World-tilting Truth: God is Wise

If Creation is an act of unimaginable power, it is no less a work of immense wisdom. Every vast and staggeringly complex movement issues from His mind. He needs no manual, counsel, or outside authority.

…When you watch those marvelous nature specials [on TV or the Internet], you are beholding an exhibition of God’s wisdom. Though the narrator blathers on about ‘Mother Nature,’ you should know better. These are the works of God’s hands, and He made them all in wisdom (Ps.104:24).

….God has both an infinite array of facts at His command, and infinite wisdom concerning the meaning, significance, and weight of all those facts in every possible arrangement. He has that knowledge, because He created them and rules over them.

All of this is also a world-tilting truth. The current mind-set makes much of the supposed meaninglessness of ‘life, the universe, and all that.’ The common subtext of many media’s storylines is that life is meaningless in itself; that we must choose our meaning and define ourselves. But history itself has no aim, meaning, or purpose.

This truth [that God is wise and possesses perfect wisdom] demolishes that notion, insisting that we have neither the right nor ability to redefine the universe, since it is a created universe, and since every fact has a value assigned to it by the Creator. Including us. We have neither the right nor ability to assign meaning to the universe. Its Author is the one who assigns definition and meaning. At best, we discover and uncover that meaning.

world-tilting-gospel-phillipsTaken from Dan Phillips’ The World-Tilting Gospel; Embracing a Biblical Worldview and Hanging on Tight (Kregel, 2011), Chapter 4 “The God Who Plans” (Kindle version).

In this chapter, Phillips is preparing the way to introduce God’s amazing salvation plan for lost sinners fallen in Adam (see my previous post on this book). He discusses three of God’s attributes – holiness, love, and wisdom – to explain how they come together in His sovereign purpose to save sinners – that’s chapter 5 – next time! The above quote is from the section where he treats the wisdom of God, especially as it relates to His work of creation.

 

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.

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

Secularism Everywhere – March “Tabletalk”

TT-March-2017With over a week gone into this new month, it is time to reference the March issue of Tabletalk. The theme this month is another timely and significant one – “Secularism.”

Editor Burk Parsons introduces it with his article “The Religion of Secularism,” pointing out among other things that

Secularism is not only a problem out there in the culture, it is something we must fight in our hearts, our homes, and our churches. We are too easily tempted to forget God and to avoid conflict with the world. It sometimes seems easier to live as if God really isn’t there, to go about our days without reflecting on His authority and that we’re called to live all of life coram Deo, before His face. But if we forget Him, we’ll forget who we are. We are His people, and we are called to stand firm against the creeping darkness of secularism, declaring to our hearts, our homes, our churches, and our nation that the Lord God Almighty has authority over all and that, unwaveringly, in God we trust.

The first featured article is written by Thomas Brewer, managing editor of Tabletalk, and is titled “Secularism Everywhere.” For this Wednesday, we post a few paragraphs in which Brewer shows how secularism cam easily influence us as Christians. I think you will agree that these are areas we need to battle personally and daily.

Secularism, being a subtle atheism, recognizes the material world as the only world. There is no spiritual world or afterlife. In such a world, material pleasure is the highest good. Such a mindset lends itself to worshiping money as god, for what greater way of acquiring material pleasure is there than money? Such a materialist mindset is especially apparent on TV, on the radio, as we browse the web, and even as we drive down the highway. Commercials, TV shows, celebrity culture, and billboards incessantly demand that we buy some-thing—anything—to make us happy. Too often, Christians believe the message that material things will fill the void in our lives. That “thing” will make us happy. If our thoughts incessantly dwell on our money, what to buy, and when to buy it, we have likely adopted our culture’s way of thinking. If our joy is tied exclusively to our next purchase, we are not worshiping God. Rather, we have abandoned God and substituted a secular idol in His place.

Secularism has entered our thinking in other subtle ways. Given our materialist mindset, many of us ignore or forget the realities of the spiritual world. Paul tells us in Ephesians 6 that our struggle isn’t fundamentally against powers of this world but against “spiritual forces of evil” (v. 12). Christianity is a religion that believes in the supernatural. That is, we believe in a world beyond this world. We believe in angels and demons. We believe in heaven and hell. We believe that God, a spiritual being, created the heavens and the earth. If the loss of our material resources causes us utter hopelessness because we believe we have nothing left, we have forgotten the Lord. If our prayer life is nonexistent or merely compulsory, we’ve misunderstood our spiritual situation. Instead, having a biblical mindset will give us an eternal perspective on this life, allowing us to claim with Paul that “whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Rom. 14:8). It will cause us to pray without ceasing while giving thanks in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:16–18), for we know that our Lord has conquered the spiritual forces arrayed against us.

For the rest of this edifying article, visit the Ligonier link below. And for a preview of the entire issue, visit the Tabletalk page.

By the way, the daily devotions this year are on core Reformation doctrines in connection with the 500th anniversary. This month features the doctrine of the sovereignty of God, beginning with His eternal decrees, providence, and so on.

Source: Secularism Everywhere by Thomas Brewer

Listen Up! How to Listen to Sermons (6)

listen-up-ashAt the beginning of this new year we continue to look at a booklet that instructs God’s people in how to listen to sermons. The booklet is titled Listen Up! A Practical Guide to  Listening to Sermons (Good Book Co., 2009), written by Christopher Ash.

So we don’t lose the “big picture”, let’s keep in front of us the seven main points Ash makes in the book – the “seven ingredients for healthy sermon listening,” as he calls them:

  1. Expect God to speak
  2. Admit God knows better than you
  3. Check the preacher says what the passage says
  4. Hear the sermon in church
  5. Be there week by week
  6. Do what the Bible says
  7. Do what the Bible says today – and rejoice!

We have considered in past weeks #s 1-5; on this Sunday morning we consider #6 – “Do what the Bible says.”

Again, you will readily note the progression of thought. Based on what preaching is, it is good and necessary to attend weekly services where the Word of God is expounded faithfully. There, in the local body of gathered believers, we are to listen carefully to God’s message to us.

But that is not enough. We must also DO what the Word calls us to do – and I might add, BE what the Word calls us to be. We must put on the character of Christ and put on the conduct of Christ. Then, we are truly Christ-like – the purpose of the preaching with regard to ourselves.

With that in mind, Ash begins this section by pointing to and quoting two important passages of God’s Word – James 1:22 and 2 Timothy 3:16, which we reference here:

But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

On the basis of these passages, the author adds these pertinent comments:

We mustn’t expect sermons to entertain us. We live in a culture of entertainment; we can generally find amusement at the press of a remote control button. One reason people have stopped coming to listen to sermons is that, if they come for entertainment, they can find better entertainment elsewhere. It is rare for a sermon to rival the special effects of a Batman or a Bond…. Most preachers are bound to fail, and mistaken to try.

Nevertheless, from time to time people will come to some preachers to be entertained. Herod enjoyed listening to John the Baptist preach, even though John condemned Herod’s wrong marriage.

…There was a time when the people loved coming to hear Ezekiel preach; somehow it was as entertaining as listening to a popular love song [cf. Ezek.33:32]….

We see this today in the Christian sub-cultures of celebrity preachers. There are a few preachers whose style and manner is so good that we can listen to them for hours. …We might shop around churches until we find a style of preaching to suit our taste, because our aim is to be entertained, rather than to be taught, rebuked, corrected and trained in righteousness.

And, having said that (are we not all convicted by the reality that this pervasive culture influences us too?!), Ash concludes with this:

However, it is a great mistake to think we have it in us to obey [the Word]. On our own we cannot obey. We are slaves to sin, unable to help ourselves. We cannot even repent without God working repentance (eg: 2 Timothy 2 v 25). It is God who opens our hearts to respond to His message, and not just at the start of the Christian life (Acts 16 v 14). We need to pray for God to open our hearts week by week to His truth (pp.18-19).

May we listen up! today with that prayer on our lips.

The library: “an oasis of bookish tranquility”? – N.Carr

A particularly striking illustration of how the Net is reshaping our expectations about media can be seen in any library. Although we don’t tend to think of libraries as media technologies, they are. The public library is, in fact, one of the most important and influential informational media ever created – and one that proliferated only after the arrival of silent reading and movable-type printing.

A community’s attitudes and preferences toward information take concrete shape in its library’s design and services. Until recently, the public library was an oasis of bookish tranquility where people searched through shelves of neatly arranged volumes or sat in carrels and read quietly.

Today’s library is very different. Internet access is rapidly becoming its most popular service. According to recent surveys by the American Library Association, ninety-nine percent of U. S. public library branches provide Internet access, and the average branch has eleven public computers. More than three-quarters of branches also offer Wi-Fi networks for their patrons’ use. The predominant sound in the modern library is the tapping of keys, not the turning of pages.

shallowsbookcover-222x300Taken from Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains (Norton, 2010), chapter 5, “A Medium of the Most General Nature,” p.97 (slightly edited).

I am thankful to report that the dominant sound is our Seminary library is still the turning of pages and the dominant sight that of students reading in their carrels. In the classroom, however, the tapping of keys is prominent (the sound of the professor’s voice is still dominant – 🙂 ).

Biblical Success – January 2017 “Tabletalk”

tt-jan-2017Last week we took a look at an article in the January 2017 issue of Tabletalk, but not one on the theme. Tonight we will do so.

The theme this month is “Success”, a timely topic at the beginning of a new year. Having read a couple of articles on the theme now, I can say there is much profit in treating this subject from a Reformed and biblical perspective. For starters, I suggest you may read the editor’s editorial – “True Success.”

I read the second featured article today, titled “Biblical Success”, written by Dr. Iain Duguid, professor of Old Testament at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, and found it very edifying. Perhaps nothing new in the article, but healthy reminders of how we as Christians must measure true success according to the Word of God and according to Jesus Christ our Savior.

I pull a couple of paragraphs from it, so that you too may benefit from Duguid’s thoughts. As always, the full article is available at the Ligonier link below.

Of course, biblical wisdom does not simply turn conventional wisdom on its head so that now the poor and lowly are automatically counted successful while anyone with wealth or rank is dismissed out of hand. There are certainly people in the Bible who used their wealth or high position wisely, such as Joseph or Daniel. Even in a pagan environment, these men served the Lord faithfully at the highest level of government. Likewise, Joseph of Arimathea used his wealth to provide a tomb for Jesus after His crucifixion (Matt. 27:57–59). But more than wealth or position, what these men had in common was that they served the Lord and His kingdom first, with the resources He had given them.

This is surely what it means to succeed from a biblical perspective. In place of serving the goals of our own personal kingdoms, whatever they might be—comfort, approval, money, and so on—the successful person puts first God’s kingdom. He is willing to give up any of these things if they get in the way of serving God, or to use them for God as resources over which he is a steward who will one day be called to account (see Matt. 25:14–30). The successful steward is not the one who is entrusted with the most resources, of whatever kind. It is the steward who is faithful with the resources with which he has been entrusted (Matt. 25:21).

And then at the end, Duguid points us to our exalted Savior and the success we find in Him alone:

…One day, every knee will bow before Him and acknowledge that He is the true measure of success.

As a result, all those who are united to Christ are linked forever to His glory. The measure of our success cannot be defined by what we accomplish here on earth; it has already been defined by the fact that we are in Christ. It is this that frees us to spend ourselves and everything we have in service to Christ’s kingdom. And it is this that also frees us from crushing guilt over our past and present failures to take up our cross and follow after Him. Whether I “succeed” or “fail”—by whatever standard—ultimately counts for nothing. What counts is the fact that Christ has succeeded for me, in my place. My only hope and boast rest not in my faithfulness but in the fact that whether I am rich or poor, prominent or obscure, weak or strong, my faithful Savior has loved me and given Himself for me. That is all the success I—or anyone else—will ever need.

Source: Biblical Success by Iain Duguid

The State of Theology – Ligonier

tt-dec-2016This month’s Tabletalk includes  an interview with Ligonier Ministries’ Chris Larson and Stephen Nichols about the 2016 survey Ligonier did on the “state of theology” in America.

It is a revealing study, as you might imagine. It is designed to be useful for churches and ministries, and I believe it ought to be looked at by the PRC as well. If we are going to do outreach and missions in this country, we have to know where people are at theologically in this time.

If you have not heard of this report before, you will want to read this interview and then visit the special website on the survey that was conducted.

Below is a portion of the interview; find the rest at the Ligonier link beneath the quote.

Tabletalk: Why did Ligonier do the State of Theology survey?

Stephen Nichols: One of the cardinal rules of giving a speech is “Know your audience.” Back in 2014, we partnered with LifeWay Research to conduct a survey of the theological beliefs of three thousand Americans. We decided to undertake the survey again in 2016 and expand the visualization of the data into a new website, TheStateOfTheology.com. Our ultimate purpose for this survey is to help churches, Christian ministries, and Christians live as the body of Christ in our place and in our time.

Chris Larson: Dr. Sproul has said often, “Everyone’s a theologian.” And the point he is making is that everyone has an opinion on theological matters, but not all opinions are created equal. Some are right, some are not. This study demonstrates the stunning gap in theological precision and awareness throughout our nation. We are a ministry that seeks to serve the church by providing helpful resources that God’s people can use as they grow as disciples of Jesus Christ. This ongoing survey can be used to focus our aim as Christians as we proclaim the light of God’s truth to a darkened world. We believe it is essential to know the core beliefs of Americans and share those findings freely with pastors and church leaders.

One of the most significant questions in the survey concerned beliefs about Jesus Christ. This is what the men say on that:

A third question involves the identity of Christ. Actually, we can look at two questions and see some significant theological confusion. When asked if Jesus is truly God and has a divine nature and if Jesus is truly man and has a human nature, a strong majority of 62 percent agree. Six out of 10 Americans think Jesus is the God-man. Yet, consider this. When asked if Jesus is the first being created by God, 53 percent agree. This is a contradiction. To say Jesus is created by God is to deny His divine nature and to deny that He is truly God. To say that Jesus is the first created being is actually to repeat a heresy that echoes through the early centuries of the church, the heresy of Arianism. The answers to this question reveal that this old heresy is still prevalent. When put over and against the question that asks if Jesus is truly God, this question also reveals how confused Americans are on essential issue of the identity of Christ. “Who do you say that I am?” was a question Jesus Himself asked. We must point people to the right answer.

Source: The State of Theology by Various Teachers

“They thought deeply as they read deeply.” N. Carr, The Shallows

shallowsbookcover-222x300On vacation this week, I have some extra time for reading, and one of the books I longed to get back to was Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains (Norton, 2010).

Chapter four of the book is titled “The Deepening Page,” really a history of how society changed from an oral community to a literate one by the advent of writing and the codex (book). With this “intellectual technology” change came a major transformation of how people thought.

Today I give you a brief section from Carr on how this worked out (there is much more to this fascinating history – and to the main point of the author, and you are greatly encouraged to get this book and read it!):

To read a book was to practice an unnatural process of thought, one that demanded sustained, unbroken attention to a single, static object [as opposed to the oral-tradition culture in which memory played the dominant role]. It required readers to place themselves at what T.S. Eliot… would call ‘the still point of the turning world.’

And then he further explains the development:

Many people had, of course, cultivated a capacity for sustained attention long before the book or even the alphabet came along. The hunter, the craftsman, the ascetic – all had to train their brains to control and concentrate their attention. What was so remarkable about book reading was that the deep concentration was combined with the highly active and efficient deciphering of text and interpretation of meaning. The reading of a sequence of printed pages was valuable not just for knowledge readers acquired from the author’s words but for the way those words set off intellectual vibrations within their own minds. In the quiet spaces opened up by the prolonged, undistracted reading of a book, people made their own associations, drew their own inferences and analogies, fostered their own ideas. They thought deeply as they read deeply (pp.64-65).

But then, even on vacation those “quiet spaces” for “prolonged, undistracted” book reading can be easily interrupted by one’s surroundings. 🙂

reading-on-deck

Published in: on November 17, 2016 at 11:08 AM  Comments (2)  

Apostate: The Men Who Destroyed the Christian West (review article) – creation.com

This interesting review of a significant book by Kevin Swanson (image on the left) grabbed my attention today when I received my Creation.com email summary of available articles online.

Though essentially a critique of Charles Darwin and the influence of his magnum opus On the Origin of Species (1859) on modern society, Swanson shows how this work with its defense of an atheistic worldview had a profound effect on other literary giants in the 19th and 20th centuries. And what is striking is that all of these men who are mentioned came from a Christian background – including John Dewey, Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain, and John Steinbeck. Hence, the title of the book.

You will benefit from this review. It is thought-provoking and helpful in making connections to the state of our present society. And perhaps it may lead you to want to read the full book too. 🙂

Below are the opening paragraphs of Jerry Bergman’s review. Follow the link at the end of the post to read all of it. Information on the book may be found here.

The fact that Christianity has lost an enormous amount of cultural influence in Australia, Western Europe, and America is without dispute. In fact, Christians have lost ground in every cultural area of leadership and influence in Europe, America, and Australia since around 1700. What is also without dispute is that we can trace this decline through a number of key scientists, philosophers, writers, and other public figures. Apostate documents how and why the decline and fall of Western Christian civilization occurred. It is specifically the story of several influential men whom Swanson calls apostates. Swanson’s concern is for the young, noting as evidence that “the Southern Baptist denomination reports … a full 88% of children raised in Christian families leave the church as soon as they leave home” (p. 254).

The luminaries covered included Rousseau, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, John Dewey, Mark Twain and, of course, Charles Darwin, the topic of chapter ten. All of these men of renown had a significant impact on our Western culture. Most of them were born into a Christian family, but rejected this worldview and, instead, put their faith in a worldview called secularism (p. 1). Their influence was first felt in the universities and, eventually, in the public schools and the mass culture. Western society has moved far away from teaching “In Adam’s fall, we sinned all” in the 18th century New England Primer to Heather has Two Mommies (1989) and, finally, to the modern hostility against Christianity that Swanson documents.

Source: Apostate The Men Who Destroyed the Christian West review – creation.com