30 March 2009

Manton and Luther on Psalm 119:71

A few valuable quotes from Thomas Manton on Psalm 119:71:

Doctrine - That affliction, all things considered, is rather good than evil.

"The assertion is a paradox to vulgar sense, and the ears of the common sort of men. How few are there in the world that will grant that it is good to be afflicted! Yea, the children of God can scarcely subscribe to the truth of it, till the affliction is over. While they are under it, they feel the smart, but do not presently discern the benefit; but, in the review, they find that God hath ordered it with much wisdom and faithfulness; and in the issue they say as David doth, 'It is good for me that I have been afflicted.' "

"But affliction is good, because it many times maketh us the more earnestly to seek after him: 'In their affliction they will seek me early' (Hos. 5:15). Therefore every condition is good or evil as it sets further off, or draweth us nearer to God, capable of communion with him, conduceth to our everlasting happiness...If afflictions conduce to this end, they are good; for then they help us to enjoy the chief good."

"A discerning Christian puts more value upon holiness wrought by affliction, than upon all his comforts; so that, though affliction be evil in itself, it is good to be sanctified. "

"While God is striking, we feel the grief, and the cross is tedious; but when we see the end, we acknowledge it is good to be afflicted: 'No chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous; nevertheless, afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness' (Heb. 12:11)."

"Therefore good is not to be determined by feeling, but by faith."
(All quotes from Psalm 119 by Thomas Manton, Banner of Truth, 1990, pgs 111-114.)

And from Martin Luther we read, I want you to know how to study theology in the right way. I have practiced this method myself ... Here you will find three rules. They are frequently proposed throughout Psalm [119] and run thus: Oration, meditatio, tentatio (Prayer, meditation, trial). Concerning trials he stated that they teach you not only to know and understand but also to experience how right, how true, how sweet, how lovely, how mighty, how comforting God's word is: it is wisdom supreme. (Taken from What Luther Says: An Anthology, Vol. 3, p. 1359 and 1360.)

If you are struggling today these are comforting reminders that the trials you face are from our Lord and not by random chance. There is meaning and purpose. Struggle through them and be obedient and you will receive the blessing God has intended for you.

28 March 2009

Lord's Day 13 Heidelberg Catechism

Lord's Day 13 :

Scripture Readings: Isaiah 7:10-14; 9:1-7; Hebrews 2:5-18

Question 33. Why is he called God's "only Son" when we also are God's children?
Answer. Because Christ alone is the eternal, natural Son of God. We, however, are adopted children of God adopted by grace through Christ.

Question 34. Why do you call him "our Lord"?
Answer. Because not with gold or silver, but with his precious blood he has redeemed us from sin and from the power of the devil, and has bought us, body and soul, to be his very own.

For discussion:
What is the importance of our adoption?
How would you explain "to be his very own" to an unbeliever?

26 March 2009

The Next Time You Pray...

The next time you sit down to pray, keep in my mind the men you know, and perhaps don’t know, that are out of work. In this economic crisis there must be at least one man you know who has lost his position. We as men are not designed to stay home even if we are keeping our selves busy with necessary duties and chores around the home. Sure, we can mend that fence and replace that leaky faucet and clean out the garage. But we were designed to work, to bring in the Kingdom with the skills and talents that our Lord has entrusted to us. It’s not only the loss of income that can be so devastating. The pure lack of fixed employment can crush the male spirit. So, go before the Lord on behalf of those men who are unemployed and ask the Lord to give them employment and until such time pray that they will not fall into despair or feel discouraged. Ask that their financial needs will be met. Ask that they will be strengthened and feel energized each day to seek for employment and not be troubled by news of the economy. Ask that they will remember and be as confident as Job when he said, The LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD. (Job 1:21)

The Creedal Emphases of Our Faith

Jump over and read Iain Campbell's latest post, Means of Grace. Its a valued reminder of our means of grace as he states, The emphasis on grace is a reminder that it is possible for us to have a real relationship with God, and that such a relationship is founded and grounded upon his action toward us. And, its not over when we receive his grace, either. Christian living means living in the light and in the grip of grace. I won't steal his thunder so please read it for yourself but allow me to share his conclusion, This may all seem academic, but it is anything but. There is a need to recover the creedal emphases of our faith, with their high view of the way God has chosen to minister his grace into the lives of his people. We have tended to dumb down the idea of the church, and even a need for it. But Christ has appointed it, and, however distasteful the idea might appear to some, outside of it there is no ordinary possibility of our receiving the grace of God at all.

21 March 2009

Some Thoughts on Church Attendance, The Welfare State and The Family

There is an interesting connection between the welfare state in this country and church attendance. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal by W. Bradford Wilcox points out that, The secular tide appears to be running strongest among young Americans. Religious attendance among those 21 to 45 years old is at its lowest level in decades, according to Princeton sociologist Robert Wuthnow. Only 25% of young adults now attend services regularly, compared with about one-third in the early 1970s.

The most powerful force driving religious participation down is the nation's recent retreat from marriage, Mr. Wuthnow notes. Nothing brings women and especially men into the pews like marriage and parenthood, as they seek out the religious, moral and social support provided by a congregation upon starting a family of their own. But because growing numbers of young adults are now postponing or avoiding marriage and childbearing, they are also much less likely to end up in church on any given Sunday.
Sounds bad enough, eh? He continues by pointing out that, Now, President Barack Obama seems poised to give secularism in America another boost, however inadvertently...the president's audacious plans for the expansion of the government -- from the stimulus to health-care reform to a larger role in education -- are likely to spell trouble for the vitality of American religion. His $3.6 trillion budget for fiscal 2010 would bring federal, state and local spending to about 40% of the gross domestic product -- within hailing distance of Europe, where state spending runs about 46% of GDP. The European experience suggests that the growth of the welfare state goes hand in hand with declines in personal religiosity.

A recent study of 33 countries by Anthony Gill and Erik Lundsgaarde found an inverse relationship between religious observance and welfare spending. Countries with larger welfare states, such as Sweden, Norway and Denmark, had markedly lower levels of religious attendance, affiliation and trust in God than countries with a history of limited government, such as the U.S., the Philippines and Brazil. Public spending amounts to more than one half of the GDP in Sweden, where only 4% of the population regularly attends church. By contrast, public spending amounts to 18% of the Philippines' GDP, and 68% of Filipinos regularly attend church.

What will almost certainly happen? The president's plans will make it ever more possible for the American public to turn away from their churches and/or church attendance and look to the government to satisfy their various needs. We already see this occuring all around us from education to health care.

Wilcox concludes by stating, This is not to say that the health of the American religious sector depends only on some level of economic or social dislocation to attract people to congregations. Many Americans are religious for reasons that have nothing to do with the mutual aid found in churches and charities, such as the desire to be in a personal relationship with God or to keep faith with important family traditions. But the reasons for going to church are not so easily separated. And many of those who initially turn to religious organizations for mutual aid end up developing a faith that is as supernatural as it is material. But first they need to enter the door.

So my friends, how do you and I, the regular church attending American, concerned about the religious and spiritual state of our country, proceed from here?

Read the entire article here.

Lord's Day 12 Heidelberg Catechism

Lord's Day 12:

Scripture Readings: Exodus 29:1-9; 1 Samuel 13:1-14; Romans 12: 1-8

Question 31. Why is he called "Christ," meaning anointed?
Answer. Because he has been ordained by God the Father and has been anointed with the Holy Spirit to be our chief prophet and teacher who perfectly reveals to us the secret counsel and will of God for our redemption; our only high priest who has redeemed us by the one sacrifice of his body, and who continually pleads our cause with the Father; and our eternal king who governs us by his Word and Spirit, and who guards us and keeps us in the redemption he has won for us.

Question 32. But why are you called a Christian?
Answer. Because by faith I am a member of Christ and so I share in his anointing. I am anointed to confess his name, to present myself to him as a living sacrifice of thanks, to strive with a good conscience against sin and the devil in this life, and afterward to reign with Christ over all creation for all eternity.

For discussion:
In what ways can we present ourselves as a living sacrifice?

18 March 2009

New Fundamentalist?

I'd like to draw your attention to Erik's recent post at the Irish Calvinist. He begins it this way, I am not a fundamentalist. At least I don’t think that I am. In fact, I have prided myself on some occasions with my acerbic criticism of those who wear their fundi-wear a little too tight. But here recently, as I look in the mirror and watch some of my friends, I wonder if we are not the ‘new fundamentalists’.

See I am like many of my friends. I am 32 year old pastor. I am a Calvinist and I love the gospel of Christ. I have multiple tattoos and am sketching another right now. I am comfortable wearing my 14 gauge earrings, flat bill, suede Adidas, grunged out jeans. I drink almost exclusively English imported Beer (St. Peter’s and Boddingtons are favorites). I don’t listen to Christian radio and could not tell you the difference between the Newsboys or Casting Crowns (I actually had to google ‘top Christian bands’ to get that info). And on and on the list could go, but you get the idea. I’m one of these guys.

Sounds like a cool dude to me because I'm a 49 year old layman, a Calvinist and I, too, love the gospel of Christ. I have multiple tattoos and I'm always considering several new tat designs. I spend most of my time in black jeans, t-shirts and often where a skull & cross bones bandana to cover my bald head. I imbibe almost exclusively English or Scottish stouts (Young's Double Chocolate Stout, Guinness and McEwans Scotch Ale are my favorites). I do know who the Newsboys and Casting Crowns are but often would rather listen to something heavier such as Decyfer Down or Day of Fire. So, I'm one of these guys, too. I think Erik & I were cut from the same cloth.

Moreover, Erik goes on to point out that some of these preferences often become our own test of orthodoxy. Just like the old fundy's of the non-movie going, non-card playing, white, button down collar, shirt and tie crowd we can now have our own test of Christianity. He goes on to make a crucial point, This is really dangerous. Our moral code (in this case liberties and preferences) becomes the test of our orthodoxy...Maybe this is our preference or perhaps it is our craving...The danger in this type of new fundamentalism is the same as with the old. The glory of Christ gets eclipsed by the glory of self. Our identity slow becomes wrapped up in who we are not rather than who Christ is. This is so true. Am I so busy trying to be "me" that my focus becomes me rather than glorifying Christ? As with all sinful people the answer can always be a resounding "yes." Erik points out that we should always to be preaching the truth to ourselves and he reminds us of 1 Cor. 1:26-31 where we read that we should Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.

I invite you to read the whole article here and thanks Erik for making us think through this issue.

17 March 2009

Joy in Adversity?

Yes, joy in adversity. We can have it. The current economic crisis has made me dig even deeper into the depths of Scripture to find answers for life's trials. It always comes back to something like this: God in His wise providence has deemed my (fill in the blank here - trial, problem, heartache, job loss, disease, etc.) necessary and has done so for a reason that I may never know or understand on this side of heaven. Yet, joy comes from the Lord, not our situation. God knows our situation and is using it for His grand and glorious purposes. So, even if I could change my situation, would I? CJ Mahaney has let us in on his thoughts on this here. He concludes his brief explication this way, "I reminded [my friend] of Philippians 4:4 and passed along D.A. Carson’s comments on the verse from his book Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1996):

"The ultimate ground of our rejoicing can never be our circumstances, even though we as Christians recognize that our circumstances are providentially arranged. If our joy derives primarily from our circumstances, then when our circumstances change, we will be miserable. Our delight must be in the Lord himself. That is what enables us to live with joy above our circumstances. As Nehemiah puts it, “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Neh. 8:10). Perhaps that is one of the reasons why the Lord sometimes allows miserable circumstances to lash us—that we may learn this lesson.…Whatever the mysteries of evil and sorrow, they do have the salutary effect of helping believers to shift the ground of their joy from created things to the Creator, from the temporary to the eternal, from jingoism to Jesus, from consumption to God."(p. 106)

How about you? Are you personally experiencing a season of adversity with no end in sight? If so, rather than peering into the future trying to predict the concluding date of the trial, I recommend you look down and then up.

Look down and realize a transition is under way to shift the ground of your joy “from created things to the Creator.” Then look up and delight in the Lord himself. Contemplate his changeless character and the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Then—dependent upon God’s grace—obey this command given for our good and his glory. Rejoice as you realize afresh you are doing much better than you deserve.

This will not alter the severity of your trial, but it will transform your perspective and strengthen your soul for the trial."

15 March 2009

Where Are We Headed?

I find it interesting in light of Time magazine's proclamation that the New Calvinisim is one of the 10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now that we also have a declaration of the Collapse of Evangelicalism at the Christian Science Monitor. This is a fascinating article and the author, Michael Spencer, asserts many truths about Evangelicalism that many of us ignore. Why will this happen? Spencer offers several reasons the first being, "Evangelicals have identified their movement with the culture war and with political conservatism." How true. We have seen this before in Evangelical history in the early 19th century. We cannot ignore this trend. He also cites the fact that, "We Evangelicals have failed to pass on to our young people an orthodox form of faith that can take root and survive the secular onslaught." Again he is spot on. There is no doubt that we are saved by simple faith but to pass on this faith takes training, understanding and perseverence that likes of which is hard to find in today's evangelical church culture.

Spencer concludes his article by answering if the collapse of Evangelicalism is a bad thing. In part he speculates, Will the coming collapse get Evangelicals past the pragmatism and shallowness that has brought about the loss of substance and power? Probably not. The purveyors of the evangelical circus will be in fine form, selling their wares as the promised solution to every church's problems. I expect the landscape of megachurch vacuity to be around for a very long time.

Will it shake lose the prosperity Gospel from its parasitical place on the evangelical body of Christ? Evidence from similar periods is not encouraging. American Christians seldom seem to be able to separate their theology from an overall idea of personal affluence and success.

The loss of their political clout may impel many Evangelicals to reconsider the wisdom of trying to create a "godly society." That doesn't mean they'll focus solely on saving souls, but the increasing concern will be how to keep secularism out of church, not stop it altogether. The integrity of the church as a countercultural movement with a message of "empire subversion" will increasingly replace a message of cultural and political entitlement.

I don't agree with all of Spencer's assertions or conclusions but it is thought provoking article worth a read. As a very amatuer church historian I believe I can safely say that much of what we see today we have seen before without a collapse of "Evangelicalism". [I dont like the term "Evangelical" and will no longer desribe myself by that term]. However, we do all know that Christ will be victorious and all will acknowledge Him as such. But in the meantime, where are we headed?

Read more comments on this at the Ref21 blog here and here.

14 March 2009

New Calvinism - Truly Remarkable

Time magazine has named the New Calvinism as one of the 10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now. That is simply astounding! The author is not entirely accurate in his description of the Old/New Calvinism but we'll take what we can get, right? Mark Driscoll has been all over this declaration by Time and has posted some good stuff on it such as this.
The author draws our attention to a decisive position when he states, Like the Calvinists, more moderate Evangelicals are exploring cures for the movement's doctrinal drift, but can't offer the same blanket assurance. "A lot of young people grew up in a culture of brokenness, divorce, drugs or sexual temptation," says Collin Hansen, author of Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist's Journey with the New Calvinists. "They have plenty of friends: what they need is a God." Mohler says, "The moment someone begins to define God's [being or actions] biblically, that person is drawn to conclusions that are traditionally classified as Calvinist." Of course, that presumption of inevitability has drawn accusations of arrogance and divisiveness since Calvin's time. Indeed, some of today's enthusiasts imply that non-Calvinists may actually not be Christians. Skirmishes among the Southern Baptists (who have a competing non-Calvinist camp) and online "flame wars" bode badly. (Emphasis mine.) He's got a point. Driscoll responds by stating, Sadly, Cruel Calvinists are a small but loud bunch. Thus, now more than ever, it is vital that all Christians in general, and Reformed Christians in particular, demonstrate the kind of love and humility that our theology requires. The cruel, flame-thrown half-truths and misquotes between Christians do not speak well to the watching world of the love we are supposed to share. ...borders include spiritual gifts, baptism, communion, worship styles, Bible translations, sense of humor, and the like. Various states can have their own proverbial borders on these issues. Nonetheless, like states we must be able to live as a loving and unified nation. We cannot turn our state borders into national borders and refuse to live at peace in unity and love with those who live in other proverbial states. Simply, the state borders should not be battle lines where personal and theological wars are fought because bigger things are at stake, such as the evangelizing of lost people and the planting of missional churches.
So, where are you & I as Calvinists? Are we loving our fellow Christian that has a different viewpoint?

Lord's Day 11 Heidelberg Catechism

Lord's Day 11:

Scripture Readings: Colossians 2; Romans 3:9-31

Question 29. Why is the Son of God called "Jesus," meaning Savior?
Answer. Because he saves us from our sins, and because salvation is not to be sought or found in any other.

Question 30. Do those who look for their salvation and security in saints, in themselves, or elsewhere really believe in the only Savior Jesus?
Answer. No. Although they boast of being his, by their deeds they deny the only Savior and Redeemer Jesus. Either Jesus is not a perfect Savior, or those who in true faith accept this Savior have in him all they need for their salvation.

For discussion:
In what other ways do we continually try to achieve salvation?
How would you further explain the answer to question 30 to a Roman Catholic friend?

10 March 2009

Spurgeon on Trials

None of us can come to the highest maturity without enduring the summer heat of trials. As the sycamore fig never ripens if it be not bruised, as the corn does not leave the husk without threshing, and as wheat makes no fine flour until it be ground, so are we of little use till we are afflicted. Why should we be so eager to escape such benefits? -C.H. Spurgeon

09 March 2009

A Tough Week

Its been a tough week here at the Renegade household. Last Thursday evening I started with the stomach flu and the other assorted symptoms and it would just not stop. I became dehydrated and so spent Saturday afternoon in the local ER getting an IV of fluids and other good stuff to get this under control. I praise God I live today when modern medicine can bring these maladies under control.
Moreover, its been tough as last week I was laid off with no hope of returning to my position of 18 1/2 years. I've had my ups and downs over the last week but like Job, I believe I can say, "Though he slay me, I will hope in Him" (Job 13:15). I have felt drawn into some type of full time ministry for some time now so I believe this may be the door the Lord has opened to follow that path. Please pray for the wisdom needed to discern my next steps.
All this seems so trivial in light of what happened in that church in Maryville, Illinois yesterday. Please pray for all those involved in this horrible situation and especially for the family of the slain Pastor.

07 March 2009

Lord's Day 10 Heidelberg Catechism

Lord's Day 10:

Scripture Readings: Deuteronomy 28; Genesis 37; 39-46; 50:15-21; Romans 8:28

Question 27. What do you understand by the providence of God?
Answer. The almighty and ever present power by which God upholds heaven and earth and all creatures, and so rules them that leaves and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and unfruitful years, food and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, and everything else, come to us not by chance but from God's sustaining hand.

Question 28. How does the knowledge of God's creation and providence help us?
Answer. We can be patient when things go against us, thankful when things go well, and for the future we can have good confidence in our faithful God and Father that nothing will separate us from God's love. All creatures are so completely in God's hand that without the divine will they can neither move nor be moved.

03 March 2009

Baxter on Books

A poor pedlar came to the door...and my father bought of him Sibb's Bruised Reed...It suited my state...and gave me a livelier apprehension of the mystery of redemption and how much I was beholden to Jesus Christ...Without any means but books was God pleased to resolve me to himself. - Richard Baxter (emphasis mine.)