Thursday, October 19, 2017

Rejoice Always, Pray Continually, Give Thanks

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances;for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Glory as Giver

Beware of Serving God

“The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” (Acts 17:24–25)
We do not glorify God by providing his needs, but by praying that he would provide ours — and trusting him to answer, and living in the joy of that all-providing care as we lay down our lives in love for other people.
Here we are at the heart of the good news of Christian Hedonism. God’s insistence that we ask him to give us help so that he gets glory. “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me” (Psalm 50:15). This forces on us the startling fact that we must beware of thinking he needs us. We must beware of serving God, and we must take special care to let him serve us, lest we rob him of his glory. “God is not served by human hands, as though he needed anything” (Acts 17:25).
This sounds very strange. Most of us think serving God is a totally positive thing. We have not considered that serving God may be an insult to him. But meditation on the very meaning of prayer makes this plain.
In the novel, Robinson Crusoe, the hero, took Psalm 50:12–15 as his favorite text to hope in as he’s stranded on the island: God says, “If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine. . . . Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”
Which means: there is a way to serve God that would belittle him as needy of our service. Oh, how careful we must be not to preempt the mighty grace of God in Christ. Jesus said, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). He aims to be the servant. He aims to get the glory as the Giver.

Christ Alone

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Our God

singing matters

Hayden Nesbit post:  Souls Need Songs: How God Shapes Us Through Singing

I don’t sing well — and that’s putting it generously. I can’t “carry a tune.” I can’t even hum the melody of a familiar song well enough for someone to recognize it. But nothing seems to draw out my heart’s emotions like singing. There are few things that refresh my soul like singing the doxology around the dinner table with my family, or singing catechisms and hymns to our daughter at bedtime.
God made our souls for song. Scripture brims with God’s call for his people to sing his praises. Something about singing refreshes and reorients our souls.

Teach and Admonish

In the apostle Paul’s letter to the Colossians, he instructs the church to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16). Paul desires the church members to instruct each other through various means, including through singing. But how can singing instruct?
Here’s where the transformative power of Scripture is crucial. Paul urges the believers to sing psalms — the inspired, God-breathed collection of praises and laments. He also advises them to sing hymns — a term that probably describes songs rich with theological truth. Finally, Paul even wants the Colossians to sing spiritual songs — which likely refers to spontaneous praises that overflow from the heart. All of which are able to instruct.
The Spirit-inspired Scriptures burst with power to convict us of sin and to build up our faith in God. I love that our church makes the effort to sing psalms. Nothing is more powerfully instructive than the word of God, and a beautifully engaging melody readies the heart to receive the word. When we sing hymns that artistically display the truths of Scripture, or spontaneous songs that arise from a deep indwelling of that truth, and especially when we sing the very words of Scripture, we draw on the teaching, reproving, correcting, and training ability of the word in a way that engages both heart and mind (2 Timothy 3:16).

Soften the Soul

Paul wanted the church members to sing to one another from overflowing hearts affected by scriptural truths, rather than from rote or ritualistic motives. Music isn’t spiritual because we’ve used certain words or notes; music becomes spiritual when the Spirit inspires it. And when we sing Scripture — the Spirit’s very words — God often uses his word to soften our souls.
God thinks singing is so important that he commissioned groups in Israel to ministries of music. For example, the Korahites’ sole job description was to sing to the Lord. In 2 Chronicles 20:19, they “stood up to praise the Lord, the God of Israel, with a very loud voice.” The Korahites’ singing wasn’t just for show; their ministry had a purpose. Singing serves to refresh and reorient our souls in ways that other forms of instruction simply don’t. Singing helps us love God not only with our minds, but also with our hearts and souls and strength (Mark 12:30).
Our souls need song. So God ordained a ministry of singers to drive theological teaching deep into the hearts of his people. As believers indwelled with the Holy Spirit, we now possess this gift of singing for our own and others’ benefit.
Singing combines the instructive seeds of biblical truths with the soul-softening ministry of music.

Raise a Song

How, then, can we grow in this ministry of singing? How can we sing so that our minds are instructed and our souls softened? We can start by letting “the word of Christ dwell in [us] richly” (Colossians 3:16) as we memorize psalms and hymns.

The Bible’s Songbook

Memorizing Scripture brings myriad benefits. One of the more transformative advantages is being able to speak or sing the words of Scripture directly into someone else’s life.
Biblical counselor David Powlison says we should use psalms in at least two ways. First, we should use the psalms like classical music. This is the technical, detail-oriented, word-for-word storing of psalms in the heart. When we do this, we can powerfully speak the living word of God into our own hearts and others’. Second, we should use the psalms like jazz. When we tuck away the words of the psalms in our minds, we’re free to improvise on them — adding refrains or adapting them to a certain melody — in order to drive them deeper into our hearts.
Scottish pastor Robert Murray M’Cheyne suggested singing all of the psalms in a year in addition to regular, systematic Bible reading. If we heeded his advice, we’d quickly become familiar with many of the psalms and be able to “play” them like jazz as they mingle down into our hearts through melody.
Memorizing Scripture, especially psalms, enables us to instruct both the mind and hearts of others in powerful ways.

An Arsenal of Hymns

During a week of seminary classes, I and some of my classmates stayed with a pastor friend and his family. I’ll never forget what I heard when we walked through the door into their home. Soaring from the back bedroom was a booming, unpolished voice singing verses from “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” interspersed with his young daughters’ giggling.
I don’t remember a lot from the classes we sat in that week, but this friend’s singing with his children stuck with me. There was no pulpit; there were no hymnals or handouts. Just a father instructing his children with the theologically rich verses of a hymn, and overflowing with emotion within the walls of their own home.
Having an arsenal of theologically refreshing and reorienting hymns in your heart can help you minister to your own soul and the souls of others in beautiful ways.

The Singing Savior

No one knows the ruin that marks the souls of men like Jesus does. And no one knows the remedy for such devastation like the Savior of man himself. Everything Jesus does matters, and that includes his singing.
Jesus sang. He sang with people and to people. At the Last Supper, Jesus and his disciples sang a hymn together (Matthew 26:30). This was most likely a portion of what’s known as the Hallel Psalms — Psalms 113–118. Jesus, the Word, led these men in singing the very words of Scripture he embodied. The very next day, Jesus died with a psalm on his lips. He bore the wrath of God on the cross whispering a psalm, so that we might one day sing those same psalms with joy as God’s children.
It matters that the Savior of souls was a singer to souls, and a singing soul himself. It matters that the one who turns hearts of stone into hearts of flesh gave us the gift of song to drive that gospel reality and its instructive implications deep into our souls.
Singing matters. Souls need songs.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

How to Live

Posted: 03 Oct 2017 10:00 PM PDT
Written by: Don Carson
1 Kings 7; Ephesians 4; Ezekiel 37; Psalms 87-88 

ONE OF THE REMARKABLE FEATURES of Paul's letters is that much space is devoted to teaching people how to live. Indeed, the Bible as a whole is interested in teaching us what to believe (because these things are true), and it is no less interested in teaching us faithful conduct. Nowhere is such balance more evident than in Paul's letters.

The reason for this comprehensiveness lies in the nature of God. The God of the Bible, the God who is there (as Francis Schaeffer taught us to say), is God of everything. He is not the God of thoughts only, or of some spiritual or religious realm exclusively. He is God. As our Maker and providential Ruler, his interests and writ extend to every aspect of our being, beliefs, utterances, and conduct. Thus to preserve some horrible tension between our belief systems and our conduct is not only an invitation to schizophrenia, it is also an insult against God, a horrible rebellion no less ugly for being selective.

This means that our teaching and preaching must include not only truths to be believed, but also instruction on how to live. Entirely exemplary in this respect is the example of Paul in Ephesians 4:17-32. No one seriously doubts that this epistle contains rich doctrine. Here, however, we find Paul insisting that his readers "no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking" (Eph. 4:17). He ties this "futility" to their ignorance of God on the one hand, and to their disgusting conduct on the other. "You, however, did not come to know Christ that way" (Eph. 4:20). You were "created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness" (Eph. 4:24). That means "put[ting] off" the old self, and being "made new in the attitude of your minds" and "put[ting] on" the new self (Eph. 4:22-24).

All of this could remain a little ethereal. Paul will not allow such an escape. The rest of the chapter is frank and practical. The conduct Paul expects includes truthful speech--"for we are all members of one body" (Eph. 4:25), and a practical commitment to let no day end in anger, lest the devil be given a foothold (Eph. 4:26-27). Converted thieves must steal no more. They must work, doing something useful, learning to be generous with what they earn (Eph. 4:28). Our talk must not only eliminate what is blasphemous, vulgar, or "unwholesome," but must learn to utter "what is helpful for building others up according to their needs" (Eph. 4:29). Comprehensively: "Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you" (Eph. 4:31-32).

1 Kings 7; Ephesians 4; Ezekiel 37; Psalms 87-88 is a post from: For the Love of God

Monday, September 25, 2017

Preciously Illuminating

John Piper:  Does God Really Save Us by Faith Alone?

The first great Reformers like Martin Luther, John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli never summed up their teaching with the tidy set of five phrases we now know as the five solas. The solas developed over time as a way of capturing the essence of what the Reformation was mainly about in its dispute with the Roman Catholic Church.
Sola is Latin for “alone” or “only.” The five solas are sola gratia (by grace alone), solo Christo (on the basis of Christ alone), sola fide (through the means of faith alone), soli Deo gloria (to the ultimate glory of God alone), sola Scriptura (as taught with the final and decisive authority of Scripture alone).

Justification Alone

I think these five solas can be preciously illuminating, both for the crux of the Reformation and for the essence of the Christian gospel itself, which of course was central to the dispute. I say they can be helpful because five prepositional phrases hanging in the air with no clause to modify are not helpful in making clear what the great controversy of the Reformation was about, nor do they clarify the essence of the true Christian gospel.
The clause that allows these modifying prepositional phrases to do their wonderfully clarifying work for the sake of the essence of the gospel and the heart of the Reformation is the clause: We are justified before God . . . or Justification before God is . . .
Only after justification can the five prepositional phrases follow and do their magnificent work to define and protect the gospel from all unbiblical dilution. We are justified by God by grace alone; on the basis of Christ’s blood and righteousness alone; through the means, or instrument, of faith alone; for the ultimate glory of God alone; as taught with final and decisive authority in Scripture alone.” All five phrases serve to modify God’s work of justification — how sinners gain a right standing with God so that he is one hundred percent for us and not against us.

Don’t Substitute with the Solas

If you substitute other clauses besides “We are justified . . .” such as “We are sanctified . . .” or “We will be finally saved at the last judgment . . .” then the meaning of some of these prepositional phrases must be changed in order to be faithful to Scripture. For example,
  • In justification, faith receives a finished work of Christ performed outside of us and counted as ours — imputed to us.
  • In sanctification, faith receives an ongoing power of Christ that works inside us for practical holiness.
  • In final salvation at the last judgment, faith is confirmed by the sanctifying fruit it has borne, and we are saved through that fruit and that faith. As Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 2:13, “God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.”

How Are We Ultimately Saved?

Especially as it pertains to final salvation, so many of us live in a fog of confusion. James saw in his day those who were treating “faith alone” as a doctrine that claimed you could be justified by faith which produced no good works. And he vehemently said No to such faith.
So, he says, “I will show you my faith by my works” (2:18). The works will come from faith.
Paul would affirm all of this because he said in Galatians 5:6, “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” The only kind of faith that counts for justification is the kind that produces love — the kind that bears the fruit of love. The faith which alone justifies is never alone, but always bearing transforming fruit. So, when James says these controversial words, “A person is justified by works and not by faith alone (James 2:24), I take him to mean not by faith which isalone, but which shows itself by works.
Paul calls this effect or fruit or evidence of faith the “work of faith” (1 Thessalonians 1:32 Thessalonians 1:11) and the “obedience of faith” (Romans 1:516:26). These works of faith, and this obedience of faith, these fruits of the Spirit that come by faith, are necessary for our final salvation. No holiness, no heaven (Hebrews 12:14). So, we should not speak of getting to heaven by faith alone in the same way we are justified by faith alone.
Essential to the Christian life and necessary for final salvation is the killing of sin (Romans 8:13) and the pursuit of holiness (Hebrews 12:14). Mortification of sin, sanctification in holiness. But what makes that possible and pleasing to God? We put sin to death and we pursue holiness from a justified position where God is one hundred percent for us — already — by faith alone.

First Biblical, Then Reformed

So faith alone doesn’t mean the same thing when applied to justification, sanctification, and final salvation. You can see what extraordinary care and precision is called for in order to be faithful to the Scripture when using the five solas. And since “Scripture alone” is our final and decisive authority, being faithful to Scripture is the goal. We aim to be biblical first — and Reformed only if it follows from Scripture.
The five solas provide wonderful clarity about the crux of the Reformation and the heart of the gospel, if the clause that the five prepositional phrases modify is “Justification before God is. . .” Justification before God is by grace alone, with no merited favor whatever; on the basis of Christ alone, with no other sacrifice or righteousness as the foundation; through the means of faith alone, not including any human works whatsoever; to the end that all things lead ultimately to the glory of God alone; as taught with final and decisive authority in the Scriptures alone.