Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Praying Sincerely

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you (Matthew 6:5-6).

In this passage, Jesus emphasizes that our prayers must be sincere. Christ teaches us the right way to pray so that our prayers won’t be hypocritical. Instead of standing on street corners reciting long prayers, it would be more appropriate if we would pray at home in private. Most of all, Christ wants to make it clear that we need to get rid of improper motives. We shouldn’t pray in order to be recognized or to gain something from others. This doesn’t mean that we should never pray in public.

Christians aren’t restricted to certain places where they may or may not pray. Locations, like street corners, marketplaces, outdoor areas, and churches, are certainly not off-limits for prayer. We can pray anywhere. But we shouldn’t show off when we pray or use prayer to gain admiration or profit. Christ doesn’t denounce blowing trumpets or ringing bells to attract attention for good causes. But he does rule out impure motives in prayer when he says emphatically, “to be seen by men.” Going into a private room and locking the door aren’t required when we pray. However, we might want to be alone to pour out our wants and needs to God with words and gestures that we wouldn’t feel comfortable having others see.

Although we can pray in our hearts without saying anything aloud, words and gestures help kindle the spirit. So our entire lives should be devoted to God—spreading his Word and praising his kingdom. Whatever we do must be grounded in sincere prayer.

Adapted from Faith Alone: A Daily Devotional by Martin Luther

Around The Web-December 12, 2018

50% off 23 Books from Christian Focus handpicked from the staff at WTS Books

Responding to the Lauren Daigle Debacle from When We Understand The Text

Domenick Nati, Lauren Daigle, & Homosexuality by Costi Hinn

The Good, Bad, and Terrible of Andy Stanley’s “Irresistible” by Stephen Altrogge

Collin Hansen's Top 10 Theology Stories of 2018

Why Must Jesus Be both Human and Divine? by Erik Raymond

Does God Experience Emotional Change? by Samuel Renihan

From the 2017 Ligonier National Conference, what is the greatest threat of the world to the church today?

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Should A Church Decorate For Christmas?

I am sure that most of you have all of your Christmas decorations up in your homes. Whether you did it before or after Thanksgiving is really of no consequence unless you are one of those people who have their Christmas lights on your house all year long. I know for my family, we love decorating our tree with all the ornaments we have collected over the years. We love going to a certain part of town where many houses have lights that cover almost every inch of their property.

There has never been an argument, at least that I am aware of, for Christians not to decorate for Christmas. I am sure there are many debates over whether or not churches should decorate for Christmas. I have been to churches that did and some that did not. Why they did or did not is irrelevant. So, we will tackle the question, if churches should be decorated or not.

We all know that Jesus did not say remember my birth or any of the Apostles told the church to remember the birth of Christ. We are to remember His death on the cross till He comes again. However, we still remember the miracle of the incarnation because Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise the Father gave His people that a Messiah would come, which is why we celebrate Christmas.

Now some churches will have garlands, wreaths, and Christmas trees, which to be honest, I do not see a big issue with that. Some of you may disagree and that is okay. I don't think there is anything wrong with decorating a worship center to celebrate this time of year. Now, if you have a manger in the front with a Baby Jesus in it, that could be a problem.

One thing about Christmas is we tend to sing about the Baby Jesus. Did Jesus stay a baby? Of course not. Why would we sing about the Baby Jesus, when we should be singing about the One who took our place and is now seated at the right hand of the Father?

I think a church does have the freedom to decorate for Christmas if they want to as long as it does not make it in an idol. However, if a church does not want to decorate for Christmas, they also have the freedom not to. The same applies for Christian individuals. Some say the fight for Christmas should not be happening because they do not believe it should be celebrated. That is their freedom even though you may disagree with them.

Brothers and sisters, do not pass judgment on those churches who have decorated for Christmas and to those who do not.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Should Christians Not Celebrate Christmas?

Christmas is the time where Christians reflect on the birth of the Savior. Christmas is a time where we also stand with most of the world declaring this is the time of the year we sing about the Savior. However, there are some that look down upon Christmas. There are some Christians who think Christmas should not be celebrated because it is based on a pagan ritual.

Some retail stores refuse to say "Merry Christmas" to their customers. Some would even say "Christmas" because it can be offensive. Should Christians just throw in the towel on Christmas?

Sinclair Ferguson wrote:

I think there is a biblical response to the objection, and also an answer to the question “What would be lost?”

First, the biblical response. We are responsible to obey all God commands in his word. But that isn’t the same as saying that unless Scripture specifically commands it we should not do it.

Think of marriage. The Bible doesn’t command you to get married. Nor does it tell you whom to marry. It gives you principles and encourages you to work them out in your life, and promises you the help of the Spirit to do that. You seek to apply these principles wisely.

The same is true of church life. We know there are certain basic principles that direct us how to live and worship together as church families. But we’re not given an order of service, told how many services there should be on Sunday, and a thousand other details. God expects us to use wisdom in regulating both our personal lives and our worship, fellowship, and service together.

How does this apply to the church celebrating Advent and Christmas? Fairly simply, really. A church can decide to hold a conference in the spring over a weekend. It isn’t commanded. But it isn’t disobedience. They do it because they think it’s wise and helpful. A preacher can decide that he’s going to spend a whole month preaching on John 3 v 16. He’s not commanded to—but he thinks it would be spiritually beneficial for the congregation. It is completely within the power of the elders in a church to decide, for example, that every Autumn there will be a thanksgiving service for the harvest, or that every time the Day of Pentecost comes round the preacher will expound Acts 2 or a related passage and they will sing appropriate hymns.

The same would be true of Easter. It is true that every Sunday marks the truth of the resurrection; Christ is risen and present with his people. But it isn’t true that every sermon, and every hymn, every Sunday is about the resurrection. So there is wisdom in the church deciding to have a Sunday on which they specifically focus on the resurrection of Christ. The same is true of Advent and Christmas.

I think there’s another consideration. Many Old Testament passages look forward to the coming of our Lord, conceived in a virgin’s womb, born in Bethlehem. Matthew devotes almost two chapters to describing and explaining the event; Luke does the same. John takes us right back into eternity when he invites us to reflect on its significance. There are other passages in the New Testament that help us to understand it. In other words, the Bible pays a great deal of attention to the birth of the Saviour and the theology of the incarnation. Why shouldn’t we...When churches “ignore” Christmas, how much preaching and teaching are they likely to receive on the incarnation? Somewhere between four and twelve messages? I doubt it. Such non-scientific investigation of preachers I have done indicates that, in fact, by and large, the incarnation will be ignored. Is that a more biblical approach? I doubt it—which is why I agree with what Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “I would lay it down as a rule that there are special occasions which should always be observed … I believe in preaching special sermons on Christmas Day and during the Advent season.”

Yes, Christmas has become a secularised and commercialized season. But there’s an old Latin tag, abusus non tolit usus—the abuse of something shouldn’t be allowed to destroy its proper use. The best cure is for Christians to celebrate the real meaning of Christmas. Speaking for myself, the more I have been able to hear or preach about Christ’s coming the more help I have received to focus on what really matters during December. Otherwise, I’m swimming against the tide with a Scrooge-like spirit (“Bah! Humbug!”). And if so I not only have no joy in celebrating the incarnation—I lose all sense of joy completely! No, what I need is what the great Scottish theologian Thomas Chalmers called “the expulsive power of a new affection”. Knowing more about Jesus and his coming brings a joy that is both deeper and more lasting than all the tinsel and glitter celebrations around us...It’s true that the Roman festival of Saturnalia took place in December. But Christmas celebrations didn’t so much grow out of it as grow against it, and in contrast to it. Saturnalia was an excuse for excess, for what the world still calls “having a good time” (often meaning “getting stoned”—headache and all!). Christians in antiquity wanted to live a counter-cultural life, not to let Saturnalia squeeze them into its mold. And they knew they had something worth celebrating—or rather, Someone worth celebrating. And so they met together to celebrate the birth of their Saviour.

The first to do that were Shepherds—and they glorified God for what they had experienced. And then came Wise Men—and they worshipped Christ when they saw him. What a blessing it will be if Christmas is like that for us too!

Music Monday: O Holy Night by Jenny & Tyler

Friday, December 7, 2018

Four Reasons We Were Chosen In Christ

1) Not chosen out of merit.

Negatively, and as we have already begun to see in Acts 13:48 (NKJV), we were not chosen because of any worthiness in us, either predicted or actual. The Lord has never dealt with people in this way. For example, in Deuteronomy 7:7 (NKJV), Moses assures Israel that “the Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples.” Israel at that time might have been tempted to look on the multitudes of the tribes and say, “Ah, this is why God chose us. Look at how many of us there are! Truly we are just the kind of people whom God might have chosen for his glory!” We still face precisely the same kind of temptations—we imagine that our numbers, graces, abilities, faith, wealth, charisma, influence, or whatever else it might be, actually lies behind God’s gift to us. In that scenario, salvation becomes a reward for what we already were or had become.

Scripturally, the truth is precisely the reverse.

Indeed, we have to face the fact that “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty” (1 Corinthians 1:27 NKJV). In other words, if anything, God chose us not because of our exemplary giftedness or graciousness but because of our exemplary wretchedness and helplessness! Paul emphasizes that the cause of God’s favorable dealings with us is not found in the working or the willing or the running (effort) of man:

(for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), it was said to her, “The older shall serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.”…. So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy. (Romans 9:11–13, NKJV; Romans 9:16 NKJV)

Paul presses this home to the Corinthians when asking about the source of all the saving kindnesses that they enjoy: “For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7 NKJV).

2) Chosen out of mercy.

Positively, in answering the same question, we see that this choice is rooted in the free mercy and sovereign love of Almighty God. It is an act of grace, utterly apart from or even in the face of the things that sinful mankind deserves, a gift freely given. So, while denying that God chose Israel because of any greatness in them, Moses traces the choice back to the heart of God:

The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the Lord loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers, the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 7:7–8 NKJV)

Writing to the Ephesian church, Paul sets their own native deadness against the new reality of life in Christ—that God, “even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ”—and then traces it to its divine source: “by grace you have been saved.” Having so stated it in Ephesians 2:5 (NKJV), he repeats it again a few lines later for good measure: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8 NKJV). the weak” to glorify himself.”]

Grace is God’s free favor. It comes to the undeserving from outside them and apart from anything creditable in them (on the assumption that, apart from these mercies, any such thing could be discovered). It is, in this regard, entirely unconditional: it does not hinge or hang upon anything worthy that ever was, is, or will be in those who receive it.

To What End Are We Chosen?
But having asked on what basis God’s elect are chosen, we must also ask to what end were we chosen? There are two elements to the answer.

3) Chosen for holiness.

The first element is that we were chosen with a view to the holiness of men so saved. The election of God is so that we might stand before him in righteousness. It is true that we were saved to enjoy all the benefits of all the active and passive obedience of Christ—his provision of a perfect righteousness that is pleasing to God, and his suffering of all the punishment our sins deserve, so removing the curse from us. But it is also true that we were chosen and saved to be conformed to his image:

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. (Romans 8:28–30 NKJV)

Paul says as much to the Ephesians, emphasizing that God the Father “chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love” (Ephesians 1:4 NKJV) and that “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10 NKJV). Good works do not feed into our election as an operating cause, but they do flow from it as an invariable consequence. Our Lord says, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you” (John 15:16 NKJV).

4) Chosen for God’s glory.

The second element of the answer to the question about the purpose of this election is the glory of God. Again, Paul hammers it home in the hymn of praise into which he invites the Ephesian church. All that the Lord does is “to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:6). God is working things according to the counsel of his will in order “that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:12). The grace of God is displayed to secure the praise of the glory of his grace. The ultimate intent of salvation is that God will be magnified by all those who enjoy and observe his lovingkindnesses, for Christians belong to “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9 NKJV).

Adapted from Four Reasons We Are Chosen in Christ by Jeremy Walker

Around The Web-December 7, 2018

The True Israel of God by Burk Parsons

Pastors' Talk: On Hospitality and the Gospel (with Kent & Rosaria Butterfield)

5 Ways to Misuse a Commentary by Jay Sklar

Routine Bible Reading Can Change Your Life by Trevin Wax

Why it is Best for Christians to Celebrate Christmas by Stephen Kneal

Why Your Sermons Should Address Believers and Unbelievers from Joel Beeke

Todd Friel on 3 ways to deal with the Old Testament Law

Thursday, December 6, 2018

What Christ's Death Does For Believers

First, the death of Christ frees us from the consequences of sin— both condemnation and damnation.

Second, the death of Christ washes us from the defilement of sin. The blood of Christ cleanses and takes away our guilt— giving us a clear conscience before God. Our sins are gone, gone, gone— forever.

Third, Christ’s death frees us from sin’s power. We are loosed from the power and dominion of sin. Sin cannot drive us on to action now, for the blood of the Lamb has broken its controlling dominion. Those whom Christ sets free are free indeed. Praise be to God! To God alone belongs the glory— our victory is found in Him alone!

Adapted from Victory in Jesus: A Devotional Commentary on the Book of Revelation by Donald Johnson

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Book Review: Jesus's Sermon On The Mount and His Confrontation With The World by D.A. Carson

The sermon of the mount is perhaps one of the most preached places in the Bible and the most quoted. Some people take the Beatitudes and make it self-centered while ignoring some of the other things Jesus said. Some would even twist what Jesus said and make it seem He meant something different such as Matthew 7:1 where we do not judge lest we be judged.

D.A. Carson has a collection of sermons that look into the sermon on the mount as well as the three chapters following it in the gospel of the Matthew. The collection on the sermon on the mount took place in 1975 while the other sermons were collected sometime after the year 2000. The book is titled, Jesus's Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World.

The first half of the book is on the sermon on the mount which Carson deals with each passage expositionally. As you read the chapters in the book, you will begin to think that you are listen to Carson whether in person or on the Internet. Carson addresses everything in the sermon on the mount from the Beatitudes to the putting the words of Jesus into practice.

The second of the book deals with Jesus confronting the world. Carson addresses Jesus authority to heal people and cause a storm to be quiet. How Jesus's mission was to preach the gospel and send out His disciples while giving them authority. Carson even talks about how Jesus can be divisive because He came not to bring peace but a sword. Many will be, and still are, divided over who Jesus is.

This book is not a commentary on the whole book of Matthew, but a good helpful aid in studying it.

Thanks Baker Books for letting me review this book.

Around The Web-December 5, 2018

When We Understand The Text addresses Seventh Day Adventism

The 20th Anniversary of the 9 Marks Journal: Essentials

All ESV Bibles from Crossway are 50% off till the end of the year

The Reformation Study Bible is on sale at Ligonier till the end of the week

Is the Old Testament Still Relevant for Christians? with Michael Kruger from Credo Magazine

Overcoming Fear in Evangelism by Barry York

Depression, Discouragement, and Hope in Christ During the Holidays by Dave Jenkins

From the 1689 Society, what is a healthy church?

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The New Folk Angle Album

One thing that I look forward to every year around Christmas time is the new album from Folk Angel. They are a band based out of the Village Church and play Christmas music. This is their 10th and latest album.

God's Election of His Grace Was Always Plan A

God "chose us in him before the foundation of the the praise of his glorious grace" (Ephesians 1:4,6). Grace was not an afterthought in response to the fall of man. It was the plan, because grace is the summit of mountain of God's glory. And he created the world for his glory. He planned the world for the glory of his grace.

Adapted from Astonished by God: Ten Truths to Turn the World Upside Down by John Piper

Monday, December 3, 2018

Shoving Aside God's Grace

I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose (Galatians 2:21).

Wanting to be justified by our own works through the law is so wrong that the apostle Paul calls this throwing away God’s grace. It shows not only ingratitude—which is extremely bad in itself—but also contempt, because we should eagerly seek God’s grace. Instead, we shove aside his grace, which we receive free of charge. This is a serious error. Consider Paul’s argument: “If righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” Paul confidently declares that either Christ’s death was pointless, which is the highest blasphemy against God, or Christ’s death was essential, and through the law we can have nothing but sin.

Some teachers categorize various kinds of righteousness using distinctions they have made up in their heads. If these teachers try to bring these ideas to theology, they should be kept far away from the Holy Scriptures. For these people say one kind is moral righteousness, another is righteousness of faith, and they describe others I don’t even know about. Let civil government have its kind of righteousness, the philosophers have theirs, and each person have their own. But we must understand righteousness the way the Bible explains it. The apostle clearly says that there is no other righteousness than through faith in Jesus Christ. All other works, even those according to the holiest laws of God, do not offer righteousness. Not only that, but they are actually sins.

Our sins are so great and so far away from righteousness that it was necessary for the Son of God to die so that righteousness could be given to us. When discussing theology, don’t call anything righteousness that is apart from faith in Christ.

Adapted from Faith Alone: A Daily Devotional by Martin Luther

Music Monday: Jesus, Joy of the Highest Heaven by Keith & Kristyn Getty

Friday, November 30, 2018

What is the Holiness of God?

1 Peter 1:16 says we are to be holy because God is holy. The angels sang about the holiness of God when Isaiah saw his vision just as God was calling him to be a prophet. Christians know that God is holy, but what is the holiness of God?

In his book, Astonished by God: Ten Truths to Turn the World Upside Down, John Piper wrote:

It is his infinite worth. His holiness is his unique divine essence, which in his uniqueness has infinite value. It determines all that he is and does and is determined by no one. His holiness is what he is as God, which no one else is or ever will be. Call it majesty, his divinity, his greatness, his value as the pearl of great price.

John MacArthur said:

In speaking of the holiness of God, it is good, perhaps, to begin with something of a definition. It was Hodge who said, “The holiness of God is not to be conceived of as one attribute among others. It is rather a general term representing the conception of God’s consummate perfection and total glory. It is His infinite moral perfection crowning His infinite intelligence and power.” He said it is infinite moral perfection as the crown of the God-head, holiness is God’s total glory crowned.

It was Thomas Watson who said, “Holiness is the most sparkling jewel of God’s crown, it is the name by which He is known.” R.L. Dabney wrote, “Holiness is to be regarded not as a distinct attribute, but as the result of all God’s moral perfection together.” They are recognizing what the prophet Isaiah wrote in Isaiah 57 verse 15 when he said, “For thus says the high and exalted one who lives forever, My name is holy.” Holy is His name.

Sam Storms wrote:

God is regularly identified in Scripture as "the Holy One". See Job 6:10; Isa. 40:25; 43:15; Ezek. 39:7; Hosea 11:9; Hab. 1:12; 3:3. He is also called "the Holy One of Israel" in 2 Kings 19:22; Isa. 1:4; 43:3 (a total of 25x in Isaiah alone); Jer. 50:29; 51:5; and elsewhere. In Isa. 57:15 God is described as "the high and lofty one who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy." God's holiness is often associated with his majesty, sovereignty, and awesome power (Ex. 15:11-12; 19:10-25; Is. 6:1-4).

Holiness is so much the essence of who God is that Amos speaks of him as swearing "by his holiness" (4:2). This is simply another way of saying that "the Lord God has sworn by himself" (6:8). In fact, God's name is qualified by the adjective "holy" in the OT more often than all other qualities or attributes combined!

The root meaning of the Hebrew noun "holiness" (qodes) and the adjective "holy" (qados) comes from a word that means "to cut" or "to separate," and thus to be distinct from and set apart. That the term did not originally refer to ethical purity is seen from its use in describing prostitutes(!) who were "set apart" or "devoted" to pagan deities such as Baal and Asherah (see Gen. 38:21; Hosea 4:14). Bloesch points out that "in Israel's history holiness could be applied to nonpersonal things, places and even pagan gods (cf. Dan. 4:8,9; 5:11). The ground around the burning bush is holy (Ex. 3:5) as are the temple (Is. 64:11; Jon. 2:4; Hab. 2:20), days (Ex. 20:8; Deut. 5:12; Is. 58:13), utensils (1 Chron. 9:29), garments (Ex. 29:21; Lev. 16:4), food (1 Sam. 21:4; Neh. 7:65), oil (Ex. 30:25,31; Num. 35:25; Ps. 89:20) and offerings (2 Chron. 35:13; Ezek. 42:13)" (God the Almighty, 138).

The Greek equivalent is hagios and its derivatives. The point is that God is separate from everyone and everything else. He alone is Creator. He is altogether and wholly other, both in his character and his deeds. He is transcendently different from and greater than all his creatures in every conceivable respect. To put it in common terms, "God is in a class all by himself."

We often speak of something that is outstanding or has superior excellence as being "a cut above" the rest. That is what God is. As R. C. Sproul put it, "He is an infinite cut above everything else" (The Holiness of God, 55). Holiness, then, is not primarily a reference to moral or ethical purity. It is a reference to transcendence. So where does the concept of purity come from? Sproul explains:

"We are so accustomed to equating holiness with purity or ethical perfection that we look for the idea when the word holy appears. When things are made holy, when they are consecrated, they are set apart unto purity. They are to be used in a pure way. They are to reflect purity as well as simply apartness. Purity is not excluded from the idea of the holy; it is contained within it. But the point we must remember is that the idea of the holy is never exhausted by the idea of purity. It includes purity but is much more than that. It is purity and transcendence. It is a transcendent purity" (57; emphasis mine).

Holiness, then, is that in virtue of which God alone is God alone. Holiness is moral majesty. This unmistakable biblical emphasis on the transcendent inviolability of God runs counter to the tendency in some theological circles to merge God with his creation.