I got pointed to a “Read Calvin’s Institutes in a Year” schedule about 3 months ago and it is proving itself very refreshing. Here’s a great quote I ran across this morning:
For each man’s mind is like a labyrinth, so that it is no wonder that individual nations were drawn aside into various falsehoods; and not only this–but individual men, almost, had their own gods. For as rashness and superficiality are joined to ignorance and darkness, scarcely a single person has ever been found who did not fashion for himself an idol or specter in place of God.
I don’t know how he does it. His seemingly casual analogies and metaphors just cause a page to explode, driving home the import of whatever he’s talking about.
To shrink back from all that can be called Nature into negative spirituality is as if we ran away from horses instead of learning to ride. There is in our present pilgrim condition plenty of room (more room than most of us like) for abstinence and renunciation and mortifying our natural desires. But behind all asceticism the thought should be, ‘Who will trust us with the true wealth if we cannot be trusted even with the wealth that perishes?’ Who will trust me with a spiritual body if I cannot control even an earthly body? These small and perishable bodies we now have were given to us as ponies are given to schoolboys. We must learn to manage: not that we may some day be free of horses altogether but that some day we may ride bare-back, confident and rejoicing, those greater mounts, those winged, shining and world- shaking horses which perhaps even now expect us with impatience, pawing and snorting in the King’s stables. Not that the gallop would be of any value unless it were a gallop with the King; but how else— since He has retained His own charger—should we accompany Him?” – from Miracles
Yesterday, I had the privilege of baptizing another covenant child, and as I have done on many occasion, gave the child’s father an opportunity to pray for his son after the waters of baptism and the Triune name were applied. The prayer that I post below is the prayer that father prayed (with names removed). Even now his prayer for his son moves me to tears.
Father, I thank you for the opportunity to witness, firsthand, your kingdom moving forward. For we believe, in faith, that you have marked [our son] as one of your people, a part of your Church. I know we have yet to see the faith in his life, but we are trusting in you to take his heart of stone and give him a heart of flesh. I pray that his faith would not be one born out of crisis, but that his trust in you for salvation would be like the air that he breathes… that long before he can express it, your saving grace would work in his life. We look forward to the day he can put into words the great work you have done in him.
Father, I thank you that children are truly one of life’s greatest blessings, not life-accessories for selfish adults, not burdens to be endured by exhausted parents, but blessings in the purest sense. For they are blessings that can, in turn, be a blessing to a dark and dying world. So, to that end, I pray for [our son’s] physical health, that you would keep sickness and injury from him so that he may care for the sick and the dying. I pray for his strength, that you would make his body continue to grow strong so that he may be a defender of the weak and the abused. I pray that you would continue to fill his life with those who love and care for him, so that he may be an advocate for the unloved and the forgotten.
Lord, your word tells us that to whom much is given, much is required, and, as parents, we have been so richly blessed. So, I ask that you enable us to be the mother and father that your word calls us to be – that we would not neglect to teach our children your word, to discipline them according to your law, and to love them as you have loved us. Also, as I have just asked you to bless [our son] with great blessings, so I trust that you will use him in mighty way to advance your kingdom – that everywhere he goes the darkness would run and hide for fear of your bright light that shines through him.
We are trusting in you to do all these things. I pray them all in Jesus’ name. Amen.
One of the biggest hurdles I’ve had to clear while on sabbatical is finding motivation and discipline for my personal prayer life. That might seem like a shock to some. “What?! You’re a pastor. You guys are supposed to pray as easy as breathing.” But I assure you that the same sinfully resistant heart resides in my chest as it does in everyone else’s. Prayer is a battle and one that I have found is hard to jump start outside the context of my regular pastoral duties. Well, this morning I picked up my copy of Valley of Vision to give me words to pray since I seemed to have none. And what a blessing it proved to be. If you are unfamiliar with this book, it is a collection of Puritan prayers that have been edited and organized for easier reading. I have produced one below (lightly edited) that was particularly helpful to me this morning, simply titled “Resurrection”:
O God of my Exodus,
Great was the joy of Israel’s sons,
when Egypt died upon the shore,
Far greater the joy
when the Redeemer’s foe lay crushed
in the dust.
Jesus strides forth as the victor,
conqueror of death, hell, and all opposing might;
He bursts the bands of death,
tramples the powers of darkness down,
and lives for ever.
He, my gracious surety,
apprehended for payment of my debt,
comes forth from the prison house of the grave free,
and triumphant over sin, Satan, and death.
Show me herein the proof that his vicarious offering is accepted,
that the claims of justice are satisfied,
that the devil’s sceptre is shivered,
that his wrongful throne is levelled.
Give me the assurance that in Christ I died,
in him I rose,
in his life I live, in his victory I triumph,
in his ascension I shall be glorified.
you who were lifted up upon a cross
are ascended to highest heaven.
You, who as Man of sorrows
was crowned with thorns,
are now as Lord of life wreathed in glory.
Once, no shame more deep than yours,
no agony more bitter,
no death more cruel.
Now, no exaltation more high,
no life more glorious,
no advocate more effective.
You are in the triumph car leading captive
your enemies behind you.
What more could be done than you have done!
Your death is my life,
your resurrection my peace,
your ascension my hope,
your prayers my comfort.
Today, as the family stays home from church and missing the fellowship of the saints, I am reflecting on our experience last Sunday. Last Sunday was the first Sunday of my sabbatical where I have no ministry responsibilities, and my family and I chose to worship at North Lexington Baptist Church here in town. We arrived and found what could probably be found in so many small town Christian churches, a warm and inviting congregation trying to leverage their gifts and talents with limited means in order to enact and enhance the worship of the Triune God. There was nothing splashy yet nothing seemed half-hearted either. There was the older gentleman who, once finding out where our home church was, thanked me with what appeared to be deep earnestness for our church’s monetary gift to NLBC in support of their program that gives food away to the less fortunate of our community every Tuesday. Then there was the lady who is my waitress every Friday morning when I meet a few guys for breakfast. She knows we are a group of Christian men (playfully calls us all a “bunch of heathen”), and so we both give and receive prayer requests with her. Seeing her worship in her home church environment with that same twinkle in her eye was a real gift because it helped remind me that she’s the same woman on Friday mornings as she is on Sunday mornings. No pretense. No facades. Just another Christian woman presenting her body as a living sacrifice and seeking the smile of the Father in Christ.
And then the pastor of NLBC declared the Word of God from 1 Corinthians 1 to the congregation. It was during his preaching that my tears kept trying to get away from me. Again, there was no great showmanship. There were no new and deeper insights into the preached passage. But here was a man, called by Christ through His Church, to break the bread of life each week so that the flock could be fed. And feed us he did. There, in the middle of our worship, Christ was meeting His saints by the power of His Spirit through the Word. We were encouraged, warned, reminded, rebuked, promised… and I had nothing to do with any of this. The closest thing to control I had was the steering wheel in our mini-van on the way to the church. This was pure receiving. Pure gift.
This event has exploded in my mind this past week multiple times, not because of any outwardly extraordinary elements we found there but because the fact that Holy Spirit attends the ordinary means of grace is extraordinary indeed. In one sense, people are quite ordinary. But people filled with the Holy Spirit who are drawn together in fellowship across church traditions through participation in worship become extraordinary. In one sense, human speech is ordinary. But human speech uttered in a sermon grounded in the inspired Word, delivered to repentant people is extraordinary. But such is the pattern of a God who raises the dead and who invites broken vessels to be His extraordinary power clothed in the ordinary.
(awesome photo taken by Josiah Sink and shamelessly poached from his FB page)
In remembrance of Holy Week, I am posting the following, which is taken from John Piper’s 50 Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die (which can be downloaded for free here).
To Secure Our Resurrection from the Dead
“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” Romans 6:5
“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” Romans 8:11
“If we have died with him, we will also live with him.” 2 Timothy 2:11
The keys of death were hung on the inside of Christ’s tomb. From the outside, Christ could do many wonderful works, including raising a twelve-year-old girl and two men from the dead—only to die again (Mark 5:41-42; Luke 7:14-15; John 11:43-44). If any were to be raised from the dead, never to die again, Christ would have to die for them, enter the tomb, take the keys, and unlock the door of death from the inside.
This morning churches all across our nation rightly recognized the value of those men and women who have laid down their lives so that we might live ours freely. And without taking anything away from the right-ness of our remembrance, something always eats at me each memorial day weekend when in church. I think between last year and this year I have finally found how to scratch my itch. The thing that I think we forget, especially as Protestants, is that there are a whole host of people for whom we owe not simply our temporal freedom in this United States but our eternal freedom as well. Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna. Blandina of Lyons. Bishop Valentine of Terni. Saint Basil of Ancyra. Bishop Proterius of Alexandria. Saint Boniface of Germany. Jan Hus. Hugh Latimer. These are just a small handful of the famous ones. This doesn’t include the countless numbers of others whose deaths aren’t inscribed on any memorial wall nor made it into Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. Think about all the Russian Orthodox priests killed by Stalin, those slaughtered in Uganda under the rule of Idi Amin, and the saints being martyred in North Korea today. Yet, as the saying goes, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. The churches that remembered those who died in the service of defending American freedoms find their very existence can be laid at the feet of those who were martyred for the sake of Christ… those who took up their cross and, in imitation of their Lord, laid down their lives. So this memorial day, let’s not take anything away from our remembrance of our American brothers and sisters who have purchased our freedoms with their blood. But let us also remember those Christians who laid down their lives so that the eternal freedom purchased by Jesus Christ might be brought to every tribe and tongue and nation.