Friday, October 31, 2008

A Mighty Fortress, Indeed

On this Reformation Day, the day that we remember Martin Luther's act of nailing his 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenburg church, launching the emancipation of the church from her Roman captivity, my mind goes to that great hymn which he penned during the strife that followed. The words are still true, more today than ever. Regardless of what kind of opposition to the Gospel of Christ, the Church of Christ or the people of Christ that may come, our Fortress is and always will be God Himself. Regardless of presidential elections, economic downturns, terrorism and wars, He is our sole and strong defense.

A mighty Fortress is our God, A Bulwark never failing;
Our Helper He amid the flood Of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe Doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, And armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, Our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, The Man of God's own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth His Name, From age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled, Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, For lo! his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers, No thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours Through Him who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, This mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God's truth abideth still,
His Kingdom is forever.


Amen. Soli Deo Gloria.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Grace Upon Grace

As I was traveling this past week, I was contemplating possible future Bible study classes to develop material for. One that I am playing with is an examination of the many aspects of God's gracious nature. I think this is an area that we (post) modern Christians do not spend nearly enough time considering. We instead settle for a superficial understanding of the vast and superabundant grace of God. And in the process settle for a less than adequate understanding of the person and character of God. And as a result, offer up less than full and appropriate worship of and love for God.

My objective in this class would be to help all of us who have been the recipients of God's grace in Christ to drink more deeply of that fountain, and to be challenged to live a more grace-filled life. Here's a working list of the major lesson topic areas I'm considering:

  • Grace Defined - what is this thing we call "grace"?
  • God's Common Grace - how does God's grace extend to all creation and people?
  • God's Covenantal Grace - how is God's covenant-keeping nature a demonstration of His grace?
  • God's Electing Grace - how are God's choices of people and nations gracious?
  • God's Redeeming Grace - how does salvation exhibit God's amazing grace?
  • God's Preserving Grace - why is God's preservation of His people a gracious act?
  • God's Sustaining Grace - how does God graciously provide power for daily living?
  • God's Eternal Grace - is God's grace in all it's facets temporal or eternal?
  • God's Restraining Grace - how does God graciously restrain evil in the world?
  • God's Disciplining Grace - how is God's correction of His children gracious?
  • Our Response to the Grace of God - how then shall we live in a gracious manner?
  • ...

I'm interested in feedback on these topic areas, and suggestions for additional ones. Comments please.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Confessing, or Compromising?

Read this article about a trend among churches to 'confess' their lack of accommodation to culture. Here's a few snippets:

Kensington Community Church, a seeker megachurch in suburban Detroit, is bringing a whole new meaning to “confessing church” by joining the bandwagon of churches who think the time has long past for the church to apologize to the culture for being the church. On Sunday, October 19, 2008 this church began a weekend message series titled, “Confessions of a Sinful Church.”

It should be noted that this idea of begging the cultures’ pardon didn’t originate with Kensington Church. Google their series title and you’ll be introduced to a dozen or more churches across the country that have discovered the latest fad sure to increase your worship attendance created by the psychologically-driven church growth movement: be sorry—be very sorry—for preaching a gospel that rubs the culture the wrong way. So just how has the church so offended the culture that it warrants such a public apology? Well, it seems there are variations of seven or eight sins the church is guilty of... the church has been self-righteous and hypocritical, supported racial segregation, mistreated homosexuals, fought bloody crusades and argued that the earth is flat...judgmental, sheltered, too focused on getting converts and too political.

Any church that takes a stand in defense of the unborn and for traditional marriage will be accused of being “too political.” Any church which has homosexuals in a list along with thieves, alcoholics and adulterers (as the word of God does—1 Corinthians 6:9-11) will be accused of mistreating homosexuals. Any church that teaches a literal six-day creation and a young earth will be viewed as archaic and out of touch with the mainstream of scientific research (read: evolutionary theory).

This is who we are: we are the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. The church is defined not by the failure of some in living up to this high calling. We have been eternally defined by the infallible, inerrant and perfect Word of God personified in the Word made flesh, the Lord Jesus Christ. Our mandate is to preach the Word, not waste our time apologizing for it to a self-obsessed culture under the guise of “humble orthodoxy.”
Amen.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

How to Write a Bad Worship Song

Came across a great article this morning from Bob Kauflin (the guy from Sovereign Grace Music), outlining the Top Ten Ways to Write Bad Worship Songs. Up front, let me say that I am not musical, lyrical, or even very creative. And I have great respect for those people who God has equipped with these gifts to serve His Church by writing good worship songs that facilitate my worship of the One. People like Bob Kauflin, and the writing team at my own church. They are a gift to the body of Christ. And unfortunately, as Kauflin's post reminds us, they are rare these days. Maybe that's why what he has to say resonated with some things I've been thinking lately regarding this whole genre of popular worship music, and where it seems to be now, and headed.

Among these top ten ways to write bad worship music that Kauflin lists are: Aim to write the next worldwide worship hit. Don’t consider the range and capabilities of the average human voice. Never let anyone alter the way God originally gave your song to you. Cover as many themes as possible. Use phrases and words that are included in 95% of all worship songs. But the one that I really connected with was number 6: Make sure the majority of your songs talk about what we do and feel rather than who God is and what he’s done.

Maybe it's the strong doctrinal and theological bent in me, but this is a trend that I see in so much of what passes for worship music these days, and it bothers me. In fact it bothers me so much that I find myself evaluating worship songs as I hear them, sometimes even in church. I find myself counting the number of "I" and "me" words over against the number of "You" words as an indicator of how Christ-centered and Godward-directed the song is. I sometimes even find myself altering words as I listen or sing, so as to focus more on the Lord Jesus Christ, who He is, what He has done, what He will do, His glory, His power, His majesty. Because in a real sense I think this is what a worship song, by definition, must do. Declare the worthiness of Christ, be directed towards Him. Focus my mind and my thoughts and my heart on the glory and person of Christ, so that I may praise Him rightly. It should facilitate and guide me to into my own personal worship of the King. To be sure, a part of that is remembering what He has done for me and in me. But that's only a means to an end - the end being honor to Him.

Unfortunately there seem to be far too few 'worship' songs being written that do this. Not that this is a new issue - many of the old hymns are at least as bad, theologically and directionally. But I would challenge us all to think about these things as we listen to worship music, or any music for that matter. When we engage in worship, both individually and corporately as the Church, let's be sure that we actually do engage. Worship is an act of the whole person, and must start with the mind and the will. It is not primarily an emotional act, or a rote ritual of singing along with whatever song or words are put in front of us. Let's be sure that we worship with discernment, in spirit and in truth.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

End of the Season

It's in the 40's and raining outside. The forecast calls for the same to continue rest of the week, even getting colder and possibly becoming snow. The wind is blowing. The leaves are falling. All of these are signs that I can't deny - the end of biking season is at hand.


So I caved in last night to this sad reality. I cleaned up my bike a bit, brought it in the house and set it up on my indoor trainer. You know, the kind that locks onto the rear wheel and has a resistance roller to 'simulate' wind and road resistance? I really detest using the trainer. It's like riding with training wheels, except you don't actually go anywhere. It's boredom taken to a new level. Even worse than running on a treadmill - at least there you have to stay alert so you don't fall off. But ten minutes on the trainer feels like an hour on the road, mentally. Even listening to great music or podcasts on the iPod doesn't help much. Which probably is why I rarely use my bike on the trainer. Oh sure, I set it up faithfully every fall, but only use it a few times during the winter. That's just the way it is. Good intentions, but...

But maybe this year will be different. I mean, I have that sweet new Lemond Buenos Aires to ride on the trainer. And I set it up facing the computer in the family room with the big 22" widescreen monitor. Maybe I can throw in a movie DVD and watch it with the full surround sound and keep myself mentally occupied. Maybe even get some DVD's of bike races like le Tour. And trick myself into thinking that I'm not really spinning the wheels on a bike sitting in my family room. Maybe. It could happen.

Of course, there's always the hope that there will be a day or two where the fall and winter weather breaks a bit and the temps get up into the 50's, the sun comes out and the wind slackens. Days when, with the flick of a release lever, I can free my carbon fiber steed from the steely grip of the trainer and for a brief moment enjoy the road once more. Once more, before reality returns and I and my two-wheeled freedom machine must go back to the family room and the trainer.

"There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven..." - Ecclesiastes 3:1

Monday, October 20, 2008

Satisfaction

In Sunday School yesterday I was teaching on that marvelous truth of the freedom of the believer in Christ from condemnation for sin. As the apostle Paul so directly puts it in Romans 8:1, "Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." The born again Christian is completely, totally and eternally freed from the just judgment of God on their sin. The demands of God's holy and righteous justice were satisfied fully by the death of Jesus Christ as a substitutionary sacrifice in our place. The complete payment has already been rendered, imputed to the believer's account through faith. There is no more payment for sin required, or even possible. Hebrews 10:18 says it this way: "Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin."

The theological term for this satisfaction of God's justice is propitiation. This is in fact a legal term. It refers to the complete and satisfactory payment of a judgment. If someone sued me and the court rendered a judgment against me of, say, $1000, and I paid the full $1000 dollars to the plaintiff, then the judgment would be said to have been propitiated. In other words, fully paid, satisfying the demands of the judgment. There would be nothing left to pay, and the offended party could never come back and ask for more. In the same way, God has judged my sin and found me guilty. And as a result, He, the ultimate Judge, has rendered the sentence in accordance with His character and His law - death, eternal death. As stated in Ezekiel 18:4, "The soul who sins will die." Reiterated in Romans 6:23: "For the wages of sin is death." I, like all people apart from Christ, am under the condemnation for my sin. But due to Christ's penal substitutionary atonement and my faith in that atonement, His perfect death and righteous life is imputed to me. As an act of God's sovereign grace. And therefore God is satisfied with His payment on my behalf.

But why is the idea of propitiation such a big deal? Why does it matter that God's justice has been completely satisfied? Well consider for a moment what it would mean if your sin was not completely paid for, if God was not fully satisfied. Suppose that Christ's death on your behalf was sufficient to make payment for 99.9999% of your sin. Leaving you having to make payment for just .00001% of your sin. That's not so much, right? Well, consider that any sin, even those that we would consider inconsequential, are an act of rebellion against an infinitely holy and righteous God. And as such, any sin is justly deserving of infinite punishment. In other words, eternity in hell. If Christ's death is not fully satisfactory, then you and I are still in our sin, still accountable before God's just condemnation, still guilty and sentenced to eternal punishment. Anything less would be a violation of a perfectly just and righteous God. If Christ's death on our behalf is not propitiatory, then the Gospel is not good news. Praise God that this is not the case!

So then how do we apply this doctrinal truth in our daily lives? Is this just some academic theological premise that has no practical value? Well, have you ever been in the midst of a trying time in life, and thought to yourself, "I am being punished by God for some sin."? Truth be told, I think all of us have at least entertained this idea at one time or another. But according to this great doctrine of propitiation, can that be true? Does God punish His people for their sin? Absolutely not. Again, if He did, then that would mean Christ's sacrifice was not satisfactory. And that would also mean that our punishment would not be just some crisis or trial, but eternal death. To be sure, God may be allowing the consequences of our sin to remain with us, as a means of disciplining us in order to train us in righteousness and show us the seriousness of sin in our life. But this is not an act of justice, as punishment is. Instead it is an act of love. It is a sign of His perfect fatherly love for us, as stated in Hebrews 12:7: "God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?"

So don't ever let the lies of the evil one convince you that God is punishing you for some past sin. The promise of Jesus in John 5:24 is truth that will dispel this lie: "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life." Praise God for His amazing grace that has completely satisfied His justice for your sin through Christ. Praise God for His loving discipline, a mark of your position as His child.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Marching Bands in the Dome

Spent yesterday in Vermillion, South Dakota watching the Quad State Marching Competition. It was held at the Dakota Dome on the University of South Dakota campus, kind of a cool place. There were some amazing bands there from South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska. The Columbus High band (including son Matt on alto sax) performed well, here's a video.

video

Just one more competition for CHS this season, the state marching contest next Saturday in Lincoln. And then a trip to the Alamo Bowl to perform in December.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Sanctified

Talking with son Mike several times recently about his impressions of Israel and his time there got me thinking. He said that one of the things that he has come to understand is that there is really nothing special about the land or the places in Israel. As he's traveled about and seen so many Biblical places, he's observed that these are just mundane and unspectacular hills and valleys and cities. Just plain old rocks and trees and dirt and sand and rivers. Not the magnificent sites that we tend to have in our minds when we read and think of these locations in our Bibles, or in "Holy Land" tour literature.

But what is it, then, that makes these places special? What is that that makes the Holy Land, holy? As Mike noted, it's not the land in and of itself, but the One who chose that land and those places as the locale in which He would demonstrate His mighty works and His character for all to see and know. The land we now call Israel is just another chunk of land in the middle-east, undistinguished geographically from the area surrounding it. It is only holy because God chose, first a people to be His own, and then the land for them. It is the Lord God Yahweh who makes the people, the land, or anything else He chooses to be His, holy. Set apart for His possession, His purposes and His glory. As He told His people the Israelites long ago, "But as for you, speak to the sons of Israel, saying, 'You shall surely observe My sabbaths; for this is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you." (Exodus 31:13).

As I thought about this, I realized that this is exactly what He still does in the case of those whom He brings to faith in Jesus Christ. He first chooses those who will be His, according to His will, from eternity past. Not because they are or will be anything special or praiseworthy or deserving. But rather because He unconditionally purposes to do so. Just like the unremarkable land of Israel, every one who God chooses for faith in Christ is likewise unremarkable. It is only the fact that He chooses that makes them anything at all. His work is all of grace, undeserved favor. Hebrews 10:14 says this so well: For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.

If we are in Christ, we are sanctified. We are declared to be holy. Not always in our practice, but eternally in our position. Not due to our "merit", but because of His sovereign grace. Chosen as His special possession, declared to be holy and set apart in Christ. Sanctified in our standing before Him, and growing in our practice of that sanctification by His Spirit for our entire lives. For His glory alone.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

My Political Convictions

And that's all I have to say about that...

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A Serious Responsibility

The Pulpit magazine blog has a great quote today from Richard Baxter on the seriousness of the task that any of us who teach or preach the word of God and the Gospel of Christ have.

For myself, as I am ashamed of my dull and careless heart, and of my slow and unprofitable course of life, so, the Lord knows, I am ashamed of every sermon I preach; when I think what I have been speaking of, and who sent me, and that men’s salvation or damnation is so much concerned in it, I am ready to tremble lest God should judge me as a slighter of His truths and the souls of men, and lest in the best sermon I should be guilty of their blood.

Me thinks we should not speak a word to men in matters of such consequence without tears, or the greatest earnestness that possibly we can; were not we too much guilty of the sin which we reprove, it would be so.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

An Inheritance That Needs No Bailout

One of my favorite Scripture passages is 1 Peter 1:3 and following. So much great and powerful truth contained in so few words. Consider just v. 3-5.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

Note what's stated as a purpose for God the Father's bringing His people to new birth in Christ - "to obtain an inheritance." This passage says that one of God's main reasons for sovereignly saving His people is to provide for them an inheritance. The inheritance of God Himself, and His Kingdom. Based on His covenant promises. In fact, we're told in Romans 8:17 that since we are adopted children of God, born into His family, we are "heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ." What an amazing truth, to be inheritors of all that God has promised Jesus Christ.

So what do we tend to think of when we hear the term "inheritance"? More than likely we think in terms of real estate, stocks, bonds, mutual funds and such. Tangible property passed on from father to children. But in these times of economic and financial uncertainty, there are many of us who see the value of our assets dwindling, fading away, shrinking. And it can be frightening, can't it? Times like these can give us small hope of being able to pass on an inheritance to our families, or of receiving one.

But that's not exactly the kind of inheritance the first century readers of Peter's epistle would have thought of. Notice back in 1 Peter what kind of an inheritance is described that God provides for His children. First, it is imperishable. The Greek here is ἄφθαρτος, referring to that which will not decay or rot. One of the most valuable commodities in Biblical times was grain, often stored up by wealthy farmers as a long-term asset, something to be passed on. But grain that begins to rot is worthless, losing it's value entirely. But not so the inheritance of God for His people. It is eternal and of infinite value, never subject to decay.

Second, the inheritance of God's people is referred to as undefiled, from the Greek ἀμίαντος. Meaning that which is unspoiled and pure. Another valuable commodity in the ancient near east was olive oil, or good wine. But if either of these became tainted with impurities, they would, like rotted grain, be worthless. But again, not so with the inheritance God the Father provides for His children. It is pure and untainted and will remain so.

Thirdly, the inheritance God promises is described as one that "will not fade away." The Greek is ἀμάραντος, describing something that is perpetual and not subject to loss. One of the most prized possessions that could be passed on to a son from a father in a wealthy family in Biblical Palestine was the father's robe. A sign of power and prestige and authority, only worn on extremely special occasions, and usually of a bright fabric that was very costly. But like all fabrics, subject to fading of those bright colors over time. And with the fading came a loss of value. But not so with the inheritance of God's people. It is perpetual, unfading, unchanging. We are inheritors of the royal robe of Christ as we are clothed with Him, permanently and eternally.

And lastly, this eternal inheritance is described as being ours already. Peter states that it is "reserved in heaven for you." It's in the bank, so to speak. The Greek translated reserved here is τηρέω, meaning guarded or kept secure. God has deposited this inheritance in a heavenly account with our name on it, and is reserving it for us. And note where the power comes from to preserve this reserved inheritance. It is God Himself, who is keeping us and protecting us all the way through the perils of this life and this world to His ultimate destination for us where our inheritance will be consummated with Him.

So meditate on these truths, Christian, when the uncertainties of Wall Street make it seem as if there is no certainty of tomorrow's finances. Because there isn't. Regardless of whether the Dow is up or down. But instead, focus on the infinitely superior inheritance that the Lord Jesus Christ has determined to share with those He has redeemed. The inheritance of the Kingdom of God, of an eternity in worship and fellowship with Him face to face, the sure and certain blessings of eternal life in Christ. And rest in those truths and that position, and take joy in it. As Peter goes on to say in v. 6-9:

In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.

Amen. Soli Deo Gloria.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Well Done, Discoverer Marching Band!

Saturday was the 34th annual Columbus Marching Festival, which saw over 20 high school bands come to town to compete in a parade through downtown and a field marching competition. The host band, the Columbus High School Discoverers, did a great job in both. And they received a division I (the top grade) rating for their field performance. Son Matt is a freshman at CHS and plays alto sax. And I was helping all afternoon with doing video of all the bands, up in the 'crows nest' at the stadium. So here's some video of the CHS band in the parade and field competition.

video

The Discoverer band will be traveling to San Antonio in December to perform at the Alamo Bowl. Good job, band!

Friday, October 3, 2008

God's Faithfulness, Fore & Aft

The focus of the worship service at our church this Sunday is going to be considering God's faithfulness to our church, looking back and looking forward. We are currently in a stage of transition from our previous senior pastor to the man that God will bring to lead us in the next season of ministry, so this is an appropriate time to consider the past faithfulness of God in the history of our church, and considering how He will continue to be faithful in the future.

This got me thinking today about how in a very real sense, the spiritual life of our family is a micro-testimony to God's faithfulness, expressed through Highland Park church. Now, there's nothing particularly noteworthy about our family, and there are dozens of other stories at HP that demonstrate the amazing gracious faithfulness of Christ. But I still felt compelled to testify to what He has done in our family through the ministry and people at HP.

When our oldest son Mike was in kindergarten, a friend invited him to attend the Awana club at HP. We were unbelievers at the time, but didn't see any harm in Mike learning some Bible verses. And as I and my wife Tammie helped him memorize these passages, God faithfully used that time to get His word into our home and into our hearts. I had never heard the gospel of Christ before expressed in those direct Biblical terms. And in due time God sovereignly brought both I and my wife to faith in that gospel and the Lord Jesus Christ. And eventually He also brought Mike to faith in Christ, as well as our other two younger kids.

Of course, that little kindergartner Mike is no longer a Sparky in Awana. He's a senior at Bible college now as he pursues God's call on his life to go into full time ministry. In fact, he's studying this semester in Israel. God has been faithful in this so far, and it remains to be seen where Mike will end up serving Christ. But one thing is sure - God will continue to faithfully lead and equip and challenge him as he follows His leading.

As for the rest of the family, we rest in that assurance of God's continuing providence and faithfulness to us as His people. He's placed in me a desire and passion for teaching His word and discipling His people. He's placed into my wife a love for ministering to kids, as she works in helping lead that same Awana program that God used all those years ago. I look forward to seeing how He will faithfully mature and grow our two younger kids, now 15 and 12.

All this to say that our God is faithful. Faithful to His promises, faithful to His purposes, faithful to His character, and most of all faithful to His people. And we are here to declare His glory as He faithfully works in and through us.

Soli Deo Gloria...

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Worldwide Classroom from CTS

Noted on Justin Taylor's blog today that Covenant Theological Seminary (St. Louis) now has as many as 20 of their courses available on the web, at no cost. Classes include titles like Biblical Theology, Calvin's Institutes, Christ-Centered Preaching, Hebrews to Revelation, NT History and Theology, and many others. The lectures are in mp3 format with the course materials in pdf. And they can be used and shared with no cost or limitations. I'm thinking of checking out a couple of these courses, as CTS is a solid Biblically sound and reformed school.

You can find the CTS Worldwide Classroom here. Enjoy.