Note to Self – Initiate

Begin by reading and meditating on Matthew 28:19-20.

God has placed you in a unique context and equipped you in a unique way to be the one who reaches out to those in need – this means those who need encouragement as well as those who need correction. And this includes those who do not know Jesus, as well as his disciples, those who are apparently healthy, and those who are obviously hurting. You will have more opportunities to initiate than you can take, but you are likely to take fewer than you should.

Look around yourself. God is giving you chances to act. He has put people near you who need your help financially, your time relationally, and your words of bold encouragement and gentle rebuke. The opportunities are always there, but they are difficult to see if you are too focused on yourself. You must take the time to be truly present where God has put you. Begin to think of others as they really are – men and women in need of grace.

What will compel you to take the first step toward those around you in need? The deepness of their need? The desperateness of their situation? Perhaps it will be an understanding of what you have received from others who have been faithful to God and have taken the initiative with you, to help you see the truth, know Christ, grow in grace, and persevere through difficulty. Or maybe it will be that God not only commands you to do this but empowers you to do it, as well. Wherever you are, today you should be the first to move. Initiate for the glory of God and the good of those around you.

Note-to-self-ThornTaken from Chap.21 “Initiate” (found in Part Two, “The Gospel and Others”) in Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself by Joe Thorn (Crossway, 2011), pp.79-80.

The Birds’ Habitat – and Man’s

Barred-Owl-ClarksonLast week on my summer reading list I referenced a bird-watching book by Margaret Clarkson. Today I would like to give you another glimpse of how she handles this subject and the applications she makes to the Christian life.

In chapter five of Conversations With a Barred Owl (Zondervan, 1975; 115 pp.), Clarkson treats the special subject of bird habitats in connection with her chapter on loons. She writes at the beginning,

All living things, including man himself, can exist only in a particular environment. A study of habitat and the ways in which each species is adapted to life in its own element is both fascinating and rewarding.

Then, after describing in more detail some of the habitats of the bird world, she ends with these comments, including a wise application for us:

When a bird has found the habitat wherein by ceaseless endeavor it is possible for him to meet all his necessary needs, that bird will flourish, for he is functioning in his true environment. There and there only will he nest and produce his young; there alone will he know freedom, joy, and total harmony throughout all his being. In total fusion with his world, he finds his destiny – total fulfillment of that for which he was made.

Man’s natural environment is God. If we would realize that destiny for which we were created and redeemed, we must find it in God through Jesus Christ. Nowhere else can we ever be truly and completely at home. Why is it that we are so much slower than God’s feathered children to realize and adapt to our soul’s true habitat (p.25)?

Shall we strive to live in our proper spiritual habitat today as God’s children?

Not Ready for Church – J. Thorn

The title above heads a weekend devotional written by pastor Joe Thorn and published in the June 2016 issue of Tabletalk.

churchatsunriseThe following is taken from this profitable article and contains Thorn’s counsel for those times when we do not feel ready to go to church and worship. His thoughts are based on Psalm 73:16-17:

When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me; Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end.

Here are some of thoughts:

…There are those Sundays when we feel as though we are not ready for worship. Our hearts are cold, our week was fraught with failure, and the idea of ‘going to church’ seems to be an exercise in futility if not an act of hypocrisy. Somehow, we believe the lie that it is better to stay home and try again next week when our hearts will be right. But the troubled soul is meant for corporate worship, and that is exactly where we need to be [At this point Thorn quotes Ps.73:16-17).

…The person who is slow to draw near to God because of sin or doubt is the person who will not find hope. Such is the man whose faith only continues to wither and whose strength continues to weaken, for in pulling back from the Lord and the means of grace, we deny ourselves access to the primary way in which God speaks to our hearts and lives. Staying home and licking our wounds does not heal but callouses the soul, making us increasingly less sensitive to the truth we need to hear.

The local church assembled for worshiping our triune God is the place where God’s Word and Spirit are at work to move us to repentance, revive our hearts, instruct our minds, and reveal to us the plan and purpose of God in all things.

…When we are not ready for church, we must remember that the church is ready for us. Jesus is ready for us. And grace abounds for the sinner who is willing to come to Christ (p.57).

Prayers of the Reformers (17)

prayersofreformers-manschreckFor this first Lord’s Day in July we post two more prayers from the book Prayers of the Reformers, compiled by Clyde Manschreck and published by Muhlenberg Press (1958).

The first is taken from the section “Prayers for Spiritual Growth, Courage, and Strength” while the second is from that of “Prayers for All Sorts and Conditions.” (I have slightly edited them). Both are fitting for our worship today and for our work and walk in the week to come.

That God may uphold us (Matt.26:57-75)

O merciful God, preserve our hearts from pride, from vainglory, and from shameful covetousness: Give us grace to abide in Thy holy vocation, and to be thankful for Thy grace; that, the fall of thy apostle being always before our eyes, we may walk in Thy fear before Thee. For if we stand, we must take heed that we fall not, neither despise those that as yet do not stand.

Make us to continue in Thy grace; for nothing have we, saving only that which we have received of Thee. And if of weakness O Lord,we fall, put Thy hand under us, O Lord, and suffer us not to despair in sin; but cause us with repentance and sorrow for our offense to resort unto Thee.

O keep us, that we neither despair nor betray Thy dearly beloved Son, whom Thou through Thy gospel dost send unto us, for without Him is no safeguard, only eternal death and damnation. From which keep us, good Lord, for Thy mercies’ sake. Amen.

[Attributed to Miles Coverdale, 1488-1569]

For disciples of Christ
“Seal the teaching among my disciples” (Isaiah 8:16).

O Lord God, we see that a horrible darkness and ignorance of Thy Word will come, that many men will forsake Christ and faith and true prayer and genuine worship, even as it has happened in the past. We grieve to think of the state of Thy church.

But, O God, we humbly beseech Thee never to allow the true faith which Thou hast delivered to us to perish among us. Preserve Thy faith that it may be delivered pure and uncorrupted to our posterity.

We beseech Thee, seal Thy law in us, lest we pervert Thy Word, or twist its natural and true meaning with some sinister interpretation, as has happened in the past and happens even now.

Confirm our hearts with Thy Holy Spirit, that Thy truth may shine in us, that through our ministry Thy truth may proceed pure and uncorrupted to those who will come after us. Amen.

[Attributed to Philip Melanchthon, 1497-1560]

Overcoming Legalism – Sean M. Lucas

TT-June-2016You will recall that legalism is the theme of the June Tabletalk (the subtitle says it all: “the delusion of man-made religion”). In the last full-featured article on the subject, Dr. Sean M. Lucas addresses how to overcome legalism, with the revealing subtitle – “Let No One Disqualify You.”

His answer to the sin of legalism is really simple: the gospel of Jesus Christ – the good news of who Christ is for us, what He has done for us, and what we are in Him.

Here is a part of what he has to say (worth your time reading the rest of his article too):

Pilgrim’s Progress

This gospel formation means that Christianity really isn’t about rule-keeping. To be sure, a Christian obeys God’s Word, but the way to obedience is not by focusing on keeping the rules, flying right, and doing better. At the heart of what Jesus does in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 is to explode the notion that righteousness is about external obedience to the law. When He says, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20), He tells us that the way to righteousness is not through mere external obedience. Instead, the way to a righteous life is the Spirit’s inside-out transformation as we progress in living into the gospel. As we use the means of grace—including corporate worship that centers on the Word, sacraments, prayer, and fellowship, as well as private worship—God meets us, drives the gospel into our hearts, confronts our patterns of sinful thoughts, words, and deeds, and makes us new.

But this sort of gospel transformation takes time. We progress in it as we are formed and shaped and molded by the Spirit’s work. As we go further up and farther in, we see more sin, confront more deception, believe more gospel, receive more divine comfort. We learn by experience and gain wisdom and insight as we turn from folly to reverence and love the Lord.

And here’s the thing: as we live in step with the Spirit, we actually live in ways that “keep the rules.” Those who bear the Spirit-fruit of love will be those who keep the two tables of the Ten Commandments. Those who bear joy will know the strength to say no to sin and yes to righteousness. Those who bear peace will be whole and wholesome, not restless or anxious. And so forth. We keep the rules, not by focusing on them as merely deeds that must be done, but by focusing our hearts on Jesus, who He is, what He has done, and what He is doing by the Spirit in us to make us fulfill the law.

Source: Overcoming Legalism by Sean Michael Lucas

Note to Self: Forgive

Begin by reading and meditating on Colossians 3:12-13.

Dear Self,

You need to forgive. You need to. …You need to forgive others because God in Jesus Christ has forgiven you. Your infinitely holy and just Maker has not held your sins against you, but instead has held them against his Son on the cross. Your faith rests squarely on this act of substitution.

Your refusal to forgive one who has sinned against you is a manifestation of hypocrisy – a telltale sign that either you have not experienced God’s forgiving grace, or that you take such grace for granted. Why do you withhold what has been given so freely to you? Have your offenders done worse than you? Are their crimes against you more severe than your crimes against God and others? When you refuse to forgive, it can only mean that you have not yet come to understand forgiveness, or you have been taking it for granted and have not sufficiently learned from it.

You need to forgive to make much of Jesus and his gospel. This is the real reason to extend forgiveness to the undeserving. …Forgiveness points us all back to our greatest need – reconciliation to God by way of his own work.

…While forgiveness is never easy, it is also never impossible – not for those who have been saved by the grace of God. For the grace of salvation not only secures your forgiveness and models it for you, but it also empowers forgiveness by giving you a new heart and spirit.

You can forgive because you learned it in the gospel. …The gospel compels you to forgive, and it enables you to do so.

Give yourself to meditation on the cross; learn forgiveness, and walk in it.

Note-to-self-ThornTaken from Chap.20 “Forgive” (found in Part Two, “The Gospel and Others”) in Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself by Joe Thorn (Crossway, 2011), pp.77-78.

Lunch with C.S. Lewis: Thoughts on Friendship

Lunch-with-Lewis-McGrathSo what might we conclude? Perhaps the most important point to take away from our lunch with Lewis is that friendship is of vital importance because friendship is transformational – both for ourselves and for our friends. This is key because any form of ministry or service or endeavor worth pursuing requires support and fellowship. It cannot be undertaken in isolation. Friendship is essential to fit us for the task.

That’s why the questions of friendship should be ones we ask ourselves on a regular basis: How are my friends influencing me? What task lies ahead of me that demands a community of support? How can I support my friends? Am I spending enough time and energy cultivating real friendships? And is friendship an end or a means – something good in itself or a good to be consumed? It is no wonder that so many successful churches encourage small groups to meet and discuss things that concern them. Lewis himself gave and received this kind of support. We must expect to do the same.

Taken from If I Had Lunch With C.S. Lewis: Exploring the Ideas of C.S. Lewis by Alistair McGrath (Tyndale, 2014), a new Kindle book I am reading this summer.

Note to Self: Love Your Husband

Note-to-self-ThornAfter our post last week on the calling of husbands to love his wife, it is the wives’ turn to be reminded of her calling in relation to her husband.

When you read Joe Thorn’s brief “note to self”, I believe you will see your calling in a new light and be renewed in your commitment also to model Jesus in your marriage.

Begin by reading Eph.5:22-24.

Dear Self,

It is your calling and privilege to represent Christ to your husband in a way that he will see in no one else. You are called to submit to his godly leadership, support him in his leadership, and help him become what God desires.

Your occasional thoughts of the smallness of this calling demonstrate that you have not yet grasped the beauty of being your husband’s ‘help-mate.’ Thinking of yourself as your husband’s ‘helper’ is not demeaning of small. It is actually a glorious position, and one that Jesus himself knew well.

Before his ascension, Jesus told his followers that he would ‘give you another helper.’ (John 14:16). He spoke of the Holy Spirit, but do not miss the point that the Holy Spirit is ‘another helper’ – one like Jesus. Jesus did not have a problem thinking of himself as a helper, or even a helper to sinful men. This was his calling, the reason he was sent by the Father – to serve, help, and save sinners.

Being considered the help of your husband means that he cannot succeed without you. He needs you to help him become the man God has designed him to be. Your role is reflected beautifully in the gospel, and you get to represent Jesus as ‘helper’ to your husband in a way that no other person will, for no one else is called to this position.

…You are called to love your husband and represent Christ and the gospel to him. This means praising his hard work and expressing thanks for his working to provide for his family. It means doing him good and not evil (Prov.31:12) and speaking honorably of him in public.

Taken from Chap.17 “Love Your Husband” (found in Part Two, “The Gospel and Others”) in Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself by Joe Thorn (Crossway, 2011), pp.71-72.

Prayers of the Reformers (16)

prayersofreformers-manschreckFor this final Lord’s Day in May we post two more prayers from the book Prayers of the Reformers, compiled by Clyde Manschreck and published by Muhlenberg Press (1958).

The first is taken from the section “Prayers for Truth and Purity”, while the second is from the next section, “Prayers for Spiritual Growth, Courage, and Strength” (I have slightly edited them). Both are fitting for our worship today and for our work and walk in the week to come.

‘The night is far gone, the day is at hand. Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light’ (Rom.13:12).

And Thou, O most merciful Father, we beseech Thee, for Thy mercy’s sake, continue Thy grace and favor towards us; let the sun of Thy gospel never go down out of our hearts; let Thy truth abide and be established among us forever.

Help our unbelief, increase our faith, give us hearts to consider the time of our visitation. In faith clothe us with Christ, that He may live in us, and Thy name may be glorified in us, in the sight of all the world. Amen.

[Attributed to John Jewell, 1522-1571]

For gentleness of mind
(Matt.26:51-56)

O Jesus Christ, the mirror of all gentleness of mind, the example of highest obedience and patience, grant us Thy servants with true devotion to consider how Thou, innocent and undefiled Lamb, wast bound, taken, and haled away unto death for our sins; how well content Thou wast to suffer such things, not opening Thy mouth in impatience, but willingly offering up Thyself unto death.

O gracious God, how vilely wast Thou mishandled for our sakes! O Lord, let this never come out of our hearts. Expel through it coldness and sloth; stir up fervency and love towards Thee; provoke us unto earnest prayer; make us cheerful and diligent in Thy will….

O Lord Jesus Christ, grant unto us that fully and perfectly we may yield ourselves unto Thee, committing us wholly unto Thy Spirit…. And when we stand in danger, O grant us that we do nothing which will not become Thy children. Amen.

[Attributed to Miles Coverdale, 1488-1569]

Book Alert! Christianizing the World – David J. Engelsma

christianizing-world-DJE-2016Time for another book alert, this time relating to a new publication from the Reformed Free Publishing Association. The book is titled Christianizing the World: Reformed Calling or Ecclesiastical Suicide?, and is the substance of a speech given by emeritus professor David J. Engelsma (PRC Seminary) in 2014 in the Grand Rapids, MI area.

The book is occasioned by the recent translation and publication of Abraham Kuyper’s major Dutch work on common grace and  addresses the contemporary theological and ecclesiastical fascination with this doctrine, especially as it relates to Christianity’s calling in regards to culture – summarized by the author as “Christianizing the World.”

This is how he describes it in his preface:

For many years, it has been widely accepted in Reformed circles worldwide that the theory of common grace developed by the Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper and the project of Christianizing the world by this common grace, which Kuyper exhorted, are Reformed orthodoxy. Of late, this thinking spreads among evangelicals both in North America and across the world.

…Few, if any, question this quixotic (ad)venture with regard to its biblical and Reformed bases. Conservative and liberal Reformed theologians, scholars, churches, and seminaries alike enthusiastically endorse and promote the project and its theological foundation and source in a common grace of God.

This book examines the theory of common grace and its cultural ambitions in light of the Reformed creeds and holy scripture, particularly the passages of scripture to which Kuyper and his disciples mainly appeal. The book also calls attention to the deleterious effects of the theory of common grace upon the churches and schools that have adopted it and put it into practice (p.9).

Below is the publisher’s description of the new book:

This book is a critique of Abraham Kuyper’s cultural theory of a common grace of God and of the grandiose mission of this grace, and of those who confess the theory and evidently intend to promote it so that it accomplishes the end Kuyper claimed. The book exposes Kuyper’s biblical basis for his theory and its practical mission.

The first and main part of the book is a much-expanded version of the public lecture given in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 2014 under the auspices of the evangelism society of Southwest Protestant Reformed Church in Wyoming, Michigan. The second part of the book consists of questions raised by the audience at the conclusion of the lecture and of the answers by the speaker at the lecture.

  • 192 pages
  • hardcover
  • ISBN 978-1-944555-02-3

As you can judge, the book is a significant work in light of the contemporary Reformed-Christian scene. This is a work you will want to read carefully and reference repeatedly if you are interested in the Reformed doctrine of grace and in the calling of the Christian in this world.

Visit the RFPA website for information on ordering this new title.

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