"Unity without verity is no better than conspiracy." - John Trapp

Monday, November 27, 2006

QT: Centerpoint

As I mentioned in my post of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, one of my favorite renditions is from Jeff Johnson's Centerpoint CD. This Christmas collection includes some old carols and poems. The poems are by Keith Patman from a collection entitled Centerpoint. I am reproducing that poem here.

It is a still scene -
Animal, human, angel awe
Surrounds the newborn, radiant child
- A centerpoint in time, whose ways and places wrap
In layers about the crib of straw,
Enveloping Bethlehem as a many-folded map.

It is a star's still centerpoint -
God's scissors cut it out in paper layers
- Rays piercing Babylon, Sodom, pyramids,
Dark rain and floodswell, Eden's flaming gate . . .
Rays shot through Rome and Dachau, martyrs' prayers,
Wake of galleons, hoofbeats, moonwalk, 1998 . . .

God's hands, at either end of time,
Unfold the map, reveal the geometric star
And its still centerpoint: Himself, incarnate.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Favorite Carols - O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

Now that Thanksgiving has past, for the next several weeks I'm going to post my favorite Carols. First up is O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, an old carol that isn't sung as much as some more famous carols, but is full of references to prophecies of the coming of the Messiah. It seems appropriate, therefore, that this should be the first carol that I post.

A beautiful instrumental version of the hymn starts off Jeff Johnson's Centerpoint: Poetry and Music for Christmas (a little over half way down the page). Tuesday I plan on posting one of the poems from this collection.

Cyberhymnal once again provides more verses than our typically in our hymnals. I will post all the verses here, because they each speak to some aspect of our Lord's character and mission.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
Who orderest all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And teach us in her ways to go.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory over the grave.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, great Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times once gave the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Root of Jesse’s tree,
An ensign of Thy people be;
Before Thee rulers silent fall;
All peoples on Thy mercy call.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Regeneration and Faith

In the meta for Phil Johnson's post on Lordship Salvation (for more on this topic, see this post) there is probably material for a years worth of posts from several bloggers (that's hyperbole for all you literary fans). A couple of things in particular struck me as worth further consideration. I'll deal with the first in this post and maybe the second one later.

The first from the meta regards the discussion on regeneration and faith. A good way to deal with this subtopic, IMO, is to consider what Lou Martuneac wrote:
Calvinists hold the trigger is regeneration followed by faith, repentance, conversion, and justification. As I noted this is a system that is born from logic and reason. The Bible order of the events has faith as the trigger. The Bible teaches faith and belief result in regeneration. John 3:16; Eph 2:8-9;

Evangelist John VanGelderen and Pastor George Zeller both use the following questions to demonstrate the absurdity of regeneration (being born again) preceding faith:

Is it “look and live” or “live and look?” Is it “Look unto Me, and be ye saved” (Is. 45:22) or “Be ye saved, and look unto Me?” Is it “He that believeth on Me hath everlasting life” (John 6:47, cf. John 3:15, 16, 36; 5:24) or “He who hath everlasting life believeth on Me?” Did Paul say to the Philippian jailer “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 6:36) [I believe this reference should be Acts 16:31, which I linked to] or “Thou shalt be saved, and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ?” (Faith vs. Fatalism, p. 3.)

Phil (and Nathan at Pulpit Magazine who I also questioned on this) believes regeneration (everlasting life) precedes/triggers faith and belief. Nathan never did reply, he might later.

This extra-biblical position is one of the extremes of Calvinism that leads to Lordship Salvation.

You can read more on this at:

There is an article on this issue at my blog.
Does Regeneration Precede Faith?

Phil notes in the meta that the word "precede" implies a time relationship that is not really is not what we want to imply. A better word, perhaps, is "cause". The events of salvation are simultaneous, from the effectual call/regeneration, faith, repentance, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The question is whether or not the Bible teaches this, or does it teach that faith is the cause of regeneration. Let's consider the texts cited as saying faith produces regeneration.

Isaiah 45:22 Turn to me and be saved,
all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other.
This verse does not speak to the ordo salutis (the order of salvation). This verse is a general call issued by God for everyone to repent (turn) in order to be saved. (Sidenote: This is an interesting verse to be referenced by someone arguing that repentance is not a integral part of salvation.) It really doesn't speak to the "how" of turning, which is the question. There is no question that turning to God is necessary for salvation. The question that the ordo salutis asks is how does one turn to God.

John 6:47 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.
This and the other passages in John again do not address the ordo salutis. However, what this reveals is that these authors cited by Lou have confused regeneration with salvation and eternal life. There is no doubt that eternal life is a gift to those that believe. But regeneration is not equated in the Scripture with eternal life. Both are part of the total work of salvation that Christ accomplished for us, but they are different aspects in that salvation.

What the Bible Says about the Relationship

Perhaps no Biblical author addresses the relationship of faith and regeneration more than John. In the first chapter of his gospel we read:
John 1:12-13 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
Simple word order here might lead one to say that faith is the causal element (receive and believe come before born). But the emphasis of v.13 is that salvation is not based on man's will but God's will. Those who did receive Him are those who were born. Still, by itself, these verses would not help in settling the debate. But John builds the case in chapter 3:
John 3:3-5 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
Notice here that there are two statements that without being born again (regenerated) man is unable to see or enter the kingdom. Jesus goes on to teach Nicodemus that if you are of the Spirit (you have been born of, i.e. regenerated by, the Spirit) you understand and therefore come to the light (John 3:21) but those not born again reject the light and do not believe(John 3:19-20).

John is saying that there is something that distinguishes those who come to the Light (Jesus - see John 1:4-9) and those who do not. That something, in context, is being born of the Spirit, i.e. regeneration.

John continues to build the case, in many ways reaching a crescendo in John 6:44-45:
44No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. 45It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me
Notice the "box" created here by the phrase "come to me" which links the two verses. Man's inability is highlighted in v.44: "No one can . . ." Apart from the drawing of the Father, not only will we not come to God, we cannot come to God. It is not in our nature. We reject Him. Now, without spending a lot of time doing a word study on draw, some people argue the word here means that the Father "woos" us, and we can either accept, by faith, the Father's wooing, or we can reject it. While a word study would rule this out, let's be simpler and look at the other half of what Jesus is saying.

While man's inability is highlighted in v.44, v.45 highlights the Father's effectual call: "Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father . . ." Notice that it is not some that have heard or some that have learned. Everyone who has heard and learned comes to Jesus.

So, no one is able to come apart from the Father, but all who hear and learn from the Father do come. So what does it mean to hear and learn? What is the drawing of the Father? It is the effectual call, i.e. regeneration. The Father draws us through the Holy Spirit, teaching us to see the beauty of the Son and to trust (i.e. believe) in Him. This drawing and teaching removes inability and always (everyone) results in salvation (coming to Jesus).

One final verse on the subject:
John 10:26 but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock.
Why is it that there are some who do not believe? Because, according to Jesus, they are not part of His flock. It is not that they are not His flock because they do not believe. How do we interpret this? Jesus' flock is those that the Father has given to Him (see John 6:37, 10:29, 17:2, 6, 9, 24). We believe because we belong to His flock, and faith has been granted to us because we are His sheep. Those who are not His flock do not believe because the Father has not granted them to come to Jesus (see John 6:65).


We could go to Paul's letters and see what he has to say on this subject. He is not silent on the order of salvation. Romans 1-3 establish that man in his fallen state does not seek God. God must be the initiator in salvation, to the point of granting new life before we will come to Him. When new life is effected, we immediately believe and are justified. But it is God's work of regeneration that causes us to believe.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

More Favorite Hymns - Rejoice, the Lord Is King!

I quoted from Philippians 4 in this post, which contains Paul's exhortation to "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice." Aside from the old round which is basically just this verse, the hymn that I associate most with this verse is Rejoice, the Lord Is King! The hymn was written by Charles Wesley.
Rejoice, the Lord Is King!

Rejoice, the Lord is King! Your Lord and King adore;
Mortals give thanks and sing, and triumph evermore;
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice;
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

Jesus, the Savior, reigns, the God of truth and love;
When He had purged our stains He took His seat above;
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice;
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

His kingdom cannot fail, He rules o’er earth and Heav’n,
The keys of death and hell are to our Jesus giv’n;
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice;
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

He sits at God’s right hand till all His foes submit,
And bow to His command, and fall beneath His feet:
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice;
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

He all His foes shall quell, shall all our sins destroy,
And every bosom swell with pure seraphic joy;
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice,
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

Rejoice in glorious hope! Jesus the Judge shall come,
And take His servants up to their eternal home.
We soon shall hear th’archangel’s voice;
The trump of God shall sound, rejoice!

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Four Words for a Searching Church: Four - Be Positive

This is the final post in my series on Hebrews 10:23-25. If you have not already, I would recommend reading Word One, Word Two, and Word Three first.
Hebrews 10:23Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Attitudes Are Infectious

Let's get one thing out of the way up front - I am not a "power of positive thinking" type guy. But the exhortations in the Scripture are for us to focus on the positives in life. This is most evident in Philippians 4:4-9:
4Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

I’m not saying, “don’t worry, be happy.” Life is hard sometimes and is seldom a bowl of cherries. Also, I know that there will be times when we must be "negative" in the sense of telling someone that certain behaviors and beliefs are wrong. The question is about how we generally approach life. Dragging yourself into church and plopping down in the pew with a “I'm here, are your happy now; let’s get this over with” attitude and expression is not what God wants. If your heart is not in it, you will not encourage others and you cannot fulfill this command.

We come to church to worship. To realize that the difficulties of life are passing things and we have an eternal hope. So church should be a refuge from the difficulties of life. Church should be a place where you rest and refuel your spirit. But for church to be that kind of place for you next week or next month or whenever life begins to press in on you, you need to start this week making it that kind of place. If you encourage people now, those people will be strengthened and renewed so that they can encourage you later.

We Are Going to a Celebration

But what if things are really bad and life’s troubles are weighing heavy on us all? What if church is a source of stress because of change (again) and uncertainty?

That is the time when we have to remember that this world is not our home. Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us, and one day, a day that is closer now than when Hebrews was written, He will come to take us home.

Maybe you think that's a stretch based on just a simple, "and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." But consider what follows in Hebrews:
11:13These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.

11:16But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

12:2looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

12:22But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

12:28Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe,

The author of Hebrews points us to the consumation of God's plan. Our final home with Jesus in "a kingdom that cannot be shaken." This life and its troubles are but a breath. But we have an eternal home. Surely if that hope was sufficient to strengthen those who were losing property and were in danger of losing their lives, it is sufficient to sustain a searching church.

So, if we are to encourage one another, our fourth task is to be positive.


Bob Benson has gone home to be with Jesus, but he left behind some wonderful writings. His son collected many of them and published them in a book called See You at the House: Stories Bob Benson Used to Tell. The last section of the book is a reflection on last things, and our great hope, being with Christ in heaven. If we are to fulfill the purpose of encouraging one another to faithful Christian service, this hope must be “the anchor of our soul.”
In the last two chapters of 1 Thessalonians, Paul is writing about the second coming of Christ. In the fourth chapter, he assures the church there that ‘the Lord himself will come … and the dead in Christ will rise. After that, we who are still alive … will be caught up with them … to meet the Lord. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.’ I think he is telling us that the great foundation of our lives is to be found in the hope that these words can bring.

In the benediction, Paul writes that the certainty of this hope is to be found in the faithfulness of God: ‘The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.’ (1 Thessalonians 5:24 – NIV)

“The calling of God comes to us in ways I have been writing about. It can be heard deep within and it can be heard in the community of believers. It speaks to us from the providences and purposes of God. It makes demands on us for commitments and for consecrations. It summons us to holiness and purity even as it warns us to flee evil and wickedness. To truly answer it requires of us the dedication of all of the best that we are or can be. Paul tells us, though, that the steadfastness of our hope does not rest on the strength of our arm or in the doggedness of our determination. Our hope rests securely in the everlasting faithfulness and goodness of the one who called us. He is faithful and he will get us home.

See you at the house.”
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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Four Words for a Searching Church: Three - Be Present

If you are just joining, you may want to read Word One and Word Two first.
Hebrews 10:23Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Probably the majority of messages preached on this passage focus on this one point from v.25. We all know there are legitimate times when people cannot be here do to travel, illness, work, or some other demand. The concern here is the person who doesn’t come because they “just don’t feel like it.”

You Have To Be There

We all have been in a conversation where someone starts telling a story that is supposed to be funny or enlightening or poignant, and when they get to the end, the people listening are unmoved. Most often, the person speaking will then say, “I guess you had to be there.”

Every time God's people meet to worship God, something happens. We may not know at the time what it was, but God's word does not return to Him void. It accomplishes its task (see Isaiah 55:10-11). But if you or I do not gather with God's people to worship Him, we will miss out on what He is doing.

Some people are concerned that they do not know what is going on in church. Two things we need to recognize. First, the most important thing going on in church should be happening during worship. The focus of believers when we have gathered together should be the worship of our God and if you are not there, you will not understand what God is doing in the local body. Second, how can we support the purpose God has for the local body if we are not meeting with that body? God has gifted you so that you might have a role in strengthening His body, growing His body, serving His body, or healing His body. But you cannot exercise your gift if you neglect to meet together.

It Takes Commitment

So, each one of us has to decide whether or not gathering for worship with a local body is a priority. Are we going to sleep in or come to church? Are we going to watch the football game or come to church? We have members who come here after working all night, or get up early after working a late shift. In some local bodies they risk their lives by meeting together.

Again, I know that there are times when you cannot meet with your local congregation. And I'm not the type of person that says everyone needs to be at every Bible class/meeting the church holds. I think there are blessings for those who come to those meetings that are missed by those who do not attend, but when we gather together for corporate worship, every member who is physically able should be here. For those who travel, do you make an effort to meet with some other local body of Christ for worship?

Of course, the reality is some people are here, but they are not here. Physically, they are in the worship service, but mentally they are a thousand miles away. This goes back to the second point about being attentive. Why do you attend the worship service? Have you come to see what so-and-so is wearing, or to hear if someone says something scandalous? Have you come to complain about the music style, or about how the sermon is too long or too short? Are you just warming a pew so you can check the "attended church this week" box?

Or have you come to worship the One who created you and redeemed you? Have you come out of love and gratitude for what Jesus has done for you? Have you come to focus on Him and to share His love with those around you. I hope it is one of these latter reasons, not the former.

Because the reality is if we don’t make the commitment to really be here, we will find that our habit is to not be here.

So, if we are to encourage one another, our third task it to be present.

PS - PAB, if you happen to read this, know it was in draft form ready to go before we talked, so I didn't write this specifically to the last part of our conversation. So if it speaks to your feelings, just know it wasn't me.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Four Words for a Searching Church: Two - Be Attentive

Having thought about this message, I don't think I ever preached it. It was something I had prepared when Patrick had his eye surgery in case he wasn't able to preach. The surgery went well and this got put on a shelf - until now, that is.

The first word was be steadfast, from v.23. The second is be attentive, from v. 24.
Hebrews 10:23Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Other People Need You

Most of us have times when we live our life on “cruise control.” What I mean by that is that sometimes, during my forty minute drive either into work or back home, I will put the vehicle in cruise control then end up lost in thought. I will reach some point along the trip and realize I don't remember much of the drive. Many times, I will reach the turn to head west toward Columbus, and I will not remember passing through "Hope" (a small town along the route I normally drive - I love the irony here). I had do so in order to get to where I am, but I don't remember doing so. (Sidenote: The metaphor that the author of Hebrews uses early in the book is that of a boat drifting aimlessly on the water - see 2:1)

The author exhorts us to be attentive to this because he knows that in the midst of difficulty we have a tendency to miss things. We do not see the opportunities before us to help out another believer. We might even become so focused on being steadfast, that we do not see that others around us are losing their grip. Instead, we must "consider" others so that we are reaching out and not merely looking in.

When God made us, He made us to have relationships, first with Him, but also with one another. God exists from all eternity as Three Persons in loving relationship with one another. We bear the image of God in part by existing in loving relationships with other people. The two greatest commandments are to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength and to love our neighbor as our self. We must be attentive so that we will recognize when others need us and therefore be ready:
  • To say an encouraging word;
  • To lend a helping hand;
  • To comfort in times of need; and
  • To strengthen in times of doubt

Other People Need Other People

One of the goals is that by our involvement in the life of someone, they too will become other focused. Our actions “stimulate” or “stir up” or “provoke” others to live and work for someone else's benefit.

What is our expectation when we do something for someone else? Do we look for them to "repay" us by doing something for us? I'm reminded of the scene in Field of Dreams where Ray (Kevin Costner's character), near the end of the movie, is upset that Terrance Mann (James Earl Jones' character) is getting to go into the cornfield. He recounts all that he has done, and says (paraphrase), "I've never once asked what's in it for me. But now I want to know what's in it for me." That's the way we frequently are. We never verbalize the question of what is in it for us, but somewhere in the back of our minds, the question lurks.

And it will come through to others. But to fulfill the command here, we should check that attitude and replace it with a different attitude. One that says that the debt is repaid not when they do something for us, but when they do something for someone else. The Biblical example is this: God has done a miraculous thing for us. He has saved us from our sin through the death of Jesus on the cross. We do not live now to repay him (we could not if we tried) but we carry the gospel to others that they might also be saved.

The reality for us is simple, we are either actively working to encourage one another to be other focused, or we are becoming self-absorbed and, therefore, useless for the kingdom of God.

So, if we are to encourage one another, our second task is to be attentive.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Four Words for a Searching Church: One - Be Steadfast

In thinking about the transition Beacon Baptist is going through right now (today was Pastor Patrick's last day), I was looking back on a message I preached during one of his absences on Hebrews 10:23-25. I think the points are maybe more valid today than when they were delivered roughly a year and a half ago. I'm going to post the points one at a time to keep this from being a long post.
Hebrews 10:23Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Steady As She Goes (v.23a)

To understand the passage we must first understand something of the situation that caused Hebrews to be written. Persecution of Christians had started, and while the recipients of the letter had held on to their faith to this point, they had been contemplating a return to Judaism. The letter of Hebrews was written to convince them of the superiority of Christ to all things relating to Old Testament Judaism. In addition, five times in Hebrews the author warns the readers about the consequences of turning their back on Christ. This passage, with its encouragement to remain faithful, preceeds the fourth of these warnings.

We may not be called to stand against the type of persecution that the Hebrew Christians were facing (see 10:32-34) but Satan will use events in our lives to get us to waver in our commitment to Christ and His church. Events might even be the loss of a loved Pastor, the prospect of facing another Pastoral search process, or the uncertainty of what will happen in the interim. But regardless of the difficulties we face in individual and corporate lives, we must cling to our hope.

We must not be like the plant in the parable of the sower that grows quickly but has no depth. That plant dies when the long hot days of summer come. Instead, for us, the great hope is the return of Christ (see v.25). We look forward to that day. The trials and tribulations of this life are nothing compared to the glory that awaits us. So we need to be like constant in the midst of the storm. Steady in the face of adversity. Neither stopping, nor hurrying.

Trust Your Anchor (v.23b)

Holding on to hope is possible for us when we recognize that hope is founded on the unbreakable promise of God. We may fall and fail, but God never fails. The author of Hebrews is here simply restating the point he had made in Hebrews 6:10-20, that God has sworn that we will have an eternal home. That hope is an anchor for our souls.

If our ability to remain faithful depended on us, we should all despair, but God is on our side. He is working for us. The Creator of the universe has made a promise, and nothing will keep Him from fulfilling it. In light of this, we must not quit – we must hold faithfully to the hope of heaven.

Regardless of what occurs to one local church body over the next several months, God will bring all those in that church, and in the universal church, safely through to glory because Jesus as our Great High Priest has completed His work. The author of Hebrews has told us that unlike the Old Testament priests, Jesus has sat down, and we are sanctified for all time (Hebrews 10:11-14).

I know I have mixed the metaphor here. But on the one hand, we are to stay the course and keep moving forward. Holding fast to our anchor, in this case, does not imply standing still. Because our anchor is to the spiritual reality of our salvation. Therefore, we can move forward to strengthen God's kingdom in the physical world. But it requires us to work together.

So, if we are to encourage one another, our first task is to be steadfast.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

More Favorite Hymns: Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee

This is the third hymn I've posted that is attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux. I find good reason in these words for why Calvin quoted Bernard more than any other Midieval writer. O Sacred Head Now Wounded may be more well known than this hymn, but this was a favorite of my early Christian life. Although I have to admit I don't think we ever sung more than five verses.
Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee

Jesus, the very thought of Thee
With sweetness fills the breast;
But sweeter far Thy face to see,
And in Thy presence rest.

Nor voice can sing, nor heart can frame,
Nor can the memory find
A sweeter sound than Thy blest Name,
O Savior of mankind!

O hope of every contrite heart,
O joy of all the meek,
To those who fall, how kind Thou art!
How good to those who seek!

But what to those who find? Ah, this
Nor tongue nor pen can show;
The love of Jesus, what it is,
None but His loved ones know.

Jesus, our only joy be Thou,
As Thou our prize will be;
Jesus be Thou our glory now,
And through eternity.

O Jesus, King most wonderful
Thou Conqueror renowned,
Thou sweetness most ineffable
In Whom all joys are found!

When once Thou visitest the heart,
Then truth begins to shine,
Then earthly vanities depart,
Then kindles love divine.

O Jesus, light of all below,
Thou fount of living fire,
Surpassing all the joys we know,
And all we can desire.

Jesus, may all confess Thy Name,
Thy wondrous love adore,
And, seeking Thee, themselves inflame
To seek Thee more and more.

Thee, Jesus, may our voices bless,
Thee may we love alone,
And ever in our lives express
The image of Thine own.

O Jesus, Thou the beauty art
Of angel worlds above;
Thy Name is music to the heart,
Inflaming it with love.

Celestial Sweetness unalloyed,
Who eat Thee hunger still;
Who drink of Thee still feel a void
Which only Thou canst fill.

O most sweet Jesus, hear the sighs
Which unto Thee we send;
To Thee our inmost spirit cries;
To Thee our prayers ascend.

Abide with us, and let Thy light
Shine, Lord, on every heart;
Dispel the darkness of our night;
And joy to all impart.

Jesus, our love and joy to Thee,
The virgin’s holy Son,
All might and praise and glory be,
While endless ages run.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Dr. Johnson on Debatable Things

The entire text of Dr. S. Lewis Johnson's sermon on this passage can be found here. The following is just an exerpt that captures for me the sense of this passage. Let me first provide the text, Romans 14:1-12

1 As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 2 One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

5 One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8 If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; 11 for it is written,

“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall confess to God.”

12 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.

The Christian's Favorite Indoor Sport
"Paul enjoyed his Christian liberty to the full," F. F. Bruce has written, adding, "Never was a Christian more thoroughly emancipated from un-Christian inhibitions and taboos. So completely emancipated was he from spiritual bondage that he was not even in bondage to his emancipation."

The apostle expressed his freedom in some memorable words in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, "For though I am free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, not being myself under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ), that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak; I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel's sake, that I might be partaker of it with you."

Martin Luther said, "A Christian man is a most free lord of all, subject to none." That expression of freedom is harmonious with Paul's thought.

The apostle's concerns in this context have to do with food (cf. vv. 2, 17) and festivals (cf. vv. 5-6). These were things that were problems for the culture of his time. It is clear that these things are not immoral in themselves. For this reason the section is said to be about "debatable things," or "the morally indifferent things." Our concerns today, somewhat parallel to these, are such things as the relation of a believer to tobacco, whiskey, wine, playing cards, the movies, TV, work on Sunday, dancing, and such things. In other words, the relation of believers to the so-called "no-nos" of the spiritual life. Christians have differing opinions concerning these things, often differing over them in different parts of the country. It is in these things that the spiritual pride of believers is often seen. In fact, Ray Stedman is right, when he says that the desire to change one another in these debatable things is "the favorite indoor sport of Christians." We want all our fellow-Christians to subscribe to our own list of taboos, and we take a bit of pleasure in having them submit to us in our inhibitions.

The important question, however, is this: What does the Bible say about such things?

The section we are to look at is bound together with the preceding one, the apostle still speaking of the application of the righteousness of God to our daily lives. So, the subject is the application of the divine righteousness, which we now possess by imputation through faith, to doubtful things. And, again, I repeat that proper application is only possible to those who have offered the Christian Offering of our bodies, according to Romans 12:1-2.

. . .

The counsel of Paul (Rom. 14:3-4). The counsel of the apostle consists, first, of a rule, followed by reasons. The rule is that the strong are not to despise the weak, and the weak are not to judge the strong in the morally indifferent things. The criticism takes, then, two forms. The strong tend to despise the weak for their lack of understanding of Christian freedom in the age of the church. The weak on their part tend to judge the strong for their laxness in spiritual living, thinking that their freedom is not freedom, but rebellion against the standards of the divine teaching.

In a practical way Paul's words mean that we are not to go up to our Christian friends who do not see things as we do and say to them such things as, "I do not see how you, a Christian, can do the things you are doing (or, not do the things you ought to be doing)." Our Christianity is grounded upon our faith in the atoning Christ, not in our commitment to human scruples.

Someone has defined a legalist as a person who lives in mortal terror that someone, somewhere, is enjoying himself, according to Stedman. That is not really the thing that motivates a legalist, but the legalist is one who thinks that he makes points with God, either for salvation or sanctification, by the things that he does in his own strength.

The reasons for the advice of the apostle are given in these verses, too. First of all, God has received the weaker or stronger brother (cf. v. 3c). And, in the second place, there is only one Master, the Lord Christ, and He alone is to do the judging (cf. v. 4). Cf. 1 Cor. 4:3-5.

Monday, November 06, 2006

The Lord Tarries

In John 11 (my Sunday School passage this past week), where the Apostle relates to us the story of the raising of Lazarus, we might tend to overlook the first few verses. After all, the real story occurs later, where Jesus proclaims that He is the resurrection and the life; with Him being moved and weeping over the anguish caused to His friends; and, of course, when He raises Lazarus from the dead.

But if we skip too quickly over those first verses, we will miss some things that are very important in the story. Just one of these will serve to illustrate my point. Notice John 11:5-6:
5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

One word seems very out of place here for most believers. It is not what the world might not understand, the word "stayed" when they expect that God should always speed to our aid. Believers who have walked long with the Lord and have drunk deeply from the well of Scripture do not always understand the times when God chooses to stay and not move, but at least intellectually, they do not surprise us.

We all know those times when any delay seems cruel to us. When we have asked God to intervene, but we seem to get silence in return. Lack of surprise does not mean lack of pain, sorrow, and sometimes anger. If we want to appear spiritual we we will acknowledge that the Lord operates in His time, not ours. But still it is hard for us.


But the word too many of us don't get, to the point I think we have a tendency to not even acknowledge it, is that little word at the start of v.6 - "So". What John is saying is that Jesus tarries specifically because He loved them. Not in spite of that fact. Not disregarding that fact. But specifically because of that fact.

Understand that He fully knew that there would be pain and grief, and He Himself is not unmoved. John tells us in v.33 (When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled) that Jesus was affected by the sorrow of Mary and the others. Comfort for us that God not only knows but shares in our sorrows.

But this does not change that little word in v.6. Jesus loved them, so He waited. Surely this is just a poor choice by the translators of the ESV. No, most major translations (NASB, NKJV, HCSB, RSV, and NET) use "so" (KJV uses "when"; NIV "yet"). For those of you "Message" people the phrase "but oddly" is used. While this serves to draw attention to the act, it does not point to the intentionality of the act the way "so" does. This is one case where the importance of the jot and tittle are in evidence as "so" communicates something important.

Jesus tarries because He loves Mary, and Martha, and Lazarus. What Lazarus' death becomes the catalyst for is more important to them then Lazarus being healed. In v.14-15 Jesus tells His disciples it was also for them that He had tarried and allowed Lazarus to die:
14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, 15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

The Point

The point Jesus is making, that John picked up on likely only after the resurrection, maybe much after, was that this miracle would help the disciples to believe in the resurrection of Jesus when it occurred. This demonstrated that He is the Resurrection and the Life. Death, just like water (turned to wine), just like sickness, and the sabbath, and human need (feeding 5000), and the sea, and blindness, are under His power.

But did they get that then? I don't think so. In the midst of trials, we have to trust that the Lord tarrying is somehow, beyond our comprehension, but somehow, for our good. Romans 8:28 does apply. It is not in spite of His love that He tarries, but always because of His love. John was fortunate that he came to understand the reason. But did Mary? Did Martha? Did Lazarus?

I don't know. But many people never know why the Lord allowed them to walk through their particular valleys; many only glimpse the why dimly and after many years. This is a hard truth, best embraced when times are good.

Which is to say, if you know someone who is going through a great trial, don't share this with them now. Imitate your Lord and grieve with them.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

More Favorite Hymns - We Praise Thee, O God, Our Redeemer, Creator

Some of you who are old enough may remember a song from Glad titled Variations on a Hymn (or That Hymn Thing). It traced the possible progression of music for the hymn We Praise Thee, O God, Our Reedemer, Creator. Whether or not you agree with the view of development of Christian hymnody that Glad put forth in this song, I like the variations, especially the final "Glad" version. But the original tune is good as well.

We Praise Thee, O God, Our Redeemer, Creator
1 We praise Thee, O God, our Redeemer, Creator,
In grateful devotion our tribute we bring;
We lay it before Thee,
We kneel and adore Thee,
We bless Thy holy Name, glad praises we sing.
2 We worship Thee, God of our fathers, we bless Thee;
Thro’ life’s storm and tempest our Guide Thou hast been;
When perils o’ertake us,
Escape Thou wilt make us,
And with Thy help, O Lord, our battles we win.
3 With voices united our praises we offer,
To Thee, great Jehovah, glad anthems we raise;
Thy strong arm will guide us,
Our God is beside us,
To Thee, our great Redeemer, forever be praise.

Eckert, P. (1998). Steve Green's MIDI hymnal : A complete toolkit for personal devotions and corporate worship. (Electronic ed.). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

Cyberhymnal also includes the following verse for use at Christmas:
Thy love Thou didst show us, Thine only Son sending,
Who came as a Babe and Whose bed was a stall,
His blest life He gave us and then died to save us;
We praise Thee, O Lord, for Thy gift to us all.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Dr. S. L. Johnson on the Perfect

In a recent post over at Pyromaniacs by Gary L. W. Johnson (no relation to Phil), Dr. Johnson mentioned that he and Sam Storms would be reviewing the same book. He said to expect them to be similar, primarily because both he and Sam has study under Dr. S. Lewis Johnson (no relation to Phil or Gary as far as I know).

What is interesting is the mention of Dr. Storms at Pyromaniacs, since Dr. Storms is probably best known now for his defense of continuationalism, and Dan Phillips of TeamPyro is a fairly vocal cessationist. In light of all this, I thought it might be interesting to post a portion of Dr. S. Lewis Johnson's exposition of 1 Corinthians 13, in particular his exegesis of what the "perfect" is.

Dr. S. Lewis Johnson on the Perfect
Now I think that "when that which is perfect is come" is a very important statement by the Apostle. The time of the coming is crucial in the view of some cessationists. For example, those who believe that the miraculous gifts have ceased. When is this perfect to come? When has it come? When that which is perfect has come. There are those who believe that this is a reference to the closing of the canon of Scripture. In other words when the closing of the canon came to pass, then that which is in part will be done away. So at the closing of the canon, we'll just say the closing of the NT canon at the end of the 4th Century, about 397 AD at the 3rd Council of Carthage, then at that time and thereafter, these particular gifts are no longer. When that which is perfect has come then that which is in part will be done away and that would include knowledge, and tongues, as he said, and prophecies. It is not easy to show that. As far as I can tell there is nothing in the context to suggest the canon. Chances are that that Corinthians who read this, who would have been students of this particular epistle, wouldn't even necessarily know there would be such a thing as the closing of the canon. What canon they knew about had to do with Old Testament writings. So they did not know about the New Testament canon, so far as we can tell, and weren't prepared for that.

It might also suggest, in the light of verse 12, "for now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face," if that "then" is a reference to that which is perfect, as it would seem to be ("when that which is perfect is come, that which is in part will be done away") it would suggest that when the canon was closed, then these individuals knew even more than the Apostle Paul knew, cause he speaks about knowledge being dimly grasped at this time. So I confess that I have doubt about "when that which is perfect is come" being a reference to the closing of the canon. That seems very unlikely to me.

What "that which is perfect has come" seems to me to refer to is the Second Coming of our Lord. The advent of our Lord. "When that which is perfect has come then that which is in part will be done away." And we cannot look for that finally until the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The question then is raised, "Well then have the gifts ceased?" Well the possibility exists that the gifts might be given. We of course would not suggest that God could not give the gifts. And in the light of the fact that they are sovereignly given, then that is a possibility from just looking at what the text has to say.

But we talked about this the other night, and I'd like to make the point again, that it seems very clear from history that from the time of the Apostles and those that the Apostles taught, perhaps those that Paul taught who went on for a while after the Apostle Paul, for example Timothy, and others like him who had been taught, that when that age came to an end, the Apostolic age plus the age of those taught by the Apostles, from that time on history does not give evidence of the giving of gifts as they were given in the ministry of the prophets, some of the prophets, in the age in which they did miraculous gifts, like Elijah and Elisha, for example, or Moses, and the Apostles. From that time of the Apostles passing away those gifts have not been given, as far as history is concerned.

Now, some of you in the audience know that I believe in the sovereignty of God. Thank you. Thank you for smiling and laughing. That tells me a lot. That tells me you really have heard me say this (not necessarily that you have gotten it but you've heard me say it). If it is true that God is a sovereign God and does his will - Martha and I were reading this morning in the book of Daniel and we were in Daniel chapter 4 and in Daniel chapter 4 and verse 35 we happen to have a text that bears on the point. I hadn't thought about this but this morning when we read it I confess I did think about it. Listen to what we read from Nebuchadnezzar:

all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
or say to him, “What have you done?”

So if it is true that God is a sovereign God and if it is true that history does not give us the outpouring of gifts as in the days of the Apostles or the prophets or of our Lord. Then what does that tell us about the will of God? Why it tells us that it was not God's will that those gifts be given. If it was his will that they be given, they would be given even though men might be disobedient and not responsive. They would have been given. He is sovereign. He does in Heaven and on earth according to His will. But they have not been given.

I know that there are some who will say, "Yes, but we think they have been given." And, of course, we can do nothing more than to say I do not think that what you call the giving of gifts can be compared with the gifts that were given to Moses, and the signs and wonders he performed in Egypt, or the signs and wonders that Elijah performed, and Elisha performed, and that our Lord Jesus Christ performed and that the Apostles performed. Tested by those signs and wonders, what is claimed today does not measure up.

Now let me also say this: It is certainly possible for certain things to transpire that would be harmonious with such an outpouring. That is individual cases. We do not deny that God answers prayer. We have in the Scriptures that we are to pray and that we may expect something that we see as miraculous to happen. As a matter of fact, we have specifically in the Bible instructions in the last chapter of James for what we are to do if we desire healing. We are to call for the elders of the church. We are not to attend a healing meeting. Call for the elders of the church. When people, for example, say come to our meetings and healing will take place, it seems to me that they are themselves out of harmony with the word of God. If they were inviting men to come to the elders, for the elders to pray for them, that healing may happen, that would be in harmony with the instructions given in the word of God. But healing meetings, as such, the New Testament does not really know such meetings. So we don't deny that healings, call them miracles if you like, or a sign, may occur. But the occurrence of a sign or the occurrence of a healing is not the same as the outpouring of miraculous signs that occurred in the days of the Apostles. It's different.

So, coming back now to our text. The coming of that which is perfect, it seems to me, is very clearly the Lord's coming and that the possibility exists for such answers to prayer that might be called a work of God in behalf of those for whom you and I pray. We certainly should pray. Pray for those who are sick. Pray for those who are in difficulty and trials. Pray for them that God will meet their need. We look for that. We don't deny the things that we should be involved in when we deny the outpouring of the gifts as in the days of the prophets, our Lord, and the Apostles. So the possibility of healing exists. But the sovereignty of God and history as well as experience, I think, argue for the cessation of the gifts.

Concluding Thoughts

When I joined Believer's Chapel (where Dr. Johnson was ministering the word of God), I was a cessationist, based largely on understanding "the perfect" to be the canon. While I'm not a charismatic, viewing "the perfect" as the canon now seems like the most unlikely of the popular options, it being most foreign to the context. While I have a lot of sympathy for Dr. Johnson's view of history, without the Scriptural backing I cannot draw as hard a line. The Old Testament was not filled with continual gifting of miraculous signs. Why should we expect the church age to be different? Perhaps only at the end of the age, or perhaps at different critical junctures for the church, God still gifts people in what we would view as miraculous ways.

I don't know that we live in one of those times. I don't know that those times ever occur. I just don't see in Scripture that God has said He would not act in that way again. In fact, Revelation 11:3 says He will. So I remain "open but cautious."