Archive for the 'Truth' Category

Genuine Worship–Acts 16.25-35

May 11, 2009

The Temple in Jerusalem
Referring to the Temple in Jerusalem, Tim Keller says, ‘The Temple was to be the center of a ‘world-winning worship’ (Worship by the Book, p. 218).

Psalm 105.1-2
Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name;
make known his deeds among the peoples!
Sing to him, sing praises to him;
tell of all his wondrous works!

The psalm instructs the people of God to tell the nations about the wonderful works of God and to sing praises to him. These simple instructions, if followed, makes worship well-rounded.

The Well-Rounded Worship Service
Well-rounded worship includes two plains: (1) the horizontal plain and (2) the vertical plain.

Worship on the horizontal plain, speaks to people. Worship on the horizontal plain edifies the people who are there—that is, they are taught the truths of God and his marvelous plan of salvation and sanctification. Psalm 105.2 instructs Israel to ‘tell of all (God’s) wondrous works’ to the peoples of the world. Telling involves teaching. Israel was to teach the nations about God.

Worship on the vertical plain speaks to God. Worship on the vertical plain gives all the glory to God, praising his name and adoring him as God. Psalm 105.2 also instructs Israel to ‘Sing to (God), sing praises to him.’ Singing is an important way that believers glorify God.

On the horizontal plain, the people are edified by the words of the hymns, by the prayers of the people, by the liturgy of the sacraments, and by the preached message and the proclamation of God’s holy word. On the vertical plain, God is glorified in the hymns we sing, the prayers we offer, the sacraments we celebrate, and the sermon preached and his word proclaimed.

Both elements must be evident for a worship service to be well-rounded. If the people are not nourished through the proper teaching of the truth, then believers go away hungry and emaciated and, even more tragically, non-believers go away starving with no hope of eternal life. If God is not glorified through the praise and love of his people, then holy worship has not occurred.

Teaching the people who are present and glorifying the living God go hand-in-hand in the worship service.

Jesus Christ Replaces the Temple
The old, physical temple in Jerusalem (the building, the system of sacrifices, the laws that governed how the ceremonies were to be conducted) has been replaced by something better, Jesus Christ. Now the worship of God is not limited to one place (the Temple in Jerusalem) and one time (the Sabbath); since Christ has risen and is in heaven, worship is everywhere and always.

John 2.19-21
‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’…But he was speaking about the temple of his body.

A Testimony to the Power of God-glorifying Worship

A young man from a privileged family was living a life of reckless abandon—his nights were filled with drinking, partying, and carousing—when he woke one morning and remembered that it was Sunday. Dim memories of going to church as a child nudged him to go to church. But since he wasn’t familiar with any churches in his neighbourhood, he entered the first one he came across.

Entering the sanctuary, he was struck by the worship of the congregation. He intuitively sensed that the guest of honour that hour was God himself. The transcendence of the moment pierced his heart.

Tullian Tchividjian was impacted by the place of honour which God had in the worship service.

True Worship according to Hughs Oliphant Old

April 25, 2009

We worship God because God created us to worship him. Worship is at the center of our existence, at the heart of our reason for being. God created us to be his image—an image that would reflect his glory. In fact the whole creation was brought into existence to reflect the divine glory. The psalmist tells us that “the heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork” (Ps. 19.1) The apostle Paul in the prayer with which he begins the epistle to the Ephesians makes it clear that God created us to praise him.

Ephesians 1.3-6

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace… (Eph. 1:3-6)

This prayer says much about the worship of the earliest Christians. It shows the consciousness that the first Christians has of the ultimate significance of their worship. They understood themselves to have been destined and appointed to live to the praise of God’s glory (Eph. 1:12). When the Westminster Shorter Catechism teaches us, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever,” it gives witness to this same basic principle; God created us to worship him…Worship must above all serve the glory of God.—Hughes Oliphant Old

The Law and the Gospel: from the Perspective of Acts 10.34-43

April 20, 2009

One of the big questions that all Christians face at one time or another has to do with the law of the Old Testament. What role, if any, does it now play in the life of the believer? Unfortunately, when Christians attempt to answer this question, the law often suffers. Throughout the centuries, Christians have maintained that the law does have an important role to play in the life of individual, born-again Christians; sadly, though, Christians who totally dismiss the law from their life or downplay its importance are denying themselves a wonderful benefit. So long as they ignore in whole or in part the law, they will miss out on a deeper, richer, and more vibrant experience of God’s call on their life. How can I make such a bold statement? While it is altogether true that the law does not and cannot save us, it does provide us with an indispensable guide to living the holy life that is pleasing to God. As Peter exhorted Christians to be holy in our conduct for God our Father is holy. Peter said,

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’ (quoted from Leviticus 11.44) (1 Peter 1.13-16)

Peter was quoting from the book of Leviticus, which was at the very heart of the law of the Old Testament. Once Peter had been saved by grace and was trusting in that grace day by day, he gained a fresh perspective on the law. It was a guide that instructed Christians on how to live a life that is pleasing to God. But before we consider how it is able to help in this way, let’s consider how the law has often been mishandled.

The Law

Typically, there are three ways that Christians may mishandle the law:

Legalism—is the mistaken belief that someone can save himself or, at least, nudge his salvation along simply by following the law perfectly. This belief is mistaken because it assumes that human effort is part of the grounds of salvation, rather than a fruit that grows out of the soil of salvation. Wherever legalism is in full force, God’s grace retreats. Legalism, and its ugly twin-sister moralism, asserts that people may storm the gates of heaven and wring favour from God’s heart simply by doing what is right. Yet the Bible declares that salvation is a free gift given by God and received by faith; it doesn’t depend on human effort at all (Ephesians 2.8).

Lawlessness (antinomianism)—is the misguided notion that the law no longer applies to Christians. Believers can do away with the law entirely because Jesus obediently fulfilled the law on our behalf; he lived the life of obedient submission to the commands of the law, so we don’t have to. In response to this misguided notion, Jesus replies, ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5.17-19).’

Law unto oneself (autonomy)—is the incorrect idea that Christ set us free to do what we please. The autonomous person has crowned himself king of his own destiny. No sooner has Christ achieved liberty, then he is side-lined. Although this incorrect idea has an ancient pedigree, it has gained a new sense of life and purpose in the post-modern era of which we are a part. Autonomy literally means ‘self-law’ or self-rule’ and our world has certainly made the self the centre of the universe and the Lord of reality. Not only does the figure of Christ the King of kings and Lord of lords make no sense to self-centered people, he is offensive to them. How dare anyone other than myself tell me what to do!, the autonomous person cries out. Doing your own thing in your own way in your time regardless of how anyone else is doing it is the great preoccupation of the autonomous person. The antidote to the plague of autonomy is found in the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, where the apostle explains just how glorious and powerful Christ is:

Ephesians 1.20-23: (God) raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

God crowned only one person King of kings and Lord of lords and it is not you or me. God’s only begotten Son, who is co-eternal with his Father, holds that singular office. As a declaration of Christ’s absolute sovereignty, verse 23 says that God put ‘all things’ under the feet of Christ. There is nothing in this universe, past or present, material or spiritual, that stands above Christ. Rather, he stands supreme over it all in its totality. This passage deals a death-blow to the spirit of autonomy in the church by stating that God gave the church to Christ making him ‘head over all things to the church’ (verse 22). Even (and especially) in the church, Christ is supreme ruler. Autonomy is rebellion against Christ’s crown.

We have considered how Christians mishandle the law. So, then, what is the proper way to relate to it? The proper way to handle the law once we are born from above is to treat it is a guide that directs us to live holy lives that please God and bring him glory.

The Holy Life

The holy life is based on the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit with whom we cooperate.

God’s acceptance

Peter preached to Cornelius and his household a truth that applies to all humanity: God accepts anyone who

• Fears him

• Does what is right (verse 35)

Jesus Christ the Judge

Peter also stressed that God appointed Jesus Christ to be judge of the living and the dead (verse 42). What does the judgment entail? John’s gospel paints a picture of a world of darkness that has been pierced by heavenly light. Some are drawn to this light, while others are repulsed by it:

John 3.19-21: And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.

The Witnesses

There are several witnesses who bear testimony that Jesus Christ is supreme judge. Let’s consider three of these witnesses.

The apostles (verses 39, 41, 42 [twice])

The prophets (verse 43)

The works that Jesus does (verse 38)

Jesus the Perfect Judge

There are two things to note about the Judgment:

First, Jesus will be the judge. He will be a fair judge for he knows the entire content of human heart:

John 2.24-25: But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.

In this quote, ‘man’ means the breadth and depth of humanity. Jesus knows everything about all of us; nothing about humanity is unknown to him.

Second, the Judgment will be according to works:

Matthew 16.27: For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.

Let it be said loud and clear: it is by grace that we are saved through faith (Ephesians 2.8). It is by grace alone through faith alone. Our best works do not save. Yet, as was noted at the beginning of the sermon, the law becomes our guide, directing us to live holy lives that please God and bring him glory. The law can never save, but once we are saved it assists us in bearing the fruit that characterizes the children of God.

Works

Earlier we saw that Scriptures assures us that God accepts anyone who fears the Lord and does what is right. But what do these terms mean—fear of the Lord and doing what is right?

Fear of the Lord: summarizes the first four of the Ten Commandments:

• You shall have no other gods before the Lord God Almighty
• Do not make idols
• Do not profane God’s name; it is holy
• Observe the Sabbath and keep it holy

Doing what is right: summarizes in the final six of the Ten Commandments

• Do not murder
• Do not commit adultery
• Do not steal
• Do not bear false witness
• Do not covet your neighbour’s life

Jesus intensified the demands of the law when he taught that anyone who thinks murderous thoughts is considered a murderer. Those who think wicked thoughts has broken the law and Jesus taught that breaking one law is the same as breaking all the laws

The Holy God must act righteously and judge those who break God’s law.

The Good News

The law of God drives us back to the grace of God. When we consider the impossible standard that the law demands of us, we are forced to turn back in humble submission to our heavenly Father. While we may think that God will deal harshly with us, we are met with something unexpected.

Peter proclaims the truth: God sent the word of Good News of peace through Jesus Christ (who is Lord of all) (verse 36). The prophets witnessed to the forgiveness of sins through the name of Jesus (verse 43). Jesus was hanged on a tree, becoming a curse for us (verse 39).

Galatians 3.13: Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

Did Christ Descend to Hell, Part Three

March 13, 2009

calvin-john-001I’ve written about the doctrine of the descent of Christ to hell here and here. I don’t subscribe to this doctrine because after reviewing various studies of the scriptures that are used to make a case for the doctrine, I am convinced the point is being stretched. In other words, the Bible doesn’t support the claim of the doctrine. But some very important Christians, with impressive credentials as scholars, have defended the doctrine. John Calvin was one.

For the curious, the scholarly, the pious, or the contentious…here is a link to the Apostles Creed with its own link to the writing of Calvin on Christ’s descent to hell. As I’ve mentioned, Calvin firmly believed that Christ did in fact go to hell immediately after his death. He said, ‘But we ought not to omit his descent into hell, a matter of no small moment in bringing about redemption.’ Click here to read his defense of the doctrine.

Did Christ Descend to Hell, Part Two

March 10, 2009

Did Christ descend to hell? In an earlier post I opened a can of worms by looking at this topic. The Apostles Creed says he did…or, at least, some versions of that creed say as much. Obviously, the topic is considered by many to be a doctrine near and dear to their faith. But is it warranted by Scripture? After all, the word of God must be the ultimate and final authority in all things, especially subjects that are concerned with the Christian faith.

turretin1Francis Turretin, probably the greatest Reformed systematic theologian of the 17th century denies the belief that Jesus went to hell. Instead, he affirms that the soul of Christ, after separating from the body, went immediately to paradise (1).

This is the reverse of the position of the Roman Catholic Church, which teaches (to this day) that Christ descended to hell. The Roman Catechism, published in 1566, states, ‘Christ now being dead, his soul descended into hell, and remained there just as long as his body was in the sepulcher.’ To make the point perfectly clear, it further states, ‘It is to be entirely believed that the soul itself really and by presence descended into hell’ (2).

Lutherans agree with this statement, but stress the fact that the descent isn’t part of Christ’s humiliation; it exhibits, rather, his triumph over hell.

In one section of his monumental work, The Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Turretin turns his attention to this doctrine and provides a detailed argument against the idea that Christ descended to hell. In what follows I’m highlighting some, but not all, of his points.

1. Turretin points out that the earliest forms of the Apostles Creed do not include the phrase, ‘…and descended to hell’ (3). Not only is this phrase missing from the earliest forms of that creed, but it’s also absent from the Nicene Creed. Some foundational leaders of the early church don’t mention the descent either; they include Irenaeus, Origen, Tertullian, and Augustine. Cyril of Alexandria summarizes the belief of many church fathers when he writes, ‘The innocent above, the guilty below; the innocent in heaven, the guilty in the abyss; the innocent in the hand of God, the guilty in the hand of the devil.’

2. Turretin affirms that Jesus went immediately to Paradise after his soul separated from the body. On the cross, Jesus promised the one thief, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise’ (Luke 23.43). Turretin states that in this instance ‘today’ means the very day on which Christ made the promise. No delay is indicated. So, when Christ promised that the thief will be in paradise with him, he meant the literal day on which he spoke. Darrell Bock says that by saying ‘today,’ Jesus is not indicating the unspecified future, but the immediate present (4). There won’t be any lapse in time, that is, between the separation of the soul from the body and the entry of the soul into Paradise. The move from one state to the other will be instantaneous.

3. Next, Turretin builds the case for Christ’s human soul going immediately to Paradise. According to the Roman Catechism, it was his human soul that descended to hell. But Turretin draws attention to the fact that Christ commended his soul to his Father (Luke 23.46) (5). How could he commend his human soul to the Father, who is in heaven, if it was scheduled to spend three days in hell? (6). Obviously, it is impossible for his humanity to be with the Father and in hell at the same time.

4. Finally, Turretin states, Christ accomplished all aspects of his atoning work on the cross; there was nothing more to be done following his cross-work. This is indicated by his statement, ‘It is finished’ (John 19.30). Yet the doctrine of the descent to hell asserts that more work was still to be done after the cross—namely, there was another job to be done which involved going to hell. Among those who hold to the doctrine of Christ’s descent to hell there are different thoughts as to what job it was that still needed to be done. Of those who believe the doctrine, some maintain that Christ went to hell to put to shame unbelievers, others think he went to liberate Old Testament saints (8). But the phrase, ‘It is finished,’ which Jesus spoke on the cross, is a translation of the original Greek word tetelestai which denotes ‘the perfect completion of the whole prophetic image.’ In other words, with his statement, ‘It is finished,’ Christ was saying that his work on the cross was fully and completely done. There were no loose ends still needing to be tied-up. No job needed his further attention or effort. Surely if still more work needed to be done, Christ would not have expressed himself in the perfect tense. He would have said, ‘It is almost finished,’ or ‘It is nearly done,’ or words to that effect. A paraphrase of the perfect tense would be, ‘It is totally done.’ By expressing himself in the perfect tense, he was indicating that all of his work on the cross was finished. He didn’t need to descend to hell to finish one last job.

EndNotes

1. Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Vol. 2, 13th Topic, 15th Question, p. 356.

2. Catechism of Council of Trent, Art. 5 [translated by J. A. McHugh, 1923], pp. 62 and 64. This catechism was written in 1566 in response to the growing influence of Protestant catechisms.

3. Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol III, p. 413, states that it is impossible to determine precisely when the term first appeared based on existing textual evidence.

4. Luke, Vol. 2, p. 1857.

5. Soul and Spirit are often interchangeable in the Bible. However, there are distinctions between the two. But is this an instance when the distinction is in effect? Turretin would answer, ‘no.’

6. By stressing that it was Christ’s human soul that went to Paradise, Turretin is trying to clarify a subtler problem of a more theological nature. Christians had been asking the question, which part of Christ’s nature went to Paradise? Was it his divine nature or his human nature? This is not splitting hairs. Rather, this question goes to the heart of Christ’s true nature. It is, therefore, a Christological question, having to do with the nature and reality of Christ. Both the Roman Catholic Church and all Protestants share a common belief that Jesus Christ is the God-man. That is, two natures—the divine and the human—are united in one person, Jesus Christ. These natures are not mingled or confused. They remain distinct. Yet they are united in one person. This teaching was accepted as orthodox by the Council or Chalcedon which, as I’ve said, both Roman Catholics and Protestants adhere to.

7. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Second Edition, 339. These are the two most common teachings, others also exist.

What is a Catechism?

February 19, 2009

catechism-paul-teaching1

You’ve probably heard the word before but almost certainly it was said with a sneer: ‘Catechism.’ In our day and age, the word usually conjures up a dreary scene where innocent little children are taught to mindlessly recite church dogma, without really understanding what that dogma means. The teacher force feeds the children knowledge that is outdated, outmoded thus stifling the child’s natural ability to discover answers to life’s questions on his or her own. According to this view, those who promote the catechetical teaching love to follow tradition more than they do free enquiry. The only problem is, this view of the catechetical teaching is a distortion of the truth.

So, what is catechism?

The word means ‘to instruct’ and is put forward in the New Testament as a proper means of teaching others the gospel of Jesus Christ. In 1 Corinthians 14.19, Paul says he ‘would rather speak five words with my mind so that I may even teach others than ten thousand words in a tongue.’ In the original Greek in which Paul wrote, the word which is here translated ‘teach’ has the same root word as ‘catechism.’ Simon Kistemaker, a scholar of the Greek New Testament, explains:

The Greek verb katecheo (I teach) actually means that a teacher utters words that are directed to listeners who are seated at his feet. In the early church, the verb connoted a question-and-answer method that we associate with the term catechism (1 Corinthians, New Testament Commentary, Baker Academic, pp. 496-97)

The point is, Paul would rather speak a few meaningful words that people who are listening may understand, than speak ten thousand meaningless words that no one who is listening may comprehend. A few sensible words are better than ocean of senseless words because the sensible, meaningful words may teach people the truth. And how is the teaching accomplished? Through the simple method of the teacher asking questions and the pupil providing answers.

The first question of one of the great Protestant catechisms asks, ‘What is man’s primary purpose?’ (I’m using a modern version of the Westminster Shorter Catechism in this instance). The answer is, ‘Man’s primary purpose is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.’

Who was taught by the catechitical method? Lots of people, including the first two or three generations of Protestants and Reformers. In fact, many of the great leaders of the Protestant Reformation wrote catechisms so that their people would have a firm grasp on the content of their faith. But catechisms were used in the church long before the Reformation of the 16th century.

The early church used catechisms to instruct the people. The writer of the gospel of Luke says that Theophilus, for whom the gospel of Luke was written, had been instructed according to the catechetical method. Luke writes, ‘it seemed good to me…to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things that you have been taught.’ The last word of that quote is familiar to us, it is katecheo (I teach). Theophilus, says Luke, has been catechized. Other places in the New Testament that speak of instruction are Acts 18.25; 21.21, 24; Romans 2.18; 1 Corinthians 14.19; and Galatians 6.6. All these instances may not refer to catechism. But in Galatians 6.6, Paul does seem to speak of teaching in the sense of catechetical instruction, that is, imparting the content of faith through the simple method of questions and answers.

William Hendriksen observed, ‘The church that neglects catechetical instruction has itself to blame for its waning strength.’

A Book for Couple of Family Devotions

February 18, 2009

book-training-hearts-teaching-minds1At bedtime, Terri and I observe a time of devotion. We’ve been doing this for some time and it has added something very important to our marriage. I can’t imagine our life without it. A good devotion helps a couple reflect on the day gone by and plan for the one to come. A good devotion points us towards God, reminds us of his goodness, clarifies his Law, underscores his grace, and leads us into fuller praise and prayer. And, hopefully, does so in a clear, simple way that is devotional, not academic.

With this criteria for assessing the value of a devotional in view, I recommend Training Hearts, Teaching Minds by Starr Meade. It is simply superb. Terri and I have received many blessing  for this plain little book. The format is straightforward: there is a short devotional for each day of the week (except Sunday) and each week has a theme. The weekly themes are based on the Westminister Shorter Catechism (a method of teaching Christians knowledge about God through questions and answers).

From start to finish the book takes about two years to go through, but as I say, the reading for each day is more than manageable. It takes us about ten minutes per night to complete that night’s devotion.

Starr Meade, the author, is easy to read and only rarely uses jargon. When she does, she clearly explains the jargon so that you understand what it means and why it is important to understand the idea the word conveys. It is very, very user-friendly. Again, it is not a text book, it is a devotional.

For Terri and I, devotions have become a time to take stock of our day, the words we said (or didn’t say), the actions we took (or didn’t take), the thoughts and feelings that went on. Since no one is ever perfectly perfect even for an hour (‘If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves…’, 1 John 1.8), the devotion becomes the moment when we confess our sins to our gracious heavenly Father and seek his forgiveness. It also is the moment when we renew our pledge to follow his Son and ask the Holy Spirit for guidance.

Training Hearts, Teaching Minds usually cites one or two verses of the Bible per day. The Bible reading are the centre of each devotion.

Click here for more details about the book.

Five Common Mistakes Christians Make in Judging their State of Grace

February 17, 2009

flavel-john-flavelJohn Flavel, an English puritan pastor who worked in the port city of Dartmouth, often encountered Christians who severely doubted their salvation. He saw that there were Christians who, despite the genuineness of their conversion, were still plagued by soul-destroying doubts. As a good and kindly shepherd of his flock, Flavel responded with clarity of thought, compassionate advice, and faithfulness to the Word. I’ve taken the liberty of paraphrasing this wonderful saint.

1. Don’t question your salvation simply because sometimes you involuntarily sin.

Iniquities prevail against me; you atone for our transgressions (Psalm 65.3).

It’s never okay to sin, but the fact that Christians do sometimes sin does not mean that they are fake Christians. Rather, it means that we are in that in-between state where are redemption is promised but not fully realized. The consummation of our redemption is a future event that will come about in full-measure in the life eternal, when we are with God. When we sin, we are to repent and, then, trust that God, who is merciful, forgives us.

2. Don’t question your salvation simply because the circumstances of your salvation are different from the circumstances that marked the conversion of other Christians.

Some well-meaning Christians, who know the precise day, hour, and minute of their rebirth by the grace of God, will act as though their experience is the only true type of conversion. This may throw some others, who are not so sure when moment of salvation occurred, for a loop.

3. Don’t question your salvation simply because you don’t feel the same sense of joy that other Christians experience.

The new birth is not always marked by feelings of joy. Just as many Christians can’t pin-point the moment when God made them new, so, too, many Christians are not swept away by wave after wave of bliss when they are reborn. For them, it is a quiet event that has gone, to their natural eyes, unnoticed and unheralded. Nevertheless, if God has done it, it is as real and precious as an ‘extravagant’ conversion.

4. Don’t question your salvation simply because people who are obviously not Christian seem to live better than you.

The author of Psalm 73 suffered a similar problem, only worse. He saw wicked people prospering in their wickedness, bragging about their lifestyle, and daring God to zap them if he was real. After seeing this terrible spectacle, the psalmist cried out to God. The Lord revealed himself to the psalmist in the worship of the Temple. We’re not exactly sure how God showed himself, but it may have been as the psalmist viewed the sacrifice. Did he catch a glimpse of Christ, prefigured in the atoning act of the sacrifice? Did he see the mercy of God, as well as his terrible justice, in the slaughter of the innocent animal? We can’t be sure, but we do know that God granted him understanding. And the psalmist was then able to sing a hymn of praise and adoration to his Lord and Savior. Although the wicked sometimes prosper–and, as a result–confuse the righteous–in the end, God will right the wrongs done in this life. God will vindicate his people.

5. Don’t question your salvation simply because you are not growing in the same areas as other Christians.

Bound for Glory

February 17, 2009

book-bound-for-glory1R.C. Sproul Jr., author of Bound for Glory, says that the family’s chief aim is “to seek ye first the kingdom of [God’s] dear son” and offers a practical plan for husbands and wives to support each other and their children in this endeavor.  Nobody who intends to get somewhere drives around without a clear destination in mind.  Bound for Glory offers a destination for Christian families; to present themselves back to God as faithful members of the covenant with God.

R.C. Sproul, Jr. is pastor of Saint Peter Presbyterian Church, and Founder, Chairman, and Teacher of the Highlands Study Center in Bristol, Virginia, USA. He is R.C. Sproul’s son.

Click here to view more info.

Hospitality—Christian Style

February 13, 2009

jesus-and-children1Little One

I’m studying Jesus’ treatment of children in Matthew’s gospel, particularly Matthew 18.2-6;19.13-15. Our Lord makes a remarkable statement in verses 5-6. He says, ‘Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believes in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.’

Jesus had been talking specifically about little children in verse two. He calls a child and puts the child in the middle of the group. But in verses 3 and 4 he turns the discussion to everyone who humbles himself like the child. Those who humble themselves this way are also ‘little ones.’

So, in verse 5 and 6, the little ones that Jesus refers to are all believers, those who are humble before their heavenly Father. Jesus says, ‘Those who receive one such child (a child of God, regardless of age) in my name receive me’ In other words, Christians who welcome other Christians are, in a real and deeper sense, welcoming Christ. Think about that!

Obviously, Jesus is not saying we should worship other Christians or pray to them or bow down before them. But, rather, we are to show them the kind of hospitality that we would show Christ, were Christ to show up at the doorstep of our home.

 

Turkish Hospitality

This reminds me of when my brother, Rich, travelled through Turkey nearly two decades ago. He returned to Canada with one story after another about the wonders of Turkish hospitality. Under the present political climate, it may be different. But prior to 9/11, the people of Turkey and, indeed, people throughout the Middle East were renowned for their amazing graciousness. One man welcomed Rich into his home, invited him to stay with his family for as long as my brother wished, and strongly encouraged Rich to come again anytime. The whole time he was under this man’s roof, Rich was treated as am honored guest. Now I realize that there are social, cultural, and religious reasons why Turks—who are Middle-Eastern and have an Islamic background—respond that way to guests. But what an example. These folks dedicated themselves to making the stranger feel welcomed. Their warmth was outstanding. Could you imagine how many people would be drawn to our congregation if they received Turkish hospitality from us? I know of a few people who made our congregation their home, in part, because of the kindness they received from those who greeted them for the first time.

 

The law

The law of the Bible includes rules about hospitality. The Old Testament says a great deal about how to be hospitable to others, family as well as strangers. A hospitable attitude and behaviour and nature are mandated. But obviously, no one can perfectly fulfill the demands of the law. We are sunk every time. We may have a reasonable facsimile of the right behaviour—but even that can’t be maintained for long! But how can we possibly have an attitude and nature that is so gracious to others that it perfectly fulfills the demand for hospitality which the law requires?  That’s where grace enters.

 

Grace

We can’t be perfectly hospitable—not with strangers, neighbours, and even loved ones. Our behaviour may be pretty good, but our thoughts and feelings…? Nope, resentment and bitterness and rivalry will eventually creep in and distort even our best efforts at being ‘nice’ to others.

Our Saviour is the only one who perfectly fulfilled the laws demand for lavishly hospitable behaviour, attitude, and nature. We trust in him, in his obedient submission to the law and righteous fulfillment of it. Thank you, Jesus.