Saturday, December 31, 2011

When God became man: Day 31

The progress of His coming: A journey home
Then after being warned by God in a dream, he left for the regions of Galilee, and came and lived in a city called Nazareth. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets: “He shall be called a Nazarene” (Matthew 2:22b-23).
When the murderous Herod died, God again directed Joseph through a dream – not once, but twice, according to Matthew 2:19-23. He led him to take Jesus and Mary out of Egypt. After they arrived in Israel, God warned Joseph, who consequently took his family to Galilee. They settled back in Nazareth, again fulfilling prophecy: The Messiah “shall be called a Nazarene.” Joseph, Mary and Jesus finally were settled in a home they would call their own after a tumultuous time in their lives. God the Son was still a small Child, but His Father had provided for Him at every turn. Now, He was prepared to grow as a boy into a man. And as a man, He would demonstrate how He was both a sinless man and God Himself – sent to be the Savior of the world.

As the apostle wrote in John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Song: “Tell Me the Story of Jesus”

Friday, December 30, 2011

Preparing for corporate worship January 1

When we gather for corporate worship on the first day of the year 2012, may we hold as a priority in our hearts and minds what the apostle Paul says is “of first importance.” At the start of I Corinthians 15, Paul points to the gospel that he had received and preached to the church at Corinth. He then summarizes in verses 2 and 3 the heart of the gospel: “[T]hat Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” The gospel is about the person and work of Jesus. It is “of first importance.” Without the gospel, there is no true worship of God; there is no relationship with God; there is no access to God; there is no answered prayer; there is no forgiveness of sin; there is no righteousness credited to our account; there is no church. May we gather this Sunday reminding one another of the indispensability of the gospel, rejoicing in its effects and exalting its hero: Jesus our Savior, Mediator, Redeemer, Lord and Life.

When God became man: Day 30

The progress of His coming: The death of many sons
Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi (Matthew 2:16).
Herod's viciousness was unleashed when he realized the magi were not returning to tell him where they had found the King of the Jews. As a result, many infant boys died and many parents grieved. He ordered the slaying of every male child two years old and younger living in the vicinity of Bethlehem. The maximum age for his order was based on when the magi had reported to Herod they had seen the star in their homeland. Again, Matthew saw in the Old Testament a prophecy of Herod's genocidal action. Jeremiah had written of this "weeping and great mourning" in Ramah (Jeremiah 31:15). While many sons died in this effort to destroy the King of the Jews, God the Father preserved the life of His Son so that at the right time He would "give his life a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28).

Song: "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen"

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Wartime lifestyle (Part 3)

In his book Don’t Waste Your Life, John Piper says in part about his use of “wartime lifestyle:”
It is more helpful to think of a wartime lifestyle than a merely simple lifestyle. Simplicity may have a romantic ring and a certain aesthetic appeal that is foreign to the dirty business of mercy in the dangerous places of the world. Simplicity may also overlook the fact that, in wartime, major expenses for complex weapons and troop training are needed. These may not look simple, and may be very expensive, but the whole country sacrifices to make them happen. Simplicity may be inwardly directed and may benefit no one else. A wartime lifestyle implies that there is a great and worthy cause for which to spend and be spent (2 Corinthians 12:15).

When God became man: Day 29

The progress of His coming: Protection for a threatened King
Now when they had gone, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him” (Matthew 2:13).
God warned the magi in a dream not to return to Jerusalem to aid Herod in his conspiracy against the Messiah. He warned Joseph through an angel’s message in a dream to take Jesus and Mary immediately to Egypt in order to escape jealous Herod’s destructive intent. God was protecting His Son, but He was giving Joseph the earthly responsibility for guarding the life of this little One born to his wife. Again, Joseph acted obediently without delay, as he had done when an angel told him in a dream to take Mary as his wife. Joseph remained obedient, waiting until Herod was dead before leaving this foreign land. In this, Matthew saw another fulfillment of prophecy, apparently citing Hosea 11:1, where it says God called His Son out of Egypt. God’s promises continued to be carried out in the details of His Son’s infancy.

Song: “The First Noel”

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

When God became man: Day 28

The progress of His coming: Gifts for an infant King
When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh (Matthew 2:10-11).
Some undisclosed time after the birth of Jesus, magi from the east appeared in Jerusalem seeking the recently born King of the Jews. There is much left unsaid about the magi in Matthew 2:1-12. There is no mention of how many there were, much less what their names were. They apparently were a priestly caste that had great influence among the Medes, Persians and Babylonians. It is clear their appearance troubled King Herod and all of Jerusalem. At the counsel of the Jewish leaders, which was based on Micah’s prophecy, Herod directed the magi toward Bethlehem. When they began that six-mile journey south, the star they had seen in the east appeared once again to them. In fact, it led them specifically to the house where the Messiah was. No longer was he in a stable. They gave Him gold and frankincense, lavish gifts fit for a king. Myrrh, however, was used at this time for embalming the dead. Even on this marvelous occasion, the sacrificial death of Jesus was foreshadowed.

Song: “We Three Kings

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

When God became man: Day 27

The progress of His coming: A widow's thanksgiving and testimony
At that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem (Luke 2:38).
Simeon was not the only devout Hebrew who recognized the Messiah that day in the temple. Anna, an 84-year-old prophetess who had been a widow for several decades, was present, as she apparently always was, according to Luke 2:36-38. "She never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers" (Luke 2:37). That day her hunger for God was rewarded. When she encountered the infant Jesus, thanksgiving to the Lord poured forth from her lips. She also spoke continually about this Child to "all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem." It is easy to imagine how many times through the years Anna had shared with these other Jewish people who longed for God's promised redemption. They probably talked of their hope and of the faithfulness of the God of Israel. Now, at long last, they had seen his redemption in a tiny babe.

Song: "Go, Tell It on the Mountain"

Monday, December 26, 2011

When God became man: Day 26

The progress of His coming: The end of a long wait
[T]hen he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, "Now Lord, You are releasing your bond-servant to depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel" (Luke 2:28-32).
Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day, and Joseph and Mary later took Him to the temple in Jerusalem to dedicate Him to the Lord, as described in Luke 2:22-35. This would have taken place no sooner than 40 days after His birth, according to the law on purification. Their sacrifice, two turtledoves, indicated how poor Joseph and Mary were. They were required to give no less than two birds. Into the temple and their lives walked a man, Simeon, as another witness to their Son's glorious nature. The Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. When he saw Jesus and held Him, he knew the long wait was over. He held God's "salvation," one for Gentiles and Jews alike. He had a further message, however. He told Mary her Child would bring about both the rise and fall of many in Israel. He also warned there would be sadness ahead, telling her a "sword will pierce even your own soul." Mary would understand this mysterious saying only years later.

Song: "O Come, All Ye Faithful"

Sunday, December 25, 2011

When God became man: Day 25

The progress of His coming: A wondering and a pondering
So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart (Luke 2:16-19).
When the angels departed, the shepherds could do no less, according to Luke 2:15-20. They agreed they must go to Bethlehem and find in a manger the One they and their ancestors had awaited. They excitedly went and told Mary and Joseph what the angel had said about this newborn. While their news produced outright wonder in others, in Mary it resulted in a quiet pondering. The word for “pondering” means “placing together for comparison.” She apparently compared what the shepherds reported with what Gabriel had told her. Like nearly any other mother, she treasured her newly born child and His birth, but no other mother had heard said what was declared about her Son She weighed in her own heart what was said, unaware of all that was in store for her firstborn as Savior of the World and Lord of all. Meanwhile, the shepherds returned to their flocks, according to verse 20, “glorifying and praising God” for what they had witnessed.

Song: “I Wonder as I Wander”

Saturday, December 24, 2011

When God became man: Day 24

The progress of His coming: A proclamation of glory and peace
And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased” (Luke 2:13-14).
As marvelous as it was, the shepherds observed even more than an angel’s announcement heralding the Messiah’s arrival. A multitude of heavenly beings joined the angel and poured forth a message of joyous praise. They gave glory to God and pronounced there would be peace on earth. That peace, however, would come only among those “with whom He is pleased.” Faith in the Savior whom God had now sent was, and is, required to please God, and it is the only pathway to peace. The Holy One had left the glory of Heaven to bring peace to those who were His enemies by their sin nature. How the angels marveled at this.

Song: “Silent Night! Holy Night!”

Friday, December 23, 2011

When God became man: Day 23

The progress of His coming: A majestic announcement
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).
While the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem was marked by no majesty, the announcement of His birth outside the town certainly was. No mere mortal was the first to publicize this boy’s entrance into the world. As Luke 2:8-12 describes, an angel, accompanied by the “glory of the Lord,” appeared to some shepherds in the region. Their fearful reaction was understandable. The angel sought to allay their fears by proclaiming joyous news with global ramifications. These shepherds, possibly caring for sheep destined to be sacrificed in the temple, were the first to learn God had fulfilled His ancient promise. This Promised One had authority as Lord, but He also would be a redeemer for them. He had come to do what the blood of no sheep could do – save His people from their sins.

Song: “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks”

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas in a nutshell

(HT: Ray Ortlund)

When God became man: Day 22

The progress of His coming: A humble entrance
And she gave birth to her firstborn Son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn (Luke 2:7).
What a simple way to describe the most important birth in history. In its simplicity, however, we have a profound insight into what it meant for God to come to earth. God the Son's birth was not remarkable except possibly for its inconvenience. He was wrapped in cloths like other children, but his bed was not a normal one. Instead, he was placed in a food trough, which is what a manger is. The bed was a provision for animals normally, but on this occasion it was a place for their Creator to lay His head. He was born in this place "because there was no room for [Jesus, Mary and Joseph] in the inn." His birth demonstrated what the apostle John wrote of His life: "He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him" (John 1:11). Though God the Son humbled Himself to save the word, from the start, there were places that were too full to make room for Him.

Song: "Away in a Manger"

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Why preach the gospel to yourself (No. 3)

'martino vs martinus' photo (c) 2007, spike - license: is another reason to preach the gospel to yourself given by Melvin Vincent in his book A Gospel Primer for Christians:
The gospel is so foolish (according to my natural wisdom),so scandalous (according to my conscience), and so incredible (according to my timid heart), that it is a daily battle to believe the full scope of it as I should. There is simply no other way to compete with the forebodings of my conscience, the condemnings of my heart, and the lies of the world and the Devil than to overwhelm such things with daily rehearsings of the gospel.
(Scriptures cited: I Cor. 1:21, 23; I John 3:19; II Cor. 4:4.)

When God became man: Day 21

The progress of His coming: A fulfillment of prophecy
Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David (Luke 2:4).
God had declared in the Old Testament book of Micah the Messiah would come from Bethlehem. The time had come for the Sovereign Ruler of all to bring it to pass. As described in Luke 2:1-5, a decree from the Roman empire’s ruler, Caesar Augustus, sent Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem to be counted in the census. This passage makes it clear this couple’s trip was necessitated by Joseph’s heritage. Everyone was required to be counted in the hometown of his family. Because Joseph was a descendant of David, Mary and he traveled to David’s city, Bethlehem. It was about 80 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem, a torturous trip for someone so near the end of her pregnancy. God was acting, however, through not only two obedient people on a difficult journey but a powerful monarch to fulfill His purpose.

Song: “O Little Town of Bethlehem”

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas was messy

The first Christmas was messy. By the first Christmas, I mean the birth of our Savior and the events surrounding His nativity.

If we are not careful, our images of what the birth of Jesus was like can be controlled by a few words from traditional Christmas songs rather than Scripture. It seems to me portions of songs such as "Away in a Manger" and "Silent Night" are misleading. The idea that Jesus did not cry or make noise as a baby is not helpful to our belief in the full humanity of God the Son. Nor would it seem everything was calm in a stable.

The Christmas event was messy for at least the following reasons:

It was messy for a young, betrothed Jewish couple who were chaste in their relationship as they awaited marriage only to learn the bride-to-be was pregnant.

It was messy for that couple to travel all the way from Nazareth to Bethlehem with the woman, almost certainly a teenager, on the verge of going into labor.

It was messy for that maiden to give birth for the first time in a place normally reserved for animals.

It was messy for that child to have a feed trough as His first crib.

It was messy for God the Son to become a man -- a man born of poor parents in the most humble of circumstances, living and dying in the place of sinners, receiving the wrath-filled punishment due us.

It was messy -- but oh so gloriously right.

When God became man: Day 20

The progress of His coming: A priest's prophecy
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the most high; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare His ways; to give to His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God (Luke 1:76-78a).
Zacharias had been unable to speak since the angel Gabriel had told him his wife would give birth to a son in her old age. Luke 1:57-80 explains what happened after Elizabeth gave birth. When Zacharias wrote on a tablet the boy's name would be John, he finally was able to speak again. His immediate response was to praise God. At the filling of the Holy Spirit, verse 67 tells us, Zacharias offered a prophecy about his infant. God had provided salvation, and his son would go before the Most High as his prophet, preparing the way for the One who would shine light upon those in darkness and direct people to peace. In only a few months, this One -- described as the "Sunshine from on high" in verse 78 -- would be revealed.

Song: "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel"

Monday, December 19, 2011

Pray for our North Korean brothers and sisters

Kim Jong Il, the communist dictator of North Korea, died over the weekend. His death, and the succession of his youngest son to power, has prompted guesses on what this will mean for the people who suffer under probably the most repressive and cruel regime in the world. Kim and his father before him ruled over the people of North Korea for a combined 63 years.

North Korea is uniformly considered the most closed country in the world to outsiders. The information that has come out of that country provides a glimpse of horrible suffering by much of the population. While the Kim family, the military and the elites have benefited and/or lived extravagantly, most of the people have endured the consequences of a severe famine for more than 15 years.

In addition, any failure to revere their dictator can result in a person's imprisonment in a labor camp. His family members also can be imprisoned as well. These are wretched places marked by extreme forms of torture and execution. The most severe forms of punishment are meted out to Christians, according to reports from refugees. Of the estimated 200,000 political and religious prisoners in North Korea, from 50,000 to 70,000 are Christians, according to Open Doors, which serves the persecuted church around the world.

Open Doors has ranked North Korea as the world's foremost persecutor of Christians for nine consecutive years. Despite the persecution, the church has grown to about 400,000 Christians in a country of 20 million people, Open Doors estimates.

While the person who is its main Christian contact in North Korea does not expect the persecution to decrease under a new dictator, Open Doors is asking followers of Christ to pray for their brothers and sisters in that country during this time of transition. Certainly, we desire our kinsmen's suffering to be alleviated, but we also can pray for a God-glorifying endurance by the believers and for a wider door of opportunity for the spread of the gospel of Jesus.

When God became man: Day 19

The progress of His coming: Joseph’s obedient response
And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus (Matt. 1:24-25).
The angel’s visit to Joseph in a dream made all the difference. When he woke up, Joseph appears to have been immediately committed to following God’s directive. The confusion, sadness and possibly anger produced by Mary’s pregnancy and filling his heart before he went to sleep that night were replaced by a purposeful resolve marked by obedience, sacrifice and love. Joseph “kept her a virgin until she gave birth.” For him, God’s plan was pre-eminent. For Joseph, Mary’s need came before his desire. Joseph had a great responsibility he was committed to fulfilling. Months later when this Son who was not his own was born, Joseph named Him with the name revealed to him in a dream – Jesus.

Song: “Jesus, Name Above All Names”

Sunday, December 18, 2011

When God became man: Day 18

The progress of His coming: Mary’s song of praise
And Mary said, “My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; for behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed” (Luke 1:46-48).
Upon Elizabeth’s Spirit-filled proclamation and blessing, a song of glorious praise flowed out of Mary. This song, as recorded in Luke 1:46-55, is known as “The Magnificat.” In this passage, both Mary’s humility before God and exaltation of Him stand out. These verses provide grounds for rejecting the roles some have ascribed to Mary as a co-redeemer or someone to whom believers pray. She recognized her need for a redeemer, calling God her Savior. She saw herself as a “humble bondslave” who had been graciously favored by the Lord. Like all children of men, she was dependent on the grace of God. She was overwhelmingly grateful when she received it in this form.

Song: “Angels We Have Heard on High”

Saturday, December 17, 2011

When God became man: Day 17

The progress of His coming: A faithful God to a trusting maiden
And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord (Luke 1:45).
Elizabeth’s final recorded statement to Mary was a blessing. She commented on Mary’s faith, that her young relative had indeed trusted God would do just what He had promised. Mary had cast herself upon the mercy and trustworthiness of God, and He had shown Himself faithful. She may not have even been able to tell she was yet pregnant, but the response of Elizabeth and her unborn child confirmed she was. Indeed, she could be certain the babe she carried was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Heb. 11:6 tells us it is impossible to please God without faith. Mary had trusted God’s Word, and He had proven her faith well-founded.

Song: "Come, Thou Long-expected Jesus"

Friday, December 16, 2011

An Advent prayer for our children and grandchildren

'Prayer is the language' photo (c) 2009, Leland Francisco - license: Smith, founding pastor of Christ Community Church in Franklin, Tenn., posted the following prayer befitting Advent Dec. 10 on his blog at The Gospel Coalition website:

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. Luke 1:76-79

Heavenly Father, I often forget about the other special baby promised and delivered in the Advent story: John the Baptist — the forerunner, the way-maker, the friend of the bridegroom. His birth and life are such a testimony to your faithfulness and the ways of the gospel.

Father, make me a man like John — someone who follows and serves Jesus with such humility and joy. May I too find great delight in decreasing, if it will lead to the increasing of Jesus’ fame in my community (John 3:30). May I too be as honest as John was, when he experienced a painful season of confusion and doubt (John 7:18-34). I praise you for the beauty and reality of John’s life and witness.

Father, make me a parent like John’s father, Zechariah. Help me to want only what You want for my children and grandchildren. Forgive me when my dreams and agenda for my kids are way too small; way too creature-comfort and safety oriented; way too this world colored and anchored. What better story could we write . . . what other story would we choose than for our children to live by the grace of Jesus for the glory of Jesus?

Father, we lift our children and grandchildren to You. For those who have already come to know Jesus, we pray that the gospel would go deeper and deeper into their hearts — assuring them of Your tender mercies and sufficient grace; transforming them into the likeness of Jesus; and freeing them for a life of worship, caring, and serving, in Your church and kingdom.

For those who have yet to discover the salvation and safe haven of grace, may Your Spirit be mightily at work in their hearts and stories. Arrange circumstances of Your choosing that will help them discover their need of Jesus, the beauty of Jesus and the love of Jesus. . . . [W]e ask you to bring our kids to a saving knowledge of Jesus. Enthrall them with Jesus’ kindness and kingdom.

Father, we offer the same prayer for ourselves that we offer for our kids. During this very Advent season, restore to us the joy of Your salvation; the sanity of the gospel; and great delight in worshiping and serving only You. So very Amen we pray, in Jesus’ merciful and mighty name.

Preparing for corporate worship December 18

Jesus bravely went to the Temple and taught the people during the Feast of Booths one year despite the Jews’ effort to kill Him. During His teaching, Jesus cried out, saying, “You both know Me and know where I am from; and I have not come of Myself, but He who sent Me is true, whom you do not know. I know Him, because I am from Him, and He sent Me” (John 7:28-29). We see in these verses Jesus’ intimate connection with His Father: (1) Jesus did not come to earth purely on His own initiative, but the Father, the one true God, sent Him to earth; (2) Jesus knows the Father, because He came from the Father, who sent Him to earth. At Christmas time, we celebrate God the Son coming to earth. The only way we know the Father is because the Son came. It is through His coming as the perfect representative of who God the Father is, living the perfect life we could not live and dying the substitutionary, totally acceptable death we needed that we can come to God in worship. As we gather this Sunday to celebrate Jesus’ birth, may we do so remembering Jesus came that we might know the Father. That calls for full-hearted adoration and thanksgiving from His people.

When God became man: Day 16

The progress of His coming: The testimonies of an unborn child and his mother
And she cried out with a loud voice, and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb? And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me?” (Luke 1:42-43).
After Gabriel’s announcement to Mary, she apparently went quickly to visit her relative Elizabeth, who the angel had told her was carrying a child. As described in Luke 1:39-44, two supernatural events took place when Mary greeted Elizabeth in her home: Elizabeth’s son leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth immediately recognized Mary was bearing the Messiah. Based on the information we have in Luke 1, the Son in Mary’s womb apparently was not much beyond conception when these affirmations of His deity were made. The embryo in the virgin’s womb was God, and Elizabeth and her unborn son attested to it. Even then, as the smallest of all human beings, Jesus’ power and majesty were being manifested.

Song: “Once in Royal David’s City”

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Wartime lifestyle (Part 2)

In his book Don’t Waste Your Life, John Piper says in part about his use of “wartime lifestyle:”
The phrase [“wartime lifestyle”] is helpful – but also lopsided. For me it is mainly helpful. It tells me that there is a war going on in the world between Christ and Satan, truth and falsehood, belief and unbelief. It tells me that there are weapons to be funded and used, but that these weapons are not swords or guns or bombs but the Gospel and prayer and self-sacrificing love (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). And it tells me that the stakes of this conflict are higher than any other war in history; they are eternal and infinite; heaven or hell, eternal joy or eternal torment (Matthew 25:46).

I need to hear this message again and again, because I drift into a peacetime mind-set as certainly as rain falls down and flames go up. I am wired by nature to love the same toys that the world loves. I start to fit in. I start to love what others love. I start to call earth “home.” Before you know it, I am calling luxuries “needs” and using my money just the way unbelievers do. I begin to forget the war. I don’t think much about people perishing. Missions and unreached peoples drop out of my mind. I stop dreaming about the triumphs of grace. I sink into a secular mind-set that looks first to what man can do, not what God can do. It is a terrible sickness. . . .
Below is a 2 1/2-minute video excerpt from a sermon Piper preached Dec. 28, 2008, on John 16:16-24. In it, he says prayer is a "wartime walkie-talkie, not a domestic intercom."

When God became man: Day 15

The progress of His coming: A maiden’s submissive response
And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her (Luke 1:38).
Mary -- a pure, Jewish, young woman -- had received news that was at once rapturously joyful and overwhelmingly frightful. She would become pregnant with the Messiah, but she would do so as a maiden only betrothed and not yet married. Even though she basked in the glow from the angel Gabriel explaining what would happen because God had chosen her, Mary probably could sense some of the cost that would come as well: What would her betrothed, Joseph, think? What would others think? What would happen to her? It may have been a stigma her Son and she carried for many years. John 8:41 implies some Jewish leaders may have mocked Jesus’ parentage. Yet, faced with all these fearful prospects, what was her response? “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord” – in other words, “I embrace Your will for my life” – and “may it be done to me according to Your word” – or “do unto me just as You have said you will.”

Song: “What Child Is This?”

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Christmas contrast: Dickens and Handel

Tony Reinke, who is an author and assistant to C.J. Mahaney, took his family to both “A Christmas Carol” and “Messiah” recently in the Washington, D.C., area. In these two works traditionally performed at this time of year, he recognized a profound contrast in the approaches to Christmas and salvation by Charles Dickens and George Frideric Handel. In a Dec. 12 blog post, he closed with:
For Dickens, Christmas is a reminder that we are all Scrooges, self-centered ungrateful nobs who yet have some hope of appeasing God through our personal reform.

For Handel, Christmas reminds us that we are all sinners, we are “in Adam,” and for that we are helpless to stop God’s righteous judgment towards our sin. Yet there is One who has paid the price to quench God’s wrath on our behalf.

In both A Christmas Carol and Messiah, all our warm and tranquil Hallmark Christmas sentimentality gets blasted by cold reality. Death is coming for us all, and the grave is approaching quickly.

Dickens wants people to die in peace.

Handel wants people raised from the dead.

Dickens’ hope is rooted in the future — in the finished work of moral reform necessary in our lives.

Handel’s hope is rooted in the past — the full and complete work of Christ on our behalf.

Dickens’ message is “do.”

Handel’s message is “done.”

Dickens’ work is good for what it is, a seasonal, warmhearted morality tale. For that I find it agreeable and commendable. But Handel’s work comprehends the scope of the hope-giving and guilt-freeing meaning of Christmas. For that I find eternal comfort, and hope for my ongoing battle against my inner self-centered, thankless Scrooge.
The entire piece is marked by perceptive theological insight. You may read it here. (HT: Justin Taylor)

When God became man: Day 14

The purposes of His coming: To place adopted sons
But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons (Gal. 4:4-5).
When God the Son came to earth, He lived a perfect life under the Law in order to be an acceptable sacrifice to His Father. His atoning death redeemed those who lived under the Law, as well as those who did not. The result was that sinners and slaves became sons of God by adoption. In that great chapter on the suffering of the Messiah to come, the prophet Isaiah said this One “will see His offspring” (Is. 53:10). God the Son left Heaven to produce children for His Father. We who have passed from death into life can thank God that He has adopted us because His own Son was willing to come to earth as the child of a woman and place us in His own family.

Song: “Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne”

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Why preach the gospel to yourself (No. 2)

Here is another of the 31 reasons Milton Vincent gives in his book A Gospel Primer for Christians for believers to preach the gospel of Jesus to themselves:
As long as I am stricken with the guilt of my sins, I will be captive to them, and will often find myself re-committing the very sins about which I feel most guilty. The Devil is well aware of this fact; he knows that if he can keep me tormented by sin’s guilt, he can dominate me with sin’s power.

The gospel, however, slays sin at this root point and thereby nullifies sin’s power over me. The forgiveness of God, made known to me through the gospel, liberates me from sin’s power because it liberates me first from its guilt; and preaching such forgiveness to myself is a practical way of putting the gospel into operation as a nullifier of sin’s power in my life [emphasis added].
(Verse cited: Rom. 6:14)

When God became man: Day 13

The purposes of His coming: To save the lost
For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19:10).
God the Son came to earth as a seeker. He came seeking lost sinners who had earned God’s wrath but would receive God’s grace. The Son’s seeking mission took Him to the cross and to a death with saving consequences for those who had no hope of finding their way to God. God acted to redeem the lost, and Jesus of Nazareth was His agent in purchasing our redemption. The New Testament testifies to God’s initiative in our salvation: “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (I John 4:10). Peter praised God the Father, “who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (I Peter 1:3). God the Son came to earth to seek souls on behalf of His Father.

Song: “Good Christian Men, Rejoice”

Monday, December 12, 2011

When God became man: Day 12

The purposes of His coming: To serve others
[T]he Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many (Matt. 20:28).
If anyone deserved to be served, it was the God-man, Jesus. Yet, when His disciples squabbled over position and greatness, Jesus told them even He did not come to earth to be served. Instead, He – even as Lord – came as a servant. Paul wrote of this same mind-set of Christ to the church at Philippi, when he told them Jesus, “although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped [clutched and held onto at all costs], but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:6-7). God the Son offers us the supreme example of servanthood. The final step in a life of service was to give His life freely as a “ransom for many.” The first steps in a life of service were willingly to be conceived in the womb of a poor Jewish maiden and to be born in a stable.

Song: “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”

Sunday, December 11, 2011

When God became man: Day 11

The purposes of His coming: To enrich the spiritually impoverished
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich (II Cor. 8:9).
God the Son left the riches of Heaven, the position He possessed there and the intimacy He shared with God the Father to lift human beings out of spiritual poverty. He not only left His riches but willingly became poor. He humbled Himself and became a man. He limited the expression of His majesty to the confines of a human body, yet retained His deity. He was reared in a poor family, lived without comforts and during his ministry had “nowhere to lay His head” (Matt. 8:20). Then He died a criminal’s death on a cross. Paul told the Ephesian believers he prayed the eyes of their heart would be opened so they would know “what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints” (Eph. 1:18). He came to give us the true riches that never pass away.

Song: “Joy to the World”

Saturday, December 10, 2011

When God became man: Day 10

The purposes of His coming: To glorify God the Father
I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do (John 17:4).
As Jesus prayed to His Father on the night before He was crucified, He could even then speak of accomplishing what God intended for Him to do by becoming a man. In so doing, He had glorified the Father, the One who had purposed for the Son to come to earth. Earlier, when Jesus compared His future death to a grain of wheat that must die before it bears fruit, He said, “Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name” (John 12:27-28a). Jesus came to die. Even at His birth, that was His mission. In so doing, He would glorify His Father. God the Father confirmed this in John 12:28b by speaking from Heaven, “I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.”

Song: “O Holy Night!”

Friday, December 9, 2011

Preparing for corporate worship December 11

The gospel accounts form one big Christmas story, in a sense. Christmas is about God becoming a man. That is what the incarnation is. The incarnation is not just about a child or a baby or even a holy embryo. It is about God the Son becoming a man and living and dying in such a way as to fulfill His purpose in coming. Repeatedly, Jesus makes reference in the gospels to the fact He was sent, that He is doing God the Father’s will. I plan to return to my preaching series through Luke this Sunday. I expect to preach on Luke 10:1-24. In verse 16, Jesus says to some of His disciples, “The one who listens to you listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me; and he who rejects Me rejects the One who sent me.” Jesus makes it clear He was sent. That is the Christmas story. God sent a Savior. As we gather this Sunday and every Sunday, may we remember as we sing and pray and read and share and listen that Christmas is always near. God became man to live and die for us. That calls for rejoicing and thanksgiving and humility and devotion. May it be so this Sunday.

When God became man: Day 9

The purposes of His coming: To do the will of God the Father
For I have come down from Heaven, not to do My own will but the will of Him who sent me (John 6:38).
God the Son came not only to represent God the Father with exactness but to perform the Father’s will at the Father’s direction. Jesus did not leave us to wonder what He was referring to when He cited the will of God. In the two verses that follow, Jesus said, “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” The Son came to earth as an infant because it was the Father’s will. Even then, the Father had a people for His Son whom the Lord Jesus would resurrect as a result of their trust in Him.

Song: “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Sanctity and love at the end of life

Justin Taylor recently posted on his blog an item, with video, that poignantly illustrates what it means to value the sanctity of all human life and what it means for a husband to love his wife.

Robert Mounce has served the Christian community as a Bible translator and commentator. Now, he is serving his bride during an extended illness. He will be 90 years of age before the first of the year. She is 91.

Mounce, president emeritus of Whitworth College, helped in the translation of the New International Version of the Bible and was on the translation committee for the English Standard Version. He served on that committee with his son Bill, who is a Greek scholar.

Bill Mounce wrote the following about his father:
I wish I could share some of the emails Dad has sent to me and to his grandkids. Wonderful musings on the end of life, on what love is, and especially on his thoughts about prayer. Do you pray that the Lord take her home (which mom wants) and end her pain—or do you pray for strength and God’s will? Dad told me the other day that he has come to see mom’s extended illness at the end of her life as her final gift to him so that he could learn at even a deeper level what love is. Ah, that we should all finish life this well.
Shelby Mack, a filmmaker, recently captured Mounce’s service to his wife in this brief video:

When God became man: Day 8

The purposes of His coming: To represent God the Father
God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power (Heb. 1:1-3a).
God had spoken to the people of Israel through His prophets in many ways over many years, but there came a time when He spoke through Someone like Him. God “has spoken to us in His Son,” the writer of Hebrews said in looking back at the incarnation. The writer described God the Son in the flesh as the “exact representation of His nature.” Jesus perfectly represented who God the Father is and what He is like. In his gospel, John wrote, “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him” (John 1:18). In His time on earth, Jesus perfectly portrayed for those who witnessed His life and ministry what the unseen God is really like. One of the purposes He fulfilled in His incarnation was to demonstrate God’s nature in human form.

Song: “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee”

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Wartime lifestyle (Part 1)

'PEARL HARBOR ATTACK' photo (c) 2007, Paul Walsh - license: is hard to believe today is the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. That surprise bombing by Japan of the American Pacific fleet in Hawaii took the lives of more than 2,400 people and brought this country into World War II. As one of those whose parents participated in or supported that battle against regimes bent on world conquest, it is difficult to think it has been seven decades since it began for the United States.

That conflict consumed the attention of all Americans. Everything was focused on the war. Men went to war. Many women worked at jobs normally filled by men to aid the Armed Forces. Some women, such as my mother, moved to Washington, D.C., for at least part of the war to support the military effort. Americans changed their priorities. They sacrificed, because they were at war.

In his book Don’t Waste Your Life, John Piper uses the example of World War II – and especially that of the Marines who fought at the Battle of Iwo Jima – to help demonstrate what he means when he uses the term “wartime lifestyle.” In part, he says:
[I]n wartime, sinners often rise to remarkable levels of sacrifice for causes that cannot compare with Christ. The greatest cause in the world is joyfully rescuing people from hell, meeting their earthly needs, making them glad in God, and doing it with a kind, serious pleasure that makes Christ look like the Treasure He is. No war on earth was ever fought for a greater cause or a greater king.

When God became man: Day 7

The promises of His coming: The promise to a downcast groom
Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save his people from their sins (Matt. 1:20b-21).
Mary was betrothed to a man named Joseph when she became pregnant with the Son of God. Joseph knew he was not the father, so he sought to break the betrothal while at the same time protecting Mary and her reputation by sending her away in secret. Betrothal was more binding at this time than engagement is in our day, but Joseph appeared to have grounds to issue a divorce certificate. God intervened through a dream, however, according to Matt. 1:18-25. An angel appeared in Joseph’s dream and assured him he should take Mary as his wife because she had not been unfaithful. This conception was from the Holy Spirit and had produced an as-yet-unborn child whose name, Jesus, would signify He would be the Savior from sin. Matthew spelled out in verse 23 what the long-promised title of Immanuel for this Son meant – “God with us.”

Song: “Emmanuel”

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Abortion, our responsibility and the gospel

'vaikelis' photo (c) 2006, kambodza - license: time of year is as good as any – maybe even the best time – to ponder the slaughter of the innocents in our world, considering the events surrounding the conception, birth and infancy of our Lord.

I write more about life issues than any other subject in my job as a news reporter. By life issues, I refer to abortion, euthanasia and the rest of an array of matters in which each human being is either valued as being an image-bearer of God or he is not.

I regularly read pieces about these issues. Two of the more significant I have read this year were written by Timothy Dalrymple, a contributor to the evangelical portal at, and John Ensor, executive director of global initiatives for Heartbeat International, one of the leading pregnancy help networks. I commend both to you.

Dalrymple wrote a piece in April for Patheos that was the first in a series on abortion. His commentary brims with grief over the moral culpability of our society for the annihilation of more than 50 million children since abortion – for effectively any reason throughout pregnancy -- was legalized in 1973.

He writes in the wake of the news about Kermit Gosnell’s horrid abortion clinic in Philadelphia, Pa. That clinic – now shut down -- was a filthy, unsafe place for women because of Gosnell’s lack of care and the state’s lack of regulation. But it also was a lethal place for unborn babies old enough to survive outside the womb. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of children six months or older within their mothers were born alive, then put to death by Gosnell and his co-workers.

You may read all of Dalrymple’s commentary here. Below is an excerpt from his piece:
I truly wish I could believe that the human fetus is morally insignificant, no more sacred or valuable than a tumor and thus no worse to remove from a woman's body. Or I wish I could believe that it bore some moral value, perhaps, but not an absolute value, or not enough to outweigh consideration of the mother's needs. I'm not eager to conclude that, in the midst of our extended national sickness, tens of millions of little ones—living human persons in every morally significant sense—have been put to death in this country under protection of law. I'm not eager to conclude that tens of millions of women have taken those lives, and tens of millions of men have encouraged, pressured, and forced them to do so. And selfishly, I'm not eager to conclude that I have done next-to-nothing to prevent all of this.

Yet I do conclude those things because I do not believe the unborn child is of lesser moral worth than the born child. This is written not with a sense of self-righteousness but with a sense of grief. How could we have done this? When did we so profoundly lose our way that we were willing, legally and politically, to sanction the theft of so many millions of innocent lives? And what have I done to protect them?
Ensor’s piece – “Challenging the Powers of Death with the Gospel of Life” on The Gospel Coalition blog Dec. 3 – is a fitting follow-up to Dalrymple’s. He also writes about corporate responsibility, saying at one point “abortion is the shedding of innocent blood on our own watch.”

It is definitely worth reading Ensor’s commentary in the effort to see life through a gospel prism. You may read all of it here. Among his significant comments are:
The cross is about the shedding of innocent blood! Why not apply it to the sin of shedding innocent blood? Why let the Devil do all the talking! "You killed your baby," he says. "God cannot forgive you." Or to the struggling Christian, "I know your secret! Missions? Not you!" . . .

Abortion needs to be called out by name, confessed with tears, and brought under a gospel that atones, justifies, propitiates, expiates, and brings us peace. And we need to remind our people to hold on to this gospel with all their might when the accuser comes at night.

When God became man: Day 6

The promises of His coming: The promise to a favored maiden
And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end (Luke 1:31-33).
The angel Gabriel delivered the next promise to a young woman named Mary in the Galilean city of Nazareth, according to Luke 1:26-37. It was the sixth month of Elizabeth’s unfathomable pregnancy, but the conception and birth Gabriel promised Mary would be even more unbelievable. He told her she would give birth though she was a virgin. This would be the work of the Holy Spirit and not a man, Gabriel said. The son she would bear would be the Son of God, the Messiah long ago promised by the Almighty God. God was about to become man through a young Hebrew woman. The virgin prophesied in Isaiah 7 as the mother of Immanuel had been revealed. To Mary’s amazement at how this could happen, Gabriel ultimately said, “For nothing will be impossible with God.”

Song: “Mary, Did You Know?”

Monday, December 5, 2011

Why preach the gospel to yourself

Here is one of the 31 reasons Milton Vincent gives in his book A Gospel Primer for Christians for believers to preach the gospel of Jesus to themselves:
The gospel encourages me to rest in my righteous standing with God (emphasis added), a standing which Christ Himself has accomplished and always maintains for me. I never have to do a moment’s labor to gain or maintain my justified status before God! Freed from the burden of such a task, I now can put my energies into enjoying God, pursuing holiness, and ministering God’s amazing grace to others.

The gospel also reminds me that my righteous standing with God always holds firm regardless of my performance, because my standing is based solely on the work of Jesus and not mine. On my worst days of sin and failure, the gospel encourages me with God’s unrelenting grace toward me. On my best days of victory and usefulness, the gospel keeps me relating to God solely on the basis of Jesus’ righteousness and not mine.
(Verses cited in part or whole: Matt. 11:28; Rom. 4:5, 5:1-2, 18-21, 6:1; Heb. 4:3, I John 2:1-2.)

When God became man: Day 5

The promises of His coming: The promise to a childless priest
It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord (Luke 1:17).
After hundreds of years of no revelation from God to his people, an angel of the Lord spoke to a priest, as recorded in Luke 1:5-25. Zacharias and his wife, Elizabeth, were not only childless but, because their age, were without any realistic hope of having a child. That changed when Zacharias presented an incense offering in the temple. The angel Gabriel appeared to him with a miraculous message. Zacharias’ wife would not only give birth to a son who would be named John, the angel said, but he would be a great man with a great mission – to go before the One who would be the Messiah and to prepare the people for His coming. God had spoken again. His promises from long ago were about to be fulfilled. A miraculous reproduction would prepare the way for an even more miraculous birth.

Song: “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear”

Sunday, December 4, 2011

When God became man: Day 4

The promises of His coming: The promise of His birthplace
But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity (Micah 5:2).
God’s ways are not man’s ways, as the Bible declares. An earthly king would want his son, his successor, to be born into elegance and prominence. God promised His Son would be born in a location so insignificant it would find no place “among the clans of Judah.” This One whom God would send forth to be “ruler in Israel,” however, would not reign over a temporary kingdom. He also would not begin His existence on the date of His birth in the little town of Bethlehem. Nor would He begin to exist at the moment of conception in His mother’s womb. No, He had existed “from the days of eternity.” There was no beginning to His existence. The One who would appear on that future day in Bethlehem would be the God of all ages who had made all things.

Song: “O Little Town of Bethlehem”

Saturday, December 3, 2011

When God became man: Day 3

The promises of His coming: The promise of a ruler like no other
For a child will be born to us; a son will be given to us; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace . . . (Is. 9:6-7a).
God promised he would establish a never-ending government upon the shoulders of a tiny child. This is another of the paradoxes of Scripture. How could a baby bear such weight? The question is a natural one; the answer is a supernatural one. No other child would bear such titles – “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.” This is God in the person of a little boy. From the moment of His conception, God indwelt this embryo turned boy turned man. Because this child was God in the flesh, we can trust His rule will never end. He will reign as a benevolent monarch, bringing a peace that will go on into eternity. Notice whom this son is a gift to – us. Certainly, this applied to the Hebrews whom God had set apart, but it also is a particular promise to those of us who have received the gift of salvation – He has been given to us.

Song: “For Unto Us a Child Is Born” (from Handel’s “Messiah”)

Friday, December 2, 2011

Preparing for corporate worship December 4

Our King has come. He is not like other kings. Other kings are conceived and born, having a specific point at which they come into existence. Our King had no beginning; He has always existed. Other kings are born into splendor and riches, or obtain them when they usurp a throne. Our King left all the splendor and riches to be born into poverty. Other kings act to consolidate their power and to hold onto it at all cost. Our King limited the exercise of His power for a time. Other kings surrender their kingdoms through defeat or death. Our King established His kingdom through death, and, as a result, His kingdom will know no end. Indeed, our King has come, and He will reign forever and ever. Our King, His coming, and His kingdom are what the celebration known as Christmas should be about. We worship our King every week as we gather on the first day of the week. These four Sundays in December we will worship Him especially in light of His incarnation. Let us rejoice that our King has come, and may our singing, our praying, our thinking and our sharing reflect that joy.

When God became man: Day 2

The promises of His coming: The promise of a birth like no other
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel (Is. 7:14).
When God became man, it was through a birth like no other. The prophecy reported by Isaiah said a virgin, a woman who had no natural means of reproducing, would give birth to a son. God had already promised in the garden it would be the seed of the woman, not the man, who would bruise the head of Satan. This miraculous conception and birth were necessary so the sin nature of man would not be passed on to this sinless seed. No mortal man would do as His father. The unblemished life He would live must be without stain from the start. This impossible pregnancy and birth would form a sign that God was fulfilling His promise. In a baby boy, the Promised One would come to earth.

Song: “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”

Thursday, December 1, 2011

When God became man: Day 1

The promises of His coming: The first promise
And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise Him on the heel (Gen. 3:15).
When the first man and woman sinned, there was no disarray in Heaven. Instead, God unveiled a promise that would be fulfilled thousands of years later when He would come to earth as a man. Satan, speaking through the serpent, had tempted the woman in the garden, and the man and she rebelled against their Creator by eating of the forbidden fruit. God pronounced judgment upon the evil one in the guise of the serpent. He promised Satan the seed of the woman would inflict upon him a crushing blow, though this conqueror would not go unharmed. This is called the “proto-evangelium,” the first gospel. We know this seed of the woman was God the Son. Even in mankind’s darkest hour, God provided hope for a fallen race – a hope that would be fulfilled through an unborn child in a young woman’s womb, through a baby born in Bethlehem, through a man who lived a perfect life and through a suffering servant who vanquished the evil one through His crucifixion and resurrection.

Song: “Angels From the Realms of Glory”

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Introducing 'When God became man' to the blog

Linda and I put together a devotional booklet seven years ago for the households in our church family titled “When God became man: A 31-day celebration of the Christmas event.” I plan to blog those 31 devotions in December with likely only slight, if any, alterations. Feel free to use them individually or as a family during the month. A new alternative for use during Advent is a devotional guide produced by The Village Church, a Dallas church pastored by Matt Chandler. You may access it online here.

Here is a condensed version of the introduction to “When God became man:”

Christmas has produced a variety of responses from followers of Christ. Most celebrate the occasion, while some refuse to do so. In our culture, the observance is largely inescapable. Given society’s often misguided absorption with Christmas, is there a biblical way to approach the event? Yes, it appears there is, and it would seem to be by looking at the big picture.

The birth of Christ clearly is not an end in itself. It is a part, an integral part, of God’s redemptive work. To say it another way, there is no crucifixion and no resurrection without the incarnation. That word, incarnation, speaks of an appearance in human form. As we use it in the Christian sense, it is at the heart of our faith: God became a man. Think about that. It is a mind-boggling consideration. A man lived who actually was God. He was totally man while still being totally God.

In his book Knowing God, J.I. Packer wrote some classic words about the incarnation:
It is here, in the thing that happened at the first Christmas, that the profoundest and most unfathomable depths of the Christian revelation lie. “The Word was made flesh” (John 1:14); God became man; the divine Son became a Jew; the Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, unable to do more than lie and stare and wriggle and make noises, needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child. And there was no illusion or deception in this: the babyhood of the Son of God was a reality. The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is this truth of the incarnation.
We believe Christians can observe the birth of Jesus in a way that is faithful to the biblical account of God’s redemptive work and is glorifying to our Sovereign Lord. The devotions that follow in December are posted to help celebrate the glorious act of God becoming a man to purchase our salvation. Each includes a brief Scripture passage, comments on these verses and a suggested song to sing on that date. These brief, daily messages may be only a starting point for the contemplation of the incarnation by you and your family.

May we join with the apostle Paul in saying as he did in II Cor. 9:15, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!”

Marriage myth No. 7: Singleness makes me a second-class Christian

'Built to last' photo (c) 2008, Andreas Levers - license: single adult – whether never married, divorced or widowed – is a second-class Christian. There is no caste system in the kingdom of God. I can understand why some singles in the church have felt like second-class members who don’t fit in. As churches and pastors, we see the importance of helping establish strong marriages and families. Those are worthy goals, but we need to make certain we don’t give singles cause to think they are on the outside looking in. And both single and married believers need to make certain they are thinking biblically. We are not united in the church on the basis of our marital status but on the basis of our union with Christ. To be in Christ is to be united to all other believers, especially those in the same church body. We all relate to one another first and foremost by being related to Him. The focus of the New Testament is not marriage between a man and a woman but the marriage of Christ and His bride. The central unit in the New Testament is not the biological family but the eternal family of God. For those who are married, you should act to make sure you welcome singles of the church into your lives and homes on the same basis as you do those who are married. For those who are single, you should act to make certain your acceptance of singles and marrieds in the church, and your perception of their acceptance of you, has the same basis. For both marrieds and singles, it is about our acceptance in Christ. By His blood, we are part of the same forever family.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Preaching the gospel to yourself makes a difference

Here is the testimony of Milton Vincent in the introduction to his book A Gospel Primer for Christians:
Over the course of time, preaching the gospel to myself every day has made more of a difference in my life than any other discipline I have ever practiced. I find myself sinning less, but just as importantly, I find myself recovering my footing more quickly after sinning, due to the immediate comfort found in the gospel. I have also found that when I am absorbed in the gospel, everything else I am supposed to be toward God and others seems to flow out of me more naturally and passionately. Doing right is not always easy, but it is never more easy than when one is breathing deeply the atmosphere of the gospel. I am confident that you will find the same to be true in your life as well.

Monday, November 28, 2011

An 'above all' command for the church

“Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins” (I Peter 4:8).

What does masculine leadership look like?

Last week, I posted definitions of masculinity and femininity provided by John Piper in his book What’s the Difference? Manhood and Womanhood Defined According to the Bible. He defines masculinity in this way:
At the heart of mature masculinity is a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for and protect women in ways appropriate to a man’s differing relationships.
Since the word “lead” means different things to different people, Piper offers nine clarifying statements to help provide a better understanding of “mature masculine leadership.” They are:
1. Mature masculinity expresses itself not in the demand to be served, but in the strength to serve and to sacrifice for the good of woman.

2. Mature masculinity does not assume the authority of Christ over woman, but advocates it.

3. Mature masculinity does not presume superiority, but mobilizes the strengths of others.

4. Mature masculinity does not have to initiate every action, but feels the responsibility to provide a general pattern of initiative.

5. Mature masculinity accepts the burden of the final say in disagreements between husband and wife, but does not presume to use it in every instance.

6. Mature masculinity expresses its leadership in romantic sexual relations by communicating an aura of strong and tender pursuit.

7. Mature masculinity expresses itself in a family by taking the initiative in disciplining the children when both parents are present and a family standard has been broken.

8. Mature masculinity is sensitive to cultural expressions of masculinity and adapts to them (where no sin is involved) in order to communicate to a woman that a man would like to relate not in any aggressive or perverted way, but with maturity and dignity as a man.

9. Mature masculinity recognizes that the call to leadership is a call to repentance and humility and risk-taking.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Preparing for corporate worship November 27

“The just for the unjust.” That five-word phrase in I Peter 3:18 – “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit” -- is at the heart of the Christian faith. It also will be at the heart of our corporate worship this Sunday. Christ, the lone person who was without sin and therefore was and is just, died in the place of and for those who did not and would not live justly, which describes all other human beings – including you and me. It is how Paul could say in Romans 3:26 that God is both “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” We will gather this Sunday because Jesus has brought us to God by dying as “the just for the unjust.” May our time together reflect this reality -- that we worship God only because we have been counted righteous by the death of the perfectly righteous One as our substitute. That calls for humility, gratitude and fervency in our worship of the one true God. May it be so among all of us this Sunday.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Giving thanks

Here are two items to ponder as we celebrate an American holiday, Thanksgiving. As Christians, we especially have reason to give thanks to God on this day and all others. The posts may seem to contradict each other, but I believe a close reading of both will show they do not.

First, here is a blog post from yesterday by Ray Ortlund, lead pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, Tenn.:
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. 1 Timothy 4:1-5

As Francis Schaeffer used to remind us, the devil rarely gives us the luxury of fighting on one front only. We see a monster in front of us wanting to devour us, and we back away in dread. But if we’re not careful, we’ll walk right into the jaws of another monster right behind us. We usually fight on two fronts at once.

Today we fight against materialism, especially the so-called Prosperity Gospel. But there is also the danger of asceticism, which denies the goodness of God in all things. This ultra-serious “holiness” is attractive, in a way. But it is also fraudulent. It tells an audacious lie about God and about us.

The truth is, everything created by God is good and is to be received gratefully. This beautiful truth includes marriage and sex and food and mowing the lawn and flying a kite and paying the bills and sharpening a pencil and sitting on the porch in the evening and playing Monopoly with the kids and laughing at hilarious jokes and setting up chairs at church, and on and on and on. There is so much divine goodness all around. To push it away, to be above it, would insult our gracious Creator.

Our earthly human existence is where true holiness can thrive. How? By thanking the Lord for it moment by moment, and by applying the word of God to it moment by moment. It is written, “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).

Not ultimate, but good. Good enough for God. Good enough for us too.
Below is a video of Stuart Townend and fellow musicians doing sort of an Irish/bluegrass version of “My Heart is Filled With Thankfulness,” a song he co-wrote with Keith Getty and our church has done in corporate worship. Below the video is the story behind the song provided on Keith and Kristyn Getty’s website.

Even in our thankfulness, we can often betray what unspiritual beings we are.

If we examine our personal devotions, or listen in on a prayer meeting, our thanksgiving often focuses on health and position, family and friends, home and belongings (and all these are right and good; the Bible tells us to give thanks in every situation).

But the prayers of the early church in the New Testament never follow this pattern. The strong emphasis there is on giving thanks to God for spiritual blessings – the blessings that have true value beyond life on earth.

In “My heart is filled with thankfulness” we give thanks to God for spiritual blessings past, present and future. What Christ has done for us, for forgiveness and new life, which only he could bring by coming here to earth and suffering for us. How he walks beside us each day and having lived, breathed and walked here on earth[, h]ow he promises to be with us whatever our future hold[s].

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Masculinity and femininity by the Book

I am in the midst of a short preaching series on women in corporate worship. The fact there are distinctions between males and females, though the sexes are equal, is inescapable in looking at Scripture.

A short book by John Piper published in 1990 seeks to get at the heart of what it means to have a biblical view of these differences. As most of you know, Piper is a well-known author and pastor for preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. The book is What’s the Difference? Manhood and Womanhood Defined According to the Bible.

A main part of the book is Piper’s attempt to define masculinity and femininity. He acknowledge the definitions below are not comprehensive but an effort “to get at the heart, or at least an indispensable aspect, of manhood and womanhood.” He also says these descriptions call for further comment, which he provides in the book.

I commend them for your thoughtful consideration in an age of great confusion over this issue. His definitions are:
At the heart of mature masculinity is a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for and protect women in ways appropriate to a man’s differing relationships.

At the heart of mature femininity is a freeing disposition to affirm, receive and nurture strength and leadership from worthy men in ways appropriate to a woman’s differing relationships.

Marriage myth No. 6: I should delay marriage until I have experienced life

'Built to last' photo (c) 2008, Andreas Levers - license: myth, or a version of it, seems to have become increasingly accepted in recent decades. There are likely a number of factors involved, but the age for first-time marriages has increased in American society at large. The median age for first-time marriages went from 23.2 in 1970 to 28.2 in 2010 among U.S. males and from 20.8 to 26.1 among females. It appears the median ages for evangelical Christians are earlier but not by a lot. The ideas that feed into this myth – for instance, that you should have fun before settling down in marriage or you should focus on building a career – can undermine the path God has designed for most people. Before I say more, here are a couple of disclaimers: (1) No Christian should marry until God has provided him or her with a person He wants you to take as a spouse, and (2) some people will remain single in God’s providence. The more pressing problem today seems to be delaying marriage rather than rushing it. Many people appear to rule out marriage until their mid to late 20s, if not later. Ladies certainly are not immune to this, but the problem seems to be especially acute among men. There seem to be many Christian ladies who desire marriage but have yet to be pursued by a godly man they believe would be appropriate for a husband. There is a sense even within the church that too many men are content to extend their adolescence for years while not stepping out to accept the responsibilities God has designed for them. For both Christian men and women, please don’t intentionally postpone entrance into the relationship God intends to use in your lives to help demonstrate the gospel and to help you grow as disciples of Christ.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Assurance on Monday morning

Here are some reminders from Scripture that our hope is in what Jesus has done once for all time, not in what we have done or will do:
Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit (John 19:30).

For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up himself (Heb. 7:27-27).

For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God . . . (I Peter 3:18a).
Take comfort – and live boldly with the bedrock assurance of this truth.

A prayer for parenting by faith and grace

This prayer posted Nov. 14 by Scotty Smith in his blog at The Gospel Coalition website is reprinted with the hope all Christian parents – those in our fellowship and elsewhere – will pray in the same manner and be encouraged to take hope and to practice grace-governed, gospel-centered parenting.
Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep. Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Psalm 127:1-3

Heavenly Father, it’s a liberating joy to address you today as the architect and builder of your own house — including the household of faith and my children’s place in your family. No one cares about and loves our children more than you. I know that now better than ever. Our kids are your heritage.

I grieve the years I spent in pragmatic parenting, assuming if I prayed and parented just right, my kids would be converted at a young age, would never get into big trouble and would be protected from all harm. How naïve on my part. But my rejoicing is much greater than my regretting, for you’ve proven yourself faithful to your covenant love . . . even when I was overbearing and under-believing.

I praise you for rescuing me from parental “laboring in vain” — assuming a burden you never intended parents to bear. O, the arrogant pride of thinking that by our “good parenting” we can take credit for the encouraging things we see in the lives of our children. O, the undue pressure our children must feel when we parent more out of our fear and pride, rather than by your love and grace. O, the miserable unbelief of assuming that by our “bad parenting” we’ve marred our children forever and have limited what you’ll be able to accomplish in the future.

Father, only you can reveal the glory and grace of Jesus to our children; only you can give anyone a new heart. You’ve called us to parent as an act of worship — to parent “as unto you,” not as a way of saving face, making a name for ourselves, or proving our worthiness of your love. I really believe this, but the move from parenting by grit to parenting by grace has often been three steps forward and two steps back. Take me deeper; take me further.

Since our children and grandchildren are your inheritance, teach us how to care for them as humble stewards, not as anxious owners. Give us quick repentances and observable kindnesses. Constantly remind us that you call us to be faithful parents, not “successful” parents. More than anything else, show us how to parent and grandparent in ways that reveal the unsearchable riches of Christ. Keep teaching us how to love and lead your covenant children “in line with the truth of the gospel” (Gal. 2:14 NIV). Father, dazzle and delight our children with your grace. So very Amen we pray, in Jesus’ faithful and loving name.

Friday, November 18, 2011

A prayer for savoring and celebrating Jesus' kingship

May this portion of a prayer by Scotty Smith help ignite a blaze in our hearts that will spread among us in true worship of our Savior as we gather as His church this Sunday:
The only King who could say, “Behold the world I have made,” is the only King who would say, “Behold the people for whom I die.” King Jesus, the greatest sanity is gospel sanity. Keep us sane . . . keep us gospel sane. We choose to lift our eyes to heaven today and fix our gaze on you — the author and perfecter of our faith, and we cry with unfettered, unabated joy, “Hallelujah, what a Savior! Hallelujah, what a salvation!” Your kingdom has come, your kingdom is coming! So very Amen we pray, in your name and for your glory.
You may read the entire prayer here.

Preparing for corporate worship November 20

We will gather this Sunday to worship God for the sake of His name. A name represents who someone is. In God’s case, His name stands for all his glorious perfections, including His attributes. In Psalm 148, the psalmist exhorts the vast array of creation, including human beings, to praise the Lord. Then he writes, “Let them praise the name of the Lord, for His name alone is exalted; His glory is above earth and heaven” (v. 13). God’s name and his glory are powerfully linked. God is far more committed to exalting His name and bringing glory to Himself than any of us are. For instance, it was for His name God delayed full judgment on Pharaoh (Exodus 9:16), saved His people by delivering them through the Red Sea (Psalm 106:8) and judged His people for their rebellion (Ezekiel 20:9, 14, 22). May glorifying God and lifting high His name be at the forefront of our purpose and thinking as we meet Sunday as the people of God.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Acceptance with God: Religion vs. gospel

It is vital we recognize – and regularly remind ourselves of – the ground of our acceptance by God. Timothy Keller, senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, writes about this topic in his foreword to the new book Gospel by J.D. Greear, lead pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C. In part, Keller writes:
[A]s Martin Luther noted, religion forms the default mode of the human heart. It is essential, then, that we distinguish religion from the gospel. Religion, as the default mode of our thinking and practices, is based upon performance: “I obey; therefore, I am accepted by God.” The basic operating principle of the gospel, however, is, not surprisingly, an about-face, one of unmerited acceptance: “I am accepted by God through Christ; therefore, I obey.”

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The suffering of our Somalian sisters

Last Sunday, Nov. 13, was International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. As we all know, many of our fellow Christians in other countries are suffering greatly because of their faith. Jeff Sellers, editor of Compass Direct News, filed a report on the kind of persecution some of our sisters have undergone in Somalia. He interviewed them in Kenya, and his report was posted Nov. 11 on a blog at National Review Online. Here is nearly all of that report:
The women, who had fled to Nairobi from war in Somalia, are Christians who have paid the price for their faith not because they were bold in proclaiming it, but because they were unable to hide it. Before our translator showed up, I found myself waiting with some of them in silence, wondering if I should break the language/culture/gender barrier by showing them photos of my wife and baby.

I was glad I didn’t. There was Amina, a 28-year-old refugee from Mogadishu whose husband divorced her after kicking her and their four-year-old son out of the house when she converted to Christianity; he’s now threatening to take the boy away from her. There was Shukri, whose husband was killed by Islamic extremists from the al Shabaab rebels fighting the transitional government in Somalia; her late husband’s mother took her twin girls, born [in] 2006, to keep them from being raised Christian.

There was Kamila, who lost her truck-driver husband to an accident and who still bears the knife scars on her mouth and chin from her fellow Somali women; the brother of her late husband had sent them to attack her as part of his attempt to snatch her then five-month-old baby from her. According to custom, the brother should attain all of her late husband’s property, including her son, in order to keep him from being raised a Christian. A court ruled that the baby should stay with Kamila until he is weaned, and she took that opportunity to escape with him to another area near Nairobi; he is now five.

There was Sahra, who wears a full-body burqa in her Somali neighborhood in Nairobi to keep from being recognized and abused. Her husband was killed in fighting in Mogadishu in 2006. Her relatives have cut her off because of her Christian faith, and she said she can feel the same shunning from her fellow expatriates. “When they see you are low-income and have left your religion, they see you as sick in the head,” said the mother of two young daughters who survives by working odd jobs.

There was Mana, whose husband was kidnapped by al Shabaab Islamists in July after they discovered he was a Christian. He was able to escape last month with the help of residents of the area where he was held in Somalia, but his tortured body is still too fragile to be moved, so he cannot yet be reunited with his family in Kenya. He is still spoon-fed, the militants chopped off three fingers from his right hand and two from his left, and there are no fingernails on those that remain.

Finally, there was an older Somali woman, some of whose children are now grown. Her oldest is 25, but she nearly lost him when six Muslim neighbors, who surmised that they were Christians meeting secretly for worship, cut his hands with a knife and belted his face with a metal bar on Oct. 31, before leaving him unconscious, naked, and bleeding at the entryway of an area church. Every Friday the Muslim women in her Somali neighborhood in Kenya used to invite her to the mosque, and she would tell them she wasn’t feeling well. Eventually they figured out that they were Christians.

If ever there was an inconvenient truth, it is the lordship of Christ for these women. In their world, there is much shame associated with their status as refugees in a bleak economy and as Christians in a Muslim fishbowl, but they know what it is to live 1 Peter 4:16, “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.”

And so it is that the older Somali woman who found her son in a pool of blood, echoing the attitude of the others, could tell me, “Although he has been beaten, we trust God to protect us. We don’t feel like we’re going to return to Islam; we will stand with Christ.”

Monday, November 14, 2011

A prayer for Covenant Community Church

I am grateful for Covenant Community Church in Fredericksburg, Va. I am grateful to be a part of this body of believers. I am grateful to be an elder and the pastor of this people. I am grateful for God’s gracious work among our fellowship, including the love and refreshing the saints have given to one another. Today, I am especially grateful for the evidences of His grace among us in the last few days.

I shared the following at our members meeting Nov. 11 as a prayer of thanksgiving for our fellowship. Except for the words “brothers and sisters” at the end instead of “brother,” they are the words Paul wrote in verses 4-7 of his letter to Philemon. I offer them again as a prayer for our church:
I thank my God always, making mention of you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints; and I pray that the fellowship of your faith may become effective through the knowledge of every good thing which is in you for Christ’s sake. For I have come to have much joy and comfort in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, [brothers and sisters].

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Our Master, not our maitre D

Here is a good reminder from a prayer by Scotty Smith as we prepare to worship our Lord tomorrow. Smith, founding pastor of Christ Community Church in Franklin, Tenn., blogs prayers on The Gospel Coalition website. You can read his entire prayer from Nov. 10 here.
Forgive us when we demonstrate a greater preoccupation with the “victorious Christian life,” than with you, the victorious Christ. You are our loving Lord, not our private masseuse; our gracious Master, not our maître D; our coming King, not our bottled genie.

Forgive us when our prayers reflect a greater commitment to our comfort than to your kingdom. Free us from “claiming” things you never promised. Give us a greater joy in serving you, and, indeed, in suffering with you. Wherever you lead us in your triumphant procession is the best place to be. However you spread the fragrance of knowing you is the best way to live. So very Amen we humbly pray, in your name and for your glory.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Preparing for corporate worship November 13

Reminding himself of the gospel of Jesus and the grace he had received prompted the apostle Paul to break into praise to God: “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen” (I Tim. 1:15-17). May we gather together this Sunday filled with rejoicing in God’s great gospel grace toward us and with praises to His glorious name.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Marriage myth No. 4: Life will really begin when I get married

'Built to last' photo (c) 2008, Andreas Levers - license: you enter marriage with this mind-set, you likely will find life still hasn’t begun – or, at least, your vision of what life is hasn’t begun. If you are a Christian, Jesus is your life (Col. 3:4). Whether single or married, life began for you when you cast yourself upon Him and His work for you on the cross. Marriage is not intended to give you life. If you think it is, then you have substituted marriage for Christ. In your case, marriage is an idol, a substitute god. Substitutes do not bring life. Only Jesus does. Marriage is intended above all else as a display of the relationship between the eternal bridegroom, Christ, and His bride, the church. As a Christian, you bring life – in the person of Jesus – into marriage that the world may see the eternal marriage on exhibit, that you and your spouse may know true joy, and that God may be glorified.

Back to the blog

I regret the lack of posts for more than a week, but I am back to blogging again after being away from home and from a good opportunity to blog.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

'The critical question'

From John Piper in his book God Is the Gospel (thanks to Justin Taylor):
The critical question for our generation — and for every generation — is this:

If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ were not there?

And the question for Christian leaders is: Do we preach and teach and lead in such a way that people are prepared to hear that question and answer with a resounding No?

Monday, October 31, 2011

Celebrating Reformation Day

'Martin Luther' photo (c) 2009, Heather Kennedy - license: is Reformation Day. While Halloween is observed by many, we – as evangelical and Reformed – have reason to celebrate what this occasion represents. On Oct. 31, 1517, Catholic monk Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther sought a debate on the practice of indulgences in the Catholic Church, but his action that day helped produce something much greater. He ignited a conflagration that swept through Europe and continues to burn today. It is known as the Reformation. As it has been described, it was a recovery of the gospel that had grievously been lost by the church.

The Reformation truths restored included the sole authority of Scripture, the headship of Christ over His church and salvation by grace alone. At the heart of the Reformation – and of Luther’s transformation into a courageous reformer – was the doctrine of justification by faith alone.

The key verse God used in Luther’s spiritual awakening was Rom. 1:17. Church historian Bruce Shelley describes it this way in his book Church History in Plain Language:
A new and revolutionary picture of God began developing in Luther’s restless soul. Finally, in 1515 while pondering St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans Luther came upon the words: “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith” (1:17, KJV). Here was his key to spiritual certainty: “Night and day I pondered,” Luther later recalled, “until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that ‘the just shall live by his faith.’ Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise.”

Luther saw it clearly now. Man is saved only by faith in the merit of Christ’s sacrifice. The cross alone can remove man’s sin and save him from the grasp of the devil. Luther had come to his famous doctrine of justification by faith alone. He saw how sharply it clashed with the Roman church’s doctrine of justification by faith and good works – the demonstration of faith through virtuous acts, acceptance of church dogma, and participation in church ritual.
We can give thanks today for God’s gracious work in and through Martin Luther and many others. May we guard the gospel so our church never loses it, and may we proclaim it clearly to others.