Winning the Souls of Unbelievers – J. Payne

As we pointed out earlier this month (see my Sept.10 post) the September 2017 issue of Tabletalk has as its theme “Soul Winning,” with the featured articles covering the various aspects of the Christian calling and methods of this task (based Prov.11:30).

I have once again profited from these articles, including that by Jon D. Payne, “Winning the Souls of Unbelievers.” In the first main section of this article, headed by the words “Wonderfully Ordinary,” Payne gives the “regular” believer great encouragement in the calling to evangelize.

I post these paragraphs tonight, so that you too may be assured that God has you right where you ought to be to be a means to win souls.

Rather than heap guilt on regular Christians for not soul winning on street corners or in market squares (which few believers are called or gifted to do), wouldn’t it be far better to foster a view of evangelism that naturally flows from the ordinary rhythms of daily life and weekly schedules? Shouldn’t we view gospel witness primarily as the overflow of a sincere walk with God in the particular sphere in which God has placed us?

God is sovereign, and in His sovereignty He has placed each one of us right where He wants us (Ps. 115:3; Acts 17:26–27). You may wish to be somewhere else, but right now you are exactly where God wants you to be. “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps” (Prov. 16:9; see Rom. 8:28). Therefore, God calls us to reach the lost right where we are. He has sovereignly placed us in a distinct sphere of influence, in part, to reach out to nonbelievers with the life-transforming gospel of Jesus Christ.

Dear believer, God by His sovereign hand has put you in a specific community and planted you in a particular neighborhood or apartment building. He has also given you a distinct vocation. Why? In part, so that you would shine the light of the gospel to those around you in the ordinary course of your life.

Source: Winning the Souls of Unbelievers

God: The Winner of Souls – September 2017 “Tabletalk”

The September 2017 issue of Tabletalk has been out for over a week now and it is time to introduce its theme and contents. Editor Burk Parsons introduces this issue on “Soul Winning” with his editorial “Rescuing Souls from Death.”

The first featured article is Dr. David Strain’s “God: The Winner of Souls,” in which he emphasizes that fundamental to our reason and motive for evangelizing is the truth that God is the One who saves sinners by His sovereign grace in Jesus Christ.

Here are a couple of paragraphs that bring that home – one at the beginning of the article and the other at the end:

Though we may not realize it, behind and before our “lisping, stammering tongues” ever manage to proclaim the good news about Jesus, before we can muster the courage to speak a word for Him, God Himself has been in hot pursuit of sinners to save. Few truths offer more encouragement to us in our efforts to share the gospel than this: God is the great winner of souls.

…So here is the liberating truth: God is the true and great soul winner. The Father purposed to save sinners in love, and so He sent His Son for us. The Son of God has loved us and given Himself for us. The same Spirit who rested upon Christ now gives life to dead sinners, uniting us to Christ, and He empowers us in turn to bear witness for Christ. When we realize these great truths, when we see that God is the Evangelist, evangelism will cease to be a fearful work, pursued in an effort to curry divine favor. Instead, it will become a joyful expression of gratitude and an outpouring of holy zeal that others might know the salvation that has been lavished upon us by Almighty God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Read the full article at the link below. And, by the way, Ligonier has made a new special website for Tabletalk, with more content and featured articles available online. Check it out when you visit the link below.

Also, the daily devotions continue on the doctrines and practices restored to the church at the time of the great Reformation. This month they are on “The Reformation of Worship.” Want a sample of what they are like? Here’s part of the devotional for Sept.1:

Often when we think of the Protestant Reformation and what it accomplished, we focus on the doctrinal reforms related to such topics as divine grace, justification, and the authority of Scripture. This association of doctrinal reform with the Reformation is, of course, good and proper, for the Reformers were concerned to conform Christian doctrine to the teaching of God’s Word. However, the Reformers understood that there could be no true doctrinal reform without a corresponding reform of the church’s worship. In fact, in The Necessity of Reforming the Church, written to Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, John Calvin listed the reform of Christian worship first in his explanation of why the Reformation was necessary. Our worship and our theology are inextricably linked.

Source: God: The Winner of Souls

Sept. 1, 2017 Standard Bearer: “Treasure”

With the new month comes the September 1, 2017 issue of the Standard Bearer (cf. cover and contents below).

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One of the special features of this issue is the latest word study penned by Rev. William Langerak for the rubric “A Word Fitly Spoken.” This one is titled “Treasure,” and that’s what it is – a treasure of valuable gems mined from the holy Scriptures.

I can only give you a sample tonight, though I wish I could give the whole article. For that you will just have to subscribe, or wait for the online edition in a few months.

The fundamental truth about treasure is this: God is our treasure, and we, the church, are chosen to be His treasure (Ps. 135:4). Our God is an infinite store of life, righteousness, power, wisdom, grace, and mercy. The world and its fullness is His treasure (Ps. 50:12). He has treasuries of rain (Deut. 28:12), snow and hail (Job 38:22), wind (Ps. 135:7), darkness (Isa. 45:3), and food for the belly of man (Ps. 17:14). And yet to His church alone He says this: “If ye will obey my voice indeed and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine” (Exod. 1:11;19:5).

The fundamental attitude we must have toward treasure is this: “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth where moth and rust doth corrupt and where thieves break through and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven…. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matt. 6:19-21). Jesus taught this. It is essentially the command to believe and trust alone in Him, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3).

Do we? Jesus, knowing both His rich beneficence in giving earthly treasure and our propensity to covet it even while trying to establish our own righteousness, said: “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me” (Matt. 19:21). Similarly, He likened the kingdom of heaven to treasure in a field, which when a man finds, he sells everything he has, and buys that field (Matt. 13:44)

If you would like to see other short biblical word studies like this, visit this page on the PRC website.

As you can see, the rest of the issue is packed with other gems (including a great book review!). You are encouraged to become a regular subscriber by visiting the SB webpage. There will find prices, information on how to sign up, and a free sample issue.

Is God unfair to save sinners only through Jesus? – August “Tabletalk”

TT-August-2017The August issue of Tabletalk (Ligonier Ministries’ monthly devotional magazine) has as its theme, “Giving An Answer,” focusing on the Christians’ calling to be faithful witnesses to and apologists of the gospel of our Lord based on 1 Peter 3:15.

I read a couple more of the featured articles yesterday before worship services, including James N. Anderson’s “Is There Only One Way of Salvation?” Part of his defense of the gospel of exclusive salvation through Christ alone involves answering the objection that God is unfair not to save sincere followers of other religions.

I appreciated his great answer to this issue (which included the truth that because salvation is by grace alone God is under no obligation to save anyone) and post part of it here, so that you too may have a good defense of salvation in Jesus only.

The unfairness objection also reflects flawed assumptions about who gets to define salvation. Surely, it is up to our Creator – not us – to diagnose our problem and prescribe a remedy for it. The pluralist treats salvation as if it were like a hair treatment: you should be able to choose your color, your style, and so on, all according to your own preferences. Whatever works for you.

But what if salvation is more like a medical treatment for a fatal disease? If there is only one medication that can actually cure the illness, it would be extremely foolish to advocate ‘medical pluralism’ – a have-it-your-way approach to treatment – and it would be bizarre to accuse your doctor of unfairness for prescribing the only remedy that works.

And so Anderson makes the application to salvation from sin:

The point should be obvious: the prescription must fit the diagnosis. If the basic human problem is as the Bible describes it – that we’re sinners standing under the judgment of God, unable even to begin to make an adequate atonement for our sins – then only Christianity presents a solution that adequately addresses the problem. No other religion offers a perfect mediator between God and man who removes the enmity between us and our Creator by bearing the penalty for our sins in our place (Rom.5:6-11; 2 Cor.5:18-21; I Tim.2:5-6) [p.17].

Do we truly believe that? And are we, then, prepared to “give an answer” to those who may ask us about our precious Savior?

Worship of God Alone through Christ Alone

The August 2017 issue of the Standard Bearer is now available, and in it Prof. R. Cammenga (PRC Seminary) continues his exposition of the Second Helvetic Confession (written by Reformer Heinrich Bullinger) with treatment of chapter 5a, where the creed sets forth the Protestant Christian truth concerning worship through Christ alone as the saints’ only Mediator.

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On this August 13 Lord’s Day we quote a portion of this confession and Prof. Cammenga’s exposition, as relevant for us today as when it was composed (1562/64).

Christ Alone

God alone is to be invoked through the mediation of Christ alone. In all crises and trials of our life we call upon him alone, and that by the mediation of our only mediator and intercessor, Jesus Christ. For we have been explicitly commanded, “Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me” (Ps. 50:15). Moreover, we have a most generous promise from the Lord Who said, “Whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he will give it you” (John 16:23), and, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). And since it is written, “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed?” (Rom. 10:4), and since we do believe in God alone, we assuredly call upon him alone, and we do so through Christ. For as the apostle says, “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (I Tim. 2:5), “And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (I John 2:1).

God alone is to be worshipped. But God is to be worshipped through the only Mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ alone is the Mediator: solus Christus. Only in the name of and through the Lord Jesus Christ may men approach God in worship. All worship of God apart from Jesus Christ, all worship of God while invoking other mediators, be they saints, angels, or the virgin Mary, is damnable worship.

God alone through Christ alone—that was the gospel of the Reformation. And that is the gospel for all time and in every age and among all peoples. This is the distinctiveness of the Christian faith. This is the reason on account of which Christianity that is true to Christ cannot accommodate the false religions. The gospel is never Christ and, but is always Christ alone. Christ is the Way to the Father, and there is no other way to the Father. Christ is the way to the Father because He alone is the Truth and the Life (John 14:6). Jesus Christ is “our only mediator and intercessor” with the triune God. He alone is our “advocate with the Father.”

May our worship of the heavenly Father this day reflect this part of confession as Protestant Christians. May we seek the one true God through His only Mediator, our Lord Jesus Christ.

You may find the Second Helvetic Confession in ebook form on Monergism’s website here.

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!

Raising readers: the surprising power of reading aloud – Reformed Perspective

Once again an article has appeared (in my email box this morning, in fact!) about the benefits of reading to our children, beginning at an early age. Amanda Poppe posted the article “Raising Readers: The Surprising Power of Reading Aloud” last week on the Reformed Perspective website (July 27).

I always find these types of article encouraging, and we parents and grandparents need the constant reminder of the power that reading TO our children has. So, by all means, read this brief post and be encouraged to begin and carry on this valuable practice with your children. And, of course, model good reading to them by reading yourself!

Below are the opening paragraphs of the article; find the rest at the link below.

Of all the skills our children need to master, reading is at the top of the list. Children who read fluently do well in school, while poor readers struggle because the entire curriculum is based on the ability to read. Reading opens up incredible opportunities; in contrast, illiteracy is related to poverty and crime.

But success in life is not our main motive for raising readers. We want our children to love words so that they will be daily readers of the Word. The Bible is a challenging book, and our children need to be able to read and understand it in order to grow in their relationship with God. That’s why raising readers is a priority for Christians.

 Start early…

The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease provides a valuable resource for parents, teachers and anyone else involved with children. With carefully documented research and compelling stories, he tells us the most important thing we must do is read aloud to our children. Trelease points out that reading is like any other skill: you get better at it by doing it.

But how do we get our kids to want to read in the first place? Children gravitate to activities they find enjoyable. How do we give them a love for reading?

We must read to them daily. Reading aloud brings to life the characters, places and adventures that are hidden between the covers of books. Children learn that books hold exciting stories. Young children associate books with cuddle times with their favorite person. As the family matures, books become the vehicle for countless conversations and laughs, shared memories and ideas. In this environment, children naturally fall in love with books.

At the end of the post is this helpful summary of the main points Trelease makes in his book on reading aloud to children. Here is the first section:

MAKE READING OUT LOUD A PRIORITY

  • Make it a habit by setting a specific time. Doesn’t matter when – before bed, after lunch, naptime, or school – it just has to be a daily appointment.
  • Model reading. Children should see you reading for enjoyment.
  • Have books in the house.
  • Visit the library regularly.
  • Read out loud every day for a minimum of 15 minutes.
  • Keep reading to children even after they learn to read.
  • Get the grandparents reading to your kids.
  • Read to your infants – long before they can talk, they are language sponges.

Source: Raising readers: the surprising power of reading aloud – Reformed Perspective

By the way, it would be worth your while to sign up to receive a summary of the articles posted at Reformed Perspective. A variety of relevant subjects and news items are reviewed each week from the perspective of the Reformed world and life view (Scripture and the creeds).

The Place of Entertainment in Our Lives – M. Wittmer

TT-July-2017As already noted here this month, the July 2017 issue of Tabletalk takes for its theme “Entertainment.” The final featured article is by Dr. Michael Wittmer, who teaches systematic theology at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary here in town.

In “Glorifying God and Engaging Entertainment” Wittmer answers two questions relating to the Christian’s proper use of entertainment – when to engage it and how to engage it. When he answers that first question of “when,” he points out that we may enjoy entertainment regularly. But to that he also adds this adverb: selectively.

Under that second point he has some good thoughts that I share with you today.

Besides the amount of time spent on entertainment, we must also consider its location [place in our lives]. Solomon says there is ‘a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die, a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted,’ and so on (Eccl.3:1-8). There is a time to create and a time to consume what was created. Let’s not give our most creative moments to passively consuming entertainment. I am most productive in the mornings [I can relate to that!], and I guard that time from videos, websites, and even books that don’t require my best. I try to devote my peak periods to creating content – I’m writing this sentence in the morning – rather than consuming what someone else has produced.

When are you most fresh? Protect this time, and its regular structure will supply space for your creativity to flourish. Use this time to produce things and to serve people for the glory of God and the benefit of your neighbors. Create until you run out of steam, then refresh yourself with a song, story, or other creation that someone else has produced.

isn’t that a helpful point to guide us in when to use entertainment? I don’t think I ever looked at using leisure time that way before – using it to be creative and productive instead of just using someone else’s creativity and productions. I find that insightful and instructive.

Now, about the two appeals to “common” grace in this issue in defense of the Christian’s use of entertainment: I would also like to comment on that in the near future, because grace and entertainment certainly have an intersection; it’s just not “common.”

July 2017 “Standard Bearer” – Isaiah’s Vision of the Holy God

The July 2017 issue of the Standard Bearer is now available, and is its custom, this is the annual PRC Synod issue.

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Prof. R. Dykstra  summarizes synod’s work and decisions with an editorial that points to the spiritual aspect. Titled “The Effectual Fervent Prayer… Synod 2017,” his article emphasizes how the diligent prayers of the delegates and of the churches’ members carried synod along in its deliberations, especially in those times of overwhelming labors and discussions.

Rev. G. Eriks, the president of the PRC Synod of 2016, delivered the pre-synodical sermon on Monday night, June 12, in Hudsonville PRC. His message from Isaiah 6:1-4 (“The Vision of the Holy God”) set the tone for synod, as you will see from this quotation:

In this vision, God gives us motivation. What we need more than anything else right now is to see the glory of our holy God. Without this, what we fall into is the motivation of doing things to please man or to seek our own glory and honor. This a danger also for the men who are being examined by synod. May the motivation in the answers you give be the glory and honor of the God who is holy, holy, holy.

In this vision, God sets before us what we must be most concerned with in all of our work and in all of our conduct as a synod – the glory of the thrice holy God. God is glorified when we do things His way. We must not be concerned when it comes to protests and appeal with who wins and who loses. We must be concerned with God’s glory. When we are concerned with the glory of God, we will do things in His way instead of attempting to manipulate or to get our way. God is glorified when we work together to understand and apply what God’s Word and the confessions say about the issues before us.

We need the knowledge of God’s holiness because seeing God’s glory qualifies us for the work. This is what qualified Isaiah to be His servant in Judah at this time. In the verses following the text, Isaiah goes from shattered to saying confidently, “Here am I; send me.

As delegates to synod, we also are forged by the living, holy God to be faithful servants of His with this vision of God’s holiness. We are qualified as those who know the holy God. We are qualified, not because we are gifted and wise enough, but because we are forgiven in the blood of Jesus Christ. The God who calls us to the work will equip and strengthen us for it. We are qualified as those who know God and His mercy. We are qualified as those who have been and are in the presence of this thrice holy God.

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Besides a special picture section of the delegates and work of Synod 2017 and the seven candidates who were examined, this issue contains a couple of letters and responses, and two articles from regular rubrics: “True Worship” by Rev. R. Kleyn (“Believing and Confessing”) and “The Reformation and the Lord’s Supper in Worship” by Rev. C. Griess (“O Come, Let Us Worship”).

To receive this issue or to subscribe to the SB, contact the publisher at the link above.

Biblical Preaching: The Antidote to Anemic Worship – A. Mohler

One of the special articles in the July Tabletalk is the one quoted and linked below, in which Dr. Al Mohler comments on the rise of music as central in modern evangelical worship and the subsequent demise of the preaching of the gospel.

Toward the end of the article, after his criticism of contemporary worship music, Mohler begins to get at what should be “front and center” in evangelical worship:

A concern for true biblical worship was at the very heart of the Reformation. But even Martin Luther, who wrote hymns and required his preachers to be trained in song, would not recognize this modern preoccupation with music above all else as legitimate or healthy. Why? Because the Reformers were convinced that the heart of true biblical worship is the preaching of the Word of God.

Following which Mohler adds these significant paragraphs:

Expository preaching is central, irreducible, and nonnegotiable to the Bible’s mission of authentic worship that pleases God.

The centrality of preaching is the theme of both testaments of Scripture. In Nehemiah 8, we find the people demanding that Ezra the scribe bring the book of the law to the assembly. Interestingly, the text explains that Ezra and those assisting him read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading” (Neh. 8:8). This remarkable text presents a portrait of expository preaching. Once the text was read, it was carefully explained to the congregation. Ezra did not stage an event or orchestrate a spectacle—he simply and carefully proclaimed the Word of God.

This text is a sobering indictment of much of contemporary Christianity. According to the text, a demand for biblical preaching erupted within the hearts of the people. They gathered as a congregation and summoned the preacher. This reflects an intense hunger and thirst for the preaching of the Word of God. Where is this desire evident among today’s evangelicals?

And that leads him to conclude with these words:

The anemia of evangelical worship—all the music and energy aside—is directly attributable to the absence of genuine expository preaching. Such preaching would confront the congregation with nothing less than the living and active Word of God. That confrontation will shape the congregation as the Holy Spirit accompanies the Word, opens eyes, and applies that Word to human hearts.

Let’s give thanks that at the center of our own Reformed worship remains the pure preaching of the gospel, not music or various forms of entertainment. But let’s also examine our own hearts to make sure that this is what we truly desire – in faithfulness to the Bible and the God of the Bible. Otherwise our own worship, though biblically right in form, is just as anemic as that practiced by others.

Source: The Antidote to Anemic Worship by Albert Mohler