Listen Up! How to Listen to Sermons (4)

listen-up-ashAt the beginning of this new year we are examining 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.

Lest we lose the “big picture”, let’s put before us again 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 1-3; tonight we consider #4 – “hear the sermon in church.” This may seem so obvious to us, but Ash makes another important point here, especially in light of our day of “virtual” church (concerning which he says “there is no such thing”!) and private “digital” listening to sermons via the Internet anytime we want, maybe sometimes in lieu of the Word in church on Sunday with God’s people.

“So what” you say? Listen up! as Ash reminds us why we must “hear the sermon in church.”

…The normal place for preaching is the gathering of the local church. We are to hear sermons as a people gathered together; they are not preached so that we can listen to them solo later.

…This church was defined by the call of the word of God to gather under the word of God. It began when God said to Moses: ‘Assemble the people before me to hear my words” (Deuteronomy 4 v 10). This set the standard shape and pattern for the people of God, who are gathered by the word of God (God takes the initiative to summon them, and us) and gathered to sit together under the word of God (‘to hear my words’), to be shaped together by His word. God’s purpose is not to shape a collection of individuals to be each like Christ, but to form a Christlike people.

We may even say that preaching is properly done only when the people of God in a local church gather. When we listen to an MP3 recording of a sermon, we are not listening to preaching, but to an echo of preaching in the past (pp.12-13).

Do you see the biblical basis for what Ash says? Do we see the pattern God set for us? But there are practical reasons why we need to hear the word together too. I like what Ash says next:

When we listen to a sermon together, we are accountable to one another for our response. Hearing while gathered is significantly better than hearing alone.

…When we listen together, you know what message I’ve heard, and I know what message you’ve heard. I’ve heard it. You know I’ve heard it. I know that you know I’ve heard it! And you expect me to respond to the message, just as I hope you will. And so we encourage one another and stir up one another to do what the Bible says. By being with you, I make it easier for myself to respond the way I know I ought to respond. …If I pay no attention to the sermon I heard with you sitting beside me, you will know, and I would hate you to know I wasn’t listening!

When we listen together, we respond together… (pp.13-14).

Isn’t that a valid point? And a very practical one? I need you to help me listen to the Word preached properly. And you need me. And so we need to be in church together to hear the Word together.

Let that truth help us prepare for worship tomorrow. Including the determination to be there. In church. Next to you. I’m going to pray for the preacher and for God’s blessing on the Word he brings. And for you as you hear. Will you pray for me? We are in this “together.”

Faithfulness and Fruitfulness – Nicholas Batzig

tt-jan-2017As we near the end of this month, I want to post one more time about the January 2017 issue of Tabletalk.

Today I read the final featured article on this month’s theme (“Success”), a profitable article by Rev. Nick Batzig (PCA pastor). In “Faithfulness and Fruitfulness” Batzig ties together the biblical ideas of being faithful and being fruitful. As he points out in the beginning, it is easy to confuse these and misunderstand the relation between them. But the Bible guides us to a clear understanding, so that we may properly know what success is in this regard too.

I point you to a section of his article, encouraging you to read the full article at the Ligonier link below.

…When we consider the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles, we discover that fruitfulness is the work of God, grounded on the saving work of Christ and sovereignly brought about by His Spirit in both the lives (godly character) and labors (kingdom work) of His people.

But what determines the nature of fruitfulness? Is fruitfulness commensurate with our labors? Or, are we simply to seek to be faithful and let what happens happen? Thankfully, the Scriptures provide us with a number of ways by which we may answer these questions regarding the relationship between faithfulness and fruitfulness.

Fruitfulness is ultimately God’s work, accomplished as we commit ourselves to Him in seeking to be faithful in all aspects of our lives and in all to which He calls us. We must resist the temptation to view fruitfulness in the same way that a stockbroker views his portfolio. It is a spiritual misstep of enormous proportion for us to look at our lives and labors and say, “If I simply do this today and this tomorrow, the result will be x, y, or z.” The Apostle Paul, while defending his own ministry against ministers who boasted of their own accomplishments, wrote: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase” (1 Cor. 3:6–7). The psalmist, in no uncertain terms, taught the same principle when he wrote, “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it” (Ps. 127:1). The more we come to understand and embrace this principle, the more we will be prepared to commit ourselves to Him in such a way as to be willing to be used in whatever ways He wishes.

But then Batzig also cautions about the danger of becoming lax in our determination to be faithful:

While we recognize that fruitfulness is the work of God, we must understand that diligence is an essential component of our faithful lives and labors. A subtle form of hyper-Calvinism can creep into our thinking once we acknowledge that fruitfulness is the work of God. We can start to think to ourselves, or catch ourselves saying to others, such things as, “It really doesn’t matter what we do because, at the end of the day, it’s all God’s work.” Interestingly, in the same letter in which he admitted that it is “God who gives the increase,” Paul declared, “I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Cor. 15:10). In Proverbs, Solomon wisely observed, “The hand of the diligent will rule” (Prov. 12:24). One writer helpfully sums up our responsibility to be diligent in our spiritual labors when he says, “You can do ministry with God’s help, so give it all you’ve got. You can’t do ministry without God’s help, so be at peace.” This is true in every sphere in which the believer is seeking to be faithful to God. Diligence in faithfully carrying out those things to which God has called us will ultimately lead to fruitfulness.

That is a wonderful perspective for us to take as we begin the work week tomorrow. May God by His grace make us faithful in all our labors, so that we may also fruitful to the glory of His name.

Source: Faithfulness and Fruitfulness by Nicholas Batzig

The World-Tilting Gospel – D. Phillips

world-tilting-gospel-phillipsOne of the Kindle books I am currently reading is Dan Phillips’ The World-Tilting Gospel; Embracing a Biblical Worldview and Hanging on Tight (Kregel, 2011).

I believe this book was offered free last Fall and I grabbed it, not knowing what to expect. But I have been pleasantly impressed with its content and message. I am a couple of chapters into it and find it soundly biblical, edifying, and challenging.

Chapter 1, “Knowing God and Man,” (with a subtitle that asks “Which Comes First? What Difference Does It Make?”) immediately references John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, pointing out that the magisterial Reformer wrestled with these issues too. Calvin taught that we can look at it both ways: we cannot know God without knowing ourselves, and we cannot know ourselves without knowing God.

But, then, Phillips makes his own case, with a little humor:

It’s impossible to measure without a standard. Its impossible to apply a standard if we don’t know what we’re measuring. But which comes first?

Chronologically, self-awareness comes first, and indeed fills our whole conscious life. No healthy baby has to be persuaded to be self-concerned. Nor have I ever met an infant who would say, ‘You know, some nice, warm milk would be great…but it would glorify God more if I let Mom get some sleep.’ Babies don’t even rise to ‘I am fearfully and wonderfully made,’ but rather, ‘I am fearfully and wonderfully wet.’

Yet while self-awareness comes first in time, surely the knowledge of God comes first in importance. Christian readers will grant that our concept of God affects how we see everything. The case I want to make is that our view of ourselves as we stand before God is inextricably interwoven with our view of God.

To which he adds, “Think it through with me.”

More on that next time, because Phillips has some great examples of how our (world)view of God affects how we see ourselves – and our relationship to God. We need to be introduced to Bud Goodheart, Lodowick Legup, and Misty Call.

I said, next time. These are some real (make-believe) characters! 🙂

 

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

Luther and the Reformation (1) – The Ninety-Five Theses

ref-500-1

This year being the 500th anniversary of the great Reformation (1517-2017) – its origin notably marked by Martin Luther’s posting of his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517 – we intend to do a series of posts throughout the year on some of the major works of Luther.

luther-theses-1And what better place to start than the Ninety-Five Theses themselves. For today, we simply refer you, first of all, to a few of them as found at the link above (and in many other places), prefaced by Luther’s purpose in posting them.

Out of love for the truth and from desire to elucidate it, the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and Sacred Theology, and ordinary lecturer therein at Wittenberg, intends to defend the following statements and to dispute on them in that place. Therefore he asks that those who cannot be present and dispute with him orally shall do so in their absence by letter. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.

I have selected these points of debate (theses) in particular:

 1. When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.

2. This word cannot be understood as referring to the sacrament of penance, that is, confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy.

3. Yet it does not mean solely inner repentance; such inner repentance is worthless unless it produces various outward mortification of the flesh.

4. The penalty of sin remains as long as the hatred of self (that is, true inner repentance), namely till our entrance into the kingdom of heaven.

27. They preach only human doctrines who say that as soon as the money clinks into the money chest, the soul flies out of purgatory.

28. It is certain that when money clinks in the money chest, greed and avarice can be increased; but when the church intercedes, the result is in the hands of God alone.

32. Those who believe that they can be certain of their salvation because they have indulgence letters will be eternally damned, together with their teachers.

33. Men must especially be on guard against those who say that the pope’s pardons are that inestimable gift of God by which man is reconciled to him.

34. For the graces of indulgences are concerned only with the penalties of sacramental satisfaction established by man.

35. They who teach that contrition is not necessary on the part of those who intend to buy souls out of purgatory or to buy confessional privileges preach unchristian doctrine.

36. Any truly repentant Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without indulgence letters.

37. Any true Christian, whether living or dead, participates in all the blessings of Christ and the church; and this is granted him by God, even without indulgence letters.

 

Secondly, we may point you to B.B. Warfield’s fine essay, “The Ninety-Five Theses in Their Theological Significance” (found in free digital form at Monergism.com). Below is a paragraph found in the early part of that work describing the significance of Luther’s theses:

The significance of the Theses as a Reformation act emerges thus in this: that they are a bold, an astonishingly bold, and a powerful, an astonishingly powerful, assertion of the evangelical doctrine of salvation, embodied in a searching, well-compacted, and thoroughly wrought-out refutation of the sacerdotal conception, as the underlying foundation on which the edifice of the indulgence traffic was raised. This is what Walther Köhler means when he declares that we must recognize this as the fundamental idea of Luther’s Theses: “the emancipation of the believer from the tutelage of the ecclesiastical institute”; and adds, “Thus God advances for him into the foreground; He alone is Lord of death and life; and to the Church falls the modest role of agent of God on earth – only there and nowhere else.” “The most far-reaching consequences flowed from this,” he continues; “Luther smote the Pope on his crown and simply obliterated his high pretensions with reference to the salvation of souls in this world and the next, and in their place set God and the soul in a personal communion which in its whole intercourse bears the stamp of interiorness and spirituality.” Julius Köstlin puts the whole matter with his accustomed clearness and balance – though with a little wider reference than the Theses themselves – when he describes the advance in Luther’s testimony marked by the indulgence controversy thus: “As he had up to this time proclaimed salvation in Christ through faith, in opposition to all human merit, so he now proclaims it also in opposition to an external human ecclesiasticism and priesthood, whose acts are represented as conditioning the imparting of salvation itself, and as in and of themselves, even without faith, effecting salvation for those in whose interests they are performed.

First – Rev. W. Langerak

From the brand new issue of the Standard Bearer (January 1, 2017) comes this wonderful, food-for-your-soul article by Rev. Bill Langerak. “First” is his latest contribution to the rubric “A Word Fitly Spoken” and is certainly fitting as we begin the new year today.

first-bl-jan-2017-sb

I quote from the last few paragraphs, which point us to the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the one true First, and the One in whom alone we can also be first, in the truest sense of that word.

The ultimate explanation for why Jesus is first is this: He alone is the eternal and natural Son of God living in the bosom of the Father, as the express image of His person and brightness of His glory, daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him and declaring Him (Pro. 8:30; John 1:18). And He is first because at the appointed time, God sent this same only-begotten and eternal Son into the world to assume human nature by the Holy Spirit, so that Jesus is not only the firstborn son of Mary but firstborn of every creature (Matt. 1:25; Col. 1:15). As firstborn Son, Jesus is given the power, authority, and kingdom of God, made King of kings; even the angels must worship Him (Num. 8:16; Col. 1:19; 2Chr. 21:3; Ps. 89:27; Heb. 1:6). And as the Son of God, Jesus is the firstborn among many brethren, given responsibility to gather, defend, and preserve them as the church of God written in heaven (Rev. 8:29; Heb. 12:23).

Only through faith in Jesus, can we who are last, be first (Matt. 20:16). Even though He is the first, He first suffered many things to redeem us from among men as firstfruits unto God (Rev. 14:4). Only because He first loved us, are we begotten by the will of God as firstfruits of His creatures (Jam. 1:18). And only because He is the first begotten from the dead and firstfruits of them that sleep, will the dead in Christ shall rise first (1Cor. 15:23; 1Thess. 4:16).

Therefore, seek not to be first. Rather, seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness; seek Jesus, the first, and be assured that all these things shall be added unto you (Matt. 6:33).

Note to Self: Take Note

Note-to-self-ThornAs we end the year of our Lord 2016 today, this final chapter in Joe Thorn’s book, Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself, is fitting. This forty-eighth chapter is titled “Take Note.”

How will we “take note” of the Lord’s ways with us on this final day of 2016?

We can start by reading and meditating on 1 Chronicles 16:8-13. And then read on.

Dear Self,

Like the Israel of old, you tend to forget the most basic things. Important things. You need constant reminders…. You need to find ways to remind yourself about the things that matter, because when you aren’t intentionally setting the truth before yourself you forget.

You forget that before you knew Jesus you were a slave to sin, a child of wrath, a dead man walking. And remembering these truths promotes humility in yourself and dependence on God. You forget that in Jesus you are his disciple, a child of God, a new creation. And remembering these truths creates gratitude and optimism. You forget that you are made for the glory of God and the good of your neighbors. And remembering these truths gives you purpose and passion.

…Without reminders you will forget all of this and much more. And when you forget these things you get into trouble. This means you must do better than build a robust theology. You will have to exercise it. It demands setting that theology before yourself frequently. Israel erected “memorial stones” to remind themselves of the person and work of God. One of the primary ways you will remember the truth is by preaching it to yourself regularly.

…And do you realize that you are doing it right now? You are reminding yourself of the need to preach to yourself, to remind yourself, and to not forget your God. Remember your God and his wonderful works (pp.135-36).

How Should We Remember God? – David Mathis

tt-dec-2016You may recall that the December issue of Tabletalk carries the theme of “Remembering God.” That theme is worked out in several featured articles, one of which is “How Should We Remember?” by David Mathis.

Mathis concerns himself with the means of remembering God, the practical ways in which we learn repeatedly not to forget our God but faithfully to recall His wonderful works and ways toward us. In the author’s words by way of summary, “His primary avenues for sacred remembrance are these: hearing His voice, having His ear, and belonging to His body.”

It is that last one we wish to focus on with you today. It is so easy to forget God by forgetting the important place He has given us in the body of His Son, the church of Jesus Christ. Mathis reminds us of this indispensable means for remembering God in his last two sections.

Read them; remember and use this means. And by living faithfully in the church may we chiefly remember our God and His amazing grace to us.

Fellowship: Belong to His Body

Third, and perhaps most overlooked in our day as a vital avenue of remembering God, is the community of fellow Christians in the local church. Let it be said loud and clear that other believers are an essential, irreplaceable means of edification in our lives. Most of our lives are not spent bent over our Bibles and on our knees in private prayer, but most of us do rightly spend a massive portion of our daily lives with other people. And, it is hoped, some of those people, whether family or coworkers or in whatever avenue of life, are fellow believers who can be not only acquaintances but God’s willing instruments in the ongoing delivery of His grace into our lives.

Whether it’s a word of spiritual encouragement, a memorized or paraphrased verse, a probing question, a kind corrective word, or the simple invitation to pray together, we need real-life relationships with fellow believers who know us well enough to direct both encouragement and challenge into the specifics of our lives. The Christian life is a community project.

The Most Important Habit

Chief among the many good habits we can cultivate under the banner of fellowship is corporate worship. The reading and preaching of God’s Word come together with corporate prayer and receiving His grace in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper within the context of worshiping Jesus together.

You might say that the coming together of Word, prayer, and fellowship in corporate worship makes it the single most important habit of the Christian life. It is the vital spark plug of faithfulness. Your Christian life will soon become famished and anemic without corporate worship and its unique banquet of spiritual blessings to be received in active faith.

Source: How Should We Remember? by David Mathis

Unto Us a Child Is Born – J. Calvin

Christmas-2015For this fourth and final Sunday in December – Christmas Day – we post an excerpt from a sermon of John Calvin (1509-1564) found in the book Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus: Experiencing the Peace and Promise of Christmas (ed. Nancy Guthrie; Crossway, 2008).

The title is “Unto Us a Child Is Born” and is based on Isaiah 9:6-7. Here are a few of Calvin’s thoughts on this glorious OT gospel passage:

He is called Mighty God for the same reason that in Isaiah 7:14 he was called Immanuel. If in Christ we find nothing but human flesh and nature, our glorying will be foolish and vain, and our hope will rest on an uncertain and insecure foundation. But if he shows himself to be to us God, even the Mighty God, we may rely on him with safety.

It is good for us that he is called strong or mighty because our contest is with the devil, death, and sin (see Eph.6:12), enemies too powerful and strong, by whom we would be vanquished immediately if Christ’s strength had not made us invincible.

Thus we learn from this title that there is in Christ abundance of protection for defending our salvation, so that we desire nothing beyond him; he is God, who is pleased to show himself strong on our behalf.

This application may be regarded as the key to this and similar passages, leading us to distinguish between Christ’s mysterious essence and the power by which he has revealed himself to us (pp.74-75).

Christmas for Adults – R. Pratt

In Tabletalk’s weekend devotional for this past weekend (Dec.17-18) appeared this piece by Dr. Richard L. Pratt. Titled “Christmas for Adults,” he begins by pointing out how we delight to hear children involved in the good news of Christmas – their joyful songs and activities.

Luke21112But he reminds us that Christmas is also for adults and that we have every reason for joy too. And he shows us that the message of Christ’s first coming is laden with images of war and victory, of battle and conquest – just what we adults need in this time in which we live anticipating Christ’s second coming.

Here is part of what he has to say:

The angels were not a sweet children’s choir. They were a ‘multitude of the heavenly host’ (Luke 2:13). In the Bible, ‘Lord of hosts’ most frequently refers to God as the One who leads the armies of heaven, angels who battle Satan and demonic forces. So, when the angel announced: ‘I bring you good news of great joy…. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord’ (Luke 2:10-11), much as ancient human armies sang as they entered battle, these angels sang – a vast army eager to fight against every power that threatens God’s people.

To understand the ‘great joy’ of this first Christmas, we must recognize what was so astonishing about Jesus’ birth. First, the words ‘good news,’ or ‘gospel,’ usually make us think of how Jesus brings salvation to individuals who believe in Him. ‘Good news’ includes that, but passages such as 2 Samuel 18:31 reveal that this phrase is actually the announcement of victory in battle. Second, the term ‘Savior’ makes us think again of how Jesus saves individuals from sin. Again, ‘Savior’ includes that, but passages such as Zephaniah 3:17 teach that a ‘savior’ is a warrior, one who delivers his people from harm and grants victory.

In response to the certainty of victory for ‘Christ the Lord’ (Luke 2:11), the angelic army sang ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’ (Luke 2:14). And this praise should fill every heart, even the hearts of ‘reasonable’ adults. Evil threatens on every side, but we know the good news that victory is sure. Christ our victorious warrior was been born.