Friday, November 10, 2017

Calvin on Knowing God's Love for Us

How do we know if God really loves us? How can we be sure? Where do we look? 
"It was then from God’s goodness alone, as from a fountain, that Christ with all his blessings has come to us. And as it is necessary to know, that we have salvation in Christ, because our heavenly Father has freely loved us; so when a real and full certainty of divine love towards us is sought for, we must look nowhere else but to Christ."
Thanks, John Calvin, for reminding us that Jesus is always the answer :)

[Quote from Commentary on 1 John 4:10)

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John Erskine on Preaching

Some good advice on preaching, from 18th century Scottish preacher and theologian, John Erskine:
I need not caution you against affecting a florid haranguing style, nor tell you that the more of scripture there is in a sermon so much the better, as we ought not only to declare truth, but to declare it in the words which the Holy Ghost teacheth. There is an energy and force in the words of the Bible, which all the wisdom and eloquence of men can never equal, and which by the influences of the Spirit produces effects peculiar to itself.

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J I Packer on the "Christmas Spirit"

The shops are telling us Christmas is getting closer, and I just read these helpful and challenging words by one of my favourite Christian writers, J I Packer... talking about the "Christmas Spirit"...

"... the phrase should in fact carry a tremendous weight of meaning. It ought to mean the reproducing in human lives of the temper of him who for our sakes became poor at the first Christmas. And the Christmas spirit itself ought to be the mark of every Christian all the year round.
"It is our shame and disgrace today that so many Christians--I will be more specific: so many of the soundest and most orthodox Christians--go through this world in the spirit of the priest and the Levite in our Lord’s parable, seeing human needs all around them, but (after a pious wish, and perhaps a prayer, that God might meet those needs) averting their eyes and passing by on the other side. That is not the Christmas spirit. Nor is it the spirit of those Christians--alas, they are many--whose ambition in life seems limited to building a nice middle-class Christian home, and making nice middle-class Christian friends, and bringing up their children in nice middle-class Christian ways, and who leave the sub-middle-class sections of the community, Christian and non-Christian, to get on by themselves. 
"The Christmas spirit does not shine out in the Christian snob. For the Christmas spirit is the spirit of those who, like their Master, live their whole lives on the principle of making themselves poor--spending and being spent--to enrich their fellow humans, giving time, trouble, care and concern, to do good to others--and not just their own friends--in whatever way there seems need. 
"There are not as many who show this spirit as there should be."

May God enable us to be what we should be...

[Source: Knowing God]

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Monday, September 25, 2017

J I Packer on Calvinistic Determination

Calvin and Calvinism are often linked with determinism. Well here is a quote by J I Packer on the determination (rather than determinism) of Calvinism in the persistence of Protestantism...

“Without [Calvin], pure Protestantism might not have survived beyond the middle of the seventeenth century, for it is simple truth that the only Protestants who would stand and fight, to the last ditch if necessary, against Roman and Erastian pressures, were the Calvinists.”

(Source: "John Calvin and Reformed Europe" in Honouring the People of God: The Collected Shorter Writings of J. I. Packer Volume 4, p14)

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Saturday, August 19, 2017

No confidence apart from the Gospel! (Calvin)

How can we be sure that God is favourable towards us, that we are reconciled to him and that all our wrongs before God are forgiven (and we all have many wrongs before God)?

"Beware, then, of placing even the smallest drop of your confidence on any thing apart from the Gospel."
-- John Calvin (commenting on 2 Corinthians 5:19)

"And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” " (2 Corinthians 5:18-20; NLT)

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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Pushing for Same Sex Marriage?

We were at a rally on the weekend, with some of our kids. It was a peaceful protest against the "Safe Schools" program in schools, but I don't think our kids felt very safe among the counter-protesters. Of course, the "Safe Schools" issue is bundled together with the question of "Same Sex Marriage", and changing the definition of marriage in Australian law. Sadly it feels like this decision is trying to be pushed through by wearing people down, guilt-tripping peer pressure, intimidating aggression and/or fear tactics. I hope that is not really representative of the SSM advocates, but then I guess they are copying what they see happen in the main political arena (and what too often is the common modus operandi of how to get things done generally, whether even inside of the church as well as outside).

The question about redefining marriage is an incredibly significant policy decision for our society. It may seem minor to many, but I think it is symbolic of bigger things. And if the basis for our decision-making is change by intimidation, whether by forceful overpowering or emotional manipulation, I don't think it bodes well for a healthy and civil community. Our society has benefited from a Christian heritage that sees humility, respect, compassion and love of all--despite disagreement, even opposition--as virtues. And yes, it is sad that we Christians don't always live up to those standards either, sometimes avoiding healthy conflict, sometimes enabling bad behaviours. But the more we undermine Christianity, and encourage "victory by powerful assertion", the more we can expect real civility to also disappear. It won't be a healthy community. And it won't be a good side of history to be on.

May Jesus help us to live the way he showed us: "So Jesus called them together and said, 'You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.'" (Mark 10:42-45, NLT).


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Friday, March 17, 2017

"Mission is not an optional activity" says Edmund Clowney

I was looking at some of Edmund Clowney's thoughts on the Church. This quote is a good clarifier of the place of evangelism and mission in the life of both the church and Christian families:
Mission is not an optional activity for Christ's disciples. If they are not gatherers, they are scatterers. Some suppose that a church may feature worship and nurture, leaving gathering as a minor role. More often, Christians shrink from affirming such a position, but implement it in practice. Mission is reduced to a few offerings, the visit of several exhausted missionaries on fund-raising junkets, and the labours of an ignored missions committee. Such a church is actively involved in scattering, for the congregation that ignores mission will atrophy and soon find itself shattered by internal dissension. It will inevitably begin to lose its own young people, disillusioned by hearing the gospel trumpet sounded every Sunday for those who never march.
What is true of a congregation is true also of a Christian home. If a family fails to seek to gather friends and neighbours to Christ in hospitality and quiet witness, the children of the family will be scattered. We fail to bring up children in the nurture of the Lord if we fail to involve them in our efforts to gather others to the Saviour.

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Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Key to Forgiving

(This article is based on the first sermon in a four-part series at WPC Belconnen, on “Forgiving Others”)
Forgiveness isn’t easy. Either we’ve wanted it from others, or needed to give it to others. Actually, probably both. And whether it is getting it or giving it, it can be really, really hard. As C. S. Lewis wrote, “Every one says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive…” Maybe I gave so much to someone, trusted them with so much, and they just betrayed me and betrayed me again. How could I possibly forgive them? Or maybe they are strangers--well, worse actually—it seems they are more enemies. Because you don’t really know why, but they just decided to have a go at you, abuse you, take out a personal vendetta against you, and you have no idea why. Why should you owe them anything, the least of all forgiveness? I spoke to someone recently who used to work in the tourist industry. And because of what happened during World War II, the people of these particular two nations, they didn’t want to have anything to do with each other, the two groups couldn’t be in the same building at the same time. Whether it is at the personal level, or even at a community level, sometimes forgiving can be really, really hard.
Then we see examples in the Bible, things difficult to imagine if they weren’t actually true. Despite all the envy, hate and murderous intentions of his brothers, Joseph is forgiving toward them, showing kindness and love instead of paying back evil for evil (cf Genesis 50:15-21). Or we see Stephen, in the face of people enraged at him, hurling stones at him to kill him, and just before he dies he says, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” (Acts 7:60) How do they possibly do that kind of thing? How can we? What is the key to us being able to forgive others like that?
In Matthew 18:15-20 there is the well-known instruction of what to when your brother sins against you. In 18:21, Peter understands the implication, that he may need to forgive that brother (even though Jesus didn’t mention the word “forgive”). And Peter’s imagination takes him to the place where that brother keeps sinning against him. Surely there must be a limit to forgiveness then. Surely seven times is plenty enough, maybe even highly virtuous to be so forgiving. I expect to Peter’s great surprise, Jesus tells him, “No, Peter, you have it all wrong. You seem to be thinking of forgiveness just as a procedure, some boxes to tick, maybe a legal process, perhaps some kind of being fair, and showing your righteousness. Actually it is about mercy and kindness, Peter, it is about a perspective, a way of life, that you can’t put a number on.” Well, ok, he doesn’t literally say that. But I think that is the conclusion we can draw from the story Jesus tells in response, which we find in Matthew 18:23-35. (Quick, go read the passage now J) It shows us why it is hard to forgive others, and in so doing, also gives us the key to actually being able to forgive others, even when it feels too hard.
Jesus’ story tells us about a servant who owed the king ten thousand talents. Jesus seems to just pick the biggest number (ten thousand) with the biggest unit (a talent), to make a point. But maybe some other numbers more familiar to us will be helpful. The footnote in my ESV says that one talent was worth about twenty years of wages for a laborer. If we use the Australian minimum wage as a basis ($17.70/hour), and a 38-hour week for 52 weeks, then one year’s wage would be about $35,000. Twenty years would be about $700,000. Multiply that by ten thousand, and you get about $7,000,000,000. How would you like that debt? Or what would you do if someone else, somehow, owed you that much money? We might wonder how someone could rack up such a debt, but that’s not really the point. The amazing thing in the story is that the king actually forgives that $7 billion debt! But then another stunning thing happens, something rudely shocking. That servant who owed $7 billion was owed some money himself, by another fellow servant. But only “a hundred denarii”. Again, the ESV footnote tells us that a denarius was a day’s wage for a laborer. So the same kind of calculation this time gives us, say for an eight-hour day, about $14,000 equivalent. This is a substantial amount to be owed, but hardly significant compared to $7 billion. And yet astoundingly, the servant who had been forgiven $7 billion was unwilling to forgive $14,000. Rightly the king called him a “wicked servant” and delivered him for punishment.
So what does Jesus’ story about financial debts have to do with forgiving others when they offend us or sin against us? As with Jesus’ other parables, the real application is not in the precise circumstances of the situation, but in what the story parallels. In 18:35 it is clear that the king is paralleled to God, and the forgiveness of one servant by another is paralleling forgiveness between people. The key principle in forgiving others is that being forgiven by God should empower us to forgive others. And Jesus’ story presses the point by highlighting the shocking wickedness of one who is unwilling to forgive, despite being forgiven so much by God. And some of the small details really brings this home.
In the story our attention is drawn to both the similarities as well as the vast differences between the accounts of the two servants’ debts. When both servants are confronted concerning what they owe, they respond with the same words, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you”. Well, almost the same words. The first servant says one more thing, “… I will pay you everything” I think this little extra word, combined with the vast difference in the debts owed, highlight something else about the differences between the two servants in the story. The $14,000 debt was significant, but possibly payable. Eventually that second servant could have paid back his fellow servant. It was doable. It was possible. But there was no way the first servant could have paid back $7 billion. And yet he had the audacity to offer to pay back everything. He was deluded. He didn’t really understand the overwhelming situation he was in. And therefore he also didn’t understand the debt he had been forgiven. And he had no comprehension of the mercy he had been shown. And this is our problem, when we have difficulty forgiving others. We have no understanding of the vast debt our sin has created before God, and little comprehension of the mercy we have been shown in God forgiving our sins. Somehow we think it is not really so bad after all, that really it is something we can fix by ourselves. But we can’t. The sin debt is one that only God can fix. We can’t actually avoid the consequences of our sin, but in our pride we can try to avoid believing that we really deserve it, that our debt is really that bad.
One way to realize the enormity of a problem, is by comprehending the cost involved in solving it. When we have difficulty realizing the enormity of our sin debt, we should meditate on what it cost God to solve our problem, and forgive our sin debt. Years after Jesus spoke this story to Peter, Peter wrote these words, “knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” (1 Peter 1:18-20) You will probably never owe someone $7 billon. But our greatest debt isn’t a monetary one. And no amount of money is enough to release us from the greatest debt we have. Only Jesus’ precious blood is enough. When Peter asked Jesus about forgiving others, I don’t think he really knew what Jesus knew, that Jesus was going to have to die to free Peter from his sin debt. But all those years later, and Peter understood that, and wrote it down for everyone to understand. The enormity of our sin problem was such was that the only solution was for the Father to give the life of his own Son, and for Jesus to suffer the full wrath of God, in the place of his own people, so that we could be released from our sin debt.
This is where we need to go when we find it hard to forgive our brother from our heart. This is the key to forgiving others. Just like the $14,000, there may indeed be a significant debt of offence against us, but it is still so little compared to what God has already forgiven us in Christ. Out of the humility in understanding we have been forgiven a vast sin debt to God, which we could never have repaid, comes the freedom and joy of being able to love others, to give to others, to forgive others. As with so many things, our pattern and our power, through the work of the Holy Spirit, is what God has done for us in Christ. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 4:32-5:2)

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Saturday, January 07, 2017

John Calvin on the Power of Music

I came across this quote apparently from Calvin, but uncertain of the original source:
"music has a secret and incredible power to move our hearts. When evil words are accompanied by music, they penetrate more deeply and the poison enters as wine through a funnel into a vat"
So with the power of Google, it seems that this comes originally from Calvin's Preface to the Psalter, in 1543:
"But still there is more: there is scarcely in the world anything which is more able to turn or bend this way and that the morals of men, as Plato prudently considered it. And in fact, we find by experience that it has a sacred and almost incredible power to move hearts in one way or another. Therefore we ought to be even more diligent in regulating it in such a way that it shall be useful to us and in no way pernicious. For this reason the ancient doctors of the Church complain frequently of this, that the people of their times were addicted to dishonest and shameless songs, which not without cause they referred to and called mortal and Satanic poison for corrupting the world. Moreover, in speaking now of music, I understand two parts: namely the letter, or subject and matter; secondly, the song, or the melody. It is true that every bad word (as St. Paul has said) perverts good manner, but when the melody is with it, it pierces the heart much more strongly, and enters into it; in a like manner as through a funnel, the wine is poured into the vessel; so also the venom and the corruption is distilled to the depths of the heart by the melody."

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