Friday, May 28, 2010

The Patristic Consensus: Sola Fide

I mentioned on Tuesday that in my study of early church history I'm finding myself very encouraged by the fact that the historic core evangelical principles of sola Scriptura and sola fide are taught not only in Scripture, but also in the writings of the Church Fathers. I mentioned that evangelicals shouldn't feel like when the Apostle John died the Church was hijacked by Roman Catholics. Rather, from the close of the Apostolic age through the medieval period and up through the Reformation, God has preserved a faithful remnant of His people teaching His Word even in the most faithless of times.

We mentioned that if there was any sort of "patristic consensus," the Fathers agreed on the core evangelical doctrines of sola Scriptura and sola fide. Tuesday we looked at sola Scriptura, and today we look to their testimony regarding sola fide: the doctrine that we are justified by faith alone, and receive absolutely no merit for our works as regards our justification.

And remember, the Fathers' writings do not establish sola fide, or any other doctrine. We don't look to them as our authority, but -- as even they themselves have counseled us -- to Scripture alone. Nevertheless, their writings do indeed affirm sola fide, and there is a great deal of encouragement that we can receive from that.

Clement of Rome (c. 30-100): “And we [Christians], too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen” (Epistle to the Corinthians).

Ignatius of Antioch (c. 50–c. 110): “His cross, and his death, and his resurrection, and the faith which is through him, are my unpolluted muniments [legal titles]; and in these, through your prayers, I am willing to be justified” (Epistle to Philadelphians).

Polycarp (c. 69–160): “I know that through grace you are saved, not of works, but by the will of God, through Jesus Christ” (The Epistle of Philippians).

Justin Martyr (d. 165) in his Dialogue with Trypho: “No longer by the blood of goats and of sheep, or by the ashes of a heifer . . . are sins purged, but by faith, through the blood of Christ and his death, who died on this very account.”

Athanasius (c. 296–373): “For naturally, since the Logos of God was above all, when He offered His own temple and bodily instrument as a substitute for the life of all, He fulfilled by death all that was required.” (On the Incarnation of the Logos, 6-7, 9.)

Didymus the Blind (c. 313-398): “. . . a person is saved by grace, not by works but by faith. There should be no doubt but that faith saves and then lives by doing its own works, so that the works which are added to salvation by faith are not those of the law but a different kind of thing altogether.” (From his Commentary on James, 2:26b.)

Hilary of Poitiers (c 315-67) on Matthew 20:7: “Wages cannot be considered as a gift, because they are due to work, but God has given free grace to all men by the justification of faith.” (Cited in George Finch, A Sketch of the Romish Controversy, 230.)

Basil of Caesarea (329-379): “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord, that Christ has been made by God for us righteousness, wisdom, justification, redemption. This is perfect and pure boasting in God, when one is not proud on account of his own righteousness but knows that he is indeed unworthy of the true righteousness and is (or has been) justified solely by faith in Christ (Cited in Chemnitz, Examination of the Council of Trent, 1:505).

Ambrose (c. 339-97): “Therefore let no one boast of his works, because no one can be justified by his works; but he who is just receives it as a gift, because he is justified by the washing of regeneration. It is faith, therefore, which delivers us by the blood of Christ, because blessed is he whose sins are forgiven, and to whom pardon is granted.” (Cited in Finch, A Sketch of the Romish Controversy, 220.)

Jerome (347-420) on Romans 10:3: “God justifies by faith alone.” (Deus ex sola fide justificat). (In Epistolam Ad Romanos, Caput X, v. 3, PL 30:692D.)

Jerome (347-420): “He who with all his spirit has placed his faith in Christ, even if he die in sin, shall by his faith live forever.” (Cited in Jacques Le Goff, The Birth of Purgatory, 61.)

Chrysostom (349-407): For Scripture says that faith has saved us. Put better: Since God willed it, faith has saved us. Now in what case, tell me, does faith save without itself doing anything at all? Faith’s workings themselves are a gift of God, lest anyone should boast. What then is Paul saying? Not that God has forbidden works but that he has forbidden us to be justified by works. No one, Paul says, is justified by works, precisely in order that the grace and benevolence of God may become apparent. (Homily on Ephesians 4.2.9.)

Augustine (354-430): If Abraham was not justified by works, how was he justified? . . . Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness (Rom. 4:3; Gen. 15:6). Abraham, then, was justified by faith. Paul and James do not contradict each other: good works follow justification.

Augustine (354-430): “When someone believes in him who justifies the impious, that faith is reckoned as justice to the believer, as David too declares that person blessed whom God has accepted and endowed with righteousness, independently of any righteous actions (Rom 4:5-6). What righteousness is this? The righteousness of faith, preceded by no good works, but with good works as its consequence.” (Expositions of the Psalms 1-32, Exposition 2 of Psalm 31.)

Ambrosiaster (4th century), on Rom. 3:24: “They are justified freely because they have not done anything nor given anything in return, but by faith alone they have been made holy by the gift of God.”

Ambrosiaster (4th century), on Rom. 3:27: “Paul tells those who live under the law that they have no reason to boast basing themselves on the law and claiming to be of the race of Abraham, seeing that no one is justified before God except by faith.”

Cyril of Alexandria (412-444): For we are justified by faith, not by works of the law, as Scripture says (Gal. 2:16). By faith in whom, then, are we justified? Is it not in him who suffered death according to the flesh for our sake? Is it not in one Lord Jesus Christ? (Against Nestorius in Norman Russell, 165).

Cyril of Alexandria (412-444): “For truly the compassion from beside the Father is Christ, as he takes away the sins, dismisses the charges and justifies by faith, and recovers the lost and makes [them] stronger than death. . . . For by him and in him we have known the Father, and we have become rich in the justification by faith.” (Commentary on Hosea. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, p. 29.)

Fulgentius, bishop of Ruspe (c. 467-532) commenting on Eph. 2:8: “The blessed Paul argues that we are saved by faith, which he declares to be not from us but a gift from God. Thus there cannot possibly be true salvation where there is no true faith, and, since this faith is divinely enabled, it is without doubt bestowed by his free generosity. (On the Incarnation, 1.)

For by grace you have been saved through faith;
and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;
not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

- Ephesians 2:8-9 -

By the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight;
... But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested.
... For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.

- Romans 3:20, 21, 28 -

Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due.
But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly,
his faith is credited as righteousness.
... For this reason it is by faith,
in order that it may be in accordance with grace.

- Romans 4:4-5, 16 -

...knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law
but through faith in Christ Jesus,
even we have believed in Christ Jesus,
so that we may be justified by faith in Christ
and not by the works of the Law;
since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.

- Galatians 2:16 -

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Patristic Consensus: Sola Scriptura

One of the classes I'm taking this summer is Historical Theology I. It's a church history course covering the events from Pentecost through the pre-Reformation period. One of the things that I've found mightily encouraging is that the historic core evangelical principles of sola Scriptura and sola fide are taught not only in Scripture, but also in the writings of the Church Fathers -- from the first, second, third, and fourth centuries.

See, a popular view of church history among Protestants (and even evangelicals) is that Jesus, Paul, and the Apostles believed like we do, but after the close of the canon the Church was infiltrated by Roman Catholicism and all faithfulness to Scripture was lost. Basically, the contemporary Protestant view of Church History seems to be that, aside from a few faithful followers, the Church basically "went Roman Catholic" until Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin liberated her from her Roman Catholic shackles in the 16th century.

But such a perception is far from accurate. The writings of the Church Fathers overwhelmingly support the central tenets of evangelical conviction. And a careful study of church history shows us that through the entirety of the past 2,000 years God has preserved a faithful remnant even in the most faithless of times.

Often, Roman Catholic apologists talk about there being a "Patristic Consensus," a unanimous agreement among the Church Fathers supporting the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. Well, a balanced reading of the Fathers show that no such unanimity exists. The "early church" was not a homogeneous, cohesive, unified group of Christians, but rather a term that refers collectively to the disciples of the Apostles, the early apologists and polemicists, and second- and third-century theologians. And there is great variety among them. This has led Protestant apologists to call the notion of a Patristic Consensus a myth.

What's interesting, though, is that while the "early church" varied on many fine points of doctrine, if any sort of patristic consensus existed it was on the evangelical doctrines of sola Scriptura and sola fide. The following are some selections from the writings of the Fathers regarding sola Scriptura: that the Christian's authority is Scripture alone, and not the word of any pope, council, magisterium, or even church father -- even themselves!

And remember, while it's interesting and encouraging that these Fathers affirm sola Scriptura, their writings themselves do not establish sola Scriptura. As they will tell you themselves, they are not our authority; only Scripture is.

Irenaeus (c. 140–c. 202): We have received the disposition of our salvation by no others, but those by whom the Gospel came to us; which they then preached, and afterwards by God’s will delivered to us in the Scriptures, to be the pillar and ground of our faith. [And so the Apostolic oral tradition is recorded for us in the Scriptures.]

Tertullian (c. 160–235): The Scriptures . . . indeed furnish us with our Rule of faith. (Against Praxeas, 11)

Hippolytus (c. 170–c. 236): There is one God, whom we do not otherwise acknowledge, brethren, but out of the Sacred Scriptures. For as he, who would profess the wisdom of this world cannot otherwise attain it, unless he read the doctrines of the philosophers; so whosoever will exercise piety towards God, can learn it no where but from the Holy Scriptures.

Origen (c. 185–c. 254): In the two testaments every word that pertaineth unto God may be sought and discussed, and out of them all knowledge of things may be understood. And if anything remains which Holy Scripture does not determine, no other third scripture ought to be received to authorize any knowledge, but we must “commit to the fire” what remains, that is, reserve it unto God.

Origen (c. 185–254): In proof of all words which we advance in matters of doctrine, we ought to set forth the sense of the Scripture as confirming the meaning which we are proposing. . . . Therefore we should not take our own ideas for the confirmation of doctrine, unless someone shows that they are holy because they are contained in the divine Scriptures (Homily 25 on Matthew).

Athanasius (c. 296–373): For the true and pious faith in the Lord has become manifest to all, being both ‘known and read’ from the Divine Scriptures. (Letter, 60.6)

Athanasius (c. 296–373): The holy and divinely inspired writings are sufficient of themselves alone to make known the truth.

Athanasius (c. 296–373): In the Holy Scriptures alone is the instruction of religion announced—to which let no man add, from which let no man detract—which are sufficient in themselves for the enunciation of the truth.

Cyril of Jerusalem (315–386): Do not then believe me because I tell these things, unless thou receive from the Holy Scriptures the proof of what is set forth: for this salvation, which is of our faith, is not by ingenious reasonings, but by proof from the Holy Scriptures. (The Catechetical Lectures of S. Cyril 4.17)

Basil (c. 329–379): It is evidently a falling away from the faith, and a proof of great presumption, to neglect any part of what is written, or to introduce anything that is not written.

Chrysostom (c. 344407): When there is a question of Divine things, would it not be a folly rashly and blindly to receive the opinions of others, when we have a rule by which we can examine everything? I mean the Divine law. It is for this reason that I conjure you all, without resting in the slightest degree on the judgment of others, to consult the Scriptures.

Chrysostom (c. 344–407): `Tis from ignorance of Scripture that all our evils arise; hence the plague of so many heresies, hence our careless lives, our fruitless labors .. . They err who look not to the bright rays of the divine Scriptures, because they walk in darkness.

Chrysostom (344–407): These then are the reasons; but it is necessary to establish them all from the Scriptures, and to show with exactness that all that has been said on this subject is not an invention of human reasoning, but the very sentence of the Scriptures. (Homilies on the Statues 1.14)

Augustine (354–430): In those things, which are plainly laid down in Scripture, all things are found, which embrace faith and morals.

Augustine (354–430): Holy Scripture fixes the rule for our doctrine, lest we dare be wiser than we ought. (De Bono Viduitatis, 2)

Augustine (354–430): Let those things be removed from our midst which we quote against each other not from divine canonical books but from elsewhere. . . . I do not want the holy church proved by human documents but by divine oracles. (The Unity of the Church, 3)

Theodoret of Cyrus (c. 393–c. 466): Bring me not human reasonings and syllogisms, for I rely on the divine Scripture alone.

John of Damascus [c. 676–c. 760]: All things that are delivered to us by the Law, the Prophets, the Apostles, and the Evangelists, we receive, acknowledge, and reverence, seeking for nothing beyond these.

All Scripture is inspired by God
and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;
so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
- 2 Timothy 3:16-17 -

His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness,
through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.

- 2 Peter 1:3 -

So we have the prophetic word made more sure,
to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place,
until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts.

- 2 Peter 1:19 -

Friday, May 21, 2010

You Don't Inspire People by Aiming at Inspiring Them

I've heard (and read) many individuals talk (and write) about the goals of the Sunday morning gathering of believers as a church. One of the things I've heard thrown around a lot is that people want their worship services to be "inspiring." By the end of the service, they want their congregations walking out of their pews inspired.

I came across that thought again recently at about the same time I was finishing up a biographical project on Jonathan Edwards. During that time, I read the following passage from biographer George Marsden's A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards. Marsden is discussing Edwards's thought on the nature of the new birth and its effect on the Christian life. This presentation of a God-centered worldview seemed in my mind to grate against the notion of aiming at having "inspiring" worship services. From page 138:

“The Holy Spirit works in sinners so that, rather than being blinded to higher things by their love of self and fleeting pleasures, they see the beauty of the light of God’s love. They are given ‘eyes to see’ and are transformed or regenerated – ‘born again.’ This transformation is not merely a change in understanding, but also a change in one’s affections, or in what one values and loves. One has a sort of ‘new sense’ of God’s glory, beauty, and love, and that exhilarating sensibility reshapes the priorities of what else one loves. Spiritually transformed people respond to God’s love by loving first of all what God loves, or all that is good. In other words, the transformation of one’s most essential personal relationship revolutionizes how one relates to the rest of reality.”
So this means that Christians, whom leaders are trying to "inspire," are only truly inspired and affected by the beauty of the glory of Jesus Christ. At conversion, the Christian's loves change. "Spiritually transformed people respond to God's love by loving first of all what God loves." And, dear friends, if there's any point that I've tried to hammer home on this blog it is that God loves Himself, chiefly, and first of all. And all of His love for us is merely an outpouring, or even a side effect, of His love for Himself.

Therefore, if we pastors and church leaders want to make our worship services more inspiring,
we will fail if we aim at the needs and preferences and tastes of fallen man. If we're asking the question, "What can we do in our worship services to inspire our people?" we're asking the wrong question. We should be asking, "What can we do differently or more effectively in our worship services to magnify and exalt the name of God above all things, such that His glory is immediately perceivable to all in our midst?" And that is because the way to inspire Christians is not to aim at them, per se, but to aim at the glory of God above all things --- because that is what regenerated people most love and are most affected by.

And this kind of thing -- that is, loving people by not aiming at them, but at God -- is Biblical. This is precisely how God loves us: He demonstrates how amazing He is by being entirely won by the beauty of His own perfections. Therefore,
we love people by demonstrating that very same thing. We, by our actions -- that is, our radical, unilateral commitment to the glory of God above all things -- demonstrate to the household of faith and to a watching world that God is supremely worthy.

It is
that vision of a supremely worthy God that inspires the regenerated person. Aim at anything lower, and you'll fail.

John Owen says it better than anyone can:
Let us live in the constant contemplation of the glory of Christ, and virtue will proceed from Him to repair all our decays, to renew a right spirit within us, and to cause us to abound in all duties of obedience… It will fix the soul unto that object which is suited to give it delight, complacency, and satisfaction… when the mind is filled with thoughts of Christ and his glory, when the soul thereon cleaves unto him with intense affections, they will cast out, or not give admittance unto, those causes of spiritual weakness and indisposition… And nothing will so much excite and encourage our souls hereunto as a constant view of Christ and His glory; everything in Him hath a constraining power hereunto, as is known to all who have any acquaintance with these things.
So, you who seek to make your worship services more inspiring for your people, stop fooling around with everything except that thing which is deliberately designed by God to delight and satisfy the souls of your people: the glory of Christ. Nothing will so much excite and encourage their souls as a constant view of Christ and His glory.

Proclaim Him.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

In Pursuit of Becoming a Technical-Devotional Reader of Scripture

Daniel Doriani, in his commentary on the book of James, comments on the propensity for ministers of the Word to "professionalize their use of Scripture." That is, it's their job to affect people with the Word of God, and so they study Scripture and prepare to teach and preach it for other people. It's far easier to love preaching the glory of God than to love the glory of God.

Yet Doriani reminds us that we can do the people of God no good if we ourselves do not seek the benefit of Scripture's effect on our hearts and lives. We affect no one with the truth of God if we ourselves are not affected. That's why Ezra set his heart to study the law of Yahweh: first to practice it himself, and only then to teach God's statutes and ordinances in Israel (Ezra 7:10).

With a striking degree of insight and wisdom, Doriani offers a taxonomy of the ways one grows in reading Scripture. In short, we need both light and heat. We need to know our stuff, and we need to pursue our greatest pleasure in benefiting from what the Scripture says to us first.
Teachers and preachers of the Word must continue to seek the solution to their own struggles in the Word of God. This seems obvious, but pastors and seminarians are prone to professionalize their use of Scripture, to read it to help every soul but their own. Let me offer a typology of the ways pastors can read Scripture.

When he is a new Christian, the future pastor's reading is naive and devotional. He devours Scripture, underlining virtually every word in his new Bible, feeling that God speaks directly to him with every word.

After a few years, the budding leader's reading becomes sophisticated and devotional. He still feels that God is speaking to him in the text but he has learned to read texts in their contexts. He reads Bible dictionaries and commentaries. He knows the translation strategies of various Bible versions and begins to use that knowledge to get at the original text.

The future pastor decides to go to seminary, where he becomes a technical reader. He reads Greek and Hebrew; he consults scholarly sources. He respects the distance between his world and that of biblical thought. His zeal to describe biblical history, culture, and language grows. He pursues what the word originally meant and perhaps neglects what it means today.

As ordination comes, our friend remembers that his study has, as its goal, the edification of the church. He continues to read technically, but now he shares his findings with the church. He becomes a technical-functional reader. His reading may be detached, personally speaking, but he stores and organizes his discoveries so he can offer them to others. While this phase may mark a partial improvement, he does not directly profit from his reading of Scripture.

He needs therefore to become a technical, devotional reader. Every technical skill remains, but he reads like a child, letting the Word speak directly to his heart again. He gains what Paul Ricoeur calls a "second naivete." He is both technically astute and meek. He both receives God's Word and expounds it. In this way he finds strength to endure trials and to check the growth of sin.

From Daniel M. Doriani, James, Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing), 50-51.

The precepts of Yahweh are right, rejoicing the heart.
- Psalm 19:8 -

I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies,
As much as in all riches.
I will meditate on Your precepts
And regard Your ways.
I shall delight in Your statutes;
I shall not forget Your word.
- Psalm 119:14-16 -

I have inherited Your testimonies forever,
For they are the joy of my heart.
- Psalm 119:111

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

An Update: 5/11/10

So it's extremely hard to believe, but my first year of seminary is over! I don't believe I've lived through a faster 9 months in my life. Talk about a whirlwind! God's grace has been extremely evident and entirely sufficient throughout our time here at Master's and Grace Church. His faithfulness is abundant. May His name be praised for His faithfulness to His own name in the protection and grace given to His people.

Job Stuff

There's so much to report that I barely know where to start. On the logistical side of things, Janna has been working on a telemetry/oncology unit at the hospital since the end of January. After much prayer, He graciously granted us that job and a steady source of income. Janna has really enjoyed it, though of course it's been tough -- especially physically. But it really couldn't have been any better of a job. Three 12-hour shifts during the daytime was the best-case scenario in terms of scheduling. And perhaps the best part is that it's only 5 minutes away by car. She and I actually enjoyed a nice walk home from work the other day.

There's been a development there, though. Her hospital is beginning to move from a traditional, physical charting system to an electronic one. Basically, all the information that the nurses would record about the care of the patients will now be done on a computer rather than on a paper and clipboard. As they prepare for that, they need a few nurses to contribute to its development, as it's the nurses that the system will be designed to serve. Providentially, Janna has had experience with computer charting from her old nursing job in New Jersey. So they asked her to help out. What that's meant for her is that she's doing only one 12-hour shift per week on the unit, but also doing three 8-hour shifts in the office helping out with the project. The good news about that is that it makes her schedule a bit more regular (8:00-4:30 Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday). This means we'll be able to eat dinner before 8:30pm, and hopefully get into some good, steady routines and habits.


God has also provided great fellowship for us here at Grace Church. We've been going to the Cornerstone fellowship group at Grace, which is a young marrieds and families group. Pastor Tom has just wrapped up a series on heroes and heroines of the Bible, and will be starting a series on the life of the body of Christ next week. I think the impetus for that series has been at least partly from Colin Marshall and Tony Payne's new book, The Trellis and the Vine. I've actually just finished reading it and I really enjoyed it. It is, as everyone says, a must-read for those in Church Leadership.

We've also been going to a couple of mid-week Bible studies, which we've really been loving. In one, we've been studying the Christ-centered focus of the book of Hebrews, taught by Pastor Will Varner. We've so enjoyed getting to know Dr. and Mrs. V., as well as the dear brothers and sisters at that study. In another Bible study we've been attending, we've been studying Jerry Bridges' classic, Trusting God. Meditating week by week on God's absolute sovereignty, His infinite wisdom, and His relentless goodness has been a feast. And it's been great to apply the rubber of those wonderful, deep truths to the road of trusting God "even when life hurts," as the subtitle says. We've also extremely enjoyed the fellowship there, getting to know different brothers and sisters, and witnessing God's grace in each other's lives. God has done an amazing thing in the Church. How blessed we are to be a part of it!


God has continued to prove His faithfulness throughout my studies. I did have quite a heavy course load this past semester, and the combination of classes I had was particularly challenging. For most of the semester I would look at my assignment spreadsheet and just sit in amazement at the idea that somehow all that work was going to get done. At some points I actually wondered whether I'd be able to do it all. I thought about which assignments I would skip if I had to leave some undone. I remember saying to myself, "It will actually be a miracle of God if this all gets done." Well, it all got done. And all praise and glory and honor to Him. He deserves it. I deserve none. He has gone out ahead of me, and has given me the victory as He always does for His people. I do stand amazed and in awe of my God who answers prayer.


I'll probably talk more about seminary and this past semester in a coming post, but for now I'll move on to some ministry things. As you might remember, back in December we were praying hard about how to plug into Grace Church and what ministry(ies) we should be involved in. I continued praying nearly every day for God to present the right ministry opportunities. If I'm being honest, I was worried that I wouldn't get plugged in and that I'd not be able to couple my seminary education with simultaneous ministry, especially not a teaching ministry.

Well, God is able to do exceedingly abundantly beyond all we ask or think. Since then, Janna and I have begun serving on the New Membership team. Basically, if folks would like to become a member at Grace Church, the first thing they do is come down to the front of the sanctuary after the service, fill out some information, and sit through an initial interview. Janna and I are initial interviewers. It's been really fun, and a great ministry experience. You really do get exposed to a wide range of people, from those you'd love to hang out and talk a bit more with to the downright strange. It's confronted my own sinfulness, pride, and cliquishness. I guess something God has shown me is how much I like people who are like me, and how much I don't like people who aren't like me. I pray that He would give me the grace to shatter such conceptions, and to love my neighbor as myself. As a pastor, I don't want to shepherd only some of the sheep and leave the others to fend for themselves. I want to be faithful with God's own people, the sheep of Christ's own fold, such that I can present them to Him as a pure offering when He comes (Rom 15:16).

Soon after that, we were asked to serve in the welcome center after the second church service. Basically, new visitors to Grace are welcomed each Sunday by some folks who are there to talk with them, answer questions, and basically make their visit a pleasant experience. We serve at the information window, where people come and ask about the various events and opportunities that are going on. That's been really fun, because we've gotten to meet and help a lot of people who are lost amongst the madness of being at a huge church, a position we found ourselves in only a few short months ago. Plus, since we don't know too much about what's going on, being asked all those questions forces us to learn!

Just to make this move a little faster, I won't go into as much detail, but the ministry opportunities have kept coming! Grace Church is updating their membership database, and so has asked their 7,000+ attendees to fill out a registration card to provide updated information. I've been one of a few of guys to enter in that information in the database. Also regarding membership, I've also been asked to help coordinate the membership classes that Grace holds (between 8 and 10 per year).

As this gracious flood of opportunities to serve God and His people continued, folks at the seminary asked me if I was interested in being an orientation leader for the fall semester. I would basically be welcoming incoming students and helping them and their families make a smooth transition. I had benefited greatly from my orientation leader, and developed a great relationship with him and his family, so I was eager to have the opportunity to do the same. I'm looking forward to that come August.

One thing that all those great opportunities had left out was a specific avenue to apply the skills of handling the Word of God that I'm getting at seminary to a practical context of a teaching ministry. This is what I thought was most unlikely. It's not a common thing that every seminary student have a regular teaching opportunity, and so I was praying for grace to be faithful in little so that a time might come where I might have to depend on Christ for the grace to be faithful in much. Well, one of the graduating seniors was leaving behind a bi-weekly Bible study, and he asked me (after a couple of guys couldn't do it) to take it over. Janna and I are still praying about it and thinking through the various implications, but as best we can discern this seems to be from Him, and so I give Him the glory for yet another answered prayer.

And finally, as if it couldn't get any better, a good friend and dear brother -- the same brother who was my orientation leader -- asked me to participate in what Grace calls the Pastor of the Day. Basically, because of Pastor John's and Grace Church's notoriety, random people call the church often to ask for counsel and prayer. The church allows particular seminary students and ministerial interns to take shifts once or twice a month taking those calls. This will provide some very practical, and, as I've heard, very humbling, pastoral counseling experience.

And so for all of this and more, I continue to want to direct all praise and glory and honor to God, who is faithful to Himself above all things, and thus lovingly and graciously merciful to His people. Praise the Lord Jesus that He is patient with our weakness, He having also partook of the same, being tempted in every way as we are, yet was without sin, and yet is also bountifully good and gracious.

Where We Are Right Now

At present, Janna's continuing her orientation to her new job description, and I'm taking a couple of summer courses. I'll be taking Historical Theology I, which covers church history from Pentecost to the pre-Reformation period, as well as a course called The Pastor's Home. That course is taught in the evenings, and so Janna will be joining me when she's not working late. It's basically a marriage and family discipleship course. It almost feels like pre-marital counseling felt, just now it's 2 years into marriage rather than 7 months before it. I'm thankful for such class. Our merciful Lord knows I need it. Oh to love like Christ loved the Church! How aware I am of how short I fall! And yet by grace I am equally aware of the fitness of Christ for such a task. And I rejoice that I was united with Him in His death as well as His resurrection, and so therefore I can walk in the newness of life that He Himself has walked ahead of me, and has prepared these good works in advance for me, that I should walk in them.

So please pray for Janna and me, as we seek to diligently steward this time of learning, of sanctification, and of preparation for full-time ministry. We love you all dearly and long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. May His grace be with you. Amen.

For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace.
- John 1:16 -

Friday, May 7, 2010

Making Friends with Your Brother's Murderer

In my travels around the internet, I came across a sermon by Charles Spurgeon from which the following excerpt is taken. The name of the sermon is Lama Sabacthani? and was preached on the text of Matthew 27:46: Jesus' cry from the Cross. It was preached on March 2, 1890 at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London. The below excerpt is his final exhortation and conclusion to the sermon.

Nobody says it quite like he does.
Let us abhor the sin which brought such agony upon our beloved Lord. What an accursed thing is sin, which crucified the Lord Jesus! Do you laugh at it? Will you go and spend an evening to see a mimic performance of it? Do you roll sin under your tongue as a sweet morsel, and then come to God's house, on the Lord's-day morning, and think to worship him? Worship him! Worship him, with sin indulged in your breast! Worship him, with sin loved and pampered in your life!

O sirs, if I had a dear brother who had been murdered, what would you think of me if I valued the knife which had been crimsoned with his blood? —if I made a friend of the murderer, and daily consorted with the assassin, who drove the dagger into my brother's heart? Surely I, too, must be an accomplice in the crime! Sin murdered Christ; will you be a friend to it? Sin pierced the heart of the Incarnate God; can you love it? Oh, that there was an abyss as deep as Christ's misery, that I might at once hurl this dagger of sin into its depths, whence it might never be brought to light again!

Begone, O sin! Thou art banished from the heart where Jesus reigns! Begone, for thou hast crucified my Lord, and made him cry, "Why hast thou forsaken me?" O my hearers, if you did but know yourselves, and know the love of Christ, you would each one vow that you would harbour sin no longer. You would be indignant at sin, and cry,

"The dearest idol I have known,
Whate'er that idol be,
Lord, I will tear it from its throne,
And worship only thee,"

May that be the issue of my morning's discourse, and then I shall be well content. The Lord bless you! May the Christ who suffered for you, bless you, and out of his darkness may your light arise! Amen.

Do not love the world nor the things in the world.
If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

For all that is in the world,
the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life,
is not from the Father, but is from the world.
The world is passing away, and also its lusts;
but the one who does the will of God lives forever.

- 1 John 2:15-17 -

How shall we who died to sin still live in it?
- Romans 6:2 -

And He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross,
so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness;
for by His wounds you were healed.

- 1 Peter 2:24 -

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Sample Prayer Plan

For my class, the Biblical Exposition of Prayer, our final project was to prepare a three-part expositional series on prayer, with the goal of drawing our hearers into a vibrant, thriving prayer life. For that project, I chose Psalm 50, Hebrews 4:14-16, and Matthew 6:5-13. My outline was sort of: (1) Prayer results in God's glory (Ps 50:15); (2) Prayer results in our benefit (Heb 4:16), and (3) How to pray (Mt 6:5-13). (I may post pieces from those lessons in the coming weeks.)

At the end of that project -- as well as at the end of a semester of intentional personal prayer -- I drafted a sample prayer plan that I thought might help give some structure to people who want to pray but don't because they don't have a good plan to pray. John Piper, in Desiring God, makes that very point: a main hindrance to prayer is our lack of planning. He tells us, "If you want to take a four-week vacation, you don't just get up one summer morning and say, 'Hey, let's go today!' You won't have anything ready. You won't know where to go. Nothing has been planned."

And so to that end, I offer the following, not as something to be rigidly followed, but as a suggestion to help get you into -- or back into -- a thriving, regular, consistent time of worship of and communion with God in prayer.

Wake up: 5:30 am
Time: Daily, 6:00 am to 7:00 am
Place: Kitchen Table

6:00-6:05 - Drawing Near & Confession
  • Come before your Father in the name of Jesus Christ, on the basis of the work He's done in the Gospel.
  • Acknowledge your dependence upon the Holy Spirit even in your prayers (Rom 8:26-27). Ask for His help in the coming hour.
  • Pray that the Father would receive this time as worship from a heart gladdened by His glorious grace.
  • Confess your sin in light of God's holiness. Ask for forgiveness on the basis of Christ's shed blood on the Cross.
6:05-6:10 - Praise & Thanksgiving

Spend time simply delighting in all that God is for you in Christ. Meditate on the beauty of His manifold perfections and His wondrous deeds throughout the ages. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name (Ps 96:7-9), and honor Him as God by giving thanks to Him (Rom 1:21) for all His good and perfect gifts (Jas 1:17).

6:10-6:20 - God-Centered Petitions
  • Pray for God's name to be glorified above all things by all peoples.
  • Pray for His kingdom to increase through the ministry of the Church.
  • Pray for His kingdom to come in its fullness. That is, pray for His second coming and the establishment of His consummated reign upon the earth.
  • Pray for His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven; namely, without hesitation and full of joyful zeal.
6:20-6:30 - Personal Petitions
  • Pray for growth in grace and godliness. Be specific.
  • Battle in prayer against specific sins. Engage in the work of mortification (Rom 8:12-13).
  • Pray for opportunities of personal ministry, that your light would shine before men to the glory of your Father (Mt 5:16).
  • Pray for God to provide (and to continue to provide) for your daily necessities: for food, shelter, employment, etc.
  • Pray for freedom from temptation, and, when temptation comes, strength to endure it without falling.
  • Pray for the strength to persevere and endure in trials.
6:30-6:40 - Intercessory Prayer

During this time, pray for the requests of particular circles of friends and family. This may involve keeping a prayer list and referring to it as you're praying. Pray for different circles on different days. For example on a 5-day cycle:
  • On Mondays, pray for particular requests from your immediate and extended family.
  • On Tuesdays, pray for the requests of those in your small group Bible study.
  • On Wednesdays, pray for your pastors and elders, as well as the missionaries your church supports. (You might pick a different missionary family or two each week and cycle through.) Pray also for pastors, elders, and missionaries you know outside of your own church.
  • On Thursdays, pray for the requests of those whom you interact with at your job. What a great way to both minister and witness to those at your job!
  • On Fridays, pray for other friends outside of the aforementioned circles, as well as specifically for the salvation of unbelievers you know.
6:40-6:55 - Meditation

Choose a passage of Scripture to meditate on and pray through. This should be regular. That is, don't just pick a random passage every day. You might choose to meditate on the main text and the supplemental texts of your pastor's sermon from the previous Sunday. That would be a great way to be an expositional listener. You might also do a Psalm per day. You could also pick 8 verses of Psalm 119 per day, as that's broken up very nicely. For example,
  • Monday - Psalm 119:1-8
  • Tuesday - Psalm 119:9-16
  • Wednesday - Psalm 119:17-24
  • Thursday - Psalm 119:25-32
  • Friday - Psalm 119:33-40
Really pray these texts into your soul. This is not reading merely for exposure or content. This is reading to see and know and worship God. This should be different than your daily Bible reading, and should be a small enough passage that you can pray through it in 15 minutes.

6:55-7:00 - Summarize
  • Thank God for the time spent with Him and for His gracious revelation of Himself in His Word.
  • Express your trust in Him to grant the things you've prayed for according to His sovereign, wise, and good will, and according to glory of His name.
  • Pray again for strength and grace to glorify Him and serve people in His name throughout your day.

One thing I have asked from Yahweh, that I shall seek:
That I may dwell in the house of Yahweh all the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of Yahweh
And to meditate in His temple.
- Psalm 27:4 -

Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do,
so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
- John 14:13 -

Ask and you will receive,
so that your joy may be made full.
- John 16:24 -