Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Swords into Ploughshares

Further to my post a long while back about many Christians not being that excited about the afterlife, or about eternal life as conceived of by many people, just sitting around for eternity strumming harps and walking on streets of gold...

I'm sure this has happened to most if not all Christians who regularly read their Bibles.  You'll be reading along in a book of the Bible and you'll read a passage that you are quite familiar with, or at least that you have read or heard many times before.  This time, however, it sticks out sideways and you see it in different light, say, the light of a 50 million candle power search light.  It's as though you are seeing the 2D passage you've always seen in 3D for the first time.  That happened to me several years ago with Isaiah 2:4:

     He shall judge between the nations,
       and shall decide disputes for many peoples;
     and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
       and their spears into pruning hooks;
     Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
       neither shall they learn war anymore.

Or as Louis Armstrong sang, "I ain't gonna study war no more..."

This is a passage that addresses a time universally recognized as not having come yet.  If you have any doubt, just watch the news - still lots of war.  Nations don't appear to be boiling their chemical weapons down into cancer medication any time soon.  Christians recognize this as a prophecy about the new heavens and the new earth, or at least about the millennial reign of Christ (exact interpretation depends on one's eschatology).  Anyway, this is referencing a time when nations will no longer war for they will all recognize the authority of Christ the King.  There will be peace.  Therefore, there will be no more need for weapons of warfare.  What will be done with all those weapons?  They will be turned into gardening tools and farming implements.

So, the new heavens and new earth will not be one long vacation, where we do nothing but visit each other in our mansions and walk along the shores of the crystal sea.  We will be gardening.  We will be tending creation.  We will be fulfilling our original vocation of taking dominion, only this time it will be over a redeemed and renewed heavens and earth, one rescued from sin and death and the curse by the blood of Christ; one under full submission to the rule of God the Father and his Son.  In the new heavens and earth we will be working, only our labour will not be toil, and the creation will willingly and happily submit, and there will not be thorns and weeds to contend with.  And there will be no serpent slithering into this garden-city, the new Eden-Zion.  And we will have access to the tree of life once more, where the nations may eat and be healed and live forever. 


Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Christian Children: Airbrushed covenant robots OR loving disciples of Jesus?

My friend, Toby Sumpter, has some very wise words for parents who realize they have not been parenting faithfully.  No matter who you are, if you have children, this applies to you at least some of the time... and I know it certainly applies to me.  Specifically, he calls parents to recognize God's means and ends in how parents discipline (lovingly train and disciple) their children.  Here's a short excerpt:
"Remember, the point of discipline, the point of parenting is to train up disciples of Jesus who love Jesus with you. The reason why unruly, undisciplined, and misbehaving children is a problem is because those habits and sins are training for breaking fellowship with God, Church, and Family. But don’t lose sight of the goal. The goal is not children who have their shirts tucked in all the time. The goal is not children who never speak out of turn. The goal is not a pile of airbrushed covenant robots. The goal is children who love God with all that they are. Our goal is children whose hearts have been changed by the Spirit. Our goal is children who are driven by the gospel of grace, whose hearts are overflowing with joy and gratitude and gladness and thanksgiving."
There is more to say about biblical parenting than Toby says in this post.  There is certainly much to say about the proactive teaching of the Word of God in the family setting and the positive aspects of training and discipling our children - things like teaching our children the promises of God for them in the gospel (in parallel with his 4th step). However, Toby's intention is not to give an exhaustive treatise on what godly parenting looks like but rather some biblical counsel and wise words of application for those times when, holding up God's Word next to how we've been practicing our vocation as Christian parents, we see some ways that we have been unfaithful.

You can find his good words here

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Augustine on the Father's love for us in Christ

"How great was your love for us, good Father, for you did not even spare your own son, but gave him up to save us sinners!  How great was your love for us, when it was for us that Christ, who did not see, in the rank of Godhead, a prize to be coveted, accepted an obedience which brought him to death, death on a cross!  He who alone was free among the dead, for he was free to lay down his life and free to take it up again, was for us both Victor and Victim in your sight, and it was because he was the Victim that he was also the Victor.  In your sight he was for us both Priest and Sacrifice, and it was because he was the Sacrifice that he was also the Priest.  By being your Son, yet serving you, he freed us from servitude and made us your sons.  Rightly do I place in him my firm hope that you will cure all my ills through him who sits at your right hand and pleads for us:  otherwise I should despair.  For my ills are many and great, many and great indeed; but your medicine is greater still.  We might have thought that your Word was far distant from union with man, and so we might have despaired of ourselves, if he had not been made flesh and come to dwell among us."

                                                                              - Confessions, St. Augustine

                            -  Romans 8:32; Philippians 2:6-8; Psalm 87:6 & 88:5; John 10:18; Romans 8:34; John 1:14

Friday, 31 October 2014

Halloween & Reformation Day

There is a round-up of some clear gospel thinking on Halloween and Reformation Day:

Here's a combo on Halloween and Reformation Day at Desiring God.

And here's some good, missional and incarnational thoughts on how to think of and do Halloween again, over at Desiring God.

And for a complete Desiring God hat trick, here we are reminded of the blessed gospel of God's grace in Christ that the Holy Spirit opened up to Martin Luther through his study of the Word, sparking the Protestant Reformation.

Justin Taylor quotes John Calvin on why God raised up Martin Luther to reform the church.

And here Justine Taylor interviews church historian, Carl Trueman, on Luther's 95 theses.

And here is Steven Wedgeworth on why we celebrate Reformation Day.

This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

J.I. Packer's Conversion 70 years ago

Justin Taylor posts about J.I. Packer's conversion at Oxford University, on October 22, 1944. 
"On Sunday, October 22, is doubtful that anyone noticed a soft-spoken, lanky, and decidedly bookish first-year university student leaving his dormitory room at Corpus Christi College and heading across Oxford for an evening Christian Union service at a local Anglican church."
Of course, God noticed.  In fact, although Jim Packer didn't know what was about to happen to him that evening, the Lord Jesus certainly did, just as he knew that he would use Packer mightily in the subsequent 70 years to teach, build up, strengthen and equip the church.  God knew these things because he planned them.  I am only one of very many people who are grateful for the plan God had for Dr. Packer in the church and in our lives individually as well.

Dr. Packer begins every class he teaches with a reminder to his students that the purpose of theology is doxology.  In other words, all our learning about God should not simply result in head knowledge but in a deep desire to worship God and glorify Jesus Christ with lives of faithful obedience.  No Packer class would be complete without singing God's praises together as a fitting and reverent response to the riches of Christian theology. 

You can read the story of  Packer's conversion here.  Much of Taylor's post is adapted from an upcoming Crossway biography on J.I. Packer by Leland Ryken.  The combination of a biography of this important stalwart written by such a capable author promises to be good.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

True Truth: Francis Schaeffer's Enduring Legacy

One of the great tragedies in the evangelical church of today is that it has largely forgotten one of its great heroes from the evangelical church of yesterday.  One of my heroes of the faith and someone who has profoundly affected my thinking is Francis Schaeffer. 

Just how influential was Schaeffer?  If you find yourself opposing or protesting the rampant abortion of our culture, you probably owe your awareness of the issue to Schaeffer.  If you are familiar with the term "Christian worldview", you likely have Schaeffer to thank.  If you self identify as a reformed evangelical, along with other incluences such as R.C. Sproul, J.I. Packer and John Piper you likely have Francis Schaeffer to thank.  If you hold firmly to the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture, probably much of your reasoning can be traced back to Schaeffer's defences of the Bible.  If you believe there comes a time in the culture wars where Christians may have to take the stand of civil disobedience, you are following Schaeffer.  If you believe that evangelicals can and should present our faith and worldview through the arts (including film), and that we should do art better than anyone else because we know the great and first Artist, you have Schaeffer to thank.  And if you believe that love and kindness as well as strong intellectual reasoning are all part of the task of apologetics, you likely got that blend from Schaeffer.  And this is only part of his ongoing and pervasive legacy.

Certainly he did not stand alone in all this, nor was he the originator of any of these concepts or practices, but Schaeffer was a hugely persuasive popularizer of these things through his books, lectures, sermons and films.  He saw so clearly the effects of Secular Humanism, Pragmatism, Relativism and Postmodernism within modern society and with the clear gaze of a prophet he told the church of his day just where it would end up if it didn't recognize and reject these things as incompatible with the universal Lordship of Jesus Christ.  [Oh yeah, if you hold to the universal Lordship of Jesus Christ over all of thought and life, you probably also owe that to Schaeffer.]  God used him powerfully in his day and, thanks be to God, even though so many have forgotten about him or have never even heard of him or are unfamiliar with his work, there are some around who, while not perhaps agreeing with every single thing he said or did, still carry on his legacy and his Christian cultural project in their own ministries.

One such person is Donald Williams.  I am happy to recommend this article to you.  Williams reminds us of Schaeffer's enduring relevance and the legacy he passed on to us:
  • Christianity is Truth.
  • Christian Truth touches all of life: “The lordship of Christ over the total culture.”
  • Christian life & witness must show the whole character of God: “holiness and love.”
  • The truth of Christianity must be demonstrated both intellectually and practically through a life of faith.
[Oh yeah, and if you enjoy the music of Mark Heard as I do (I took the title of my blog page from one of his songs), you also owe your appreciation for the depth and artistic genius of Heard's songs at least in part to Schaeffer's personal influence upon and discipleship of Mark Heard.]

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Ten Shekels and a Shirt

A good friend told me about a sermon entitled Ten Shekels and a Shirt, preached back in the 60s by a pastor and missionary named Paris Reidhead.  I listened to it here and simultaneously read it here.  I cannot recommend this sermon too highly and I would put a plug in for listening and reading at the same time - you get so much more out of it, especially as the recording isn't as sharp as modern sermon recordings. 

Too often have we traded our gospel heritage, our re-birthright in Christ, the freedom-inducing truth of a loving God, for a mess of humanistic, man-centred pottage.  Or as Reidhead would put it, we have traded the glory and worthiness of the holy and loving God for ten shekels and a shirt. 

The glory of God, not the happiness of man, is the prime focus of the Christian life and message.  And God's gospel and God's glory must be proclaimed by God's methods, not by our methods and through our motivations with a token prayer requesting God's blessing.  This is as solid a reminder of that as I've heard in a long time.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Sermon prep work ethic

On the wall of my study above my desk and immediately in front of me I have this quote by A.W. Pink to encourage me (or shame me) as I prepare my sermons:

"No verse of Scripture yields its meaning to lazy people."

Saturday, 16 August 2014


I don't blog with any sort of predictable regularity, but for those of you who check out my blog periodically, I will be taking a month of vacation to spend with my family and during that time, the blog will be collecting cob webs.  Blessings.

The Holdfast

I threatned to observe the strict decree
     Of my dear God with all my power and might.
     But I was told by one, it could not be.
Yet I might trust in God to be my light.
Then I will trust, said I, in him alone.
     Nay, ev'n to trust in him, was also his:
     We must confess, that nothing is our own.
Then I confess that he my succour is:
But to have nought is ours, not to confess
     That we have nought.  I stood amaz'd at this,
     Much troubled, till I heard a friend express,
That all things were more ours by being his.
     What Adam had, and forfeited for all,
     Christ keepeth now, who cannot fail or fall.

                                           - George Herbert

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Augustine on Ambrose's reading habits...

"When he read, his eyes scanned the page and his heart explored the meaning, but his voice was silent and his tongue was still.  All could approach him freely and it was not usual for visitors to be announced, so that often, when we came to see him, we found him reading like this in silence, for he never read aloud.  We would sit there quietly, for no one had the heart to disturb him when he was so engrossed in study.  After a time we went away again, guessing that in the short time when he was free from the turmoil of other men's affairs and was able to refresh his own mind, he would not wish to be distracted.  Perhaps he was afraid that, if he read aloud, some obscure passage in the author he was reading might raise a question in the mind of an attentive listener, and he would then have to explain the meaning or even discuss some of the more difficult points.  If he spent his time in this way, he would not manage to read as much as he wished.  Perhaps a more likely reason why he read to himself was that he needed to spare his voice, which quite easily became hoarse.  But whatever the reason, we may be sure it was a good one."

                                                                                    - The Confessions, Book VI.3

Friday, 1 August 2014

Pros and Cons

There is no true profession of faith without real confession of sin.

There is no right pronouncement of the gospel without honest consecration of life to Christ.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Christians flee Mosul

Christianity Today reports the fall-out of the ISIS ultimatum that Christians in Mosul either convert to Islam, pay jizyah (a head tax for non-converts which is simply not affordable for most citizens of the area), or die by the sword.  The story may be found here.

Pray for our Iraqi brothers and sisters in the faith, especially those who have chosen to convert out of desperation due to the inability to flee or pay.  And pray for ISIS, that our God of mercy would visit them with repentance.

The Biggness of the Atonement

Derek Rishmawy has a great post here on the various models of the atonement.  He addresses something I have thought about for a long time:  that Scripture speaks of the atonement in many different ways and uses many different metaphors to describe what Jesus has done for us in accomplishing our salvation.  Rishmawy argues that we ought not to play one model of the atonement off against other models but, to the extent that each model is argued from and informed by a correct and faithful interpretation of Scripture, we ought to welcome multiple models as expanding the exaltation of God's saving work through Christ.  We ought not see these models as mutually exclusive if they have biblical warrant and ground and if they foster the greater glory of God in Christ.  Rishmawy calls it 'theological maximalism'.

I have put down some thoughts along the same lines here

Why so many theologians feel the need to find one commanding model at the exclusion of all others (and at the practical exclusion or through the fanciful interpretation of all the Scripture passages the other models are defended from) is beyond me. 

It has been said that when God does one thing, he does a thousand things.  Surely this is true of the atonement if it is true of anything God has done.  

A right view of the atonement, a biblical view, includes many aspects and angles on the saving work of the Son, along with the Father and Spirit, and includes the ongoing benefits to the church as well as the ongoing effects in the world.  There is no one model that I have seen which is sufficient to say all there is to say about the atonement. 

Friday, 18 July 2014

Does God tempt us?

Here is the first of two sections of discussion of the temptation of Jesus in Matthew 4 from David Platt's new commentary (2013) on Matthew in the new Christ-Centered Exposition commentary series, published by Holman Reference (p. 66-67):
Matthew 4:1 says that Jesus was led "by the Spirit" to be tempted by the Devil in the wilderness.  But in what sense did the Spirit lead Jesus to be tempted?  Did the Spirit of God tempt Jesus?  The clear answer from Scripture is, "No."  God never tempts us in the sense of enticing us to evil.  James 1:13 says, "No one undergoing a trial should say, 'I am being tempted by God.'"  Instead, Satan is seen in Scripture as "the tempter" (Matt. 4:3).  Therefore, we can say that we are tempted by Satan (who is subordinate) for evil.  Only the Devil and demons tempt us to evil, but even their tempting, though directly attributable to them, is ultimately under the sovereign control of God.  Nothing happens in the universe apart from the sovereignty of God.
     There is a flip side to Satan's temptations in Matthew 4:  We are tested by God (who is sovereign) for good.  If we put the two points together we can say that temptation by the Devil (who is subordinate) toward evil is ultimately a part of a testing by God (who is sovereign) for good.  The book of Job teaches us that Satan is on a leash; he can do nothing that God does not allow him to do.  Now to be sure, when Satan tempts, he intends it for evil, but God uses these temptations to refine His children and to teach them His faithfulness (Jas 1:2; 1 Pet 1:6-7).  The apostle Paul experienced this when God gave him a "thorn in the flesh...a messenger from Satan" to torment him (2 Cor 12:7).  The purpose of the trial was so that Paul would know the strength and sufficiency of Christ (2 Cor 12:9-10).  Consider also Joseph in the Old Testament, who was sold into slavery and tempted in a number of ways.  God used these trials to bring about good - for Joseph and for his brothers who sold him into slavery (Gen 50:20).
     We can say definitively that God was not tempting Jesus, nor was He tempting Adam, Joseph, Israel, or Paul, toward evil.  For that matter, He will never tempt you toward evil.  Instead, in His sovereignty, God uses even Satan's temptations to evil in order to bring about good in your life (Rom 8:28).
While I agree overall with what Platt is saying here, there are some clarifications which I think need to be made.  Platt rightly points to James to show that we can never say that God is tempting us toward sin.  However, he then goes on to say that it is Satan who tempts us.  This is partially true, or it is entirely true but only part of the time.  There are many places in Scripture which clearly point to Satan as the source of temptation, not least of which is the first temptation which lead to the original sin of the garden, and of course also the very temptation story recorded in Matthew 4 where Satan directly tempts Jesus.  But it is important to note a couple of things to further clarify and qualify what Platt says here.

First, Satan is not omnipresent as God is.  In other words, unlike God who is everywhere present all the time, Satan is not.  Like all other angelic beings, obedient or fallen, he can only be in one place at a time.  Since many millions of Christians the world over experience temptation simultaneously, we cannot say that all that temptation is from Satan directly, even as a subordinate cause.  In fact, we cannot even say that all temptation is indirectly from Satan through his minions, his legions of fallen angels who rebelled along with him against the authority and glory of God.  The reason we cannot say this is because of the very James passage that Platt quoted a portion of.  This passage bears quoting at length:
Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God," for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.  But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.  Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.  (ESV James 1:13-15)
Now, Satan can and does certainly tempt people in accordance with their own desires, pressing those temptations on people from the outside.  But the second thing that needs to be mentioned here is the clear sense of this passage in James.  James tells us that the typical pattern of temptation is one of internal temptation.  We are tempted because we are lured and enticed by our own desire.  This is the normative pattern of the struggle with temptation.  Our temptations stem from within, from the remnants of our sinful natures, growing out of our own sinful desires, far more often then they are pressed upon us from outside.  The sin still living in us is most often the cause of our temptations, although that was not the case for Jesus who had no sinful nature.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Paul: Thankful for suffering

In his commentary on 2 Corinthians (NIVAC), Scott Hafemann sees Paul’s apologetic for his ministry implicit throughout the letter, starting at the beginning (2 Cor. 1:3-7).  I heartily agree.  He notes that Paul opens his letter with thanksgiving to God for the very thing which his opponents are using to call his ministry into question in the minds of the Corinthians:  his manifold sufferings (61).  As one works through 2 Corinthians, it becomes obvious that Paul considers his sufferings as an apostle to be one of the proofs that he is truly qualified as an apostle.  This is directly opposed to the assertions of the false apostles that are plaguing the Corinthian church, who would hold up Paul's sufferings as proof that he is not a true apostle.

Paul understood suffering for the sake of Christ as a central part of his calling as an apostle right from the beginning of his Christian experience.  In Paul's Damascus Road vision of Christ, his conversion, and in his commissioning three days later, Paul understood that suffering would be a sign of his apostleship (Acts 9:3-19).  In Paul's robust theology of union with Christ in his death, burial and resurrection (Rom. 6:3-11; Gal. 2:20), we can see that Paul saw the story of Christ's salvation-accomplishing event in the story of his own Damascus salvation event.  In the Damascus event, in the vision of Christ and the words he spoke, Saul died to self and to his old perceptions and ways of understanding and relating to God (Phil. 3:4-11), and in three days he was raised to resurrection life, when he received the Spirit, his eyes were opened, his gospel mission was explained to him, and he was baptized.  In fact the way Paul speaks of baptism as a dying and being raised to new life in Christ shows us just how profoundly his own experience, interpreted though the light of the Spirit, shaped his theology (Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12).
 Paul was promised that suffering would be a part of his apostolic calling, his gospel mission.  As Jesus said to Ananias when he was preparing him to meet Paul, 
“Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

(Acts 9:15-16 ESV)

So long as Paul continued to speak the true gospel and suffered for it, he could rejoice.  Why?  Because it was a confirmation that he was fulfilling his mission.  God was showing Paul how much he would have to suffer for Christ's sake.  And because it was for Christ's sake that he was suffering, Paul rejoiced.  In his second letter to the Corinthian church, Paul pointed to his sufferings as a sign of his apostolic legitimacy in the face of challenges from the false apostles.  Anyone who had heard the story of Paul's conversion-commissioning would know that Christ had not only called him to take the gospel to Gentiles, kings and the children of Israel, but they would also know that Paul was promised suffering for the sake of the gospel as well.  Paul could thank God for his suffering because he saw it as confirmation that he was truly fulfilling his apostolic gospel mission in the way God had told him from the start that he would.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

The Showdown of Temptation: Truth vs. Lie

Peter Leithart writes of how the Holy Spirit was involved at every stage of Jesus' incarnation.
"Jesus was conceived by the Spirit, anointed with the Spirit at His baptism, offered Himself in the Spirit on the cross, rose by the power of the Spirit, and then at His ascension, the Father conferred the fullness of the Spirit as a coronation gift for His Son."
Leithart goes on to note that Jesus then shares the Holy Spirit with the Church, his body, and the Spirit is involved in every part of the life of the church.  The whole meditation may be found here.

Led by the Spirit

Leithart was not trying to present a comprehensive list of the ways the Spirit was involved in the life of Jesus, and neither am I.  But I do want to comment on one additional way.  Jesus was led by the Spirit throughout his life, and in a particular incident recorded in the synoptic gospels, Jesus was led by the Spirit to be tempted. 
"Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil."

(Matthew 4:1 ESV - see also Matt. 4:2-11; Mark 1:12-13 & Luke 4:1-13)

Jesus Tempted

Jesus was lead by the Holy Spirit throughout his life.  Jesus came to do the will of the Father, but he did so in the power and through the leading of the Spirit.  One of the places he was led by the Spirit of God was into temptation.  It might seem strange to us at first that the gospels tell us the Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness for the express purpose of having him tempted by the devil.  Why would God do that to his son? 

The Bible clearly teaches that the works of Satan, while evil, are still according to God's secret and sovereign will, though not necessarily consciously so, and not, of course, according to God's revealed moral will set forth in the commands of Scripture.  In other words, while Satan is in constant  rebellion against God and does his worst, he can never go beyond the bounds set for him by God.  He roams throughout the earth like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Pet. 5:8), but God has him on a leash and he must ultimately obtain God's permission before he acts (Job 1-2).  Satan intends to thwart God's plans, but his works ultimately end up being used by God to bring about God's good ends.  Likewise, people doing things at the prompting of Satan or through the sin in their own hearts may intend things for evil but God works it for good according to his own sovereign purposes (Gen. 50:20; Acts 2:23; 4:27-28; Rom. 8:28).

As with Master, so with Disciple

Christians live in the steady, obedient plodding of the day to day.  Life is nothing but one decision after another and we are constantly faced with the decision to be obedient to Jesus Christ or not.  And no matter what any individual believer's daily experience looks like, one thing is for sure:  we all face daily temptations and trials, things that test our faith.  There are daily temptations to doubt God and his Word, to abandon our faith (even if momentarily), to turn our backs on the Father and turn to idols, to trust in self or some strain of worldly wisdom, to syncretize our faith with some mix of works-righteousness or antinomianism, to doubt that the promises of God apply to us, to mix the purity and truth of God's Word with lies from the surrounding culture, and the list goes on and on.  This is why Jesus' being led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil speaks directly to this day to day faith-struggle of believers.

Why does this happen to us?  As with Jesus, it is not inconsistent for believers to be led by the Spirit, to be walking in the Spirit, keeping in step with the Spirit, and yet be faced with temptations and trials.  In fact, as we follow Christ in our daily walk of faith, one of the places we will follow him is into temptation.  Of course we pray, "lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil" (Matt. 6:13), and it is right for us to pray this.  We probably don't know how many times we are in fact spared from temptation.  But other times we will be led to places and circumstances where we find ourselves being tempted. 

When temptation comes it is not God himself who is tempting us (James 1:13).  The temptation comes as a result of the remnants of our own sinful natures (which are still in the process of being transformed and conformed to the image of Christ), perhaps being awakened by an outside factor, perhaps just being lured and enticed by our own sinful desires (James 1:14).  But the temptations are real, frequent, difficult and yet their presence is not inconsistent with a life led by the Spirit.

When we are tempted, we ought not to think we have been abandoned by God or that he isn't still right there with us, indwelling us even, in the person and through the presence of his Holy Spirit.  God will never leave us or forsake us.  But he will allow us to be tempted, even lead us to that place of testing, where we must face the temptation of sin head on and resist.  But thanks be to God, we walk in the strength and Spirit of the one who faced temptation at the very end of all physical strength after fasting for 40 days and nights; who alone in the garden faced the crisis point of decision whether to go to the cross and in the strain, he sweat great drops of blood; who faced down every temptation to partake of many normal and good aspects of everyday human life (marriage, family, leisure, having a home, possessions, etc.) but which was not part of his mission from the Father.  Instead, Jesus stuck to the mission and laid down his life, never giving in to temptation.  He was perfected through testing and suffering (Heb. 5:8-9) and as we walk in union with him, we walk in his perfection even as we too are being perfected (Heb. 10:14).  Part of our being perfected, our sanctification, our being conformed to the Son's image, is our being tested through temptation.  We are God's children, and the Lord disciplines those he loves.  Part of what is going on when we face temptations of many kinds is that we are being trained in righteousness.  We are being discipled, all toward the end that we might share in holiness with him of whose Spirit we now partake (Heb. 12:3-11; James 1:2-4; Rom. 8:26-30).

Temptations and trials happen to Christians.  They are sometimes from the accuser of the brethren (Job 1:6-12; Rev. 12:10) or his minions.  More often, they stem from our own sinful desires.  But, as with everything in our lives, even temptation is part of God's plan for us.  God always provides a way out and the temptations which face us are never beyond what we can bear in the strength that he supplies (1 Cor. 10:13).  So God always answers our prayers of "deliver us from evil".  Whether we take hold of that deliverance by resisting the temptation or not is another question.

Anatomy of Temptation

As with the original temptation of the garden and Christ's own testing and temptation, our temptations always come in the form of lies.  We are tempted to believe these lies, and if we give in to them, it results in actions that are disobedient to our Lord.  Every temptation is a showdown between truth and lie.  This should not surprise us.  Satan is not only the accuser of the brethren but the father of lies.  He has been lying from the beginning (Jn. 8:44).  When Satan's speaks lies, he speaks his native language.  Even before Satan lied to Adam and Eve and told them that if they ate the fruit they would become like God (Gen. 3:5), he lied to himself by telling himself that he could become like God (Is. 14:12-14). 

Victory over Temptation

Just as every temptation is a lie, every way out of temptation comes through truth.  When we face the temptation to believe a lie and to act on that lie and walk into disobedience, the way out always comes by the truth, which is the Word of God.  When we resist the devil he will flee from us (James 4:7) as he did from Jesus when Jesus resisted him three times, wielding the sword of God's Word (Matt. 4).  In Christ, we not only have been saved from the wages of sin, but we have been freed from the power of sin (Rom. 6:12-23).  We now have the law of God written by the Spirit on our hearts (Heb. 10:16).  Jesus, our redeemer and great high priest, faced down temptation to the full and never gave in (Heb. 4:15).  He faced down temptation with the weapon of the Word of God in the strength of the Spirit.  We may look to him when faced with our own temptations in order to receive grace and mercy in our own struggles (Heb. 4:16).  And grace and mercy will be ministered to us through the Holy Spirit, and the power to defeat temptation will come from the living and active Word of God, written on our minds and hearts.

Ultimately our salvation from the power of sin is already accomplished by Christ.  And even now he is working all things out for our good so that one day, a day which the Father has underlined on his calendar, we will walk in the full freedom from the presence of sin as well. 

Can you think of other ways the Spirit was involved in Jesus incarnation and earthly ministry and that he is also now involved in the life of the Church?

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Meet the Vicar of Baghdad...

I highly recommend Timothy George's very interesting article over at First Things introducing the Vicar of Baghdad, the Reverend Canon Dr. Andrew White.  The article begins with this intriguing sentence:
If Jesus came back to the Middle East today, I think he would look a lot like the Reverend Canon Dr. Andrew White, the Anglican Chaplain in Iraq and Vicar of St. George’s Church.
This is not hyperbole. If you are intrigued, you can read the rest here.  If you are not intrigued, believe me, you should be.  Of this man it may truly be said, "blessed are the peace makers."

Thursday, 19 June 2014

The grace of Proverbs 31

There is real gospel grace and encouragement in Proverbs 31 for wives and mothers who have always viewed this over-quoted and sometimes misunderstood chapter of Scripture as a weight of duty around their necks or an impossible checklist to live up to.  Check out David Prince's very good thoughts on the Proverbs 31 mom here. 

Prince does not say all there is to say about Proverbs 31.  It is, after all, also an example of Christian fruitfulness for wives and mothers.  Proverbs 31 is prescriptive of Christian fruitfulness as well as descriptive of a God-honouring and God-fearing example of everyday life.  But Prince is right:  Proverbs 31 is not a list of things to do in order for wives and mothers to commend themselves to God or to earn his or their family's love.  Rather, as they go about their fruitful and busy lives, loving their families and working hard for their households, all they do is done in the fear, obedience, grace and love of their Lord and Saviour.  This is definitely a much needed corrective and balance to the "checklist" mentality many teachers approach Proverbs 31 with.

The current, largescale persecution of Christians

This article in Christianity Today speaks of the current situation facing Christians in Iraq as ISIS (The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) takes over the nation. 
"Things are so bad now in Iraq, the worst they have ever been," writes Canon Andrew White, vicar of St. George's Anglican Church in Baghdad.
Pray for our brothers and sisters in Iraq and perhaps talk/write a letter to your MP about Canada voicing its opposition to this religious persecution in the strongest possible way. 

And here are two recent books, briefly reviewed by Mark Noll at Books and Culture, that promise to open reader's eyes to the everyday suffering of Christians and churches around the world as they are specifically targeted by hostile governments and organizations for brutal and regular persecution. 

As brothers and sisters to those being persecuted, as members of the same church, which is the body of Christ, we may not forget them in our regular prayers.  Don't pray for them in such a way as to check the prayer-for-the-persecuted-church box.  Pray for them with tears, fast, cry out for God's mercy, for repentance for their persecutors, for strength and a sense of God's real presence with them, for boldness that comes from the Spirit's filling, for faith and hope to know this is a light momentary affliction in the light of eternity (2 Cor. 4:17), for steadfastness of faith, for Christ-honouring confession in word and deed, for justice and reprieve and release and freedom.  The Apostle Paul asked for the churches to remember his chains (Col. 4:18) and we must never forget the chains of our brothers and sisters being persecuted.  Pray for them in such a way that you take some of the weight of their burden upon yourself (Gal. 6:2).  Pray for them as though it were your own family being tortured, jailed and killed...because it is.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Martin Luther tweets a selfie...

Here's a fun thought experiment: 
Imagine Martin Luther defending his 95 Theses before the church courts and in the middle of his famous, "I can not and will not recant" speech, he pauses for a quick selfie, scarlet clad cardinals in the background.  He quickly tweets it.
Imagine John Calvin defending the sacredness of the sacraments and the seriousness of church discipline and fencing the Lord's Table from men who have threatened to take communion by force, no matter what their debauched weekly lifestyles entail.  Just at the point of conflict, as his opponents approach and he physically bars the table with his outstretched arms, he snaps a quick selfie with the i-phone in his hand.
Imagine Jonathan Edwards preaching his famous sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.  People are cut to the heart, callused consciences are pricked and repentance spreads through the congregation like a grass fire on a windy day.  Afterward, Edwards invites the people to stand up and he turns his back to them in the pulpit, holds up his Blackberry and snaps a selfie with the whole congregation in the back ground. 
Seems pretty ridiculous to even imagine any of the actors in the above historical scenarios thinking of themselves at the climax of such God-centered, Christ-exalting, gospel-defined and truth-focused moments.  Yet, how often do we approach worship with ourselves as our chief concern?  We often prioritize our own preferences and experiences in worship even though worship is the quintessential Godward-oriented aspect of the Christian life.

Our culture is not only self-centered and self-oriented, we seem to be on an ever increasing trajectory in that direction.  This is true of much of today's church as well.  Stephen Miller over at the Desiring God blog has some good thoughts about the orientation of our worship.  In the midst of the "selfie culture", Miller reminds us that worship is not about us.  You can read his thoughts here

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

A long worshipping obedience in the same direction...

Worship is more than music, but worship in song is a biblical and integral part of private, family and corporate worship.  While the songs we sing should primarily be seen as an offering which we lift up to God (not to commend ourselves to him but to glorify him and magnify all he is and does for us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit), there are other ways worship works in the Church.  One such way is that biblically faithful and theologically rich worship helps us to hide God's Word and doctrinal truths in our hearts.  It should not surprise us that Godward worship sincerely, reverently and joyfully offered would be a blessing to the worshipper as well.  Worship is a conversation between God and his people, after all.  We speak to God in our songs and prayers, we speak to each other also in Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, and God speaks to us through the Scriptures read, sung and faithfully preached.  What is more, as we do this together as the church, we grow not only closer to God but to each other.

Matthew Westerholm at Desiring God has some good thoughts about the common and misdirected desire for immediate and emotionally powerful effects of and responses to worship music.  He advocates trading this mindset for a longer, steadier, more "ordinary" vision of the transformative power of worship for God's people.  His reflection is not only for worship leaders but for every Christian and every church.  It can be found here

Monday, 9 June 2014

Preaching as a two way street

Trevin Wax links to this article on the two way relationship of preaching between the pastor and the congregation.  I found these reflections encouraging, challenging and very wise.  Also, as a bi-vocational co-pastor/elder who regularly both preaches and listens to my fellow elders preach, and who is always on the look-out for wisdom from other preachers, I appreciate the depth of experience that these observations grow out of (and the accompanying picture is pretty funny).  This is a good exhortation for me as both a preacher and one who is often in the pew.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Keep praying for Mariam Ibrahim...

Russell Moore has some thoughts on the struggle of Mariam Ibrahim here.  Pray for her release; pray for her strength in the midst of suffering for the sake of the gospel; pray for God's mercy and comfort; pray for repentance for her captors; pray for her children, in prison with her; pray for her husband and her church; pray for ourselves, that we would have the faith of Mariam.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Heavens of brass

Every Christian has experienced it.  You pray sincerely, earnestly and often for something that seems to you so right, so good, so in line with what you believe would glorify God and serve his kingdom.  But the heavens seem to be made of brass, and your prayers go unanswered, or worse, the answer seems to be NO.  How can a sincere believer, a beloved child of a caring Heavenly Father, be so misguided in what they believed to be God's will or in what they thought would be the best outcome of a circumstance?  Why do so many prayers go unanswered?  Or do they?  Are they actually answered but we just don't recognize the answers or we recognize the answers but we disagree with them?  Tim Challies has some wise words of perspective on this very common experience of believers here.

Saturday, 31 May 2014

I want to be a better preacher

Justin Taylor posts some lines from a letter John Wesley wrote to a young minister who was a poor preacher.  Taylor notes Wesley's advice to this young pastor amounts to "arguing that better reading is not a sufficient condition for better preaching, but it is a necessary one."  As someone who considers myself, if not exactly young, at least relatively young in my ministry experience and my pulpit maturity, I like to glean what I can from men who were and are great preachers and faithful ministers.  Here Wesley tells his young friend that he will never advance in his preaching without a concerted effort to read more, read deeply and read broadly.  You can read the whole thing here.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

10 feet thick and 15 feet deep

Trevin Wax has some wise words over at Gospel People about going to Scripture regularly to sustain your spiritual life and not going there just to find an outline when you are required to preach.  He also reminds against a practice that is all too common, perhaps especially among young, reformed men.  That is the practice of turning immediately to a favourite preacher, teacher or author whenever we have a theological or exegetical question when instead we ought first to be going to the text of Scripture and digging, cross-referencing, wrestling, praying for wisdom and understanding, and then, after we have shown ourselves approved, a worker who rightly handles the Word of truth (2 Tim 2:15; 3:14-17), only then do we go confirm with preachers and teachers who we trust.  Here is an excerpt from his timely reminder:
"A couple years ago, an elderly woman in our church asked me a theological question I hadn’t considered before. Rather than going to the Bible, I went straight to the Internet, where I began searching for a respected pastor’s views on the subject. Before I found his answer, I was struck by how wrongheaded and dangerous my approach was. I had rushed to hear the preacher before I had slowed down to hear the text."
Of course, not everyone will have loads of time to search out every question that arises via full-on, in-depth cover-to-cover Bible study.  But, any one who stands in the pulpit or who teaches in some setting, ought themselves to be doing the heavy lifting of scriptural exegesis and theological mining and not merely doing a quick internet scan and then echoing what their heroes might say on the subject.  If that is the way we preach and teach the Word, where will be the ten-foot thick, fifteen-foot deep concrete convictions that are the foundations upon which we build the assertions and applications of our sermons? 

Monday, 26 May 2014

Can the dead praise God?

Peter Leithart notes here that, through the person and work of Christ in the cross and resurrection, there is a fourth dimension added to the biblical universe.  Previously there was only sea, earth and heaven but in Christ, "under the earth" has been added to the realms which may praise God (Phil 2:9-11).  How is this?  Only in Christ's overcoming death is the realm of the dead now a realm that may praise God.  Leithart implies the answer to the Psalmist's question, "can the dead praise you?"  In Christ, the answer is now a resounding YES.

How do those "under the earth" praise God?  How do the dead offer up praise?  Answer:  All those in Christ who have died are not merely dead (John 11:25-26).  For the child of God, to die is to be with Christ (Phil 1:21, 23), even if not yet to have a resurrected body - thus, those "under the earth" who are praising God speaks of those who have died and whose bodies are buried but whose spirits have gone to be with Christ (Rom 8:19-25).  In his resurrection, Jesus, the first born of many brothers, has triumphed over death and all who are united to him in faith share in his resurrection life.  Will we still die?  Yes, physically.  Our bodies will go under the earth.  They will even become earth.  But our physical death will not be final just as Jesus' own death was not final.  Paul reminds us that, as we died with him, so we live with him (Rom 6:1-14).  And Paul reminds us that, even though our bodies go "under the earth", we will one day be raised physically and given a glorious new body (1 Cor. 15:12-49).  But for those in Christ, until we receive those glorious new bodies, we will be under the earth praising God.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

How do Christians articulate anguish?

Peter Leithart is always good at looking at Scripture in ways that upend our breezy and trite interpretations, or that shake us out of our unspoken but practical belief that much of the Old Testament is just not relevant for us any longer.  He has done it here in his brief but profound observations on Psalm 38, where he reminds us that often the Psalms don't assuage our grief or alleviate our sense of being under the heavy hand of God, but they do give such feelings voice in a biblical way that is both authentic and obedient.  Leithart helps us to see that what we might call the Psalms of lament are both pastoral in their effects as well as Christological as they remind all who suffer under the heavy hand of God that Jesus knows that suffering in full and has given ultimate meaning and assured (if yet future) relief to all such others who suffer in faith. 

Friday, 23 May 2014

Christ's death was not divine child abuse

Jason Helopoulos, author of the very good A Neglected Grace: Family Worship in the Christian Home, has written a good piece responding to those who would accuse the penal substitutionary view of the atonement as being a form of divine child abuse.  You can find his wise and biblical answer here

To his answer, I would only add that I believe the penal substitutionary view of the atonement, while biblically faithful and true, does not say all there is to say about the atonement.  There are elements of recapitulation, of moral influence, of satisfaction, of participation, of ransom and 'Christus victor', in the biblical atonement narrative, which begins in Genesis 3, not in the Gospels.  Someday I would like to systematically work through each of the views or theories of the atonement and present the scriptural evidence for each one.  But for now, I would say I that rightly and biblically understood, these various theories of the atonement, each with its own proponents quoting proof texts at each other, do not contradict each other but rather serve to give us a full orbed view of what Jesus' passion accomplished for the people of God.  This is not to say that every aspect of each theory of the atonement as they are put forth by their respective proponents are indeed faithful to Scripture.  Careful biblical study is required to reconcile many of the points of each view with the various points of the others.  And in reconciling these varied understandings, we also need to recognize that, if Creation-Fall-Redemption-Consumation is the meta-narrative of all history, the master story-arc of God's interaction with the human race, and it is, then it is in some ways beyond the abilities of human language and human reason in a fallen state to understand the fullness of what God has done for us in Christ and the cross.  Therefore the explanations and descriptions we find in Scripture of how salvation is accomplished are to a degree metaphoric (some likely more so than others), and it should not surprise us that no one metaphor or theme can contain or describe the fullness of the reality of Christ's saving work.

Neither should it surprise us that the triune Creator and Redeemer God of the universe, who himself is three persons in one God, would do many things when he does one thing.  It should not surprise us that, when he cuts the incomparable diamond of redemption and fixes it in the complex setting of fallen human and redemptive history, we cannot take in its full beauty when we view only one of its facets.  Christ's cross is a jewel that must be viewed from many vantage points to fully appreciate its glory and its perfections.  Any view of the atonement that has no room for other views that are also firmly biblically based serves only to diminish the fullness of what God has done for us in Christ when he rescued us from sin, death, condemnation, hell and from his own righteous wrath toward sin.  It seems to me that more "both/and" and less "either/or" is required in our study of the atonement. 

All that said, any view of the atonement that excludes penal substitution, where Christ takes the Father's righteous and just punishment of sin upon himself in our place, not only amputates perhaps the chief and uniting among all the aspects of the atonement, but it handicaps its adherents in their understanding of the holiness of God, the seriousness of their own sin, and the helplessness of anyone to do anything about reconciling the two apart from the sovereign and total grace of God in Christ.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Thinking about certainty, uncertainty, and the sovereignty of God in a hospital room

I found some things I wrote just over 3 months ago, as Trina and I sat in our hospital room in Vancouver, hundreds of miles away from our four children, and uncertain about the future for our newest child, at that point just under 25 weeks along, in the midst of a what the doctors called a "high-risk pregnancy":
Here we are in a circumstance in which we have no certainty, don't know what is going to happen next, etc.  We "have to rely on God" in such a circumstance.  But really, everyone is always in the midst of such a circumstance.  Everyone is always in the midst of a circumstance in which they must constantly trust God.  Even when nothing about their circumstance seems particularly extraordinary or difficult or abnormal.  No one ever knows what will happen next.  No one ever knows what we are currently being kept from.  We are not really conscious of all the ways we are being carried along and sustained, even in the supposedly mundane of everyday.  Even when we think we know, we don't really.  Only God knows the future of course, but he is also the only one who knows the present in a truly comprehensive way.  Even when circumstances are "normal" and "routine" and we have everything "under control" we don't know.  But we know who does, and, more than that, we are known by Him. 
A truth we both took a lot of comfort from while we were in the midst of this circumstance is that, no matter how unexpected the situation we find ourselves in the midst of, God is not the God of chances but the God of certainties.  This truth is especially timely when doctors are daily talking of chances, percentages, statistics, likelihood, etc. 
There are no uncertainties with God and therefore there are no uncertainties for the believer.  There are only two types of certainties:  those God has let us know already (his revealed will and word in Scripture, those events which have already come to pass in life and history, etc.) and those firm and certain things that he hasn't shown us yet (those events that haven't yet come to pass), or may never show us (the plans and purposes he has ordained according to the counsels of his wisdom and will).  He may never tell us "why" but he has already told us "Who" - who is in control of all that has not happened yet but which is just as certain as that which has.  Placing our trust in the infinitely powerful, all knowing and good, kind, loving Father is better than an explanation.
About seven weeks after this was written, our baby, Jack Wesley Martin Glover, then 31 weeks along, died an hour and a half after being delivered by C-section.  We spent another week in the hospital while Trina recovered from surgery.   At the end of that week, we returned home and were reunited as a family.  As a family, we have shed many tears together, and as parents, Trina and I have attempted to answer many questions from our children (ages 9, 8, 5 and 3).  A month and a half after returning home, surrounded by family and friends, we buried Jack.  Life goes on, but it is different, probably mostly because we are different.  Experiences like this change you.  It's not our first loss of a loved one, but each time is different and unique.

Two months after the day of our baby son's birthday and death, we can still say that trusting in our loving and wise heavenly Father is better than an explanation.  To know that he is working all things out for the good of those who know him and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28) is better than demanding to know how he is working everything out. We trust he is working it out, and that's enough.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

I asked The Lord, that I might grow

I asked The Lord that I might grow

I asked the Lord, that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know;
And seek more earnestly His face.

Twas He who taught me thus to pray,
And He, I trust has answered prayer;
But it has been in such a way,
As almost drove me to despair!

I hoped that in some favored hour,
At once He'd answer my request;
And by His love's constraining power,
Subdue my sins--and give me rest!

Instead of this, He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry powers of hell
Assault my soul in every part!

Yes more, with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe!
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds--and laid me low!

"Lord, why is this!" I trembling cried,
"Will you pursue your worm to death?"
"This is the way," the Lord replied,
"I answer prayer for grace and faith."

"These inward trials I employ,
From self and pride to set you free;
And break your schemes of earthly joy,
That you may seek your all in Me!"

                         - John Newton

Monday, 5 May 2014

Psalm 90

Lord, you have been our dwelling place
     in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
     or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
     from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
You return man to dust
     and say, "Return, O children of man!"
For a thousand years in your sight
     are but as yesterday when it is past,
     or as a watch in the night.
You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream,
     like grass that is renewed in the morning:
in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
     in the evening it fades and withers.
For we are brought to an end by your anger;
     by your wrath we are dismayed,.
You have set our iniquities before you,
     our secret sins in the light of your presence.
For all our days pass away under your wrath;
     we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
The years of our life are seventy,
     or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
     they are soon gone, and we fly away.
Who considers the power of your anger;
     and your wrath according to the fear of you?
So teach us to number our days
     that we may get a heart of wisdom.
Return, O LORD!  How long?
     Have pity upon your servants!
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
     That we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
     and for as many years as we have seen evil.
Let your work be shown to your servants,
     and your glorious power to their children.
Let the favour of the Lord our God be upon us,
     and establish the work of our hands upon us;
     yes, establish the work of our hands!