Comfort in Life and Death

As you have noticed, I have been absent from these “pages” for a week. That was due to circumstances surrounding care for our ailing mother, whom God delivered out of this vale of tears and shadow of death and ushered into everlasting glory this past Monday morning.

A private family funeral and committal service was held yesterday morning and a public memorial service last evening, both in dad and mom’s home church, Hope PRC in Grand Rapids, MI.

moms-obituary-2017

Watching one’s mother die is one of the hardest experiences in life but, when she is in the Lord and has the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ in her heart, it is one of the most precious experiences in life. We praise God for His mercy to our dear mother, and for His sustaining, comforting grace to us as a family.

Today’s “Grace Gems” devotional was timely and comforting, as this is the way mom always taught us to live – one day at a time, without fear or worry for the next. I pray it comforts your heart as it did mine, whatever your circumstance may be today.

One of the secrets of happy and beautiful life!

(J.R. Miller)

“As your days–so shall your strength be!” Deuteronomy 33:25

One of the secrets of happy and beautiful life
, is to live one day at a time. Really, we never have anything to do any day–but the bit of God’s will for that day. If we do that well–we have absolutely nothing else to do.

Time is given to us in days. It was so from the beginning. This breaking up of time into little daily portions means a great deal more than we are accustomed to think. For one thing, it illustrates the gentleness and goodness of God. It would have made life intolerably burdensome if a year, instead of a day–had been the unit of division. It would have been hard to carry a heavy load, to endure a great sorrow, or to keep on at a hard duty–for such a long stretch of time. How dreary our common task-work would be–if there were no breaks in it, if we had to keep our hand to the plough for a whole year! We never could go on with our struggles, our battles, our suffering–if night did not mercifully settle down with its darkness, and bid us rest and renew our strength.

We do not understand how great a mercy there is for us in the briefness of our short days. If they were even twice as long as they are–life would be intolerable! Many a time when the sun goes down–we feel that we could scarcely have gone another step. We would have fainted in defeat–if the summons to rest had not come just when it did.

We see the graciousness of the divine thoughtfulness in giving us time in periods of little days, which we can easily get through with–and not in great years, in which we would faint and fall by the way. It makes it possible for us to go on through all the long years and not to be overwrought, for we never have given to us at any one time–more than we can do between the morning and the evening.

If we learn well the lesson of living just one day at a time, without anxiety for either yesterday or tomorrow, we shall have found one of the great secrets of Christian peace. That is the way God teaches us to live. That is the lesson both of the Bible and of nature. If we learn it, it will cure us of all anxiety; it will save us from all feverish haste; it will enable us to live sweetly in any experience.

Giving an Answer – August “Tabletalk”

The August issue of Tabletalk (Ligonier Ministries’ monthly devotional magazine) uses 1 Peter 3:15 as the basis for its focus on Christians’ calling to be faithful witnesses to and apologists of the gospel of our Lord.

You will remember how that text calls us to this:

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:

And so the theme of this issue is “Giving an Answer.” Editor Burk Parsons introduces the theme with his article “Searching for Truth.”

The ten featured articles respond to questions often raised by questioners in the world today: Is the Bible the Word of God?, Does God Care?, Is There Only One Way of Salvation?, Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?, to give you but a few.

The opening article is by Dr. Sinclair Ferguson, and it answers the question “Is There a God?” Here is part of his excellent answer:

➝ 1 God the Creator is the only solution to Gottfried Leibniz’s and Martin Heidegger’s ultimate riddle: “Why is there something there, and not nothing?”

Ex nihilo nihil fit—“Nothing comes from nothing.” Let us note that nothing is not a “pre-something”; it is not “something reduced to a minimum.” Nothing is NO thing, no THING. Nothing—a concept impossible for the mind to comprehend precisely because nothing lacks “reality” in the first place. To transform Rene Descartes’; famous dictum Cogito, ergo sum (I think, therefore I am) we can say, Quod cogito, non cogito de nihilo (Because I am, I cannot conceive of nothing). That leads to another Descartes-esque thought: Quod cogito, ergo non possibile Deus non est (Because I think, therefore it is impossible that God does not exist). The cosmos, my existence, and my ability to reason all depend on the fact that life did not and could not come from nothing, but requires a reasonable and reasoning origin. The contrary (time + chance = reality) is impossible. Neither time nor chance is a pre-cosmic phenomenon.

➝ 2 This God must be the biblical God, for two reasons. The first is that only such a God adequately grounds the physical coherence of the cosmos as we know it. Second, His existence is the only coherent basis, whether acknowledged or otherwise, for rational thought and communication. Consequently, the nonbeliever of necessity must draw on, borrow from, indeed intellectually steal from a biblical foundation in order to think coherently and to live sanely. Thus, the secular humanist who argues that there are no ultimates must borrow from biblical premises in order to assess anything as in itself right or wrong.

Source: Is There a God? by Sinclair Ferguson

Browse around on the Tabletalk page at the Ligonier site and benefit from the variety of articles found there on our calling to “give an answer” to those with questions around us – even the atheists and skeptics.

O, and the daily devotions this month are on the Reformers’ doctrine of the church! Tolle Lege!

Entertainment and Worship – July 2017 “Tabletalk”

The July 2017 issue of Tabletalk takes for its theme “Entertainment,” and though I am just getting started with the articles in it, I have profited from what I have read so far about this complex and difficult subject.

In his editorial “Discerning Entertainment” Burk Parsons touches on the proper place of entertainment as well the dangers of it for the Christian:

Entertainment of all sorts can be a wonderful way to rest and recuperate from the busyness, noise, and struggles of life. Entertainment allows our imaginations to travel the world and explore the universe, to go on adventures with hobbits and knights in shining armor, to go back in time and experience history, and to better understand people and our culture. But we must always guard our eyes and our hearts. For we cannot even begin to understand all the ways that Hollywood has affected us. Entertainment affects our minds, our homes, our culture, and our churches. Consequently, we must be vigilant as we use discernment in how we enjoy entertainment—looking to the light of God’s Word to guide us and inform our consciences.

In Joe Thorn’s article linked here for the rubric “Pastor’s Perspective,” he addresses the danger of bringing entertainment into our worship of God.

Below is part of what he has to say about the current trends found in the church today and what our focus ought to be when we enter the Lord’s presence:

The encroachment of entertainment into our worship is not a matter of style but of substance. Entertainment is a good thing, but its purpose is the refreshment of the mind and body, not the transformation of the mind or the edification of the spirit. The danger of entertainment in worship is not about which musical instruments are permitted or what era of hymns the church should sing. The danger is found in what the church is aiming at. Entertainment has a different aim than worship. Entertainment is something offered to people for their amusement. Yet worship has a different focus and produces a different result.

The focus of worship is God, not man, which immediately pits it against entertainment. We offer ourselves to the Lord individually and collectively on Sunday morning. The church ascribes honor to God in the reading, preaching, singing, and praying of His Word. True worship is inherently God-centered and God-directed. What is done when the church is gathered is to be done according to God’s will and for His pleasure. This stands in opposition to entertainment, which is a spiritually powerless work directed at the people.

To read the rest, visit the Ligonier link below.

Source: Entertainment and Worship by Joe Thorn

I might also add that the daily devotionals this month are on the Reformed-biblical view of the law, or as the issue has it in its introduction to the devotions, “The Right Use of God’s Law.”

Blessed Are Those Who Mourn – Matt Smethurst

As we noted before, this month’s Tabletalk is devoted to the Beatitudes our Lord spoke during His ministry on earth (cf. Matt.5).

Each of these beatitudes are given a brief explanation and application in the issue, and for today we quote from the article of Matt Smethurst on the second beatitude, “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.”

Here is in part what he has to say:

Deep Dive

Imagine awaking on the Fourth of July to a text from a friend: “Meet me for fireworks at 11 a.m.” You’d think it was a typo. Why? Because fireworks aren’t impressive in the noonday sky. The darker the sky, in fact, the more stunning the display. In the same way, the brilliance of grace must be set against the blackness of sin. As the Puritan Thomas Watson said, “Till sin be bitter, Christ will not be sweet.”

For the world, grieving sin is regressive and constricting; for the Christian, it is the pathway to joy. Imagine the implications. If Matthew 5:4 is true—if Jesus really meets repentance with comfort, not condemnation—then no longer do you need to fear being exposed. No longer do you have to present an airbrushed version of yourself to fellow redeemed sinners. No longer do you need to fear studying your heart and plumbing the depths of your disease. If exploring sin brings you to the deep end of the pool, exploring mercy will take you to the Mariana Trench. And awaiting you at the bottom of the dive is not a black hole but a solid rock.

Scarred Savior

In the final analysis, the Sermon on the Mount cannot be separated from its speaker. Jesus prayed many prayers during His incarnation, but never once did He pray a prayer of confession. He didn’t have to. He mourned over many sins, but never once did He mourn over His own. He didn’t have any.

Ultimately, our comfort is anchored in the reality that Jesus doesn’t just mourn sin; He conquers it.

Source: Blessed Are Those Who Mourn by Matt Smethurst

Loving God and Our Minds – R.C. Sproul

TT-June2017-BeatitudesIn the new issue of Tabletalk, Ligonier Ministries’ devotional magazine, R.C. Sproul, Sr. has an edifying article on “Loving God with Our Minds.”

After pointing out the effects of sin on our minds, Sproul reminds us that our salvation by grace involves the renewal of our minds, and that this is in part why God calls us to love Him with all our mind.

For this Monday, as we begin our work week and the use of our minds and our hands in our God-given callings in life, Sproul’s thoughts are useful in guiding us in how to love God with our minds.

Jonathan Edwards once said that seeking after God is the main business of the Christian. And how do we seek after God? By pursuing the renewal of our minds. We don’t get the love of God from a hip replacement, a knee replacement, or even a heart transplant. The only way we can be transformed is with a renewed mind (Rom. 12:1–2). A renewed mind results from diligently pursuing the knowledge of God. If we despise doctrine, if we despise knowledge, that probably indicates that we’re still in that fallen condition where we don’t want God in our thinking. True Christians want God to dominate their thinking and to fill their minds with ideas of Himself.

Isn’t it strange that our Lord says that we are called to love God with our minds? We don’t usually speak of love in terms of an intellectual activity. In fact, most of our understanding of love in our secular culture is described in passive categories. We speak not of jumping in love but falling in love, like it was an accident.

But real love is not an involuntary thing. It is something we do purposefully based on our knowledge of the person we love. Nothing can be in the heart that is not first in the mind. And if we want to have an experience of God directly where we bypass the mind, we’re on a fool’s errand. It can’t happen. We might increase emotion, entertainment, or excitement, but we’re not going to increase the love of God because we can’t love what we don’t know. A mindless Christianity is no Christianity at all.

If we want to love God more, we have to know Him more deeply. And the more we search the Scriptures, and the more we focus our minds’ attention on who God is and what He does, the more we understand just a tiny little bit more about Him and the more our souls break out in flame. We have a greater ardor to honor Him. The more we understand God with our minds, the more we love Him with our minds.

To read the rest of the article, follow the link provided in the title above.

And, as you will see, this month’s issue is on the Beatitudes of Jesus. I have started to read those, including this one – “To Be Blessed” by Dr. Brandon D. Crowe.

Protestant Creeds and Confessions – Dr. Ryan Reeves

The April 2017 issue of Tabletalk covers the 17th century of church history, as noted at the beginning of this month. The second featured article, which I read yesterday, focuses on the many Protestant creeds and confessions that were composed during this period. Dr. Ryan Reeves (cf. information below) writes about the various creeds written within Lutheranism, the Reformed camp (including Dordt), and Presbyterianism (especially the Westminster Confessions).

There is plenty of edifying material here for you to read, if you wish to “brush up” on your confessional church history. I give you a portion of the section treating the Reformed creeds. Find the complete article at the link below.

REFORMED CONFESSIONS PROLIFERATE

The Reformed tradition was equally committed to the cause of confessionalization. Depending on how wide a net we cast, there were roughly forty to fifty Reformed (or Reformed-influenced) confessions written between 1520 and 1650—by far the most of any Protestant tradition. In 1523, almost immediately as the Reformed tradition began, Huldrych Zwingli drew up the Sixty-Seven Articles in order to provide an articulation of the points at stake in Zurich. This was followed by the Ten Theses of Berne (1528), the First Confession of Basel (1534), and several others as cities began to adopt the Reformed perspective. Others would follow in other countries, with the French Confession of Faith (1559) and the Scots Confession (1560).

The reason for so many Reformed confessions comes as a result of their context. The Reformed faith was always led by a band of brothers (despite the modern impression that John Calvin alone created Reformed orthodoxy). But the Reformed tradition was born in several cities and countries almost at once. From 1520 onward, city after city embraced the Reformation, often piecemeal, and quite a few even before reform came to Geneva. Therefore, there was no singular voice like Luther’s to shape the foundational documents of Reformed confessions.

As a result, church after church, community after community spent a sizable portion of their energy codifying a confession for their local churches. This is why most Reformed confessions identify with the city of their origin: this was the confession for this city, this church, not for all Reformed churches to embrace as one.

Still, as historians and theologians point out, there is a harmonization of these Reformed confessions that unites their diverse voices into a singular Reformed voice. Their differences are not so great that we cannot see their unity on issues of salvation, worship, and practice. Today, many churches recognize a basic harmony of what is called the Three Forms of Unity—the Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dort, and the Heidelberg Catechism—a unity not of authorship but of witness to Reformed principles.

This is not to say that all Reformed confessions are identical. As the Reformed faith spread from the Swiss cantons to Germany, France, the Netherlands, and then to England and Scotland, there were noticeable differences of emphasis or application. These confessional identities formed the initial steps that would give rise to the diversity of Reformed denominations and communities as we know it today.

Dr. Ryan Reeves is assistant professor of historical theology and assistant dean of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Jacksonville, Fla.

Source: Protestant Creeds and Confessions by Ryan Reeves

April Tabletalk: The Church in the Seventeenth Century

With the start of a new month, we take time to introduce you to the April 2017 issue of Tabletalk, Ligonier Ministries’ monthly devotional magazine.

The April issue continues Tabletalk’s series on church history, focusing this time on the seventeenth century. Editor Burk Parsons introduces us to this theme with his editorial “Every Thought Captive.” In part, these are his comments on this significant period of church history:

We rightly celebrate the lives and ministries of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and other Reformers whom the Lord used to help bring the church back to the faith once for all delivered to the saints. Yet the Reformation did not end with the passing of the sixteenth century. The gospel seed planted by the fifteenth-century forerunners of the Reformation was watered and tended by the Reformers in the sixteenth century. However, it is in the seventeenth century that we begin to see the full flowering of Reformed doctrine, piety, and practice. During the seventeenth century, so much of what it means to be Protestant and Reformed was codified in the creeds and confessions that we affirm and confess today.

Rome was not built in a day, and neither was the confessional, Reformed, Protestant church. The faithful men and women of the seventeenth century continued the work of the sixteenth-century Reformers by bringing every doctrine, every practice, and every thought captive to the Word of God. May they serve as a model to us as we stand on their shoulders, holding firmly to the divinely revealed truths they faithfully proclaimed for the sake of Christ’s church, kingdom, and glory.

Dr. Nick Needham has the opening article, which is an overview of the entire period and an important one to read to get the “big picture” of what God was doing in His church during this age.

We link the complete article below but give you a section of it here – that on the confessionalism of this century. Here is what Needham has to say about this aspect of the history of the 17th century:

CONFESSIONALISM

For the English-speaking world, the seventeenth century bequeathed another legacy: the documents of the Westminster Assembly, which met intermittently from 1643 to 1653. Among its products are the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms. These were the finest fruits of British Reformed theology at that time, and they have molded the thinking and piety of Reformed English speakers ever since.

Nor has their influence been confined to Presbyterians. When English Congregationalists adopted their own confession of faith (the Savoy Declaration) in 1658, it was a slightly modified version of the Westminster Confession. Again, when English Reformed Baptists in 1689 set forth their confession it was likewise Westminster slightly modified. The Baptists even went so far as to attach a preface stating they had deliberately embraced Westminster as an act of Reformed ecumenism. To this day, these confessions live on.

What he does not mention but which others do in this issue is the work of the Synod of Dordt against the Arminians and the adopting of the Canons of Dordt, another significant confession of this period.

Also, it is worth mentioning that the daily devotions continue with the Reformation doctrines theme, this month on the doctrine of salvation by grace alone – sola gratia!

Source: Overview of the Seventeenth Century by Nicholas Needham

Rejoicing Always – H.B. Charles Jr.

tt-feb-2017As we end the month of February, we want to take a closing look at this month’s issue of Tabletalk, Ligonier Ministries’ monthly devotional magazine.

This month, you may remember, the theme is “Joy,” with articles dealing with this subject from a variety of viewpoints (enjoying God, joy in our work, true joy vs. superficial joy, etc.).

One of the articles I read today before worship services is that linked below – “Rejoice Always” – by Rev. H.B. Charles, Jr. In it Charles points us to that familiar, short verse in 1 Thessalonians 5:16, where we are called to “rejoice always.” As he explains what this means for the Christian, Charles shows how difficult this calling is. But he also shows us the only way it can be obeyed.

This is part of what he has to say:

In 1 Thessalonians 5:16, Paul exhorts the saints to rejoice. It is a command, which makes it clear that joy is more than happiness. Happiness is an emotional response to favorable, pleasant, or rewarding circumstances. You cannot compel a person to be happy. It’s based on what happens to a person. But Christians are commanded by God to rejoice. This command to rejoice is in the present tense. It means “keep on rejoicing.” This makes 1 Thessalonians 5:16 a hard command. This divine mandate would be easier to swallow if it simply directed us to rejoice. Indeed, there are many times, reasons, and occasions that call for rejoicing. But the command is to rejoice always, not only sometimes. How does the Christian rejoice always?

And this is the beautiful answer he gives to that question:

First Thessalonians 5:16–18 features what have been called “the standing orders of the gospel.” These exhortations apply to all Christians in every place and every situation. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.” These commands may be familiar. But the justification for the commands is often overlooked: “for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Do we want to know God’s will for us in any situation? It is God’s will that we rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances. We are in spiritual rebellion if we are not joyful, prayerful, and thankful. God’s will for our lives is about more than the circumstances we face. It is about how we respond to those circumstances.

It is the will of God for us to rejoice always. But obedience to this command is not accomplished by an act of the will. It is only accomplished by faith in Christ. The believer’s unceasing rejoicing is the will of God for us “in Christ Jesus.” This is the key to the life of rejoicing. Unsaved people do not rejoice in God, pray to God, or give thanks to God. Religious people rejoice sometimes, pray when they feel like it, and give thanks when things are going well. But Christians rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances. This is not the believer’s response because we are impervious to life’s dangers, toils, and snares. It is our response to life because we are in Christ Jesus.

That is good food for thought as we seek to live out God’s will for our lives in this coming week. Shall we not seek to “rejoice always,” no matter what our circumstances may be?

Find the rest of Charles’ article at the Ligonier link below.

Source: Rejoice Always by H.B. Charles Jr.

February “Tabletalk”: Christian Joy

tt-feb-2017With the beginning of a new month we need to introduce you to the February 2017 issue of Tabletalk, Ligonier Ministries’ monthly devotional magazine.

This month the theme is simply “Joy,” with various articles dealing with “Joy in Our Work,” “Joy in Community,” “Future Joy,” and “Our Groaning Joy,” to name a few.

Editor Burk Parsons sets the tone for this issue with his introductory article “Joy in Christ Alone.” Here are a few of his thoughts on this vital subject:

Christianity is a religion of joy. Real joy comes from God, who has invaded us, conquered us, and liberated us from eternal death and sadness—who has given us hope and joy because He has poured out His love within our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom He has given us (Rom. 5:5). Joy comes from God, not from within. When we look within, we just get sad. We have joy only when we look outside ourselves to Christ. Without Christ, joy is not only hard to find, it’s impossible to find. The world desperately seeks joy, but in all the wrong places. However, our joy comes because Christ sought us, found us, and keeps us. We cannot have joy apart from Christ, because it doesn’t exist. Joy is not something we can conjure up.

The first featured article is by Dr. Sinclair Ferguson and titled “To Enjoy Him Forever,” which you may recognize as coming from the first Q&A of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. As Ferguson goes on to show, this Catechism also directs the child of God to the means God has appointed for finding joy in Him.

For this Lord’s day night I would direct you to his first two – joy in salvation and joy in revelation. Here are Ferguson’s explanations of how these lead to enjoying God:

Joy in Salvation

Enjoying God means relishing the salvation He gives us in Jesus Christ. “I will take joy in the God of my salvation” (Hab. 3:18). God takes joy in our salvation (Luke 15:6–7, 9–10, 32). So should we. Here, Ephesians 1:3–14 provides a masterly delineation of this salvation in Christ. It is a gospel bath in which we should often luxuriate, rungs on a ladder we should frequently climb, in order to experience the joy of the Lord as our strength (Neh. 8:10). While we are commanded to have joy, the resources to do so are outside of ourselves, known only through union with Christ.

Joy in Revelation

Joy issues from devouring inscripturated revelation. Psalm 119 bears repeated witness to this. The psalmist “delights” in God’s testimonies “as much as in all riches” (Ps. 119:14; see also vv. 35, 47, 70, 77, 103, 162, 174). Think of Jesus’ words, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). Does He mean He will find His joy in us, so that our joy may be full, or that His joy will be in us so that our joy may be full? Both, surely, are true. We find full joy in the Lord only when we know He finds His joy in us. The pathway to joy, then, is to give ourselves maximum exposure to His Word and to let it dwell in us richly (Col. 3:16). It is joy-food for the joy-hungry soul.

Once again it is evident that there is much profitable reading for the mind and soul in the latest Tabletalk. Would you like to learn more about Christian joy – the only joy there is? Then dig in to these articles! Follow the Ligonier link below the get started.

I might also add that the daily devotions this year are on Reformation themes, in connection with the 500th anniversary of the great Reformation. January’s devotions were on the doctrine of God, while February’s cover the doctrine of sola Scriptura.

Source: Tabletalk: The Devotional Magazine of Ligonier Ministries

Note to Self: Read (God’s Word)

Note-to-self-ThornAs a good follow-up to yesterday’s post on the importance of daily devotions, we post this final “note to self”, titled “read”, as in “read your Bible.”

Start by reading and meditating on Psalm 119:129-135.

Dear Self,

You need to stop looking at Scripture merely as a text to dissect and start reading it as God’s Word given to you – today. Do you see how the psalmist thinks about God’s Word? For him, Scripture is a wonder that imparts wisdom, and he is thirsty for it every day. Your default is to read to know, or to study to learn in less than practical, experiential ways. You are often interested in getting into the Word, but more as an isolated discipline than the pursuit of God, and this robs you of the purpose of Scripture.

…For all your longing for God to speak, to make his will plain and his plan clear, you should be daily immersed in God’s Word. That is his voice, his will, and his plan made known to you. Consider these words, ‘Make your face shine upon your servant, and teach me your statutes.’ God’s face shines on you when you are learning – experientially – his Word. This means his favor and blessing are upon you, and that you have sweet communion with him through Scripture, but only when you receive it for what it is: God’s life-giving Word meant to be believed, received, and obeyed – not only dissected.

Taken from Chap.45 “Read” (found in Part Three, “The Gospel and You”) in Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself by Joe Thorn (Crossway, 2011), pp. 129-30.