He Who Has Ears: Listening to Sermons

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One of the things a pastor and a congregation spend a lot of time on together is the sermon that is preached every Lord’s Day in the worship service. The minister spends time preparing and delivering the message, and the congregation spends time hearing it and living their lives based off of it. But have you ever thought about how to hear a sermon? How can we obey Jesus’ command to “be careful how you hear” (Luke 8:18)? Consider a few ideas with me:

  • Believers should prepare themselves to hear. The Apostle Peter commands that we “desire the sincere milk of the Word like newborn babies,” and that one of the ways we prepare that spiritual “thirst” within us for God’s Word is by laying aside all sin (I Peter 2:1 – 2). Sin acts like wax in our ears, and keeps us from hearing the life-giving words we so desperately need. Do not allow Saturday night – or the week before Sunday – as an opportunity for sin, but instead lay aside sin by faith and focus on “thirsting” to hear from the Lord in the sermon.
  • Believers should prepare through prayer. One of the best ways to create this spiritual thirst in preparing is through prayer. We say with the psalmist, “Lord, open my eyes, that I would behold wondrous things out of Your Law in the sermon this Sunday” (cf. Psalm 119:18). Ask God to reveal to you His will for your life in the sermon; do it every Sunday! The Apostle Paul asked the Ephesians to pray for him as he preached, and to do so constantly (Ephesians 6:18 – 19). We should pray this way for our Sunday school teachers, Bible study leaders, and especially our ministers and elders.
  • Believers should test the sermon against God’s Word. Paul praised the Bereans because they “searched the Scriptures daily” to see if Paul’s message lined up with Scripture (Acts 17:11). As Christians, we are to “test everything; hold fast what is good” (I Thessalonians 5:21). Ministers must not preach on their favorite topics, heart-warming stories, practical advice for better living, politics, or anything else – but only what the Lord says in Holy Scripture. A congregation can hold their minister accountable by carefully testing what he says.
  • Believers should receive the sermon in a godly attitude. Continue reading

Latest Headline | Advent 2011

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“For unto you is born this day…” Salvation is created. The majesty and mystery of the Messiah come as our Emmanuel is a time for rejoicing and worship. Use the following for your own edification as you reflect on the Incarnation.

Advent Liturgy

The purpose of this liturgy is to direct the people of God as they are served by their Covenant God who condescends to our weakness in the Incarnation, and who visits us with perfect justice in the Final Judgment. These two advents frame the experience of New Covenant believers: we look back to Christ’s first coming… Continue reading Advent Liturgy →

Lehigh Valley PCA: Advent Liturgy

Celebrating Advent

Dear Zion, You’ve probably noticed that we have begun a special season at church called “Advent.” This word comes from the Latin, adventus, which means “coming,” but both of these words help us understand the biblical word parousia, a word we see in I Thessalonians 3:13, “the coming of our Lord Jesus.” Advent is an opportunity… Continue reading “Celebraing Advent” →

Honoring One Day Over Another… to the Lord

Coming Soon!

Resources for Preaching from Galatians

For the weeks leading up to December 25 (what the un-RPW world calls otherwise known as “Christmas” & “Advent”), we’re taking a 30,000 ft aerial flyover of the book of Galatians. Thinking especially that God sent His Son “in the fullness of time,” we’ll be using Galatians as a foil for considering Christ – and His benefits – that have come to us… Continue reading “Resources for Preaching from Galatians” →

Zion Cantata 2011

Coming soon!

Further Advent Resources

Headline: Reformation Day 2011

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Reformation Day Worship Service

As a congregation that stands proudly in the tradition of the Protestant Reformation, we are grateful for an opportunity to remember God’s gracious kindness to His Church around the anniversary of the Reformation. On the Sunday closest to October 31, the day history tells us Martin Luther nailed his famous 95 Theses to a church door in Wittenburg, Germany, we pay special attention the details of the Reformation.

Our worship service will take special care to reflect the liturgies of the Reformed tradition of Christianity, especially in the songs and arrangement of psalms that came out of this historical era. Then, be sure to join us later… Continue reading at Zion Ev & Reformed Church…

Reformation Day Liturgy

Order for the Divine Service on Reformation Sunday While the entire liturgy is largely based off of Calvin’s post-Strasbourg order, especially the Call to Worship from Psalm 121 reflects this influence. For more on how Calvin was affected by Bucer and Strasbourg, see Charles Baird The Presbyterian Liturgies. Continue reading Reformation Day Liturgy…

Reformation Day Sermon

I John 4:7 – 21 “The Effects of God’s Love”

Reformation Day Lesson: Standing Firm with Luther, Zwingli and Calvin

Things have been pretty busy for myself, my church, and my family lately, so I doubt I’ll put up the whole text from our Reformation Day festivities at church, but what follows is the outline for Reformation Day conference that encouraged us to stand firm in the faith. May we all stand firm in the power He provides. “Our hope is in no other save in Thee / Our faith is built upon Thy promise free / Oh grant to us such stronger help and sure / That we can boldly conquer and endure.”

Standing Firm in the Faith
I. Introduction
A. How Scripture Exhorts Us to Stand Firm Continue Reading “Standing Firm in the Faith to the End…”

 

Robert Farrar Capon:

“The Reformation was a time when men went blind, staggering drunk because they had discovered, in the dusty basement of late medievalism, a whole cellar of 1500-year-old, 200 proof grace—a bottle after bottle of pure distillate of Scripture, one sip of which would convince anyone that God saves us single-handedly. The word of the gospel—after all these centuries of trying to lift yourself into heaven by worrying about the perfection of your own bootstraps—suddenly turned out to be a flat announcement that the saved were home-free before they started. Grace was to be drunk neat: no water, no ice, and certainly no ginger ale.”

Headline | Ames on Chastity

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William Ames (1576 – 1633) was one of the important figures of the Reformation both in England and on the Continent. His Medulla Theologica (Marrow of Theology) was an important work for training ministers both in Puritan Britain as well as the Nadere Continent, and in this way his teaching connects early lights such as William Perkins with successive generations.

Ames is noted for his employment of Ramist divisions, which is a methodology that carefully considers a dialectic logic (though this claim should be carefully qualified as not embracing all accents which are associated with Ramism). Its especially helpful to see this when Ames considers “chastity.”

By carefully considering chastity in Scripture, Ames brings many qualities to light that seem all but forgotten by Christians (not to mention the world) today. Continue reading

Headline: The Marks of the Church

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The Marks of the Church. Notes on the Notae to Distinguish the Bride of Christ.

Tertullian: “Those are the true churches that adhere to what they have received from the apostles.”

I was recently preparing for a Consistory meeting and we were going to talk about the third mark of the Church, and as I was preparing I started noticing diversity amongst some of our Reformed fathers. Wanting to understand a bit better the exegetical basis for some of the different decisions, I began to catalog various confessional documents and theologians on the matter. I thought others might find it useful to see these findings placed side by side, and so you will find them below in chronological order. No doubt, others ought to be added to this list, and if there is anyone of particular importance that ought to be cataloged, either for their uniqueness or influence, leave a note in the comments and I’ll try to track them down and add them to the list.
Continue reading

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head·line /ˈhedˌlīn/ Noun: A heading or caption
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So was I speaking and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when, lo! I heard from a neighbouring house a voice, as of boy or girl, I know not, chanting, and oft repeating. ‘Take up and read; Take up and read.’ [Tolle, lege! Tolle, lege!] Instantly, my countenance altered…

Aurelius Augustine Confessions VII.1

Pastoring In Plagues

Luther_Plague2Or, how historical theology brings hope.

Pestilence and Pastoral Ministry (at Gentle Reformation)

Responding to Pandemics: 4 Lessons from Church History (TGC) This has Dionysius and Cyprian, but the other two are Luther and Spurgeon, who are filled out more completely below.

Spurgeon’s Dangerous Mission (Challies) Not specific to plagues, but nevertheless characterizes several instances of ministry in extreme dangers.

Pandemics And Public Worship Throughout History (Calvin Institute of Christian Worship) Twelve instances of plague from the patristic period to the Ebola outbreak to 2015

 Luther: Whether One May Flee From A Deadly Plague (The Davenant Institute) A fourteen page pamphlet Luther composed when the Black Plague hit Wittenburg. A magisterial treatment from the magisterial Reformation.

5 Lessons from Spurgeon’s Ministry in a Cholera Outbreak (TGC) Spurgeon’s life is simply amazing.

Francis Grimke sermon: “Some Reflections Growing Out Of The Recent Epidemic Of Influenza That Afflicted Our City” (IX Marks) When the Spanish Flu hit America in the early twentieth century, African American pastor Grimke penned this sermon.

Spurgeon: “What Is God Doing?” (Bethlehem College & Seminary) A sermon from the Prince of preachers on God’s aims in a plague. (Bonus: “Lessons from Spurgeon on the Coronavirus” from Christian Concern

Do you know of other excellent historical theological perspectives on plague and disease? Share them in the comments below.

The Lorica

A lōrīca in the Latin world was armor, often the breastplate. As Christianity grew in the Roman empire, a lorica increasingly referred to a protective prayer, often recited as the soldier equipped and strapped on his armor. Celtic Christianity, which I’m noting today on St. Patrick’s Day, especially continued this tradition, and I list three loricas below.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me

A few things stand out from these prayers for protection. First, these prayers within the Protestant, Reformed tradition are noted for their reference to the Triune Lord, and not angels or saints (as most loricae were). Second, the prayers are very tactile and sensory; no Gnosticism here, they drip and hum from living in the Creator’s world. Third, notice how ancient these prayers are; our piety did not begin in the 1950’s, or at the Reformation. As Belgic Confession article 27 reminds us, the Church of Christ has existed from “the beginning of the world.” Fourth, there is an unmistakable desire for holiness and sanctity. Whether it is heavenly conversation (no Gaelic filth here!), or desires aligned by Divine power and vision, these prayers are not talismans of power, but instruments for sanctification. Especially in what would become “Be Thou My Vision,” there is an obvious (albeit unnamed) understanding of our union with Christ.

Fifth, I would concede there is something lacking in the piety of these prayers. I believe that what is lacking is an emphasis (certainly not the absence) of the Cross, and the Spirit’s power to make us cruciform, to make us Christ-like. It might be a quibble, or it might be a matter of emphasis, but the prayers of something like The Valley of Vision or Rutherford’s letters show (in my opinion) a maturation of piety.

Without further ado, three prayers of protection:

Lorica of St. Fursey (c. 650)
The arms of God be around my shoulders
The touch of the Holy Spirit upon my head,
The sign of Christ’s cross upon my forehead,
The sound of the Holy Spirit in my ears,
The fragrance of the Holy Spirit in my nostrils,
Continue reading

My Enemy Is An Emissary From the Lord

Gilead2
I first read Robinson’s Gilead on the road from California to Iowa as we were moving to serve our congregation in the home state of Robinson’s protagonist Rev. Ames. Finishing the novel in IA – and then getting my hands on the subsequent Home and Glory – was pure joy. The following quote has had a personal impact on me, I think I’ve used it as an illustration from the pulpit, and shared it with friends. We often ask ourselves, “How should I deal with difficult people?” But I think Robinson has it right. The real question, is “What opportunity is before me every moment?” (and I would add, “opportunity to live coram Deo for the purpose of soli Deo gloria). Here’s the quote:

This is an important thing, which I have told many people, and which my father told me, and which his father told him. When you encounter another person, when you have dealings with anyone at all, it is as if a question is being put to you. So you must think, What is the Lord asking of me in this moment, in this situation? If you confront insult or antagonism, your first impulse will be to respond in kind. But if you think, as it were, This is an emissary sent from the Lord, and some benefit is intended for me, first of all the occasion to demonstrate my faithfulness, the chance to show that I do in some small degree participate in the grace that saved me, you are free to act otherwise than as circumstances would seem to dictate. You are free to act by your own lights. You are freed at the same time of the impulse to hate or resent that person. He would probably laugh at the thought that the Lord sent him to you for your benefit (and his), but that is perfection of the disguise, his own ignorance of it.

Gilead p. 124

I have often been underwhelmed by Robinson’s “Calvinism” as little more than a historical curiosity or aethestic. But notice the strong theological assumptions here. A robust providence is responsible for this encounter, with real, beneficent, sovereignty bringing purpose and meaning. Human responsibility and spiritual obedience empowered by grace are highlighted. And yet, there is a simple (though not simplistic), integral truthfulness of how the voice of Ames conveys these truths.

Like so many of favorite authors – Flannery O’Connor, Annie Dillard – Robinson is a voice I love to return to over and over again.

Staying Afloat: Classical and Christian for Busy Families

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I was honored to have an article in the Clear Lake Classical newsletter last fall when school started, but forgot to link it. Now that we are starting a new calendar year, much of the advice seems pertinent again. You can find the original newsletter (and subscribe!) here.

Stay Afloat

In 1901, the freighter ship SS Hudson left port in Lake Superior, heading east with valuable cargo. But just a few precious hours later, they would fly distress signals, and shortly after that, succumb to a raging storm and sink beneath the waves. A vicious gale plunged the mighty freighter 825 feet down to its watery grave. After just setting out, the Hudson was already sunk.[1]

Welcome to how parents feel, just a few months into the start of another school year: a few weeks in, and we are ready to fly distress signals before we go down with the ship!

The hectic schedules, filling the children’s lunch boxes, making sure everyone gets to practice, brushes their teeth… it is enough to keep even the most disciplined family scatter brained. And when you attend a rigorous school like Clear Lake Classical, how do you keep on top of it all?

Let’s see if CLC’s twin emphases on classical education and being Christ-centered can help overwhelmed families with the busy pace of life.

Help From History

One of the blessings of a classical education is that our students glean the wisdom of the ancients. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel with “new math” or the latest teaching style. We see what has served us well in history, and we wisely borrow those timeless truths and apply them in meaningful ways to today.

To respond to the scarcity of time, wise families will want to consider the ancient Stoic practice of habitus (habits) and rhythm. The founders of classical education knew how life could easily spiral out of control, and so they fought back by practicing daily habits and rhythms. Epictetus (55 – 135 AD) once said, “every habit and capability is confirmed and grows in its corresponding actions, walking to running, and running to sprinting . . . therefore, if you want to do something, make a habit of it.”[2] Habits make up our routines of days, weeks, months, and years. The better the routine, the more joy we will see.

Many of us feel pressure from deadlines: the kids need to be to school on time; and piano practice on this day; and don’t forget the after-school activities. But there is wisdom in not being pulled away by the tyranny of the urgent, and instead settling into routines – rhythms of life – to guide us. Seneca (4 BC – 65 AD) famously said, “If a person doesn’t know to which port they sail, no wind is favorable.”(3) Good habits help to ground our busy schedules to get us to the best destination. Later, Seneca commented, “We’re tight-fisted with property and money, yet think too little of wasting time, the one thing about which we should all be the toughest misers.” Time is one of our most valuable commodities. Understand habits as wise investments in your own time!

You can probably already identify several routines in your life: work schedules, after-school pick up, and Sunday worship. Carefully observe your calendar and your time. What habits or rhythms are already happening in your schedule? Are they necessary? Are there rhythms and habits you would like to include? If so, what steps would need to be taken to realize these new patterns of time in your life? A classical understanding of our schedules can help us take control of our time in a hectic and fast-paced culture.[4]

Seeing Clearly

Getting into a healthy rhythm is important, but if we don’t see life’s events through the proper perspective, we will be prone to discouragement, or being ungrateful. Great thinkers from the past encourage us to see things more clearly.

Marcus Aurelius (121 – 181 AD) wrote in his Meditations that “Man is not disturbed by events, but by the view he takes of events.”[5] In other words, it is not so much what happens to us, but how we see and respond to these events.

Suppose you have a big work presentation, but that morning your child wakes up sick, you forget your phone, the car is running on fumes, and your boss is in a foul mood. It would be easy to get discouraged or feel hopeless about what you need to get done that day.

But a classical view encourages us to look at it differently. Many things – a sick child, a grumpy boss – are outside our control. Instead of worrying or agonizing over these, we realize we have the responsibility to maintain our composure, and not let these outside, external factors overwhelm us. Rather, we have a responsibility to what the classics called the summum bonum, “the highest good.” In the face of everything we cannot control, we should strive for the highest good we can do in the situation facing us. Marcus wrote, “Just that you do the right thing. The rest is of no great matter.”

As for the things we can control – an empty gas tank, or losing your phone – we should practice premeditatio malorum, or “planning ahead for what could go wrong.” Many of the things that go wrong in life are simply due to negligence, or not planning for the worst. The Stoics were realists, and expected things might not go the way we always hope. Once we planed for the worst, and sought the highest good, then we could possess amor fati, “a love of what will come next.” We might not be able to control the future, but we can see the events in our lives in a clear light.

Do you see the year ahead clearly? What are your hopes for your children at CLC? Is it merely to get through the next year, or to thrive and flourish? Will you allow external factors dictate your joy for the year ahead, or have you looked hard at what is in your control, what is outside of it, and how you can joyfully move forward in it all? Continue reading

Prayers For the New Year

NewYearPrayerOf course, Christians are commanded to “pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17), and that grace should be pursued all the more at the start of a new year. May the following prayers encourage you for the year ahead!

“O LORD,
Length of days does not profit me except the days are passed
in thy presence, in thy service, to thy glory.
Give me a grace that precedes, follows, guides, sustains,
sanctifies, aids every hour,
that I may not be one moment apart from thee,
but may rely on thy Spirit
to supply every thought,
speak in every word,
direct every step,
prosper every work,
build up every mote of faith,
and give me a desire
to show forth thy praise,
testify thy love,
advance thy kingdom.
I launch my bark on the unknown waters of this year,
with thee, O Father, as my harbor,
thee, O Son, at my helm,
thee, O Holy Spirit, filling my sails.
Guide me to heaven with my loins girt,
my lamp burning,
my ear open to thy calls,
my heart full of love,
my soul free.
Give me thy grace to sanctify me,
thy comforts to cheer,
thy wisdom to teach,
thy right hand to guide,
thy counsel to instruct,
thy law to judge,
thy presence to stabilize.
May thy fear be my awe,
thy triumphs my joy.

—Arthur Bennett, editor. The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions. Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth Trust, 1999 (first published in 1975), p. 112. ISBN 0-85151-228-3.

“Most Merciful Lord, the Ancient of Days,
Moved by your grace, we devote ourselves to you at the beginning of this year desiring to employ it better than we have done in the years that are past. And since this day also warns us that our years pass away like a flood, like a dream, give us grace that we may seriously number our days, that we may have a heart of wisdom, that we may discern the vanity of this life, and that we may aspire to that better life, when days and months and years shall be counted no more, forever. While we continue in the flesh, may we more and more live, not according to its desires, but according to your will. And grant, O God, that when our years shall come to an end, and the day of our death arrives, we may depart in the peace that passes all understanding and in the sure hope of life everlasting. Favorably hear us through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Personal prayer from Psalm 90 (source)
Continue reading

Theology as Passion

TheoPassion“Theology carries with it a unique mode of existence. Barth and his followers referred to this as a theologische Existenz (theological mode of existence).

This theological mode of existence involves more than acquiring a substantial amount of knowledge, more than doing theology as creatively as possible. It concerns the cultivation of a certain underlying passion.

This passion is, first, a passion for God and His kingdom. As the word indicates, a true theologian speaks about God. But his or her passion also concerns the people of God and the world of God. This dimension will perhaps not radiate from every page the theologian writes. It is a cultivated passion; that is, it lies in the background and will typically surface in a restrained manner.”

C van der Kooi & G. van den Brink Christian Dogmatics: An Introduction p. 29-30

Holiness In Christ

beeke_livingbygodspromisesA beautiful section from Living By God’s Promises:

That obedience is commanded is clear… On what basis does the apostle give such a command [from Romans 6:12 – 13, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments of unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.”]?

Surely the apostle does not believe man is able in himself to obey, for he has already given over all men to sin (Rom. 3:9 – 20) and would not contradict that truth here. Neither does he believe that we are able in ourselves to obey, for the very point of Romans 6:1 – 11 is that just as our union with Christ’s death has freed us from sin’s dominion, so our union with Christ’s resurrection has freed us to obey. Therefore, our holiness cannot even be considered outside of Christ, in whom we enjoy it. Holiness, or obedience to God’s imperatives, is not something we enjoy because of Christ, but rather something we enjoy in and from Christ (Rom 6:11 – 12). Our acceptance before God is therefore *in* Him (Eph 1:6) and not *because of* Him. The latter viewpoint suggests that Christ brings us to a place of holiness by which we can stand before God on our own, while the former states that Christ, by redemption, so unites us to Himself as the beloved of God that we stand before God in Him… We obey the imperatives of the gospel because we enjoy the indicatives of the gospel.
p. 130

One small quibble. Why distinguish between in Christ, as if it were opposed to because of Christ? Surely, Beeke et al do not mean to suggest that it is “because of” something else other than Christ. Often, “because of” can suggest the logical or causal ground, and I highly doubt Beeke thinks there can be any other ground than Christ our Lord. Further, I do not think “because of” can mean “[I] can stand before God on [my] own.” I’m perfectly happy with Beeke’s explanation (“The latter viewpoint…”), but I would have never thought to contrast in with because of.

Despite that quibble, there is so much beautiful, life-giving, truth summed up in just a few short verses! What I first learned in Owen, I see with such precise and clear wording here. Far too many Christians today have “found Jesus for forgiveness,” but then labor in their own power & person for obedience. They have not connected Gospel indicatives to the imperatives. I know what joy it has brought to my life, and the transformation He has wrought, to see myself laboring for the Lord in a power that is not my own, but His grace within (I Corinthians 15:10)! And this has come in union – abiding in, dwelling with, meditating on – with the risen Christ.

Bethlehem Pastor’s Conference and App Live

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bcs_pascon19_1920x750-2I just got notice that the #BCSPasCon app is now available to as a FREE download from both Google Play and the App Store. Or, simply search “2019 Bethlehem Conference” and it should come up.

From the app you can:
Connect with other attendees • Post on the activity stream • Read speaker bios • Browse the complete schedule • Read about your favorite exhibitors • Track #BCSPasCon on Twitter • And much more!

The conference is Jan 28 – 30. If you’re going, I’d love to connect with you!

Prepared For A Life That Fits Together: Integration in Classical Christian Education

ClassicalIntegrated

Clear Lake Classical recently ran the fall edition of their newsletter, and I was honored they would accept an excerpt from one of my articles on classical education. Want to see the full newsletter?! Sign up here!

Another painful conversation. Another hurting set of parents.

The mother of a bright 6th grader looked at me, mournfully. “We just want school to make sense for where their lives are going,” she said. “If they come on [the family farm],” her husband added, “I don’t want [my child] to have spent years in school learning something different than who we are every day in our home.”

Education should “make sense.” Learning ought to help our kids “be who we are every day.” I’ve heard these concerns voiced, emailed, and prayed for many, many times.

Yet for many families, there is a growing concern that education has been disconnected from what we want for the next generation. Do the hours spent in various classes actually prepare young minds for the skills they will need? Do the values they pick up – on the playground, in the lunch line, or on the bus –  shape them into the godly adults we pray they will become? Growing up in Minnesota, and now living in Iowa, it is easy to see that Midwest families value education that integrates knowledge and values that will be practical for our children’s future. Continue reading