The Gospel and the Incarnation, by William Swan Plumer

 “Our Lord Jesus Christ became incarnate, was made under the law, lived, acted, obeyed, suffered died and rose again for his people.

He came down to earth that they might go up to heaven.

He suffered that they might reign.

He became a servant that they might become kings and priests unto God.

He died that they might live.

He bore the cross that their enmity might be slain, and their sins expiated.

He loved them that they might love God.

 


He was rich and became poor that they, who were poor, might be made rich.

He descended into the lower parts of the earth that they might sit in heavenly places.

He emptied himself that they might be filled with all the fullness of God.

He took upon him human nature that they might be partakers of the divine nature.


He made flesh his dwelling place that they might be an habitation of God through the Spirit.

He made himself of no reputation, that they might wear his new name, and be counted an eternal excellency.

He became a worm, and no man, that they, who were sinful worms, might be made equal to the angels.

He bore the curse of a broken covenant that they might partake of all the blessings of the everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure.

Though heir of all things, he was willingly despised of the people, that they, who were justly condemned, might obtain and inheritance that is incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away.

His death was a satisfaction to divine justice, a ransom for many, a propitiation for sin, a sweet smelling savor to God, that we, who were an offense to God, might become his sons and daughters.

He was made sin for his people that they might be made the righteousness of God in him.

Though Lord of all He took the form of a servant, that they, who were the servants of sin, might prevail like princes with God.

He, who had made swaddling-clothes bands for the sea, was wrapped in swaddling-clothes that they, who were cast out in their blood, might be clothed in linen white and clean, which is the righteousness of the saints.

He had not where to lay His head that they who otherwise must have laid down in eternal sorrow, might read the mansions in His Father’s house.

He was beset with lions and bulls of Bashan, that his chosen might be compassed about with an innumerable company of angels and of the spirits of just men made perfect.

He drank the cup of God’s indignation that they might for ever drink of the river of His pleasures.

He hungered that they might eat the bread of life.

He thirsted that they might drink the water of life.

He was numbered with the transgressors that they might stand among the justified, and be counted among the jewels.

He made His grave with the wicked that they might sleep in Jesus.

Though He was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was, yet He became a helpless infant, that creatures of yesterday, sentenced to death, might live for ever.

He wore a crown of thorns that all, who love His appearing, might wear a crown of life.

He wept tears of anguish that His elect might weep tears of repentance not to be repented of.

He bore the yoke of obedience unto death that they might find His yoke easy and His burden light.

He poured out His soul unto death, lay three days in the heart of the earth, then burst the bars of death, and arose to God, that they, who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage, might obtain the victory over the grave and become partakers of His resurrection.

He exhausted the penalty of the law that His redeemed might have access to the inexhaustible treasures of mercy, wisdom, faithfulness, truth and grace promised by the Lord

He passed from humiliation to humiliation, till He reached the sepulcher of Joseph, that His people might be changed from glory to glory as by the Spirit of the Lord.

He was matchless in grace that they might be matchless in gratitude.

Though a Son, He became a voluntary exile, that they, who had wickedly wandered afar off, might be brought nigh by His blood.

He was compassed about with all their innocent infirmities that He might perfect His strength in their weakness.

His visage was so marred more than any man, that His ransomed might be presented before God without spot, or blemish, or wrinkle, or any such thing.

For a time He was forsaken of His Father that they, whom He bought with His blood, might behold the light of God’s countenance forever.

He came and dwelt with them that they might be forever with the Lord.

He was hung up naked before His insulting foes that all, who believe on His name, might wear a glorious wedding garment, a spotless righteousness.

Though He was dead, He is the firstborn among many brethren.

Through His sorrow His people obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing flee away.

Though He endured the worst things, they do and shall forever enjoy the best things

Wonderful mystery! God was manifested in the flesh! Here is no absurdity, no contradiction, no fiction, and yet a mystery that baffles all attempts to solve it, and dazzles all human and angelic vision. Blessed is he, who is not offended in Jesus. Blessed is he, who loves the incarnate mystery, and rests upon it. It is a mystery of love, of power, of salvation. It is the mystery of Godliness. It is the great study of the inhabitants of heaven, and shall be while immortality endures.”

-- From The Grace of Christ, by William Swan Plumer, chapter 21. Plumer was a 19th century American Presbyterian pastor, theologian, seminary professor, and prolific writer.

 

Teach Your Children the Twelve Truths of Christmas, by Dr. John Kwasny

Our children learn a whole lot about life during the Christmas season. They learn how to indulge themselves.  They learn how to be demanding and self-centered.  They learn works-righteousness from Santa (Good = presents; Bad = lump of coal). They learn that getting new stuff equals happiness. They learn the secret of discontentment.  They learn that our American economy is totally dependent on holiday consumer retail sales (okay, maybe only a few sharp ones...).  They are learning these lessons every year thanks to their own sinful hearts, Satan, and the world.

So that means Christian parents must be aggressive, winsome, and purposeful in the education of their children during the holidays.  By words and example, it is our duty as parents to train children to think rightly about God, the world, and ourselves.  So here’s my list of the “Twelve Truths of Christmas” for children (you may put them to music if you like... “On the first day of Christmas, my dear Savior gave to me, a heart of...”):

  1. Contentment.  We’ll start with possibly the hardest of all lessons: How do we fight against rampant discontentment in our children?  It’s taught primarily by what parents REFUSE to do--indulge their child’s every whim throughout the year.  If your children are getting whatever they want whenever they want it, then the sinful virus of discontentment will be at fever level at Christmas.
  2. Compassion.  Not just for all the poor children who don’t get presents at Christmas.  More importantly, teach your children to have true pity on all who make Christmas meaningless by removing Christ.  Our children should grieve for and pray for all their friends and family members who have rejected the Christ of Christmas.
  3. Joy. Presents bring happiness--usually very temporary happiness for our children.  Teach them that their joy can only be found in the Lord!
  4. Identity.  Even though Christmas is a fairly universal holiday, it is one that should only be enjoyed by Christians.  After all, what meaning has Jesus taking on human flesh unless you identify yourself with Christ?  Your children will either identify with the world or identify with their Savior every Christmas and all through the year.
  5. Sin.  Talking about sin on Christmas is borderline heresy!  But your children really need to have their sinful hearts poked during this time of year.  Don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to show them how they are thinking more about themselves than about Jesus or others.
  6. Grace. Santa Claus teaches what our sinful hearts want to hear--that good people get good stuff and bad people get bad stuff.  It’s not good enough to teach your children that Santa isn’t real; you must debunk the lie that we can be good and that we deserve good things.  Show them Jesus, and teach them undeserved grace!
  7. Giving.  Yes, teach your children to give to others this Christmas.  And, yes, teach them how much better it is to give than receive.  Yet you must teach them how God so loved the world that HE GAVE His Son...or your children will become self-righteous in their giving.  We don’t want our children to think highly of their own benevolence when it is God who is the true Giver.
  8. Receiving. Christianity is first about receiving (on our side of things)--we receive grace, forgiveness, and salvation because of the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ.  Children love to receive--it’s adults who are often too proud to receive well.  When your children receive a gift, train them to have hearts of gratitude towards all who give to them--because it is a reflection of how they receive Christ.
  9. Peace. The angels announced that the birth of Christ brings peace on earth.  The world defines peace as lack of war, conflict, or trouble.  True peace is a lack of hostility between God and man.  This is only possible in Christ, and it gives rest in even the most difficult of holidays.
  10. Love. This one’s obvious, right?  But does Christmas just naturally bring love out of our hearts?  While our children may not have to be taught affection for their family and friends, they need to learn how to love God with all their hearts, and their neighbors as themselves.  This is only learned when the love of God dwells in their hearts.
  11. Faith.  We pray that God gives our children the grace of saving faith so they can put their trust in Christ.  Christmas can be a missed opportunity to talk with them about the nature of faith.  It’s not about being “good for goodness sake,” but rather resting in Christ alone for salvation.
  12. Life.  The world offers life in all the wrong places and through all the wrong things.  Christ is the giver or life.  Jesus was born in order to die for our eternal life.  Teach it over and over again to your children!

So even though your youngsters are out of school for Christmas break, remember that the School of Jesus never takes a holiday!

 

The Already and Not Yet of Christmas, by Mrs. Margaret Sprow

This Christmas, let’s put ourselves in the sandals of those who were expectantly waiting and preparing for the Messiah to come. Simeon was one of those longing for the Messiah. In Luke 2:29-32 he exclaims as he holds Jesus in his arms, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32). As Simeon longed to see the Messiah come, so we long for Christ’s second advent, when He returns in glory to usher in His kingdom. This tension between the already and the not yet is seen in the music we sing. 

The already:

Joy to the world!

The Lord is come

Let earth receive her King.

Let every heart prepare him room

And heav’n and nature sing!

·          

Hail the heav’n born Prince of Peace!

Hail the Sun of Righteousness!

Light and life to all he brings

Ris’n with healing in his wings

 

And the not yet:

O come, O come, Emmanuel,

And ransom captive Israel

That mourns in lonely exile here

Until the Son of God appear.

·          

Come, thou long-expected Jesus

Born to set thy people free

From our fears and sins release us

Let us find our rest in thee.
 

The centerpiece of our Lessons and Carols service this year is the first movement of John Rutter’s “Gloria” and is a majestic statement of the “already.” Rutter is a contemporary English composer who wrote this musical setting of the Latin Gloria in 1974. It features a brilliant brass accompaniment to this song of the angels. Indeed, as you listen, you can imagine the pageantry and the wonder of the angels’ praise as the shepherds stood transfixed in awe.

Gloria in excelsis Deo                     Glory to God in the highest

The piece is bookended by the words “Gloria in excelsis Deo” set in a grand, contemporary style with lots of syncopation (stress on the weak beat) in the brass parts and much use of the big timpani drums.

Et in terra pax                                         And on earth peace

Hominibus bonae voluntatis                          To men of good will
 

The style abruptly changes with the text, “Et in terra pax” as we literally hear the peace in the gentle harmonies of the choir.

Laudamus te                                            We praise thee

Benedicimus te                                          We bless thee

Adoramus te                                            We worship thee

Glorificamus te                                          We glorify thee
 

The running continual eighth note accompaniment in this section is a musical allusion to our unending praise to God for the gift of His Son.

Gratias agimus tibi                        Thanks we give to thee

Propter magnam gloriam                  Because of Thy great glory
 

Big, thick, six and seven-part chords express thanks for the lavish abundance of God in the giving of His Son by whom we are filled with all the fullness of God.  The syncopated, accented brass accompaniment that reappears reminds me of the unexpected gifts and grace of God in the lives of His children.

Gloria in excelsis Deo                     Glory to God in the highest

The piece ends as it began, with a grand statement of praise to God, this time building in intensity as each voice part enters into the song of the ages, fitting for the angels to sing at Christ’s birth and fitting for us to sing as we celebrate His coming and look forward to His coming again. 

Teaching Children the Gospel Through Song, by Mrs. Liz Taylor

Deuteronomy 6:4-9 says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

I recently attended the Getty Sing! Conference in Nashville. One of my favorite sessions was on children and music, which inspired me to write about it. Both parents and the congregation take a vow to help raise covenant children in our church. Teaching our children about the Gospel through song is a viable way to saturate their minds with rich theology at a young age. If we do not teach our children what terms like grace, mercy, and righteousness mean beginning at a young age, they will view theological terms as abstract and devoid of meaning.

Instructing and passing on our knowledge to the next generation with a rich vocabulary about Christian faith is vital. Rehearsing and verbalizing the gospel with children strengthens a child’s foundation of faith. When we give children answers before the world does, this gives them a wonderful foundation of faith to build upon before the world begins to intervene and shape them. Teaching our children hymns through singing and playing recordings of different hymns are wonderful ways to incorporate hymns into daily life.

Why should we use singing to disciple little ones?

Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Music is a way to call attention to the word of God. Singing hymns is a wonderful memory tool. Music helps children retain information in an easier way than memorizing text. When I was a little girl, I had the privilege of being taught many hymns by my parents and grandmothers. Many of the hymns are still in my memory from my childhood. Christian songs and hymns are a portable, practical, and enjoyable way to naturally dialogue about spiritual truths. This education of theologically-rich hymns gave me a wonderful foundation for my faith, and will help our future generation when they are met with the world on a daily basis.

When should we use singing with our children or family?

We should sing with our children as much as possible. Another way to instill a love for hymns is through playing recordings at home and in the car. You do not have to have musical ability to sing with your children. Have fun and make a joyful noise! Sing along to a recording if you need some assistance to get started. When children see and hear your love for something, they will imitate you. Making a short list of hymns you would like to sing with your children is a tangible way to learn a few at a time. For older children, it is a great idea to discuss lyrics and offer them to help lead in singing. There are a few different books that introduce the stories behind hymns: Hosanna Loud Hosannas, by David and Barbara Leeman, and Then Sings My Soul, by Robert J. Morgan, are two books that I have used.

Focusing on songs that our church sings is also a wonderful idea. Bulletins are usually posted on our website on Thursdays. That gives families several days to sing the hymns and songs for Sunday. Last year, we taught Cherub Choir “Nothing But the Blood”. When this hymn was used in a church service, I could see many little faces light up because they could participate in singing a hymn they knew. This allows the children to engage in worship and share in the joy of worshipping God in this way! Singing with our children is a way to connect with them. In circumstances like car rides, it is a valuable time to engage in conversation and singing with our children, being intentional about how we use those fleeting moments with them.

“May the Almighty God make you faithful in this important work of education: may he succeed your cares with his abundant graces, that the rising generation . . . may be a glory amongst the nations, a pattern to the Christian world, and a blessing to the earth.” – Isaac Watts on the importance of teaching children hymns

Incarnational Ministry, by Mr. Caleb Cangelosi

Have you ever noticed that even the world understands how important the principle of incarnation is? When people are in distress, what they desperately want is the presence of one who is in authority. Whether they think of a politician, a sports league commissioner, a business executive, or a pastor, they want with them a person they think can bring order to the chaos and healing to the pain. That longing for the presence of authority is met ultimately and powerfully in the gospel of Jesus Christ. When God saw His image-bearers mired in the muck of their sin, enslaved by their selfishness and pride and idolatry, He Himself appeared in the person of His Son, to visit us in our distress, to share our sadness, to save us from our sin and misery. John writes, “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.” He tabernacled among us, He took up His residence here, He moved into the neighborhood and set up camp and unpacked His bags and pulled up a chair and made Himself at home. He became poor for our sakes. The Word of God, who was very God of very God (cf. 1:18), is Emmanuel, God with us.

But here’s the amazing thing: in the same way that the Father sent His Son, so the Son has sent us. In John 17:18, while praying to the Father, Jesus declares, “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” The incarnation of Jesus Christ speaks volumes to the way that we should live our lives in this world. We are to be doing the work of ministry, both to those who are a part of the body of Christ and to those who are outside the body of Christ. And our ministry is to be characterized by the principle of incarnation. Putting it like that makes it sound so abstract: the principle of incarnation. But it’s the most concrete thing in the world, as concrete and real as the principle of gravity.

What, then, does incarnational living, incarnational ministry look like? How does the incarnation inform our ministry, and show us how to live in a broken and hurting world?

We take the initiative with people.

The incarnation is the shining example of what the whole Bible is at pains to put on display, what Jonah learned when he was rescued in the depths of the sea by a great fish: “Salvation is of the Lord.” The incarnation is God’s rescue mission. God saves sinners, ultimately, by coming into this world to live and die for them. God took the initiative in the incarnation. He did not wait for us to find Him. And as Jesus ministered on earth, while He certainly was reactive, He took the initiative – consider his ministry to the woman at the well, with Zaccheus, with Peter after His resurrection.

And so we too, like our Savior, are to take the initiative with people. People are hurting, they’re lonely, they’re crying inside for help, for someone to listen to them, for someone to care. And so we must take the initiative, especially with unbelievers. We must go where non-Christians are, and seek to strike up conversations about their lives, their destinies, their alienations. We must make every effort to understand them and their world and their way of thinking, so that we might engage them with the gospel. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost, and so must we!

We must also to take the initiative with our fellow believers. It’s so easy to go our merry way, only focusing on ourselves and our own struggles, and to ignore completely the pain of brothers and sisters around us. To be sure, each of us has real struggles, and needs other people to be pursuing us. But we ought to be interrupting each other to find out how we can be ministering to/praying for each other.

We are willing to get deeply involved in others’ lives.

The second habit is closely related to the first – the incarnation doesn’t merely call us to take the initiative with people, but it makes us willing to get deeply involved in others’ lives. Paul sums it up in what he says to the Thessalonians: “Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.” What he’s saying is that ministry is about relationships – seeking not merely to bring the gospel to people, but doing that in the context of a deeply involved friendship, a commitment to knowing people, and being known, intimately. Where did John and Paul learn this, but from our Lord Jesus Christ, who was intimately involved with people throughout His ministry – not least His disciples.

This is where we need to be wise and very self-conscious about our use of technology: email, text messages, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, WhatsApp, Instagram, or all the other forms of social media are amazing ways to connect us to others in ways we couldn’t have imagined even a decade ago. But do we use them as a cover for the fact that we don’t want and don’t have authentic relationships with living, breathing human beings?

It’s certainly a lot easier to relate to people completely online. Because what happens when we become involved in deep relationships with other people offline? Well, it’s like gardening; you get the flowers and vegetables, but you also get the dirt – you become involved in their dirt as well as their beauty! You see how this point is so closely related to the first – so often, the reason we don’t take the initiative with people is because we don’t want to get involved in people’s lives. We don’t want to have to deal with what we might find when we do. The reason we don’t ask questions about how people are doing is because we really don’t want to know – if we knew the truth, we might have to do something about it, we might have to get our hands dirty with their sin or their misery, we might have to inconvenience ourselves to do something about it.

But that’s exactly what Jesus did, isn’t it? He got His hands and His fingernails dirty with our grime, He inconvenienced Himself to the point of death to serve us. He didn’t minister from a distance, He didn’t keep an arm’s length distance – rather, He was intimately involved with our suffering and grief and sin. He knew what He was in for when He chose to become a man, and it wasn’t a pretty sight. Ministry begins as you seek to know someone, becoming involved in their lives, and not shrinking back when you find the skeletons in the closet. 

We recognize our limitations of time and space.

You’re very likely to think, “Caleb, I can’t do this with everyone!” I don’t have time, I don’t have the emotional or physical energy. I can’t take the initiative with everyone, I can’t be deeply involved with everyone, I can’t meet everyone’s physical and spiritual needs at all once! You’re right. And neither could Jesus. Sure, as God He could be everywhere and meet every need. But He became fully man as well when He came to our world. He had the same 24 hours, the same physical body, He could only be in one place at a time. If He was in Samaria or Galilee, He wasn’t in Jerusalem. If He chose to speak to one person, He was making a conscious choice not to speak to someone else. He had to sleep, He had to work, He had to eat, He got exhausted, etc.

See the freedom this brings as we minister. Not freedom not to minister, but freedom to minister to some people around us without guilt that we aren’t ministering to everyone around us. Freedom to rest, rather than scurry trying to solve everyone’s problems. Freedom to invest yourself into a few people, rather than try to minister to everyone poorly. Jesus was limited in His human body and soul just like we are, and so He understands our limitations, and He doesn’t chide us for them. So let us minister where we are, while we are. Be with one person at a time, and when you’re with them, be with them, fully. Don’t think about all the people you’re not able to minister to at that time, but minister to the one you’re with.

Many of you can remember someone who ministered to you in this way, perhaps when you were in high school or college. That is certainly my own testimony. If you asked me what incarnational ministry looks like, my short answer would be a list of names: Craig Vanbiber and Rocky Rausch and Mac McCoy and Kevin Buchert and Lance Bourgeois and Clint Regen and Jerry Perret. These men were my youth ministers and youth leaders in high school. They entered into my life in the seventh grade, and stayed with me through my senior year in high school. They entered into all my adolescent awkwardness, all my confusion and pain stemming from my parents’ divorce, all my desire to know God and learn His Word and follow Him, all my youthful lusts and sinful idolatries. They listened to my struggles with my parents, with girls, with loneliness, with pride. They answered my questions about God and His Word. They taught me how to study the Bible, and how to live in a family, and how to be a friend. They came into my life and they let me into their lives, and I will never be the same because of them.

Whenever you meditate upon the birth of our Savior, ask yourself, is it transforming the way I minister to those around me? Has it made me more compassionate to those in need? Have you seen how the Lord has ministered to you, and do you want to minister like Him? May God make it so.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the Necessity of Reforming the Church, by John Calvin (1509-1564)

In 1543, John Calvin wrote a tract entitled On the Necessity of Reforming the Church, in which he laid out for Emperor Charles V the central reasons why Protestants were demanding reform. It is well worth reading in full. This excerpt gives a summary of why the Protestant Reformation had to occur.

 “We maintain, then, that at the commencement – when God raised up Luther and others, who held forth a torch to light us into the way of salvation, and who, by their ministry, founded and reared our churches – those heads of doctrine in which the truth of our religion, those in which the pure and legitimate worship of God, and those in which the salvation of men are comprehended, were in a great measure obsolete. We maintain that the use of the sacraments was in many ways vitiated and polluted. And we maintain that the government of the church was converted into a species of foul and insufferable tyranny…

If it be inquired, then, by what things chiefly the Christian religion has a standing existence amongst us, and maintains its truth, it will be found that the following two not only occupy the principal place, but comprehend under them all the other parts, and consequently the whole substance of Christianity: that is, a knowledge, first, of the mode in which God is duly worshipped; and, secondly, of the source from which salvation is to be obtained. When these are keptout of view, though we may glory in the name of Christians, our profession is empty and vain. After these comes the sacrament and the government of the church, which, as they were instituted for the preservation of these branches of doctrine, ought not to be employed for any other purpose; and, indeed, the only means of ascertaining whether they are administered purely and in due form, or otherwise, is to bring them to this test. If any one is desirous of a clearer and more familiar illustration, I would say, that rule in the church, the pastoral office, and all other matters of order, resemble the body, whereas the doctrine which regulates the due worship of God, and points out the ground on which the consciences of men must rest their hope of salvation, is the soul which animates the body, renders it lively and active, and, in short, makes it not to be a dead and useless carcass.”

 

Remembering the Five Solas of the Reformation, by Mr. Caleb Cangelosi

It’s easy to be what C. S. Lewis called a “chronological snob,” only caring about our own time period and ignoring the wisdom of those who lived before us. This particular illness probably afflicts us more than it did Lewis’ contemporaries in the middle of the twentieth century, because we live in the digital age, in which new versions of software and hardware come out nearly every year and render the older versions obsolete. Would anyone want to buy an Apple 2E from the eighties? Of course not. But is it the case that God’s truth needs to be updated as frequently as we update our technologies? On the contrary. The truth of God’s word remains the same yesterday, today, and forever. And yet it can be lost or forgotten.

Such was the case in the centuries leading up to what became known as the Protestant Reformation. During the Middle Ages, the freeness of God’s grace and salvation through faith in Christ alone increasingly became shrouded by an emphasis upon human merit and penitential works; the Scriptures were lost to the people of God and trumped by the authority of the bureaucratic church hierarchy; worship lost its biblical simplicity and became filled with idolatry and superstition; and the truth of the priesthood of all believers and divine blessing upon every lawful calling was swallowed up by a secular-sacred distinction of unbiblical proportions.

Into such a world the Lord sent godly shepherds to set things right; a few here and there in the 1300s and 1400s (John Wycliffe, John Hus, Savanorola), and a whole slew of them in the 1500s. Martin Luther was the primary catalyst, and it is his actions that “Reformation Day” recalls – nailing the 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517, was not an act of vandalism, but a call for an academic debate over the matter of indulgences (Luther’s theses were written in Latin, the language of scholars, and church doors served as bulletin boards in his day). Luther’s carpentry work turned out to be an act of revolution as well, because it was a catalyst for a great movement of God’s Spirit among the church. His labors, along with those of men like John Calvin, Martin Bucer, Ulrich Zwingli, Henry Bullinger, and John Knox (plus many more lesser known figures all over Europe), set the church on an entirely new course, recovering to the people of God both the word of God and the gospel of God.

On this 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, we celebrate the fact that the Reformers restored the word of God to the people of God. The Scriptures had been lost under heaps of unbiblical traditions, and only the priests had access to them. It wouldn’t have mattered if the common man had gotten his hands on a Bible anyway, as it was written in Latin, which only a few could read. So the Reformers set about to translate the Bible into the language of the people, and (thanks to Mr. Johann Gutenberg’s invention of the movable-type printing press in 1450) to get the Bibles into the homes of the people. Now Christians were free to be Bereans, comparing what they heard preached and taught to what was actually written (see Acts 17:11). The rallying cry of “Scripture alone!” (sola Scriptura) declared that the Bible was the only inherently authoritative norm for doctrine and practice. The Reformers discarded the accretions of manmade religion, and brought the church back to its Scriptural roots.

Second, the Reformers restored the gospel of God to the people of God. Obviously, as the church had lost the Bible, she had lost the message of salvation that the Bible taught. Grace had been replaced by merit, faith had been replaced by works, the finished work of Christ on the cross had been replaced by the continuing sacrifice of the Mass, dying and being with Jesus had been replaced by dying and going to purgatory for continued punishment from sin.

These matters came to a head when Johann Tetzel came to Luther’s town selling “indulgences.” An indulgence was essentially salvation for sale – by buying an indulgence, you could lessen the time you spent in purgatory suffering for your sins, or even help get your deceased relatives out of purgatory. As Tetzel cried out, “When a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs!” Luther’s 95 Theses denounced the evil of these indulgences, which were being sold to raise money for St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome. The Roman Catholic Church’s false gospel was explained fully in its Council of Trent (1545-1563): God declared men righteous (He justified them) only if they were actually righteous in and of themselves; salvation was on the basis of works such as confession, penance, rote prayers, and the sacraments. Throughout Europe the Reformers began to write against these errors. They exclaimed, “No! Salvation is sola gratia (by grace alone), sola fide (through faith alone), and solus Christus (in Christ alone)! God declares sinners righteous through faith alone, on the basis of what Jesus has done in His sinless life and death as a substitute for His people. Do not steal glory from the Lord Jesus Christ, the only Priest men need to make them acceptable before God!”

As the Reformers restored to the people of God both the Word of God and the gospel of God, they were bringing back the glorious truth of the priesthood of all believers. All believers can read and interpret the Word of God, for the Holy Spirit dwells within them and enlightens their minds to understand the Word. All believers in Jesus Christ have direct access to the Father through the Son, without need of a human intermediary. And all believers serve the Lord God in whatever lawful calling God has given them; it’s not just the priests and monks and nuns who are doing “spiritual” work.

These truths are worth remembering and worth preserving, because they are at the heart of the gospel of our God and Savior. Christians of all people must never succumb to the worldview of Henry Ford, who declared, “History is bunk.” Rather, we know that there are a great cloud of witnesses cheering us on as we run the race of faith, men and women who have gone before us, who have much to teach us, and who suffered so that we might be free. I pray it will never be said of the saints at Pear Orchard Presbyterian Church that we neglected or forgot history, for it is His story; indeed, He is still writing it through us. May He continue to reform His church, and keep us firm in His truth.

The 500th Anniversary of the Reformation: A Celebration of God’s Grace, by Mrs. Margaret Sprow

Can you imagine not knowing about the gospel, God’s free offer of salvation to all who believe in Jesus Christ? Can you imagine not owning a Bible? Going to church and not understanding a word that was being said?  Never singing in church, but only listening to the choir sing? This was the case in the Western world in the era of history known as the Middle Ages.  The church’s true treasure, the gospel was covered up with all kinds of traditions and practices dreamed up by men.

In 1984, the Statue of Liberty underwent a two-year restoration.  During this time, the statue was completely covered by scaffolding. The object designed to be seen was hidden. So in the church, the gospel had become obscured by layer upon layer of extra-biblical tradition and practice. Here are a few examples.

Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” This implies that listeners are able to understand the words that are being preached.  Yet in the Middle Ages, the church service was conducted in Latin, which most congregants did not understand, rather than in the native language of the people.

1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” But at this time in history, faithful church members were required to go to the priest to confess their sin.  The priest would impose a penance (a punishment inflicted as an outward expression of the repentance) to be carried out by the sinner and would then grant absolution or forgiveness of the confessed sin. 

The church also taught that the souls of those who die with some punishment due them for their sins would enter “purgatory,” an intermediate state after death designed for suffering and purification to achieve the holiness necessary to enter heaven.  Yet Jesus tells the thief on the cross, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

Because of these practices, Martin Luther, a German monk, nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany on October 30, 1517 and so began a Reformation that eventually swept across the world. Reformation comes from the root word reform and means to form again or revive; not starting over but reviving what had become dead.  In his 95 Theses, Luther enumerated 95 points of debate mainly regarding the gospel, repentance, purgatory and the sale of indulgences.

God used the actions of a poor monk to bring about a revival of Biblical truth that had far-reaching consequences. Martin Luther translated the Bible from Latin to German so that his countrymen could read the Bible for themselves. He is called The Father of Congregational Singing and is credited with restoring congregational singing to the church.  He considered music a gift of God that should be utilized in worship and wrote hymns for the church including the beloved hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” Luther wrote, “next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world. It controls our thoughts, minds, hearts, and spirits.... Our dear fathers and prophets did not desire without reason that music be always used in the churches. Hence, we have so many songs and psalms. This precious gift has been given to man alone that he might thereby remind himself that God has created man for the express purpose of praising and extolling God.”

Luther greatly influenced J.S. Bach, considered the greatest composer of the Lutheran church.  Bach was a passionate believer and prolific composer of musical works totaling 1,120.  450 of those works are chorale settings (hymn arrangements), many based on Reformation hymns. Although he was born over a century after Martin Luther, Bach’s library was dominated by Luther’s writings and Luther’s hymns were prominent in many of Bach’s musical compositions.  Bach also appears to have embraced Luther’s teaching on vocation, that all work can be glorifying to God and good for our neighbor and that Christian calling is for the mother and the mine worker as much as it is for the pastor and the church leader. We know this because he signed many of his compositions, both sacred and secular with the initials “S. D. G.” which stand for Soli Deo Gloria translated glory to God alone. 

As we celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation on October 29, 2017, we stand with the people of God around the world who will be singing, “A Mighty Fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing.”  May God alone receive the glory!

“The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God.”  Martin Luther, Thesis No. 62

The Name Below All Names: Do You See Yourself as the Worst of Sinners? by Dr. John Perritt

I have distinct memories of holding each of my five children for the first time. My wife and I never found out the sex of our children prior to their birth, so holding them and naming them in that moment always brought about waves of emotion that were too strong to overcome. Although each of my children were light and fragile in my adult hands — some lighter than others — I knew the weight of this new life required strength I did not have.

In considering the birth of a child, it’s sobering to consider the point in history when a man and woman held their child for the first time and said, “We will call him Judas.”

What were their hopes and dreams for him? What were the moments of laughter they shared with this young boy, the memories they repeatedly shared at the table? Consider the moments of pride the Iscariots shared as their boy learned to speak and took his first steps. Surely they felt similar emotions to most parents as they witnessed the maturation process of a boy becoming a man.

 Notorious Name

The name Judas is one that’s familiar to most ears. Like Hitler, Stalin, or bin Laden, it conjures up many feelings of disdain and disgust. It leaves a haunting notion of betrayal, that seems more grave than that of Brutus and Benedict Arnold. Other traitors pale by comparison.

When it comes to notorious names, Judas is the name below all names, and appropriately so. While the aforementioned names deserve to be names that remain despised throughout the annals of history, Judas remains in a league of its own. Each of the men listed committed atrocities, some large-scale, others smaller. But Judas committed the most grievous act in the history of the world: the betrayal of the second person of the Trinity, the firstborn of all creation, the One by whom, and through whom, all things were created (Colossians 1:15–16).

In the words of John MacArthur, “Judas is the most colossal failure in all of human history. He committed the most horrible, heinous act of any individual, ever. He betrayed the perfect, sinless, holy Son of God for a handful of money.”

The name Judas is forever tarnished because of his egregious sin. But it’s not the only one.

 Judas and Me

Whether it’s Judas, John, or Jennifer, all of our names have been tarnished by the sin that poisons every human heart. I may not have traded for thirty pieces of silver, or earned historical notoriety, but I too have betrayed the Son of God. There are times I’ve denied knowing him, like Peter. There have been moments of adultery, like David. I’ve murdered. Gossiped. Lied. Stolen. I’m unable to love God with my heart, soul, mind, and strength.

For Christians to grasp the weight of our sin, we must stop looking down on the name Judas as though we are on higher ground. The same temptations, cares, lusts, and greeds of Judas’s heart are in yours and mine. I get the sense that Christians often think of Judas like some character from a myth or fable. He’s just a villain, perhaps. In doing so, we separate ourselves from him, and when we do that, we are in danger of the same mistakes of Judas.

As J.C. Ryle once said, “A right knowledge of sin lies at the root of all saving Christianity.” Or Christ himself, “The tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’” (Luke 18:13). Only those who know their sin are justified (Luke 18:14).

As John Piper has preached, “If we are ever to grasp the gospel, we must grasp the ugliness of our sin. If we never admit that we don’t just do bad things — we are bad — the gospel will never land in power. Our sins will always be healed lightly. I need to crawl into the cesspool of my heart and claw my way to the bottom, believing there’s Jesus’s blood down there, not hell. But it’s at the bottom of our sin, not only part way down.

Those who know the saving work of Jesus Christ look at the life of Judas and see themselves. Instead of seeing a person they scoff at, they look upon Judas with sobriety and even a kind of empathy, knowing that the only thing that separates them from Judas is grace.

 New Name

The life of Judas should foster thoughts of humility and discernment. We are not above this man in the sense that our hearts are just as broken as his at the most basic level. Nevertheless, Christians are not Judas. We have been given a name that clothes us in righteous robes that will never fade. Even now, though broken sinners, we are heirs to an eternal throne of riches beyond our comprehension.

While we find many commonalities shared between the world’s greatest traitor, we have the name “child of God” placed upon us. Just as our birth name was placed upon us apart from our doing, the name given to us at our new birth was also given apart from our doing. The name of “enemy” was removed, and “child” was bestowed. It has been fixed upon our hearts and “no power of hell, no scheme of man” can remove it.

We have been given this name because that one with the name above all names, Jesus Christ, left his throne, came to earth, lived a perfect life, and died an atoning death in the place of his children. He has conquered sin, he has conquered death, and he has secured a place for those children who still act a bit like Judas at times.

Christians are sobered by the sin that remains in our hearts. We feel sorrow from the price our Savior paid to remove our stained garments. But we also rejoice in the finished work of Jesus Christ and know that, one day soon, we will feel his embrace and thank the God-man who gave us a new name.

 

Does The Gospel Affect Our Sports? By Mr. Wilson Van Hooser

There was once a 5th grade boy driving home with his father after a devastating loss in the playoffs of YMCA basketball in Montgomery, Alabama. The father had seen his son cry after a loss many times before, and this was no different. Yet, the heart of his son was to be exposed during this moment when the son uttered to the father, “But dad, all I’ve got is basketball. If I don’t make it to the NBA then I’m nothing.” One might read that statement and think that it is merely a silly story told at family reunions, or the punchline at a wedding rehearsal dinner. Rather, that story is one that revealed the sinful nature of the boy more than anyone realized. I say that because that little boy was me. Since then, I have realized that I was not the only one who put my identity in sports. I certainly wasn’t the only athlete who did this, but I also saw several coaches, fans, and parents put their identity in sports or in the performance of another. The question that faces us today that, very unfortunately, we have not stopped to wrestle with, is this: Does the gospel of Jesus Christ have any say in the way we play, coach, and cheer on sports?

I once heard a very disappointing statement from a theologically solid pastor who said that God didn’t care about sports. Certainly this doesn’t fit well with Abraham Kuyper’s comment, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” If we truly believe God is the Creator of all and that the gospel is a gospel that redeems all things then we certainly would have to realize that the gospel radically and totally demands that we approach sports in light of its truths. One of these grand truths of the gospel is that because we have been united to Jesus, Jesus now becomes our identity.

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

If the gospel tells us that we are dead to our old selves and now alive to Christ, and Christ alive in us, then how does that affect the way we play, coach, and support sports? It affects the way we play sports because it gives us a steady identity. After playing organized football for 13 years and several years coaching and training others, I have noticed that most players play football to establish their identity, rather than play from their identity. When the game is played from the standpoint of trying to earn your identity then the game will inevitably fail you. One of the best lessons I learned in the NFL is that virtually every player has their career ended for them rather than they choosing to end their career. I also learned that there will always be someone faster, stronger, quicker, smarter, more consistent, or more productive than you at some point. The common saying is that records are meant to be broken. If I play sports from a desire to earn my identity and righteousness then I will die a thousand deaths trying to keep up that performance. A loss will crush me. Being benched will throw me into depression. Being overlooked will make me want to quit. Consider the ESPN 30 for 30 film on Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan. Harding had so much of her identity in sports that the sight of someone better than her drove her to hurt another.

The coaches, parents, and fans who approach sports with their identity tied up in their team’s or child’s performance will ultimately be crushed or crush someone else. Consider another ESPN 30 for 30 film on Marv and Todd Marinovich. Marv was so obsessed with his son’s performance that his son escaped into the college party life because of the fear to perform well enough for his father. Think also of the reactions of certain fans on a Sunday morning whenever their favorite team has lost the previous day. Think also of the coach who has turned to prostitutes or alcoholism because of the pressure to find his worth and value in his performance. The examples and illustrations are endless because the amount of people who are like this are everywhere – even in our church perhaps.

But if the gospel truly tells us who we are in Christ then we can approach sports differently. A loss doesn’t have to crush me, but I can play with reckless abandon – because even if I fail, I have lost nothing of ultimate worth. I can cheer hard for my team and wake up the next morning for Sunday worship with a joyful heart even if my team loses, because I know that in Christ I have all the significance that’s truly out there. I can allow my child to miss the sports games that conflict with church and worship because I know that in Christ alone there is life and that sports is only meant to help us learn more of Christ rather than compete against Christ.

Maybe the question we need to ask more than ever today is this: How far-reaching do I believe the gospel is? If the gospel has not affected the way you play, coach, watch, support, and help your children approach sports, then your view of God and your view of the gospel is too small and your idolatry of sports reigns in your heart. Praise God that we do not have a gospel that merely comes to us on Sundays, but also meets us on Fridays and Saturdays in the Fall. Praise God that Jesus Christ performed for us so that we wouldn’t have to find our righteousness in our success in sports. Praise God that Jesus Christ was rejected on the cross so that our failure and losses in sports can never lose our standing with God.

 

The Problem of Spiritual Short-term Memory Loss, by John C. Kwasny, Ph.D.

We were just innocently waiting for one of our favorite TV shows to begin. I made the mistake of flipping the channel to a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie. I should have known better. Those four words are almost as pleasing to my wife as Based on a True Story. And, if the Hallmark Hall of Fame movie is also based on a true story...well you figure it out. Needless to say, The Mentalist was relegated to the DVR as we succumbed to a Hallmark movie about a guy named Gus who has daily short-term memory loss due to a brain aneurysm. Sleeping and waking wipes away all of his short-term memories (everything that he experiences since the aneurysm). It was quite sad. Poor Gus could never feel like he was moving forward in life since he had to virtually start from scratch every day. He had to put post-it notes all over his apartment, and leave himself voice messages to re-learn his relationships and activities. Most distressing of all was that he would forget that he had a girlfriend and therefore had to “fall in love” with her all over again each day. I know that kind of sounds romantic, but it was devastating. The movie made you extremely thankful for your ability to remember, even though you forget things from time to time.

After wiping away a few typical Hallmark-induced tears, I started to think about how we Christians often act a lot like Gus, spiritually speaking. We get up in the morning and forget what the Lord had done for us the day before. We forget the lessons we just learned from the sermon or our Bible study. We forget God’s grace and God’s commands. We don’t remember to treat our spouses or our children with love and respect as we did the day before. We almost act like we have to learn our Christianity all over again each day. No wonder we often feel like poor Gus, unable to get our lives moving forward. Living with spiritual short-term memory loss makes us look a lot like the non-Christians next door.

Forgetting has always been a real problem for God’s people. Just read the Old Testament, for starters! Israel is warned over and over again not to forget their covenant with the one true God. In Deuteronomy 4:9, we read: “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children—” And in Deuteronomy 8:11, “Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today...” And again in Deuteronomy 8:17-18, “Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.”

Now there are several reasons why Christians suffer spiritual short-term memory loss. For one thing, we are human beings with weak, fallen minds. We do genuinely forget things that we’ve just learned. But forgetting can also be due to an active rebellion in our hearts. Our sinful hearts can jettison the truth from our minds and replace it with lies. Or, we really aren’t committing truth to memory, nor paying attention to the important things in life. Finally, we may be experiencing short-term memory loss because we are not teaching our children God’s Word and what He has done in our lives (Deuteronomy 4:9).

So what’s the cure for spiritual short-term memory loss? Maybe we should take a cue from my new best friend, Gus. He needed post-it notes all over his house, photos to remind himself of relationships, and even voice recordings of the most essential things in his life. We need the same. Christians have to read God’s Word daily in order to remember. We need to preach the gospel to ourselves every day. We need to hear sermons and Bible lessons over and over again. We need to be reminded each day of who we serve and whose we are. We need to teach our children and youth God's Word (they are forgetful beings too, right?). In a sense, we do need to re-learn and remember our Christianity every day!

"And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart…You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates." (Deuteronomy 6:6, 8-9)

 

Are You Working for the Man, or for the God-Man? By Mr. Caleb Cangelosi

Americans in the 21st century have a complicated relationship to work. On the one hand, many have seen their jobs disappear due, among other reasons, to automation, outsourcing, or the hiring of less expensive, more efficient, or more willing immigrants. We are increasingly bombarded by doomsday claims that robots and artificial intelligence will in time take over nearly all vocations, leading many to argue that the government should provide a guaranteed universal basic income to every citizen of our country, since most of us will supposedly be out of work soon. From this perspective, work is viewed as something that we have lost, or has been taken away from us.

On the other hand, we struggle mightily with laziness, benumbed by the soma of endless distractions on our artificially intelligent devices, bowing down to the idol of comfort, desiring to enjoy a perpetual “weekend” of life. This perspective views work as something we try to avoid. Because it’s true – work is hard. It’s labor, a word that carries connotations of struggle, aches, tediousness, toil, grinding it out through difficult circumstances, and pain (it is no accident that the process of childbirth is called “labor”) – and we’d rather not have to endure pain.

In such a state of affairs, how are Christians to think, respond and live? Five hundred years ago, the Protestant Reformers brought about a transformation in the way that work was viewed. Yet the need for our thought and action to be conformed to the Scriptures is not a one-time event, but an ongoing process of reformation, particularly for new generations of believers. To this end, as with so many topics, it is surprisingly fruitful to apply a simple creation-fall-redemption grid to work.

Work is not a result of the fall. It was a gift of God in the Garden of Eden before man’s rebellion. Far from being a curse to be avoided at all cost, labor is a tremendous blessing, in which we can find fulfillment and meaning. In our working, we reflect the image of God. For God was the first worker, creating the heavens and the earth in six days and resting on the seventh day. Built into the fabric of the moral universe, and our humanity, is the pattern God set: the principle and command to work six days and rest one day. Adam and Eve were commanded to subdue the earth, and to rule over all living creature (Genesis 1:28); they were to cultivate and keep the garden God had planted (Genesis 2:15).

From the very beginning, humans were created with an abundance of creativity for a variety of tasks. John Murray, in his book Principles of Conduct, puts it well: “The subduing of the earth must imply the expenditure of thought and skill and energy in bringing the earth and its resources under such control that they would be channeled to the promotion of certain ends which they were suited and designed to fulfill but which would not be fulfilled apart from the exercise of man’s design and labor…The nature of man is richly diversified. There is not only a diversity of basic need but there is also a profuse variety of taste and interest, of aptitude and endowment, of desires to be satisfied and of pleasures to be gratified. When we consider the manifold ways in which the earth was fashioned and equipped to meet and gratify the diverse nature and endowments of man, we can catch a glimpse of the vastness and variety of the task involved in subduing the earth, a task directed to the end of developing man’s nature, gifts, interests, and powers in engagement with the resources deposited by God in the earth and the sea.” These creation mandates have not been set aside. Just as we are to continue to be fruitful and multiply, we are to continue to subdue the little and big corners of the universe that God has set before each one of us. 

This creational reality is why I’m not persuaded by those who assert that artificial intelligence and robots will lead to an end of work. To be sure, certain jobs will disappear or be greatly reduced in terms of the number of people needed to fulfil them for society. But humans will constantly be creating new jobs to meet new needs and wants. Twenty-five years ago, the internet as we know it did not exist. Ten years ago, the smartphone and the tablet with its accompanying hardware and software did not exist. Consider all the jobs that have been created by the advent of these technologies. Yes, we must recognize that the transition for many people has been and will be difficult and painful. New skills will have to be learned as jobs are destroyed and created. But the fact that mankind is made in the image of God teaches us not only that we were made to work, but also that we have the creativity to respond to the innovations that our fellow image bearers might one day bring to – and upon – us.

Creation tells us that work is a blessing. But the fall tells us that work will always be hard. There is no escaping the pain of work, this side of the return of Jesus. In God’s response to Adam’s sin, he cursed the arena in which our work takes place: “Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you will eat the plants of the field; by the sweat of your face you will eat bread…” (Gen. 3:17-19). Now, work is hard, sweaty, toilsome, painful, and frustrating. The creation works against us. Things fall apart. Futility sets in (Eccl. 1:3; 2:18-23).

Not only is the arena of work affected by sin, we the workers are affected as well. The ways we relate to work after Eden are broken. Whether we are dead in our sins and trespasses or made alive and still fighting against indwelling sin, we see the effects of the fall in a variety of ways. Sometimes we hate work. As noted above, we are lazy, worshipping an idol of comfort. John Murray again expresses it pointedly in his Principles of Conduct: “The principle that too often dictates our practice is not the maximum of toil but the minimum necessary to escape public censure and preserve our decency…[Modern man] is out to do the least he can for the most he can get. He does not love his work; he has come to believe he is very miserable because of the work he has to do. Labor is a burden rather than a pleasure.” Some struggle not so much with hating work, as with over-loving work. Our work is the idol we worship, so we overwork, neglecting other responsibilities for the sake of the promotion, the recognition, or the bonus. Even when we are able to avoid these two ditches, our motivations to work can be skewed: we struggle with discontentment, envy, a love of money, or a belief that we really are just working for the weekend or for retirement.

As we reflect on the way sin has affected our work, perhaps we are tempted to say with the disciples, “If the relationship of the man with his work is like this, it is better not to work!” (Matthew 19:10). Just as with marriage, however, fleeing to the monastery is not the solution for the difficulty of work. Indeed, the New Testament is clear: “If anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either” (II Thessalonians 3:10). We are to work in a quiet fashion and eat our own bread (II Thessalonians 3:12). It should be our ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to our own business and work with our hands, so that we will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need (I Thessalonians 4:11-12). Not only are we to work so that we won’t be in any need, but we are to work so that we will have something to share with the one who is has need (Ephesians 4:28).

The Christian has been called by God’s grace to work, and is being sanctified by the Holy Spirit to work in a particular manner. We are to work six days and rest on the Sabbath day, the Lord’s Day (Exodus 20:8-11). We are to work for the Lord Jesus: “With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free” (Ephesians 6:7-8). “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve” (Colossians 3:23-24). Finally, we are to work with all our heart: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” (Ecclesiastes 9:10; cf. Colossians 3:23).

As an aspect of the priesthood of all believers, the Reformation recovered the notion of vocation and the goodness of work outside of the ecclesiastical domain. John Calvin explained in his commentary on Luke 10:38-42: “We know that men were created for the express purpose of being employed in labor of various kinds, and that no sacrifice is more pleasing to God, than when every man applies diligently to his own calling, and endeavors to live in such a manner as to contribute to the general advantage.” B. B. Warfield, in his little pamphlet “The Religious Life of the Theological Student,” reminded us of the Protestant ethic: “It is the great doctrine of ‘vocation,’ the doctrine, to wit, that the best service we can offer to God is just to do our duty—our plain, homely duty, whatever that may chance to be. The Middle Ages did not think so; they cut a cleft between the religious and the secular life, and counseled him who wished to be religious to turn his back on what they called ‘the world,’ that is to say, not the wickedness that is in the world— ‘the world, the flesh and the devil,’ as we say—but the work-a-day world, that congeries of occupations which forms the daily task of men and women, who perform their duty to themselves and their fellowmen. Protestantism put an end to all that.” Whatever it is that God has called us to do, we are to love God and love our neighbor through what we do and how we do it. Competence, diligence, quality, integrity, faithfulness are to mark us as believers in Jesus.

Creation, fall, redemption: viewing our work through this threefold grid will change the way we approach our day to day experiences, whether in an office, a store, a factory line, or at home. Jesus has saved us and is transforming us into His likeness. He came to accomplish the work the Father sent Him to do (John 4:34). In the same way, as those made and being remade in the image of God, we are to accomplish the good works He has prepared beforehand for us to do. Our work, our labor, as difficult as it might be, is one of the most important works He has given us to do.

 

 

Feasting on the Bread of God, by Carl Kalberkamp

In John 6, our Lord Jesus spoke these stunning words to us: “I am the bread of life…I am the living bread that came down from heaven, if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever…Truly, truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” These words are full of remarkable promises, and yet not easy words at all to grasp. What does our Lord intend with these glorious promises?

This eating and drinking refers to an inward and spiritual act of our souls, where by faith we receive for our benefit all that Christ is in His person, and all He has done for us in His atoning work. Believing, we are said to eat, and believing, we are said to drink. Eating and drinking have the meaning of humbly receiving by faith, for ourselves, all that Christ has accomplished in His perfect life, atoning death, and mighty resurrection to rule in glory.

Each time we come to the communion table, out Triune God invites us into the deepest union and most intimate nourishment. In the sacrament, Christ promises to our true faith, that as surely as we take bread to our mouths and eat, just as surely our souls take the nourishment of the gift of His divine union with us! The regularity of the communion meals reminds us of our constant need to feast upon Christ for life and godliness.

But let’s make sure we understand the importance of our Lord’s own use of the word picture of bread to describe himself and his benefits to us. Why exactly do we use bread in the Christian sacrament and not a fig, or an olive, or a piece of goat’s milk cheese? Most importantly we are following the example and instruction of our Lord in using bread as he instituted the supper. But there are many other good reasons why our Lord in fact chose to do so.

First, the use of bread as a redemptive symbol is significant in the history of God saving his people. Let’s see three simple examples. The showbread which the priests regularly put on the table in the presence of the LORD in the tabernacle and the temple (twelve loaves, one for each of the tribes) pointed to the fact that God would always have a covenant people of his own before his face, and that he would provide for them. The manna which God miraculously gave the people to sustain them daily in the wilderness was his Fatherly provision and was their daily bread from him (does this remind you of our prayers to the father in the Lord’s prayer?). A third example is the unleavened bread which the Israelites were commanded to eat in the commemorative Passover meal where the people celebrated God’s loving deliverance from Egypt. Jesus’ use of bread, in reference to himself shows us that he, along with the Father and the Spirit together, are our very life and nourishment!

Second, bread has always been the staple of life in every human culture. The world over, bread is a universal symbol of life’s sustenance, and lack of bread points to poverty and death. And so our Lord uses bread because it was a universally recognized metaphor of life. One scholar writes insightfully, “Our Lord calls himself the Bread of Life so that all may know that the soul of every man is naturally starving and famishing through sin. Christ is given by the Father, to be the Satisfier, the Reliever, the Physician to man’s spiritual hunger. In him empty souls find their wants supplied.”

Third, bread is coveted by every class of people. J. C. Ryle writes: “Bread is food that suits all. Some cannot have meat, some cannot get vegetables. But nearly all eat bread. It is food for the Queen and the pauper alike. So it is with Christ. He is the only Savior that meets the need of every kind of person.” As bread is taken up gladly in every culture and at all tables – Christ is given by the Father for the wants of the souls of children, women and men everywhere! Whatever a person’s spiritual hunger may be, however starving, however bruised, however broken and desperate they may be – there is bread enough for that soul in Christ!

Fourth, bread truly satisfies the body when plentiful. And so as the bread of our soul, Christ presents himself as satisfying the justice of God and our guilt by offering himself for us in his body! As bread fills the body, so Christ satiates the soul’s every need.

And a fifth and final reason: The grain of wheat, must fall into the ground and die, in order to give life to a new stalk of wheat with multiplied heads of grain. Just so – our Lord falls to the ground in death and rises in the new life of resurrection as the first fruits of many. In Christ’s instituting of His supper – we are told he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and gave it to his disciples. Christ uses the broken loaf of bread to speak of his crucifixion and death in our place – which produces life and resurrection and nourishment for us.

As a King – who appears at a great feast in His Banquet hall brings great joy to those present – so Christ the Lord of our feast – throws a banquet for our joy because we find that He Himself is our meat and drink, our bread and our joy! The next time you eat bread, in fact every time you eat bread – let it remind you of the hour by hour necessity of our ongoing need to feast upon Christ, the Bread of your soul! Our King would feast you, at his own table, with Himself!

Look Up and Look Out, by Mrs. Tammie Haynes

“Look up and look out.” I’ve been reminding myself to do this lately. I say this to myself – not because I’m afraid the sky is falling, like Chicken Little, but because I can be so self-focused and earthly bound, instead of Christ-focused and kingdom-oriented. 

It’s what I say to myself when I need to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” The apostle Paul teaches me in his first letter to the Corinthians that although I “live in the world, [I] do not wage war the way the world does. The weapons [I] fight with are not the weapons of the world.” The context here is about Paul standing firm against those who attacked his ministry. While I am not facing the same kind of attack that Paul did, I must recognize that I am daily in a fierce spiritual battle against very real enemies: my own flesh, the world and the devil. The Warrior King, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is divinely powerful, is my source for demolishing the strongholds in my heart (II Corinthians 10:3-5).

The battle begins in my mind. Am I thinking and believing the truth found in God’s Word about life, marriage, parenting, possessions, friendships, ministry, work, death? Or am I thinking according to my flesh and the world and the devil? It makes all the difference to lead my thoughts to Christ and His word rather than to be led by my thoughts, passions, and emotions down a path that is contrary to Christ and His word. 

So I say to myself “Look up” – look up at Christ! The apostle Paul put it this way in his letter to the Colossians: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:1-2). So, to “look up” means to set/fix my heart and mind on Christ, who has all authority in heaven and on earth (Matt. 28:18), instead of setting my heart and mind on myself or the things of this world, which are passing away (Luke 21:33). It means to rehearse what Christ has taught me about Himself from His Word (Col. 1:15-23; 2:6-7):

·         that He is the image of the invisible God;

·         He is the firstborn over all creation;

·         He is the creator of all things, visible and invisible;

·         He is before all things and in Him all things hold together;

·         He is the head of the church, the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything He is supreme;

·         In Him all the fullness of deity dwells and through Him God, the Father, reconciles all things to Himself;

·         He makes me at peace with God through His blood shed on the cross;

·         He presents me holy in God’s sight and causes me to be established and firm, not moving away from the hope I have in Him;

·         He causes me to live rooted and built up in Him;

·         He strengthens my faith;

·         He causes me to overflow with thankfulness.

I am so thankful to know my life is hidden with Christ in God! I am so thankful to know that while I cannot hold anything together, Christ can and does hold all things together for His own glory, the good of His body, the church, and my personal good. 

Seeing the greatness and goodness of the Lord Jesus Christ frees me from thoughts of self and motivates me to “look out” – look out towards others, and be others-focused, not self-focused. When I focus on the greatness and goodness of my Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, the cares of this world are put in perspective. I worship Him and want to encourage others to worship Him, too.

Everyone, believer and unbeliever alike, needs to worship the One who made them, setting their hearts and minds on Christ. Everyone, no matter who they are or what they are going through, needs to behold Jesus, and say with the psalmist, “Give thanks to the LORD for He is good; His love endures forever.” Read Psalm 118 and write down everything that our great God and Savior teaches you about Himself from this psalm, looking up to Him in worship and then out to others – sharing what you learned from this psalm with them.

Help us, Lord Jesus, to set our hearts and minds on You and to encourage others to do the same, for Your glory and the good of Your body, the church! 

 

A Book Review: 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You, by Ben Sones

The Internet. The iPhone. Social media. The immensity of these inventions’ impact on our lives (for good and for ill) has been widely discussed, so much so that now, a scant ten years after the iPhone was invented, the huge effect of our phones has become a cliché. However, clichés usually become clichés because they are true. And I don’t know about you, but I certainly see many ways I – not just my circumstances or lifestyle, but I myself – have changed as a result of the interaction between my indwelling sin and my Precious (uh, I mean, my iPhone).

Accordingly, when I first heard from John Perritt about Tony Reinke’s recent book 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You, I was keen to read it. Mr. Reinke, a self-described “early adopter” and heavy iPhone and social media user, wrote this book to answer a simple question: “What is the best use of my smartphone in the flourishing of my life?” This is an important question to which I (and, I suspect, most of us) need to give more careful consideration.

To answer this question, Mr. Reinke made a thorough review of the current literature and research on the topic, conducted many personal interviews of key thought leaders, and filtered all this information through the lens of his Christian worldview. The resulting book is packed with interesting information, thought-provoking insights, and often-convicting theology.

The book is primarily arranged into twelve chapters, with each chapter devoted to a different “way” in which your phone is changing you. I found that many of these “ways” apply to me, resulting in some much-needed self-examination and ongoing efforts at habit change. I discuss each of these twelve chapters below – the first two in detail and the remaining ten more briefly – in the two-fold hope, first, that you will find this discussion helpful and impactful in your own life and, second, that you will be moved to read this book for yourself as you seek to honor God with your smartphone habits.

Chapter 1: We Are Addicted to Distractions

Our smartphones foster an addiction to distractions. Studies show that we check our smartphones about once every 4.3 minutes of our waking lives. In Reinke’s nonscientific survey of 8,000 desiringGod.com readers, 73% said they were more likely to check email and social media before rather than after spiritual disciplines on a typical morning. The average Facebook user now spends 50 minutes – every day – in the Facebook product line (Facebook, Messenger, Instagram), and that number is still growing. In this chapter, Reinke asks and answers three questions:

     (1) Why are we lured to distractions? Regarding this question, I will let Reinke himself do the talking:

First, we use digital distractions to keep work away. . . . When life becomes most demanding, we crave something else – anything else. . . .

Second, we use digital distractions to keep people away. . . . In the digital age, we are especially slow to ‘associate with the lowly’ [Rom. 12:16] around us. Instead, we retreat into our phones – projecting our scorn for complex situations or for boring people…

Third, we use digital distractions to keep thoughts of eternity away. . . . [I]n the most alluring new apps, we find a welcome escape from our truest, rawest, and most honest self-perceptions. . . . Staring at the ceilings of our quiet bedrooms, with only our thoughts about ourselves, reality, and God, is unbearable.

I experienced some very un-subtle conviction of sin as I read through this portion of the book. If, like me, you see yourself in some or all of the discussion above, then that should move you to prayer and action. Such distracted living is not an acceptable status quo.

     (2) What is a distraction? Noting that distractions can take many forms – the latest game or app, a recurring anxiety, or a vain aspiration – Reinke divides distractions into three main categories: (i) those that “blind our souls from God,” (ii) those that “close off communion with God,” and (iii) those that “mute the urgency of God” (i.e., our need to live in a state of watchfulness for Christ’s return).

     (3) What is the undistracted life? Reinke rightly concludes that the answer to this third question is not found merely in getting rid of your phone – “there may have been a pre-digital age, but there has never existed a life without distractions.” Rather, we must make an intentional effort to remove all unnecessary distractions from our lives. To that end, Reinke provides a list of ten diagnostic questions to assist in self-evaluation:

            1.    Do my smartphone habits expose an underlying addiction to untimely amusements?

2.    Do my smartphone habits reveal a compulsive desire to be seen and affirmed?

3.    Do my smartphone habits distract me from genuine communion with God?

4.    Do my smartphone habits provide an easy escape from sobered thinking about my death, the return of Christ, and eternal realities?

5.    Do my smartphone habits preoccupy me with the pursuit of worldly success?

6.    Do my smartphone habits mute the sporadic leading of God’s Spirit in my life?

7.    Do my smartphone habits preoccupy me with dating and romance?

8.    Do my smartphone habits build up Christians and my local church?

9.    Do my smartphone habits center on what is necessary to me and beneficial to others?

10.  Do my smartphone habits disengage me from the needs of the neighbors God has placed right in front of me?

This list of ten questions alone is worth the price of the book. I needed to contemplate these questions for my own life, and I feel confident you would also benefit from doing so.

Chapter 2: We Ignore Our Flesh and Blood

In this chapter, Reinke makes the point that “[w]e are quick to believe the lie that we can simultaneously live a divided existence, engaging our phones while neglecting others.” He illustrates his point with examples such as texting-and-driving and the pervasive and contagious nature of online conflict (“anonymous anger”).

Reinke contrasts the fractured nature of online disembodiment with the joy of embodied Christian fellowship. He makes insightful observations regarding the strong New Testament emphasis on the idea of embodiment. God becoming flesh; the metaphor of the church as Christ’s body; the encouragement to greet one another with a holy kiss; the command not to neglect our gathering together; the inescapable physicality of the sacraments of baptism and Communion; and the crucial physical realities of Christ’s life, ministry, crucifixion, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension – the embodied nature of these themes deserves our attention and reflection.

Reinke concludes this chapter with a penetrating observation about the pervasive modern desire to follow Christ without participating in “organized religion,” calling this “nothing short of ‘conniving at dehumanization.’” The point is that we were made to love, serve, and fellowship with the people God has physically placed in our lives, and our phone habits should not be allowed to hinder us in this calling.

Remaining Chapters

In the remainder of the book, Reinke unpacks many other ways in which our phones are changing us. These include the following:

·         Chapter 3: We Crave Immediate Approval. We prefer an online community of people extremely similar to us rather than complicated local relationships, and we crave immediate approval – likes, follows, and shares – rather than eternal reward.

·         Chapter 4: We Lose Our Literacy. As our social media compete for more and more of our attention with “well-engineered cultural marshmallows,” we lose our ability to linger over Scripture and nonfiction books in a way that leads to understanding and wisdom.

·         Chapter 5: We Feed on the Produced. As opposed to direct enjoyment of God’s natural revelation (creation) and special revelation (Scripture), everything we view on our phones is intermediated by man, adding a layer of interpretation of which we ought to be aware. Practical applications include putting your camera away so that you can directly enjoy the moment, getting out in God’s creation to behold his glory, and diving deep into God’s word.

·         Chapter 6: We Become Like What We “Like.” “Social media has become the new PR firm of the brand Self, and we check our feeds compulsively and find it nearly impossible to turn away from looking at – and loving – our ‘second self.’ . . . But we all do this: we all wear ‘costumes’ to meet the approval of certain subcultures, because our search for individuality is always a chase for conformity.”

·         Chapter 7: We Get Lonely. “Isolation is both the promise and the price of technological advance,” and the smartphone is “the supreme invention of personal isolation.”

·         Chapter 8: We Get Comfortable in Secret Vices. In a culture largely defined by the catchphrase “There’s an app for that,” everything in life can be converted to a commodity, even our most intimate experiences. We believe the lie that we can indulge in pornography and other vices without consequence. To combat this lie, we must develop the eyes of faith – a “robust eschatological imagining” – so that what we see on our phones is outweighed by the hope of glory.

·         Chapter 9: We Lose Meaning. Amidst today’s unprecedented deluge of information, we suffer from “neomania” (addiction to the latest breaking news, Facebook timeline entries, etc.). To overcome this, we must learn to treasure wisdom, to strive for “fearful obedience over frivolous information,” and to embrace our freedom in Christ, including the freedom to power down our phones and simply enjoy the presence of our spouses, families, and friends.

·         Chapter 10: We Fear Missing Out. FOMO – fear of missing out – is a dominant force in many people’s lives, driving people to continually focus on their social media. But there is only one legitimate form of FOMO, and that is the fear of eternally missing out; therefore, if you are in Christ, the fear of missing out is eternally removed.

·         Chapter 11: We Become Harsh to One Another. Although Scripture provides processes for dealing with the sins of fellow believers and church leaders, many are tempted instead “to judge cases remotely, make premature conclusions, and then attract an online groundswell of support.” Furthermore, despite the command in James 4 not to speak out against our brothers, most of us at some level would love to publish and consume dirt online regarding others. In this environment, extreme caution and self-restraint are called for.

·         Chapter 12: We Lose Our Place in Time. “Life online is a whiplash between deep sorrow, unexpected joy, cheap laughs, profound thoughts, and dumb memes.” Amid this fragmented ongoing conversation, we squander precious hours and lose our place in time and in God’s eternal story. The following passage was especially moving for me as I read this chapter: “Forget for a moment your virtual crowd of online followers and imagine all of your spiritual ancestors in the faith watching in the bleachers. Their times are legend; your time is now. Whether you were expecting it or not, the baton of faith, passed down from generation to generation, has now been slapped into your hands. Run! Run with diligence. Cast off everything that distracts, unfetter your life from the chains that trip your ankles, and bolt with freedom and joy as you follow Christ. . . The race is on – our race! We have one shot, one event – one life. We must shake off every sinful habit and every ounce of unnecessary distraction. We must run.”

I hope this brief summary has been helpful to you and has piqued your interest in reading this book, which is such a relevant, timely work in our day. For those of you who are parents with kids still in the home, my recommendation to read this book is especially hearty, since you will benefit from the reading not only in your personal life, but also in your efforts to teach wisdom to your children, who are growing up in a smartphone culture. As we run the race that is set before us, it is my hope and prayer that we will handle our devices in such a way as not to hinder us, but rather to speed us onward.

 
 

Red and Yellow, Black and White, by Caleb Cangelosi

This past weekend white supremacist groups gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia, ostensibly to protest the removal of a statue of General Robert E. Lee. According to some within the protest the gathering was intended to rally the white nationalist community nationwide, and make a statement to the country about their presence. Counter-protesters gathered, and vitriol and violence ensued as the two groups faced off. The violence turned deadly when a young white supremacist drove his car into a crowd of people, injuring nineteen and killing one young lady.

The ongoing racial conflict that has flared up each summer the past few years, leaves me with an array of emotions: sadness, anger, determination mixed with hopelessness, to name a few. “How long, O Lord?” cry the martyred saints in Revelation 6:10, and that cry has undoubtedly gone up from the hearts of His people these past days and years. How long, until you bring reconciliation? How long, until you bring peace? How long, until you bring judgment upon those who harm and kill others because of their ethnicity or the color of their skin? How long, until you bring vengeance (either conversion or condemnation) upon those who kill your people, sometimes even in the name of your Son Jesus Christ? Ultimately, the answer to those questions is found in the return of Jesus Christ on the last day: God’s answer to the martyred saints is “that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also” (Revelation 6:11). In no way do I assume that all those killed by racial violence have been disciples of Jesus Christ – but many have been, and so the text applies.

Until the day Jesus returns, however, what do we do? How should Christians think and respond? Much could be said, but the simplest thing to say is that we must denounce and abhor every vestige of racial supremacist thinking and acting. Whether the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazism, kinism, or Aryanism, arguing the supremacy of one ethnicity over another (in this case, “whites”) is sinful, demonic, anti-Christian, and anti-gospel.

The Bible teaches us that every man, woman, boy and girl is made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26; 9:6; James 3:9) – as the old children’s song went, “red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in God’s sight.” God’s purposes have always been for people of every tribe, tongue, and nation to worship Him together. Gentiles were always welcome to become worshippers of the one true God (see Genesis 17:13-14; Deuteronomy 4:5ff.; I Kings 10; II Kings 5). God’s house was, and is, to be a house of prayer for all the peoples (Isaiah 56:7). Jonah’s sin against the people of Ninevah was surely in part a sin of thinking he was superior to this foreign race, more deserving of God’s grace because he was a Jew. And the Lord rebukes him for his lack of compassion.

In the New Testament, we see Jews of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds living together in the church – albeit not without struggle, but after the appointment of deacons, in unity (Acts 6:1-7). We see God revealing to Peter that he “should not call any man profane or unclean” (Acts 10:28). We see God making no distinction between Gentiles and Jews, cleansing both their hearts by grace through faith in Jesus (Acts 15:9-11). Indeed, we all come from one man (Acts 17:26). We see the gospel going forth to Gentile churches, and Christians learning that “there is neither Jew nor Greek” but that we are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28), and that we are to accept one another across all cultural/ethnic/racial lines, “just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God” (Romans 15:7). The fact that Jews played a part in killing Jesus never led the church to deny that the gospel was for the Jew first, and for the Gentile. Anti-Semitism cannot be argued from the Bible. The gospel has broken down the dividing wall and has made all believers from the various tribes, tongues, peoples and nations into one new man in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:14-16).

These passages, among others, show us that it is contrary to the Bible and to the gospel of the Bible to feel oneself or think oneself superior merely because of what you look like or how much money you have been given or what your ethnic heritage might in God’s providence happen to be. What’s more, the call to love our neighbors, and especially our brothers and sisters in Christ, cuts across all human distinctions. To hate anyone is to live as a child of Satan, as the offspring of Cain (I John 3:10-12). It is to forget that “spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another” is a mark of our former, unconverted, unregenerate lives (Titus 3:3).

And therein lies a great challenge and irony of our current situation. In decrying and abhorring the hatred and racism and violence of white supremacists, Christians must be on guard of becoming like them. Two wrongs do not make a right. Hating the haters, looking down self-righteously on those who self-righteously view Jews and African-Americans as less than dirt, responding to violence with violence, repaying evil for evil, taking personal revenge rather than trusting the state to bear the sword and God to bring justice  – none of these are acceptable for Christians. Paul’s words are pertinent: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. ‘But if your enemy is hungry, feed him; and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:18-21). Paul’s “if possible” assumed there are times it is not possible to live at peace, and this is one of those times in terms of the ideas being propagated. We absolutely, invariably cannot act as if white supremacy is normal or accepted in our country – but we must stand in defiance against these aberrations with a commitment to the law of love, even toward those who hate.

Listening to and reading the rhetoric of the white supremacists, as well as the antifa, I suspect that things in our country are about to get worse before they get better. Let us pray that God would grant calm, that He would give wisdom to our leaders, that His church would lead with love and compassion to the hurting. Behind the hatred lies great pain and great anger, in the hearts of participants on both extremes and within the middle. Let us be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20). May the Lord grant repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, for the gospel of Jesus Christ is truly our only hope.

 
 

Take Up and Read!, by Wilson Van Hooser

“We gotta take up and read
Or we will never proceed
In growing up into maturity, we oughta take heed
In these last days what we need
We gotta take up and read

And be the People of the Book!
Gotta be the People of the Book!”

So begins the song “Take Up and Read” by Philadelphia-based hip hop artist and church-planter Shai Linne. I was a senior at Tulane University when I first heard the album that featured this song. At that point in my life, I hated to read but I loved hip hop! Music was so much easier to listen to than to “take up and read” a book. Today, many people feel the same way about books that I felt back then. “Too much effort. Not worth it. I’m too busy. Reading is only for theologians.”

There are a couple of ways in which we can overcome these thorns and thistles and become avid readers. I would also argue that one of the Church’s (and especially the local church’s) greatest needs this day is that we be Christians who read and meditate on the great truths in books. In order to do this, we need to be motivated biblically, historically, and experientially.

In 2 Timothy 4:13, Paul is writing to Timothy at the end of his life and tells him to “bring…the books, and above all the parchments.” Now, Paul knew that he was at the end of his life and was now not wasting any words and any time with Timothy. What Paul wanted, Paul needed; and in this case, Paul needed to read. Why did he need to read? Shouldn’t he just reflect on his life and his influence, and shouldn’t he glory in what he has done for God? Shouldn’t Paul stop worrying about reading any more since the Holy Spirit already inspired him to write much of the Scripture? Wasn’t Paul already sanctified enough to worry about learning more about the Lord Jesus Christ?

Commenting on this passage, John Calvin says, “Where are those who think that they have made so great progress that they do not need any more exercise?... Let us know that this passage gives to all believers a recommendation of constant reading, that they may profit by it.” Paul knew what he had written earlier in 2 Corinthians 3:18, that it is as we behold the glory of Jesus that we are transformed into the same image by the Holy Spirit. It is as we read and meditate upon the Lord Jesus Christ that we behold the glory of Jesus. God has given us a Book rather than a voice recorder or a long YouTube video. The biblical mandate is for us to be readers!

In history, we see men such as Martyn Lloyd-Jones who was a lover of books. He was known to take theology books onto the beach with his family. Many nights in the Lloyd-Jones’ home would end with reading and praying no matter who was there. Elizabeth Catherwood, Martyn’s oldest daughter, once said, “He read a lot, yes, but he didn’t read quickly.” But she also said, “He was the great reader. It was his work, it was his enjoyment. It was part of him and so it became part of us.” Lloyd-Jones’ reading became contagious to others, just as it can become now. He was a man who preached regularly to 3,000 people, and spoke at many conferences around the country, yet he made reading a priority because of the true knowledge it gave him.

Sinclair Ferguson, in his Banner of Truth booklet “Read any good books?”, says that much of the health of the Church comes from reading. “Christian history, biography, and personal experience show us that Christians who read have tended to be stronger Christians than they otherwise would have been…In fact, what we discover in many biographies is that those who have been the greatest Christian activists have also been the most prolific producers of and readers of Christian literature.”

We also see that reading gives us experiences that are unlike any other. S.D. Smith says that there are five reasons we need to read fiction: “Stories help us escape into reality. Stories shape our identity. Imagination is a crucial capacity for faith. Stories reinforce--or undermine--our allegiances and affections. And, experiencing vicarious pain and conflict [through stories] is a good primer for life.” This wouldn’t merely apply for good fiction but also for the deepest doctrinal books you can find. Understanding the truth about life helps us to see the true Story we are in. Studying biblical doctrine dramatically impacts the way we do even the simplest things such as cook, drive, or use our phones. When we grab hold of God’s theology then we see His theology grab hold of us. When we gaze upon the beauty of Christ through books the echo of His beauty is heard in our souls.

It is said by some that the Church has never had more resources yet has never been so uneducated in the truth. It was the printing press that caused the Reformation to flourish and the bonds of Satan to be loosed through the reading of the truth. It will also be through the reading and meditating upon good books that the Church today will attain to greater depths in the knowledge of the infinite love and beauty of God. We should also beware of being fooled that the many books in our homes tell the true story of the love of God in our hearts. We must read but we must take what we read to heart.

 

 
 

The Balanced Christian Life, by Caleb Cangelosi

When we moved here in 2014, Daniel was 11 years old. Now he’s 14, and is taller than his mother. Our children are growing up – because that’s what children do. That’s also what the children of God do. The theme of growth is throughout the New Testament. In I Corinthians 3:6-9 Paul says that believers are God’s field in which ministers of the gospel plant and water the seed of the word, and God gives the growth. Peter commands us to “grow in the grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (II Peter 3:18).

But what does growth look like? How does a disciple of Jesus Christ grow in a healthy way? When God grows us, what are we looking for? What does maturity look like? How do you know if you’re growing and maturing? Here’s an answer that obviously isn’t the only answer, but it’s a good answer, a memorable answer, and a balanced answer: know the truth, grow in godliness, go show and tell the love of Christ in good deeds. Or to put it another way, comprehension, character, and competency. This is my desire for each one of you, that you would grow in your knowledge of the truth, in godly character, and in a zeal for deeds of mercy and compassion and justice that are good and profitable and meet pressing needs.

Where do I get this? It comes from Titus, one of my favorite books of the Bible. Paul says in Titus 1:1 that he is a bondservant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the faith of those chosen of God, and the knowledge of the truth which is according to godliness. He wants both unbelievers and believers to come to the knowledge of the truth, and that truth is according to godliness. That is, knowing the truth and living a godly life go hand in glove. And then along with this increased knowledge and increased love and fear of God must go a zeal for good deeds (Titus 2:14; 3:1, 8, 14). These good deeds are deeds of service and mercy and kindness and tangible care and concern for others, deeds that help other people physically and spiritually, that bring life, light, joy and peace where there was only death, darkness, sadness, and fear. And it’s these good deeds that “adorn the doctrine of our God and Savior,” to use Paul’s language in 2:10, that make it even more attractive and highlight its beauty. We show the love of God in Christ as we serve those in need, both inside and outside the church (see Gal. 6:1). And of course as we show His love we also have opportunity to tell of that love in words, sharing the gospel, giving an answer for the hope and generosity that is in us.

According to Paul, biblical growth is three dimensional growth: in our intellectual apprehension of doctrine (principle); our moral transformation of heart and life (piety); and in our practical outworking of this truth and love in good deeds (praxis). Truth and godliness (god-likeness) and good deeds always go together, like a three legged-stool. There is a cognitive aspect to Christianity, a transformational aspect and a practical aspect. All three must be present in a growing Christian. Some people say that theology is useless; but Paul doesn’t agree. He says that sound theology must lead to sound living, both in relation to God and to man, love of God and love of neighbor. “The things which are fitting for sound doctrine” in 2:1 are the fruit of the Spirit, character traits and qualities that Paul expects to see in God’s people as they grow (see also I Timothy 6:3). The reason why he wants Titus to teach and preach the doctrine of the gospel (3:4-7) is precisely so that it will lead to good deeds.

Do you see how these three aspects of growth are integrally connected, and yet we’re so prone to separate them? Paul calls us to grow in all three areas – know the truth, grow in godliness, go show the love of Christ in good deeds. But what do we do? We isolate one of these three and acts as if it’s the end all be all, we focus all our attention there, and look down on the people who don’t share our emphasis. So you have people who only focus on theology; others who only focus on personal piety and holiness; and others who only focus on mercy ministry and taking care of the poor and needy. Some people have a whole lot of doctrine in their heads, but it’s useless knowledge; they don’t use it, it doesn’t transform them. Other people think doctrine doesn’t matter, we just need to love Jesus, have our quiet time, and strive for holiness. Others don’t care much for doctrine or personal piety, but they’re always game for social action or serving at a soup kitchen; we just need to love one another and get along. But these groups usually don’t get along very well together! And Paul says, You don’t have to choose, and you must not choose! All three legs of the stool are vitally important for the believer who wants to grow in a biblical manner. Doctrine must lead to piety and practice. Godliness must be anchored in the knowledge of the truth and manifested in concrete deeds of love; it will only arise from a knowledge of the truth. Good deeds aren’t good if they are done apart from a sound theology and a heart of love and compassion. 

Do we have a balanced emphasis upon knowledge of the truth and godliness/piety and good deeds? Are you growing in your knowledge about God and your knowledge of God, i.e., theology? Are you growing in godliness, in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control? Are you growing in humility? Are you becoming more like God each day? Is your knowledge impelling you on to love and good deeds? Are you thinking through the practical implications of your faith? Does your head have a heart and hands and feet? May the Lord enable us to grow proportionally,  increasing in our knowledge of the truth, in godliness, and in our zeal to show and tell the love of Christ in good deeds!

 

 
 

If God is Sovereign in Salvation, Why Share the Gospel With the Lost? by Caleb Cangelosi

Have you ever asked yourself the question that stands as the title of this article? Or perhaps you’ve asked it this way: “If God is sovereign in salvation, then why do the lost need to worry about believing the gospel?” There is some semblance of logic to these questions. It appears that if God has chosen from before the beginning of time whom He will save, and whom He will not save, then if I’m lost it doesn’t really matter if I believe the gospel or not, since if I’m not elect then what good does it do me? And if I’m a Christian it doesn’t really matter if I share the gospel with the lost, since if they are elect they’ll come to Jesus whether I share the gospel with them or not. This line of thinking is one reason why many reject the doctrines of grace (a.k.a. the “five points of Calvinism”), because they are absolutely committed to man’s responsibility to believe and the Christian’s responsibility to share the gospel.

But what if I told you that you don’t have to choose between the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man, because the Bible teaches that both of these are true. God is sovereign, and man is responsible – responsible to believe in Jesus, and responsible to share Jesus with those who do not know Him. I believe that both these statements are true, even if I can’t understand completely how they fit together – because Jesus believes that both these statements are true, and I know that He understands completely how they fit together.

How do I know Jesus believed both these truths? Because of what He says in Matthew 11:25-30, one of the most familiar texts in the gospels: “At that time Jesus said, ‘I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight. All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father;
nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

In these words, which are both a prayer and an invitation/command, Jesus affirms that God is sovereign in salvation and that man is responsible to believe in Him. By example He shows us that He believes that Christians are responsible to evangelize. Let’s think about each of these in turn.

Jesus believes that God is sovereign in salvation. He believes that the Lord of heaven and earth, His heavenly Father, has chosen to hide certain things from some, and to reveal those things to others, and that this way of doing things is well-pleasing in the sight of His Father. What are “these things” that He has hidden and revealed? In the context, Jesus has just finished denouncing the cities in which He did most of His miracles (Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum), because they had not repented in light of His work. Thus “these things” must refer to the understanding of who Jesus was and the significance of His miracles, and the ability to repent and believe in Jesus. This is confirmed by Jesus’ words in verse 27 about knowing the Son and the Father. Not only does the Father hide and reveal, but Jesus exercises His will as well – the only ones who know the Father are those to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. Since it is clear that not everyone knows the Father, and since no one knows the Father apart from His revealing work, it is implied that He does not reveal the Father to everyone. We learn in this passage that God’s ways are different from the ways of man. If we were in charge, it is likely that we would choose the best and the brightest – but God chooses to reveal Jesus not to “wise and intelligent” but to “infants.” Paul teaches the same thing in I Corinthians 1:26-31. Ultimately, salvation is of the Lord; understanding and knowledge and faith and repentance are gifts He gives according to His good pleasure and sovereign will – not to everyone, and not to the people we would expect.

Jesus also believes, however, that man is responsible for his/her choices: in particular, how he chooses to respond to Jesus’ word and works. We see this from Matthew 11:20 – if man were not responsible, it would make no sense for Jesus to “denounce” those cities who had not repented upon seeing His miracles and hearing His teaching. Likewise, if man were not responsible, then the idea of Matthew 11:22 and 24, that people who failed to respond properly to Jesus’ word and works will endure a greater punishment on the day of judgment than those who did not have access to Jesus’ word and works, is nonsensical. We also learn that Jesus believes man is responsible from His calling weary sinners to come to Him. He extends this invitation (which is also a command), not only because it is best to come to Jesus (no more weariness! no more burdens!), but because it is necessary to come to Jesus, to learn from Him, and to come under His pleasant yoke. If we refuse to come to Jesus upon hearing His call, we are guilty of rejecting the voice of the Son of God, and will suffer on the day of judgment. We may not plead the excuse, “But God, you didn’t reveal Him to me!” Jesus tells us in John 6:44 that no one is able to come to Him unless the Father who sent Him draws that person to Him – but our inability does not make us any less guilty if we refuse to come. For our inability is itself worthy of blame, and we are held responsible for our inability. It is precisely because we are unable that we are in need of God to enable us to come and respond properly to the invitation and command of Jesus.

Finally, Jesus believes that Christians are responsible to share the gospel with the lost. We learn this in this text from Jesus’ example. If Jesus called people to come to Himself, though He knew they were not able to come unless the Father who sent Him drew them, and that they could not understand unless the Father revealed the truth to Him, or know the Father unless Jesus revealed Him to them, then we too should be able to hold firm to these truths and at the same time hold forth the invitation and command of the gospel to come to Jesus for soul-rest, forgiveness, and eternal life.

Though we may not understand how these truths fit together, yet we know that Jesus does. Since He invites sinners to come to Him, we ought to invite sinners to come to Him. Since He commands faith and repentance, we ought to command faith and repentance. The Scriptures tell us that it is precisely through the preaching of the gospel that the Father and the Son reveal themselves to sinners, and grant the gifts of faith and repentance. God has ordained not only the end (the salvation of His elect), but the means to that end (evangelism, as well as prayer).

May the Lord continue to give His people a knowledge of His truth, an ability to hold together truths that ought never to be separated, and a zeal and commitment to share Christ with the lost, resting in the sovereignty of God rather than our own eloquence to change hearts.