How does God’s garden grow? “By ordinary, daily, habitual practices.” – M. Horton

Even the ordinary disciplines of family devotions seem to be vanishing. For centuries, believers were raised with prayer, singing, instruction, and Bible reading with the family each morning and evening. The Reformers and their spiritual heirs not only wrote catechisms for this purpose, but books with each day’s readings, prayers, and songs. They knew that, as central as it was, the public ministry was weekly, and it needed to be supplemented and supported by daily habits.

As church and family disciplines were subordinated to private disciplines, the burden of growing in the faith was placed almost exclusively on the individual. If do-it-yourself discipleship was the order of the day not that long ago, what is striking today is the extent to which even personal disciplines seem to be receding. It seems to me that there is increasingly less interest in personal prayer and meditation on God’s Word than in any time since the Middle Ages. It suggests that when public disciplines (especially the weekly service) lose their hold on us, family and private disciplines are sure to follow.

We need to rethink our priorities here, and recovering an appreciation for the ordinary is at least one step in that direction. We grow by ordinary, daily, habitual practices. The weekly service of the Word and sacrament, along with its public confession of sin and faith, the prayers, and praise, are the fountain that flows into our homes and private rooms throughout the week. It is all of these disciplines – public, family, and private – that we need to recover. They seem so ordinary. In fact, they are! But that is precisely how God’s garden grows each day.

ordinary-MHorton-2014Taken from chapter 9,  “God’s ecosystem,” (p.181) of Michael Horton’s Or-di-nar-y: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World (Zondervan, 2014), which I continue to read with great profit and deep appreciation.

In this chapter, Horton teaches and applies the beautiful organic idea of the church (especially as God’s living, growing garden) found throughout the Word of God. In the section from which I quote above, Horton is treating “Personal Disciplines.” But, as you will see, he ties together the vital public means of grace (in our public services) with the vital private means of grace (what we practice in our homes).

And we should be able to see how they feed off one another. Stop worshiping at home and in private, and soon your desire for the house of God on the Lord’s Day will dry up. If we don’t have time for God and His Word at home, we won’t take time for them on Sunday either. But conversely, if we stop attending the public worship of God with His people on the Lord’s Day, we will soon stop our times of family and private worship too. If we don’t value time with God on His special day, we won’t value time with Him each day either.

I trust we are committed to God’s ordinary public means of grace in His church each week. But how committed are we to those ordinary private and personal disciplines each day? Are you and am I seeking to grow by God’s “ordinary, daily, habitual practices” of reading His Word, singing His praises, and praying?

Perhaps, we too need to “rethink our priorities here.” Good food for thought once again. It’s only Monday. Not too late to reset those priorities. You do remember how vibrant you felt yesterday in God’s house, right? Let that feed our souls at home the rest of this week.

Calvin on Psalm 24: Worship, the Presence of God, and the Glory of Christ

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7.Lift up your heads, O ye gates!

The magnificent and splendid structure of the temple, in which there was more outward majesty than in the tabernacle, not being yet erected, David here speaks of the future building of it. By doing this, he encourages the pious Israelites to employ themselves more willingly, and with greater confidence, in the ceremonial observances of the law. It was no ordinary token of the goodness of God that he condescended to dwell in the midst of them by a visible symbol of his presence, and was willing that his heavenly dwelling-place should be seen upon earth.

This doctrine ought to be of use to us at this day; for it is an instance of the inestimable grace of God, that so far as the infirmity of our flesh will permit, we are lifted up even to God by the exercises of religion. What is the design of the preaching of the word, the sacraments, the holy assemblies, and the whole external government of the church, but that we may be united to God?

8.Who is this King of glory? etc.

…That this was no vain and empty promise, but that God truly dwelt in the midst of the people, is what the faithful experienced who sought him not superstitiously, as if he had been fixed to the temple, but made use of the temple and of the service which was performed in it for elevating their hearts to heaven.

The amount of what is stated is, that whenever the people should call upon God in the temple, it would manifestly appear, from the effect which would follow, that the ark of the covenant was not a vain and an illusory symbol of the presence of God, because he would always stretch forth his omnipotent arm for the defense and protection of his people. The repetition teaches us that true believers cannot be too constant and diligent in meditation on this subject.

The Son of God, clothed with our flesh, has now shown himself to be King of glory and Lord of hosts, and he is not entered into his temple only by shadows and figures, but really and in very deed, that he may dwell in the midst of us. There is, therefore, nothing to hinder us from boasting that we shall be invincible by his power.

Mount Sion, it is true, is not at this day the place appointed for the sanctuary, and the ark of the covenant is no longer the image or representation of God dwelling between the cherubim; but as we have this privilege in common with the fathers, that, by the preaching of the word and the sacraments, we may be united to God, it becomes us to use these helps with reverence; for if we despise them by a detestable pride, God cannot but at length utterly withdraw himself from us.

jcalvin-1Taken from John Calvin’s Commentary on the Book of Psalms. The text of his comments on Psalm 24 quoted above may be found on this website.

God’s “greenbelt”, the Sabbath

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The practice of worshiping on the day Jesus rose from the dead – the first day of the week – goes back to the time of the apostles (Matt 28:1; Mark 16:1; Luke 24:1; John 20:1; Acts 20:7; i Cor 16:2; Rev 1:10). However, practicing the Lord’s Day is extremely difficult in our society today. Few neighbors treat it as a ‘greenbelt’ in time. Many, including Christians, look bewildered when you decline an invitation to a soccer game during morning or evening worship. In fact, many church activities on Sunday have less to do with inculcating the faith than with providing ‘safe’ things for kids to do.

…Setting aside the ordinary callings and pastimes of the week, our calling on the Lord’s Day is to share, together with our coheirs, in the powers of the age to come. It is not by simply emptying the day with a list of rules, but by filling it with treasure hunting, that the Christian Sabbath orients us, our families, and our fellow saints to our heavenly citizenship. However, everyone around you sees it as the ideal day for a trip to the mall, sports, and other entertainments. Whatever fills our Sundays fills our hearts throughout the week. The Lord’s Day is not a prison but a palace. It is a wonderful gift to turn off the devices that interrupt our daily schedules and to push our roots down into the fertile soil that produces trees in God’s garden. It is a delight to set aside our normal associations with friends and coworkers – even non-Christian family members – in order to commiserate with fellow heirs of the kingdom concerning the news we’ve heard about the age to come.

ordinary-MHorton-2014Taken from chapter 9,  “God’s ecosystem,” of Michael Horton’s Or-di-nar-y: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World (Zondervan, 2014), which I continue to read with rich profit.

In this chapter, Horton teaches and applies the beautiful organic idea of the church (especially as God’s living, growing garden) found throughout the Word of God. In this particular section he brings in “the Sabbath as God’s greenbelt.” The paragraphs I have quoted are found on pp.176-77.

Why Do We Attend Corporate Worship?

Another fine article in this month’s Tabletalk is found in the back. There, under the rubric “For the Church,” Jared Wilson has some fresh thoughts on “Attending Corporate Worship.”

Acknowledging at the outset that there are many good reasons for being in the Lord’s house for worship on Sunday (including the fact that God commands it!), Wilson gives four (4) reasons for gathering with our brothers and sisters each week for corporate worship:

  • As an encouragement to others
  • As an act of self-crucifixion
  • As a witness to your neighbors
  • As a foretaste of heaven

Let’s “break open” that second one and consider his thoughts on that point:

As an Act of Self-Crucifixion

Your church attendance is a rebellion against your sense of self-sovereignty. Oh, I know that sometimes the sermon is a little (or a lot) longer than you’d like, the songs aren’t quite to your taste, the people are too shy to welcome you properly or so exuberantly friendly that you feel overwhelmed. I know sometimes there are a million things you’d do differently if you were in charge. So just think how sanctifying going to church must be!

The gathering of the diverse and divinely empowered saints is a community organized in part to stifle the selfish human desire for autonomy. In a world where we encounter so much that caters to our sense of self-sovereignty, going to church can be a way of taking up our cross—not our will be done, but the Father’s, not our interests be first, but our brothers’—and in that regard, it is extremely helpful to our growth in Christlikeness.

Good thoughts as we prepare to meet the Lord and His redeemed tomorrow. May we begin already now to crucify our old man and put on our new man in Christ, so that our worship will be God-focused and not self-centered.

For the rest of his points, visit the link below.

Source: Attending Corporate Worship

“The Psalter impregnated the life of early Christianity.” ~ D. Bonhoeffer

Psalms-prayer-book-BonhoefferIn many churches the Psalms are read or sung every Sunday, or even daily, in succession. These churches have preserved a priceless treasure, for only with daily use does one appropriate this divine prayerbook.

…Therefore, wherever we no longer pray the Psalms in our churches, we must take up the Psalter [the book of Psalms] that much more in our daily morning and evening prayers, reading and praying together at least several Psalms every day so that we succeed in reading through this book a number of times each year, getting into it deeper and deeper. We ought also not to select Psalms at our own discretion, thinking that we know better what we ought to pray than does God himself. To do that is to dishonor the prayerbook of the Bible.

In the ancient church it was not unusual to memorize ‘the entire David.’ In one of the eastern churches this was a prerequisite for the pastoral office. The church father St. Jerome says that one heard the Psalms being sung in the fields and gardens in his time. The Psalter impregnated the life of early Christianity. Yet more important than all of this is the fact that Jesus died on the cross with the words of the Psalter on his lips.

It is at this point that the author makes that powerful point I quoted when we began this series on his book: “Whenever the Psalter is abandoned, an incomparable treasure vanishes from the Christian church. With its recovery will come unsuspected power.”

Quoted from Psalms, The Prayer Book of the Bible by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Augsburg, 1974), a translation of Das Gebetbuch der Bibel (the 8th ed. published in Germany in 1966). These thoughts are found in the fifth section, “Congregational Worship and the Psalms” (pp.25-26).

Why Care about Doctrine? To Worship God Aright – Rev. B. Huizinga, March 15, 2018 “Standard Bearer”

quote-the-foundation-of-true-holiness-and-true-christian-worship-is-the-doctrine-of-the-gospel-john-owen-53-28-65

The latest issue of the Standard Bearer is now available (March 15, 2018) and among its edifying articles is the second installment of Rev. Brian Huizinga’s little series titled “Why?” penned for the rubric “Taking Heed to the Doctrine.”

In these articles he is answering the question, ‘Why take heed to doctrine?” That is, as Reformed Christians who confess to believe the truths contained in the Word of God and summarized in the Reformed confessions, “why hold on to and pay attention to this doctrine?”

To this question he gives a six-pronged answer, the third of which we reference in this post. That third reply is “worship: because doctrine of the foundation for worship.” Here’s more of what he has to say about this reason for embracing sound doctrine:

The goal of all things is the worship of God. The redeemed church exists for God’s glory. Unlike the reprobate wicked whom God uses to glorify Himself in spite of their hatred for Him, and unlike the brute creation which gives glory to God without conscious awareness of it, believers in the church have an intellectual understanding of God by faith and willingly, consciously, and joyfully extol Him from the heart. But how can we arrive at an understanding of our covenant God apart from a careful study of His revelation to us in the doctrines (teachings) of the Bible? We must worship God in Spirit and in truth (John 4:24); therefore, doctrinal knowledge is a sine qua non for worship.

To put it differently, doctrine exists for the purpose of doxology and is necessary for doxology even as the foundation exists for the house and is necessary for the house. No doctrine means no doxology, and false doctrine tends to idolatry. We take heed to doctrine so that we might rightly know and then fittingly praise our God. 

…When a congregation of believing sinners is brought to stand under the shadow of the cross and see the eternal, unchangeable, particular, saving love of God through a faithfully explained, sensibly applied and dynamically delivered exposition of Scripture by a preacher who cries, “Behold your God!” hearts come alive in fruitful worship.

Who exclaims in doxology, “Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God…for of Him and through Him and to Him are all things to whom be glory forever, Amen!” (Rom. 11:33-36), but that blessed Jewish or Grecian soul that has sat spellbound at the feet of the holy apostle listening to him explain with careful doctrinal precision the righteousness of God that is revealed from faith to faith?

Who sings in doxology, “Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honor and glory forever and ever, Amen!” (I Tim. 1:17), but that humble speck of dust who has first given himself to serious contemplation of the loaded doctrinal statement, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I am chief,” (I Tim. 1:15) and made it his own?

Who cries in doxology, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of thy glory!” (Is. 6:3) and cries so loudly that the posts of the doors move (Is. 6:4), but that creature, heavenly or other, who has stood in the immediate presence of the enthroned God?

We take heed to doctrine. Why? It is the foundation of our worship. The church must take heed to sound doctrine, for only the foundation of sound doctrine – Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone – makes possible a fitly framed building of doxology to God. Orthodoxy! Orthodoxy not for the sake of orthodoxy; orthodoxy for the sake of doxology.

Precious food for our souls as we live in these doctrinally parched times. May our thirst for God lead us to hunger for His truth, so that we break forth in praise to Him.

Robert Charles Sproul, 1939 – 2017

RC_Sproul_Legacy-2017

On this Saturday night we end the week with a modest tribute to noted Reformed minister of the Word, theologian, teacher, and apologist, Robert Charles Sproul, (“R.C.”), who passed away this past Thursday, December 14 at the age of 78.

You may know that I count him one of the most significant and influential Reformed teachers and preachers of the past century, and I have personally benefited from his ministry, Ligonier, including his many books and Tabletalk magazine. Though not always in agreement with Sproul’s teachings, I nevertheless always knew what he taught and found him always expounding God’s truth on the basis of Scripture, the creeds, and the sound tradition of the church fathers. Few churchmen have the breadth of knowledge Sproul had and few communicate it as plainly and popularly (for the people) as he did.

You will find many tributes to “R.C.” on the web at present. I would start with Ligonier’s itself, if you are interested (and you ought to be).

If you want to listen to a fine speech Sproul gave some eleven years ago, I encourage you to watch the video below. It is vintage Sproul – powerful, passionate, and full of sound biblical teaching.

Having quoted Sproul many times since I started my blog, I did a quick search and found this gem from his classic work on God’s holiness. May it lead you and me to find our deepest joy and pleasure in worshiping the God whom “R.C.” now worships in perfection.

If people find worship boring and irrelevant, it can only mean they have no sense of the presence of God in it. When we study the action of worship in Scripture and the testimony of church history, we discover a variety of human responses to the sense of the presence of God. Some people tremble in terror, falling with their face to the ground; others weep in mourning; some are exuberant in joy; still others are reduced to a pensive silence. However the reactions may differ among human beings to the holiness of God, one thing I never ever find in scripture is someone who is bored in the presence of God, or someone who walks away from an encounter with the living God and says “that was irrelevant”.

There is no encounter a human being could ever have that is more relevant to daily life than meeting up with the living God. … You were not created to be bored by the glory of God, you have to be spiritually dead to be bored by the glory of God.
– R. C. Sproul “The Holiness of God”

*Nota Bene: Crossway Publishers is also offering for a limited time a free copy of Sproul’s book Justified by Faith Alone. Check that out here.

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)

Teaching Our Children Love for the Church – Rev. A. denHartog

The latest issue of the Standard Bearer is now available, and the October 1, 2017 issue is indeed a special one.

For one thing, it marks the beginning of volume year 94. That’s correct, this issue marks the beginning of the 94th year of publication for this Reformed magazine. And the magazine, reflecting the conviction of its editors and writers, is as committed to promoting (truth) and protecting (from error) the Reformed faith as it was in 1924 when it began.

SB-Oct1-2017-cover

For another thing, this issue heralds a new look in the history of the magazine. With the leading of the publisher, the RFPA, the SB has undergone another redesign, and we trust you will appreciate and benefit from the new appearance and layout – complete with pictures of the writers!

Editor-in-chief Prof. R. Dykstra introduces the new volume year with these opening words:

With all thanks and praise to God, we begin the 94th year of printing the Standard Bearer. The first issue of the SB consisted of sixteen pages, containing nine articles and three poems. Four men made up the entire staff. I am more thankful than I can express that in the upcoming year the SB has a total of 38 different writers who have agreed to contribute articles – from two articles to ten or twelve. By God’s grace working in these men and women, the SB will continue to be a Reformed magazine devoted to defending and expounding the Reformed faith over against error.

One of the edifying articles found in the October 1 issue is listed on the cover – Rev. A. denHartog’s “Teaching Our Children Love for the Church” – penned for the Christian family rubric, “When Thou Sittest in Thine House.” Fittingly, on this Sunday night, we post this paragraph:

Teaching our children love for the church begins with teaching them the greatness, holiness, and truth of the God of the church.  The church is the place where God dwells in the midst of His people; He shows His glory and greatness and majesty there. He is such a great God who must be worshiped with fear and trembling and with holy reverence and awe. He is to be worshiped with joy and thanksgiving, praising Him for His great salvation of His people and their children.

Coming to church is not a form of entertainment similar to going to a concert or a sports event. Neither is it to be considered a boring ritual only engaged in out of necessity or mere formal tradition. We do well as parents when we prepare ourselves sincerely and prayerfully for the holy exercise of the worship of God. Because our children have the same sinful nature as we parents do, there will be times when our children go to church grudgingly, desiring rather to use the Lord’s Day for worldly pleasure and entertainment. This sinful attitude must be patiently and firmly resisted and driven from the sinful hearts of our children; certainly it must not be tolerated or made light of [p.18].

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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