Saturday, November 28, 2009

0 When Persecution Arises, Pray for Boldness Rather than Deliverance

From today's reading, in Acts 4 -

23 When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, 25 who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit,
“ ‘Why did the Gentiles rage,
and the peoples plot in vain?
26 The kings of the earth set themselves,
and sthe rulers were gathered together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed’
27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. 29 And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants5 to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. (Acts 4:23-31, ESV)
This passage is one that oftentimes I'll go to when discussing the fact of God's foreordination of all things, including the evil acts of men... however, today, what struck me was something that Dr. Richard Bacon reminded us of on Covenant Radio when we interviewed him last week. That is, that our normal response to persecution (however great or small) is to pray to God for deliverance from persecution, relief from the taunts, threats and violent actions of the persecutors, or something similar. However, when the Apostles faced imprisonment and possible death, when they were threatened concerning speaking the name of Christ, they did not pray for such relief. Rather, knowing what they had to do, they prayed for boldness.

Would that we had the spirit of these in the early church when facing persecution - violent or otherwise. Rather than shrinking back and wishing eyebrows weren't raised when we claim God's Word as truth, or Christ as the only way, why not pray for holy boldness to continue speaking truthfully? We know what is true - we know what is good - we know what is our duty. Perhaps we ought to consider more carefully how we ought to pray when faced with the derision of the world and the mocking glances of unbelievers. Let us look to those who have gone before us in order to find out a better way.

Friday, November 27, 2009

0 Upcoming on Covenant Radio: The Gospel-Driven Life

In preparing for our interview of Dr. Michael Horton on December 3 on Covenant Radio, I've been reading the book that we'll be discussing, The Gospel-Driven Life. (See some sample pages here) The book is a refreshing look at necessary correctives to the erroneous priorities the church in America (and elsewhere, but the target in this book is the church in the United States) has adopted in recent history. I'm certain the upcoming show will be an enjoyable and edifying discussion of this important issue... how the truth of the gospel must be recovered in the church, both for her health and for God's glory.

In the second chapter, entitled "The Real Crisis", this gem of a paragraph succinctly summarizes the view of God that we in America seem to have adopted corporately. As I read this chapter, I continually found myself shaking my head and saying, silently and reluctantly, "yup. That's where we are." Here's Horton's characterization of this crisis we face today:
"First, more like Mr. Rogers than the judge of all the earth, the sentimental deity of many Americans is incapable of wrath. Since he exists for us and our happiness, this heavenly friend may be disappointed and sad when we hurt ourselves, but he never sees sin as an offence primarily against himself and his perfect justice. Second, we may make mistakes - pretty bad ones, from time to time - but it would be wrong to call ourselves sinners, much less to imagine that we are captive to sin, helpless to do anything to will or work our way out of the mess. So, third, God brings us basically good people into a kingdom without judgment, since there is no law that could condemn and no gospel that could justify. And finally, for this sort of religious therapy you don't need a vicarious, atoning sacrifice if you are basically a nice person; what you really need is a good example." (p. 38, Michael Horton, The Gospel-Driven Life)
And thus, here we are. Since God is love, the argument goes, we know deep down He really would just rather love us all and ignore what things we do wrong, if anything we do is really wrong at all, because things will turn out better if He does that. We can't call anything sin, because, well, some people disagree on what is sin and what is not, and who are we to call them wrong? Maybe we're wrong. Therefore sin is an outmoded and outdated concept, and we should really just be nice folks and not step on anyone else's toes. God understands.

This is the god that is often part of our civil discourse and our civil proclamations. This is not the Holy One of Israel - not the one who sent His Son to the Cross to atone for the sins of His people, facing the wrath that they rightly deserved. A view of God that does not include His righteous anger and wrath against sin is a view that fails the test of Biblical correctness - however politically correct it may be.

Horton has written this book in the style and with the scholarly care and vision that we've come to expect - and I think this book serves as an excellent followup to the equally important Christless Christianity. (See sample pages of "Christless Christianity" by clicking here) We certainly look forward to hosting Dr. Horton on Covenant Radio next week, and want to invite you to listen in when the podcast is released soon thereafter.

0 The Restoration of All Things

From this morning's reading:
18 But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. 19 Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, 20 that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, 21 whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. (Acts 3:18-21 ESV)
Peter's sermon at Solomon's Portico in Acts 3 includes the curious phrase - "the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of the holy prophets long ago" - which indicates something very important about the coming of Christ after His first advent. There are those today - full preterists, a tiny subset of those who consider themselves Reformed - who argue that the 2nd coming foretold in Scripture occurred in 70AD when the Temple was destroyed. No doubt that event was a judgment on those who rejected doubt that much prophecy was fulfilled in that event. How anyone can seriously regard "the restoration of all things" as having been fulfilled in that event is far beyond me.

The context of this statement promising the 'restoring all things' is the context of Old Testament prophecy, which is clear, and can readily be admitted without giving over the argument to the full preterist. The restoration of which the prophets speak is hardly exhausted in the first advent. An example of these is the prophetic words of Isaiah in chapters 65 and 66 of his prophecy... one can only read those passages as fulfilled (especially considering their repetition in 2 Peter and in Revelation) if one has presupposed that all Old Testament prophecy must somehow be fulfilled already in the age of the early church.

Christ, in Acts 3, is said not to return until the time for the restoration of all things is here. The fact that that time of restoration has obviously not yet come should be quite apparent to anyone willing to look at the world in which we live today, at post-Resurrection history from 33 AD to today, and tpo actually look at what Scripture says about that time, rather than trying to satisfy preconceived ideas by fitting Scripture into the mold defined by those preconceived ideas. Christ is still promised to be returning - at the time of restoration of all things, at which all will be put right. God's promises are yea and amen - He is faithful to fulfill ALL that He has promised.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

0 Baptism and unbaptism?

From this mornings reading in the plan I'm following:

17 But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God 18 and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; 19 and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth-- 21 you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. 24 For, as it is written, "The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you." 25 For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. 26 So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? 27 Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. 28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God. (Romans 2:17-29 ESV)
The warnings here from Paul in Romans 2 are surely not merely for the Jew who rested in his circumcision as salvation... let's hear what Paul is saying to the church. A couple of messages I think the Apostle is giving us:

1.Be careful in judging the law-breaking of others, or of thinking of yourself as a guide for the blind - those who need a leading hand. When you know what is right and proper, it is easy to become judgmental about those whom you deem to be less mature in the ways of the Lord, and see yourself as an instructor for them. How easy this trap is to fall into! And, listening to the Apostle, how dreadful is the state of us who go here. When I am tempted to think ill of those professing Christians who struggle with heart (and other) sins - or of the world as the world sits in the swamp of sin the world exists in. My thoughts ought not to go (whether judged rightly or wrongly) to a comparison of their actions with God's Law, but to my own heart and my own actions. Am I guilty of the very thing that I accuse them of? Am I blind to my own violations of God's precepts? Much more profitable are those thoughts than my own judgments of others - and how much harder. It's terribly tempting to draw my eyes off myself and place them on others whom I can tread down in order to feel better about my own failings.

2. Baptism. How often is baptism trusted in - or the 'day of conversion' held up as the thing to trust when one is challenged through circumstances, doubts or otherwise, to think about his or her standing before God? Of what use is baptism if one has no concern about daily repentance and living with a view to serving the Lord each day and walking with Him? Baptism can be every bit as much an outward and useless ceremony as circumcision could be to the Jew of Christ's day and before. Where do we falsely trust in "things" while rejecting the only source and ground of trust? How do I make my baptism unbaptism by walking awry? We must always renew our repentant hearts, and cling to Christ and His Cross alone for salvation - and never place our faith and trust in acts and ceremonies. The temptation to place faith in walking the aisle or being baptized is strong... it's always easy to take the objective mark as the thing to which to cling - and that is a dangerous temptation indeed.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

0 Wisdom calls... Who is Answering?

I started a new Bible reading plan today, and today among the passages I read was Proverbs 1, in which the following text appears:

Wisdom cries aloud in the street, in the markets she raises her voice;

at the head of the noisy streets she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:

"How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?"

Proverbs 1:20-22 ESV)

Does Wisdom cry aloud today? Certainly it seems to me that today's streets are filled with folly every bit as much, or more, than the streets were in Solomon's day. "How long?"

Whether it's the ridiculous and perverted antics of people on stage at the American Music Awards, or films that people pay $10 that glorify extramarital sex and rebellious living, the world is full of inane behavior and idiotic thought. The question for us, though, is ... where do we fall prey to unwise thinking and sketchy behavior?

Where do we allow culture to drive the church? Where do we blindly accept patterns of dress, standards of humor and interpersonal communication that the world presses on us? Where do we fail in trusting God, so that we are more concerned about how the world views our plain living than we are about living according to God's priorities? Where do we lose heart in standing firm on our beliefs, and on the infallibility and inerrancy of the God-breathed Word?

My reading in Proverbs 1 this morning gave me pause, again, to think anew about ways in which I fail in wisdom and its pursuit. I am encouraged though - for God promises wisdom to those who ask Him, the source of all Wisdom, for it:

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. (James 1:5 ESV)

Blessings on all of you this Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

0 Introducing Sola5 Radio: Live Reformed Programming

Covenant Radio is planning to set up a live streamed 24/7 Reformed internet radio station, entitled Sola5 Radio. Bill Hill, with whom I co-host CR's weekly programs, is taking charge of this venture, and we are pleased to announce the startup testing this week. At first, programming will be played from roughly 7am EST to 3 or 4pm EST. During the week of November 23, the plan is to go from 6am to 5pm EST. Monday the 23rd's planned schedule is:

All times Eastern

6-8 AM: Bible Reading and Music
8-9 AM: Old Testament Study: The Book of Genesis by Dr. Joel Beeke
9-11 AM: Music
11-12 Noon: Systematic Theology Lectures: Reformed Theology 101 by Greg Cumbee
12-1 PM: Music
1-2 PM: New Testament Study: Book of Romans by Dr. Alan Cairns
2-3 PM: Music
3-4 PM: Church History Lectures: History of the Reformation by Dr. Joe Morecraft
4-5 PM: Music

The rest of the week will look similar.

Starting 11/30/09, Lord willing, we will have a full 24 hour programming set each day, including rebroadcasts of Covenant Radio programs, more teaching and exposition, music and more. Please send any suggestions to us using the form at the Sola5 Radio blog.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

0 Deeper and Deeper

I think sometimes we often sanitize (I'll speak for myself here - *I* often sanitize) the history of the kings of Judah by counting them off: "good king, bad king, bad king, good king, bad king"... and think of "good" vs. "bad" as those who "did what was right in the Lord's eyes" and even "tore down the high places", vs. those who "did NOT do what was right in the eyes of the Lord" and "did NOT tear down the high places". Then there are the middling kings like Azariah (2 Kings 14) and his son Amaziah (2 Kings 15) who "did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that his father Amaziah had done. Nevertheless, the high places were not taken away." (2 Kings 15:3-4) In any case, I tend to read these histories in sanitized terms wherein what was bad about these kings was that they didn't stop the people from worshipping other gods.

This picture falls apart in 2 Kings 16, when we come to Ahaz - and gets even worse by the time of Manasseh in 2 Kings 18.

Ahaz, by contrast to some of his ancestors in the kingly line, is said positively to have adopted the practices of the people whom the Lord had driven out before the people of Israel, even to the point of having sacrificed his son. (2 Kings 16:3) As if this weren't wickedness enough, the story is related of his pleas to Tiglath-pileser, the Assyrian king to rescue him from the Syrians, and the subsequent visit with the Assyrian in Damascus upon the defeat of the Syrians. (2 Kings 16:5-11) Upon this visit, Ahaz, apparently wowed by the splendor of the pagan altar at Damascus, instructs Uriah the priest to build a copy at Jerusalem. Ahaz then returns, and shoves the holy altar of God aside, and replaces it with the pagan altar, which Ahaz then proceeded to use for his own sacrificing. The rest of the chapter is then full of descriptions of Ahaz's own desecration of the holy things of God that Israel had been instructed in the Torah to build for the Lord's service.

This despicable man reigned in Judah for about two decades - was succeeded by Hezekiah, and then the even more beastly Manasseh who held pagan worship in the Temple of God, as we read in chapter 21 of 2 Kings.

I had forgotten about how wicked Ahaz's practices were, wherein the holy temple was effectively desecrated by the replacement of those things that God had commanded by instruments of pagan worship. I had forgotten because I think I had sanitized the Judahic kings' practices with the words "bad kings" and "walking in the way of the kings of Israel" rather than thinking of their practices as truly wicked and despicable.

I then take pause to take a look at my own heart... wherein have I replaced the things of God, and thoughts of him with useless things of this world? Let us not look at Judah's sins as though they alone are guilty of setting God aside.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

1 Knox on Family Worship

Nathan Bingham posted the following wonderful piece at his blog. Here are John Knox's thoughts on Family Worship - thoughts that echo a commitment to the Word and an evaluation of the responsibility of fathers to lead their houses well, particularly as it relates to making the home Christ- and Word-centered.

John Knox writes:

Dear brethren, if you look for a life to come, of necessity it is that you exercise yourselves in the book of the Lord your God. Let no day slip or want some comfort received from the mouth of God.

Open your ears, and he will speak even pleasant things to your heart. Close not your eyes, but diligently let them behold what portion of substance is left to you within your Father’s testament. Let your tongues learn to praise the gracious goodness of him, whose mere mercy has called you from darkness to life. Neither yet may you do this so quietly that you admit no witness. No, Brethren, you are ordained of God to rule your own houses in his true fear, and according to his word.

Within your houses, I say, in some cases, you are bishops and kings; your wife, children, servants, and family are your bishopric and charge. Of you it shall be required how carefully and diligently you have instructed them in God’s true knowledge, how you have studied to plant virtue in them, and [to] repress vice. And therefore I say, you must make them partakers in reading, exhorting, and in making common prayers, which I would in every house were used once a day at least.

But above all things, dear brethren, study to practice in life that which the Lord commands, and then be you assured that you shall never hear nor read the same without fruit. And this much for the exercises within your homes.

Taken from a letter he wrote in 1557 before he left Scotland for exile in Geneva.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

0 Importance of Family Catechesis

Wes Bredenhof, pastor in the Canadian Reformed Churches, and blogger at Yinkahdinay posted an important reminder concerning the use of catechisms in bringing up our children in the training and admonition of the Lord. We are in a day in which the going assumption is that it is the church's responsibility to teach our children religion, and that parents are to get out of the way. I'm not merely speaking here about those who believe their children "need to find their own religion" or "don't want to coerce my kids into any particular belief system" that pervades the secularist society.... I'm talking even about good evangelical parents who desire their children to follow in their footsteps. The primary teacher of religion is taken to be the church, and, contrary to the clear commands in Deuteronomy 6, all teaching of any substance is given over to the Sunday School teacher and their flannelgraphs.

The Synod of Dort, and the Westminster Assembly, too, for that matter, were very clear on the identity of the shoulders upon which the responsibility for training children in the faith lie: those of the parents, and of the father as head of the home. Wes's comments on the Synod of Dort's declarations are timely and appreciated.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

0 Flavel: The Peace of A Clear Conscience

A friend and I have been reading through the Works of John Flavel for a couple of years, despite his still living in Ithaca, NY and our having moved out to Iowa 6 years ago. Thanks be to God for technology that lets us mull over the writings we're reading as though we were at the breakfast table together.

Today's reading included a discussion of the fact that if one desires to be rid of distracting fears and annoyances, one should, as Flavel puts it,
"be careful to maintain the purity of his conscience, and integrity of his ways, in the whole course of his conversation in this world." (p. 304, Volume 5, Works of John Flavel)

At the outset, Flavel writes that fears that we have can often arise out of our own disobedient carriage:
"Look, as fear follows guilt and guile, so peace and quietness follow righteousness and sincerity, Prov. xxviii.1, The wicked flee when no man pursueth, but the righteous are as bold as a lion." (p. 304, Volume 5, Works of John Flavel)
Courage for the Christian and suppression of fears comes most readily to those who have no rational reason for worries and doubt - the degree to which we carry ourselves in uprightness, Flavel argues, is deeply connected to the degree to which we will be free of needless, worldly fears. When conscience is clear, we will be naturally much more restful. From what comes a clear conscience? We must first know that in Christ we are held close and justified - righteous by faith, a la Romans 5:1 -

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

We must know this, that we are righteous in the eyes of God by the washing with the blood of Christ and the cleansing of our sin - else we cannot possibly have any peace. With this peace, we can pursue lives of integrity without fear because we know that we are righteous in Him, and free to walk, albeit erringly, in an endeavor to glorify Him in our lives. We needn't be fearful of a misstep that is deserving of God's wrath (as all missteps are). We rather are free to serve and love Him as he gives us grace upon grace. As Flavel later quotes, speaking of Paul's comfort and freedom from slavish fears,
"Christians have always found it a spring of courage and comfort, 2 Cor. i.12, 'For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our sonsciences, that in simplicity, and godly sincereity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world.' Their hearts did not reproach them with by-ends in religion: their consciences witnessed that they made not religion a cloak to cover any fleshly design, but were sincere in what they professed: and this enabled them to rejoice in the midst of sufferings." (p. 305, Volume 5, Works of John Flavel)
Flavel offers some helpful suggestions for keeping our consciences clear and avoiding sin that can do damage to our confidence in the Lord and give rise to fears, doubts, and torment of soul. I have found this list, which both encourages and challenges, to be extremely helpful as I stumble along in my inconsistencies. Walking in Christ, knowing I am safe in him, these words are very helpful, for ultimately as a child of God I must and do long to please my Father. Here is this list, in brief, with which I close today.
"1. Over-awe your hearts every day, and in every place, with the eye of God. This walking as before God will keep you upright, Gen. xvii.1. If you so speak and live as those that know God sees you, such will be your uprightness, that you will not care if all the world see you too...

2. Do no action, undertake no design, that you dare not preface with prayer; this is the rule, Phil. iv. 6. Touch not that you dare not pray for a blessing upon; if you dare not pray, dare not to engage; if you cannot spend your prayers before, be confident: shame and guilt will follow after.

3. Be more afraid of grieving God, or wounding conscience, than of displeasing or losing all the friends you have in the world besides...

4. What counsel you would give another, that give yourselves when the case shall be your own...David's judgment was very upright when he judged himself in a remote parable.

5. Be willing to bear the faithful reproofs of your faults from men, as the reproving voice of God; for they are no less when duly administered... it is said of Sir Anthony Cope, that he shamed none so much as himself in his family-prayers, and desired the ministers of his acquaintance not to favor his faults; but tell me, said he, and spare not.

6. Be mindful daily of your dying day, and your great audit-day, and do all with respect to them." (p. 306, Volume 5, Works of John Flavel)


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