The Proper Use of All Our Gifts – J. Calvin

The proper use, then, of all the good gifts we have received is the free and generous sharing of those gifts with others. No more certain principle nor more effective exhortation for keeping that rule is imaginable than this: Scripture teaches us that all the gifts we utilize are given to us by God. And they are given along with this law of our faith – that they be put to use for the good of our neighbors.

But Scripture goes even further than this when it compares us and the gifts we’ve been given to the members of a human body. No member of the body exits to serve itself, nor does each member exist merely for its own private use. Rather, it puts its abilities to use for the other members of the body. Nor does any member of the body alone receive any advantage from itself outside of that which belongs to the entire body. Whatever, therefore, a godly man is able to do, he should do it for his brothers. He should consider his own interests only insofar as he sets his mind on the general edification of the whole church.

Let this, then, be our rule for kindness and benevolence: We are merely stewards of whatever gifts God has given us in order to help our neighbors. We must give an account of our stewardship, and right stewardship is that which is fueled by the rule of love. Consequently, we must not merely join zeal for the good of others with concern for our own well-being, but we must submit concern for our own well-being to the good of others.

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). This is taken from the end of chapter 2, “Self-Denial in the Christian Life”, pp.36-38.

The Christian’s Helmet: The Hope of Salvation

SpiritualWarfare-Borgman&VenturaTonight we gathered again with some fellow believers from Faith PRC for our Sunday night discussion group. This Fall we are continuing our study of spiritual warfare using the book Spiritual Warfare: A Biblical & Balanced Perspective by Brian Borgman & Rob Ventura (RHB, 2014).

Tonight we discussed Chapter 9 , “The Helmet of Salvation,” based on Eph.6:17, with its parallel passage in 1 Thess.5:8, where the additional element of hope is included. Toward the end of the chapter the authors stress this aspect of the Christian’s saving hope as our helmet that protects our minds as we battle Satan and his hosts in this world. Here are a few of those thoughts – for your benefit too.

We can infer from his mention of hope the idea that despite all the trials and hardships we face in our battles with Satan, we will not always be combatants in this war. There is a coming day of triumph. Before long, fellow Christian, we will be in glory! Before long, we will be with Jesus! Before long, Satan and his minions will be vanquished foes, and we will be worshiping and serving our God without opposition – days without end!

What great joy and confidence these facts should impart to us in the midst of difficulty. the devil may sorely try us at present, but soon, in Immanuel’s land, he will be banished! Though at times it seems as though the enemy gets the upper hand in our lives, his day is coming (Matt.25:41; Rev.20:10), and so is ours (Matt.25:34)!

…Christian, let these wonderful thoughts fill your mind and think on them often. Just as the helmet protected the head of the ancient soldier and gave him confidence in confrontation, so also this firm assurance of your final and complete salvation protects you under the relentless blows of your spiritual adversary.

Daily meditate on the eternal glory with Jesus that awaits you. Regularly dwell on the reality that a day is coming when you will have no more struggles at all! Let these thoughts constantly fill your mind. As they do, you will be comforted and confident in the present struggle. as these truths saturate your thinking, you will be sustained, strengthened, and steadfast in the battle. Believer, in light of such things, never take off this spiritual helmet. Let it always be part of your daily protective covering. As [William] Gurnall says, ‘Take it so as never to lay it down until God takes off this helmet to put a crown of glory in its place.’ [Kindle ed.]

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Labor for the Rest – H. Hoeksema

Yea, let us labor.

Oh, to be sure, the realization of that rest is certain and depends not on our labor, but solely on the amazing toil of the restgiver, who shed his lifeblood for us. Never vainly and proudly imagine that your labor adds at all to his merit and to the infinite value of his toil.

But has it not been given us in the cause of Christ, not only to believe in him, but also to battle and to suffer with him?

Is it not his own good pleasure that for a short time we should be in the world to the praise of his glory?

The way to the final rest for all the children of God must be a way of struggle and labor, of toil even unto death.

It cannot be otherwise.

For as we enter into God’s rest by faith and partake of his liberty, we become estranged from the world, cease from its evil works, and are children of light. These things are inseparably connected. No one is able to profess that he has entered into God’s rest unless he is also actually translated out of darkness into God’s marvelous light and begins to show forth the praises of him who called him. For no one can serve two masters, God and mammon, and no one can consistently seek two cities, the earthly and the heavenly. If we have become partakers of the rest of God in Christ Jesus and have been made citizens of the heavenly city, we have also become strangers in the world and condemn its evil works. For that reason the prince of this world and all his host are opposed to us. They will impede our progress to the heavenly city. They will attempt to seduce us from the way. And they are powerful masters of many means. Now they sow doubt and unbelief by vain philosophy; now they blind the eyes and captivate the heart by the glitters of treasures and the attraction of pleasures; now they intimidate by threats and menaces of sufferings and persecutions.

And a powerful ally they have in our own evil hearts, so easily induced to believe the lie, to seek the pleasures and avoid the sufferings and persecutions of the world.

Let us labor, therefore, to enter into that rest.

Let us diligently endeavor, let us put forth all our effort, let us faithfully struggle, that we may attain to the heavenly city.

How necessary is the admonition!

PeaceForTheTroubledHeartHHTaken from the meditation of Herman Hoeksema, “Labor for the Rest” based on Heb.4:11, originally written for the Standard Bearer, then republished in Peace for the Troubled Heart, edited by David J. Engelsma (Reformed Free Publishing Association – rfpa.org, 2010), pp.251-52.

November 2017 “Tabletalk” – Leadership

TT-Nov-2017We start the week with our periodical features: yesterday the Nov.1 Standard Bearer and today Tabletalk.

The November 2017 issue is on “Leadership,” and editor Burk Parsons introduces it with his “Coram Deo” comments under the title “Faithful Servants”. Part of what he says on this subject is this:

Leadership and servanthood are not mutually exclusive. Leaders are first and foremost servants of God who serve by leading. The most essential quality of leadership is humility, and authentic humility is manifested by courage, compassion, and conviction. A faithful leader is a humble leader who leads foremost by love, not fear. A faithful leader is not concerned with being liked by everyone. A faithful leader knows how to delegate, trusts his delegates, and isn’t concerned with who gets the credit. A faithful leader knows his shortcomings and sins and leads a life of repentance and forgiveness. Ultimately, a faithful leader is a faithful follower of Jesus Christ, who has led us by serving us with humility, sacrifice, and joy.

Dr. Al Mohler has the opening article on the theme, writing on the subject “Leading with Conviction.” Here are a few of his thoughts:

The leadership that really matters is all about conviction. The leader is rightly concerned with everything from strategy and vision to team building, motivation, and delegation. But at the center of the true leader’s heart and mind, you will find convictions that drive and determine everything else.

I find many of my most encouraging and informative models of convictional leadership from history. Throughout my life, I have drawn inspiration from the example of Martin Luther, the great sixteenth-century Reformer who was so convinced of the authority of the Bible that he was willing to stand before the intimidating court of religious authorities that had put him on trial, and even to stare down the Holy Roman emperor, declaring, “Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise, God help me.”

Here I stand. Those words are a manifesto of convictional leadership. But Luther was not merely ready to stand; he was ready to lead the church in a process of courageous reformation.

Other articles treat leadership in the church and in the home, as well as “leading for the glory of God.” I encourage you to check out the new Tabletalk website, where you will find these and many other edifying and encouraging articles to read.

Sermon on the Parable of the Sower – Martin Luther

Luther-Christ-crucifiedFor our meditation on this third Lord’s Day in Reformation 500 month, we post this section from Martin Luther’s sermon on the Parable of the Sower (Section II, “The Disciples of This Word”), based on Luke 8:4-15.

May it serve to remind us how important it is not only to seek the true gospel of our Lord but also to hear it with a true and living faith in Him.

7. The fourth class are those who lay hold of and keep the Word in a good and honest heart, and bring forth fruit with patience, those who hear the Word and steadfastly retain it, meditate upon it and act in harmony with it. The devil does not snatch it away, nor are they thereby led astray, moreover the heat of persecution does not rob them of it, and the thorns of pleasure and the avarice of the times do not hinder its growth; but they bear fruit by teaching others and by developing the kingdom of God, hence they also do good to their neighbor in love; and therefore Christ adds, “they bring forth fruit with patience.” For these must suffer much on account of the Word, shame and disgrace from fanatics and heretics, hatred and jealousy with injury to body and property from their persecutors, not to mention what the thorns and the temptations of their own flesh do, so that it may well be called the Word of the cross; for he who would keep it must bear the cross and misfortune, and triumph.

8. He says: “In honest and good hearts.” Like a field that is without a thorn or brush, cleared and spacious, as a beautiful clean place: so a heart is also cleared and clean, broad and spacious, that is without cares and avarice as to temporal needs, so that the Word of God truly finds lodg[e]ment there. But the field is good, not only when it lies there cleared and level, but when it is also rich and fruitful, possesses soil and is productive, and not like a stony and gravelly field. Just so is the heart that has good soil and with a full spirit is strong, fertile and good to keep the Word and bring forth fruit with patience.

9. Here we see why it is no wonder there are so few true Christians, for all the seed does not fall into good ground, but only the fourth and small part; and that they are not to be trusted who boast they are Christians and praise the teaching of the Gospel; like Demas, a disciple of St. Paul, who forsook him at last (2 Tim. 4:10); like the disciples of Jesus, who turned their backs to him (John 6:66). For Christ himself cries out here: “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear,” as if he should say: O, how few true Christians there are; one dare not believe all to be Christians who are called Christians and hear the Gospel, more is required than that.

10. All this is spoken for our instruction, that we may not go astray, since so many misuse the Gospel and few lay hold of it aright. True it is unpleasant to preach to those who treat the Gospel so shamefully and even oppose it. For preaching is to become so universal that the Gospel is to be proclaimed to all creatures, as Christ says in Mk. 16:15: “Preach the Gospel to the whole creation;” and Ps. 19:4: “Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.” What business is it of mine that many do not esteem it? It must be that many are called but few are chosen. For the sake of the good ground that brings forth fruit with patience, the seed must also fall fruitless by the wayside, on the rock and among the thorns; inasmuch as we are assured that the Word of God does not go forth without bearing some fruit, but it always finds also good ground; as Christ says here, some seed of the sower falls also into good ground, and not only by the wayside, among the thorns and on stony ground. For wherever the Gospel goes you will find Christians. “My word shall not return unto me void” (Is. 55:11)

How Do We See and Savor the Glory of the Lord in the NT? By Reading (the Word)!

Reading-Bible-Supernaturally-Piper-2017So Paul has shifted our focus from the old covenant to the new – from the law of Moses to the gospel of Christ. From the veiled, temporary glory, to the unveiled, permanent glory. And his central point is that when the veil is lifted  – when the hardening and blindness are removed – we see the glory of the Lord. ‘We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed’ (2 Cor.3:18). …Seeing the glory of God was, and is, preeminent.

Recall [from the author’s previous points] that the point of contact with the glory of God was, at one time, supposed to be the reading of Moses (2 Cor.3:14-15). Reading! This was supposed to be the way the glory of God was seen. Has that changed? No. there has been no criticism or abandonment of this window we call ‘reading.’ So we may assume that the value of this window remains.

The difference is that once there was reading with a veil. Now there is reading with no veil. Once there was a window with a curtain, and now that curtain has been pulled aside. But the window of reading remains, as we saw in Ephesians 3:4. It remains God’s plan for the revelation of his glory. …’Beholding the glory of the Lord with unveiled face’ (2 Cor.3:18) happens through reading. This is true both for the Spirit-illumined reading of the old covenant as well as a reading (or hearing) of the gospel of Christ.

Quotation from Chapter 4, “Reading to See Supreme Worth and Beauty, Part 2” of John Piper’s new book Reading the Bible Supernaturally: Seeing and Savoring the Glory of God in Scripture (Crossway, 2017). In this chapter he is emphasizing and explaining this part of his “proposal,” ‘that we should always read his word in order to see this supreme worth and beauty.”

Ordinary Is Not Mediocre – M. Horton

ordinary-MHorton-2014I have started to read through Michael Horton’s Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World (Zondervan, 2014) and am finding it intellectually and spiritually challenging. It is filled with good thoughts and applications.

In Chapter 2  (“Ordinary isn’t mediocre”) Horton answers the objection that living an “ordinary” life means being mediocre in life and lowering our expectations of what a Christian ought to be and become. To the contrary, he shows us that we are called as believers to pursue excellence.

Here are a couple of paragraphs where he addresses this:

Excellence is going over and beyond the call of duty. But to what end? More than anything else, excellence demands a worthy object and a worthy goal. We have this worthy object: ‘The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever,’ begins the Westminster Shorter Catechism. The call to excellence is useless by itself. We can no more stir up a passion for excellence than we can will a passion for love. It is only by discovering a worthy object of desire that we find ourselves interested in pursuing it.

Excellence requires caring about someone or something enough to invest time, effort, and skill into it, with God’s glory and our neighbor’s good as the goal. Biblically defined, true excellence has others in mind – first God, and then our neighbor. ‘So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God’ (1 Cor 10:31). Eating and drinking are fairly common aspects of daily life, and yet even ordinary meals become significant when they draw our attention once again to glorifying and enjoying the God who provides them [p.29].

Published in: on September 26, 2017 at 10:37 PM  Leave a Comment  

Theology Wed to Life – K. Kapic

little-book-theologians-kapicIn the last month or so we have been sampling a small book on theology I recently came across – Kelly Kapic’s A Little Book for New Theologians: Why and How to Study Theology (IVP Academic, 2012). While the book is “little,” the theology found in it is large, as we have noted before.

As I continue to make my way through this easy but profound read, I just completed chapter 4 on “The Inseparability of Life and Theology.” This is how the author begins this important subject.

Theological reflection is a deeply personal venture; it does not leave room for cool scientific detachment. At its best theology may be considered both an art and a science. Here we encounter the beauty and holiness of God, and such an encounter is always emotive, whether we realize or not, whether we want it to be or not. We do not stand off in the distance as neutral observers, but rather we are engaged as those who wrestle with and rest in the God who has made himself known.

The Reformers were willing to call theology a science, as long as it was understood as a practical science (scientia practica) rather than a speculative one (scientia speculativa). William Ames 91576-1633) defined theology as the ‘teaching [doctrina] of living to God.’ He understood that true theology is inevitably lived theology. Given this reciprocal activity between reflection and life, I believe that there are certain elements which should accompany any good theologian and theology. Attempting to separate life and theology is to lose the beauty and truthfulness of both (pp.41-42).

If this inseparable relation between theology and life is true (and it is – just read Paul’s epistles!), then we may well ask, as Kapic does in the next paragraph, “How is my life related to my theology?”

Next time we will see how he answers that question.

Published in: on September 25, 2017 at 10:50 PM  Leave a Comment  

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

Comfort in Life and Death

As you have noticed, I have been absent from these “pages” for a week. That was due to circumstances surrounding care for our ailing mother, whom God delivered out of this vale of tears and shadow of death and ushered into everlasting glory this past Monday morning.

A private family funeral and committal service was held yesterday morning and a public memorial service last evening, both in dad and mom’s home church, Hope PRC in Grand Rapids, MI.

moms-obituary-2017

Watching one’s mother die is one of the hardest experiences in life but, when she is in the Lord and has the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ in her heart, it is one of the most precious experiences in life. We praise God for His mercy to our dear mother, and for His sustaining, comforting grace to us as a family.

Today’s “Grace Gems” devotional was timely and comforting, as this is the way mom always taught us to live – one day at a time, without fear or worry for the next. I pray it comforts your heart as it did mine, whatever your circumstance may be today.

One of the secrets of happy and beautiful life!

(J.R. Miller)

“As your days–so shall your strength be!” Deuteronomy 33:25

One of the secrets of happy and beautiful life
, is to live one day at a time. Really, we never have anything to do any day–but the bit of God’s will for that day. If we do that well–we have absolutely nothing else to do.

Time is given to us in days. It was so from the beginning. This breaking up of time into little daily portions means a great deal more than we are accustomed to think. For one thing, it illustrates the gentleness and goodness of God. It would have made life intolerably burdensome if a year, instead of a day–had been the unit of division. It would have been hard to carry a heavy load, to endure a great sorrow, or to keep on at a hard duty–for such a long stretch of time. How dreary our common task-work would be–if there were no breaks in it, if we had to keep our hand to the plough for a whole year! We never could go on with our struggles, our battles, our suffering–if night did not mercifully settle down with its darkness, and bid us rest and renew our strength.

We do not understand how great a mercy there is for us in the briefness of our short days. If they were even twice as long as they are–life would be intolerable! Many a time when the sun goes down–we feel that we could scarcely have gone another step. We would have fainted in defeat–if the summons to rest had not come just when it did.

We see the graciousness of the divine thoughtfulness in giving us time in periods of little days, which we can easily get through with–and not in great years, in which we would faint and fall by the way. It makes it possible for us to go on through all the long years and not to be overwrought, for we never have given to us at any one time–more than we can do between the morning and the evening.

If we learn well the lesson of living just one day at a time, without anxiety for either yesterday or tomorrow, we shall have found one of the great secrets of Christian peace. That is the way God teaches us to live. That is the lesson both of the Bible and of nature. If we learn it, it will cure us of all anxiety; it will save us from all feverish haste; it will enable us to live sweetly in any experience.