Note to Self: Jesus is Enough

First, read Philippians 4:11-13.

     Are you satisfied? It is pretty obvious that the answer is often no. …It is true; you need what you lack, but what you lack is satisfaction in Jesus.

When you find your deepest satisfaction in Jesus, you are protected from bitterness in times of want and pride in times of abundance. The world and all good gifts within it are temporal blessings. For you, Christian, their presence should remind you of the Giver, and their absence should remind you of that which never fades nor can be taken away.

…Both guilt and greed in times of abundance are the responses of your heart when Jesus is not more glorious to you than the worldly gifts God has also given. If Jesus is your greatest treasure, you respond to God’s generosity in all areas of life with great joy and the desire to share what God has given you – both the worldly goods and the heavenly gospel.

On the other hand, you know what it is like to have little in this world and then struggle with jealousy and bitterness. But the root of the problem is the same – Jesus is not your greatest treasure. Jesus is enough. Do you believe that? …But that kind of satisfaction is only experienced when we understand our greatest needs to be redemption and restoration. God in Christ has reconciled us to himself, is renewing our minds, and promises to raise us from the dead, and we will dwell in righteousness and peace forever. If you have this, what more do you need?

Note-to-self-ThornTaken from Chap.8 “Jesus is Enough” in Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself by Joe Thorn (Crossway, 2011), pp.49-51.

Christianity and Islam: Theologies Compared and Contrasted – J.D. Greear

TT-April-2016Yesterday I finished reading the main articles in this month’s issue of Tabletalk, including those on the theme of Islam. Both of the last two on this subject were excellent, including this one by Dr. J.D. Greear, author of Breaking the Islam Code (the other article  is “Sharing the Gospel with Muslims” by Dr. Bassam M. Chedid).

In his article – as the title indicates – Greear compares and contrasts the teachings of Christianity with those of Islam. After addressing a few misconceptions, he focuses on what he believes is the central difference – the doctrine of salvation. He calls Islam “the ultimate religion of works” and lays out plainly why this teaching is false and why Christianity has the only answer for man’s need of salvation.

This is what he says by way of introduction to this matter:

The biggest difference between Christianity and Islam is our view of salvation. Islam stands as a paragon of works-righteousness. Christianity alone stands as a religion of grace.

The Qur’an gives a long and detailed list of how to act, dress, think, and behave. If you follow carefully these instructions, Allah will approve of you, and you are more likely to be accepted into eternal bliss. Islam is the ultimate religion of works. From top to bottom, it exemplifies the principle “I obey; therefore, I am accepted.”

From here, Greear lays out three (3) reasons why this religion of works never works. Here is the first:

(1) Works-righteousness fails to address the “root” idolatries that drive our sin.

The root of sin is esteeming something to be a more satisfying object of worship than God. Works-righteousness religions, including Islam, fail to address that issue. They simply give a prescribed set of practices to avoid judgment or inherit blessings.

Islam, for example, warns Muslims of the terrors of hell and uses that to motivate Muslims to obey. It promises them sensual luxuries in heaven if they live righteously. Many Muslims pursue these things without caring for God at all. They are using God. For them, God’s favor is a means to an end. But any end other than God is idolatry.

The starkest New Testament example of this kind of attitude is Judas Iscariot. Many New Testament scholars believe that Judas betrayed Jesus because he was disappointed with him. Judas wanted a Messiah who would reward “the righteous” (himself included) with power and money. Jesus taught that He Himself was the reward. Judas never accepted this. For him, Jesus was always a means to something else, and never the end itself.

Love for God is genuine only when God is a means to nothing else but God. Righteous acts are righteous only when they are done out of a love for righteousness and not as a means to anything else.

The Qur’an is not an adoring, worshiping love letter about God. It is a guide for what behavior will increase your chances of avoiding hell. Merit, threat, and reward form the entire foundation on which Islam is built. And this never addresses the root of man’s sin—our desire to substitute God with something else.

To finish reading the other two reasons, visit the Ligonier link below.

Source: Theologies Compared and Contrasted by J.D. Greear

The Prayers of J. Calvin (27)

JCalvinPic1On this last Sunday of April 2016 we return to our series of posts on the prayers of John Calvin (see my previous Sunday posts in Nov./Dec., 2014, throughout 2015, and now in 2016), which follow his lectures on the OT prophecy of Jeremiah (Baker reprint, 1979).

Today we post a brief section from his twenty-sixth lecture and the prayer that concludes it (slightly edited). This lecture covers Jeremiah 6:24-7:1-4, which includes Calvin’s comments on 7:1-4:

Now the object of his sermon was, to exhort them seriously to repent, if they wished God to be reconciled to them. So the Prophet shews, that God did not regard their sacrifices and external rites, and that this was not the way, as they thought, of appeasing him. For after they had celebrated the feast. every one returned home, as though they all, after having made an expiation, had God propitious to them. The Prophet shews here, that the way of worshipping God was very different, which was to reform their lives.

…God indeed esteems as nothing this external worship, except it be preceded by inward sincerity, unless integrity of life accompanies your profession.

…We hence see that external rites are here repudiated, when men seek in a false way to gain favour before God, and seek to redeem their sins by false compensations, while yet their hearts continue perverse (pp.362-63).

Calvin conclude this lecture with this prayer:

Grant, Almighty God, that as we so abuse thy forbearance, that thou art constrained by our depravity to deal sharply with us, –

O grant, that we may not be also hardened against thy chastisements, but may we with a submissive and tractable neck learn to take thy yolk, and be so obedient to thy government, that we may testify our repentance, not for one day only, and give no fallacious evidence, but that we may really prove through the whole course of our life the sincerity of our conversion to thee, by regarding this as our main object, even to glorify thee in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen

Certainly fitting thoughts for us on this Lord’s Day as we gather for worship in God’s presence with our fellow saints. May we remember well the worship that alone pleases God and come with the pure sacrifices of penitence and praise.

Reformed Marriage – April 15, 2016 “Standard Bearer”

The April 15, 2016 issue of the Standard Bearer is now out – a very special issue, we might add – this time on the subject of “Reformed (i.e., biblical) Marriage.”

The issue covers a variety of subjects, from dating and courtship to the meaning of marriage, and from the wedding ceremony to the wedding reception (cf. the cover below). The issue makes for timely and instructive reading for young people, young couples, and long-time married couples.

SB-Apr15-2016-Marriage

Editor-in-chief Prof.B. Gritters introduces the issue in these words:

     We have been planning a special issue on a Reformed Marriage for a long time now, and are very pleased to mail this issue to you this Spring.  We think you will be edified by it.
     You will notice immediately that most of the articles are co-authored, that is, written by husband and wife teams.  It was evident to us that when it comes to marriages and weddings, the women often have a great deal to say, and rightly so.  We take opportunity here to thank the women who participated, as well as the long-time elder and his wife for their contributions.
     The articles range from pre-marriage preparation by parents to the question that should be answered by couples before marriage:  what do they hope for with regard to having children?
      May our covenant God bless our marriages to His glory, and preserve them for the sake also of the “godly seed.”  We hope the marriage ceremonies and the celebrations that follow also bring Him due honor.
As a sample of the instruction given in this issue, we also give you an excerpt from the meditation by Rev. James Slopsema, “Two Become One:”

     The bond that God makes in marriage by gluing a man and women together makes the marriage bond a permanent relationship.  Were marriage a human invention and the bond of marriage only of man’s making, any marriage could be terminated at will.  However, when God glues two together, He does so for life. The only thing that dissolves the marriage relationship is death.  “For the woman which hath an husband is bound (tied, fastened) by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband.  So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.” (Romans 7:2-3)  Consequently when asked about divorce Jesus proclaimed “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.”  (Matthew 19:6)

Let every married couple or those contemplating marriage understand this. Take this perspective in marriage. Marriage is permanent. Should problems arise in your marriage, divorce is not an option except in the case of adultery.  But even then the marriage bond is not broken.  Only death breaks the marriage bond.  Let husbands and wives be committed to their marriages and in Christ work out any problems that may arise.  And let those dealing with what may seem insurmountable problems in their marriage remember, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (Philippians 4:13)

If you are interested in this issue or in subscribing to the SB, contact the RFPA at the information on their website.

Islam Today – James Anderson

TT-April-2016As we noted last week, this month’s issue of Tabletalk addresses the significant subject of Islam. The second main article dealing with this growing and mysterious religion is by Dr. James Anderson. It’s title is “Islam Today” and in it Anderson points out the wide diversity within Islam, similar to what one finds also in Christianity.

His article is well worth reading, as it taught me a number of previously unknown things about Islam. Below are a few paragraphs; find the rest at the Ligonier link below.

Christians in the West tend to identify Islam with the fundamentalist Qur’an-based religion found in the Middle East, North Africa, and South and Southeast Asia—and with good reason. Even so, Islamic fundamentalism represents only one of several directions in which Islam is being driven today. The Islamic world has faced a crisis of confidence since the abolition of the Ottoman caliphate in 1924. Since that date, there has been no recognizable caliphate to which Muslims can look for leadership. The various Islamic dynasties that dominated much of the civilized world in previous centuries have fallen, and Muslims are consequently asking, “What went wrong, and how do we fix it?”

Broadly speaking, two very different reform movements have arisen in response to this crisis. The fundamentalist movement insists that Islam needs to return to its roots: Muslims today, including the leaders of Muslim-majority countries, are simply not Islamic enough. The proposed solution is a return to an uncompromising adherence to the Qur’an and Hadith (traditions about Muhammad and the early Muslim community). In contrast, the progressivist movement contends that Islam has stumbled because, unlike the Christian West, it has failed to come to terms with modernity. In this view, the way forward is to reform and contemporize Islam, accommodating it to the modern world. Clearly, this demands a more flexible and selective approach to the Islamic sources.

The question arises: Where do most Muslims today stand with respect to these conflicting reform movements? There’s no simple answer, but it’s fair to say that most Muslims find themselves torn between the two. The prospect of living under the strict interpretation of Sharia (Islamic law) advocated by the fundamentalists holds little appeal, and they’re disillusioned by the cycle of violence perpetuated by hardline Islamism. Yet they cannot shake the sense that when it comes to representing “true Islam” based on the Qur’an and Hadith, the fundamentalists have the better claim than the modernists.

Source: Islam Today by James Anderson | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org

J. Calvin on the Preaching of the Gospel: God’s “own mouth”

     Calvin has the highest regard for the preaching of the gospel by the human minister of the word. In and by the preaching, God himself speaks, thus working the salvation of his own children. In the preaching, by the ministry exercised by ‘a mortal and despised man, …God himself appears in our midst.’ God himself speaks in the preaching: ‘He deigns to consecrate to himself the mouths and tongues of men in order that his voice may resound in them.’ The preacher of the doctrine of salvation is ‘his [God’s] own mouth.’

…Because the preaching is the living voice of God in Jesus Christ, ‘the church is built up solely by outward preaching.’ ‘God breathes faith into us only by the instrument of his gospel, as Paul points out… [in] Romans 10:17.’ ‘The power to save…God…displays and unfolds…in the preaching of the gospel.’ Calvin appeals to Romans 1:16. In the preaching God himself ‘comes[s] down to us, in order to be near us…[and by this earthly means] to bear us up as if in chariots to his heavenly glory.’

…..Nothing is attributed to the human preacher, however, for it is God who freely joins his Spirit with the preaching, and he alone accomplishes all the salvation worked by the preaching. The same Paul who ‘boasted’ in I Corinthians 4:15 acknowledges in I Corinthians 15:10 that all his work was ‘the grace of God which was with me.’

reformedfaith-Calvin-DJETaken from The Reformed Faith of John Calvin: The Institutes in Summary by David J. Engelsma (Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2009), 312-13.

The Bible as Literature – L.Ryken

GuidetoClassics-LRykenAs we continue to examine Leland Ryken’s recent publication A Christian Guide to the Classics (Crossway, 2015), we have moved into chapter 4, where Ryken treats the greatest classic of literature, the Bible.

Previously, we looked at what this means in general. Today we can go on to consider the Bible itself as literature, which is what Ryken emphasizes in the next section. Here are some of his thoughts on this:

But is the Bible a literary classic (the subject of this book)? Yes, it is. It meets all the criteria that make a text literary. For at least a century it has been common to designate this aspect of the Bible with the formula ‘the Bible as literature.’

Before I confirm the accuracy of that label, I want to dispel four misconceptions that might be obstacles to accepting the literary nature of the Bible. [Here I will edit and abbreviate where necessary.]

  1. To view the Bible as literature is not a modern idea, nor does it need to imply theological liberalism. The idea of the Bible as literature began with the writers of the Bible, who display literary qualities in their writings and who refer with technical precision to a wide range of literary genres such as psalm, proverb, parable, and apocalypse.
  2. Although fictionality is a common trait of literature, it is not an essential feature of it.A work of literature can be replete with literary technique and artifice while remaining historically factual.
  3. To approach the Bible as literature need not entail viewing it only as literature, any more than reading it as history requires us to see only the history of the Bible.
  4. When we see literary qualities in the Bible we are not attempting to bring the Bible down to the level of ordinary literature; it is simply an objective statement about the inherent nature of the Bible. The bible can be trusted to reveal its extraordinary qualities if we approach it with ordinary methods of literary analysis (pp.37-38).

Those are good things to bear in mind when we consider the Bible as a classic of literature. I hope Ryken’s thoughts put to rest any fears you may have about viewing the Bible this way.

Published in: on April 12, 2016 at 6:35 AM  Leave a Comment  

Note to Self: Give Thanks

Klamer-spring-break-2016

After a wonderful week in the deep South celebrating my wife’s parents’ 60th wedding anniversary (celebrated this past Tuesday, April 5) with over eighty of her family and some of our own, we were constantly filled with gratitude to God for His covenant mercies and blessings – as well as for the beautiful place in His creation where we could celebrate these mercies and blessings.

Klamer-group-pic-GS-2016

And we gave thanks to God often throughout the week – in set times (devotions) and in special times of public fellowship and private conversation. We sang and prayed and read His Word (favorite passages and songs abounded!), and with tears thanked our faithful Father for His amazing grace to sinners such as ourselves. It was a good week together. It was a better than good week together. It was a God-centered, grace-filled, gratitude-displaying time.

Note-to-self-ThornTonight in wondering what to post in light of this, I decided to share these thoughts – and then too, these thoughts from  chapter 5 of Joe Thorn’s book Note to Self. That chapter is simply titled “Give Thanks.” You will see why it fits with this post.

     The psalmist calls us to ‘enter his gates with thanksgiving and praise,’ which is a call to approach God in gratitude. Why is that? He points to three realities: because God is good, because God is loving, and because God is faithful. A good theologian is thankful, and until you know these truths you are likely to feel entitled and deserving.

How do you know God to be good, loving, and faithful? These attributes were put on display most beautifully in the gospel. God is good, loving, and faithful by not giving you what you deserve (judgment) and by lavishing on you grace unmeasured. He is good and loving in saving us from sin and judgment, giving us hope and life, and adopting us as his own. He is faithful to his Word and his promise to us, that he will not count our sins against us and will continue the work he began in us to completion. On top of this, every good thing you have in this life is a gift from your heavenly Father, and as one who has been justified by the grace of Christ you should see everything in your life as grace that accompanies your salvation [to which we give a hearty AMEN!].

…Does gratitude characterize your thoughts of God? Thankfulness is a good test of your faith. ….Your days, whether easy or difficult, should be filled with thanksgiving because while life changes drastically, your God remains the same forever. He is constant – constantly good, loving, and faithful (pp.43-44).

Now, shall we give this thanks to our great and gracious God tomorrow in our times of public and private worship?

Note to Self: Sing

      You really should sing more. You should sing more than at gathered worship with the church. You should sing in the car, while working in the yard, and in your home. And when you sing, you should do so with more than lungs and lips. You should sing with your heart, mind, and soul.

…People sing about the things that capture their hearts and things that give them joy. People sing of heroes, victory, longing, and hope. People even sing as a way to express their sorrow. Does anyone have more reasons to sing than you? As a sinner who has been forgiven, a slave who has been freed, a blind man who has received sight, a spiritual cripple who has been healed – all by the gospel – you have real reasons to be known as a person of song!

It is one thing to tell the world of God’s work of redemption in Jesus; it is another to sing of it. Anyone can parrot truth, but to sing of it – from the soul – reveals how you feel. Song is the natural and appropriate response to the gospel, because singing is one of the highest expressions of joy.

So why aren’t you singing ‘always, only for [your] king?’ Have the mercies of God grown small in your heart? Is there little joy, little gratitude, little wonder? Do you just not feel like singing? The confession of sin and gospel meditation will lead you to song, so start there. There are songs of praise, thanksgiving, confession, lament, and victory that need your voice.

…So join the chorus of God’s people, who have always been known as a people who sing.

Note-to-self-ThornTaken from “Part One: The Gospel and God” (Chap.4 “Sing”) in Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself by Joe Thorn (Crossway, 2011), pp.41-42.

Resurrection Sunday 2016

EasterMessageFor this Resurrection Day Sunday 2016 we post a number of quotes on our Lord Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead, beginning with the Scripture itself.

May the Lord fill you and yours with the joy and hope of His victory over death and the life everlasting He gives to all who trust in Him.

Matthew 28:1-8

In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre. And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow: And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men. And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you. And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word.

1 Corinthians 15:12-22:

Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.

J.C. Ryle:

“The resurrection of Christ is one of the foundation-stones of Christianity. It was the seal of the great work that He came on earth to do. It was the crowning proof that the ransom He paid for sinners was accepted, the atonement for sin accomplished, the head of him who had the power of death bruised, and the victory won.”

“We need not wonder that so much importance is attached to our Lord’s resurrection. It is the seal and memorial stone of the great work of redemption, which He came to do. It is the crowning proof that He has paid the debt He undertook to pay on our behalf, won the battle He fought to deliver us from hell, and is accepted as our guarantee and our substitute by our Father in heaven.

Had He never come forth from the prison of the grave, how could we ever have been sure that our ransom had been fully paid (1 Corinthians 15:17)? Had He never risen from His conflict with the last enemy, how could we have felt confident that He has overcome the power of death from the devil (Hebrews 2:14)? But thanks be unto God, we are not left in doubt. The Lord Jesus really rose again for our justification.”

John Calvin:

“The Bible says he was raised not just after the blood-shedding, but by it. This means that what the death of Christ accomplished was so full and so prefect that the resurrection was the reward and vindication of Christ’s achievement in death.”

Charles H. Spurgeon:

“There is a resurrection after death. Let this never be forgotten. The life that we live here in the flesh is not all. The visible world around us is not the only world with which we have to do. All is not over when the last breath is drawn, and men and women are carried to their long home in the grave. The trumpet shall one day sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible. All that are in the graves shall hear Christ’s voice and come forth–those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of damnation. This is one of the great foundation truths of the Christian religion. Let us cling to it firmly, and never let it go.”

Martin Luther:

“Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime.”

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