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.
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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

Two Great Quotes

We had a funeral service today for a dear member, and two important quotes that were used in the service are worth remembering.

Martin Luther
In Letter no. 1610 to Justus Jonas the Elder (29 June[?] 1530, WA Briefe V, p. 409, ll. 21-23), Luther reminds us of our ability to hold our lives together, in comparison to trusting the Lord with our lives. The well-known quote (as found in the History of the Reformation) goes as follows: “I have had many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have been able to place in God’s hands I still possess.” It is a beautiful reminder of our hands versus the Lord’s. Especially in conjunction with John 10:28 – 29 (“no one can snatch them out of my hand… my Father’s hand”), the consolation of having our most precious gifts – and lives – in God’s hands is a precious truth.

Steve Pershino of Liber Locorum Communium has the original mix of Latin and German: “Ich hab ihr viel in manu mea gehabt, und all verloren, nicht eine behalten.  Quas vero extra manus meas in illum reiicere hactenus potui, adhuc habeo salvas et integras.” Here is the PDF Werke at archive.org.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
The amazing survivor of the horrors of Russian communism, Solzhenitsyn is well known for his quote regarding the line between good and evil passing through every heart. I had assumed the quote was from his stirring Harvard commencement address, but it is actually from his magnum opus that he wrote in 19, The Gulag Archipelago. Here is the quote in context:

It was granted me to carry away from my prison years on my bent back, which nearly broke beneath its load, this essential experience: how a human being becomes evil and how good. In the intoxication of youthful successes I had felt myself to be infallible, and I was therefore cruel. In the surfeit of power I was a murderer, and an oppressor. In my most evil moments I was convinced that I was doing good, and I was well supplied with systematic arguments. And it was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains … an unuprooted small corner of evil…

Since then I have come to understand the truth of all the religions of the world: They struggle with the evil inside a human being (inside every human being). It is impossible to expel evil from the world in its entirety, but it is possible to constrict it within each person.

I like the insight that Annie Homquist drew from this quote:

What strikes me most about these words is that Solzhenitsyn had every right to be a “victim.” In fact, his regular persecution gave him a much bigger claim to victimhood than the “victims” of modern culture have.

Yet Solzhenitsyn refused to claim that victimhood. He refused to blame race, or class, or gender, or political party for the evils in the world that were afflicting him. Instead, he took time to examine his own heart and recognized that he was just as much at fault for the evil problems in the world as were his persecutors.

I wonder how much the noise and confusion in today’s world would be solved if we each did the same as Solzhenitsyn. Instead of pinning the problems and chaos in our world on those of the opposing political party, or those who don’t agree with our opinions on race or gender, and then painting ourselves as the victim, what if we first recognize the part we have played in making the world and ourselves what they are?

Forgotten Lesson of Good and Evil” Fee

So much of our world – and many within the Church – are confused about being a victim, and Solzhenitsyn gives an account that gives moral strength and clarity in confusing times.

The Problem of VP Pence

Mike Pence’s presence on the Trump ticket has always been confounding to me. How someone who refers to his own wife as “Mother” can stand by the Stormy-Daniels-hush-money episodes is bewildering to me. How a Manhattan narcissist could select an Indiana governor, beleaguered by passing RFRA legislation, befuddles me.

I was especially thrown for a loop when, impeachment looming, so many conservative (and especially Evangelical) supporters preferred to see Trump come through unscathed in Jan 2020, instead of seeing impeachment as a gift that removed all the troublesome aspects of the Republican ticket (namely, POTUS himself) and put Pence in the Oval Office. This would give you all the conservative policy and judges, without the narcissism and bad tweets. But almost unanimously, the circles I traveled in preferred a dumpster fire to a sputtering candle.

Now that Pence has refused to monkey with the electoral ballots, a portion of Trump’s supporters show their true feelings for the VP.

video of Trump riot chanting “hang Mike Pence” inside the US Capitol

Now a thoughtful critic might say, “If this administration has taught us anything, words are cheap. Don’t take the mindless chanting of the mob as worth very much.” To which, I agree, and yet they brought visuals:

Do I really believe they would have lynched or executed the VP? No, because I doubt their resilience, but not because I believe in their sanity or moral character.

It is clear that on Jan 6th, 2021, VP Pence did the right thing in certifying the electoral ballots and calling for the National Guard. We will undoubtedly learn more good that he has done to be a preserving and sanctifying presence in the White House administration.

But this episode reveals what those who voted for him (admittedly, a perhaps small minority) really thought of him. His presence in this administration will continue to be a closely scrutinized and problematic issue for the movements of conservativism and Evangelicalism for decades to come. As Michael Horton recently wrote in “The Cult of Christian Trumpism,” anyone who fails to “touch not the Lord’s anointed” will fall into the wrath of the cult. Pence’s behavior, and subsequent treatment, might be the most recent proof of this truth.

London’s Theology of the Wild

I was reading out loud to my son on Thanksgiving holiday. We were snuggled into sleeping bags and blankets by the fire. Two sentences into his 1915 legend White Fang, Jack London writes:

A vast silence reigned over the land.  The land itself was a desolation, lifeless, without movement, so lone and cold that the spirit of it was not even that of sadness.  There was a hint in it of laughter, but of a laughter more terrible than any sadness—a laughter that was mirthless as the smile of the sphinx, a laughter cold as the frost and partaking of the grimness of infallibility.  It was the masterful and incommunicable wisdom of eternity laughing at the futility of life and the effort of life.  It was the Wild, the savage, frozen-hearted Northland Wild…

On the sled, in the box, lay a third man whose toil was over,—a man whom the Wild had conquered and beaten down until he would never move nor struggle again.  It is not the way of the Wild to like movement.  Life is an offence to it, for life is movement; and the Wild aims always to destroy movement.  It freezes the water to prevent it running to the sea; it drives the sap out of the trees till they are frozen to their mighty hearts; and most ferociously and terribly of all does the Wild harry and crush into submission man—man who is the most restless of life, ever in revolt against the dictum that all movement must in the end come to the cessation of movement…

On every side was the silence, pressing upon them with a tangible presence.  It affected their minds as the many atmospheres of deep water affect the body of the diver.  It crushed them with the weight of unending vastness and unalterable decree.  It crushed them into the remotest recesses of their own minds, pressing out of them, like juices from the grape, all the false ardours and exaltations and undue self-values of the human soul, until they perceived themselves finite and small, specks and motes, moving with weak cunning and little wisdom amidst the play and inter-play of the great blind elements and forces.

Striking in its language, London employs the words of a systematic theology to describe the Incomprehensible Other of the frozen Wild: “silence,” “incommunicable wisdom of eternity,” “crushed weight,” and vast stillness. London writes of the Yukon and the Klondike as the scholastics wrote of the mysterium tremendum. The majestic immanence of the Wild reveals a horrifying transcendence.

At the end of chapter three, at a key narrative turn that could spell disaster for the protagonist before even coming into existence, London introduces a holy tautology: “But the Wild is the Wild…” Evoking the tetragrammaton of the Hebrew scriptures (“I Am is that I Am”), White Fang introduces readers to that which was, which is, and which is to come. The Wild is. The Wild is the Wild.

London is laying out his theology. The functional atheism of the Gold Rush cannot restrain the divine attributes of the frozen Wild. London’s characters are sinners in the hands of an angry Wilderness, at the mercy of its harshest elements. Where Captain Ahab faced an omnisciently cunning white whale, or Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley faced the Wholly Other of alien space, in London’s cosmos John Thornton (Call of the Wild), Weedon Scott (White Fang), and the chechaquo (“To Build A Fire”) face the most dangerous and omnipotent antagonist in the Wild. The divine presence is everywhere communicated in nature, and London writes of the eternal stillness of the frozen Wild for this purpose.

Salvation Among the Wolves
Riding the line of this boundary between divine nature and mortal tragedy are the protagonists, Buck (in Call of the Wild) and the eponymous White Fang. Early on, we discover that White Fang is actually a wolfdog, sired by a wolf father and wolfdog mother. This hypostatic union of feral wolf and domesticated dog is the main plot arc for White Fang, as the union of these two natures war for supremacy in the protagonist. Buck, who does not incarnate the two natures, tells the story of when a dog is predestined to remember its instinctual life in a wolf’s world.

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2020 In Review

You’ve probably never heard this, but this past year was unprecedented
Anyway, instead of the pleasantries and pontificating, let’s get on to what was interesting this past year.

Music
My two favorite albums this year were Wild, Free by Acceptance and What’s New, Tomboy? by Damien Jurado. Both albums show significant departure of style from previous works. I miss the power pop of Acceptance, and some of Jurado’s other albums had more singles that I loved. Nevertheless, I found myself listening to these over and over. There are a number of stand out tracks on each album. For Acceptance, “Cold Air” is an obvious single, but “Wildfires” is where its at for my money.

On the Jurado album, “Arthur Aware” is my favorite offering:

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Merry Christmas in 2020!

From the Bidding prayer, the opening prayer in the liturgy of the Lessons & Carols:

Beloved in Christ, be it this Christmas Day our care and delight, to prepare ourselves to hear again the message of the angels, to find our life in the Lord of the Manger, let us go with one heart, with one mind, to the Maker of Heaven and Earth, and His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, truly Man and truly God, and His holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life – one God in three persons, in a holy Christmas prayer, as the Lord bids you to come when He promised, “everyone who calls upon the Name of the Lord shall never be put to shame, and shall be saved.”

And I still love the words of Augustine at this time:

Man’s maker was made man,
that He, Ruler of the stars, might nurse at His mother’s breast;
that the Bread might hunger,
the Fountain thirst,
the Light sleep,
the Way be tired on its journey;
that the Truth might be accused of false witness,
the Teacher be beaten with whips,
the Foundation be suspended on wood;
that Strength might grow weak;
that the Healer might be wounded;
that Life might die.

– Augustine of Hippo (Sermons 191.1)

Finally, I hope the words of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” encourage you during your holy reflections:

And in despair I bowed my head
There is no peace on earth I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men

Then rang the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead, nor does he sleep
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men 

Merry Christmas from our family to yours!

Violence, Social Tribalism, and Redemption in O’Connor’s “Revelation”

Aside

You should take a few minutes this weekend and read one of the last stories Flannery O’Connor wrote, “Revelation.” You can download the PDF here, or read it in Everything That Rises Must Converge or her Collected Works. It isn’t a long read, but it is provocative.

Main character Ruby Turbin is both someone who is brusque, and is treated brusquely. The oft-quoted line from O’Connor is very true here: “All my stories are about the action of grace on a character who is not very willing to support it, but most people think of these stories as hard, hopeless and brutal.” As you read, consider a theme of pity: Ruby pities Mary Grace, but her final experience is an act of pity/mercy for her.

The castes of Ruby’s world are very offensive to our modern, PC-culture. But I find that reading “Revelation” is revelatory in a very personal way. Tolle lege!

Tempering A Serrated Edge: Piper Responds to Wilson

Back in 2000 (twenty years ago!!), both John Piper and Doug Wilson were panelists at a Ligonier conference. Wilson made some remarks on rhetoric, satire, and taking the fight to the pagans. Strikingly – and from what I can tell, completely out of keeping with the rest of the kid-glove discussion – Piper challenges this at the 24:02 mark, “to balance it.”

Wilson published his book A Serrated Edge: A Brief Defense of Biblical Satire and Trinitarian Skylarking in 2003, just shortly after this. In the subsequent seventeen years, I would argue that this satire has not had the triumphant effect that may have been desired.

A few remarks in light of the video:

Distinctions
Piper notes some important distinctions we must bear in mind. The first difference is between Christ as holy (in his divine nature & unfallen human nature) and my sinful inclinations (post-lapse humanity). Wilson had earlier noted how Jesus could skewer self-righteous Pharisees (many old Credenda readers or current Blog & Mablog subscribers will think of his “righteous horse laugh”). Piper’s point is valid, since Jesus possesses both the foresight and insight to know when such barbed rhetoric will be useful. It is precisely at this point where our sinful nature obscures us, making us liable to hurt more than help.

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“Still will we not fear, The Lord of Hosts is ever near”

Aside

Martin Luther penned the following poem, inspired by Psalm 46. The hymnologist will note that Luther’s celebrated hymn, “Ein’ Feste Burg ist Unser Gott” / “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” is also based the sacred text. Originally published in The German Psalmody.

God is our refuge in distress,
Our shield of hope through every care,
Our Shepherd watching us to bless,
And therefore will we not despair;
Although the mountains shake,
And hills their place forsake,
And billows o’er them break
Yet still will we not fear,
For Thou, O God, art ever near.

God is our hope and strength in woe;
Through earth He maketh wars to cease;
His power breaketh spear and bow;
His mercy sendeth endless peace.
Then though the earth remove,
And storms rage high above,
And seas tempestuous prove,
Yet still will we not fear,
The Lord of Hosts is ever near.

Encouragement During Failure

Quote

John Calvin’s magisterial Institutes of the Christian Religion has a marvelously helpful section that is often republished as the Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life. Here’s a section that was incredibly useful to me a few mornings ago when I read it.

3. Finally, if we do not succeed according to our wishes and hopes, we shall, however, be kept from impatience, and from detesting our condition, whatever it may be; because we shall understand that this would be rebellion against God at whose pleasure riches and poverty, honor and contempt are distributed.

In conclusion, he who retains God’s blessing in the way we have described, will not passionately pursue the things which man in general covets, and will not use base methods from which he expects no advantage.

Moreover, a true Christian will not ascribe any prosperity to his own diligence, industry, or good fortune, but he will acknowledge that God is the author of it.

If he makes but small progress, or even suffers setbacks while others are making headway, he will nevertheless bear his poverty with more calmness and moderation than any worldly man would feel when his success is average and contrary to his expectations.

4. A true Christian possesses a consolation which affords him more sweet satisfaction than the greatest wealth, or power, because he believes that his affairs are so regulated by the Lord as to promote his salvation.

This was in the mind of David who followed God and surrendered himself to his rule, and who declared, “I am as a child weaned of his mother; neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me.” Psalm 131:1 and 2.

source

Coronavirus Civil Disobedience

civildisobedienceOver at 9Marks, there is a helpful discussion on whether/if a church could ever civilly disobey the various quarantine/shelter-in-place orders.

There are several helpful insights in the conversation. Jamieson gives a rough ‘n’ ready nugget when he points out that Acts 5:29 (“we must obey God rather than man”) is a helpful prooftext and “warranted when Government commands what God forbids, or forbids what God commands.” Listen (even better, subscribe!) to the whole conversation.

Further, host Jonathan Leeman asks in 9Marks Journal, “When Should Churches Reject Governmental Guidelines on Gathering and Engage in Civil Disobedience?” Helpfully, Leeman gives an answer to the “when” aspect. Two criteria are proposed: the “reasonableness” of the government’s rationale, and the target of the government’s actions (“the government cannot single out religious groups”). How well do those criteria hold up? Continue reading