Devotion, Doctrine, Doxology #2

May 27, 2009 at 9:44 am | Posted in Books and Movies | Leave a comment

            I just completed two more chapters in John Calvin, A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine and Doxology, about the man as a pastor.  The chapter called “The Churchman of the Reformation” was written by Harry Reeder, pastor of Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham.  The amount of work John Calvin turned out as a pastor makes me feel inadequate and ashamed of what I accomplish with the same title.  As a leader, Calvin wrote a treatise called the Ecclesiastical Ordinances, which became the “foundational guide for the Sixteenth Century Reformed churches.”  This document still influences our views of church leadership today.  He personally trained many of the leaders in the Geneva church.  As a preacher, he gave about 20 messages a month, expounding the New Testament on Sundays and the Old on weekdays.  With the preparation I put into one sermon, I can’t imagine how he could preach twenty!  Reeder comments that “his preaching was normally extemporaneous.”  Amazing!  (The following chapter tells more about his extemporaneous preaching.  He stood in the pulpit with nothing but an open Bible – Greek when preaching from the New Testament and Hebrew when preaching from the Old!)  As a teacher, Calvin started the Geneva Academy, which at its peak had 12,000 students.  Calvin handpicked many of the professors and taught some classes himself.  Two hundred years later it was still considered by Thomas Jefferson to be the premier college in Europe.  As a writer, Calvin’s Institutes became the premier publication of the Reformation and has remained in print, in one form or another, into the present.  That opus is a small work compared to the volumes of biblical commentaries, letters and sermons in print that came out of his ministry in Geneva.  As a shepherd, Calvin’s heart “has unfortunately been obscured and neglected.”  He began three hospitals, taught the deacons to visit the sick, wrote numerous letters of concern to those suffering the plague, encouraged Reformation leaders all over Europe, and opened his home to students, immigrants and poor people.  As an evangelist, his sermons are full of evangelistic appeals, and he trained his pastors to make strong appeals for the gospel.  More than 100 missionaries were sent out from Geneva to England, Scotland, Italy, Hungary, Poland, Germany, and even Brazil!  By 1560, more than 100 underground churches were planted in Calvin’s native France, and within a few years they had multiplied to over 2000!

            Though reading such things can make me feel guilty for the measly amount of work I put out by comparison, I have to realize I can only do what God has called me to do.  My prayer is that God would open doors of opportunity, that I would recognize those doors and not let comfort or laziness determine my response.

Tabitha, Get Up!

May 25, 2009 at 5:40 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts | Leave a comment

        Acts 9:40. “Tabitha, get up.”  When I read these words of Peter, it sent me down an interesting chain of thoughts.  I preached through Mark about eight years ago, and I remember being very impressed by the insertion of an Aramaic sentence in the Greek telling of one story.  Since the Gospel of Mark is widely accepted as Peter’s teachings about Jesus, I saw the story as though the actual words of Jesus were so engraved in Peter’s mind that when he told the story over and over, and when Mark heard it, he couldn’t help but use the original Aramaic of Jesus.  So when Mark later recorded the story, he too put that phrase in Aramaic.  The story is of the raising of Jairus’ daughter, and the Aramaic phrase is “Talitha koum,” which means “Child, get up.”  In the Acts story referenced here, the Greek name of this woman was Dorcas and the Aramaic name was Tabitha (v. 36).  If Peter were speaking in Aramaic, the native language of the area, when he raised this woman from the dead, then what he said was, “Tabitha koum!” – a sentence just one letter different than the one Jesus used.  And, just like Jesus, Peter took her by the hand and helped her up.  The parallels are too close to be an accident – Peter had to have been thinking of the first situation when he dealt with this one.  So once again I see how vivid the memory of Jairus’ daughter was to Peter.  May Jesus’ workings in our lives be so vivid, we can never forget them!

Rejoicing They’d Been Counted Worthy

May 20, 2009 at 11:10 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts | Leave a comment

            Acts 5:41.  We discussed this surprising verse in my class on Sunday, and it just happened to come up in my devotions this morning.  A little background to what happened will help explain it.  When God healed the lame man in the temple through Peter and John, there was quite a stir among the people.  The religious leaders were “greatly disturbed’ by this and arrested Peter and John (4:2-3).  However, those leaders could do nothing to them, because everyone knew the man had been healed.  So they simply warned Peter and John not to speak in the name of Jesus any longer (4:14-18).  Maybe they thought a threat from the religious leaders would be sufficient to shut them up, but Peter and John gave a fascinating response:  “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God.  For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (4:19-20)  The young church gathered together and prayed.  I would have prayed for protection from the authorities; they prayed for boldness in spite of the authorities! (4:29)  O that I could learn such urgency for the gospel!

            In the period that followed, and we don’t know how long that period lasted, the church continued to grow.  In fact there were many healings and miracles happening in Jerusalem (5:12-16).  Because of the church’s growth and influence, the religious leaders were “filled with jealousy.”  So they again arrested the apostles (apparently more than just Peter and John this time – Acts 5:17-18) and put them into prison.  After what I find a comical story about an angel letting them out, they appeared before the Sanhedrin.  The Sanhedrin had a furious discussion and wanted to put the apostles to death for disobeying them, but a greatly respected old teacher named Gamaliel advised against it, and his argument persuaded the council (5:28-40).  Instead, they beat the apostles and let them go with another order not to speak in Jesus’ name (5:40).

            This was probably the first time any these people had been persecuted for what they believed, yet their reaction is not what I would expect.  This is where the surprise of Acts 5:41 comes, “The apostles left the Sanhedrin rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name!”  They rejoiced!  I don’t get it; I’m not there in my own spiritual life.  Not only that, but “they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ!”  Maybe, if and when the time comes, God will grant the grace I need to rejoice over being beaten for him, but right now I don’t feel that at all.  I’m just too comfortable with my easy North-American Christianity.  With all the political changes that have come in recent years, and especially in recent days, persecution of American Christians looks more like a reality than it ever has before.  May God grant me the boldness to speak his word and, if need be, the eternal perspective to rejoice that I would be considered worthy of persecution for Jesus’ name.

If We Confess Our Sins

May 15, 2009 at 10:53 am | Posted in Questions for Pastor Glenn, Security and Assurance, Theology | 1 Comment

1 John 1:9.  There is a lot of confusion on this famous verse by the apostle John.  Many young Christians memorize these words and understand them to say that each sin we commit must be confessed before God will forgive it.  Those sins we confess to God are forgiven, and those we do not are not forgiven.  This is a complete misunderstanding.  I mentioned this in my post on Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit and wanted to follow up on it here.

First, understand that God forgives sin on the basis of what Jesus accomplished on the cross and not on the basis of our confession.  In fact, forgiveness is a present reality that believers in Jesus have now.  See Ephesians 1:7 and Colossians 1:13, 2:14 for example.

Now consider the words of 1 John 1:9.  There are three reasons the assumed understanding of this verse is wrong:   First, John’s present tense verbs in this book often indicate a life-style rather than a one-time event.  This is a common grammatical tool in New Testament Greek, and John utilizes it frequently.  One example is found in 1 John 3:6:  “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning.  No one who continues in sin has either seen him or known him.”  The NIV clarifies the Greek by translating “keeps on sinning” and “continues in sin,” but the verbs are both in the simple present tense as indicated by the more literal NASB, “No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him  .  .  . ”  And consider 1 John 3:9, “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.”  Again the NIV clarifies the second verb with “go on sinning,” but the NASB gives the more literal “and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.”  I like the NIV here, because it captures the obvious meaning and avoids the possible misunderstanding that even one sinful activity or attitude disqualifies a person for God’s kingdom.  The verb “confess” in 1:9 is in the present tense.

The second reason is John’s use of the present tense verbs in the subjunctive mood.  John uses another grammatical tool to give his readers tests of true and false Christianity.  Again there are numerous examples in the book.  For instance 2:9, “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness.”  “Claims” is such a verb, so is “loves” in 2:15, “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”  One final example is “acknowledges” found in 4:15, “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God.”  Throughout this book John gives several tests of genuine Christianity (a quick reading in English will reveal this), and many of them are in this grammatical form.  “Confess” in 1:9 is not only a present tense, it is also in the subjunctive mood.

Finally, the context of 1 John 1:9 reveals that these two grammatical tools are utilized here.  Verse 8 says, “If we claim (present subjunctive) to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”  And verse 10 reads, “If we claim (present subjunctive) we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.”  In other words there are three tests of genuine Christianity in the immediate context of verse 9 (verse 6 is the other), and two of them are about what we might say concerning our own sinfulness.  The first has to do with continued sin and the second with individual acts of sin.  It is between these two that John says, “If we confess (present subjunctive) our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins.”  John’s meaning is this:  Those who continually deny being sinners, and those who continually deny sinning, are not true believers.  Those who willingly admit they are sinners are the ones God forgives.

Have you known anyone who calls himself Christian, yet is never wrong in his own mind?  This passage gives us reason to suspect the authenticity of his Christian claim.  Don’t take this to the extreme by disqualifying everybody who shows one of these patterns in this book.  All of us are sinful broken people; all of us have sin patterns in our lives that we are trying to overcome.  John addresses the overall direction of a person’s life, and that direction will, over time, reveal the true believers.  They admit they are sinful; they confess that the divine Son of God became flesh in the person of Jesus; they trust him for forgiveness; they remain in God’s word; they love other believers.

There is another reason the popular understanding of this verse is wrong.  However, this is too long already, and that will have to wait for another post at a later time.

Devotion, Doctrine, Doxology

May 12, 2009 at 1:41 pm | Posted in Books and Movies | 2 Comments

            I am reading John Calvin, A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, an anthology edited by Burk Parsons.  Besides the fact I love the title, R. C. Sproul’s ministry sent free copies of this book to pastors all over the country.  Authors of the various chapters include famous names like John MacArthur, Michael Horton, Sinclair Ferguson, Jay Adams and Jerry Bridges.  I’ve only read the forward by Iain Murray, but even in that little bit, there is a quote worth passing along.

            Because Calvin is known for his emphasis on depravity and obedience, he is sometimes characterized as stiff, formal, or even gloomy (the reason I so like the book’s title!).  But Murray comments, “It is the knowledge that a Christian is identified with the cause of God that raises this perspective from any shade of gloom.  Nothing in the short term, or in death itself, can mean defeat: God must win.  It is the vision of God that changes everything.  Calvin writes, ‘We shall never be fit for service of God, if we look not beyond this fleeting life.’  He adds, ‘When any person has fixed his eyes on God, his heart will be invincible, and utterly incapable of being moved.’”  Looks like it will be a good read.

The Real Prosperity Gospel

May 7, 2009 at 2:33 pm | Posted in False teaching | 1 Comment

            Here is the real prosperity gospel:  “God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory . . .  My purpose is that . . . they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Colossians 1:27, 2:2-3)  God wants us to be rich, but we measure riches with the wrong ruler.  We measure riches in dollars and possessions, but God measures true riches in wisdom and knowledge of Christ.  There are many preachers today emphasizing God’s desire for us to have riches and success, but they use the Wall-Street definition of riches and the Madison-Avenue definition of success.  Those false definitions make for a false gospel.  Wall-Street riches and Madison-Avenue successes are confined to this world at best, and our recent economic history demonstrates that they may not even last that long!  God’s riches are eternal.

            It is no accident that the Apostle Paul immediately follows these words with this explanation:  “I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments.”  And a few verses later, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” (Colossians 2:4, 8).  Having what the world calls success is music to our mortal ears, but in the end it is hollow and deceptive, for the very reason that it is based on this temporal world.

            Seek the true prosperity gospel, the gospel of knowing Christ in you, for that is a full and glorious richness.  If you struggle with these matters, then this book of Colossians would be a great place to turn.  May you know Christ better today!

Four Prayers from Philippians

May 5, 2009 at 11:02 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts, Prayer | Leave a comment

Here are some prayers from my quiet time today

1:3-6  I thank my God every time I remember you.  In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.  This prayer was for the staff, Deacons and Elders at Village Baptist.  I do thank God with joy for partners in this ministry.  We have a great group of leaders here.  Those who are Elders now were all on the Board when I was called to Village, so they have been partners with me from the first day until now.  I pray that God would complete the good work he started both in the individual lives of these men and in this corporate body under their leadership.

3:12  I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  I believe Christ called me to teach and preach his word, so I must take hold of that thing.  When I hear of people struggling with midlife or burnout issues, I must remind myself of this truth – lay hold of the very thing for which you were created and pursue it with excellence.  At the same time, I must ask if that is all.  I love what I do and can be very comfortable with just that, but has God taken hold of me for more?  Does he want me to expand this ministry?  All of us who are comfortable with our ministries and station in life should ask this question.  God help me lay hold of the very thing for which you’ve created and called me.  Open the doors of ministry that you desire me to have and use me for your glory.

4:6-7  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  I prayed that peace which surpasses understanding for some people I’ve recently talked to in troubling and anxious situations (though I can’t write about them here).  In the midst of those circumstances, Lord, offer your amazing, mind-transcending peace.

4:11-13  I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do everything through him who gives me strength.  Lord, I have known times of lean, but currently you have me in a time of plenty.  In spite of the hard financial times, I have seen a nice increase in income the past two years and am enjoying the fruit of that now.  Help me to be faithful and wise in my stewardship of this blessing – whether it is for my daughter’s college, our retirement, greater generosity, or some other reasons.  At the same time, allow me to be content, for it is often the case that the more one has, the less content he becomes, and I don’t want to go there.  I will rely on your strength for contentment, because all I need I have in you.

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