Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Swords into Ploughshares

Further to my post a long while back about many Christians not being that excited about the afterlife, or about eternal life as conceived of by many people, just sitting around for eternity strumming harps and walking on streets of gold...

I'm sure this has happened to most if not all Christians who regularly read their Bibles.  You'll be reading along in a book of the Bible and you'll read a passage that you are quite familiar with, or at least that you have read or heard many times before.  This time, however, it sticks out sideways and you see it in different light, say, the light of a 50 million candle power search light.  It's as though you are seeing the 2D passage you've always seen in 3D for the first time.  That happened to me several years ago with Isaiah 2:4:

     He shall judge between the nations,
       and shall decide disputes for many peoples;
     and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
       and their spears into pruning hooks;
     Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
       neither shall they learn war anymore.

Or as Louis Armstrong sang, "I ain't gonna study war no more..."

This is a passage that addresses a time universally recognized as not having come yet.  If you have any doubt, just watch the news - still lots of war.  Nations don't appear to be boiling their chemical weapons down into cancer medication any time soon.  Christians recognize this as a prophecy about the new heavens and the new earth, or at least about the millennial reign of Christ (exact interpretation depends on one's eschatology).  Anyway, this is referencing a time when nations will no longer war for they will all recognize the authority of Christ the King.  There will be peace.  Therefore, there will be no more need for weapons of warfare.  What will be done with all those weapons?  They will be turned into gardening tools and farming implements.

So, the new heavens and new earth will not be one long vacation, where we do nothing but visit each other in our mansions and walk along the shores of the crystal sea.  We will be gardening.  We will be tending creation.  We will be fulfilling our original vocation of taking dominion, only this time it will be over a redeemed and renewed heavens and earth, one rescued from sin and death and the curse by the blood of Christ; one under full submission to the rule of God the Father and his Son.  In the new heavens and earth we will be working, only our labour will not be toil, and the creation will willingly and happily submit, and there will not be thorns and weeds to contend with.  And there will be no serpent slithering into this garden-city, the new Eden-Zion.  And we will have access to the tree of life once more, where the nations may eat and be healed and live forever. 


Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Christian Children: Airbrushed covenant robots OR loving disciples of Jesus?

My friend, Toby Sumpter, has some very wise words for parents who realize they have not been parenting faithfully.  No matter who you are, if you have children, this applies to you at least some of the time... and I know it certainly applies to me.  Specifically, he calls parents to recognize God's means and ends in how parents discipline (lovingly train and disciple) their children.  Here's a short excerpt:
"Remember, the point of discipline, the point of parenting is to train up disciples of Jesus who love Jesus with you. The reason why unruly, undisciplined, and misbehaving children is a problem is because those habits and sins are training for breaking fellowship with God, Church, and Family. But don’t lose sight of the goal. The goal is not children who have their shirts tucked in all the time. The goal is not children who never speak out of turn. The goal is not a pile of airbrushed covenant robots. The goal is children who love God with all that they are. Our goal is children whose hearts have been changed by the Spirit. Our goal is children who are driven by the gospel of grace, whose hearts are overflowing with joy and gratitude and gladness and thanksgiving."
There is more to say about biblical parenting than Toby says in this post.  There is certainly much to say about the proactive teaching of the Word of God in the family setting and the positive aspects of training and discipling our children - things like teaching our children the promises of God for them in the gospel (in parallel with his 4th step). However, Toby's intention is not to give an exhaustive treatise on what godly parenting looks like but rather some biblical counsel and wise words of application for those times when, holding up God's Word next to how we've been practicing our vocation as Christian parents, we see some ways that we have been unfaithful.

You can find his good words here

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Augustine on the Father's love for us in Christ

"How great was your love for us, good Father, for you did not even spare your own son, but gave him up to save us sinners!  How great was your love for us, when it was for us that Christ, who did not see, in the rank of Godhead, a prize to be coveted, accepted an obedience which brought him to death, death on a cross!  He who alone was free among the dead, for he was free to lay down his life and free to take it up again, was for us both Victor and Victim in your sight, and it was because he was the Victim that he was also the Victor.  In your sight he was for us both Priest and Sacrifice, and it was because he was the Sacrifice that he was also the Priest.  By being your Son, yet serving you, he freed us from servitude and made us your sons.  Rightly do I place in him my firm hope that you will cure all my ills through him who sits at your right hand and pleads for us:  otherwise I should despair.  For my ills are many and great, many and great indeed; but your medicine is greater still.  We might have thought that your Word was far distant from union with man, and so we might have despaired of ourselves, if he had not been made flesh and come to dwell among us."

                                                                              - Confessions, St. Augustine

                            -  Romans 8:32; Philippians 2:6-8; Psalm 87:6 & 88:5; John 10:18; Romans 8:34; John 1:14

Friday, 31 October 2014

Halloween & Reformation Day

There is a round-up of some clear gospel thinking on Halloween and Reformation Day:

Here's a combo on Halloween and Reformation Day at Desiring God.

And here's some good, missional and incarnational thoughts on how to think of and do Halloween again, over at Desiring God.

And for a complete Desiring God hat trick, here we are reminded of the blessed gospel of God's grace in Christ that the Holy Spirit opened up to Martin Luther through his study of the Word, sparking the Protestant Reformation.

Justin Taylor quotes John Calvin on why God raised up Martin Luther to reform the church.

And here Justine Taylor interviews church historian, Carl Trueman, on Luther's 95 theses.

And here is Steven Wedgeworth on why we celebrate Reformation Day.

This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

J.I. Packer's Conversion 70 years ago

Justin Taylor posts about J.I. Packer's conversion at Oxford University, on October 22, 1944. 
"On Sunday, October 22, is doubtful that anyone noticed a soft-spoken, lanky, and decidedly bookish first-year university student leaving his dormitory room at Corpus Christi College and heading across Oxford for an evening Christian Union service at a local Anglican church."
Of course, God noticed.  In fact, although Jim Packer didn't know what was about to happen to him that evening, the Lord Jesus certainly did, just as he knew that he would use Packer mightily in the subsequent 70 years to teach, build up, strengthen and equip the church.  God knew these things because he planned them.  I am only one of very many people who are grateful for the plan God had for Dr. Packer in the church and in our lives individually as well.

Dr. Packer begins every class he teaches with a reminder to his students that the purpose of theology is doxology.  In other words, all our learning about God should not simply result in head knowledge but in a deep desire to worship God and glorify Jesus Christ with lives of faithful obedience.  No Packer class would be complete without singing God's praises together as a fitting and reverent response to the riches of Christian theology. 

You can read the story of  Packer's conversion here.  Much of Taylor's post is adapted from an upcoming Crossway biography on J.I. Packer by Leland Ryken.  The combination of a biography of this important stalwart written by such a capable author promises to be good.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

True Truth: Francis Schaeffer's Enduring Legacy

One of the great tragedies in the evangelical church of today is that it has largely forgotten one of its great heroes from the evangelical church of yesterday.  One of my heroes of the faith and someone who has profoundly affected my thinking is Francis Schaeffer. 

Just how influential was Schaeffer?  If you find yourself opposing or protesting the rampant abortion of our culture, you probably owe your awareness of the issue to Schaeffer.  If you are familiar with the term "Christian worldview", you likely have Schaeffer to thank.  If you self identify as a reformed evangelical, along with other incluences such as R.C. Sproul, J.I. Packer and John Piper you likely have Francis Schaeffer to thank.  If you hold firmly to the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture, probably much of your reasoning can be traced back to Schaeffer's defences of the Bible.  If you believe there comes a time in the culture wars where Christians may have to take the stand of civil disobedience, you are following Schaeffer.  If you believe that evangelicals can and should present our faith and worldview through the arts (including film), and that we should do art better than anyone else because we know the great and first Artist, you have Schaeffer to thank.  And if you believe that love and kindness as well as strong intellectual reasoning are all part of the task of apologetics, you likely got that blend from Schaeffer.  And this is only part of his ongoing and pervasive legacy.

Certainly he did not stand alone in all this, nor was he the originator of any of these concepts or practices, but Schaeffer was a hugely persuasive popularizer of these things through his books, lectures, sermons and films.  He saw so clearly the effects of Secular Humanism, Pragmatism, Relativism and Postmodernism within modern society and with the clear gaze of a prophet he told the church of his day just where it would end up if it didn't recognize and reject these things as incompatible with the universal Lordship of Jesus Christ.  [Oh yeah, if you hold to the universal Lordship of Jesus Christ over all of thought and life, you probably also owe that to Schaeffer.]  God used him powerfully in his day and, thanks be to God, even though so many have forgotten about him or have never even heard of him or are unfamiliar with his work, there are some around who, while not perhaps agreeing with every single thing he said or did, still carry on his legacy and his Christian cultural project in their own ministries.

One such person is Donald Williams.  I am happy to recommend this article to you.  Williams reminds us of Schaeffer's enduring relevance and the legacy he passed on to us:
  • Christianity is Truth.
  • Christian Truth touches all of life: “The lordship of Christ over the total culture.”
  • Christian life & witness must show the whole character of God: “holiness and love.”
  • The truth of Christianity must be demonstrated both intellectually and practically through a life of faith.
[Oh yeah, and if you enjoy the music of Mark Heard as I do (I took the title of my blog page from one of his songs), you also owe your appreciation for the depth and artistic genius of Heard's songs at least in part to Schaeffer's personal influence upon and discipleship of Mark Heard.]

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Ten Shekels and a Shirt

A good friend told me about a sermon entitled Ten Shekels and a Shirt, preached back in the 60s by a pastor and missionary named Paris Reidhead.  I listened to it here and simultaneously read it here.  I cannot recommend this sermon too highly and I would put a plug in for listening and reading at the same time - you get so much more out of it, especially as the recording isn't as sharp as modern sermon recordings. 

Too often have we traded our gospel heritage, our re-birthright in Christ, the freedom-inducing truth of a loving God, for a mess of humanistic, man-centred pottage.  Or as Reidhead would put it, we have traded the glory and worthiness of the holy and loving God for ten shekels and a shirt. 

The glory of God, not the happiness of man, is the prime focus of the Christian life and message.  And God's gospel and God's glory must be proclaimed by God's methods, not by our methods and through our motivations with a token prayer requesting God's blessing.  This is as solid a reminder of that as I've heard in a long time.