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.

“Or-di-nar-y”: Lonely But Precious Word – M. Horton

ordinary-MHorton-2014A book I wanted to read when it first came out a few years ago is Michael Horton’s Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World (Zondervan, 2014). Last week in a thrift store I found a clean used copy and this past week I started to read it.

Chapter 1 (“The New Radical”) is where I will start with you too, because that’s where Horton decries the trendiness of modern evangelicalism with its “Radical. Epic. Revolutionary.” (the opening words of chap.1) – that is, her excitement with all things new and “extra”-ordinary .

There are so many good points and lines in this opening chapter, but I give you these for now.

‘Ordinary’ has to be one of the loneliest words in our vocabulary today. Who wants a bumper sticker that announces to the neighborhood, ‘My child is an ordinary student at Bubbling Brook Elementary?’ Who wants to be that ordinary person who lives in an ordinary town, is a member of an ordinary church, and has ordinary friends and works an ordinary job? Our life has to count! We have to leave our mark, have a legacy, and make a difference. And all of this should be something that can be managed, measured, and maintained. We have to live up to our Facebook profile. It’s one of the newer versions of salvation by works. [p.11]

A few pages later Horton expands on these thoughts:

American Christianity is a story of perpetual upheavals in churches and individual lives. Starting with the extraordinary conversion experience, our lives are motivated by a constant expectation for The Next Big Thing. We’re growing bored with the ordinary means of God’s grace, attending church week in and week out. Doctrines and disciplines that have shaped faithful Christian witness in the past are often marginalized or substituted with newer fashions or methods. The new and improved may dazzle us for the moment, but soon they have become ‘so last year.’ [p.16]

As we end another week, let’s be grateful for the ordinary Christian life God has given us. As we go through another ordinary Sunday, attending our ordinary churches, where we worship in very ordinary ways, hearing ordinary sermons on the ordinary Word of God, let us thank God for such common, regular events and experiences.

Because when you think of all this “ordinariness” in terms of God’s grace and mercy to us sinners, it’s all actually quite extraordinary.

The Christian’s Hope in This Life – J. Calvin

Rom-7-24Therefore, the goal of believers – when they assess this mortal life and realize it’s nothing in and of itself but misery – should be to direct themselves wholly, briskly, and freely toward contemplation of their future and eternal life.

…Therefore, earthly life, when compared with heavenly life, must certainly and readily be condemned and despised. It should never be hated, except to the extent that it makes us liable to sin – though properly speaking our hatred should be toward sin, not toward life itself. Although we may be so moved with weariness and hatred of this life that we desire its end, we must be prepared to remain in it according to God’s will. And so, our weariness won’t result in complaining and impatience. For the Lord has stationed us in an outpost, and we must keep guard here until He calls us home.

…If, then, we must live and die to the Lord, let us leave to Him the decision of when our lives will end. But let us do so in such a way that we burn with desire for the end of this life, and let us remain constant in meditation on the next life. Indeed, considering our future immortality, let us scorn this life. Considering the mastery of sin in this life, let us long to give up this life as soon as it should please the Lord.

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 chapter 4, “Meditation on Our Future Life”, where Calvin treats the sure hope of the believer for heaven, pp.98-101.

Theology and Worship: Reflexive Relation – A. McGrath

Finally, we must emphasize the link between theology and worship. Theology has done its job well when it leaves us on our knees, adoring the mystery that lies at the heart of the Christian faith. There is a sense in which worship provides a context and offers a corrective to theology.

Worship provides a context for theology in that it represents a vigorous reassertion of the majesty and glory of God. It reminds us of the greater reality behind the ideas and language that theology can be overconcerned with getting right. When theology becomes dull and stale, worship can rejuvenate it: worship is the fiery crucible of joy in which theology can reconnect with its true object. In this way worship corrects inadequate conceptions of theology, especially those which treat theology simply as a set of ideas.

Yet theology can also act as a corrective to worship. Worship can too easily be seen as a purely human activity, capable of enhancement and adjustment by appropriate techniques. But true worship is not improved by whipping up the emotions or turning up the music; rather it is enhanced and authenticated by reflecting on who God is and thus naturally yearning to respond in praise and adoration [p.42].

PassionateIntellectbookTaken from Chapter 2, “Mere Theology; The Landscape of Faith 2”, in Alister McGrath’s book The Passionate Intellect: Christian Faith and the Discipleship of the Mind (IVP, 2010), a book I picked for review a few years ago and picked up again to continue reading.

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Your Mind Matters (4): In Knowing God’s Will for You – J. Stott

How then are you to decide this major question? [Stott has used the example of whom to marry in connection with using your mind to know the will of God]. There is only one possible answer, namely, by using the mind and the common sense which God has given you. Certainly you will pray for God’s guidance. And if you are wise, you will ask the advice of your parents and of other mature people who know you well. But ultimately you must make up your mind, trusting that God will guide you through your own mental processes.

From which point Stott takes us to a specific Bible passage as proof:

There is good scriptural warrant for this use of the mind in Psalm 32:8-9. These two verses need to be read together and supply a fine example of the balance of the Bible. Verse 8 contains a pledge of divine guidance: ‘I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.’ It is, in fact, a threefold promise: ‘I will instruct you, I will teach you, I will guide you.’ But verse 9  immediately adds: ‘Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not keep with you.’

In other words, although God promises to guide us, we must not expect him to do so in the way in which we guide horses and mules. He will not use a bit and bridle with us. For we are not horses or mules; we are human beings. We have understanding, which horses and mules have not. It is, then, through the use of our own understanding, enlightened by Scripture and prayer and the counsel of friends, that God will lead us into a knowledge of his particular will for us.

mind-matters-stottTaken from Your Mind Matters: The Place of the Mind in the Christian Life (Inter-Varsity Press, 1972) by John R. W. Stott, pp.44-45.