 110. What doth God forbid in the eighth commandment?

Answer. God forbids not only those [a] thefts, and [b] robberies, which are punishable by the magistrate; but he comprehends under the name of theft all wicked tricks and devices, whereby we design to [c] appropriate to ourselves the goods which belong to our neighbor: whether it be by force, or under the appearance of right, as by unjust [d] weights, ells, [e] measures, fraudulent merchandise, false coins, [f] usury, or by any other way forbidden by God; as also all [g] covetousness, all abuse and waste of his gifts.

Question 111. But what doth God require in this commandment?

Answer. That I promote the advantage of my neighbor in every instance I can or may; and deal with him as I [h] desire to be dealt with by others: further also that I faithfully labor, so that I [i] may be able to relieve the needy.

[a]: 1Cor. 6:10
[b]: 1Cor. 5:10
[c]: Luke 3:14; 1Thes. 4:6
[d]: Prov. 11:1
[e]: Ezek. 45:9,10,11; Deut. 25:13
[f]: Psa. 15:5; Luke 6:35
[g]: 1Cor. 6:10
[h]: Mat. 7:12
[i]: Prov. 5:16; Eph. 4:28

I want to share some material from the book Written in Stone (P&R, 2010) by Philip G.Ryken. After referencing the Heidelberg Catechism’s commentary on the 8th commandment, Ryken writes this:

The trouble is that when it comes to stealing, nearly everyone is doing it. Yet nearly 90 percent of evangelical Christians claim that they never break the eighth commandment. This statistic is hardly encouraging. What it shows is that Christians have forgotten what stealing really means. The truth is that theft is pervasive at every level of American society, and like everyone else, we are in on the take. But this is not just an American problem. The whole human race is a band of thieves, and we all suffer the loss. Martin Luther said, ‘If we look at mankind in all its conditions, it is nothing but a vast, wide stable full of great thieves.’ He also speculated what would happen if we were all brought to justice. ‘It is the smallest part of thieves that are hung,’ he said. ‘If we’re to hang them all, where shall we get rope enough? We must make all our belts and straps into halters.’ (pp.173-174).

As is usually the case when expounding the 8th commandment, the issue of stewardship arises, and Ryken too explains this well. It is in this connection that he condemns gambling, a sin that needs constant attention in our age and society:

Good stewardship means taking care of what we have been given, not letting things fall into disrepair. It means not being wasteful. Whenever we squander money that could be better spent on something else, we are guilty of a kind of theft. This is one of the problems with gambling, which has become one of the most common ways of breaking the 8th commandment. Each year Americans spend more money on various forms of gambling than they do on food or clothing. ‘What’s wrong with that?’ some may ask. The Southern Baptist Convention has provided an excellent answer:

While the Bible contains no ‘thou shalt not’ in regard to gambling, it does contain many insights and principles which indicate that gambling is wrong. The Bible emphasizes the sovereignty of God in the direction of human events (see Matthew 10:29-30); gambling looks to chance and good luck. The Bible indicates that man is to work creatively and use his possessions for the good of others (see Ephesians 4:28); gambling fosters a something-for-nothing attitude. The Bible calls for carefil stewardship; gambling calls for reckless abandon. The Bible condemns covetousness and materialism (see Matthew 6:24-34); gambling has both at its heart. The moral thrust of the Bible is love for God and neighbor (Matthew 22:37-40); gambling seeks personal gain and pleasure at another person’s loss and pain (pp.175-176).

That is indeed an excellent summary of our objections to this sin of gambling. Do we think about that when tempted to buy a lottery ticket or visit a casino (on the sly, of course – but not before the Lord!)?

Finally, Ryken has some great thoughts (and words!) on the stewardship of giving:

This brings us to the last aspect of good stewardship, which is giving away what God has given to us so that other people will have what they need. Jerry Bridges has observed that there are three basic attitudes we can take toward possessions. The first says, ‘What’s yours is mine’ I’ll take it.’ This is the attitude of the thief. The second says, ‘What’s mine is mine; I’ll keep it.’ Since we are selfish by nature, this is the attitude that most people have most of the time. The third attitude – the godly attitude – says, ‘What’s mine is God’s; I’ll share it.’

Christians are called to live generously. We do not work simply to satisfy our own desires, but also to provide for others. This is not to say that we can never enjoy what God has given us. After all, enjoying God’s gifts is one aspect of good stewardship. But Christians who are as wealthy as we are should always be thinking about what we can give to someone else. It is only in this way that money loses its power over us. As Kent Hughes has said, ‘Every time I give, I declare that money does not control me. Perpetual generosity is a perpetual de-deification of money.’ (p.176)

May God grant us grace this week to sanctify our hearts and our entire bodies, so that we live in grateful obedience to this 8th commandment, striving not to steal but to live in godly stewardship. Because, as Ryken also points out, the good news we have received is that Christ was crucified between two thieves to pay the ultimate price for thieves such as ourselves. CJT

Music Video: Give Ear Unto My Words O Lord

In connection with the post on Psalm 5, here is a piano version of a hymn written by Dwight Armstrong based on Psalm 5. I am not familiar with this hymn but it is a beautiful melody and faithful versification of the psalm. May it provide quiet meditation on God’s word to us as we prepare to worship Him in the beauty of holiness. CJT

YouTube – Give Ear Unto My Words O Lord.

Sunday Worship Preparation – Psalm 5

Welcome back to the blog after a week of refreshing vacation! I have much to write on, but it can and will wait. For tomorrow is the Lord’s Day (I write on Saturday evening) and for that we desire to get and be ready. For this final Sunday in August we turn to Psalm 5, the next psalm for our consideration.

1st, here is the psalm in its KJV form:

Give ear to my words, O Lord, consider my meditation.

2Hearken unto the voice of my cry, my King, and my God: for unto thee will I pray.

3My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O Lord; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up.

4For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with thee.

5The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity.

6Thou shalt destroy them that speak leasing: the Lord will abhor the bloody and deceitful man.

7But as for me, I will come into thy house in the multitude of thy mercy: and in thy fear will I worship toward thy holy temple.

8Lead me, O Lord, in thy righteousness because of mine enemies; make thy way straight before my face.

9For there is no faithfulness in their mouth; their inward part is very wickedness; their throat is an open sepulchre; they flatter with their tongue.

10Destroy thou them, O God; let them fall by their own counsels; cast them out in the multitude of their transgressions; for they have rebelled against thee.

11But let all those that put their trust in thee rejoice: let them ever shout for joy, because thou defendest them: let them also that love thy name be joyful in thee.

12For thou, Lord, wilt bless the righteous; with favour wilt thou compass him as with a shield.

You will see immediately the appropriateness of this psalm for our worship preparation. The psalmist speaks of directing his morning prayer to His God and King and pleads with Him to hear him (vss.1-3). He praises God for His holiness which causes Him to have no pleasure in wickedness and to hate all evil-doers (vss.4-6). And so he will come near the Lord by His sovereign mercy and worship Him in godly fear (v.7). And after placing His enemies in the hands of His righteous God, he expresses his confidence that God will bless and protect His people (vss.8-12). That’s why the people of the Lord can and do rejoice in Him and shout for joy in their worship of Him (v.11). May it be so with us on this Sunday.

2nd, we quote from J.Calvin’s comments on v.7:

The scope of the passage leads us to understand him as promising to give thanks to God. He had before spoken of his enemies as hated of God; and now, being persuaded that God will keep him in safety, he calls himself to the exercise of gratitude. I will come into thy temple says he, in the multitude of thy mercy; as if he had said, I may now seem to be in a condition almost desperate, but by the favor of God, I shall be kept in perfect safety. This passage, therefore, teaches us, that when we are afflicted by the most distressing temptations, we ought to set the grace of God before our eyes, in order thereby to be supported with the hope of the divine interposition amidst the greatest dangers. Further, as our carnal minds either wickedly undervalue the grace of God, or put the low estimate upon it which is commonly put by the world, let us learn to extol its wonderful greatness, which is sufficient to enable us to overcome all fears. The primary object of David was to encourage himself in the assured hope of preservation from the mercy of God; but at the same time he shows, that upon obtaining deliverance, he will be grateful to God for it, and keep it in remembrance. And as hypocrites, in giving thanks to God, do nothing else but profane his name, inasmuch as they themselves are unholy and polluted, he therefore resolves to come in the fear of God, in order to worship him with a sincere and upright heart. Again, we may hence draw the general truth, that it is only through the goodness of God that we have access to him; and that no man prays aright but he who, having experienced his grace, believes and is fully persuaded that he will be merciful to him. The fear of God is at the same time added, in order to distinguish genuine and godly trust from the vain confidence of the flesh.

And finally, we give this Psalter versification of Psalm 5, taken from the 1912 edition published by the United Presbyterian Board of Publication:

O Jehovah, Hear My Words

1. O Jehovah, hear my words,
To my thought attentive be;
Hear my cry, My King, my God,
I will make my prayer to Thee.
With the morning light, O Lord,
Thou shalt hear my voice arise,
And expectant I will bring
Prayer as morning sacrifice.

2. Thou, Jehovah, art a God
Who delightest not in sin;
Evil shall not dwell with Thee,
Nor the proud Thy favor win.
Evil-doers Thou dost hate,
Lying tongues Thou wilt defeat;
God abhors the man who loves
Violence and base deceit.

3. In the fullness of Thy grace
To Thy house I will repair;
Bowing toward Thy holy place,
In Thy fear will worship there.
Lead me in Thy righteousness,
Let my foes assail in vain;
Lest my feet be turned aside,
Make Thy way before me plain.

4. False and faithless are my foes,
In their mouth no truth is found;
Deadly are the words they speak,
All their thoughts with sin abound.
Bring, O God, their plans to naught,
Hold them guilty in Thy sight,
For against Thee and Thy law
They have set themselves to fight.

5. O let all that trust Thy care
Ever glad and joyful be;
Let them joy who love Thy Name,
Safely guarded, Lord, by Thee.
For a blessing from Thy store
To the righteous Thou wilt yield;
Thou wilt compass him about
With Thy favor as a shield.

All of the above information was taken from the CCEL website (Christian Classics Ethereal Library). CJT

Victor Borge’s Phonetic Punctuation

For our Friday Fun this week we introduce you to a little Victor Borge. Ah, yes, it relates to reading – in his unique style. If you have never heard him do this, or play the piano and ham it up, you will be quite entertained. Good, clean fun. Enjoy!

YouTube – Victor Borge’s Phonetic Punctuation.

Published in: on August 20, 2010 at 3:58 AM  Leave a Comment  

Reading in a Whole New Way

In the past week I saw this article referred to several times. So I looked it up and read it. On the screen. Part of the revolution of reading, as the author reports – and praises. He does have some interesting history of the development of print and reading, and the current changes in the “digital age”. Here is a snippet of such:

Today some 4.5 billion digital screens illuminate our lives. Words have migrated from wood pulp to pixels on computers, phones, laptops, game consoles, televisions, billboards and tablets. Letters are no longer fixed in black ink on paper, but flitter on a glass surface in a rainbow of colors as fast as our eyes can blink. Screens fill our pockets, briefcases, dashboards, living room walls and the sides of buildings. They sit in front of us when we work—regardless of what we do. We are now people of the screen. And of course, these newly ubiquitous screens have changed how we read and write.

Though I use the internet a lot, and get much of my news and information from this monitor, I still love reading the traditional way – on printed page. But you know that by now. I am not ready to abandon the world of books. I am not a fan of ebooks. But, yes, the world it keeps ‘a changin’. So I will go with the flow. But only so far. Please let me keep my books!

In seriousness, there are some things said in this article that made me sit up and think. Like this paragraph:

Screens provoke action instead of persuasion. Propaganda is less effective in a world of screens, because while misinformation travels fast, corrections do, too. On a screen it is often easier to correct a falsehood than to tell one in the first place; Wikipedia works so well because it removes an error in a single click. In books we find a revealed truth; on the screen we assemble our own truth from pieces. On networked screens everything is linked to everything else. The status of a new creation is determined not by the rating given to it by critics but by the degree to which it is linked to the rest of the world. A person, artifact or fact does not “exist” until it is linked.

Did you catch that? “In books we find a revealed truth; on the screen we assemble our own truth from pieces”. Rather interesting isn’t it? That summarizes our current culture fairly well. More could be said about this, but I will pass for now. Read this, as always, in the light of God’s Word – the Book with the revealed Truth that sets us free – also from the manufactured “truth” of our age. CJT
Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/specialsections/40th-anniversary/Reading-in-a-Whole-New-Way.html?c=y&page=2#ixzz0x6cMoSFx

Reading in a Whole New Way | 40th Anniversary | Smithsonian Magazine.

Seed dispersers (via Octavio Salles Photography)

As I’ve done in the past, I am re-posting a fellow WordPress blog today. Creation items always catch my eye, and this one has another amazing insight into God’s beautiful and harmonious world – deep in the Amazon! Marvel at the detailed dependency God has made among His creatures! Here’s a glimpse – follow the thread to the entire post and pictures.

Surely this inter-connectedness points to truths in the spiritual realm too – like our life in the church, or in the covenant family. How we all need one another to grow and produce fruit; how we need God’s Word and prayer to be healthy and useful in His kingdom. Maybe you can think of other ways in which our spiritual life hangs together with other things. CJT

Seed dispersers Seed dispersion in natural habitats has always been a topic of interest to me. Some of the relationships between fauna and plants is really interesting. For example take the huge Brazil Nut tree, native to the Amazon. The only animal capable of opening up its incredibly hard shells to reach the seeds inside is the small Agouti. Without them, the seeds would never reach the outside world and thus would never germinate. But the story starts with on … Read More

via Octavio Salles Photography

Thank You, My Apologies, and Now, Time for a Break

As you may have noticed, I have not posted on my blog for a few days. Sorry once again! My humble apologies! Reason being my computer starting crashing again! Frustrating! But a bit freeing too! I haven’t been able to do things here I wanted to this week, but I did have some quiet nights tending to my garden and reading my books! So even when computer life is bad, garden and book life is good :). But tonight (Thursday) it is working again, so I wanted to bring you up to date. And I want to thank you for your support of this project – both your reading of my blog and your comments are much appreciated. Blogging continues to be fun, though it takes time and can make me feel guilty if I miss a day, or post something not all that interesting. But my readers are gracious, and you seem to keep checking it out. Thanks again.

But now I have to tell you I am going to take a break after today’s postings (Friday). We will be cottaging with our children and grandchildren for the next week, and I plan to take a blogging break. It has been a long summer with no vacation time as yet, and I am ready to get away – from technology too, and just enjoy my family. So goodbye Blackberry and Acer, and hello beach chairs, water rafts, and fishing poles! And yes, of course, an assortment of good books! Have a blessed week! I will miss you! Maybe 🙂 CJT

Published in: on August 20, 2010 at 3:07 AM  Leave a Comment  

Luther On Being a Theologian

Carl Trueman at the “Reformation21” Blog (see the link on my blog, side column under “Reformed Ministries”) has posted a series of six fine articles on what makes a true theologian – according to Martin Luther. You know Luther always makes for great reading, and so does Trueman, so by all means take the time to read the series (they are relatively short articles). I have posted the link to the first article, from which you may find the next five.

Here is Trueman’s introduction to the series:

I want to start a short series of posts today on Martin Luther’s understanding of what makes a theologian.  The sources for reflection are primarily two: a passage from his Table Talk (no. 3425; not as far as I know available in the standard English translations) and the preface to the first edition of his German works (1539; available in vol. 34 of the Philadelphia edition of Luther’s works in translation).

The preface contains just three things that mark out a theologian: prayer; meditation; and agonizing struggle.    The Tabletalk lists six: the grace of the Spirit; agonizing struggle; experience; opportunity; careful and constant reading; and a practical knowledge of the academic disciplines.  As the shorter is, by and large, subsumed under the longer, I will use the six headings for the next six posts.

There is a real danger today that we leave theology to the Seminary professors and church pastors, and fail to see ourselves as theologians of the church. But, since we as Reformed Christians believe we have the anointing of Christ (His Holy Spirit and all Christ’s grace and graces) and since we believe we fill the office of believer (prophet, priest, and king), we all are and are all called to be theologians. That simply means we are to be students of Scripture who seek to know God in Jesus Christ (theology, remember, is the study of God and is the “queen of the sciences”).

Yes, that involves reading and study – the reading and study of God’s Word preeminently, as well as the reading and study of sound books of theology. That’s what I try to promote on this blog, because I am convinced that today’s Reformed Christians are weak in this area. By giving you bits and pieces from what other Reformed people are writing and reading and doing, I hope you “catch the bug” to pursue good reading habits and growth in grace. You don’t have to read systematic theologies to be  a good theologian. There are plenty of other smaller works that will help you become a better Reformed theologian. So, be inspired by what Luther said, as reported by Trueman. And get reading! Is there any higher and better knowledge than the knowledge of God in His Son?! CJT

Here’s another taste of what Trueman writes following Luther:

But this was not so for Luther: the theologian was one who had been seized by the Word, gripped by the address of God, whose very identity was determined by this prior address of God which then compelled and shaped any response he might care to give. This process was agonizing, existential, redefining at the most fundamental level the person’s own self-understanding as the huge gulf that exists between Creator and creature in all of its terrifying glory comes home to the theologian and drives him again and again out of himself and to the cross where hangs the Incarnate God.  A theologian — a true theologian — was one who, through agonizing struggle was driven again and again by the Spirit to wrestle with the text of scripture so as to discern its meaning, and then communicate that meaning in the power of the Spirit to others.

Luther On Being a Theologian I – Reformation21 Blog.