Archives For Empowered Living

“[T]rue CScreen Shot 2014-12-22 at 7.01.38 PMhristian theology . . . does not present God to us in His majesty, as Moses and other teachings do, but Christ born of the Virgin as our Mediator and High Priest. Therefore when we are embattled against the Law, sin, and death in the presence of God, nothing is more dangerous than to stray into heaven with our idle speculations, there to investigate God in His incomprehensible power, wisdom, and majesty, to ask how He created the world and how He governs it. If you attempt to comprehend God this way and want to make atonement to Him apart from Christ the Mediator, making your works, fasts, cowl, and tonsure the mediation between Him and yourself, you will inevitably fall, as Lucifer did, and in horrible despair lose God and everything. For as in His own nature God is immense, incomprehensible, and infinite, so to man’s nature He is intolerable. Therefore if you want to be safe and out of danger to your conscience and your salvation, put a check on your speculative spirit. Take hold of God as Scripture instructs you: ‘Since, in wisdom, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.’ Therefore begin where Christ began — in the Virgin’s womb, in the manger, and at His mother’s breasts. For this purpose He came down, was born, lived among men, suffered, was crucified, and died, so that in every possible way He might present Himself to our sight. He wanted us to fix the gaze of our hearts upon Himself and thus to prevent us from clambering into heaven and speculating about the Divine Majesty. 

“Therefore when you consider the doctrine of justification and wonder how or where or in what condition to find a God who justifies or accepts sinners, then you must know that there is no other God than this Man Jesus Christ. Take hold of Him; cling to Him with all your heart, and spurn all speculation about the Divine Majesty; for whoever investigates the majesty of God will be consumed by His glory. I know from experience what I am talking about. . . . Christ Himself says: ‘I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father, but by Me.’ Outside Christ, the Way, therefore, you will find no other way to the Father; you will find only wandering, not truth, but hypocrisy and lies, not life, but eternal death. Take note, therefore, in the doctrine of justification or grace that when we all must struggle with the Law, sin, death, and the devil, we must look at no other God than this incarnate and human God.”

–Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians: Chapters 1-4, trans. Jaroslav Pelikan (Luther’s Works Vol. 26; St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1963 [1535]), 29

The Source of Our Gratitude

November 26, 2014

“Every breath in your life is a gift of mercy.”

George Swinnock, 1627 – 1673

From Mollie Hemingway:

If you care about the poor, you need to start caring much more about marriage culture. The growing marriage divide is a major source of social and economic inequality, and is one largely unnoticed force eroding the American Dream. That’s the sobering message of a new report on economic success and marriage decline.

Americans with college degrees are doing pretty well on the marriage front. They get married and stay married. But the picture is very different for Americans with lower education levels. Lower income Americans are being hit hardest by changing social norms, the rise of the post-industrial economy and the retreat from civil society and its institutions. That’s creating a marriage divide among Americans that is leading to serious inequalities, say the Urban Institute’s Robert Lerman and the University of Virginia’s Bradford Wilcox.

Lower-income Americans have been steadily retreating from marriage and that move has played a key role in their declining economic fortunes, the scholars write in “For Richer, For Poorer: How Family Structures Economic Success In America.” The duo estimate that median income growth of families with children would be 44 percent higher if people were marrying at 1980 levels. Further, at least 32 percent of family income inequality and 37 percent of the decline in men’s employment rates since 1979 can be linked to the decreasing number of Americans who form and maintain stable families.

“All the latest evidence confirms the ancient wisdom: the institution of marriage is a key to productive adulthood, the cornerstone of a stable family, and the basic unit of a healthy community,” says American Enterprise Institute president Arthur Brooks of the new study.

Read the rest.

An excellent review from Christianity Today of an intriguing book:

ordinaryIf we are justified by faith in Christ alone, then we need not be anxious to show how Spirit-filled we are by living extraordinary, radical lives. Having already received the promise of the Spirit in baptism—God’s promise, which we can trust he will keep—we are free to serve our neighbors with ordinary good works. We are freed from establishing our credentials before God or our own consciences. And we are even free, Horton states, to enjoy our neighbors as gifts rather than making them into our own projects, as if it was our job to transform their lives.

Horton argues that the underlying theology behind oft-heard calls to be wild and crazy radical believers—as if Christianity were an extreme sport—is works righteousness in a new, consumerist mode. For some time, radical has been a favorite word of advertisers and ideologues alike. Every website with something to sell now routinely promises a transformative experience.

Instead of another call to be radical, extraordinary, or transformative, Horton would have us return to the ordinary means of grace, those practices of the church in which God has promised to make himself known: preaching the gospel, teaching the faith, administering the sacraments, and worshiping with a local congregation. Instead of advertising life-changing experiences or the next big thing, the aim is a sustainable faith for the long haul. The great strength of being ordinary, after all, is that you can do it for a lifetime.

Read it all.

The Bending of God’s Word

September 25, 2014

A good reminder from Francis Schaeffer:

“God’s Word will never pass away, but looking back to the Old Testament and since the time of Christ, with tears we must say that because of a lack of fortitude and faithfulness on the part of God’s people, God’s Word has many times been allowed to be bent, to conform to the surrounding, passing, changing culture of that moment rather than to stand as the inerrant Word of God judging the form of the world spirit and the surrounding culture of that moment. In the name of The Lord Jesus Christ, may our children and grandchildren not say that such can be said about us.”

The Great Evangelical Disaster (1984)

From Eric Geiger:

A local church is on the planet to make disciples, not merely help people “make decisions” for Christ and then leave them alone and uncared for.

Sadly, in some churches people are led to “receive Christ” but are not challenged to grow in their new journey with Him. In these churches, leading someone to faith is treated like “the end,” as if the church has fulfilled her responsibility when someone becomes a Christian. But the moment of salvation is “the beginning” of new and eternal life, the beginning of living in a new kingdom and serving a new King, the beginning of knowing Christ.

Thankfully, the Lord continues to raise up leaders who are committed to shepherd people beyond the moment of salvation. They understand that the Lord uses the body of Christ not only in the moment of justification but also in the process of sanctification. There are two essentials for a local church to have effective ministry to new believers:

Read the rest.

An excellent article, well worth the read:

It seems that many churches will spend 10 weeks preaching on leadership, or 4 weeks on a sex series sermon, or 12 weeks on finances and 8 weeks on interpersonal relationships, all the while three quarters of their church members are theologically and doctrinally ignorant.

They can tell you all sorts of mystical, magical things about listening to the still, silent voice of God, but they have no conception of how to answer a basic apologetic question, like “where did we get the Bible from, how do we know it’s true, and who decided what books should be in it?”

They can probably tell you about the amazing way they felt during worship, and how God “showed up” this one time when the worship leader played “Let it rain” for 20 minutes, but couldn’t tell you how the Old Testament relates to the New, couldn’t name a single church father, and couldn’t tell you anything about the first 400 years of Church history or even why it matters.

They can tell you about how to narcissistically insert themselves in the Biblical stories as if somehow these stories are about them, but they would run for their lives if asked to explain the Trinity, or God forbid offer even a basic refutation to the theistic challenges of a Muslim, Oneness Pentecostal, or a Jehovah witness.

They can tell you about the awesomeness of the latest books from Joel Osteen, Benny Hinn,  “Open theist” proponents and any other spiritualish poision-spewing lunatic that comes around, but they can’t speak with authority on what the five solas [Fide, Gratie, Scriptura, Christus, Deo Gloria] are, why they matter, and how the relate to each other.

They can tell you about a lot of things, but can they articulate a clear presentation of the Gospel? Can they tell a person, in no uncertain terms, how men and women are justified and found to be at peace and no longer at war with God?

And we’re not speaking of mere ignorance here. How many of them would not only not know, but rather would actively argue against you? How many would push back on fundamental Christian doctrines like the exclusivity of faith in Christ for salvation, issues of biblical sexuality, the nature of God, the relationship between sin and mankind, and a host of other things? How many of them, when pressed, would reveal to have some really bizarre and idolatrous views of Christ and his work and his means?

Read it all.

“A right view of sin is the best antidote to that sensuous, ceremonial, formal kind of Christianity, which has swept over England like a flood in the last twenty-five years, and carried away so many before it.  I can well believe that there is much that is attractive in this system of religion, to a certain order of minds, so long as the conscience is not fully enlightened.  But when that wonderful part of our constitution called conscience is really awake and alive, I find it hard to believe that a sensuous ceremonial Christianity will thoroughly satisfy us.  A little child is easily quieted and amused with gaudy toys, and dolls, and rattles, so long as it is not hungry; but once let it feel the cravings of nature within, and we know that noting will satisfy it but food.  Just so it is with man in the matter of his soul.  Music, and flowers, and candles, and incense, and banners, and processions, and beautiful vestments, and confessionals, and man-made ceremonies of a semi-romish character, may do well enough for him under certain conditions.  But once let him “awake and arise from the dead” and he will not rest content with these things.  They will seem to him mere solemn triflings, and a waste of time.  Once let him see his sin, and must see his Saviour.  He feels stricken with a deadly disease, and nothing will satisfy him but the great Physician.  He hungers and thirsts, and he must have nothing less than the bread of life.  I may seem bold in what I am about to say; but I fearlessly venture the assertion that four-fifths of the semi-Romanism of the last quarter of a century would never have existed if English people had been taught more fully and clearly the nature, vileness, and sinfulness of sin.”

Holiness, p. 14

This summer our staff will be reading JC Ryle’s book, Holiness.  The original book, written in 1877, had 7 chapters.  Ryle would update the text in 1879 adding an additional 13 chapters to the volume.  I chose this text as our summer reading project for several reasons, not the least of which is that Ryle remains one of my favorite Anglican bishops and writers.  Here are a few more reasons for my choice:

First, having read Sibbes (Bruised Reed) and Augustine (Treatise on Grace and Free Will) the two previous years, Ryle, standing in the same stream, brings us close to our own century.  and, while he wrote in and used the language of the Victorian era the challenges he faced are strikingly similar to those we face.

Second, Ryle was a clear, strong and discursive thinker who emphasized his points by cumulative effect.  Often, today, Ryle is excerpted.  I think it helpful to read him in context and in whole to feel the effect of his intellect and communucative skills.

Third, in this volume Ryle lays out afresh, biblically, systematically, and in practical terms, the true fundamentals of scriptural holiness.

Fourth, much of what Ryle has to say with regard to the interior aspects of personal holiness is of perennial importance and is uniformly relevant to Christian living here and now; challenging our own shallowness and superficialities.

We would love to have you read along with us this summer and I’d welcome your comments and questions.  I will post on my blog every Monday a link to the section of text we will be discussing.  This week, we look at chapter 6, “Growth.” Following is a snip:

To every one who is in downright earnest about his soul, and hungers and thirsts after spiritual life, the question ought to come home with searching power. Do we make progress in our religion? Do we grow?

The question is one that is always useful, but especially so at certain seasons. A Saturday night, a Communion Sunday, the return of a birthday, the end of a year—all these are seasons that ought to set us thinking, and make us look within. Time is fast flying. Life is fast ebbing away. The hour is daily drawing nearer when the reality of our Christianity will be tested, and it will be seen whether we have built on “the rock” or on “the sand.” Surely it becomes us from time to time to examine ourselves, and take account of our souls? Do we get on in spiritual things? Do we grow?

The question is one that is of special importance in the present day. Crude and strange opinions are floating in men’s minds on some points of doctrine, and among others on the point of “growth in grace,” as an essential part of true holiness. By some it is totally denied. By others it is explained away, and pared down to nothing. By thousands it is misunderstood, and consequently neglected. In a day like this it is useful to look fairly in the face the whole subject of Christian growth.

In considering this subject there are three things which I wish to bring forward and establish:

I. The reality of religious growth. There is such a thing as “growth in grace.”

II. The marks of religious growth. There are marks by which “growth in grace” may be known.

III. The means of religious growth. There are means that must be used by those who desire “growth in grace.”

I know not who you are, into whose hands this paper may have fallen. But I am not ashamed to ask your best attention to its contents. Believe me, the subject is no mere matter of speculation and controversy. It is an eminently practical subject, if any is in religion. It is intimately and inseparably connected with the whole question of “sanctification.” It is a leading mark of true saints that they grow. The spiritual health and prosperity, the spiritual happiness and comfort of every true-hearted and holy Christian, are intimately connected with the subject of spiritual growth.

Read it all.