Thoughts on Contentment – S.Ferguson

In Christ Alone - SFergusonA few weeks back I read a chapter in Sinclair Ferguson’s book In Christ Alone on the grace of contentment (“Contentment: Five Easy Steps?”), prompted by his friend’s reference to 1 Tim.6:6 in the face of manifold trials in his life. Going back to reflect on that chapter tonight leads me to post a few of Ferguson’s profitable thoughts put down on paper.

May they help put us in a right frame of mind as we end this week.

Such contentment is never the result of the momentary decision of the will. It cannot be produced merely by having a well-ordered and thought-through-time-and-life-management plan calculated to guard us against unexpected twists of divine providence. No, true contentment means embracing the Lord’s will in every aspect of His providence simply because it is His providence. It involves what we are in our very being, not just what we do and can accomplish.

…Thus, we cannot ‘do’ contentment. It is taught by God. We need to be schooled in it. It is part of the process of being transformed through the renewing of our minds (Rom.12:1-2). It is commanded of us, but, paradoxically, it is created in us, not done by us. It is not the product of a series of actions, but of a renewed and transformed character. It involves the growth of a good tree that produces good fruit.

This seems to be a difficult principle for Christians today to grasp. …It is painful to pride to discover that the Christian life is not rooted in what we can do, but in what we need done to us.

…Christian contentment means that my satisfaction is independent of my circumstances. When Paul speaks about his own contentment in Philippians 4:11, he uses a term commonplace among the ancient Greek philosophical schools of the Stoics and Cynics. In their vocabulary, contentment meant self-sufficiency, in the sense of independence from changing circumstances.

But for Paul, contentment was rooted not in self-sufficiency but in Christ’s sufficiency (Phil.4:13). Paul said that he could do all things – both being based and abounding – in Christ.

Don’t skip over that last phrase. This kind of contentment is the fruit of an ongoing, intimate, deeply developed relationship with Him (Kindle ed.).

The Weight of Shame: April “Tabletalk” – Burk Parsons

The Weight of Shame by Burk Parsons | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-April 2015On this first Monday of April we are able to introduce a new issue of Tabletalk, Ligonier Ministries’ fine devotional magazine. The April issue has a simple and rare theme: “Shame.”

Editor Burk Parsons introduces this issue with the above-linked article. He has an excellent summary of the place shame has in the Christian’s life and how the gospel of the cross answers to our need. Here is the opening part of his introduction:

Shame—we all feel it, or at least we should. We are all sinful, and our sin brings shame. Although shame has all but disappeared from our culture’s vocabulary and is largely ignored by many in the church, it exists nonetheless and must be recognized and reckoned with.

If we are honest with ourselves, and more importantly, honest with God, we cannot help but admit that we feel shame as a result of our sin. Whether we sin in private or in public—and whether we perhaps even pretend not to have it—shame is undeniably real. We feel shame because God in His grace created all human beings with the capacity to feel shame as a consequence of their sin. John Calvin wrote, “Only those who have learned well to be earnestly dissatisfied with themselves, and to be confounded with shame at their wretchedness truly understand the Christian gospel.” If we have never truly felt the shame of our sin, we have never truly repented of our sin. For it is only when we recognize what wretches we are that we are able to sing “Amazing Grace” and know what a sweet sound it truly is.

There are five other featured articles on this theme, and they are laid out this way:

  • “Why We Feel Shame” – Jeremy Pierre
  • “What Shame Does” – James Coffield
  • “Our Shameless World” – Andrew D. Davis
  • “Tackling Shame” – W.Duncan Rankin
  • “Comfort My People” – Michael Lawrence

You may also wish to check out the interview feature in this issue – it is with Rosaria Butterfield, well-known converted lesbian and now a Reformed Presbyterian pastor’s wife. Her’s is quite an amazing story and testimony to the grace of God in Christ. I plan to reference this later, but you may read the interview here: “An Unlikely Convert.”

For now, here is also an excerpt from the first featured article – the one linked in the list above, by Dr. Jeremy Pierre – also a good read!

Now wait a second. Did I just say that shame is healthy? Yes, but note this very carefully: shame is a healthy part, but not a healthy end of the Christian experience. Shame is not the final conclusion we make about ourselves. It is a painful awareness that keeps us from resting contentedly in our fallen state. It drives us to seek defense from the accusations, a refuge from the threat of judgment, some shred of grace from a merciful Judge.

And only by being pushed will we find that there’s more than a shred of grace. There are reams of it. Reams of white linen to clothe naked people.

This is the Christian gospel, one that Christians proclaim to themselves over and over as they live under the daily burden of being reminded of the remaining darkness within. In this way, God reverses Satan’s use of shame. Satan wants our shame to drive us away from God and into the bushes. God wants our shame to drive us to Himself for clothing.

An Easter Gospel Question: Why Weepest Thou?

John 20-16For our thankful, joyous – and humble – Easter reflection on this Resurrection Sunday, well may we consider this exposition of John 20:11-17 by Rev. George Lubbers (1909-2001). He takes his theme from the risen Savior’s own words to weeping Mary on that first Easter morning, “Woman, why weepest thou?” It may be found here on the PRC website, where you will also find a link to its original source.

Though this Easter gospel question was directed to Mary Magdalene, it is relevant for all of us as we often sit weeping in our weakness of faith (or plain unbelief). Looking at our resurrected Lord this day, no matter what our circumstances may be, indeed why are we weeping?! Unless, of course, they are tears of joy and hope.

Here is the opening part of Rev.Lubbers meditation; find the rest at the link above.

Weeping Mary!

Standing at the open mouth of the grave of her Lord, Who had taken captivity captive! She weeps here at the open grave from whence, at this very moment, no doubt, the other Galilean women were hastening to the disciples and brethren, with fear and great joy, to tell the glad gospel story of the resurrection of Jesus, the crucified one!

How utterly incongruous! How this marvelous fact of the glorious resurrection, which shall turn all our sorrows into eternal and abiding joys, is hid from the weeping eyes of Mary!

The mighty angel of the Lord had suddenly descended from heaven not long prior to this time; he had rolled away the stone from the door of the tomb, and had sat upon it; he had proclaimed the Word of peace to the woman, telling them: Fear not ye, for I know that ye seek Jesus, the crucified one. He is not here but is risen, come see the place where the Lord has lain.

And Jesus Himself had appeared to the hastening women on the way, telling them to go and tell the glad tidings to His brethren….

But Mary was standing without at the tomb weeping at such a time as this.

It is the time when all the prisoners are set free, death rejoice in victorious hope, and when all the when they who dwell in the valley of the shadow of angels of God worship Jesus, the first begotten from the dead, saying: Worthy is the Lamb that hath been slain to receive the power, and riches, and wisdom, and might, and honor, and glory, and blessing. Ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands of angels lift up their glad voices and chant and sing in joyful lays at this very moment. Is it the moment, that believing Abraham, and all the patriarchs with and after him, saw afar, and….rejoiced!

It is the time to which we, as the New Testament saints from Gentile lands, look back and see and confess that we have born anew unto a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Because of this glad day of all days we gather on each first day of the week and sing a new song, saying unto our Lord and King: Worthy art Thou Lord Jesus, Thou faithful Witness, Thou firstborn of the dead, and Thou ruler of the kings of the earth to receive the Kingdom of David, our father, forever!

But Mary was standing at the tomb weeping.

At such a time as this….

Woman, why weepest thou?

Guiding Principle of Productivity (and All of Life!): LOVE

Whats Best Next -PermanLast night I was able to finish chapter six of Matt Perman’s book What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done (Zondervan, 2014), finding once more profitable thoughts for the way in which we as Christians are called to do our work and be productive.

In this chapter titled “Put Others’ First: Love as the Guiding Principle for All of Life,” Perman takes us to the fundamental motive that must guide us as we seek to do our best work in the best way. Not surprisingly, that motive is love (which he says chiefly shows itself in generosity). Not surprising, because as believers we know from the Word of God that this is indeed the chief virtue we have and must manifest as God’s children (1 Cor.13; Gal.5:22; 1 Tim.1:5, etc.). And because this is the heart of the commandments of God, which are the guiding standard for our lives (Matt.22:36-40). And, of course (as Perman also points out), because this is what God has shown us in His Son – His amazing, sovereign, saving love (John 3:16; 1 Jn.4:7-11).

For today I post from two sections of this chapter, and in the light of my previous post in which I was critical of Perman for neglecting the God-centered focus of the Christian life and of our work, you will understand why I do so. First this:

Hence, the overarching principle of the Christian life is that we are here to serve, to the glory of God. We are to be in this world not for what we can get out of it but for what we can give. According to the Bible, a truly productive life is lived in service of others. Being productive is not about seeking personal peace and affluence because God made us for greater goals. Jonathan Edwards nails this:

There is another that has made you, and preserves you, and provides for you, and on whom you are dependent: and He has made you for himself, and for the good of your fellow-creatures, and not only for yourself. He has placed before you higher and nobler ends than self, even the welfare of your fellow-men, and of society, and the interests of his kingdom; and for these you ought to labour and live, not only in time, but for eternity.

This is foundational to the entire Christian life: We are not out own (1 Cor.6:19). We did not create ourselves, and we did not redeem ourselves. We doubly belong to God. And God has not made us merely to seek our own good. He created us for something far greater: to seek the good of others, and of society, and his kingdom. The true Christian lives for these ends, not his own comfort and welfare (87).

(more…)

Dwelling on Christ Crucified – “Christ is All”

Gal6-14From the “collection of Puritan prayers and devotions” titled The Valley of Vision (see information at the end) comes this edifying prayer-devotional for us as we contemplate the death of our Lord this week in a special way, in view of Good Friday.

The title of this devotional is “Christ is All.” May it be our theme not only this week, but each day of our lives as we live “under the cross” of our Lord.

O Lover to the uttermost,
May I read the meltings of Thy heart to me
in the manger of Thy birth,
in the garden of Thy agony,
in the cross of Thy suffering,
in the tomb of Thy resurrection,
in the heaven of Thy intercession.

Bold in this thought I defy my adversary,
tread down his temptations,
resist his schemings,
renounce the world,
am valiant for truth.

Deepen in me a sense of my holy relationship to Thee,
as spiritual bridegroom,
as Jehovah’s fellow,
as sinners’ friend.

I think of Thy glory and my vileness,
Thy majesty and my meanness,
Thy beauty and my deformity,
Thy purity and my filth,
Thy righteouness and my iniquity.

Thou has loved me everlastingly, unchangeably,
may I love Thee as I am loved;
Thou hast given Thyself for me,
may I give myself to Thee.
Thou hast died for me,
may I live to Thee
in every moment of time,
in every movement of my mind,
in every pulse of my heart.

May I never dally with the world and its allurements,
but walk by Thy side,
listen to Thy voice,
be clothed with Thy grace,
and adorned with Thy righteousness.

Arthur Bennett, ed. Valley of Vision (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1975), 18.

The Elect Deceived? Yes! and How to Safeguard Against It – S.Ferguson

In Christ Alone - SFergusonFortunately,’ we may say to ourselves, ‘the elect are in no danger. For Jesus’ words [Matt.24:24] imply that we are incapable of falling prey to Satanic deception.’ But to read the text in this way is to miss the point, for two reasons:

It fails to take account of the evidence of history. Christians have been, and are, capable of being deceived. Have none of the elect been deceived in recent years into supporting ‘ministries’ that have proved so tragically different in reality from what they professed to be? Sadly, we are more easily addicted to the spectacular (‘signs and wonders’) than to the substantial, to novelty (‘false prophets’) than to wholesome orthodoxy. If we think Christians cannot be deceived, the deception has already begun.

It misunderstands the nature of the impossibility. Jesus did not say the elect were incapable of being deceived. We are all only too capable of it. Nevertheless, we are given this assurance: God will protect and preserve His people. Like Simon Peter, they will be shielded by the prayers of Christ and the power of God (Luke 22:31-32). This is accomplished through the activity of faith (1 Peter 1:5).

And so Ferguson continues by showing us how to avoid such deception:

But how can we guard ourselves against spiritual deception?

By developing sensitivity, we become aware of Satan’s strategies in our lives (2 Cor.2:11).

Have you learned what they are?

By developing self-knowledge, we recognize how weak we are. Since nothing good dwells in our flesh (Rom.7:18), we need constantly to depend on the Lord.

Do you?

By developing an appetite for God’s Word, we are ‘trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil’ (Heb.5:14 ESV), and we grow in discernment.

Is that true of you today?

Taken from Chapter 42 of Sinclair Ferguson’s In Christ Alone (Kindle ed.).

The Prayers of J.Calvin (15)

JCalvinPicWe continue on this Sunday night our posts on the prayers of John Calvin (see my previous Sunday posts in Nov./Dec., 2014 and now in Jan./Feb./March 2015), which follow his lectures on the OT prophecy of Jeremiah (Baker reprint, 1979). Tonight we post a brief section from his fourteenth lecture and the prayer that concludes it.

This lecture covers Jeremiah 4:1-6, which includes Calvin’s commentary on God’s call to true conversion on the part of His erring people in v.4 – “Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your heart, ye men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem…”:

‘For why’, he says, ‘has circumcision been enjoined? Does not God by this symbol shew, that if a man rightly aspires after true religion, he ought to begin by putting off all the evil propensities of his flesh? Is he not to deny himself, and to die as it were both to himself and to the world? for circumcision includes all this.’

Then the Prophet shews that the Israelites had no excuse, that they went not astray through mistake or through ignorance; but they were acting perversely and deceitfully with God; for circumcision, by which they had been initiated into God’s service, sufficiently taught them, that God is not rightly nor faithfully served, except when men deny themselves.

…Circumcision was their great boast; but only before men; for nothing but ambition and vanity ruled in them, while they openly exulted and boasted that they were God’s holy and peculiar people. Hence the Prophet bids them not to value what was of no importance, but to become circumcised to Jehovah; that is, he bids them not to seek applause before the world, but seriously to consider that they had to do with God (204-5).

This lecture Calvin fittingly concludes with this prayer:

Grant, Almighty God, that as we cease not daily to alienate ourselves from thee by our sins, and as thou yet kindly exhortest us to repent, and promisest to be appeasable and propitious to us, – O grant, that we may not perversely go on in our sins, and be ungrateful to thee for thy great kindness; but that we may so return to thee, that our whole life may testify that our repentance has been unfeigned, and that we may so acquiesce in thee alone, that the depraved lusts of our flesh may not draw us here and there, but that we may continue fixed and immovable in our purpose, and so labour to obey thee through the whole course of our life, that we may at length partake of the fruit of our obedience in thy celestial kingdom, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Being Productive = Being Fruitful in Good Works – M.Perman

Whats Best Next -PermanAs I read chapter five of Matt Perman’s book What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done (Zondervan, 2014), I found many good thoughts (even if they were not new). Yet, on the whole, I was disappointed – not so much for what was said as for what was left out. Let me explain.

Chapter five is titled “Why the Things You Do Every Day Matter,” and as he continues to apply the gospel to our daily work (being productive, that is, getting the right things done), Perman is answering the question, “What, then, does God want done?” And his answer is “good works. What God wants done are good works” (73). This calling he then ties to Matt.5:16, which Perman states is “the purpose of the Christian summed up for us in one sentence. The entire purpose of our lives – what God wants from us – is to do good for others, to the glory of God” (74). And he concludes by redefining productivity in this way: “Productive things, then, are things that do good. Productivity always has to be understood in relation to a goal, and God’s goal is that we do good works. Hence, we can redefine productivity this way: to be productive is to be fruitful in good works” (74).

From there, Perman emphasizes our calling to be fruitful (abundant) in good works: “We are not to be scant and scarce in our good works, or even nominal and mediocre, but abundant and liberal in doing good” (75). And in answer to the further question, “Where do we do this good?”, he properly emphasizes that the doing of good works is not limited to those “rare, special, extraordinary, or super spiritual things we do,” but to the everyday things we do – our daily work and tasks done in faith – “anything we do in faith” (77).

As such, as I have no issue with this. A bit simplistic, perhaps, but true nonetheless. This is, in fact, how the gospel does transform the way we get things done. BUT, what was missing, to my mind, was the vertical relationship – our relationship to GOD. Over and over Perman defines good works as those which are done for the good of the neighbor. He stresses the fact that being productive is being loving for the neighbor’s good. That is, good works are fulfilling the second table of God’s law. Proper and important, to be sure.

BUT, the first table of the law is, well, first. Good works are those done first and foremost out of love for God and in service to Him. Our lives are to be primarily concerned with doing the good God wants us to do in relation to Him – having no god but Him, worshiping Him alone (and in the right way!), confessing His name always and everywhere, and resting in Him on His day – the first four commandments of God’s law.

If productivity is doing the right things to the best of our ability to the glory of God (being fruitful in good works), then before we can be properly productive in relation to the neighbor, we must be properly productive in relation to God. If I don’t love Him, I cannot love my neighbor. If I don’t worship Him alone, I cannot serve my neighbor rightly. If I don’t confess His name in my daily work, I cannot do any good for my neighbor’s name. If I don’t use my risen Lord’s special day to rest (Sunday), I cannot work for six days and do anything useful for the neighbor.

That, to my mind, is the missing element and emphasis in this chapter. If it’s still coming in the book, I stand to be corrected. But if it’s not coming, then we should get it straight now. God is first, always and ever. That’s the gospel. And that gospel transforms my life – and my work.

Does God Care About Our Productivity? – M.Perman

Whats Best Next -PermanIn this early part of our new work-week, it is good to reflect on how we do our work and why it matters. We have been examining this of late as I work my way through Matt Perman’s recent book What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done (Zondervan, 2014).

In his fourth chapter Perman seeks to answer this question: Does God care about getting things done? Unsurprisingly, he answers with a resounding, Yes! The quote from John Piper under the title of this chapters gives that answer away too: “Aimless, unproductive Christians contradict the creative, purposeful, powerful, merciful God we love” (Don’t Waste Your Life).

Perman shows from Scripture (and thus, the gospel) that God does care about how we get things done. In fact, He commands us to be productive and to be productive in the right way. Perman points us, for example, to the original creation mandate in Gen.1:28 and to the work that the Creator called and equipped Adam and Eve to do in the garden. He then takes us to the parable of the talents recorded in Matt.25:14-30, where the faithful stewards of God’s gifts were rewarded with high commendation (“Well done, good and faithful servant.”) and with an everlasting reward (“Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”).

Finally, Perman directs us to Eph.5:15-17 to show us that God cares about how we get things done because He calls us to make wise use of our time and to know and do His will, also in our daily work. It is from this section that I quote today:

We are not to breeze through life, taking whatever comes. we are to ‘look carefully” [‘See then’ in the KJV] how we walk. You don’t just walk through a store with your eyes closed, buying whatever you touch, and expect it to turn into a wardrobe. And neither should you do that with your life. Likewise, we are to ‘make the most’ of the time [‘Redeeming the time, KJV]. The time doesn’t make the most of itself; we are to take back the time from poor uses and turn it to good uses.

Further, a concern for good use of our time is a characteristic that the Bible expects us to have. Consider Psalm 90:12: ‘Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.’ I like how the New American Standard Bible puts this: ‘Teach us to number our days, that we may present to Thee a heart of wisdom.’ Even our growth in wisdom and our ability to manage ourselves is something we do for God and present to him.

…Knowing how to get the right things done – how to be personally effective, leading and managing ourselves well – is indeed biblical, spiritual, and honoring to the Lord. It is not unspiritual to think about the concrete details of how to get things done; rather, this is a significant component of Christian wisdom (65-66).

“Think upon Christ in that upper room!” – Rev.M.De Vries

SB-March1-2015The March 1, 2015 issue of the Standard Bearer is out and it opens with a wonderful meditation by Rev. Michael DeVries, pastor of our Kalamazoo, MI PRC. Appropriate for the church season of remembering and reflecting on our Savior’s suffering and death, Rev. DeVries bases his meditation on the familiar passage in John 13 and the recorded event of Christ’s washing of His disciples feet.

He titles his meditation “Christ’s Example of Servanthood”, and after explaining its significance for Christ and His humiliation, he points us to its significance for us. It is from this section that I quote tonight, leaving you with some of his practical thoughts about what Christ’s example means for us, who also profess to be His disciples.

But what about this example?  Plainly there is a calling here that falls to each one of us in the communion of the saints:  “Ye ought also to wash one another’s feet”!  Jesus said, “If I then, your Lord and Master do this…”  What about it?  Is this beneath us?  Do we suppose that we are somehow exempt?  Or that we are too good, too important, too popular, too talented?  Are there some things that Jesus did that are simply beneath our dignity?  If this be the case, we are proud!  And we show that we have not learned the first thing about the kingdom of heaven.  “Be clothed with humility.”  That, is the heavenly example we must follow!  The followers of Christ are to manifest that humility that is in Him so beautifully and wonderfully!

What a struggle it is to count others better than ourselves, to be concerned, first, not with our own welfare and advantage but with the welfare of others.  Let us seek not the praise and honor of men, but the approval of the God of our salvation!  Our Heidelberg Catechism puts it so beautifully in Answer 55:  “… that every one must know it to be his duty, readily and cheerfully to employ his gifts, for the advantage and salvation of other members.”    Do you seek the good and spiritual welfare of the brother or sister?   That is the implication of washing one another’s feet.  Do you help one another in the daily battle of faith?  Do you do that as servant, not in haughty pride, not looking down your nose at the erring brother or sister, but in the humility of a servant, loving the brother, seeking the salvation of his soul?

How is that possible?   Christ is the power of our humility!  Always the humility that characterizes the life of the saints is a humility that is rooted in regeneration.  It is a virtue that comes by grace alone.  It is worked in us through the power of our Lord Jesus Christ.  By His Spirit He works the humility of His own cross within our hearts.  Never does this humility come of ourselves!  God forbid that we should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (Galatians 6:14)!

…Let us pray then for the beautiful grace of humility!  May humility more and more characterize all of our lives.  Think upon Christ in that upper room!  Esteem each other better than yourself!  In love serve one another!  And in that way we truly serve our God.

To learn more about the contents of this issue of the “SB”, click on the cover image here. To learn about how to subscribe to this edifying Reformed magazine, visit the website link above.

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