31 Oct 2006
Luther’s Church Growth plan
I simply taught, preached, wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philip and Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the Word did everything. -Martin Luther
Happy Reformation Day!
28 Oct 2006
A youth pastor’s run-in with phony grace
A pastor friend who graduated from Dallas tells me that the anti-Lordship doctrine has been pretty thoroughly discredited there. That is good to hear. But this interesting post by Phil Johnson, an elder at John MacArthur’s church, about his time as a youth pastor, is an example of how easy believism is the de facto doctrine of most Americans.
The Belgic Confession speaks the truth:
We believe that this true faith, produced in man by the hearing of God’s Word and by the work of the Holy Spirit, regenerates him and makes him a “new man,” (2 Cor 5:17) causing him to live the “new life” (Rom 6:4) and freeing him from the slavery of sin. … [I]t is impossible for this holy faith to be unfruitful in a human being, seeing that we do not speak of an empty faith but of what Scripture calls “faith working through love,” (Gal. 5:6) which leads a man to do by himself the works that God has commanded in his Word.
These works, proceeding from the good root of faith, are good and acceptable to God, since they are all sanctified by his grace. Yet they do not count toward our justification– for by faith in Christ we are justified, even before we do good works. Otherwise they could not be good, any more than the fruit of a tree could be good if the tree is not good in the first place.
So then, we do good works, but nor for merit– for what would we merit? Rather, we are indebted to God for the good works we do, and not he to us, since it is he who “works in us both to will and do according to his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13) — thus keeping in mind what is written: “When you have done all that is commanded you, then you shall say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have done what it was our duty to do.’ ” (Luke 17:10)
Yet we do not wish to deny that God rewards good works– but it is by his grace that he crowns his gifts. Moreover, although we do good works we do not base our salvation on them; for we cannot do any work that is not defiled by our flesh and also worthy of punishment. … So we would always be in doubt, tossed back and forth without any certainty, and our poor consciences would be tormented constantly if they did not rest on the merit of the suffering and death of our Savior.
25 Oct 2006
A blessing to all because He is near
Commenting on Luke 24:50 (“Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them.”), Hendriksen says:
Acts 1:11 “This same Jesus will come back in the same way.”
If, then, he departed while blessing his disciples, and if he is coming again with blessing for his church, does it not follow that even now, during the intervening period, he, as representative of the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, delights in being for his people a source of blessing? Also, that he wants us, in a derived or secondary manner, to be a blessing to everyone with whom we come into contact?
And on Luke 24:51 (“While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven.”):
Matt. 28:20 “I am with you always.”
He departed in order to remain with his church; in fact, now more than ever. When he was still on earth he was not able physically to be everywhere at the same time. But now that he is in heaven he is able, in and through the Holy Spirit, to be everywhere (not bodily, to be sure, but spiritually). Also, while he was still on earth he was present with the church. Now he is present in the church. In other words, he has departed from us in order to draw closer to us.
22 Oct 2006
Matthew Henry in print
Many online Bible sites provide Matthew Henry’s commentary, unabridged and condensed versions, keyed to each verse. This is useful. However, sometimes one likes to move away from the computer.
There are a number of print versions of the commentary available. Hendrickson offers a one volume unabridged tome. It saves a lot of shelf space compared to the six volume set, but the font is so tiny that it is painful to read. The six-volume set has more legible type, but it takes up a lot of shelf space. The layout is poor, too; there’s little use of bold fonts or spacing, and it uses Roman numerals for chapters. This set is also more than triple the cost of the single volume.
The one-volume condensed versions are more manageable. The Nelson version is so rewritten that it seems unrelated to the original. The beauty, wit, and power of the original prose is lost. The abridged version I like best is Zondervan’s Classic 1961 version (I bought it used to avoid giving money to the company that gave us the TNIV). It retains the original language, although it is heavily condensed. Good stuff is lost. Note that Zondervan also has a newer NIV version. It looked similar to the classic version but the font wasn’t as readable. There were also some wording “updates.” A brief glance revealed nothing offensive, but I thought it best to stick with the 1961 version since I don’t trust the TNIV company.
19 Oct 2006
Jesus in the parables
Ask a fellow citizen what he thinks of Jesus, and the answer will likely be that Jesus was a good man who wouldn’t harm a mouse. Read the Parables, though, and one thing you’ll notice is a recurrence of martial imagery warning of horrifying endings (Heb 10:31) for the Lord’s enemies. For example:
- The Parable of the Two Builders: the “ruin was great” of the one who built on sand (Luke 6:49)
- The Parable of the Tares: “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned” (Matt 13:30)
- The Parable of the Dragnet: “The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt 13:49-50)
- The Parable of the Wicked Tenants: Those who fall on the stone “will be broken to pieces” and crushed. (Matt 21:44)
- The Parable of the Marriage Feast: the king “destroyed the murders and burned their city.” The uninvited guest is bound and cast into the “outer darkness.” (Matt 22:7, 13)
- The Parable of the Faithful vs. Unfaithful Servant: The master will “cut [the evil servant] in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt 25:51)
- The Parable of the Ten Virgins: The Lord says “I do not know you” to the unready virgins. (Matt 25:12)
- The Parable of the Talents: The worthless servant is cast into “outer darkness” where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt. 25:30)
- The Parable of the Rich Fool: “Fool! This night your soul is required of you” (Luke 12:20)
- The Parable of the Barren Fig Tree: “Cut it down.” (Luke 13:9)
- The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus: “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.” (Luke 16:24)
- The Parable of the Pounds: “But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me.” (Luke 19:27)
Of course, threats aren’t the only point of these parables, but the fly is in the ointment. They aren’t bedtime stories for the unbeliever. Certainly the warnings were put in there to be noticed, but such unpleasantries (which are such vital parts of the sermons of Jesus and the apostles) are rarely mentioned in pulpits today.
16 Oct 2006
The internet whore
She sits at the door of her house; she takes a seat on the highest places of the town, calling to those who pass by, who are going straight on their way, Whoever is simple, let him turn in here! And to him who lacks sense she says, Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant. But he does not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol [the grave]. -Proverbs 9:14-18
The safest road to Hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts. – C.S. Lewis
If every Christian family in the country put Covenant Eyes on their home computers, I bet that the majority of mothers would be shocked at what the logs show. Allowing a teen, or perhaps even ol’ dad, to use a high-speed connection privately in the home, without quality logging/filtering software, is asking for trouble. In the case of a teen, you might as well let a whore live in the house.
“Well, my Billy wouldn’t do that.” Don’t be so sure. Kids involved with this stuff know the game, and they know you don’t. Many are getting good practice at deception as they play in the shadows, sowing the seeds of their own destruction.
The story isn’t out yet on what a massive problem this is. What crop will arise from the seed sown in this culture? What fruit will the porn-enslaved internet generation bring forth? Lord, help us.
In the meantime, do you want to help your child avoid the way that leads to enslavement, and to seek instead the far superior joys of holiness in Christ’s kingdom? Here are a few ideas:
- Pray that your kids will not pierce themselves with many sorrows in this area.
- Dad (or single mom), put accountability / filtering software on your computers. Pay the money.
- Mom, learn about the sites your kids are using. (I say “Mom” because Dad probably should avoid the possibility of visual temptation). Check the Covenant Eyes report or your filter logs and visit some of the sites that show higher scores and find out what is being visited. Take the time. You’ll get used to it and it’ll only take a few minutes a week. You’re preparing your kids for the day when they will be on their own; hopefully they will want to remain accountable then. High-speed internet isn’t going away.
- Spread the word to the parents of your kid’s friends. If you protect your kids, you don’t want some other kid’s parents to leave the sewer hole open.
- Refer to internet resources like Focus on the Family, American Family Association, and other anti-porn groups. These groups are more “up” on the latest stuff than, well, this aging Gen-Xer for one.
By the way, I think this is one of the most useful areas where a Christian mother can learn the ropes and serve other families in the church as we press forward in our sanctification. Knowledge in this area is sorely lacking.
14 Oct 2006
Luke 15 and Communion
“Quickly bring a robe, the best one,” etc. Note the intensity of the joy resulting from the successful search… Is not the material found in Luke 15 [the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, the Prodigal Son]… very suitable for meditation during the week previous to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, or on the very Sunday of communion? -William Hendriksen
11 Oct 2006
Pastor Bob Dewaay oversees a non-denominational church in Minneapolis and seems doctrinally similar to John MacArthur. His Redefining Christianity radio series, based on his book of the same name, is a really good and accessible critique of Rick Warren and the entire Church Growth Movement that has made such a mess in evangelicaldom. Dewaay has a crisp and discerning eye, much like Iain Murray.
How can you not love a Minnesota accent anyway? Okee…
Five MP3s are posted now on the site and a new one is posted each week. Check it out.
08 Oct 2006
Daily Bible reading and study
Note: For a long time I didn’t read my Bible every day. Thorns choked the path during free time: sports, other books, web surfing, etc. For the past few months, though, God has been working within me to make time (Phil 2:13). Perhaps these ideas will be of practical use…
This J.C. Ryle quote floored me with its simple truth:
Holiness is the habit of agreeing with the mind with God, in accordance as we find His mind described in Scripture. It is the habit of agreeing with God’s judgment – hating what He hates, loving what He loves- and measuring everything in this world by the standard of His Word. The person who most completely agrees with God is the one who is the most holy person.
Now, you can’t agree with God if you don’t know what He says, and that means reading and understanding the Word. However, I have terrible short-term memory. I read and often cannot recall what I have read. I glance back at the page and say: “oh yes yes, of course.” There must be a synapse missing in my head, a bug in my mental software that doesn’t allow the front-end to connect to the database. It’s frustrating. It’s like the man who forgets what he was like in James 1:23-24.
Just as there’s little value in visiting some museum just to check it off a list, there’s no spiritual value in reading the Bible just to say “been there, done that.” My attempts to “read the Bible in 7 minutes a day” or “read the Bible in a year” always failed miserably. Then, a few months ago, I was pondering why I recalled Romans much better than other books over the years. The reason hit me: I studied it in-depth years ago using Hodge’s commentary. Light bulb!
My new system is simple: I read a single chapter of a Bible book each day, then reread it slowly using a commentary. I meditate along the way, because reading without pondering what you’ve read is a useless exercise. You can’t read Scripture the way you read an airplane magazine and expect to get anywhere– These are the words of life! As I’m reading, God captures my attention through specific verses that I’d never pondered before. The overall “puzzle” starts to make more sense. The Word starts becoming “sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb” (Ps. 19:10). Lo and behold, this daily process has become, dare I say it, the beginning of a discipline. How invigorating! Move me onward, Lord! To cap off the session, I pray. This is easier to do after filling your head with Scripture. At times it becomes organic, as if you would positively burst if you do not pray. You read and ponder the Sermon on the Mount, for example, and repentance is not a rote affair, but something you do trembling.
With this simple system, a good (Reformed, of course!) commentary is invaluable. A good commentary is simply the interpetation of someone more advanced in the faith. It provides context. You learn that the Laodiceans were famous for making salve, and thus it makes more sense when Christ tells them to buy a salve from Him that will anoint their eyes and allow them to (spiritually) see. A commentary also provides practical application. When Luke 10:7 says that “a worker is entitled to his wages,” the commentator (Hendriksen in this case) tells you that those who devote themselves entirely to religious work should not be regarded as objects of charity: the congregation or denomination owes them a living! Ah, you think, what a fresh insight! Best of all, certain verses stick out that you never paid much attention to before, and now you read and ponder them. Faith and understanding grow as the Spirit works through the Word.
One big commentary no-no in my book is when writers (usually academics) spend much of their time taking on textual critics or seriously debating the absurd intepretations of modern heretics. Life is too short for that. Tell us instead what the text means and how to apply it, and interact with the interpretations of past giants. Some commentaries do it well. The hardback Banner of Truth commentaries are useful, although most were were written long ago and can be difficult to read (Crossway offers abridged versions of some of them, which I have not read). I like Matthew Henry very much [note: original post edited to remove inaccurate statement]. The Hendriksen / Kistemaker New Testament Commentaries are very good too and available online.
One issue with many of these commentaries, though, is that they are long. Many use more than 50 pages to review a single chapter; some take hundreds! On the other hand, the Reformation Study Bible is great for general reading and when travelling, but it does not have enough detail for study. Are there studies out there written by believing Reformed commentators that cover chapters in ~20 pages? This seems to me a good balance for daily reading and more in-depth study, while still leaving time for meditation/prayer and allowing for continued progress through Scripture. I prefer writings by pastors, those who’ve actually shepherded flocks, instead of merely academics. (Ryken and others have recently begun producing a “Reformed Expository Commentary” series. Perhaps those are worth a look; reviews are not plentiful. Anyone read one? I do have a book on Hebrews by Geoffrey Wilson, but have yet to read it. I’ve heard good things about Poythress’s “Returning King,” a guide to the Book of Revelation).
05 Oct 2006
Take heed how you hear
Immediately after the Parable of the Sower, an application follows:
No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a jar or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light. For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light. Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away. -Luke 8:16-18
It is convicting: “take heed then how you hear…” Hendriksen puts it this way:
In matters spiritual, standing still is impossible. A person either gains or loses; he either advances or declines … Every blessing is a guarantee of further blessings to come (John 1:16). … On the other hand, whoever does not have, from him shall be taken away even that semblance of knowledge, that superficial acquaintance with matters spiritual, which he once had or thought he had. … Is it not true that the person who has learned enough music to play a few simple melodies, but not really enough to be able to say, “I have mastered this or that instrument,” and then stops practicing altogether, will soon discover that the little skill which he had at one time has vanished? The man who refuses to make proper use of his one talent loses even that (Matt. 25:24-30).
03 Oct 2006
The Parable of the Sower
And when a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable: A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold. As he said these things, he called out, He who has ears to hear, let him hear. And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, he said, To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand. Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard. Then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience. -Luke 8:4-15
The ones on the path that won’t be plowed are, per Hendriksen, the unresponsive hearts.
These people do nothing with the message… Immediately after they have heard it, any favorable effect it might have had on them is annihilated… The Lord, addressing Ezekiel, gave this description of the prophet’s audience: “You are to them like a lovely song, sung with a beautiful voice, and played well on an instrument; for they hear your words, but refuse to practice them.” (Ezek. 33:32).
Those on the rock are the impulsive hearts.
These are the emotional people. Now it is a good thing to be emotional… However, the trouble with the people symbolized [here]… is that their emotions are superficial, not based on deep-seated convictions… [H]ow does one know whether marked emotional behavior is the evidence of genuine faith? The answer is, “It is, if it can endure testing.” … The people described in Luke 8:13 cannot. In time of trial they fall away.
Those among the weeds are the preoccupied hearts.
…Jesus warns especially against three dangers: First, the cares or worries of life… Worry not only breaks down resistance to disease and therefore shortens life, but also prevents one from concentrating on the blessings God is constantly providing… The second danger to the development of spiritual life… is riches, the craving for wealth and/or the inordinate yearning to cling to it… Thirdly, there are the pleasures of life. These, too, if a person does not watch out, may become soul-ruining entanglements. They are of two kinds: (a) those that are wrong in themselves: drunkenness, drug addiction, gambling, sexual vice, etc; (b) those that are wrong when a person over-indulges in them: games, sports, entertainment, etc. Like a… destructive parasite little by little destroying its host, so also these “thorns” slowly but surely choke the souls of those people who extend a welcome to them. Such individuals never mature. [Ouch]
And finally there are those on the fertile soil. These are the responsive hearts.
These people receive the message with an open, unprejudiced mind… Moreover, they keep clinging to it. How do they do that? Of course, by giving away this precious message, proclaiming it everywhere, and this not only be means of their words but also, and most of all, by consecrated [holy] lives. Finally, by means of their perseverance, these people produce a crop… love, joy, peace, longsuffering, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control (Gal 5:22-23), unto their own inner joy, the conversion of souls, and God’s glory.
Thus, Hendriksen concludes, “the parable is therefore really an exhortation to self examination…”