August 2020 Tabletalk – “Christian Discourse”

TT-Aug-2020We are already over halfway through the month of August and that makes it overdue to introduce the August issue of Tabletalk, Ligonier Ministries monthly devotional magazine.

The theme for this month is “Christian Discourse,” that is, how we as Christians must converse (carry on discourse) with others – with our fellow believers, including those of our own household, and with our unbelieving neighbors.

Burk Parsons gives his usual pithy summary of the subject (“Gentle Christian Discourse”), pointing out that

Elders, deacons, teachers, and all Christians are called to communicate with others in a charitable, gentle, and loving way. At the same time, we are called to speak the truth and to tell people hard things that they sometimes don’t want to hear. We are called to admonish, and we are commanded to go to our brother when he has sinned against us that he might have the opportunity to repent. Parents are called to train up their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Pastors are called to reprove, rebuke, and exhort. We are all called to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints. Nevertheless, we must never forget that we are also called to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, speak the truth in love, and rebuke with patience. As Christians, we engage with other Christians in all of life, and as we do, we must strive to be humble, gentle, honest, and gracious. When we fail, we must be quick to repent, and we must all be quick to forgive and restore as we live in light of the gracious truth of the gospel coram Deo, before the face of God.

After that one paragraph, we already feel convinced of how relevant this matter is – and convicted of how miserable we fail to carry out truly Christian discourse.  But, there is a way forward, by the grace of God in Christ our Savior and by the power of the Holy Spirit He has given us. And with the Bible as our guide and goad, and the multitude of counselors with articles in this issue as our teachers, we can learn anew the way to speak to one another – from wife to co-worker.

One of the articles I read this past Sunday before service was especially helpful: “Truly Loving Discourse” by Dr. Jason K. Allen. Here is a section of it that strikes at the heart of what it means to practice biblical conversation with others:

One of Scripture’s most salient passages on the believer’s discourse is Proverbs 27:5–6, which states: “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” In short, verse 5 instructs us to speak words of biblical rebuke, whereas verse 6 encourages us to receive them. These two instructions are pointed, perhaps challenging your sensibilities or forcing you outside of your comfort zone.

Yet, for you to live a healthy Christian life and to enjoy healthy Christian community, you must practice both. To this end, consider four words of reflection from these verses to foster truly loving discourse.

First, speak the truth in love. The Apostle Paul issued these words of instruction to the church at Ephesus (Eph. 4:15). Yet, they are essential for us in modeling truly loving discourse. Note that there is peril in undercommunicating either truth or love. Truth without love may be harsh and will likely win no one. Love without truth is mush and will win them to nothing helpful. The goal of confrontation is restoration, not alienation. Truly loving discourse works toward that end. Moreover, you should ask yourself if you’re equipped to receive such counsel. Do your spouse, friends, minister, or colleagues sense such an openness from you? Cultivate it in yourself just as you desire it in others.

Second, root out passive-aggressive behavior. Passive aggressiveness imperils Christian communities. Families, churches, and Christian institutions collapse under its weight. Accumulated grievances and festering conflicts bring about a relational frigidness that will persist until an eruption occurs. Truly loving discourse actually engages in discourse, not insinuation or subtlety.

Third, be willing to confront sin. Proverbs 27:5–6 speaks precisely to this point, both in confronting and receiving confrontation. It is always right to warn the sinner of his ways—doubly so if he is a loved one. This is why Jesus instituted church discipline in Matthew 18. James 5:20 reminds us, “Whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”

Fourth, learn to pronounce the word “no.” For many Christians, pronouncing the word no doesn’t come naturally. Whether out of fear of disappointing others or a reluctance to be perceived in a negative light, many Christians simply can’t utter this word. However, a sign of Christian maturity is developing this ability. Invariably, loved ones will embark on a hazardous path or contemplate a dangerous decision. Your ability to lovingly pronounce the word no might be their salvation.

Last, remember, as Jesus said, the tongue speaks from the overflow of the heart (Luke 6:45). These verses remind us that our discourse—even our willingness to lovingly confront—indicates deeper spiritual realities within us. Thus, to practice truly loving discourse, you don’t need a more polished or polite tongue; you need a redeemed one.

Speaking the Truth in Love and Taming Our Tongues

A close-knit church community is a wonderful blessing, especially in times of trial; but it can also be a hotbed for chatter about the name of others, resulting in bitter division between brothers and sisters in Christ without them ever speaking to one another.

“That I do not judge, nor join in condemning any man rashly, or unheard.” Such would be “a proper work of the devil” and would “bring down upon me the heavy wrath of God.”

And yet, all too frequently when we get together, we find ourselves talking about others. When it is trivial information (about dating, pregnancy, marriage, moving house), we discuss it that way, as trivia, in a mild and disinterested way. But, when it begins to involve what we might judge as “sin” or, in the case of a minister, “false doctrine” or “error,” suddenly the interest is piqued, the conversation becomes intense, and names are thrown around, judged, labeled and condemned… rashly and unheard.

And because the “sin” or “error” is so serious, we think the way of Matthew 18 does not apply. After all, this is public knowledge.

Not just minister’s names. It starts with what we say about the name of any brother or sister in Christ. This is a very real danger in a close-knit church community—what James calls “wars and fighting among you” (James 4:1), or what Paul speaks of this way: “ye bite and devour one another” with the warning, “take heed that ye be not consumed one of another” (Gal. 5:15).

Whereas Jesus, speaking from the perspective of seeking peace and preserving love between believers (read I Cor. 13:4-7), says, “go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone” (Matt. 18:15).

Would we bring down upon ourselves “the heavy wrath of God?” Have we already done this?

Biblical and doctrinal truth is important, but so is the truth about the name, honor, and character of the neighbor, especially when that neighbor is a fellow member of the body of Christ, and even more especially, when that neighbor holds office in the church of Christ.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

We do well to watch our words with these three questions concerning what we would say about another.

1. Is it true? Do I know it is true, or is it something I have just heard through the ‘grapevine’? Isn’t this the source of so many destructive and divisive rumors? Someone who does not know and who should not be involved, starts talking. Does what I say reflect that God is a God of truth?

2. Is it necessary? It may be true, but does it need to be said? Will my words be useful, edifying, beneficial to the one whose name I raise? Too often our words are not only a waste of breath but would be better not said.

3. Is it loving? Am I speaking about this person because I love him and in love for him? Do I speak to protect his name and reputation or to damage it? This question really gets to the heart of the ninth commandment. We must “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15).

If we would run our words through the screening process of those three questions, so much destruction of names and division between believers could be deterred. “Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out: so where there is no talebearer, the strife ceaseth” (Prov. 26:20).

May-15-2020-SB-coverTaken from Rev. Rodney Kleyn’s article in the May 15, 2020 issue of the Standard Bearer. Titled “Taming the tongue,” it is an exposition of the ninth commandment (“Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”) as explained by the Heidelberg Catechism in Lord’s Day 43 (Q&A 112).

This issue is still available free on theRFPA website. Lots of edifying reading here!

Some New Helpful Reformed-Christian Perspectives on COVID-19

I realize that we are probably weary of all the mixed and confusing information being published relating to COVID-19, both in terms of the data about the pandemic and in terms of the response we ought to have as Christians. I understand, and admit that I have reached the point at times that I do not want to hear anything more about it.

But two new items entered my email box overnight that I found very helpful, in part because they are both from a clear and consistent Reformed-biblical perspective. In these days in which we all struggle with our proper attitude and calling, it is good to listen to other Reformed-Christian voices about us. I judge these two to be good examples.

The first is a new venture from Reformed Perspective (magazine and more) – a podcast on COVID-19 and its challenges to the Christian and Christ’s church. It is called “Focal Point” and is done by Chris DeBoer. You may find the YouTube version below. The Facebook version may be found here. I think you will find that most of what Chris says resonates with our faith and practice, even if you may differ with a few details. His practical suggestions at the end about how to manifest the communion of saints during this time is quite profitable.

The second item was a new post from Reformation21. Pastor Grant Van Leuven presents an open defense of his Session’s decision to submit to his government’s decisions (he serves in San Diego, California) and abide by the mandates as a conscious act to serve God and love the neighbor. I think you will find his arguments compelling because they are biblically and confessionally balanced.

Here are a few paragraphs from the beginning of his post. Follow the link below or above to read all of it.

A few weeks ago, due to the present coronavirus pandemic, our Session decided to postpone face-to-face assemblies of worship at the church building electing (for a time) to serve Christ and our covenanted saints through online Lord’s Day webcasts.[1]  This decision was not unanimous but we moved forward with it in hearty unity.

…While it sometimes seems unclear from our State and Federal mandates (or strong recommendations) of what “essential” may include or exempt for public gatherings, our local and national magistrates are strictly guiding us to presently stay home and not assemble to avoid spreading COVID-19 and the coronavirus to other citizens and risk their deaths.  After prayerful study and discussion, we decided to follow our civil leadership for this civic concern and adhere to our magistrates’ current timelines.[3]  We here provide Scriptural and confessional support.

…Let us now reflect on much of what informed our decision that our temporary change to online worship webcasts would not be disobeying God but rather submitting to Him.

First, it is important to recognize that the present government mandates are not religious persecution (if they were we would insist on public worship together and be ready to face the consequences).  Everyone in our society is suffering indiscriminately.  The government is not forbidding Christian worship assemblies in principal but is trying to curtail an unknown pandemic that life’s religious sphere affects.

Second, Christianity is a religion of submission and we are to submit to God’s authority through His ordained ministers not only in the sphere of Church but also of State.  We mainly turn to Romans 13:1-10 for our consideration and leave the reader to attend to this and other Scripture references directly.

In summary, Paul teaches that as citizens of this world we must not rebel against our earthly authorities in the civil sphere of life for they too are ministers ordained by God to serve us just as are ministers of the Word over the religious sphere of life; as Kingdom of Heaven citizens we are to lovingly work for the good of our earthly societies under their lawful jurisdiction and to do so is to obey the Law of God.

 

 

Source: Submit to the Government Serving God to Save Lives – Reformation 21

 

A Prayer in Time of Affliction – John Knox (It’s harder than you think!)

Just and righteous art Thou, O dreadful and most high God, holy in all Thy works and most just in all Thy judgments – yea, even then when as Thou punishest in greatest severity. We have before, O Lord, felt Thy heavy hand on us, and when we cried on Thee in our calamities and afflictions, most mercifully Thou inclined Thy ears unto us. But, alas, O Lord, we have not answered in our lives glorifying Thy holy name as Thou answered us when we called in our distress, but we did return unto our accustomed sin and so provoked Thee through our misdeeds unto displeasure.

Therefore hast Thou most justly turned Thyself to punish [read as chastise] us again in bringing among us this troublesome and destroying pestilence, according to the threatening of Thy law, because we have not made our fruit of Thy former corrections. Our repentance, O Lord, hath been like the dew that suddenly vanisheth away; yea, the great multitude remained hardened in heart through their own pride and, walking in the lusts of their own hearts, confidently despised Thy blessed ordinances. For who hath mourned for the universal corruption of this blind age? …Yea, Lord, where could the man be found that sought not himself, even with the hurt of others and defacing of Thy glory? So universally did and presently doth that root of covetousness reign throughout this whole country. Yea, Lord, they to whom Thou granted worldly blessings in greatest abundance have been and are possessed with this unclean spirit of avarice. The more Thou gave, the more insatiably thirsted they to have, and they ceased not till they did spoil Thee of Thy own patrimony; yet in this matter they will not know themselves to sin and offend Thy majesty. Therefore cannot Thy justice longer spare, but it must punish and strike us as Thou threatenest in Thy holy law.

Now we know, Lord, that Thy judgments commonly begin at Thy own house, and therefore hast Thou begun to correct us, albeit yet in Thy mercy and not in greatest severity. Wherefore, good Lord, either else in the multitude of Thy mercies remove this bitter cup away from us or grant us Thy grace patiently and obediently to drink the same as given out of Thy own hand for our amendment.

We acknowledge, O Lord, that afflictions are disturbing, vexing, and hard to be borne with of fragile flesh; but Christ Jesus hath suffered heavier torments for us, and we have deserved more than we sustain who so oft have merited the very hells. If it shall please Thy Majesty to continue our punishment [read, chastisement] and double our stripes, then let it please Thee in like means to increase our patience and make our corporal afflictions serve to our humiliation, invocation of Thy name, and obedience to Thy holy ordinances. Or if of a fatherly pity it shall please Thee to be content with this gentle correction, let the calm appear after this present tempest that in respect of both the one and the other we may glorify Thee, in that first Thou hast corrected to amendment lest we should have slept in sin to our destruction and, secondly, that Thou hast taken away the bitterness of affliction with the sweetness of Thy comfortable deliverance, in Thee first having respect to the necessity and in the last to our infirmity.

…But, O Lord, now it is Thy own inheritance, for the which we sigh and groan before Thy Majesty. Look on it, therefore, from the heavens, and be merciful to Thy people; let Thy anger and Thy wrath be turned away from us, and make Thy face to shine lovingly on Thy own sanctuary. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, consider, grant our requests, for Thy own sake, O our God, and that in the name of Thy only begotten Son Jesus Christ, our only Savior and Mediator, in whose name we pray unto Thee…. So be it.

collected-prayers-jknox-2019Taken from The Collected Prayers of John Knox, edited and introduced by Brian G. Najapfour (Reformation Heritage Books, 2019), pp.37-39. This is the first prayer in the section “Supplication in Times of Difficulty,” and when I read it last week, it struck me as so relevant for the present time. This prayer of Knox is prophetic.

And yes, it smote my own conscience. How fitting for our age, our country, our churches, yes – but, especially for my own heart and life, as we have sat in such prosperity, lusting for more and trusting in our idols to deliver us. And now the Lord is judging us, unmasking the vanity of our false gods and calling us to true repentance and full faith in Him alone.

Can we pray these words of Knox? Yes, as children of God we can, and we must. But will we? May God humble us to do so, and work genuine repentance in us in this time of affliction.

The Reality of Fear, the Power of Faith

With foresight known only fully to God, the editors of this month’s Tabletalk magazine chose as its theme “Fear.” Yes, fear – with article titles such as “The Reality of Fear,” Fear of a Changing World,” Fear of Financial Loss,” “Fear of Being Alone,” “Fear of Disease and Disability,” and “Fear of Dying” – all fitting especially now.

So, on this last night of March, we pull some words of comfort and peace from two articles in this issue. At the same time, I encourage you to look up and read any of these other articles too. They are all profitable, especially in these days and times.

First, we hear Ed Welch as he speaks of “The Reality of Fear,” but also ends with what God says to us in our fears.

When the Spirit takes you into passages about fear and anxiety, you will hear three persistent refrains. First, God speaks beautiful and attractive words to His fearful people. Don’t be quick to expect rebuke, though there is room for confession and repentance in all of life. Instead, expect compassion. Expect comfort.

Second, the Lord promises that He is with us, and He will never leave us or forsake us (Heb. 13:5). This is the promise that includes all others. Jesus Christ died for sins “that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). Fearful people are the ones who are in a position to cherish the gospel.

Third, since the Lord is present and He is the God who is sovereign over tomorrow, we can give our full attention to our God-given mission today (Matt. 6:33–34). Today we have all the grace we need. Today we have the Spirit of power who gives us courage for small steps of obedience even when tomorrow seems quite bleak. When tomorrow comes, the Spirit will again give us the power and courage that we need. Grace is new every morning.

Fears and anxieties are everywhere in life and in Scripture. Since they are such constants, these three refrains are not merely a way to stand against our fears, but they summarize the pattern of Christian growth.

The second article we choose to reference is that of pastor Eric Watkins, “Fear Not, for I Am With You.”

What God expected of His people was faith in His promise and presence. The opposite of being “frightened and dismayed” is to be “strong and courageous.” There was only one problem: the people were sinfully afraid. Their courage waned more than it waxed, and eventually God would have to do even more for His covenant people. And He did. Many years and episodes later, against the backdrop of an even gloomier stage, God raised up another deliverer—the Prophet more faithful than Moses and the Captain more successful than Joshua. Jesus, the Son of God, came into the world to transform this stage of foreboding darkness into one of radiant hope. He came to do battle with all that threatens us, and He overcame our greatest fear—death itself—by His own life, death, and resurrection.

Is it any surprise that in the resurrection narrative in Matthew 28, God’s people were told not to fear? First, the angels told the women at the tomb not to be afraid (v. 5); next, Jesus, having risen from the dead, told the women to say the same thing to the disciples (v. 10); and finally, Jesus gave us the Great Commission with the singular promise that banishes our fear: “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (v. 20).

Israel’s tendency was to be “frightened and dismayed.” So is ours. At times, fear grips the heart and boggles the mind, causing us to do the wrong thing at times and hindering us from doing what we ought to do. But we must remember that we are accompanied by One who is far stronger than anything that threatens us—and He is not afraid. There are still many giants in the land. But the One who is with us is greater. He has already defeated His and our enemies. He is victoriously subduing hearts just as He promised. He is working faith in us just as He promised. And the greatest comfort any of us can have—no matter how frightening or dismaying this world may be—is that Jesus, the Captain of our salvation, is with us always, even to the end of the age.

Source: The Reality of Fear | Tabletalk

The Beautiful (Gracious!) Work of the Divine Chiseler

If only people would see everything in our spiritual life in terms of God!

What do people work on longer and more persistently than on a piece of ordinary crystal or a very precious diamond?

When the Lord God polishes your soul with his sharp tools and once again files on your heart as long as he does someone else’s, is that really so bad? Is it so bad if he expends double the effort on you and polishes you personally with three times as much divine intensity? Does the diamond have reason to complain if it’s worked on longer and harder than the ruby? Or the ruby because it’s held tighter and ground down farther than polished crystal? And if it pleases the Lord God to grip your soul so much tighter and to work so much longer and to pay the price of expending his divine majesty on you, is that reason for you to complain? If he applies much more pressure is polishing you in order to bring out more sheen, tell me, why lament so glumly? And if you endure and suffer all this effort, should that ever be reason for claiming glory? May the diamond ever claim glory because it let itself be chiseled and cut and polished with the sharpest of instruments?

Now apply all of this to the soul of the person who wrestles with their lost in life. Take that hard diamond that was polished so intensely. Who thinks about what happened during the polishing? Who doesn’t simply admire the outcome? Who doesn’t simply appreciate the pure light produced by that polishing? And if the work is to be praised, who would praise anyone other than the one who did the polishing?

Would you have it be any different?

If you soul is that kind of hard, precious stone, and if the Lord God can’t have it produce gleaming light in any other way than by intense pressure to chisel, cut, and polish it, to whom else should the glory and honor be given? Shouldn’t it be given to the One who lovingly worked on you without letup until you radiated pure light?

All of this tremendous effort is not something that you expended, so that God is now indebted to you. Rather, it reflects the intense love that he has for your soul. For that fact you owe the faithful and merciful God all the more thanks, quiet devotion, and intense love. …This is what Scripture requires and what our forefathers emphasized. If you calculate in terms of what God owes you, your suffering becomes a real trial. It’s a struggle to be overcome. Then you distort your suffering and proudly exalt in it. But that blunts how you receive grace.

But if you start with God and view yourself as he sees you, all of your afflictions and chastisements from God are the price paid for greater grace. The result is that you should live quietly and submissively under the crafting of his saving love. Give him thanks instead of giving glory to yourself. Such thanksgiving is enriched with grace upon grace.

honey from the rock-ak-2018Taken from the new translation by James A. De Jong of Abraham Kuyper’s Honey from the Rock (Lexham Press, 2018), pp.329-30.

This particular meditation (#98 of Volume 1) is titled “They Thought They Would Receive More,” and is based on Jesus’ parable of the hired servants (Matt.20:10)

Knowing and Finding God’s Will – January 2020 “Tabletalk”

TT-Jan-2020On this last Sunday of the month I finally get to posting something about the first issue of Tabletalk for this new year. The January 2020 issue has the theme of “Finding the Will of God,” always a relevant topic for the believer.

While editor Burk Parsons introduces the issue with his article “Knowing God’s Will,” other main articles cover the subject well:

  • “The Struggle to Find God’s Will” by Thomas Brewer
  • “Defining the Will of God” by John W. Tweeddale
  • “Defining the Call of God” by Joe Holland
  • Examples of Calling in Scripture by Scott Redd
  • Discerning and Stewarding God’s Call for My Life” by Fred Greco

For our purposes tonight, let’s reference a couple of the articles to have some idea of the value of this issue and its treatment of finding God’s will. First, Parsons shows us where we find God’s will and what that means in general:

…The reality is that we cannot figure out the mind of God, and we cannot know God’s hidden or decretive will (will of decree), which is His sovereignly established eternal plan for all creation. On the other hand, we can know God’s revealed or preceptive will (will of precept), which is what God has sovereignly revealed to us in Scripture regarding Himself, His ways, and His law for us. The preceptive will of God tells us what God finds pleasing according to His holy character.

Knowing what we can and can’t know of God’s will frees us to make decisions according to God’s Word. When we look to God’s Word to help us make decisions, we learn to ask the Lord for wisdom and for the guidance of the Holy Spirit; to walk by the Spirit in humility and holiness; to seek wisdom from trusted, wise counselors and elders; to listen to and honor our fathers and mothers; to consider our gifts, priorities, and means; not to walk through a door merely because it is open and sometimes to knock down a door when it seems closed; to sometimes just do something, and to sometimes wait on the Lord until our path becomes clear. For, as Paul writes, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2).

Then, second, we find some good thoughts at the end of Holland’s article “Defining the Call of God.” Pointing to God’s sovereign, saving call in our lives, he brings out these applications:

The effectual call of God through Jesus that converts us also begins the work of conforming us into His image (Rom. 8:29). That doesn’t mean that we are all becoming more like Nazarene carpenters-turned-­itinerant preachers. It means that God’s work of sanctification in us operates within the guard rails of the creation callings that are already operational in our lives. Under the power of the Holy Spirit, we now fight against sin and pursue holiness. We receive our call to vocation, and we work as unto the Lord with all our might. The husband embraces his call to marriage and loves his wife as Christ loved the church. The wife embraces her call to marriage and submits to her husband as the church does to Christ. The godly child obeys her parents as unto the Lord. The Christian embraces his call to holiness, pursuing holiness in grateful response to God’s grace. The Christian in authority does not lord his authority over others. The Christian under authority joyfully submits to and obeys authority, knowing that God is behind it all. In this way, the major calls of God on our lives—the call to vocation, the call to marriage, the call to morality, the call to submit to authority, the external call of the gospel, and the internal effectual gospel call—work together from creation and through redemption to accomplish God’s purpose in the world, His own glory through the worship of Jesus Christ in the church.

To find the other articles as well as the other rubrics, visit the Tabletalk link provided here.

How to Prioritize Reading | Crossway Articles

Summary: We will often neglect what we don’t prioritize. And book reading is often neglected because it fails to be a priority.

The beginning of a new year is a time to review the past, set new goals, resolve to reach them, and then with renewed hope strive once again to attain those goals. For the Christian, this certainly applies to our spiritual growth in Christ. And one of the ways we grow up in Christ is through reading – reading the Word of God (do you have a Bible plan for 2020?) and reading other sound, sanctified literature, including books, of course, but also magazines and journals and web blogs.

In a recent article published on Christian publisher Crossway’s website, author Tony Reinke (remember Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books?) addressed the matter of priority when it comes to reading. As usual, he has some helpful insights that are worth considering at the outset of this year. These thoughts are actually adapted from the book I reference above, which I read and blogged about a few years back. Here are a few of his words to motivate you to make reading a priority in 2020.

Our reading may not be disciplined, efficient, or fruitful until we read with purpose. Before you begin reading a book, determine why you are reading it.

We will often neglect what we don’t prioritize. And book reading is often neglected because it fails to be a priority; and it fails to be a priority because we have not defined our reading goals clearly. Once we define the purpose of our reading, it becomes much easier to see the practical value of books in our lives.

Factor everything you want to read and need to read—even factor in your fun reading. Then choose books that align with those priorities.

To that he adds these words later in the article:

Having trouble finding reading time? It may be that you need to read more books. Seriously. A curious thing happened in my own life. I discovered that when I began reading three books at a time, I found more time to read. Why? It’s pretty simple, actually. I found that different times in my day allowed me to read different types of books.

I enjoy reading historical novels, but I don’t read a historical novel right after I roll out of bed in the morning. I enjoy reading theology, but I rarely read theology at night before I go to bed. I enjoy reading long epics like Lord of the Rings, but I can’t get into an epic novel while traveling.

Different genres are suited for different times, and having three books from different genres gives me greater flexibility in capturing fragments of time throughout the day. On the other hand, reading only one book makes it harder to find time to read, because it restricts the number of contexts. Let me explain.

And now you had better visit the link below to finish reading Reinke’s article and find out about his great ideas for reading in different places – from the barbershop to the bedside!

Will you join me in resolving to make reading more of a priority in 2020?

Source: How to Prioritize Reading | Crossway Articles

More on Hearing the Word of God Preached: “Always listening is an act of worship.”

Eccles5-1-2The following excerpt from a Standard Bearer article was published this past Sunday in the bulletin of Covenant PRC in Ballymena, N. Ireland. I realized as soon as I read it that it would make a great addition to the series I had been doing on listening to the preaching of God’s Word.

In this article from the rubric “My Sheep Hear My Voice” Prof. H. Hanko has some profitable thoughts for us on the nature of listening as an act of worship, and it is from that part of the article that I quote in this post. May it lead us to worshipful hearing of the Word today.

Letter to Timothy

by Prof. Herman Hanko
(an article in the Standard Bearer, vol. 58, #6 – Dec.15, 1981)

In the last letter to you I mentioned, somewhat in passing, that our attitude towards the preacher and our attitude towards the preaching were inseparably related to each other. I want to say a bit more about that in this letter, especially from the viewpoint of what is involved in listening to a sermon. I wonder sometimes whether we have lost the art of listening. Or, if I may repeat that passage from Ecclesiastes which I quoted last time, “Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools: for they consider not that they do evil. Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few.” Do we really know how to do this?

…Always listening is an act of worship. The whole of the church service on the Lord’s day is worship, of course. Fundamentally, worship, according to the Scriptural idea, is “bowing the knee towards” God, for that is the most basic meaning of the word which is consistently translated as worship. Worship is, therefore, an act of adoration and praise. It is an acknowledgement of God as the sovereign Lord and as the One who alone is worthy of all honor and glory. All worship basically involves this. Whether we sing or pray, whether we confess our faith or bring our offerings, this is the essence of worship. But listening to God’s Word is also worship. It is an act of adoration and praise at bottom and an acknowledgement of the absolute lordship of Almighty God.

Listening to the sermon is an act of worship, however, in its own unique way. Listening is worship because our listening must be an inward confession that the Almighty God of heaven and earth, our Jehovah who saves us, has the sovereign right to speak to us and require of us that we listen to what He has to say. There is an element here of listening as acknowledgement of God’s absolute sovereignty over us. We must listen because God has authority over us. Listening is acknowledgement of that. But there is also the aspect of praise and adoration because we listen to Him who tells us what great things He has done for us.

There are illustrations which help make this clear. If a parent is giving his child instruction in a certain matter and is using that instruction as a basis to admonish the child, the parent expects the child to pay attention. If the child does not pay attention, lets his mind wander while the parent is talking and assumes an attitude of indifference, then the child, by such conduct, refuses to acknowledge the authority of the parent in his life and the parent has the right to say, “Listen to me; I am your father.” The other aspect can also be illustrated. Supposing that I am a very poor beggar who has nothing in the world and who can survive only by eating out of garbage cans, fighting with wild dogs for a place to sleep, and struggling to keep warm in cold weather by lying near doors of locked buildings where a bit of heat may seep under the door; supposing further that the king of the land, for some reason known only to himself, calls me into the palace and begins to tell me that he intends to give me a very important place in his kingdom where I will have riches and influence, and opportunity to join in policy discussions and decisions, and the rule over others; supposing that while the king is talking about all this I am so unmoved by what he says and so indifferent to what he is talking about that I simply pay no attention and do not even hear what is being said—such conduct is an insult to the king and brands me as the crassest of fools.

To listen with thankfulness and joy, with adoration and praise to what God tells us of the salvation He has graciously given in Christ is the worship of listening. To listen with humble submission to the authority of our heavenly King is to worship in listening.

Paul tells us in II Timothy 3:16 that all Scripture is given by the inspiration of God. But He tells us too why God gave the Scriptures: they are profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. If we listen to the preaching of the Scriptures we will be profited. We will learn doctrine, we will be reproved and corrected, we will be instructed in righteousness. And, according to II Timothy 3:17, this is all that we need that we, as men of God, may be perfect and thoroughly furnished unto all good works.

All of this requires that our listening be spiritual. But I think it best to discuss this with you in a subsequent letter.

And perhaps we can return to that article in a future post.

Listening Like Your Life Depends on It

expository-listening-ramey-2010Such is the title to the concluding chapter of Ken Ramey’s book, Expository Listening: A Handbook for Hearing and Doing God’s Word , (Kress Biblical Resources, 2010; pp.103ff.). This final section stresses the vital importance of how we listen to God’s Word preached from the viewpoint of Jesus’ closing words to the Sermon on the Mount (Matt.7:24-27).

To remind us of Jesus’ words in that spiritual lesson, let’s put those words in front of us:

Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:

And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.

And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:

And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.

In this light, Ramey makes these comments:

Ask yourself, ‘What could possibly be more relevant than knowing that both those how preach and those who listen must give an account to Christ when He returns?’ At the final judgment, the listeners will stand alongside the preachers and be held accountable for the part they played in the preaching of God’s Word (2 Tim.4:1-3). God’s Word itself will be the solemn standard by which both preachers and hearers will be judged (John 12:47-48). While the preachers are judged by the sermons they preached, the listeners will be judged by the sermons they heard.

…Therefore, whenever you sit under the preaching of God’s Word, what should be in the forefront of your mind is that fearful day when you will be judged based on how receptive and responsive you were to what you heard. …what you do with what God has said in His Word determines not only what kind of life you have here on earth, but also where you will spend eternity. That is the bottom line of the Sermon on the Mount. …Jesus concluded His famous sermon by calling on all those who were listening to act on what He had told them. He challenged them to put into practice everything He had just preached.

…Jesus gave a closing illustration that contrasted two types of builders: a wise builder and a foolish builder. These two builders exemplify the two ways people respond to Christ’s words. The wise builder represents those people who hear and obey His Word, and the foolish builder represents those people who hear but disobey His Word. All of us are in the process of building a house, that is to say, living our lives. We are all like one of these two builders. What kind of builder we are will determine how our life ends up.  How we build has eternal consequences – it will lead to either eternal salvation or eternal damnation. Heaven and hell are on the line when it comes to listening to God’s Word.

And Ramey closes with a quote from Puritan David Clarkson, which ends this subject with utmost solemnity:

Hearing is the provision made for the soul’s eternal well-being, its everlasting welfare depends on it; if you fail here, your souls perish without remedy. For salvation comes by faith and faith comes by hearing. It is an act of eternal consequence. According to our hearing, so shall the state of our souls be to eternity.

Which leads the author to end the book with this sentence: “So listen to every sermon in light of eternity, because every sermon is truly a matter of life and death.”

Shall we not pray for God’s mercy and grace as we listen to the Word today and every Lord’s day?