Friday, August 26

Alec Motyer (1924-2016) has long been one of my favorite commentators (I discovered in 1982 at the Congress on the Bible in San Diego that his name was pronounced maw-teer having always mispronounced it mott-yur).  His commentaries on Amos, James, Philippians, and his two commentaries on Isaiah have been indispensable to me. And, I have only just begun to work through his devotional translation of the Psalms.

In one of his most recent books, Life 2, he argued for the great hope of Gospel surety in the face of death. Today, he has proven it.  He went to sleep in fair lowlands of England and awoke in the fairer uplands of Heaven. “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 15:55-57  

Tuesday, August 23

Saturday, July 9

In Quietness and Surrender

In his Institutes Calvin calls prayer “the chief exercise of faith…by which we daily receive God’s benefits” (III: 20). Prayer is our response to grace, receiving what God gives us, and then responding with deep gratitude, so that our petitions grow out of thanksgiving. The result, he says, is pietas, an attitude of reverence and love for God, and caritas, service to neighbor. Very practically, Calvin then outlines a plan for prayer—what he calls the "rules of prayer."


He says, we must come to God with “sincere affection of heart.” We must likewise come with humility, depending on the grace of God. We must pray with confident hope—with the “certainty that our prayer will be answered.” And, we must pray “continuously.” But it is necessary, he says, because of our weakness, for us to set hours for prayer: when we arise in the morning for instance, before we begin daily work, when we sit down to a meal, when by God’s blessing we ready to retire.” The result, is awareness of God in every moment.

But, taking precedence over all these, Calvin’s first "rule" of prayer is to be “rid of all alien and outside cares, by which the mind, itself a wanderer, is borne about hither and thither.” In other words, his first rule is what the Puritans would later call “the discipline of grave silence.” It is our need to be quiet in the presence of God. In his commentary on Philippians he wrote that our cares are unloaded by solemnly, soberly, and in silent awe casting them upon God’s fatherly care for us. He asserted, “For we are not made of iron, so as to be unshaken by temptations. But our consolation, our relief, is to deposit, or (to speak more correctly) in quietness and surrender, to unload into the bosom of God everything that harasses us.”

Tuesday, July 5

A Preacher's Humility


“When a preacher is overwhelmed by a sense of his own helplessness, the lesson s a wholesome one. It makes him feel that the sufficiency is not in him but in God; it makes him understand that another power must be brought to bear upon the mass of resistance which is before him; and let the man of confident and aspiring genius who thought he was to assail the dark seats of human corruption and to carry them by storm, let him be reduced in mortified and dependent humbleness to the expedient of the Apostle—let him crave the intercessions of his people and throw himself upon their prayers.” Thomas Chalmers

Friday, June 3

The Power of Prayer

In 1867, the American evangelist D.L. Moody visited the Metropolitan Tabernacle in city of London. He had come 4000 miles to hear Charles Spurgeon, renowned as “The Prince of Preachers.” He was not disappointed.

He would later reminisce that what impressed him most was not the worship, though he thought he had never heard such grand congregational singing; it was not Spurgeon’s sermon, though it was as powerful as he could have ever hoped; instead, it was his prayer. Moody recalled that Spurgeon seemed to have such access to God that he could bring down the power from heaven. He was convinced that was the secret of Spurgeon’s influence and success.

Spurgeon himself often admitted as much. “Prayer plumes the wings of God’s young eaglets so that they may learn to mount above the clouds,” he said, “Prayer brings inner strength to God’s warriors and sends them forth to spiritual battle with their muscles firm and their armor in place.” Indeed, he exclaimed, “All good is born in prayer, and all good springs from it.”

The whole work of the great church Spurgeon had planted in one of London’s poorest neighborhoods was rooted in and depended upon prayer. “The power of prayer can never be overrated,” he argued. “They who cannot serve God by preaching need not regret. If a man can but pray he can do anything. He who knows how to overcome with God in prayer has Heaven and earth at his disposal.” Thus, the church not only sponsored weekly prayer meetings, had a team of intercessors praying throughout the city through the week, and hosted seasons of prayer at various times through the year, it also trained intercessors to do the work of spiritual warfare during its regular Lord’s Day worship services (at one point there was a years-long waiting list just to be able to join the prayer team in the basement during Sunday services).

Oh, what would it look like to have a praying church like that today? As Spurgeon asserted so long ago, “We know not what prayer cannot do!”

Thursday, May 5

Lord, Have Mercy. Church, Have Courage


During that particularly distressing post-Nixon, pre-Reagan period in American history, Francis Schaeffer prophetically declared, "This is our moment of history and our responsibility: not to just to write and talk of far-off ideals, but to struggle for Scriptural and practical means of doing what can be done in a fallen world to see people personally converted and also to see what our salt and light can bring forth in the personal life and the political and the cultural life of this moment of history." His exhortation is as apt today as it was then—and perhaps, even more so.

Faced with the prospects of a desultory presidential electoral cycle, many Christians today have given vent to handwringing jeremiads. In truth, this election affords us a tremendous opportunity:

We have the opportunity to stand courageously for Biblical truth severed from the compromises of political partisanship. The Republican Party has long disregarded us. Now, it has altogether discarded us. We are thus morally, culturally, and politically unencumbered by their half-measures, empty promises, and feeble entreaties.

We have the opportunity to mobilize a groundswell of support for principled and purposeful reformation at a time when the two major parties have little more to offer than revolutionary fantasims.

We have the opportunity to model ardent prayerfulness. It was John Bunyan who quipped, “You can do more than pray, after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed.” We have acted as if the opposite were true. We no longer have the luxury of that foolhardy project.

Finally, we have the opportunity to display an unwavering confidence in the Gospel hope. When all about us are despairing, we can reaffirm that the throne room of the Most High has not been vacated, that the Ascended Christ still has His iron scepter and the earth remains His footstool. As Church Colson asserted, "Thankfully, hope doesn't ride on Air Force One." We need not set our hopes upon either Tweedledee or Tweedledum.

This is our moment. It is past time for us to roll up our sleeves and go to work. It is high time for the church to be the church.

Friday, February 26

Religion Externalized


Culture is simply a worldview made evident. It is basic beliefs worked out into habits of life. It is theology translated into sociology. Culture is a very practical expression of the common faith of a community or a people or a nation. Culture is, as Henry Van Til famously quipped, "religion externalized."

What a person thinks, what he believes, what shapes his ultimate concerns, and what he holds to be true in his heart—in short, his faith or lack of it—has a direct effect on his material well-being, behavior, and outlook; on his sense of what is good, true, and beautiful; on his priorities, values, and principles. After all, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.”

What is true for one person is equally true for a whole community of persons. In 1905, Max Weber, the renowned political economist and “founding father” of modern sociology, affirmed this fundamental truth for modern social scientists in his classic work, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. He argued that the remarkable prosperity of the West was directly attributable to the cultural, personal, and ethical prevalence of the Christian tradition. In contrast to so many other cultures around the globe, where freedoms and opportunities were severely limited and where poverty and suffering abounded, Weber found that faith brought men and nations both liberty and prosperity.

The Christian faith changes people. Therefore, the Christian faith changes culture. The reasons for this are multitudinous:

First, true faith reorients all of us fallen and sinful men to reality. Because of our selfish proclivities we are all too naturally blind, foolish, ignorant, and self-destructive. More often than not, we are ruled by our passions, our lusts, and our delusions. We simply have a hard time facing reality without the perspective of faith. Faith in Almighty God, however, removes the scales from our eyes and the shackles from our lives. In Him we are at last acquainted to what is right, what is real, and what is true.

Sociologist James Gleason has said, “Faith serves us all well as a kind of reality-check. It is a transcendent value that enables us to more adequately and objectively evaluate our most bewildering situations and circumstances. In other words, it gives us a perspective beyond our own purblind vantage.”

A culture shaped by what is right, what is real, and what is true will manifest significantly art, music, literature, science, and ideas just as surely as a person shaped by them will.

Second, the Christian faith counteracts the destructive effects of sinful actions and activities. Sin is not a concept that has much currency with modern social scientists, economists, politicians, community organizers, civil rights activists, and social service providers. It has become rather politically incorrect to even speak of it. Men who have rejected God and do not walk in faith are more often than not immoral, impure, and improvident. They are prone to extreme and destructive behavior, indulging in perverse vices and dissipating sensuality. And they—along with their families and loved ones—are thus driven over the brink of destruction. On the other hand, faith reforms us with new and constructive values. We are provoked to moral and upright lives of diligence, purity, sober-mindedness, thrift, trustworthiness, and responsibility.

According to psychologist Nancy Hellman, “Where poverty, violence, and destruction germinate in the rotting soil of sin, productivity, harmony, and hope flourish in the fertile field of faith. If we were to recover the concept of sin in our society—even from a moderately secularized perspective—we would go a long way toward eradicating the evils of modern life.”

In other words, a culture that understands the character and nature of the Fall is going to be tangibly, substantively, and manifestly different than a culture that does not.

Third, the Christian faith establishes a future orientation in our hearts and minds. All too often the modern men and women either flounder in a dismal fatalism or we squander our few resources in an irresponsible impulsiveness. Many of us are terribly short-sighted, unmotivated, and naive. And “where there is no vision the people perish.” On the other hand, genuine faith provokes us to live thoughtfully, to plan, to exercise restraint, and to defer gratification in order to achieve higher ends. We are induced to self-control, wisdom, and careful stewardship in order to build for the future.

Bartok Havic, the great Czech historian, has said, “History’s record is clear: a people who cannot look past the moment, past the fleeting pleasures of fleshly indulgence, will be a people whose culture vanishes from the face of the earth. Ultimately, only faith gives men a sustaining vision for that which is other than their own selfish desires.”

Fourth, the Christian faith provokes us to exercise responsibility. Outside of the bounds of faith in God we are all naturally prone to selfishness, wastefulness, and sloth. Faith on the other hand enables see past ourselves, growing into selfless maturity. We are able to become more responsible to redeem our time. We are able to become more responsible to make the most of every opportunity. We are able to become more responsible to fulfill our calling in life. We are able to become more responsible to use our money wisely, to care for our families, to serve the needs of others, and to be an example of redemptive love before all men everywhere. It is this very kind of diligent responsibility—this very fruit of faith—that we most need if they are ever to fully recover the vision of life and culture that brought the Western world to flower.

“It is faith,” says George Gilder, “in all its multifarious forms and luminosities, that can by itself move the mountains of sloth and depression that afflict the world’s stagnant economies; it brought immigrants thousands of miles with pennies in their pockets to launch the American empire of commerce; and it performs miracles daily in our present impasse.”

Senator Ted Kennedy once asserted that, "The ballot box is the place where change begins in America." Although he has been fiercely and vehemently wrong in the past, Kennedy has never been more wrong than this. As George Will has argued, “There is hardly a page of American history that does not refute that insistence, so characteristic of the political class, on the primacy of politics in the making of history.” In fact, he says, "In a good society, politics is peripheral to much of the pulsing life of the society."

This is the great lesson of history: it is ordinary people of authentic Christian faith who are ultimately the ones who best able to shape the outcome of human events--not kings and princes, not masters and tyrants. It is laborers and workmen, cousins and acquaintances that upend the expectations of the brilliant and the glamorous, the expert and the meticulous. It is plain folks, simple people, who literally change the course of history--because they are the stuff of which history is made. They are the ones who make the world go round. For, as G.K. Chesterton said, "The most extraordinary thing in the world is an ordinary man and an ordinary woman and their ordinary children."

Ultimately, that is our greatest hope for the future. It is simply that a new grassroots majoritarian emphasis on things that really matter--on the Gospel and its fruits--will emerge as we train up the next generation of culture-shapers. It is that a love for hearth and home, community and culture, accountability and availability, service and substance, morality and magnanimity, responsibility and restoration will capture hearts and minds and lives. It is a hope that may be stymied, obstructed, and hampered--but ultimately it cannot fail.

As the famed journalist H.L. Mencken once said, “The man who invents a new imbecility is hailed gladly, and bidden to make himself at home; he is to the great masses of men, the beau ideal of mankind. His madness must necessarily give way to right, sooner or later, though usually later.”

Or as the poet F.W. Faber wrote:

“For right is right, since God is God,
And right the day must win;
To doubt would be disloyalty,
To falter would be sin.”

Thursday, December 24

December 25

Christians have celebrated the incarnation and nativity of the Lord Jesus on December 25 since at least the early part of the third century—just a few generations removed the days of the Apostles.  By 336, when the Philocalian Calendar—one of the earliest documents of the Patriarchal church—was first utilized, Christmas Day was already a venerable and tenured tradition.  

Though there is no historical evidence that Christ was actually born on that day—indeed, whatever evidence there is points to altogether different occasions—the conversion of the old Pagan tribes of Europe left a gaping void where the ancient winter cult festivals were once held.  It was both culturally convenient and evangelically expedient to exchange the one for the other.  

And so joy replaced desperation.  Celebration replaced propitiation.  Christmas Feasts replaced new Moon sacrifices.  Christ replaced Baal, Molech, Apollo, and Thor.  The Gospel conversion brought transformation to cultures and kingdoms as well as hearts and souls.  

His blessings flow as far as the curse is found.  Glad tidings of great joy, indeed.

Laudetur Jesus Christus


O Lord, You are our Savior and Redeemer, our Hope, and the Captain of our Salvation.
You are called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
You are our Advocate, the Almighty God, the Alpha and Omega, the Ancient of Days, the Author and Perfecter of our Faith, and the Great Amen.

You are the Only Begotten of the Father, the Beloved Son of God, the Bright and Morning Star. You are the Chief Cornerstone, the Chosen of God, the Consolation of Israel, and the Creator of All Things.  
You are Emmanuel, God with us, the Christ. 

You are the End of the Law, the Eternal Judge of Quick and Dead, the Faithful and True, the Firstborn of the Dead.  
You are Good Shepherd and the Great I AM.
You are the Head of the Body and the Heir of All Things. 

Of You the angels exult, Holy, Holy, Holy. You are the very Image of God. 
You are Jehovah, the King of Kings, the Lamb of God, the Lion of Judah, the Lord of Hosts, the Light of the World, the Maker of Heaven and Earth, of all things visible and invisible.  
You are our Mediator and our Messiah.  

You are our Passover the Propitiation for Sins of Whole World.
You are the Resurrection and the Life, the Root of Jesse, the Stone of Offense, Rock of Refuge, the Seed of Abraham, the Once and for All Sacrifice.
You are the Way, the Truth, and the Life. 

You are the Rose of Sharon, the Balm of Gilead, the True Vine, the Living Water, the Bread of Life, the Light of the World, the Word of Life. 
You are Jesus. 
And you are worthy of all praise and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Friday, October 30

The Ninety-Five Theses

On this day in 1517, German theologian Martin Luther carefully recopied the scroll of his soon to be revealed Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences—a document that would be popularly called the Ninety-Five Theses. The next day he would post the scroll, consisting of a series of propositions that established a theological basis for opposing the sale of indulgences.

Though written in Latin and designed to provoke only a limited academic discussion, Luther’s manifesto would almost immediately be translated into the vernacular and then widely distributed, causing a great public controversy leading to the Reformation. Who would have ever dreamed that in the little town of Wittenberg, Germany, all of Europe would be shaken by the simple act of provoking a series of questions? Certainly not Luther. But in fact, his little academic exercise would lead to a dramatic realignment of men and nations--indeed, he would eventually be excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church and become the founder of Protestantism.

But as he prepared the scroll, he certainly had none of that in mind. Indeed, the tone of the document was clearly a moderate call for little more than a bit of dialog and some serious theological investigation. He wrote, “A disputation on the power and efficacy of indulgences: out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light, the following propositions will be discussed at Wittenberg, under the presidency of the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and of Sacred Theology, and Lecturer in Ordinary on the same at that place. Wherefore he requests that those who are unable to be present and debate orally with us, may do so by letter.”

The theses themselves were not any more incendiary. Instead, they discussed the character and nature of true repentance, the core values of the Gospel, and the essence of the justice and mercy of God. Hardly the sort of material one might expect to cause a furor.

Nevertheless, the faithful Augustinian monk’s attempt to open a dialog was, in the good providence of God, the catalyst for a movement which would ultimately reshape the whole of Western Civilizaton.