Your Mind and the Quest for Holiness – J. Stott

mind-matters-stottThere is, however, a second kind of mental discipline to which we are summoned in the New Testament. We are to consider not only what we should be but what by God’s grace we already are. We are constantly to recall what God has done for us and say to ourselves: ‘God has united me with Christ in his death and resurrection, and thus obliterated my old life and given me an entirely new life in Christ. He has adopted me into his family and made me his child. He has put his Holy Spirit within me and so made my body his temple. He has also made me his heir and promised me an eternal destiny with him in heaven. This is what he has done for me and in me. This is what I am in Christ.’

Paul keeps urging us to call these things to mind. ‘I want you to know,’ he writes. ‘I don’t want you to be ignorant.’ And some ten times in his letters to the Romans and Corinthians he utters his incredulous question, ‘Don’t you know?’ Don’t you know that by being baptized into Christ you were baptized into his death? Don’t you know that you were the slaves of the one to whom you have yielded yourselves in obedience? Don’t you know that you are God’s temple, and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? Don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit God’s kingdom? Don’t you know that your bodies are members of Christ?

The apostle’s intention in this battery of questions is not just to make us feel ashamed of our ignorance. It is rather to prevail upon us to recall these great truths about ourselves, which in fact we know very well, and to talk to ourselves about them until their truth grips our mind and molds our character. This is not the self-confidence of Norman Vincent Peale. Peale’s way is to get us to pretend we are other than we are. Paul’s way is to remind us what we truly are, because God has made us that way in Christ.

Taken from Your Mind Matters: The Place of the Mind in the Christian Life (Inter-Varsity Press, 1972) by John R. W. Stott. Specifically, this is drawn from Chap.3, “The Mind in the Christian Life” and the section “The Quest for Holiness,” where Stott points us to the significant role of the Christian’s mind in his sanctification (pp.41-42).

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.”

Resurrection: The Benefits of a Reset – D. Murray

Reset-DMurray-2017This past Sunday I spent part of the day reading the last chapter in David Murray’s practical and profitable new book Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture (Crossway, 2017).

You will recall that each chapter calls us (men in particular) to bring the “car” of our lives into various “repair bays” to have us recheck and reset the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of our lives. The final chapter is headed by the words “Repair Bay 10,” but it is really a summary of all the benefits we receive when we reset our lives biblically. Which is why its main title is “Resurrection.”

There are so many good sections in this last chapter – just the headings give us men encouragement about the changes this reset can bring to our lives: new pace, new conscience, new honesty, new contentment, new selectivity, new energy, new joy, new theology, and so on. Let me quote from two of the sections that I find representative and encouraging.

The first is “new sensitivity,” where Murray writes in part:

Reset garage produces a much better and humbler understanding of our humanity. We now keep our eyes on the dashboard and know which warning lights to look out for and what they mean – warning signs that we previously would have ignored, minimized, or resented. We’re sensitive to physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and relational changes, and collaborate more knowledgeably with the biological rhythms of our bodies. We sense the monthly mix, the weekly beat of six days of work and one day of rest, the daily cadence of work and sleep, the regular tempo of hunger and thirst, and even the pulses of dynamic energy that peak a few times a day, enabling us to find our flow state and do our best work. Going forward, we are much more attuned to this God-given rhythm, and, instead of fighting it, we have gotten with the groove and beat of God’s order in our lives [pp.180-81].

The second is the last section, “new horizon,” where the author points us to our great hope:

Prior to Reset garage, many of us hardly ever looked up. We just saw the next to-do item, put our heads down, and plowed through it. We saw the next meeting, the next report, the next business trip, the next sermon, the next book, the next counseling session, and so on. But we never saw the next life.

Reset garage has resurrected resurrection hope. The mini-resurrection we’ve experienced has given us a taste of the ultimate resurrection ahead, when every ache and pain, every cry and depression, every loss and weakness will be no more. It has also slowed our pace enough to allow us the time and space to look ahead and enjoy that view, to anticipate that final destination, where we will experience that ‘the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed’ (Rom.8:18). A grace-paced life transports us into a grace-and glory-filled eternity [pp190-91].

And with that in view, Murray calls us with the inspired apostle to run our race, so that we may receive the prize of sovereign grace – eternal life with our heavenly Father in Christ.

The Cross and Our Sanctification; “Fall on your knees, …and worship.” – D. Powlison

How-sanctification-powlison-2017We have started to look at another new Crossway title – a short book on sanctification. The title is How Does Sanctification Work?,  the author being noted teacher and counselor David Powlison (executive director of Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation).

I have received the book for review and make it available to someone who is interested in the subject. In the meantime, I am profiting from this brief and easy read.

In the third chapter, “Truth Unbalanced and Rebalanced,” Powlison has a section treating how the cross relates to our sanctification. He writes:

…It is also important to remember that Christ’s cross has multiple implications. His dying and death express a number of ways that Scripture is relevant to forming our faith and our obedience.” {p.35]

He proceeds to give seven meanings of the cross that “explain a glory before which we must bow.” I give two of them here for our benefit.

First, consider how the cross reveals the character of God. Mercy meshes with justice. Steadfast love joins holy wrath. The ‘competing sides of God’s self-revelation demonstrate their complete complementarity. God is light so bright that no man can dwell in his presence; God is love so tender that he makes his dwelling place with man.

In other words, the cross is not just about us. Innumerable men and women have found this reality profoundly humbling, comforting, and sanctifying. Something incomprehensibly wonderful unfolds before our eyes. Fall on your knees, put your hand over your mouth, acknowledge your incomprehension, and worship. The cross says, “O come, let us adore him.”

And then he has this for the fifth meaning of the cross as it relates to our sanctification:

Fifth, consider that innumerable children of God find encouragement in the friendship of Christ. A man lays down his life for his friends – and Christ has befriended us. We were once his enemies, but he has won us over and won our hearts. The cross tangibly demonstrates how much God loves, and his love has a winsome effect. His love is more than a benevolent feeling of affection. He makes known his intimate counsel. He shows it by what he does. The cross says, “You are my friend. I open my heart to you and lay down my life for you” (cf. Ps.25:14; John 15:15). [pp.36-27]

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.

Doctrine that “takes possession of the entire soul” – J. Calvin

Little-book-christian-life-calvinResponding to those “nominal Christians” who want the name but “possess nothing of Christ,” John Calvin wrote:

For true doctrine is not a matter of the tongue, but of life; neither is Christian doctrine grasped only by the intellect and memory, as truth is grasped in other fields of study. Rather, doctrine is rightly received when it takes possession of the entire soul and finds a dwelling place and shelter in the most intimate affections of the heart. So let such people stop lying, or let them prove themselves worthy disciples of Christ, their teacher.

We have given priority to doctrine, which contains our religion, since it establishes our salvation. But in order for doctrine to be fruitful to us, it must overflow into our hearts, spread into our daily routines, and truly transform us within.

Even the philosophers rage against and reject those who profess an art that ought to govern one’s life, but who twist that art hypocritically into empty chatter. How much more then should we detest the foolish talk of those who give lip service to the gospel?

The gospel’s power ought to penetrate the innermost affections of the heart, sink down into the soul, and inspire the whole man a hundred times more than the lifeless teachings of the philosophers.

Taken from the fresh translation and edition of John Calvin’s short work on the Christian life,  A Little Book on the Christian Life (Reformation Trust, 2017), pp.14-15 (slightly edited). For my previous post on this “golden booklet,” visit this page.

Reset: Relate, or Why Our Relationships Are Important

Reset-DMurray-2017This Spring and Summer we are looking at the practical and profitable thoughts of Dr. David Murray in his newly published book Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture (Crossway, 2017).

Writing especially with men in view, Murray, in each chapter, has us take the “car” of our lives into various “repair bays” to have our lives rechecked and reset.

Today we consider “Repair Bay 9,”“Relate” – where Murray talks to us about the importance of relationships, in order of priority – God, wife, children, pastor/elders, and friends. For our purposes in this post, we will focus on that last relationship – friends.

At the end of the section on relating to pastors and elders, the author lays the ground work for the importance of friendships for men:

We all need men in our lives who deal lovingly and faithfully with us, who watch for our souls and speak into our lives when we need that. Although this requires us to make ourselves vulnerable, and that takes tremendous courage, doing so is a wise and safe act, especially as we mature or succeed and perhaps become more self-confident and self-sufficient.

Murray then discusses why men often fail in finding and making good friends. He gives these “reasons” (which are really amount to excuses):

  • We’re too selfish – What’s in it for me?
  • We’re too functional – friends are good at the clubhouse, but not in real life.
  • We’re too proud – friends are for wimps!
  • We’re too safe – we don’t handle rejection well.
  • We’re too superficial – shallow contact and superficial talks are ok, but don’t ask me to go deep!
  • We’re too brainwashed – we have bought into Hollywood’s idea of masculinity.

So what is the answer? He points us to the Triune God and to Jesus Christ, the Friend of sinners, and then gives us these guidelines for establishing biblical friendships:

  • Prioritize friendships – that is, make them a priority.
  • Cultivate the greatest friendship – know and model Christ’s friendship.
  • Build unselfish friendships – not ones that benefit your career or network.
  • Beware of substitutes – not social media relationships but face-to-face ones.
  • Prepare for disappointments – you will get hurt, but you will also gain faithful friends.
  • Cultivate transparency – be a “to know and be known” friend.
  • Make spiritual growth central – our friendships “must have at its core a desire to do spiritual good to one another.”
  • Recognize your limitations – we can’t be friends with everyone, so strive to make the best ones.

Sound counsel from a trusted friend in Christ, even if a distant one. How would you evaluate your friendships in the light of these guidelines?

Entertainment and Worship – July 2017 “Tabletalk”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To read the rest, visit the Ligonier link below.

Source: Entertainment and Worship by Joe Thorn

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

Why the Reformation Matters: Because of Union with Christ

why-reformation-matters-reeves-2016You can probably guess what critics of the Reformation said about all this [justification by faith and adoption by the Spirit, because of the believer’s union with Christ]. That this is a doctrine of comfort was precisely the problem, they said, for this message is simply too comforting. If our anxieties about our guilt and standing before God can be washed away so freely in Christ, what possible motivation are we left with to pursue lives of holiness? But, understanding that salvation is union with Christ, Calvin was not troubled for a moment, and replied as follows:

If he who has obtained justification possesses Christ, and at the same time, Christ never is where His Spirit is not, it is obvious that gratuitous righteousness is necessarily connected with regeneration. Therefore, if you would duly understand how inseparable faith and works are, look to Christ, who, as the Apostle teaches (1 Cor.i.30) has been given to us for justification and for sanctification. Wherever, therefore, that righteousness of faith, which we maintain to be gratuitous, is, there too Christ is, and where Christ is, there too is the Spirit of holiness, who regenerates the soul to newness of life. On the contrary, where zeal for integrity and holiness is not in vigor, there neither is the Spirit of Christ nor Christ Himself; and wherever Christ is not, there is no righteousness, nay, there is no faith; for faith cannot apprehend Christ for righteousness without the Spirit of sanctification [quoted from A Reformation Debate, ed. John C. Olin, 1966].

Which leads the authors to comment further:

That is, we have not been united to Christ so we can get some other reward: heaven, righteousness, salvation, or whatever. We do not, as Calvin put it, seek ‘in Christ something else than Christ Himself.’ The great reward of union with Christ is Christ. Knowing and enjoying him is the eternal life for which we have been saved. It is why, in his earliest years as a young believer, Calvin began identifying himself as ‘a lover of Jesus Christ.’

Taken from Chapter 6, “Union with Christ” in Why the Reformation Still Matters, co-authored by Michael Reeves and Tim Chester (Crossway, 2016), p.124-25.

*Nota bene: This book is still available for review if there are interested parties.

Jesus Christ: the True Fountain of Our Holiness

JCalvin1To prompt us toward righteousness more effectively, Scripture tells us that God the Father, who has reconciled us to Himself in His Anointed One, Jesus Christ, has given us in Christ a model to which we should conform our lives. You will not find a better model in the philosophers – in whom many expect to find the only correct and orderly treatment of moral philosophy. They, while doing their best to encourage us to be virtuous, have nothing to say except that we should live ‘ according to nature.’

Scripture, however, draws its encouragement from the true fountain. Its teaches us to contemplate our lives in relation to God, our Author, to whom we are bound. And, having taught us that we have fallen from the true state and condition of our original creation, Scripture adds that Christ, through whom we have been restored to favor with God, is set before us as a model whose form and beauty should be reflected in our lives.

What can be more effective than this? Indeed, what more is needed than this? We have been adopted by the Lord as children with this understanding – that in our lives we should mirror Christ who is the bond of our adoption. And truly, unless we are devoted – even addicted – to righteousness, we will faithlessly abandon our Creator and disown Him as our Savior.

Little-book-christian-life-calvinTaken from the fresh translation and edition of John Calvin’s short work on the Christian life,  A Little Book on the Christian Life (Reformation Trust, 2017), pp.8-9 (slightly edited). For my previous post on this “golden booklet,” visit this page.