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Archive for the ‘Sinclair Ferguson’ Category


This Sunday I’ll be preaching on the Spirit’s work in sanctification out of Galatians 5.  I wish I had more time this week to thumb thru some of the great books I have on this work of the Spirit, and the Spirit of this gracious work.

Here are my favs:

  • Keep in Step with the Spirit by J.I. Packer.  The focus on this great book is sanctification, and the Spirit’s role.  I read this as a young Christian, and it was very helpful for me, grounding me in a biblical understanding of sanctification.
  • The Holy Spirit: His Gifts and His Power by John Owen.  I read this separately before owning it as part of his Works.  Great stuff!  It was one of the first books by Owen that I read, and helped me major on the majors instead of being caught in excess as a younger Christian.
  • The Holy Spirit by Sinclair Ferguson.  It is a bit more technical than most of his books.  But that is fine by me.  More people need to read this to avoid the abundance of confusion that is out there today.  There are so many ways in which the Spirit works in our lives, but we focus on the spectacular and extraordinary.  He’s heavily dependent on John Owen, who is one of his favorite theologians.

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This week’s text in Galatians focuses on adoption, God’s adoption of sinners as His sons as a result of Jesus’ work of redemption for us.  J.I. Packer comments that you can’t really understand Christianity unless you understand adoption.  John Calvin says you aren’t really a Christian unless, by the work of the Spirit, you call God your Father.

There are not many books on this topic.  It is a much neglected topic- but there are a few great books just the same.

Great Books I’ve Read:

Children of the Living God: Delighting in the Father’s Love by Sinclair Ferguson.  It is not a big book, but it is a great book.  Ferguson does what Ferguson does best, put the cookies on the shelf so lesser beings can enjoy them.  I can’t recommend this book enough.

Adopted by God: From Wayward Sinners to Cherished Children by Robert Peterson.  It comes recommended by Packer, Ferguson, and Steve Brown among others.  It is a very good book.

Knowing God by J.I. Packer.  Though not on the topic of adoption, there is a great chapter on the topic.  This is one of the great books which influenced me as a young Christian.  That chapter is just one of the reasons.

Redemption Accomplished and Applied by John Murray.  He includes a chapter on adoption as one aspect of the application of our redemption.

Books I’d Like to Read:

Adopted into God’s Family: Exploring a Pauline Metaphor by Trevor Burke.  Part of the New Studies in Biblical Theology Series, this is a more academic look at this topic (which exceeds use by Paul).

Heirs with Christ: Puritans on Adoption by Joel Beeke.  That should be an interesting read.

John Calvin and the Good News of Adoption by Timothy Trumper.  It is 2 CDs with lectures by Trumper.  Interesting…

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In listening to some Tim Keller sermons there were a few leads I wanted to follow up. If you are like me, you might think “I really need to find that”, but aren’t really sure where to find it.

Tim is fond of mentioning Martin Luther’s Large Catechism in connection with idolatry.  I’ve been wanting to read it for myself.  I figure there is quite a bit I could learn.  Perhaps you are like me and aren’t sure where to look.  Well, it is part of the Book of Concord.  So, here is the Large Catechism.  Enjoy!

Keller also mentions a Thomas Chalmers’ sermon, The Expulsive Power of a Greater Affection, in connection to sanctification.  I’ve been wanting to read this sermon, but was not aware of any Thomas Chalmers’ collections.  He’s not the most famous of the Puritans.  Thank God for the internet.  Someone has put The Expulsive Power of a Greater Affection online.  Justin Taylor notes how Sinclair Ferguson makes use of this same sermon.

Sometimes we make the mistake of substituting other things for it. Favorites here are activity and learning. We become active in the service of God ecclesiastically (we gain the positions once held by those we admired and we measure our spiritual growth in terms of position achieved); we become active evangelistically and in the process measure spiritual strength in terms of increasing influence; or we become active socially, in moral and political campaigning, and measure growth in terms of involvement. Alternatively, we recognize the intellectual fascination and challenge of the gospel and devote ourselves to understanding it, perhaps for its own sake, perhaps to communicate it to others. We measure our spiritual vitality in terms of understanding, or in terms of the influence it gives us over others. But no position, influence, or evolvement can expel love for the world from our hearts. Indeed, they may be expressions of that very love.

Others of us make the mistake of substituting the rules of piety for loving affection for the Father: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!” Such disciplines have an air of sanctity about them, but in fact they have no power to restrain the love of the world. The root of the matter is not on my table, or in my neighborhood, but in my heart. Worldliness has still not been expelled.

The basic point is that our desire for particular sins will be lessened or removed only by having a greater affection for something or someone else.  We must love Jesus more than we love our favorite sins.  This is what Samuel Storms discusses at length in Pleasures Evermore.  It is what lies underneath John Piper’s Christian Hedonism.  Some great stuff- as I shared with someone caught in an addiction.  Avoiding our addiction can be a new idol- a mere replacement idol.  This person needs to meditate upon the work of Christ that he might grow in his love for Christ and be able to put this sin to death.  Otherwise we are using worldly means to deal with our sinful desires and habits.

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I just finished Faithful God: An Exposition of the Book of Ruth by Sinclair Ferguson.  I wish I had had this book when I preached through Ruth in the Spring of 2007 (chap. 1, chap. 2, chap. 3, chap. 4).  Originally given as a series of addresses presented to the English Conference of the Evangelical Movement of Wales back in 1996, he was asked to adapt them into written form.  It took some time, but he ‘just happened’ to come across his disk of the material and finished the project.

This exposition is neither overwhelming to the lay person or too simplistic for the pastor looking for substance.  As usual, Dr. Ferguson is like a mother bird, digesting difficult material and regurgitating it for the benefit of the average person.  He does not avoid, nor get mired in, Hebrew and the historical background.  There is enough to make his points clear, and not so much you lose that point.

Ruth is a story of grace and providence; or put another way how God graciously acts for His glory and our good in providence.  Ruth, Naomi and Boaz aren’t sure what God is doing until after the fact.  The same is true for us as well.  We are often prideful and presumptuous, thinking we know what God is doing.  But His purposes are not crystal clear until after the fact- sometimes LONG after the fact.  In this case, the little romance is cute but meaningless until we see that first David and then many generations later Jesus himself are the purposes God has in view as He works to bring Ruth to Himself by faith, into Israel and eventually into the home of Boaz.

There is much to chew on here if you are in the midst of a difficult providence.  But I get ahead of myself.  He begins with an introduction that points us to 2 Timothy 3:16-17.  On the basis of this passage, and its context, he says we should always ask ourselves 4 questions:

  1. What does it teach us?
  2. In what areas of our lives does it rebuke us?
  3. What healing, restoring, transforming effect does this teaching have?
  4. How does this section of Scripture equip me to serve Christ better?

(more…)

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It is hard to believe it is Saturday.  Life has slowed down tremendously since we hopped on that plane Tues. morning.  The big rush to de-clutter the house was done.  We were packed and gone.

Since then I’ve been doing some reading.  That has been hard for me lately.  I’ve had trouble concentrating.  There were far too many things going on, and I deperately needed a change of scenery- and weather.  I got both.  So my concentration has returned.  As you may have noticed, I read Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christian.  Dr. Nicole taught me to read those I don’t agree with (or other ivew points) so I can see their own arguments first hand lest someone mischaracterize them.  Glad I read it, and I still disagree with him.

In addition to starting to read Job, I’m reading Sinclair Ferguson’s book on Ruth, Faithful God.  It is really good.  As someone who is going through a difficult time, I need that reminder that God’s plan is not always evident until it has completely unfolded.  And that might be long after you’re gone.

It’s not all serious- I’m reading a Dean Koontz novel I picked off the bookshelf here.

I’ve been helping my brother-in-law get the website ready for his business.  I’ll also be helping to get their financial system integrated on the software.  My sister-in-law has too much going on the learn the system and get it all integrated herself.  Since the guys at Riedinger & Sons are heading off to Mississippi for a missions trip today, I’ll be able to work on this with no new invoices etc. 

The weather has been quite varied.  Plenty of sun, and plenty of rain too.  The tempuratures are mostly in the 60’s-70’s.  A very nice  change of pace allowing me to sit outside and read.  Sadly, no cigars to enjoy outside.  But my sister-in-law provided me with some Smithwick’s Irish Ale as a treat.  Quite nice.

I helped my other brother-in-law work on his new house today.  I was priming the dry wall in a few closets.  And tonight I’m cooking some Cajun Back Ribs.

I know some of you are more concerned about the kids.  They are having a blast.  CavGirl loves coming here and playing with her cousins.  It is the first time CavBoy has come to the Farm.  He might be feeling a bit left behind as she goes on adventures with her cousins.  But he’s getting more adventurous.  Both are playing long and hard, so naps and night time have been met with quickly nodding off to sleep.  Parenting has required less time and energy.

I got some great pictures of the humming birds.  At one point there were 5 vying for the feeder.  I couldn’t get the beautiful finch.  He was too skittish when I came near with the camera.  That and the territorial battle he was engaged in with another bird.  I don’t have the right software here, so posting any of them will have to wait.

I was disappointed to discover that my capo and picks were not in the guitar case where I thought I left them.  This greatly reduces what I can do with old vacation guitar while I’m up here.

Well, a beautiful sunny afternoon is calling my name.

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I have an older copy of Sinclair Ferguson’s A Heart for God, part of the Christian Character Library.  It is a short, very accessible book.  It is understandable to those without any theological training, but it also has a depth of heart that should challenge those who do.

It is dedicated to his old mentor William Still.  His main premise is that the main problem with contemporary Christianity is that we lack a deep knowledge of God.  Lacking this knowledge, we therefore are tossed about by winds and waves as well as experiencing stunted character.  Growth as a Christian is connected not with steps or methods, but primarily knowing God and being transformed by the renewing of our minds.  This is the thought that fills the book.  So he explores who God is.  As he goes there is plenty of application and illustration.  Sinclair Ferguson is the theologian for everyman.  He writes books of great meaning without assuming you have lots of theological training.

  1. Growing in the Knowledge of God
  2. Three Personed God
  3. Maker of Heaven and Earth
  4. The Covenant Lord
  5. The Ever Present One
  6. The Savior
  7. God Only Wise
  8. The Holy One of Israel
  9. The Faithful Provider
  10. Let Us Worship God!
  11. Remember the Lord

In these chapters, Ferguson brings us back to Scripture.  Often it feels like a series of sermons turned into a book because he’ll work through a primary text.  This is purposeful.

“Only as God’s Word impacts how we think, live, and feel will we develop hearts that are characterized by obedience to God and filled with love for Him.  … There is no such thing as genuine knowledge of God that does not show itself in obedience to His Word and will.  The person who wants to know God but who has no heart to obey God will never enter the sacred courts where God reveals Himself to the soul of man.  God does not give divine knowledge to those who have no desire to glorify Him.”

So you see that Ferguson writes with a pastor’s heart.  He doesn’t just want there to be an information dump, but life transformation as we wrestle with God in His Word.  More than that, that God subdues us and transforms us with His Word.  This is a book worth finding and reading.

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I came across this link from Kevin Cawley’s blog. It is a collection of mid-week sermons by Sinclair Ferguson on Ephesians at Park Cities Presbyterian Church in Texas.

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I’ve been reading A Heart for God by Sinclair Ferguson.  I’ve read bits and pieces in the past when working on sermons.  But I decided to read the whole thing as solid, devotional material.  It works through the various names and attributes of God that we might know God better.

Yesterday I read his chapter on The Covenant Lord.  It is there that he talks about the hidden God- who seems to play hide-and-seek with us.  In talking about the cutting of the covenant in Genesis 15 he introduces this concept.

“The darkness may also symbolize God’s hiddenness.  As we will see, the promise was not immediately fulfilled.  Abraham, and all of God’s people, needed to learn to trust God in the darkness.  As Isaiah was later to say, ‘Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God’ (Isaiah 50:10).”

This is probably one of the most difficult aspects of the Christian life- trusting God when he seems nowhere to be found and life is dark.  This is where I currently am.  I know his promise, and his character.  But I am in the inbetween times: between promise and fulfillment.  I am waiting for him to fulfill his calling in my life, and I am lost in darkness.  It is there that we must learn to walk by faith and not by sight, to rely on God while we wait in the dark.

“It is interesting that when Isaiah describes the return of the people from exile in Babylon in terms of the Exodus, he describes God as ‘a God who hides himself’ (Isaiah 45:15).  That is exactly what the Israelites must have felt: ‘God has hidden himself; He is not going to keep His promise.'”

Fear quickly sets in when things don’t go our way and we think God has failed us.  But he does not exist to fulfill our purposes but his.  We feel forsaken, but he is still working.  We are trapped in the short-run and our perspective needs to take in the long-run.  And, we need to know who has promised.

“This was the secret of Moses’ life: He held on to the promise of God, not because he immediately recognized how easily it would be fulfilled, but because it was God who had promised.”

Ferguson continues to trace the development of God’s covenant as it unfolds in the life of David.  He adds new promises to the covenant.  At times in David’s life it seemed as though all was lost.

“No human eye could detect whether God was keeping His word, or how He would fulfill it.  But faith does not depend on what can be seen!  … so David subordinated the current circumstances of his life to the plan he knew God would fulfill.  There is no other way to live in fellowship with the covenant Lord.”

  Ferguson ties the reality of 2 Corinthians 1:20, all God’s promises being ‘Amen’ or ‘Yes’ in Christ, in with the reading of the blessings and curses of the Law in Deuteronomy 27.  God’s people receive all the blessings by faith in Christ- they are ‘amen’.  Jesus bore all the curses- they too are ‘amen’.  God has kept his word, the word of his covenant.  Though he was often working out of our sight, though all often seemed lost, God is not just a covenant making God but a covenant keeping God.  And so we can rely on him in the midst of the darkness.

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It was very strange not going to Synod this year.  It was the first I’ve missed since my first as a new pastor in 1999.  I chose not to be certified to vote as a pastor w/out call.

I’ve talked to a few of my fellow Presbyters about what happened in my absence.  Tonight I came across Dr. William Evans’ articleabout this unordinary meeting of Synod.  Apparently he has been busy, since he also has a piece there about Peter Enns’ book Inspiration and Incarnation.  He simply lays out so problems with the book.  But on to Synod where the issue of inspiration arose.

For the first time in years, more than one person was nominated to be Moderator of Synod.  It is interesting on a number of levels.  One, Barry Dagenhart, has deep roots in the ARP and would probably affirm the status quo and put a big priority on relationships.  The other, Dr. J.R. DeWitt, is a relative newcomer to the ARP (more recently than yours truly), but Drs. Evans, R.J. Gore and Sinclair Ferguson believed that his theological acumen are vitally important as the ARP addresses some important issues.  He would not maintain the status quo, and is quite fearful of a top-heavy denomination (which the ARP cannot be accused of having with any seriousness).

I agree that a man with theological acumen, and who will not seek to preserve the status quo but rather move us into the future, is greatly needed.  I’d humbly disagree with Sinclair Ferguson that Dr. DeWitt is that man.  One of the great things about the ARP, which I’ve needed to have modeled to me, is the emphasis on love as well as truth.  Our pursuit of truth must be done in love and hopefully preserve the relationships that already exist.  My experience with the Dr., limited as it is to debate on the floor of Synod, would make me hesitate in applauding his election as Moderator.  While I may side with him theologically, I fear that the price of winning the debate may be too great.  I really hope I’m wrong. 

I would like us to take our theology more seriously, and build stronger relationships with other conservative Reformed denominations.  We do need to repent of our in-grown ways.  But that is a product of spritual renewal.  I want us to be more than well-connected with the PCA, OPC et al.  I want us to grapple with the call to be missionaries to this culture and our communities.  I don’t sense that winsome, missionary spirit with Dr. DeWitt.  I think we had the right motives but not the best choice, if that makes sense.  Mark Ross probably would have been a better choice, but convincing him to serve would probably be difficult.

Regarding Scripture, 3 different motions were approved to strengthen our stance on the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture.  Since we are in the process of revising our Form of Government it is important that new ministers understand and affirm these things lest we drift off to the left over time.  Without these fundamental commitments, our ability to properly address the theological issues before us becomes weak and suspect.  To include these affirmations in the ordination vows, and as standards for Synod employees, is what was missing from our affirmation of these truths over 2 decades ago.

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To be fair, I thought I’d put down how God brought me to embrace Reformed Theology as the most consistent understanding of biblical theology.

  1. What was the first book you read that introduced you to Reformed Theology?   That would be Packer’s Knowing God, though I didn’t know it at the time.  I had been a Christian for less than a year when I bought it.  It remains one of my favorites.  After I “got” Reformed Theology, I re-read Knowing God, and saw all the seeds had been sown there.  Sproul’s Chosen By God was the one that gave me words to express what I had come to believe.
  2. Besides the Bible, list the five most influential books in your Reformed theological journey.  In addition to the 2 already mentioned, Martin Luther- Bondage of the Will; John Piper- Desiring God; J.I. Packer- Keep in Step with the Spirit; Jerry Bridges- Trusting God; R.C. Sproul- The Holiness of God.
  3. List three preachers and/or teachers who were most influential in your journey? Prior to seminary, R.C. Sproul.  I devoured his books and audio tapes prior to going to seminary.  J.I. Packer, who joined Sproul in introducing me to the Puritans, the Reformers and Jonathan Edwards.  In seminary, I spent lots of time reading Edwards and the Puritans (particularly Burroughs, Owen & Boston).  Post-seminary it would be John Frame, Sinclair Ferguson, Tim Keller and Jack Miller.  Yes, I cheated.  But I affirm grace, baby.
  4. If you could give one book to someone interested in Reformed theology, what book would you give them?  Probably Sproul’s Grace Unknown (I think it is now called What is Reformed Theology?) or Ferguson’s In Christ Alone.
  5. What doctrine would you say distinguishes Reformed Theology?  Particular Atonement.  Packer’s intro to Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ is must reading to understand how essential this doctrine is to grasping biblical Christianity, and how other theologies offer a different gospel.  This is a much understood doctrine thanks to the many straw men those opposed to it put up.  This is usually the hardest distinctive doctrine for people to accept.

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On his blog, former Ligonier co-worker Anthony Carter asked some friends of his questions for a book he’s working on.  He wants to show how some African-American Christians came to embrace Reformed Theology.  So I thought it would be interesting to ask my friends these same questions to see their answers.  Perhaps they will help some of you as you think about these things, or help others think about them.  I suspect we’ll see God using many different instruments.

The first to respond was Ivan Lambert.  Ivan and I went to RTS Orlando at the same time.  We didn’t know each other well.  We were both Calvinistic Baptists, but he was a commuter on the 4 year plan.  We both graduated as Calvinistic Baptists.  5 or 6 years later we ended up in contact: both of us having become conservative Presbyterians.  A little over 2 years ago, Ivan became the pastor of Covenant PCA here in town.  We have enjoyed time talking about theology and ministry.  We meet with a few other guys monthly to encourage and pray for one another.  He’s gracious enough to grant me pulpit supply opportunities during my transition.

Here is (some of) his story.

  1. What was the first book you read that introduced you to Reformed Theology?  Study Guide on Bible’s Teaching on Election by John MacArthur
  2. Besides the Bible, list the five most influential books in your Reformed theological journey.  Knowing God                                         J I Packer
        Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God     J I Packer
        The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination   Lorraine Boettner
        The Christian Life                                   Sinclair Ferguson
        Putting Amazing Back into Grace              Michael Horton
  3. List three preachers and/or teachers who were most influential in your journey.  John MacArthur    [used by God to introduce me to Salvation by Grace Alone: teaching God’s election, and that regeneration precedes faith!]
        J I Packer            [MacArthur suggested Knowing God, I read it, and realized I’ve been missing out] this led to some guys named Sproul, Boice and Horton
        Michael Horton    [His Putting Amazing Back into Grace, Where in the World is the Church, were very instrumental for me]
     
        Sinclair Ferguson, Tim Keller: haven’t read a whole lot by these guys, but each one has helped me see grace / Christ as my merit.
  4. If you could give one book to someone interested in Reformed theology, what book would you give them?  Man, that is tough:
        a. to one who is in the Word, needs a pastoral, softer touch; I’d offer The Christian Life by Sinclair Ferguson
        b. to one who wants to argue or needs a polemical approach: I’d give Chosen by God -Sproul or Putting Amazing Back into Grace-Horton
  5. What doctrine would you say distinguishes Reformed Theology?  A particular doctrine?  How do I answer this one?
        At the time I entered RTS I would have answered “God is Sovereign”, then while at RTS I would have answered “Justification”
        Toward the end of my RTS days, I would have answered “Grace” because I had just read “When Being Good isn’t Good Enough”
        Man, I don’t know, I think for about the last five years I might have answered up until about a year ago “Adoption”
        Now days, I honestly view this much more as a perspectival approach to “In Christ”:
        The gospel is much more than “being Reformed”, believing “God is Sovereign” more than “Justification”, or “Adoption”
        Also included are: “Election, Substitution, Propitiation, Redemption, Regeneration, Reconciliation,  Sanctification, Glorification” and whatever else I am forgetting at this time..
     
    If you must have one particular doctrine, I have sat on this for ten minutes now and I’ve narrowed it to three: Gospel, Substitution, Jesus is Savior of sinners”
     
    How About if I say Grace Alone [because all those others are -I think- perspectives that flow from the whole gospel of Grace.

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I finally finished reading In Christ Alone: Living the Gospel Centered Life by Sinclair Ferguson.  You can preview the first 3 chapters

This book, as I mentioned earlier, is the compilation of articles written by Sinclair Ferguson.  As a result, it is more accessible for the busy lay person.  You don’t need to invest lots of time and energy into reading a chapter since they are short.  But that doesn’t mean they don’t have some rich content.  There are some great chapters and ideas in this book.  But it isn’t written with lots of technical jargon.

The book is broken up into 6 sections.  The first, The Word Became Flesh, addresses issues regarding the Incarnation.  The second, The Heart of the Matter, focuses on issues related to the gospel.  It goes into justification, substitutionary atonement, the offices of Christ and how the resurrection matters to us.  Section 3, The Spirit of Christ, briefly explores the Spirit’s role in our salvation.  He then addresses the Privileges of Grace – union with Christ, indwelling of the Spirit, regeneration, sanctification, prayer etc.  He moves to a more practical theology in A Life of Wisdom which talks about discernment, humility, God’s will and more.  In concludes with Faithful to the End addressing issues of perseverence.  So in many ways this functions as a brief systematic theology.

The one weakness would be the “YBH Factor”.  Huh?  “Yes, but how?”  Due to the brevity of the articles he obviously couldn’t develop the application as much as he normally would or could.  This can be mildly frustrating at points, but the the other factors greatly outweigh this to make a book I would highly recommend to my not so theologically oriented friends and those with overburdened schedules.  I think it would be helpful for young Christians to gain a good theological foundation.  A study group of young Christians could learn much from reading and discussing this book.

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I have not played much guitar since the adoption.  Foolishly, I have kept it at home since I sometimes play at our Family Small Group.  But there just doesn’t seem to be much opportunity to play.  Can’t play when the kids are awake, and if they are asleep….

Well, last night I needed to play.  I needed some truth in my head, and that is a great time for me to ponder lyrics and try to draw near to God.  It’s been a long week, and I needed some of that time.  So I played after the kids went to bed, but before they usually drift off to sleep.  And I played this morning after they all went to Bible Study Fellowship.  Ah, if only my callouses weren’t so thin.  Then I would have played longer.  Here’s part of my “song list”:

Blessed Be Your Name, I Need Thee Every Hour (Jars of Clay version), O Worship the King (Passion verison), Here is Love, Beautiful, Scandalous Night, Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone) [still learning this one], A Shield About Me, Guide Me, O Great Jehovah, Be Thou My Vision, From Depths of Woe I Raise to Thee.

Good for the soul.

In the quiet home this morning I read some more of In Christ Alone by Sinclair Ferguson.  Actually, I read some last night too.  I try to read 2 chapters a day and am moderately successful.  I finally finished Part V- A Life of Wisdom.  Great stuff in there about discernment and character.  The material I read this morning intersected with my sermon.  We focus on circumstances, but God focuses on character.  My choices flow out of my character so my choices have to be focused on how God transform my character (truth and trial).  The chapter in question was on contentment.  Character traits like this must be learned through experience, as we bring truth to bear on them.

“Christians must discover contentment the old-fashioned way: we must learn it. … It is commanded of us, but, paradoxically, it is created in us, not done by us.  It is not the product of a series of actions, but of a renewed and transformed character. … This seems a difficult principle  for Christians today to grasp.  Clear directives for Christian living are essential for us.  But, sadly, much of the heavily programmatic teaching in evangelicalism places such a premium on external doing and acheiving that character development is set at a discount.  We live in the most pragmatic society on earth (if anyone can ‘do it,’ we can).  It is painful to pride to discover that the Christian life is not rooted in what we can do, but in what we need done to us.” 

(more…)

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I finished part IV of Sinclair Ferguson’s In Christ Alone last night.  The last few chapters of that section had to do with faith and its connection to God’s promises.  It is often a lack of understanding about the true nature of faith that leaves Christians immature and struggling.

Sinclair points us to Hebrews 11 to show us “how faith operates.”  Faith is essentially an assurance that God will keep His promises (the things hoped for).  “Faith, then, in its present activity, is always looking forward to the future.”  Hebrews 11 then goes on to focus on how this shaped the decisions and actions of people in space and time.  Faith is manifested here and now as we wait for the there and then.

“(t)o live by faith is not to live by what we can see, feel, and touch- our sense-experience- but on the basis of what God has said and promised. … (f)aith is simply a matter of knowing what God says, trusting His Word because of who He is, and living in light of it.”

Faith receives God’s promises, and seeks to walk in light of them to produce holiness, or obedience.  Sinclair mentions 2 Corinthians 6:16-18 as tying God’s promises to holiness.  But it is not automatic.  We have a responsibility.  Sinclair lists a three-fold responsibility:

“First of all, I must know what God’s promises are. …

Second, I must feed my mind on the promises of God. …

Third, I must let God’s promises govern my lifestyle.”

Part of how that happens is praying in faith.  This is another greatly misunderstood idea.  He brings us to James 5 and the example of Elijah.  Elijah was not a special person, meaning far superior in his obedience than us.  He had issues too.

“The reason Elijah is used as an example is not that he was an extraordinary man: James stresses that he was ‘a man with a nature like ours’ (James 5:17).  It is his ordinariness that is in view.

Elijah’s praying is used as an example not because it produced miracle-like effects, but because it gives us one of the clearest of all illustrations of what it means for anyone to pray with faith: it is believing God’s revealed Word, taking hold of His covenant commitment to it, and asking Him to keep it.

Shutting up the heavens was not, after all, a novel idea that originated in the fertile mind of Elijah.  (Ferguson discusses how this is tied to the covenant in Deuteronomy 28, though the time frame was revealed by God to Elijah) … Like very ‘righteousman’ (James 5:16), Elijah sought to align his life with God’s covenant promises and threats. … This, then is the prayer of faith: to ask God to accomplish what He has promised in His Word.

We have to keep those promises in context, both in terms of what the promise means, to whom it applies and when it is to be applied.  Some promises will not be fulfilled until the great restoration of creation when Jesus returns.  But we continue to pray to that end.

The struggle is not our wrestling to bring Him to give us what we desire, but our wrestling with His Word until we are illuminated and subdued by it, saying, ‘Not my will, but Your will be done.’

Hopefully such sound, biblical thinking whets your appetite for this book.

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Yesterday was one of those days.  Our home was filled with manifestations of depravity (crabiness, anger, fear, doubt, whining etc.)  It was so wearisome.  By the time the kids went to bed we were both done.

Part of the Prayer Jesus gave us states “lead us not into trial/temptation, and deliver us from evil”.  The word Jesus used can be translated as either trial or temptation.  Since God can tempt no one (James 1), but He does test or try us, I prefer translating trial.  But our trials produce temptations as the heat and thorns of life connect with our fallen nature.  What are our temptations?

1. We are tempted to run, fleeing the trial.  We are tempted to merely change our circumstances and remove the pressure of the trial.  Lots of people choose this option far to often.  “When the going gets tough, the ‘tough’ get going”, as in gone.

2, We are tempted to use fleshly means to accomplish (what we think are) God’s purposes.  We see this often in Genesis.  Sarah specialized in this one.  Trouble getting pregnant … “here’s my main servant.  Get her pregnant.”  We employ worldly wisdom to try and get our way (James 3-4).

3. We are tempted to numb ourselves of the pain.  We zone out in front of the TV or computer.  We want a pina-colada IV.  We eat ourselves into oblivion.  He hide in pornography.  Our options are nearly unlimited in modern society.  This the easiest option for us to take.  It requires less of us.  We don’t have to really change anything, just … well, flick a switch or open the fridge.

These are all easy for us to identify.  We see them all the time.  What we rarely see is the response of faith and repentance.  As a result we don’t often know what this looks like, or how to do it.

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Yes, your eyes are not deceiving you.  CavWife (CW) ran across this story today.  It comes from the Yale Daily News and is about a Yale art school senior.  It is sad, distressing and disgusting.

Her senior project is “a documentation of a nine-month process during which she artificially inseminated herself “as often as possible” while periodically taking abortifacient drugs to induce miscarriages. Her exhibition will feature video recordings of these forced miscarriages as well as preserved collections of the blood from the process.”

She says she did not design this for shock value or scandalize anyone.  Self-deceived or clueless, I’m not sure.  But any reasonable adult would realize that this would shock people.

Personally, I cannot believe someone would even consider doing this.  Art should make us think, but to the betterment of our souls.  It should not de-humanize us.  Due to our depravity, it is far too easy for us to show the ugly side of life.  But it requires far more work to show beauty, dignity and honor.  So, when we give our depravity free rein, it reveals the worst in us instead of the best in us.

Sinclair Ferguson touches on this sad reality.

Only by seeing our sin do we come to see the need for and wonder of grace. But exposing sin is not the same thing as unveiling and applying grace. We must be familiar with and exponents of its multifaceted power, and know how to apply it to a variety of spiritual conditions. Truth to tell, exposing sin is easier than applying grace; for, alas, we are more intimate with the former than we sometimes are with the latter. Therein lies our weakness.

    Sadly, both bad art and bad preaching fall into this trap.  Both express only our depravity, and neglect our dignity.  Both settle for sin rather than grasp for grace.

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Have you ever wanted to sit down and chat with Sinclair Ferguson?  I have.  Though I’ve met him, I haven’t really talked to him.  I feel … so unworthy.  He’s not just a thoughtful theologian, but he exudes godliness.  It could just be the Scottish accent, but I doubt it.

Well, C.J. Mahaney did sit down and chat with him, and made the conversation available to all of us.  I am so thankful.  I laughed, I cried and had godly passions stirred up.

He mentioned his mentors, the 4 Johns- the Apostle, Calvin, Owen and Murray.  When he first heard of John Murray he remembers wondering “who’s John Murray and what’s Westminster Theological Seminary?”

He talked about an older pastor who poured his life into him.  What a magnificent gift that so many young men never receive.

He spent time talking about learning how to preach in a Christ-centered fashion.  We tend to look inward, rather than outward to Christ.  He also ties that in with C.S. Lewis’ comments about Milton’s Paradise Lost that it is easier to portray evil than good.  As pastors we fall into this trap, focusing more on sin than the “sweetness and excellency of Christ” (as Jonathan Edwards often said).

I can’t wait for my copy of In Christ Alone: Living the Gospel Centered Life to arrive so I can dig in.  You can download the first 3 chapters.  I suspect this book will challenge us to get out of ourselves and lay hold of Christ who lays hold of us.

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One area of disagreement with John Piper that I discovered in What Jesus Demands from the World is in the area of divorce and remarriage.   This is an important issue in our day, particularly as we see the utter confusion regarding very public divorces among Christians.  We really do need to better understand and apply what Jesus says about divorce and remarriage (both directly and through His apostles and prophets- see 2 Timothy 3 to remember that ALL Scripture is useful in this regard).

Piper proposes a view that I have not heard before.  In seminary I wrote a paper on the subject, using Carl Laney as the representative of the view that there is to be no remarriage after divorce.  This is a view I held as a young Christian, and argued harshly for much to my shame.  I believe, based on Matthew 5:31 & 19:8-9, as well as 1 Corinthians 7, that there are biblical grounds for divorce, and that when those grounds are met, the “innocent” party is free to marry again.

Piper points to the fact that the other gospel accounts do not include an exception.  Matthew is the only one that includes the exception.  He points for the reason for this exception in the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel.  He argues that this explains how Joseph could be a righteous/just man while considering to put a pregnant Mary away for what he thought was sexual immorality.  As a result, Piper thinks that the use of porneia here is limited to sexual sin during the period of betrothment or engagement.  Your marriage has not been consummated, no vows have been taken, and you are free to marry (not again, since you were only engaged, not married).

This view would mean that all divorce would be sin, and all remarriage after divorce would be sin.  If you had remarried, he would advocate remaining in that marriage instead of compounding your sin with another divorce.

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It has taken me far too long to read this book.  The problem was I had What Jesus Demands From the World by John Piper at home, not at the office.  And I read in my free time.  It is a book well worth reading, and recommending.

Piper narrows his focus on what Jesus says as recorded in the Gospels.  At times this is helpful, and at other times it is not so helpful.  One instance is his discussion of divorce and remarriage, which by virtue of his method excludes Jesus’ teaching through Paul.  Piper ends up with what to me is a new spin on Jesus’ teaching on divorce and remarriage (others, like Sinclair Ferguson, would also disagree with him but still recommend the book, so I’m not alone in this).  I think the question of divorce and remarriage justifies its own post.  Suffice it to say, I don’t buy his argument on exegetical and theological grounds.  Like the Bereans, we are to measure all things by the Word of God.  Piper isn’t perfect, but this disagreement does not cut to the core of the Gospel so we can agree to disagree.

One thing I found interesting was this: “Jesus knew and taught that between his first and second coming to earth there would be a lapse of time.  For example, Jesus’ parable of the wicked tenants is a story of what will happen between his first and second coming.”   I agree that Jesus knew and taught this.  I disagree that this was the point of the parable in Luke 20.  The parable talks about the wicked tenants killing the heir in an attempt to gain the vineyard (vs. 14).  Seems to point to the crucifixion of Jesus, and the impending destruction of Jerusalem (vs .16) which occurred in AD 70.  So, the very long time in verse 9 is the intertestamental period, not the period between the first and second coming.  This is uncharacteristic for John Piper, who usually shows himself a worker well approved.

This is not enough to undermine the great good that is found in this book.  And, contrary to  one reviewer’s point of view, there is lots of grace to be found in this book.  There is grace to pardon and purify talked about often in this book.  It is a book for those wanting to better understand discipleship, which is sorely needed in our day.

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WTS Bookstore now has the intro by Sinclair Ferguson on the New Perspective  for the book Justified in Christ available a free pdf download, well worth checking out.  Contributors to the book include Richard Gaffin, William Edgar, Carl Trueman and John Murray.  This should put forward the doctrine as historically understood by Protestants as opposed to the New Perspectives on Paul. 

HT: (Justin Taylor)

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