Monday, July 6, 2015

Calvin on Titus 3:5

"The efficacy and use of the sacraments will be properly understood by him who shall connect the sign and the thing signified, in such a manner as not to make the sign unmeaning and inefficacious, and who nevertheless shall not, for the sake of adorning the sign, take away from the Holy Spirit what belongs to him. Although by baptism wicked men are neither washed nor renewed, yet it retains that power, so far as it relates to God, because, although they reject the grace of God, still it is offered to them. But here [in Titus 3:5] Paul addresses believers, in whom baptism is always efficacious and in whom, therefore it is properly connected with its truth and efficacy. But by this mode of expression we are reminded that, if we do not wish to annihilate holy baptism we must prove its efficacy by newness of life." (John Calvin on Titus 3:5)

Here is a classic statement of the reformed view of the Sacraments, even if current reformed people do not know it. Let me make a couple of points about what Calvin says.

1. All efficacy in the sign is to be assigned to the Spirit, but this does not mean we substitute Spirit baptism for water baptism. The Spirit works through the sign. The Spirit doesn't work outside of the sign. Thus we cannot disconnect baptism with water and baptism by the Spirit.

2. Baptism is always efficacious for the believer. Here is quote from the Westminster Shorter Catechism saying the same thing as Calvin:

"Q88: What are the outward means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption?
A88: The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption, are his ordinances, especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation."

3. Baptism, like the preaching of the Gospel, is an offer of the grace of God.

4. Baptism, like the preaching of the Gospel, can be rejected by the hardness of men's hearts.

5. The proof that someone has accepted their baptism is newness of life.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Kissing the Cross~Quotes on Suffering

Tomorrow I will be preaching on why our good Father allows us to suffer. Here are some quotes from men of faith and from the Scriptures about suffering. Of course, these are only a few Scripture verses on suffering from the hundreds I could have chosen. Without suffering we cannot be sons, which is hard to hear because we often think that being a son will keep us from suffering. 

Exodus 2:23-24
During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. 

Job 3:1 After this Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. 

Psalm 69:1-3
Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. I am weary with my crying out; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God. 

Psalm 119:71  It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.

Psalm 143:3-4
For the enemy has pursued my soul; he has crushed my life to the ground; he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead. Therefore my spirit faints within me; my heart within me is appalled. 

Luke 23:32-33
Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 

Acts 5:41
Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. 

Romans 8:18
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 

II Timothy 3:12
Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted

Hebrews 2:10
For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. 

Hebrews 5:8
Though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which he suffered. 

Revelation 1:9
I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 

God had one Son on earth without sin, but never one without suffering. Augustine
Holy Christian people are externally recognized by the holy possession of the sacred cross. They must endure every misfortune and persecution, all kinds of trials and evil from the devil, the world, and the flesh, by inward sadness, timidity, fear, outward poverty, contempt, illness, and weakness, in order to become like their head, Christ. Martin Luther
It is indeed a singular consolation, calculated to mitigate [lessen] the bitterness of cross, when the faithful hear, that by sorrows and tribulations they are sanctified for glory as Christ himself was; and hence they see sufficient reason why they should lovingly kiss the cross rather than dread it. John Calvin 
Christ did not suffer so you wouldn't suffer. He suffered so that when you suffer you will become like Him. Tim Keller
God whispers in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world. C.S. Lewis
To endure the cross is not tragedy; it is the suffering, which is the fruit of exclusive allegiance to Jesus Christ. Dietrich Bonhoeffer
The winter prepares the earth for the spring, so do afflictions sanctified prepare the soul for glory.  Richard Sibbes
The secret formula of the saints: When I am in the cellar of affliction, I look for the Lord's choicest wines. Samuel Rutherford
I am afraid that all the grace that I have got of my comfortable and easy times and happy hours, might almost lie on a penny. But the good that I have received from my sorrows, and pains, and griefs, is altogether incalculable … Affliction is the best bit of furniture in my house. It is the best book in a minister’s library. Charles Spurgeon
I have never heard anyone say, "The really deep lessons of life have come through times of ease and comfort." But I have heard strong saints say, "Every significant advance I have ever made in grasping the depths of God's love and growing deep in him, has come through suffering." John Piper.  
Participation in Christ's glory can only come through participation in his sufferings. Douglas Moo

My Soul Among Lions~Psalm 2

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Our Greatest Fear is Not Loss of Life, But of Reputation

I am preparing to preach on suffering. This topic led me back to John Calvin's sermon on Matthew 5:11-12, which can be found in this book. In that sermon I found this quote about how it is easier to endure death than humiliation.
Moreover we are not only encouraged to put up with personal injury and trouble, but also with criticism, slander, and false report. This is perhaps the hardest thing to bear, since a brave person will endure beatings and death more easily than humiliation and disgrace. Among those pagans who had a reputation for courage were noble souls who feared death less than shame and dishonor among men. We, therefore must arm ourselves with more than human steadfastness if we are to calmly swallow all the insults, censures, and blame the wicked will undeservedly heap upon us. That, nevertheless, is what awaits us, as St. Paul declares. Since, he says, our hope is in the living God, we are bound to suffer distress and humiliation; we will be objects of suspicion; men will spit in our face [I Cor. 4:11-13]. That is God's way of testing us. We must therefore be ready to face these things and to take our Lord's teaching here [Matt. 5:11-12] as our shield for the fight. 
Calvin understood that often our greatest fear is not loss of life, but loss of reputation.  For those of us fighting the battle against sexual immorality, gender confusion, sodomy, the traditions of men, our government, and increasing compromise in the church, we know this is true. Would you rather live branded as a bigoted, hateful, man ostracized from society like a leper or malignant sore or die a hero? I think we would all rather die heroes. But our reputation is the first thing that will be lost in this battle. In the end the question will be, Do we love Jesus more than we love our good name?

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Heartbreaking and Hilarious~Martin Luther's Humor

Here are the final paragraphs from Carl Trueman's book Luther on the Christian Life.  Appropriately enough, Trueman ends with Luther's humor. Luther was many things, but near the top of the list was his ability to use humor to keep himself and those around him cut down to size. Protestant theologians have kept Luther's legacy in many ways. But we need more humor. And that is why I love Doug Wilson. He might be the closest man in modern times to Luther's humor. But even  Doug Wilson is tame compared to Dr. Martin.
And this leads me to my last thoughts on Luther. One of the most striking things about the man is his sense of humor, and one cannot possibly write a book on his understanding of the Christian life without reference to this. In general terms, of course, Protestant theologians have not been renowned for their wit, and Protestant theology has not been distinguished by its laughter. Yet Luther laughed all the time, whether poking fun at himself, at Katie, at his colleagues, or indeed at his countless and ever-increasing number of enemies. Humor was a large part of what helped to make him so human and accessible. And in a world where everyone always seems to be "hurt" by something someone has said or offended by this or that, Luther's robust mockery of pretension and pomposity is a remarkable theological contribution in and of itself. 
Humor, of course, has numerous functions. It is in part a survival mechanism. Mocking danger and laughing in the face of tragedy are proven ways of coping with hard and difficult situations. Undoubtedly, this played a significant role in Luther's own penchant for poking fun. Yet I think there is probably a theological reason for Luther's laughter too. Humor often plays on the absurd, and Luther knew that this fallen world was not as it was designed to be and was thus absurd and futile in a most significant and powerful way. 
Thus, he knew life is tragic. It is full of sound and fury. It is marked by pain and frustration. The strength of youth must eventually fade into the weakness of old age and finally end in the grave. We believe ourselves to be special, to be transcendent, to be unique and irreplaceable. And yet the one great lesson that everyone must ultimately learn in life is that they are none of these things, however much we want them to be true and however much we do things to trick ourselves into believing our own propaganda. We are fallen, finite, and mortal. We are not God. And because God is and has acted, because in incarnation, Word, and sacrament he has revealed and given himself and has thus pointed to the true meaning of life, our own pretensions to greatness are shown to be nothing but the perilous grandstanding of the absurdly pompous and the pompously absurd. 
Indeed, in light of the fact that God is God and has revealed himself in the foolishness of the cross, the tendency of us all to be theologians of glory appears in all its risible futility. That we who cannot even escape our own mortality would assume that God is like us, that we are the measure of all things, including the terrifying and awesome hidden God who rides on the wings of the storm and calls all things into being by the mere Word of his power-that we poor, pathetic, sinful creatures would be so arrogant as to assume such a thing is surely the greatest and darkest joke of all. Luther knew that the tragedy and the comedy of fallen humanity is that we have such a laughable view of ourselves: one that would aspire to tell God who and what he must be. As humans are at once both righteous and sinful, so human existence is at once both heartbreaking and hilarious. Luther cites Psalm 2:4 on numerous occasions to make precisely this point: the tragedy of humanity is that God laughs at our ridiculous attempts at autonomy. 
This is where I leave you with Luther. While the world, even the Christian world, remains populated by the self-important and the self-righteous, the figure of Luther, with his rumbustious theology and his cutting humor, will not cease to be relevant. Many of his writings have a refreshing and appropriately irreverent style to them, tearing down the pompous and the self-assured. They offer a breath of fresh air amid a forced and stale piety. And his emphasis on the objectivity of the action of God in Christ puts all things in perspective and exposes our lives outside of Christ for what they are, acts in a silly farce played out in the shadow of the beckoning grave. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Healthy Families Play

Edwin Friedman's book Failure of Nerve is an excellent diagnosis of what ails many organizations, whether they are families, businesses, churches, schools, or government agencies. He notes that our society has become what he terms "chronically anxious." He then goes on to list five characteristics of chronically anxious systems. Here is the first sign: reactivity. When Friedman uses the term "family" or "families" he is not just talking about biological families. He is talking about all systems and organizations, such as churches, businesses, biological families, clubs, etc.  Everything indented is a quote for Friedman. I bolded certain phrases.

Reactivity As a Sign of Organizational Devolution
The most blatant characteristic of chronically anxious families is the vicious cycle of intense reactivity of each member to events and to one another...This state is not to be confused with "emotionality": dogged passivity can also be a reactive response
Members of chronically anxious families...are constantly taking and making things "personal."
The family is easily "heated up" as feelings are confused with opinions...Family members therefore are easily brought to loggerheads over the most inconsequential issues...Members of highly reactive families wind up constantly focused on the latest, most immediate crisis. 
What also contributes to this loss of perspective is the disappearance of playfulness...Lacking the capacity to be playful, their perspective is narrowed. Lacking perspective the repertoire of responses is thin. Neither apology nor forgiveness is within their ken...The relationship between anxiety and seriousness is so predictable that the absence of playfulness in any institution is almost always a clue to the degree of its emotional regression. 

This is the most striking idea Freidman proposed in this section. Loss of laughter, humor, comedy, playing is a sign that an organization is dead or dying. Christians could translate this into loss of joy. But I like the term playfulness.  It brings the proper perspective to it. Life is a comedy. The dead rise while the living are already dead. Fools are made kings and kings are thrust down. A Jewish carpenter saves the world when a Roman Caesar could not. Dead "families" are always very serious. Living ones know that the joke is on them and can laugh about it.
The most damaging effect of intense reactivity in any family is on its capacity to produce or support a leader...Reactivity, therefore, eventually makes chronically anxious families leaderless, either because it prevents potential leaders from emerging in the first place or because it wears leaders down by sabotaging their initiatives and resolve with constant automatic responses. 
As with any chronically anxious family, there is in American society today an intense quickness to interfere in another's self-expression, to overreact to any perceived hurt, to take all disagreement too seriously, and to brand the opposition with ad hominem personal epithets. As in personal families, this hardens hearts and leaves little room for forgiveness or balanced accommodation.  
With chronic social anxiety, the major regressive effect on leaders is the same as in families. They remain in a reactive stance themselves, led by each emerging crisis rather than being able to take a proactive stance that develops out of an objective perspective or principle.
Friedman's analysis is excellent and puts a name to something that we see all around us. We are a culture that reacts. Leaders react to polls. Pastors react to parishioners. Parents react to children. Husbands react to wives. You cannot lead this way. Reactivity is the opposite of leadership. Leadership means you are going somewhere and you want people to follow you. Leadership is not bouncing from one crisis or one overreaction of your constituent or one complaint from your wife or one bad experience to another. Leadership is calm, focused, and knows what direction to go. It is not sidetracked by constant little fires that arise.

Monday, June 29, 2015

A Square Triangle: Same Sex Marriage and the Rejection of Scripture

Here is my sermon from this past Sunday on the decision by the Supreme Court. My goal was to be clear. There are numerous things I do not talk about, such as how to interact with homosexuals, etc. that I hope to blog about in the future. Here is a simple outline of the sermon:

1. Basic Scriptural teaching on marriage: One man, one woman married for life, serving God and man by taking dominion over the earth and having children. This paradigm is the only proper place for sexual expression. All other paradigms, men to men, women to women, multiple spouses, being married to animals, divorce, adultery, fornication, etc. are consistently and regularly rejected by Scripture. 

2. How did we get here? Short answer: we slowly began to reject God's Word as the final source of truth in our lives. 

3. Where is here? Three things:
Sodomy is judgment. The church and our country are being judged by God. Sodomy is not just a sin it is a judgment. 

The homosexuals want us to approve of and participate in their immorality. They do not just want to commit the acts. They want us to say the acts are okay, righteous, just, natural, and good. They also want us to participate in the immorality by celebrating it with them in weddings and other events. 

We live in a country where the government actively supports the homosexual agenda. Therefore Christians need to continue to disentangle themselves from the government. 

4. What should we do about it? See this blog post for the answer to that. 

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Forgiveness and Holiness: Heidelberg Catechism~Lord's Day 26

In the Christian life there is constant tension between the forgiveness of our sins and holiness or to put it in theological terms between justification and sanctification. This is not a Biblical tension, but it is an experiential one. If all of my sins are forgiven in Christ then why do I need to be more holy? If I must be holy to see God then how am I not earning my salvation?  Many books have been written on the subject. The answer is that Jesus does not come to us in pieces. We do not get his work on the cross, the forgiveness of our sins, without also getting the work of His Spirit, sanctification. The Heidelberg Catechism says this well in question 70, which is part of the section for worship tomorrow. Here is question and answer:
Q: 70. What is it to be washed with the blood and Spirit of Christ?
A: It is to receive of God the remission of sins, freely, for the sake of Christ's blood, which he shed for us by his sacrifice upon the cross;  and also to be renewed by the Holy Spirit, and sanctified to be members of Christ, that so we may more and more die unto sin, and lead holy and blameless lives.
When we come to Christ we also receive His Spirit, who begins the work of sanctification. Forgiveness of sins and growth in holiness are connected because they both flow from the work of Christ upon the cross. The Christ who took our place on the cross so that we might not be condemned (I Peter 2:24) is the same Christ who gave his Spirit so that we might be holy (Acts 2:33). This same paradigm is seen in Romans where Paul talks about the forgiveness of our sins in Romans 5 and then tells us that we must put sin to death in Romans 6. Here are a few take away points from this. 

We cannot separate forgiveness of sins and holiness. Some like the holiness side and diminish the forgiveness of sins. Some like forgiveness, but do not see growth in holiness as important. The first group fears that if we preach forgiveness of sins folks will run off and live wicked lives. The second group fears works righteousness. But they are making enemies out of friends. Forgiveness and holiness both come from Christ and are part of his work for and in the Christian. 

Forgiveness of sins is freely given because of Christ's work. We cannot earn any of God's grace, It is all free. One a the great dangers in the Christian life is that as we grow we can forget that everything we have has been given to us. Slowly we begin to think we have earned God's favor. 

The Spirit is given so we might become holy. Too often the Holy Spirit is connected to outward, dramatic displays of emotion or to feelings we might have at certain points in our Christian life. We equate the Holy Spirit with emotion. But He is there to make us holy. In the trenches of everyday life the Spirit is working to make us more like Jesus (Romans 8:29).

We must strive to kill sin and lead holy lives. Many Christians are afraid of legalism, which is a legitimate fear, therefore they do not strive for holiness. But this is a failure to understand what the Scriptures teach. Holiness is not legalism. Holiness is walking in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-26). We must pursue holiness by obeying God's Word. But this too is a work of grace. Just as forgiveness of sins is free so is holiness. Sanctification is a gift of grace just like justification. 

Holiness involves putting aside certain sins and putting on righteous actions. Too often holiness is primarily about what we don't do. We don't commit adultery. We don't cuss. We don't watch dirty movies. But in Scripture holiness is about doing the right things. Don't view your walk with God primarily by what you don't do. Are you becoming more patient, joyful, peaceful, etc.? 

Finally, all of this is pictured in baptism. Lord's Day 26 (and 27) in the Heidelberg Catechism is about baptism.  Here are questions 69 and 70 together. Baptism pictures the forgiveness of our sins and the pouring out of the Spirit so we might be holy. 
69. How are you admonished and assured by holy baptism, that the one sacrifice of Christ upon the cross is of real advantage to you?
A: Thus: That Christ appointed this external washing with water, adding thereto this promise, that I am as certainly washed by his blood and Spirit from all the pollution of my soul, that is, from all my sins, as I am washed externally with water, by which the filthiness of the body is commonly washed away.
 Q: 70. What is it to be washed with the blood and Spirit of Christ?
A: It is to receive of God the remission of sins, freely, for the sake of Christ's blood, which he shed for us by his sacrifice upon the cross;  and also to be renewed by the Holy Spirit, and sanctified to be members of Christ, that so we may more and more die unto sin, and lead holy and blameless lives.

Friday, June 26, 2015

A Theologian of the Cross and the Same Sex Mirage

I just read Carl Trueman's Luther and the Christian Life. I highly recommend it. One of Luther's key ideas was that we need "theologians of the cross." That is people who understand that God works not through power and might, but through weakness, pain, and suffering. He saved us through the death of His Son on a cross as a criminal. Glory came through suffering and weakness. That is the way God works. Yesterday and today we have seen a power play by our Supreme Court. But it is a mirage. True power is not found in black robes and judges. So what should we do? How should we rise up against this tyranny?  Where is the true revolution? What does a cross shaped response look like in response to the Supreme Court's ruling? I think Luther would approve of this list because most of it is Christianity 101, which is not surprising since our marching orders do not change.

Worship God every Sunday. No matter what. Be there with God's people. Sit underneath the mighty Word. Hear again the old, old story. Do not lose confidence in the ordinary means of grace.  A theologian of the cross knows that true power is found in the sanctuary where the Lord is worshiped, the Word is preached, water is poured, and the supper is celebrated.

Don't forget the gospel. Plead the shed blood of Christ. You are a vile, wicked person. Your sins are many and great. But Christ is greater. He has removed them. Be at peace. All of your sins are forgiven in Christ. They are vile, wicked sinners. Their only hope is Jesus Christ and His blood. If we forget the gospel what will we have to offer them when they cry, "What shall we do?" (Acts 2:37)

Sing the Psalms. The time for impotent songs is over. We have been at war, but we forgot and our swords gathered rust. Now the enemy has burst through the wall and we are waking up. We need Psalm 2, Psalm 3, Psalm 9, and Psalm 56. Okay we need them all.

Read the Bible again and again. Believe every word it says without apology. Teach it to your children.

Be bold. Do not fear the world. A theologian of the cross knows that death, their greatest threat, is our greatest triumph. Why fear them when the most they can do is usher us into glory?

Be prepared to suffer. Following Christ will now cost. Rejoice when your reputation is ruined, you lose your job, friends reject you, and you are run out of town. You are starting to catch up with the prophets (Matthew 5:12) and your brothers and sisters around the world.

Love sinners, including homosexuals, but do not expect them to feel loved. Sinners do not love those who call them to repent. But love them anyway. Overcome evil with good.

If you are in a church that is compromising on human sexuality or is silent about it, leave. The ship is sinking. It is time to get off.

If you are in a church that refuses to call it members to repent, leave.  Without repentance in here, there will be no repentance out there.

If you are in a church that refuses to call sinners out there to repent, leave. You cannot worship Jesus without repentance. A church that does not call the culture to repent is a church that is not preaching Jesus.

Learn what the doctrine of lesser magistrate is. We need politicians with the balls to say no to our Federal government. We need men who will take the opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court and burn it in the street. Here is a good place to start.

Pray for your leaders (I Timothy 2:1-2).

Marry someone of the opposite sex. Stay married.  Make love. Have children. Raise them in the Lord.

Remain cheerful. Life is a comedy. If God can laugh (Psalm 2:4) then so can we. In the end, all will be well.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Counseling Begins in the Pew

Carl Trueman on why Luther thinks you should go to church.
"One could imagine a person seeking Luther's advice for, say, struggles with assurance. Luther's first question of him would almost certainly be, Are you going to church to hear the Word and receive the sacrament? If the answer came back in the negative, it is safe to assume that Luther would send the person away to attend church for a few weeks before he would consider giving him individual counsel. If the person had excluded himself from the objective means of grace, not only would spiritual problems be expected, but also Luther could really offer nothing else to help him."
Let the saints be joyful in glory, let them sing aloud on their beds, let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two edged sword in their hand, to execute vengeance on the nations, and punishments on the peoples; to bind the kings with chains and their nobles with fetters of iron. Psalm 149:5-8