Treasuring God's Truth in Your Heart

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1 John 1:5-6: God is Light

1 John 1:5-6: This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. [1]

We hear many competing stories about Who God is. Many are mistaken, some are blasphemous. John, one of the incarnate Son of God’s disciples, explains Who God is by calling Him light. God is uncreated light, Who has made Himself visible to the world through Jesus Christ. [2] Conversely, darkness in, John’s writing, is anything that opposes God. [3] But everyone is in darkness. [4] John says, “we” because “[our] lives are set against God because of a heart filled with hatred and a will inclined to disobedience.” [5]

This darkness is why Christ, the light of the world, had to come and rescue His children. [6] We cannot save ourselves because by nature we are dead in sin. [7] Christ had to rescue us, and when He rescues, God the Father no longer sees our darkness, but the light of Christ in us. [8] This undeserved gift [9] should make all of us want to live as those who are in the light. [10] This light is for all who believe that Jesus alone is the way, the truth, and the light, Who reunites us to God, when our sins had separated us. [11] Living like the light does not earn salvation, but is a joyful reflection of it. [12] If you are in Christ, what sins can you put aside today? What Christ honoring actions can you take to live as one in the light, for God’s glory and your good?

This blog was written by Seth Dunn.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Logos Bible Software. All Scripture references will be ESV unless noted otherwise.

[2] Simon J. Kistemaker. New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Epistle of James and the Epistles of John. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1986), 242.

[3] Walter Bauer, William F. Arndt, F. Wilbur Gingrich, and Frederick W. Danker. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: A translation and adaptation of the fourth revised and augmented edition of Walter Bauer’s Griechish-Deutsches Worterbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der ubrigen urchristlichen Literatur, Second Ed. Revised and Augmented by F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker. (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1979). (BAGD), 757.

[4] Ephesians 4:17-24; Titus 3:3-11, etc.

[5] Kistemaker, The Epistle of James and the Epistles of John, 243.

[6] Kistemaker, The Epistle of James and the Epistles of John, 242. See also Luke 19:10; John 3:16, etc.

[7] Ephesians 2:1-10.

[8] Kistemaker, The Epistle of James and the Epistles of John, 243-244.

[9] Ephesians 1:3-11.

[10] Romans 6.

[11] John 14:6; Ephesians 2:11-14.

[12] Titus 3:3-7; 1 Corinthians 6:9-19; James 2:14-26; Galatians 2:15-21, etc.

Purposeful Praise: Making Sense of Congregational Singing

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The God of Abraham Praise: Our March Doxology

Fittingly, our hymn “The God of Abraham Praise” was inspired by a Jewish doxology. Tradition holds that Methodist preacher Thomas Olivers attended a service at the Great Synagogue of London at some point in 1770, where he heard the celebrated singer Meyer Lyon leading the congregation in the Yigdal prayer. Lyon generously shared his music with Olivers, who composed a hymn to it. (Here’s a video of a modern version of the Jewish hymn.)

The text of “The God of Abraham Praise” may also be loosely based on the Yigdal. Yigdal literally means “may he be magnified,” and—as you may have guessed—it’s the first word of the prayer in Hebrew. The entire prayer is a 14th century adaptation of a creed written by the philosopher Maimonides, the most significant medieval Jewish thinker.

Whether or not Olivers intended to paraphrase the Yigdal text, the lyrics of verse 6 constitute an explicitly Christian doxology. Where the Yigdal stresses only God’s unity—his “inscrutable and infinite … Oneness”—Olivers’s hymn takes care to praise our one God in three persons: “Hail, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!”

Verse 6 also reflects the Revelation imagery of all the saints eternally praising God before his throne in heaven. Remember “Holy, Holy, Holy,” in which we join this congregation, echoing the words of the cherubim of Revelation 4:8. Verse 5 of “The God of Abraham Praise” sets up this same scene for us: “On Zion’s sacred height his kingdom [God] maintains, and glorious with his saints in light forever reigns.” So when verse 6 refers to “the whole triumphant host,” it means all believers—past, present, and future—singing together in heaven.

The second half of the verse makes this personal: “Hail, Abraham’s God and mine! I join the heavenly lays [songs] …” The same God who called Abraham out of his city to the promised land has called us to participate in his kingdom today.

This blog was written by Corrie Schwab

Treasuring God's Truth in Your Hearts

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1 John 1:3-4: Real Fellowship

1 John 1:3-4: That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. [1]

 

The last blog discussed how John is trying to keep believers from leaving the church by defending his apostleship. [2] In verses 3-4, John continues to counter false beliefs about Christianity by explaining that true fellowship with God and Christians, and true joy only come through the apostles’ teaching—teaching that is affirmed by the whole Bible. [3] The crucial key to biblical fellowship hinges on knowing the Triune God in Christ: that His blood pays for the forgiveness of sins, and His continued work in our lives. [4] Any fellowship claiming to be Christian that lacks these elements is not true biblical fellowship.

 

This is why doctrine is so important! If we do not rightly understand Scripture, how can we claim to fellowship with God and His people and have His joy? [5] Whether or not you would call yourself a Christian, you need to study the apostles’ teaching. What Christ’s apostles taught is in harmony with the whole Bible, which reveals our sin and our need for a Savior. [6] What Christ’s apostles taught is that that Savior is exclusively Jesus, Who alone brings us into fellowship with God and man. [7] What Christ’s apostles taught leads to lasting joy even in suffering. [8] These things are yours only in Christ, as the apostles taught.

This blog was written by Seth Dunn

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Logos Bible Software. All Scripture references will be ESV unless noted otherwise.

[2] Colin G. Kruse. The Letters of John. General Editor: D.A. Carson. (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2000), 52-53.

[3] Joel Beeke. The Epistles of John. (Webster, NY: Evangelical Press, 2006), 25-26.

[4] Beeke, The Epistles of John, 26.

[5] Beeke, The Epistles of John, 27. See also John 15:11, 16:24, 17:21; 1 Corinthians 1:9; 1 John 1:1, 2:24.

[6] Luke 24:39-50; Acts 2-3; Galatians 3; 1 Peter 2, etc.

[7] John 14:6; Acts 2:42, 4:12; 2 Corinthians 6:14; Ephesians 1:3-10, 2:1-10, 1 John 1:5-10.

[8] 2 Corinthians 1:3-10; Philippians 4:11-13; James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 1:3-12.

Treasuring God's Truth in Your Heart

1 John 1:1-2: For Real   1 John 1:1-2: That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—  2  the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us.  [1]   If you were to write a letter to help a friend who was making a bad decision, what would your letter say? 1 John is a letter to remind Christians of the Gospel’s truth and keep them from making the very poor decision of leaving the church.  [2]  The author, John the apostle, starts his letter by affirming that he and the other apostles are eyewitnesses to the “Word of life.”  [3]  This Word of life is not an “impersonal” force, but the Son of God incarnate—the person of Jesus Christ.  [4]   Clear truths and application flow from these facts. Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, is alive and is Lord as taught by His witnesses, Scripture, and history.  [5]  Because Christ reigns, His statements about being the exclusive way to salvation are true, which means everyone must follow Him or face the consequences.  [6]  But serving Jesus is not impersonal. He cares for us, understands our trials, and intercedes for us.  [7]  Christ’s loving kindness is enough to keep anyone in the church and sustain them for all of life. Are you willing to trust Him today by the power of His Holy Spirit?  This blog was written by Seth Dunn   [1]    The Holy Bible: English Standard Version  . Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016). All Scripture References will be ESV unless noted otherwise.   [2]  Colin G. Kruse.  The Letters of John . General Editor: D.A. Carson. (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2000), 51.   [3]  Kruse,  The Letters of John , 52-53.   [4]  Kruse,  The Letters of John , 57.   [5]  Luke 24:36-53; John 19:35; Acts 4, 5:27-32, 26; 1 Corinthians 15:3-9; Hebrews 11-12:3; 1 Peter 5:1; 2 Peter 1:16.   [6]  John 14:6; Ephesians 1:3-2:16; Philippians 2:5-11; Colossians 1:15-2:15; Hebrews 1:1-3:6; 1 Peter 1:13-23; 1 John 2:1-3, 3:1-10; Revelation 21:1-8.   [7]  Psalm 34:18; John 11:5, 35, 17:1-26; Romans 8:34; Hebrews 4:14-16.

1 John 1:1-2: For Real

1 John 1:1-2: That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us. [1]

If you were to write a letter to help a friend who was making a bad decision, what would your letter say? 1 John is a letter to remind Christians of the Gospel’s truth and keep them from making the very poor decision of leaving the church. [2] The author, John the apostle, starts his letter by affirming that he and the other apostles are eyewitnesses to the “Word of life.” [3] This Word of life is not an “impersonal” force, but the Son of God incarnate—the person of Jesus Christ. [4]

Clear truths and application flow from these facts. Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, is alive and is Lord as taught by His witnesses, Scripture, and history. [5] Because Christ reigns, His statements about being the exclusive way to salvation are true, which means everyone must follow Him or face the consequences. [6] But serving Jesus is not impersonal. He cares for us, understands our trials, and intercedes for us. [7] Christ’s loving kindness is enough to keep anyone in the church and sustain them for all of life. Are you willing to trust Him today by the power of His Holy Spirit?

This blog was written by Seth Dunn

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016). All Scripture References will be ESV unless noted otherwise.

[2] Colin G. Kruse. The Letters of John. General Editor: D.A. Carson. (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2000), 51.

[3] Kruse, The Letters of John, 52-53.

[4] Kruse, The Letters of John, 57.

[5] Luke 24:36-53; John 19:35; Acts 4, 5:27-32, 26; 1 Corinthians 15:3-9; Hebrews 11-12:3; 1 Peter 5:1; 2 Peter 1:16.

[6] John 14:6; Ephesians 1:3-2:16; Philippians 2:5-11; Colossians 1:15-2:15; Hebrews 1:1-3:6; 1 Peter 1:13-23; 1 John 2:1-3, 3:1-10; Revelation 21:1-8.

[7] Psalm 34:18; John 11:5, 35, 17:1-26; Romans 8:34; Hebrews 4:14-16.

Treasuring God's Truth in Your Heart

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Psalm 63:9-11: Future Reality

Psalm 63:9-11: But those who seek to destroy my life

shall go down into the depths of the earth;

10     they shall be given over to the power of the sword;

they shall be a portion for jackals.

11     But the king shall rejoice in God;

all who swear by him shall exult,

for the mouths of liars will be stopped. [1]

When we started studying Psalm 63, we observed how this Psalm highlights God’s past, present, and future help. [2] As we finish Psalm 63, David’s future hope shines through. [3] Verses 9-10 show that David’s “unquenched” faith rests on God Who will bring justice, which the Lord providentially did in 2 Samuel 18. [4] Verse 11 teaches that those who “swear” (pledge their “loyalty to”[5]) God will be vindicated because the Trinity will bring justice. [6]

God’s coming justice should give us reverential pause. Because of our sins, Scripture describes all humanity like those who opposed David—as insurrectionists. [7] The only way we can receive God’s graciousness rather than His rightful wrath is to believe that Jesus alone bore the wrath we deserve. [8] If you do believe, when Christ returns He will justify you before God and your enemies, and welcome you to paradise. [9] May God use this future hope to call those who lack it to Himself and to sustain those who believe.

This blog was written by Seth Dunn

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Logos Bible Software 7. All Scripture references will be ESV unless noted otherwise.

[2] James Montgomery Boice. Psalms, Vol. 2: Psalms 42-106. (Grand Rapids, MI: Bake Books a division of Baker Book House Co, 1996), 518.

[3] Alec Motyer. Psalms By the Day: A New Devotional Translation. (Geanies House Fearn, Tain Ross–shire IV20 1TW, Scotland, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 2016), 165.

[4] C.H. Spurgeon. The Treasury of David, Containing An Original Exposition Of The Book Of Psalms; A Collection Of Illustrative Extracts From the Whole Ranger Of Literature; A Series Of Homiletical Hints Upon Almost every Verse; And Lists Of Writers Upon Each Psalm In Three Volumes, Vol., 3: Psalm LVIII To CX. (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Pub, 1876), 79.

[5] Motyer, Psalms By the Day, 165.

[6] Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, Vol. 2, 80.

[7] Genesis 6:5; 1 Samuel 15:23; Jeremiah 17:9-10; Malachi 1; Romans 3:9-23, 8:7-8; Ephesians 2:1-10, Titus 3:1-7; 1 John 3:8, etc.

[8] Isaiah 53:4-12; John 3:16, 14:6; Acts 4:12, Ephesians 2:11-22; etc.

[9] Revelation 6:9-11, 19, 21:1-8, 22:1-5.

Treasuring God's Truth in Your Heart

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Worship During War

Psalm 63:7-8: for you have been my help,

and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.

My soul clings to you;

your right hand upholds me. [1]

As we continue memorizing and studying Psalm 63, we repeatedly see David’s confidence and worship of God. [2] David’s assurance and devotion are seen in his trusting and clinging (v.8) to the Lord. [3] While the Trinity is David’s hope, he also fulfills his duty of pursuing and trusting. [4] We also see David is thinking of formal worship in the LORD’s temple. [5] The language of the Almighty having “wings” can signal tender protection, but may also point to the cherubim wings on the ark of the covenant. [6] Despite being far from the temple, David still longs to worship and keeps his faith exclusively in the Triune God. [7]

While we may not face the specific challenges David did, we all are daily engaged in worship wars. In all circumstances, we are tempted to turn from Christ to idols. [8] How do you want to do battle? Without the Creator who made you or with His help that has sustained His people like David throughout the centuries? May the Holy Spirit help all of us to cling to Christ more and more.

This blog was written by Seth Dunn.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Logos Bible Software 7. All Scripture references will be ESV unless noted otherwise.

[2] Willem A. VanGemeren The Expositor’s Bible Commentary with the New International Version of the Holy Bible in Twelve Volumes: Vol. 5 (Psalms-Song of Songs). General Ed. Frank E. Gaebelein. (Grand Rapids, MI: The Zondervan Corporation, 1991), 427. See also The Reformation Study Bible. General Editor R.C. Sproul. (Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries, 2005), 789-790.

[3] VanGemeren, Psalms, 427.

[4] VanGemeren, Psalms, 427.

[5] The Reformation Study Bible, 790.

[6] The Reformation Study Bible, 789.

[7] The Reformation Study Bible, 790.

[8] Ecclesiastes 1:8; Jeremiah 2:13; Jonah 2:8-9; Ezekiel 36:25; Matthew 6:21-23, 33; Acts 20:24; Philippians 4:10-14; 2 Timothy 3:1-2; Hebrews 12:1-17; 1 John 2:15-17, 5:4.

This blog was written by Seth Dunn

Apologetics in the 21st Century

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Apologetics for the 21st Century

In the open marketplace of religions, ideas, and wishes, people don’t normally rush to the “Christianity” shelf, take down the gospel, and bustle over to the cash register to buy it for dinner. By nature, shoppers avoid truth that requires them to relinquish their self-centeredness and submit to a holy, perfect, and rather demanding God, who quite selfishly, it seems, insists that everyone does things his way. The fact that doing things his way is the only path to joy, love, peace, life, freedom, sanity, and the rest of the “Top fifty Things that make life worth living” list is something that the unregenerate consumer can’t see. In the end, the remedy for this shopping conundrum is the cross of Jesus, applied by the Spirit, in response to a proffered message, and proffering that message, my friends, is our job. As shopkeepers in this trendy marketplace we have a crucial area of study and discipline called Christian Apologetics that is dedicated to explaining, defending, and proving the Christian message to reluctant consumers who are hostile, sinful, blind and rebellious, and to Christians who mostly aren’t quite as hostile, blind, and rebellious. Apologetics is the discipline that gives us what we need to divert shoppers from making a life-threatening purchase, and direct them rather, to receiving the life-giving gift.

So, let me start by saying, from my first exposure, I have always found apologetics to be the most crucial, misunderstood, irrelevant, and boring topic. This is profoundly ironic because I was brought into the kingdom, kicking and screaming at the hands of a brilliant apologist who argued past my blindness and objections. But, I’ll let you in on a secret, for reaching most people, classical, historic apologetics is a miss. The reason for the modern failure of classical apologetics is that it is always taught as though people are somehow inherently committed to some form of logic, and deep, unbiased, and careful consideration and evaluation of the facts. Most apologetics assume that people think this way:

All humans are mortal.

Socrates is human.

Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

Nice, neat, sound, clear, irrefutable. Syllogism. Statement, statement, conclusion. There. Believe in Jesus.

Let’s look at the way real people think.

I think that humans should follow their dreams.

Socrates is boring

Hold on, I need to respond to this text.

Huh? What? Wait! Are you listening? Question everything? Feelings! Emote, guess, wish. Vague. Believe whatever makes you feel good about yourself.

I was recently speaking with a twenty-something graduate student who told me, in sum, “It isn’t just that nobody follows rules of logic, it isn’t just that they have a skewed view of the facts, the problem is that we now live in a culture that doesn’t even believe that facts exist. I tell my writing students that in meaningful argumentation they need to discern the difference between facts and opinion. I point out that we can verify facts, but we can’t argue with facts. The students respond, ‘What do you mean? Of course, we question and challenge facts.’” In the 21st century, we aren’t arguing over what is true, or not. We aren’t arguing the philosophical concept, “How does one discern truth.” We are talking to a world where people don’t believe that truth (or facts) even exist.

In the old days, we would say, “The sky is blue,” and an argumentative person would say, “sometimes the sky is grey.” Hmmm… that leaves an opening for potential dialog about whether they should believe in blue skies.

Now, if you say, “The sky is blue,” the answer is, “My sky is any color I want, and why are you pushing your blue skyism on me! Stop being such a hater!”

Reality is no longer a question of history, or facts, or truth. Each person has their own reality, and each person makes their own reality, based on dreams and wishes. Jean Twenge, in her book, Generation Me (which we will be looking at closely) provides endless examples of this:

“One professor encountered the GenMe faith in self-belief quite spectacularly in an undergraduate class at the University of Kansas. As she was introducing the idea that jobs and social class were based partially on background and unchangeable characteristics, her students became skeptical. That can’t be right, they said, you can be anything you want to be. The professor, a larger woman with no illusions about her size, said, “So you’re saying that I could be a ballerina?” “Sure, if you really wanted to,” said one of the students.” (Twenge, Generation Me, 2014 – Kindle p. 113)

How do we present the gospel as a desperate necessity in a world where reality doesn’t exist?

That is what this blog series is about. Although in this blog post I am only going to introduce five general areas of preparation and discipline that we need to have in place to be successful in bringing the gospel to bear in the 21st century.

Message – Ultimately the content of our message is critical. The barest faith requires an object that must be understood and upon which the conviction of assent can be placed. There are some message minimums; God, sin, Jesus, repentance. And those minimums must be understood as they are revealed in the Bible. I won’t put the entire story here, in the midst of this summary, but it’ll be at end of this blog.

Messenger – God's salvation is not received merely by giving assent to a body of principles we need to obey, but upon a person we need to love. Certainly, the Bible is packed with endless crucial truths and requirements for life, but a person, Jesus, is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. It is through incarnation that God makes himself present in the life of his people. In the same way, we need to be the right people as we pass on the message to the world. This not only includes a holy lifestyle and a living faith, we need to be intimate with God through Jesus Christ and loving others the way he does. People won’t care for our message if we don’t care about them. (Much of this is the content we will be looking at in the AgapeStorm blogs.)

Messagee – (I know this isn’t a word, but what else do you call the recipient of the message, if you are enslaved to having all “M” words?) We need to understand the people to whom we are talking. This is a theological task, of course, because the Bible tells us a ton about human’s, but it is also one of inquiry and investigation. Ultimately, we need to know what makes people tick, how they view themselves and the world. Why are people more afraid of the opinions of celebrities than the hand of God? How do you engage a person who has retreated into an empty phonelife? We need to know the hearts of the people God wants us to reach so we can mold the message into a compelling story that they want to hear.

Method – Ultimately, we need to be fully prepared to engage our hearers with a spectrum of content including a clear gospel message as well as arguments, facts, and quotes from C.S Lewis or other helpful authorities. But we need to be winsome and engaging. Christianity is no longer the first voice among many, it is a muted and shunned voice in a cacophony. Our approach to the lost and fearful must be bold and assertive, yet compassionate. We need to be truthful but understanding. We need to be evocative and provocative and challenging and intimate, avuncular and simple, mighty and wise. But we need to do this in a way that competes successfully with Steam, Reddit, YouTube, Instagram, Netflix, and Facebook, CandyCrush, Bejeweled, and Fortnite. Ahhhhhh!!! And, actually, we need to know how to properly use our iPhones and Facebook and the rest to share the gospel.

Milieu – We need to penetrate the soupy mire in which we live and understand it intimately and craftily. Only in this way can we be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. (Matthew 10:16) The gospel is supra-cultural. It is always relevant, and it challenges the assumptions and authorities of every culture, nation, political and intellectual affiliation, and every philosophy or religion made by man. It also provides an answer to the darkness and lostness of every eon and epoch, and it can utterly obliterate the fears and enslavement that people feel as they endure their way through life. The brilliant illumination of the gospel makes the ways and schemes of mankind plain to our eyes so that we can take that light into the dark and treacherous places where people are perishing.

These five parts of 21st century apologetics will be the focus of this blog series. I can’t promise to be as perfectly methodical as a college course, but hopefully, together, we can learn how to bring Jesus to those who need him and his love.

Footnote #1 - Here you go, the message of the gospel, as promised.

Every human being is sinful by nature and therefore, appropriately, separated from God who is holy and perfect in every way. This leaves mankind in a predicament – as sinners, they are spiritually dead and essentially incapable of saving themselves or even of searching for God at all! In fact, by nature, apart from God’s gracious intervention to open our eyes and change our hearts, we are rebellious people who hate God and flee from Him. But God, out of His great love and mercy established a plan to save us that He has worked out through history and revealed through his word, the Bible. His plan is centered around and completed through and by His Son, Jesus. God sent His son, Jesus, to earth to die on our behalf and take the punishment for our sin. As a result of this amazing sacrifice, we can now be saved through faith in Jesus and in what He has done. When we are united to Jesus by faith, we are adopted by God into His family and we receive all of the promises of God, forgiveness for our sins, a new heart, and the guarantee of eternal life! We are new people, part of a family; children of God and brothers and sisters to each other.

The gospel is the power of salvation for those who believe. It is through the gospel that broken people are made new. It is through the gospel that hurting people find peace and freedom. It is through the gospel that hardened sinners receive a new heart, and it is through the gospel that confused and lost people are transformed by the renewing of their minds. A person who is united to Christ by faith has hope in this crazy world, peace in the face of chaos, and purpose in brokenness. This is the Message.

Footnote #2 – Aren’t we Reformed here?!?!?!?!?

I can’t possibly escape from an introductory blog on apologetics without bringing up Cornelius Van Til. If I don’t mention him, someone might break into my house and steal my diploma from Westminster Seminary. Someone might ask, “Why aren’t you just teaching Van Til?”

Cornelius Van Til was an early 20th century theologian and master of Apologetics. Summarizing Van Til’s model of apologetics would be an epic undertaking because he was so scary brilliant and philosophical, and I’m just not smart enough. He offered a stunning barrage of rebuttal against the classical apologetics model where the apologist uses evidence to convince someone that it is in their best interest to believe in Jesus. His basic premise, and I will receive at least 47 dozen corrections here, is that the Holy Spirit convinces people of the gospel, not us. With that being true, our approach should not be to argue about historical facts or use philosophical arguments, but rather, we need to understand each person’s belief structure, the foundation upon which they build their lives, and bring the gospel to bear on what we find there. He called this presuppositional apologetics, and he believed, and I agree, that his method puts God back in command of our presentation, and Jesus as the center of the story.

My contention would be, actually, that I have taken what I learned from Van Til and molded the pieces into something more easily accessible for normal people, like myself, who think that Socrates, although not necessarily boring, is certainly far too philosophical. Understanding the recipients (messagees) and their/our culture will help us to dig in on the presuppositions that define our hearer’s thoughts, concerns and fears. Understanding ourselves properly as the messenger who needs to be the right messenger brings our own presuppositions into focus and submits them to the scrutiny of the gospel searchlight. Our method is to engage people in their world of ideas, hopes and dreams with a message that is as eternal and unchanging as the God who wrote it.

This blog was written by Charles Fox

Posted on February 14, 2019 and filed under Exploring Christianity?.

Purposeful Praise: Making Sense of Congregational Singing

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Gloria Patri: Our February Doxology

Our February doxology, the Gloria Patri, happens to be one of the oldest continuously sung doxologies in the Christian tradition.* At least one record suggests that the first half appeared before A.D. 100, and the entire text has been chanted since the fourth century at latest. Today it is regularly sung all over the world in Catholic churches, in Eastern Orthodox churches, and in countless Protestant churches.

For the non–Latin scholars among us, the doxology’s title—Gloria Patri—is simply the first line in Latin, “Glory be to the Father.” The first half of the song, “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost,” reflects the language of the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” When we sing this we’re affirming our identity as disciples.

When we sing the second half, we’re affirming the Trinity by acknowledging that Christ and the Holy Spirit are eternally deserving of glory alongside God the Father—past, present, and future. Indeed, this line was probably added during the Trinitarian controversies of the early church, when this hymn may have served as a sort of “fight song” for orthodox Christians!

The last phrase of the doxology (well, not counting amen) is particularly interesting. The phrase we sing as “world without end” is a translation of the Latin in saecula saeculorum, which in turn is a translation from Greek. In both Latin and Greek, the phrase literally means unto ages of ages, and is normally translated to English as forever and ever. You may be familiar with this phrase: it occurs many times in the New Testament, including 12 times in Revelation. For instance, “Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen” (Rev. 7:12).

So the second half of the Gloria Patri encompasses all of Scripture, in a sense: from “in the beginning” (Gen. 1:1) to “forever and ever” (a continual refrain in Revelation, finally in Rev. 22:5).

 

* Here’s a challenge: find an even older doxology! Remember, doxology simply means a brief expression of praise to God. By this definition, any Scripture passage that praises God counts as a doxology. If you consider only doxologies that are sung by churches today, what’s the oldest doxology you can find? Please share your discoveries in the comments.

This blog was written by Corrie Schwab

Treasuring God's Truth in Your Heart

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Suffering in Hope

Psalm 63:5-6: My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,

and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,

when I remember you upon my bed,

and meditate on you in the watches of the night. [1]

When we are anxious, two desires we may have are food and sleep. Both of these are desires David may have had, and both could be denied him because he was fleeing his conniving son. [2] Food can be hard to find when fleeing in the desert. Sleep can be illusive when life is in danger. Yet, David does not feast on worry but on God’s soul-satisfying favor that sustained him each moment. [3] When David knew he might struggle to sleep, he committed himself to thinking on Who the Triune LORD is rather than his circumstance. [4]

Please understand: David’s behavior is not escapism, and ours should not be either. David understood that “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” [5] The God Who created David sustained and suffered with David. This is especially true for the elect because of Christ’s earthly sufferings and crucifixion. [6] We as believers suffer with hope because Jesus has endured the greatest trials and has given us the Holy Spirit to comfort and sustain us. [7] If you suffer apart from Christ, there is every reason to fear because your hopes lack eternal benefit. [8] Turning to Christ as your only Savior from sin will not end suffering.[9] However Jesus gives you the hope of maturing and guarantees eternity without suffering. [10] Why suffer without hope?

This blog was written by Seth Dunn

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016). Logos Bible Software &. All Scripture references will be ESV unless noted otherwise.

[2] John Calvin & J. Anderson. Commentary on the Book of Psalms, Vol. 2. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software 7, 2010), 438-440.

[3] Calvin, Psalms, Vol. 2, Logos Bible Software 7, 438-440.

[4] Calvin, Psalms, Vol. 2, Logos Bible Software 7, 438-440.

[5] Psalm 34:18.

[6] Isaiah 53; Matthew 8:17; Romans 4:13-25; 1 Peter 2:18-25.

[7] John 14-17; Romans 8; Hebrews 4:14-16.

[8] Psalm 16:4, 118:8-9, 146:3; Jeremiah 17:5-6; Jonah 2:8; Micah 7:5; John 14:6; Acts 4:12, etc.

[9] Genesis 39-40; 2 Timothy 3:12-17.

[10] Romans 5:1-5, 15:1-7; Colossians 1:3-14; James 1:2-4; etc.

Treasuring God's Truth In Your Heart

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Psalm 63:3-4: “The Whole Church Says, “Amen!”

Psalm 63:3-4: Because your steadfast love is better than life,

my lips will praise you.

So I will bless you as long as I live;

in your name I will lift up my hands. [1]

What an incredible statement of faith from an exiled king! [2] These verses reflect the church’s heart, especially for martyrs. [3] Holding God’s love in Christ as more precious than anything is core to Christianity. [4] Also, verse 4 shows David’s private devotional life “was completed by what was outward and corporate, as verse 2 has shown, the one reinforcing the other.” [5] “Lift up my hands” refers common actions in congregation worship. [6] This language is in the New Testament, and shows the mutual relationship between personal and “corporate” worship. [7]

What is the application from these verses? First, God’s love is superior to everything. We know this because of the Trinity’s love toward us in Christ. [8] Consequently, every other love is secondary. If we love finances, personal security, other beliefs, other people, etc. more than the Triune God, we sin. Here is where all can fall. May we repent and turn to Christ. For the unbeliever: you must turn because eternal life is at stake. [9] For sinners and saints: suffering is worsened when we distrust Christ—may He spare us from false hopes. [10] Lastly, if we claim to follow Christ, our private devotion must be reflected in our corporate worship. If we lack in one, we might also lack in the other. Complete your worship by having both.

This blog was written by Seth Dunn

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016). All Scripture references will be ESV unless noted otherwise.

[2] Derek Kidner. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Psalms 1-72, An Introduction and Commentary on Books I and II of the Psalms. General Ed: D.J. Wiseman. (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1973), 224.

[3] Kidner, Psalms, Vol. 1, 225.

[4] Job 13:15; Proverbs 14:32; Matthew 19:38-30; Mark 10:29-31; Philippians 3; Hebrews 10, Revelation 6:9-11, 20:4, etc.

[5] Kidner, Psalms, Vol. 1, 225-226.

[6] Kidner, Psalms, Vol 1, 226.

[7] Kidner, Psalms, Vol. 1, 226.

[8] John 3:16; Ephesians 1:3-14; 1 John 4:7-11.

[9] John 14:6; Acts 4:12.

[10] Psalm 16.

Treasuring God's Truth in Your Heart

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Help for All Times

Psalm 63:1-2: O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;

my soul thirsts for you;

         my flesh faints for you,

as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

       So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,

beholding your power and glory. [1]

 

Imagine that a close relative tried to kill you and chase you from home? What would you be thinking? Where would your heart turn? What would drive your behavior and choices? Although most of us have never faced such a painful and intimate threat, this is what happened to the writer of Psalm 63, King David. [2] In fact, David had to leave everything and escape to the wilderness because his own son wanted to kill him and usurp the throne. [3] But look at the heart of David. What does David want as betrayal drives him from his home to the Judean desert? He longs for God and wants to worship the LORD in Jerusalem. [4] David so desperately desires to worship his Maker that he compares his longing for worship to someone in the desert looking for water. [5] Further, David uses this psalm to remember God’s past (verse 2), present (verses 3, 6-8), and future (verse 5) faithfulness. [6] In immense suffering, David remembers his God, he believes and trusts in the Lord.

What do you look at when you suffer? This Psalm, as well as other Scriptures, is a challenging reminder that only God sustains us through suffering. [7] When you trust in finances, people, human philosophy, politics, etc., you may find comfort (see below) for the moment, but you will not receive the enduring hope because true security is found in Christ. [8] Only by trusting Jesus as exclusive Savior and Restorer can people truly face and grow in trials, and enter eternal rest. [9] Those in Christ have a hope clearer than David did because they know Christ, and all who hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness as David did are promised “they will be satisfied.” [10]

This blog was written by Seth Dunn

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016). All Scripture references will be ESV unless noted otherwise.

[2] James Montgomery Boice. Psalms, Vol. 2: Psalms 42-106. (Grand Rapids, MI: Bake Books a division of Baker Book House Co, 1996), 516. See also 2 Samuel 16:14, 17:2, 29.

[3] Boice, Psalms, Vol. 2, 516.

[4] Boice, Psalms, Vol. 2, 517.

[5] Boice, Psalms, Vol. 2, 517.

[6] Boice, Psalms, Vol. 2, 518.

[7] Boice, Psalms, Vol. 2, 518. See also Psalm 16:4, 130; 1 Peter 1:3-9, etc.

[8] John 14:6, Acts 4:12; Romans 8, Ephesians 1:3-23, 2:1-14; 1 Peter 1:13-25.

[9] James 1:2-4; Philippians 1:6; 1 John 3:1-10; Revelation 21:1-8.

[10] Matthew 5:6; Hebrews 11.

AgapeStorm

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The Calm, Crazy, Whirlwind of Love

Read 1 John 4:7-21 and John 3:16 3 times, slowly.

As soon as we say the word, love, we find ourselves, metaphorically, on a rickety rope bridge swinging and creaking wildly in a tempestuous wind, dangerously high above treacherous rocks of meaning. We all think we know where we are, and despite the danger, we feel that simple calm and confidence; love is so familiar. We all know what love is, surely. It is stamped into our DNA so securely that, when we were young, we would ask, “How do you know love when you see it?” The answer is always the same, “Oh, yoU’LL know…”

And we do, kinda. Love is a feeling and a commitment, a force and a goal. When we’re “in it,” love makes our knees weak, or strong, depending on the situation. We become heroic, or bashful; silly or serious or forgiving. Love somehow breaks us and re-makes us, wherever it takes us. It generates more poems and songs and purpose and confusion than even our pets or our cars. We know with confidence from some mystical feeling that the Beatles were right, love really is all we need, or, for a song reference with far too many artists to mention; love does make the world go round.

The irony of the lyrics to these sappy songs is that, for a Christian, these largely superficial sentiments ring true in Jesus Christ. Since God is Love, love truly is all we need, and since Jesus is God, love actually does make the world, indeed, the entire universe, go ‘round. The rest of the irony, however, is that apart from God, love is confusing and difficult to define and understand. Of course, confusion is not God’s purpose, because love is central to who he is and at the core of his plan.

So, it is no surprise that for something so critical, God has a lot to say. Love is at the very core of the eternal, triune relationship (More on that in a future blog), such that, when God decides, together, to create and sustain an entire history of the cosmos, love explodes from within the Godhead and washes over every aspect of that story. In many ways, love is the why of everything God does for us. (Footnote: His own glory could also be used as the why of everything he does.) How do we know this?

There are three ways that God reveals love to us.

First, God demonstrates love in all he does. When you open the Bible, you see what God does. Every action is that of a loving father with his treasured children. The list of ways that he does this is endless, because every action he takes is an act of love. He walked with Adam and Eve, then disciplined them, banishing them from the garden. He called and protected Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and their families, and their descendents; the judges, Saul, David, Solomon, and Ezekiel, Isaiah, Hosea - everyone of his children. He listens to prayers, delivers from distress; heals, guides, teaches. He also punishes, disciplines, reconciles and restores. Every single action of God is ultimately a model of what love looks like in action. There is no better way to see what love looks like than to see everything that God does.

Second, God defines love over and over in his word. The passages abound. He tells us the characteristics of love and how to recognize it clearly. He tells us what love is, and what it isn’t. In his word, we learn why love has power and how to wield it for the good of others. Stay tuned, we are going to wade into many passages that will threaten to drown us.

Third, God incarnates love in Jesus Christ. Although I mention this last, it is by far the first in priority. It is no stretch to say that Jesus is the perfect expression of love, because Christ’s incarnation is how God chose to show us his love; a love that for us in the loftiest, most profound, and most intimate possible expression. And wonder of wonders; the eternal, triune love that Jesus has for us is best experienced through personal relationship as we are united to God through faith in Jesus. This is why John 3:16 is so precious to the church, God so loved the world that he gave his son. Wow! Suddenly, Love makes sense, but when held in contrast, this true love of God demolishes every other lesser concept of love.

Our passage from first John is a warehouse of content regarding love, but for now, we need to cook up two concepts from the passage and season it with a few other familiar ideas. Verse 11: Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another, and verse 19, We love because he first loved us. These two verses simmer in the pot and we are led to two inescapable conclusions. First, God wants us to love others the way that HE loves others (and us, by the way.) Second, God is the source of that love. The seasonings for this verse-stew are the two Great Commandments and loving our enemies. We must love God first (heart, soul, mind, strength). We must love our neighbors as ourselves. We must love our enemies.

This is a high calling. Love everyone the way God does.

Let’s cut to the chase. What is Love? What is God’s Love? What characterizes the love that God demonstrates, defines, and incarnates? What is the nature of the love we need to hold for everyone?

Here goes: God’s love is fervent, sacrificial, purposeful, gracious, expressive, bold, and covenantal. That is AgapeStorm. That is the challenge. We will begin to tuck in to this feast in the next blog.

This blog was written by Charles Fox

Posted on January 25, 2019 and filed under Teaching.

Proc Talk: Theology and Current Events at Proclamation

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Not Your Fine China

In early December over 100 members of the Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, in Sichuan province, China, were arrested and detained by the Chinese government. Among the detainees was the Pastor Wang Yi and his wife, Jiang Rong. Their son is currently staying with the Pastor’s mother. The arrest included church leaders, seminary students, and worshippers at the church, many who were in a worship service, but also many were arrested in their homes or on the city streets. As is typical of religious persecution in closed nations, there has been no way to make contact with the people arrested and there have been reports of torture and coercion.

Although the church in China is often understood as the fastest growing in the world, this is often matched with wave upon wave of official persecution from the Chinese government. It is remarkable that the church in China wears their persecution proudly like a badge of honor, and the members have stood strong and faithful. The government allows the church to meet in an “official” capacity where the teaching and worship is carefully controlled by the government. In contrast, there is a thriving unofficial church that loves the Bible, teaches the gospel, and worships the risen Jesus. The unofficial church has a stance of “faithful disobedience” to the government, which brings a heightened level of animosity upon the church. This latest round of persecution and incarceration of the church is part of a concerted action against all religions which include a massive round up of Muslims who are being held in retraining camps.

As always, God has worked in both ordinary and miraculous ways in and through this persecution. The stories of God’s faithfulness and the perseverence of his people are painful, touching and awe inspiring. We need to pray. We need to be aware. We need to worship God for his wisdom and love.

For an article that contains far more details and a copy of Wang Yi’s letter to his church, navigate to the following link: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/persecuted-chinese-pastor-issues-declaration-faithful-disobedience/

This blog was written by Charles Fox

Purposeful Praise: Making Sense of Congregational Singing

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Holy, Holy, Holy-Our January Doxology

When I was a child, if you had asked me to sing a doxology I would have used the following words: “Praise God from whom all blessings flow; praise him all creatures here below; praise him above, ye heavenly host; praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” Thousands of English-speaking congregations around the world treasure this poem and sing it regularly. Yet the term doxology does not refer to these specific words; it simply means a brief expression of praise. The word is derived from the Greek doxa, meaning glory, and logos, meaning word or speaking.

Verse 4 from “Holy, Holy, Holy!” makes an excellent doxology. Note how the traditional words cited above urge God’s earthly and heavenly creatures to praise him: “praise him all creatures here below; praise him above, ye heavenly host.” When we sing “Holy, Holy, Holy!” we join the chorus of creaturely voices already singing God’s praise on earth and in heaven.

“Holy, holy, holy” echoes the refrain of the cherubim John saw in his vision of heaven, endlessly praising God from before his throne: “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Rev. 4:1). Isaiah similarly saw a vision of seraphim before God’s throne crying “holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Is. 6:3). These passages lend even more of their imagery to verse 2 of the hymn, which not only pictures the cherubim and seraphim worshipping God, but also refers to “all the saints … casting down their golden crowns before the glassy sea”—the calm-as-crystal sea John describes in front of God’s throne (Rev. 4:6).

John’s “twenty-four elders” who “cast their crowns before the throne” (Rev. 4:10) represent all the saints—that is, the complete church past and present, two-times-twelve suggesting the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles. As Andy Styer explained in week 5 of his Revelation class, Revelation 4 reminds us that God is receiving the worship he is due right now, in heaven, by the whole gathered church and all the angels. So when we sing our doxology to God, this is the congregation we are joining.

And what do we join all God’s works in calling him? “Merciful and mighty,” and—most emphatically—“holy, holy, holy.” We tend to think of holiness as synonymous with righteousness, but it more properly refers to being set apart: a holy object is set apart from common use, and a holy person is set apart from common existence (including sin). To call God “holy” is to acknowledge his transcendence and his absolute superiority to his creation.

Finally, who is the God we are praising? Our God has graciously identified himself to us in his three persons, and so we take care to address our praise to the Trinity explicitly.

This blog was written by Corrie Schwab

Posted on January 11, 2019 and filed under About Proclamation.

Treasuring God's Truth in Your Heart

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Mark 10:43-45: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.”

Mark 10:43-45: But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”[1]

If anyone in the history deserved to be served it was Jesus Christ. As the eternal Son of God, “by whom all things were created,” He warranted the respect of all His creation. [2] But Jesus did not come demanding His due. Instead, He washed feet, healed the sick, and lived in poverty. [3] But His serving did not end there. As the end of Mark 10:45 indicates, Christ died to save His people from their sins. [4] Christ’s death was intensely painful, but more importantly He bore the just wrath of God the Father so that we could approach Him in peace. [5]

Why does this matter? First, if you follow Christ, there is a clear command to grow to be like Christ. [6] You will never do it perfectly in this life. [7] But as people in Christ we can grow in the fruits of the Spirit to minister to our families, communities, and the world at large. [8] Perhaps you, like me, can begin by patiently listening to everything your spouse has to say before responding. But what if someone does not follow Christ? Can she or he borrow Christian principles without Christian spirituality? The Holy Spirit is needed to have the benefits of Christian living, and you cannot have the Spirit of Christ without Christ. [9] Christian disciplines without Christ are merely morals. But there is another important matter: Christ will return. [10] He will save His people and require His due from those who are not His followers. [11] Will you serve the Servant peacefully or be forced into submission?

This blog was written by Seth Dunn

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016). All Scripture references will be ESV unless noted otherwise.

[2] Colossians 1:15-20.

[3] John 13:4, 13-15; Matthew 8:16; Luke 9:58, etc.

[4] Mark 14:24; John 10:15, 11:51-52; Romans 4:25, 5:15; 2 Corinthians 8:9; Galatians 1:4, 2:20; Titus 2:14, 3:4-8; 1 Timothy 2:6; Hebrews 2:10, 9:28; Revelation 5:9, etc.

[5] Isaiah 52:13-15; Matthew 26:67; Mark 15:15; Luke 23:34; Matthew 27:46; Hebrews 4:14-16.

[6] Philippians 2:1-11.

[7] Romans 7.

[8] Romans 6; Galatians 5:22-23.

[9] John 14-16; Acts 2:38-39; Romans 8; Galatians 4:4-7; etc.

[10] Matthew 24:23-31; John 14:6; Acts 1:10-11; Revelation 19:11-21.

[11] Hebrews 9:28; Romans 14:11; Philippians 2:9-11.

Posted on January 4, 2019 and filed under Devotions.

Treasuring God's Truth in Your Heart

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Matthew 1:22-23: The Greatest Rescue

Matthew 1:22-23: All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,

and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). [1]

Matthew 1:20-21 teaches that salvation in Christ brings God’s elect freedom from the darkest evil and makes them possessors “of the greatest good.” [2] How did the Lord make this great rescue possible? By becoming man—as the Old Testament promised. [3] The virgin birth shows that God keeps His promises, and that salvation needed to come through a sinless redeemer. [4]

The Gospel is the greatest rescue because our sins are so awful. [5] The reality that the Son of God had to become human to redeem humans shows how far we all are from perfection. [6] The marvel of Isaiah 7:14 and Matthew 1 is our sins had separated us from God, and the Triune God rescued us. [7]

So what does the Trinity’s redemption mean for us? Christ’s work demands that all people believe in Him exclusively for salvation from their sins, put sin to death, and live as God calls us to live. [8] Only in Jesus can we be forgiven and spared from God the Father’s wrath and have the Holy Spirit to live as Scripture calls us to live. [9] Cry out to the Triune God of Scripture, because He will hear and act. [10]

This blog was written by Seth Dunn

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Logos Bible Software 7. All Scripture references will be ESV unless noted otherwise.

[2] William Hendriksen. Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1987), 133.

[3] Hendriksen, Matthew, 133 and 143-144.

[4] John Calvin. Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke Vol. 1. Trams. William Pringle. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1984, 98-99.

[5] Romans 5:6-11. For background, please see Genesis 3:1-15; Romans 3:9-23; 8:7-8.

[6] Calvin, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, 98-99.

[7] Ephesians 2:1-10.

[8] Luke 13:1-5; Acts 2:14-40; Romans 6; Galatians 5:16-26.

[9] Ephesians 1:7; Romans 8:1-2, 9; Ephesians 1:17; Galatians 4:4-11.

[10] Psalm 116; 1 John 1:9-2:2.

Posted on December 27, 2018 and filed under Devotions.

Purposeful Praise: Making Sense of Congregational Singing

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What Child Is This: All Hail the … Baby?

It’s easy to forget just how incongruous Christ’s birth must have seemed at the time. The long-awaited Messiah, the son of David, the king with angel heralds—introduced as a helpless infant sleeping in a feeding trough! And of course that incongruity pales in comparison to the paradox that this human child was God himself.

The question-and-answer format used in “What Child Is This” serves to revive our sense of awe and wonder at Jesus’s identity. Each verse juxtaposes signs of Christ’s majesty with signs of his humble position. I’d like to focus on the carol’s second verse, which is packed with meaning.

Why lies he in such mean estate, where ox and ass are feeding?

Mean estate means a humble, lowly, or impoverished condition. This phrase brings to mind Mary’s hymn of praise (the Magnificat), in which she glorifies God for singling her out for blessing: “he has looked on the humble estate of his servant” (Luke 1:48). It also brings to mind Paul’s meditation on Christ’s humility: Jesus, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:6–7). (More on this later.)

Good Christian, fear; for sinners here the silent Word is pleading.

In normal syntax, this sentence might run something like this: “Fear, Good Christian, because the silent Word is pleading for sinners!” The Word refers to Christ, identified as the “ultimate truth” sought by Greek philosophers—though they conceived of the Word as an impersonal force. In his very personal role as the mediator between God and his people, Christ pleads our case before God’s judgment seat (Rom. 8:34). And what does Jesus plead? He pleads for God to show us mercy because he (Jesus) has satisfied God’s law on our behalf. This is why, even as a speechless baby, the then-silent Word was pleading for sinners by his righteous life.

Christ’s accomplishment should inspire fear, in the sense of reverential awe of God.

Nails, spear, shall pierce him through; the cross be borne for me, for you …

Going back to Philippians 2, “And being found in human form, [Christ] humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (v. 8). Becoming human wasn’t enough, becoming a helpless baby wasn’t enough, even becoming a poverty-stricken, homeless baby wasn’t enough. Jesus came to endure the most shameful death imaginable.

And now we come to the answer to the question posed in the first line of this verse: the reason for Christ’s “mean estate,” the explanation for the incongruity of God the Word as a human baby destined to be crucified, is that he bore all these things out of love “for me, for you.”

Hail, hail the Word made flesh, the babe, the son of Mary.

Our response is decreed by Philippians 2: “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (v. 9–11). In the last line of the carol’s second verse, as in the last lines of the other two verses, we urge creation to join this chorus.

This blog was written by Corrie Schwab

Treasuring God's Truth in Your Hearts

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Matthew 1:20-21: Not Heartbreak But Heart Rescue

Matthew 1:20-21: But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”[1]

Joseph was likely heartbroken: the woman he loved was pregnant and the baby was not his. Matthew 1:19 helps us see Joseph’s struggle as he wants to protect Mary and honor God’s design for marriage. [2] The angel’s message would have been a huge comfort to Joseph because he could still marry his love. [3] But Joseph’s marital bliss would take second fiddle in the orchestra of God’s redemption: this unexpected pregnancy would result in the Trinity’s people being saved. Bible scholar William Hendriksen teaches, “To be saved means a. to be emancipated from the greatest evil: the guilt, pollution, power, and punishment of sin; and b. to be placed in possession of the greatest good.” [4]

The good news that Joseph received is good news for all who believe in Christ. If Jesus is your exclusive means of salvation and forgiveness from sin you are liberated from the greatest evil and own the greatest good. You no longer need to live in guilt nor sin’s control. [5] You have everything you need to live as God has called you to live. [6] If Jesus is not your only Redeemer, then you lack the greatest good and are still enslaved to sin. [7] When people who say they believe in Jesus walk unrepentant in sin, they are returning to the slavery from which God freed them. [8] We all must pray to the Spirit of Christ, asking for help so that we can be rescued from sin’s heartbreak to have Christ’s heart rescue—either for the first time for salvation, or as sinning saints fleeing their former master.

This blog was written by Seth Dunn

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Logos Bible Software 7. All Scripture references will be ESV unless noted otherwise.

[2] William Hendriksen. Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1987), 130.

[3] Hendriksen, Matthew, 131.

[4] Hendriksen, Matthew, 133.

[5] Romans 6:1-4.

[6] 2 Peter 1:3.

[7] Romans 3:9-23; 8:5-8.

[8] Romans 6:15-23; Galatians 5:1-6.

Purposeful Praise: Making Sense of Congregational Singing

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Of the Father’s Love Begotten: Praising God for the Mystery of the Incarnation

Near the close of the fourth century, a distinguished Roman official named Aurelius Prudentius chose to leave public life and spend his time writing poetry on Christian themes. The hymn we know as “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” is derived from one of these poems.

In this poem Prudentius meditates on the mystery of the incarnation and calls all creation to join in praise of Christ as eternal God, creator, prophesied savior, healer and miracle-worker, effectual sacrifice, victor over death, judge, and king. The hymn as we sing it today dwells on the same theme, though it has been heavily edited (not to mention abridged) over the centuries.

The first verse of our hymn emphasizes Christ’s nature as eternal God. “Of the Father’s love begotten ere [before] the worlds [planets—the universe] began to be” identifies Christ as the eternally begotten Son of God. The hymn goes on to call Christ Alpha and Omega, echoing Revelation 22:13: “I [Jesus] am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” By associating himself with the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, Jesus is asserting his deity—the history of the world is his story. By alluding to this passage and to Christ’s work as creator and sustainer of all things, Prudentius was explicitly rejecting the beliefs of the Arians, who held that Christ is not himself God but was rather God’s first creation.

The second verse, fittingly, focuses on Christ’s human nature through the miracle and mystery of his birth. (In a religious context, a mystery is something that we can’t fully understand, at least not yet.) The reference to Jesus revealing his sacred face is reminiscent of 2 Corinthians 4:6: “For God … has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” This, in turn, makes me think of God’s self-revelation to Moses, after Moses begged to be allowed to see God’s glory. Do you remember what God said? “You cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live. … Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen” (Ex. 33:20–23). Through the incarnation we can now experience the glory of God in Christ’s face.

The third verse draws together these two truths, Christ’s divinity and his humanity, by emphasizing that we’re talking about one person—“this is he”—who was anticipated by the angels and the prophets and merits praise by all creation now and “evermore.”

The fourth verse expands on this call to worship. Note all the entities that we are calling upon to praise Christ: “heights of heaven,” “angel hosts,” “all dominions,” “every voice.” And note what we are urging them to do: adore him, sing his praises, bow to him, extol him—loudly and “in concert” (all together)! When we sing this as a congregation, we’re getting a foretaste of the eternal heavenly worship we are destined to be part of forever: “I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!’ ” (Rev. 5:13).

Finally, the hymn ends with a doxology to the Trinity, reaffirming Christ’s equality with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit.

This blog was written by Corrie Schwab

Posted on December 13, 2018 and filed under Devotions.

Treasuring God's Truth in Your Heart

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Numbers 23:19: The Truth and Nothing But the Truth

Numbers 23:19:

God is not man, that he should lie,

or a son of man, that he should change his mind.

Has he said, and will he not do it?

Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? [1]

If you have been following the past couple blogs you may have noticed a theme: God’s dependability. We are focusing on the Trinity’s trustworthiness because that truth has profound implications for life. If the Lord speaks the truth and sticks to that trust (as Numbers 23:19 teaches) then His children will receive His blessings, can trust His help, will dwell in eternal paradise with Him, and nothing can ever change that. [2]

How can we be sure about these promises? Because God has secured them with “his blood.” [3] Jesus was crucified so Hell-bound sinners (like me and you) can receive forgiveness for the sins we committed against the Holy God. [4] Romans 8:31-39 summaries the hope the Trinity’s trustworthiness gives us. May these truths lead us into praise and submission to our Savior: [5]

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

            “For your sake we are being killed all the day long;

we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

This blog was written by Seth Dunn

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Logos Bible Software. All Scripture References will be ESV unless noted otherwise.

[2] Iain Duguid. Preaching the Word: Numbers: God’s Presences in the Wilderness. General Editor R. Kent Hughes. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2006), 279-280.

[3] Duguid, Numbers, 279.

[4] Romans 5:8.

[5] Duguid, Numbers, 280.