Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life: Praying in Personal Devotions

Face-to-face communication is breaking down. The next time you go to a restaurant, observe the married (or dating) couples sitting in the booths around you. It is a common sight to see a man and a woman, close enough for feet to touch, so involved with their phones that they utter not a word to each other the whole hour they eat. Such is a strange sight—if they are in a relationship, then why do they not talk?

However strange that may be, what about a Christian who does not pray, or prays only infrequently? God has established his covenant with us. He has taken us to be his friends. He, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, has quickened us together with Christ. By grace are we saved (Ephesians 2). The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has adopted us, all of his grace, and we enjoy rich fellowship with him (II Corinthians 6:18).

So, do we pray?

To ask the question is to answer it: of course we pray (and must)! As adopted sons and daughters of our Father in heaven, will we not, every day, praise him, thank him, make our requests known to him, and confess our sins to him?

Prayer is communication with God who is on his throne in heaven—covenant communion with our Father. It is to this spiritual discipline that we now turn. Prayer is a rather general topic, so we again limit ourselves: we will consider private or personal prayer. Private or personal prayer is prayer that an individual makes all by himself, alone, without others.

Examples of private prayer fill scripture. David (Psalm 51), Hezekiah (II Kings 19:14ff), Daniel (Daniel 6:10), Paul (II Timothy 1:3), and Jesus himself (Mark 1:35) prayed privately. The list goes on. Even though it is true that we are Christ’s body, and often our prayers are with others, it is also true that personal prayer is still necessary, for each saint stands in a personal relationship with his Father in heaven.

Like last time with Bible reading, I provide below some guidelines, this time for individual prayer. The list is not exhaustive. I encourage the reader to add more guidelines.

First: find a good place. As with reading the Bible in personal devotions, so private prayer requires that we retire to an isolated place where we can give undivided attention to our communication with Almighty God. Jesus went to a solitary place to pray (Mark 1:35).

Second: choose the right time.  We should locate the part of our day in which we are most alert and our mind most uncluttered—it is no use praying when we are groggy, or when we are distracted with other business. Whether that time is early in the morning, late at night, or sometime in the middle, find a couple of times in the day that work for you. Here, especially, is where discipline comes in: make a plan for prayer. Even if it must be in writing, plan when you will pray each day, and rigorously adhere to that plan. Consider prayer to be more important than any other part of the day. Do not allow anything to alter that schedule. And, just as Jesus rose up a great while before day to pray (Mark 1:35), make sure to set aside sufficient time for prayer.

Third: color your prayers with God’s Word. It is best, in personal devotions, to read and meditate upon the Bible first (see the last blog post), and then, after that, to pray; when we proceed in this order, God’s Word will color our prayers. For example, you are up to Psalm 23:1 in your devotions. You read, reread, and meditate upon the truth that Jehovah is your shepherd, making the confession that he is your shepherd. You drink deeply. Then, you pray it. You pray that Jehovah the Shepherd would lead you, feed you, protect you, and give you rest. What a rich prayer this is! How will your prayers be fresh, living, and specific? Bible reading and meditation! Besides, when you pray the holy scriptures, you know your prayers are pleasing to God.

Fourth: address personal needs. This is what sets private prayer apart from all other prayers that we make with other people: in private prayer, we come before God’s throne with our personal praise, needs, struggles, and sins (read Psalm 51), while that is usually not possible when we pray with others. You know your sins better than anyone else. You understand your trials better than anyone else. Private prayer is an opportunity to open your heart to God, in a way that you cannot in public prayer. Certainly, pray for others—spouse, children, friends…but do not forget to pray for yourself. It may even be helpful to keep a journal, writing down throughout the day matters for personal prayer, and having those written thoughts available at the time of personal devotions.

Fifth: pray from the heart. Prayer is covenant communion with our Father in heaven. If we truly know who God is and what our needs are, then our prayers will be diligent, sincere, urgent, and heartfelt. Every morning we wake up to another battle with the flesh, Satan and the world, and we face another day filled with work and burdens—so we pray from the heart for grace to face the new day! Every evening we fall into bed exhausted from sin, but knowing the faithfulness of our Father—so from the heart we confess our sins and thank him for his faithfulness! It is no wonder that the Bible uses the word “cry” to describe the prayers of God’s people!

Such a prayer life requires discipline! Such worship of God requires commitment and resolve. Consistent, heartfelt prayer is hard work, and not without its challenges, as any child of God will testify. But God will give grace. Pray for that grace—the grace to pray! Pray, for prayer is “the chief part of thankfulness which God requires of us; and also, because God will give his grace and Holy Spirit to those only who with sincere desires continually ask them of him, and are thankful for them” (Lord’s Day 45, A. 116).  

__________________

This post was written by Rev. Ryan Barnhill, pastor of Peace Protestant Reformed Church in Lansing, Illinois. If you have a question or a comment for Rev. Barnhill, please do so in the comment section on the RFPA blog.

Comments

Time To Build!

In the initial post in this series I merely stated the fact that Christ calls us to be active in the work of the church. In this post I want to prove that from the Word of God, and in so doing to impress upon us the blessed privilege and high calling that we have.

I want to do so by using one of the important figures that the Bible employs to describe the church. The scriptures use a number of different images to describe the church, most notably the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12ff; Eph. 1:22-23) and the bride of Christ (Eph. 5:22ff). But the church is also described in a number of places as the temple or building or house of God.

The temple is a type of Christ’s body (John 2:19, 21). In that connection it is also a type of the body of Jesus, the church (Eph. 2:20-22). And, to be more specific, it is a picture of the church institute, the church as it is manifest in local congregations with officebearers and members and regular worship of God on the Sabbath (1 Tim. 3:15).

This spiritual house is built upon a cornerstone that supports the whole work and gives shape and structure to the building. The cornerstone is Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:20; 1 Pet. 2:6-8).

That cornerstone anchors the whole foundation of this spiritual house. The foundation is solid and unshakeable. It is the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ as proclaimed by the inspired apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:20).

The house which is built upon this cornerstone and foundation is comprised of many different, individual stones. These stones are naturally misshapen, ugly, and covered in muck. And yet each one is precious and has a specific place and function in the building. These stones are the elect in Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 2:5).

This temple is precious. Just as in the Old Testament the temple was the place where God was pleased to dwell, so also in the New Testament the church is the place where we enjoy covenant fellowship with God (Eph. 2:22). Just as in the Old Testament the temple was the place where sacrifices were made for sin, so also in the New Testament the church is the place where we receive the assurance of the forgiveness of our sins through the blood of the Lamb on the cross. Just as in the Old Testament the temple was the place where God’s people brought their worship and thanks to him, so also in the New Testament the church is especially the place where we bring our praise and thanks to God. For these reasons our Reformed fathers said that outside of the church institute “there is no salvation” (Belgic Confession, Art. 28).

What a privilege to be a part of this house!

But in belonging to this house, we have a calling from Christ.

Understand that the work of building this house is Christ’s work. He is the one that gathers, defends, and preserves the church (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord's Day 21). He is the one who chooses the stones that will make up his house. He is the one who alone is able to gather them together as one. He is the one that shapes, molds, and forms each misshapen stone to fit its unique place in the house. He is the one that polishes and perfects each stone so that they all appear as shining marble when every stone is gathered and the house is complete at his second coming.

Yet, in this work Christ gives us callings. This does not mean that we cooperate with Christ. It does not mean that we are equals. It does not mean that Christ bears some responsibility for the work and we do as well. We are means/tools/instruments in the hands of the Builder and Maker.

But this fact does not minimize our calling. It does not mean that we can be lazy and inactive. Christ calls us to be actively and zealously engaged in the work of building his house. In Haggai 1:8 God calls us to “go up…and build the house,” and the whole rest of the book of Haggai is a word of encouragement to be involved in this work.

Christ is pleased to use the church in the gathering of stones for his house. He does so by our preaching the gospel in the local congregation, engaging in mission work, and witnessing and local evangelism.

Christ is pleased to use the church in the shaping and molding of each stone so that is serves its function in the house and is made beautiful. He does so by our attentiveness to the preaching, by the rebukes of our fellow saints who come in the way of Matthew 18 and the elders who exercise Christian discipline, by our fellowship with other believers, by our service to the body of Christ, by our bearing the burdens of others, and a host of other ways.

We are stones in the house of God! What a privilege!

And we have work to do in this house! What a responsibility!

It’s time to build!

______________

Previous post in this series:

Lively Stones in God’s House

_________________

This post was written by Rev. Joshua Engelsma, pastor of Doon Protestant Reformed Church in Doon, Iowa. If you have a question or comment for Rev. Engelsma, please do so in the comment section.

Comments

Enthusiasm in Life

I enjoy enthusiastic people. I enjoy them because they have positive zeal. They have a sparkle in their eye. They have an air of energy around them. Do you have enthusiastic friends or family? Are you moved by them?

I read an article last month by the late Henry Beversluis called Then Gladly, Madly Teach. Mr. Beversluis was a professor of education at Calvin College. In this article, Mr. Beversluis highlights the importance of enthusiasm in the work of teaching. He called it the “thrust” of a teacher. This is the energy that bubbles out of the teacher. It is effective because it breeds enthusiasm and energy in others, too.

The etymology of the word enthusiasm is interesting. It comes from the Greek words en (in) and theos (God). Essentially, enthusiasm means God-filled or God-possessed. This isn’t true in the literal sense, but only figuratively. To be enthusiastic is to believe in what you are doing and to be excited about doing it.

Although its etymology is tied to the idea of being spirit-filled, enthusiasm is not a fruit of the Spirit. Enthusiasm is not evidence of the principle of regeneration in the life of a Christian. But, enthusiasm can be a great power. It can be a salt, a savor, a spice. It can be the thrust which compels a Christian to read, to write, to study, to visit, to grow, to speak, to learn, to watch, to do. It can give the Christian the needed capacity and energy to develop their gifts and talents for God’s glory and the benefit of the neighbor.

Enthusiasm is contagious. This may be the best part. It breeds enthusiasm in others. It convinces, motivates and inspires those around you. Are you enthusiastic in your work as a father or mother? Others around you will be, too. Are you enthusiastic in your occupation as salesman, carpenter, teacher, tile setter, or shop keeper? Your energy will bear fruit. Are you enthusiastic about your love for Jesus Christ? Do you have a zeal for the cross? Do your eyes sparkle when you speak about your Lord and King? If so, you indeed have a yeast in life which will leaven the whole lump.

Let’s find enthusiasm in our lives. Let’s develop our God-given gifts and talents and use them with passion and energy for the glory of our King. Just maybe, then, the etymology won’t be so far off after all!

__________________________

This post was written by Rick Mingerink, a member of the Protestant Reformed Church in Grandville, Michigan. If you have a question or comment for Rick, please do so in the comment section.

Comments

God is God

We are excited to announce another writer who is joining the existing pool of writers for the RFPA blog. Rick Mingerink is a member of the Protestant Reformed Church in Grandville, Michigan, and also the principal of Adams Christian School. In his writing for the blog Rick will bring a perspective from the pew. This is his first blog post.

_________________________________

God is God. That is an interesting phrase, isn't it? In logic class, we would call that a tautology. A tautology is a phrase that has a true truth-value based on the structure of the sentence. But there really isn’t any other way to define God other than by himself. No phrase can adequately summarize the essence of God. There is no creature by which we can compare him to. There is no concept by which we can conceptualize him. In the end, we are left to defining him simply as God.

I have always kept this phrase close to my mind when I consider who God is. The message it brings is that God is so great, so powerful, so un-creature-like, so big that words do not exist to properly define him. God’s Word reveals it:

To whom then will ye liken me, or shall I be equal? …Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things, that bringeth out their host by number: he calleth them all by names by the greatness of his might, for that he is strong in power; not one faileth (Isaiah 40:25, 26).

Sometimes I have a difficult time simply beginning and ending my small, petty thoughts without interruption or distraction. Some of the simplest thoughts can be easily whisked away with another thought or another impulse; like the wind carrying a leaf in the autumn afternoon. God doesn’t have this problem. In fact, his counsel not only puts into activity the smallest movements of a cell, it is the sole cause for the existence of the entire cosmos. A cosmos so vast we can’t even comprehend the size of it. So immense is God’s creation, man is attempting to launch a new five billion dollar telescope in the next two years to replace the Hubble just to see even further into space. Will they see the end of God’s creation? They may only scratch the surface. Yet, all this was put into existence with a spoken Word. God is nothing less than God.

But God’s counsel is not only active in creation, it is active in redemption, too. God is God of salvation. Not only is he the architect, builder, and upholder of vast landscapes, but also of our salvation. And the beautiful interaction between creation and salvation is that God is working both scenes to a culmination at the end of time. God will not only have a new heaven and earth, but he will have a bride that will dwell in this new creation. God’s bride will be able to perfectly serve him through this renewed creation. Yes, all things in heaven and earth are working together for a divine purpose. This is the work of our God. Only one who is God can perform it.

Meditate on this reality. Contemplate the bigness of God. Everything begins with him and ends according to his counsel. Let’s not think ourselves so big that we can’t see past our own vanity. God is God and we are called every day to serve him as such. “This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).

_________________

For further reading on the topic of God is God, the RFPA publishes a great book titled Knowing God and Man by Herman Hoeksema. Chapter 1 is entitled: “God is God.”

Comments

Hitting Close to Home

 

Many readers of the RFPA blog live in West Michigan. What follows is a news item from the Grand Rapids area that illustrates the growing anti-Christian spirit of the world in which we live and how believing a basic biblical truth can quickly get one in trouble with the federal government of the United States. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Donald and Ellen Vander Boon own West Michigan Beef Company Co., LLC , a meatpacking plant in Hudsonville, Michigan. They employ forty-five people. As their website states, "West Michigan Beef seeks to glorify and honor God in all that we do." It is the religious convictions of the Vander Boons that has them in trouble with the United States Department of Agriculture. Yes, you read it right, the USDA.

The story begins in 2015 when Don placed an article defending marriage as between one man and one woman on the break room table of his facility. The article was set on a table that was already cluttered with mainstream media news stories reporting on the recent Supreme Court decision allowing "gay marriage." A USDA public health veterinarian and inspector in charge on-site at the facility noticed the article, read it, and had it removed. Further, he reported the incident to a USDA Frontline Supervisor. This resulted in a meeting with Mr. Vander Boon, the supervisor and the on-site inspector. Mr. Vander Boon was threatened that unless he refrained from putting literature on the break room table supporting marriage between one man and one woman, USDA inspectors would be removed from his plant, effectively putting him out of business and leaving his forty-five employees without work.

The natural question is: "What do USDA inspectors inspect?" Reading material on the break room table would not be the first thing that comes to my mind. I would hope that a USDA inspector would be concerned with the health and safety of the meat the facility is processing. But in the world in which we now live, this is no longer the case. Notice, Mr. Vander Boon did not distribute the article to all or some of his employees. He did not ask them to read it, much less ask if they agreed with it. He merely added it to the stack of reading material already on the table.

USDA managers and supervisors have, per a recent "Anti-Harassment Policy Statement", been instructed to monitor for "intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment[s]". "Prohibited conduct includes, but is not limited to, bullying, slurs, negative stereotyping, threats, intimidation, written or verbal disrespectful comments, and graphic material that insults an individual or protected group." Yes, USDA inspectors now have the authority to inspect far more than meat. They are on the lookout for "hostile work environments", likely those of the Christian variety. The full policy statement can be read here.

Mr. Vander Boon has acquiesced to the request of the USDA to remove the "offensive" article from the break room table. Refusal could result in the closing down of his business and the loss of jobs for his forty-five employees. He has, however, filed a complaint with the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service. Since filing his complaint he has heard nothing from the USDA other than that his complaint has been received and forwarded to the USDA Civil Rights Division. Lawyers for Mr. Vander Boon have written a letter to newly elected President Trump asking the he "direct the Department of Agriculture to rescind its unlawful harassment policy and lift the restriction on Don's speech."

While the Trump administration may rescind some Obama era anti-harassment policies, we know very well that the days are increasingly evil and the place of the Christian becomes smaller and smaller in this world. What about the Protestant Reformed professional or business owner who has copies of the Standard Bearer lying on the table in his waiting room or lobby? Or what if a RFPA book makes its way on to the break room table of a Protestant Reformed shop owner? Can a government inspector responsible for the oversight of his business demand the removal of that "offensive" religious literature, or risk being shut down, because its presence creates a "hostile environment" for employees and customers? The possibility is not far-fetched.

That events like this are taking place should not surprise us. Our Lord, in his Word, tells us that we should expect these things. "Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you" (I John 3:13). "If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you" (John 15:18). "Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (II Timothy 3:12).

Knowing that the world will hate us and that our place in this world becomes smaller, we more eagerly look for the return of Christ our King, who will say to us at his return, "Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matt. 25:34).

____________________

This post was written by Aaron Cleveland, a member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. If you have a question or comment for Aaron, please do so in the comment section.

Comments

Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life: Reading the Bible in Personal Devotions

We are now ready to look at the spiritual disciplines of the Christian life, one by one. We will begin by considering the discipline of reading and studying the Bible. The Bible is, of course, basic to all the spiritual disciplines. The topic of Bible reading is rather broad, so we will be limited in scope, looking this time only at reading scripture in personal devotions: not in church, not around the dinner table, not with a spouse, but reading and studying the Bible alone in private worship.

Let it be understood at the outset that we are qualified to interpret and apply the scriptures in our private devotions. Christians often question their ability to mine the scriptures for the gold. The reasoning goes something like this: “Why not let theologians and authors interpret and apply the Bible for us? After all, theologians are equipped for such a task, but we in the pew are not.” When someone believes himself to be unqualified for this personal study of God’s Word, he will have no desire to continue with it. But the Bible itself gives us a different message: we have been anointed with the Spirit, and we know all things (I John 2:20, 27). As believers who have the Spirit of truth in us, we ought to have every confidence that we can interpret (prayerfully!) and apply (prayerfully!) the Word.

I suspect that we all know the need for these private devotions, and the need to read the Bible by ourselves. But perhaps we do not always know how to go about this reading of scripture. And if we do not know how, we become discouraged before we even start. The following is some practical advice on how to read and study the Bible in our private worship.

One: study solitarily. Find a proper setting for your devotional reading of God’s Word. Look for a quiet place, free from distraction. Where there is noise, meditation will be impossible. Jesus himself went into a solitary place to pray (Mark 1:35); likewise, we should find this seclusion, not only in prayer, but also in reading the scripture. Furthermore, because this is the private or personal worship of God, study alone. You have your own struggles, your own sins, and your own unique needs. This is the time to apply the Word of God to your own soul.

Two: think biblically. Let’s be aware of the temptation to replace the reading of the Bible with the reading of books and meditations. Maybe you have heard the story (hopefully apocryphal) of the seminarian who had hundreds of books surrounding him, but his Bible, dusty and unused, was buried somewhere beneath the mountain. It is a temptation to read books and meditations instead of the Bible, either because we find these books and meditations to be more contemporary and edifying, or because they are easier to read than the Bible itself. To throw out these materials would be an overreaction. Rather, let’s first read the Bible with understanding and meditation, and then, only after that careful reading of the Word, proceed to read the literature to enrich our understanding. May your Bible be more worn than any other book in your library.  

Three: approach worshipfully. Our approach in these personal devotions must be that of worship. This perspective protects us against the thinking that the study of the Bible is like a vending machine that will give us what we want for the day—that this daily exercise in the Word is exclusively for our benefit. It is true that we make requests of God, and that we derive our daily strength from his Word. However, these devotions are fundamentally the worship of the great God of heaven and earth. Come to the study of the Bible ready to extol his great glory, and to bow down before his holiness.   

Four: read meditatively. Remember that reading the Bible in personal devotions is not just a pursuit of head knowledge. It is a real temptation (for ministers, too!) to read the Bible only to seek information and stimulate the intellect. We are not interested in a mere mental comprehension of the holy scriptures. Meditate on the Word (Joshua 1:8)! Ponder it. Speak it to yourself. Let it seep into your soul. Feed on it. Drink deeply from it.

Five: advance systematically. Try, as much as possible, to stay in one book, and to advance systematically through that one book, from verse to verse, and from chapter to chapter. You might be surprised at the gems you discover when you study this way—gems you might not have unearthed had you chosen to study isolated passages (similar to a minister who preaches a series of sermons through a book, and is “forced” to preach on passages he would have never otherwise chosen to make sermons on; but when he preaches them, he finds them to be exceedingly rich).  

Six: move slowly. Do not be afraid to move through a book of the Bible at a slow pace. Reading large sections of scripture is not always conducive to meditation and application. Taking in only a few verses each day will lend itself to thought-provoking study. I might add here that these personal devotions need not take a long time. Proper study of the Bible does not necessarily equal a lengthy study of the Bible in one sitting. Whether we take ten minutes or an hour is not so important; what is crucial is that we worship God and feed on his Word, and that we do this daily.    

Seven: remember frequently. Take God’s Word with you during the day: memorize it, then recite it at noon, evening, and before you go to bed. Or, meditate on it in such a way that you retain it and carry it with you throughout the day. Our waking hours are filled with battles, enemies, and temptations. So, carry that Word with you! Write it on a post-it note; take a picture of it and make it your phone’s background; jot it down on the refrigerator whiteboard. The psalmist hid God’s Word in his heart (Psalm 119:11).

Be disciplined, soldier! You are equipped with the Spirit of truth. Worship God in the study of his Word. Feed yourself with that delightful food of the soul.

_________________

This post was written by Rev. Ryan Barnhill, pastor of Peace Protestant Reformed Church in Lansing, Illinois. If you have a question or a comment for Rev. Barnhill, please do so in the comment section on the RFPA blog.

Comments

Lively Stones in God’s House

What’s your attitude toward the church?

How highly do you value your membership in her?

How seriously do you take the responsibilities that you have as a member of her?

I intend with this post to begin a series of articles on church membership, in particular the callings that we have as active, living members of the body of Christ.

The subject is significant because the calling is significant. Christ, as King of the church, has given to us important callings as members of his church, callings that we must take seriously, and callings that serve the well-being of his church. Nothing less than our best efforts are permitted. The churches where we have our membership need this of us.

Without minimizing the importance of this work, I also don’t want to place the wrong emphasis upon it. The reality is that I need the church more than the church needs me. Thanks be to God that the gathering, defense, and preservation of the church does not rest in my hands but in the almighty hands of Jesus Christ. I need the church as a child needs its mother. It’s within the womb of mother church that I receive life. Mother church feeds me, first with milk and then with meat, and makes me grow. Mother church chastens me when I sin and encourages me in faith and godliness. Apart from mother church there is no salvation.

At the same time, we cannot use this as an excuse to shirk the responsibilities that we have toward the church, as thankful children have responsibilities toward their mother.

The subject is significant as well because there are many wrong attitudes toward active membership in the church.

One danger that is becoming more and more common today is total neglect for the instituted church. The youth leave the church in droves. “Members” never darken the door of the sanctuary, other than an obligatory visit on Christmas or Easter. Some claim to be Christians and yet say that membership in a church is not necessary. The meetings that they have in their homes on Sunday are sufficient.

Another danger is that, although we are members of an instituted church, we are largely inactive and live on the fringes of the congregation. Our membership is limited to the hours of worship on the Sabbath day. Perhaps we say that we don’t have time to devote to the church.  Perhaps we say that we don’t have an outgoing and social personality. Perhaps we think that we don’t need anything from the other members. Perhaps we simply don’t feel like putting in the effort that is required.

Another danger is that we have the wrong perspective on church membership and the communion of the saints. Our perspective is not that we ought to serve others, but we think that others must serve us. Paul Tripp writes, “I am persuaded that the church today has many more consumers than committed participants. …For most of us, church is merely an event we attend or an organization we belong to. We do not see it as a calling that shapes our entire life” (Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, xi-xii). Often the result of having this perspective is that we are left soured and bitter toward the church because she does not meet our expectations. We don’t feel that others are giving us the attention that we need. And the temptation is for us to withdraw from the church.

Another danger is that we think this calling applies only to the officebearers. We might think that the only ones who really have work to do in the church are pastors, elders, and deacons. We members of the pew can rest easy. Certainly it is true that the officebearers have responsibilities in the church and lead the way in this work. But the Bible calls all members of the pew to be active in the church. This year we celebrate the five-hundreth anniversary of the Reformation, and one of the truths that Christ restored to his church at that time was the priesthood of all believers. The Reformed faith highly honors the office of believer in the church. And it is necessary that we take seriously the duties that Christ gives us in this office.

…to be continued.

_____________________

This post was written by Rev. Joshua Engelsma, pastor of Doon Protestant Reformed Church in Doon, Iowa. If you have a question or comment for Rev. Engelsma, please do so in the comment section.

Comments

Islam (13)

On January 13 (blog post: Islam 11), we considered the death of Jesus on the cross, explaining why only he is qualified to be the Mediator and substitute for his people. On February 2 (blog post: Islam 12: Christianity Quiz), we reviewed the doctrines of the Trinity, the Incarnation, and sin and salvation.

Christianity would not be good news if Jesus had remained in the tomb. A dead Lord Jesus is neither Lord (for a Lord rules) nor Savior (remember: Jesus means Savior, and a dead Jesus cannot save). The Qur’an is somewhat ambivalent on the subject of the resurrection of Christ, for in the Qur’an the infant Jesus speaks from the cradle in defense of his mother:

“I am indeed a servant of Allah: He hath given me revelation and made me a prophet; and He hath made me blessed wheresoever I be, and hath enjoined on me Prayer and Charity as long as I live; (He) hath made me kind to my mother, and not overbearing or miserable; so Peace is upon me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised to life (again)!” (Surah 19:30-33).

Elsewhere, Allah makes this promise to Jesus: “O Jesus! I will take thee and raise thee to Myself and clear thee (of the falsehoods) of those who blaspheme; I will make those who follow thee superior to those who reject faith, to the Day of Resurrection: then shall ye all return to me, and I will judge between you of the matters wherein ye dispute” (Surah 3:55).

Most Muslims, however, deny that Jesus died, and therefore they also deny that he rose from the dead. (The day of resurrection in Surah 3:55 probably refers to the general resurrection of the dead at the end of the world, a belief shared by Muslims, Jews, and Christians, although obviously they do not agree on every aspect of that doctrine).

The Bible teaches emphatically and clearly that Jesus rose from the dead. Therefore, in witnessing to a Muslim we must not end with the cross. The four gospel writers agree that Jesus rose from the dead, and although (without contradiction) they vary in the details, they teach the same basic truth.

First, Jesus rose from the dead in the body. At the point of Jesus’ death on the cross, his soul was separated from his body, which is the experience of all who undergo physical death (although Jesus is the only one who had the power [authority] to lay down his own life): “And Jesus cried with a loud voice and gave up the ghost” (Mark 15:37); “And having said thus, he gave up the ghost” (Luke 23:46); “And he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost” (John 19:30).

Jesus’ soul departed from his body and went to be with his Father in paradise: “Into thy hands I commend my spirit,” cried Jesus (Luke 23:46). Jesus’ body hung lifeless on the cross, and to prove that Jesus was really dead, a Roman soldier pierced his side with a spear: “But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water” (John 19:34). Later, Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus buried the lifeless body of Jesus in a tomb.

But Jesus’ death (with the separation of his body and soul) did not bring about the end of the incarnation. The human and divine natures in the one person of the Son of God were not separated. There was no severing of the hypostatic union. The Belgic Confession explains:

And though he hath by his resurrection given immortality to the same, nevertheless he hath not changed the reality of his human nature; forasmuch as our salvation and resurrection also depend on the reality of his body. But these two natures are so closely united in one person, that they were not separated even by his death. Therefore that which he, when dying, commended into the hands of his Father, was a real human spirit, departing from his body. But in the meantime the divine nature always remained united with the human, even when he lay in the grave. And the Godhead did not cease to be in him, any more than it did when he was an infant, though it did not so clearly manifest itself for a while.

While the dead body of Jesus lay in the tomb, it was still united to the person of Jesus, whose divine person was also still united to his human soul! (Although his human soul and body were separated, and are finite, his divine person is infinite and omnipresent). Nothing can separate the human and divine in Jesus—not even death!

On the third day, when Jesus rose from the dead, he did not rise as a disembodied spirit. At the point of his resurrection, his body and soul were reunited, and he rose in the body. His body was glorified as a real human body. We see that in his post-resurrection appearances in which, for example, he ate food and permitted his disciples to touch him: “Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have…And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. And he took it, and did eat before them” (Luke 24:39, 42-43).

Second, Jesus’ resurrection was attested by many witnesses. These witnesses are significant because none of them expected him to rise from the dead. The women who came to anoint his body on the first day of the week expected to find a dead body. Mary Magdalene in particular was devastated not to find Jesus’ body: “They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulcher, and we know not where they have laid him” (John 20:2). The initial reaction of the disciples to Jesus’ resurrection was fear and even unbelief. Especially Thomas would not be convinced until he saw Jesus: “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). On seeing Jesus, Thomas’ response was worship: “And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).

Not only did these same men boldly proclaim Christ’s resurrection, but they were so convinced about it that they were willing to die for the truth of it! The disciples were neither gullible fools nor deliberate deceivers. They knew that Jesus had risen because they were eyewitnesses of his resurrection!

Third, there are “many infallible proofs” of the resurrection. Apart from the compelling eyewitness accounts, we mention two: the empty tomb and the position of the grave clothes. Incontrovertible is the truth that on the third day, against all the expectations of his friends and enemies alike, the body of Jesus was not in the tomb. In addition, the grave clothes in which Jesus had been wrapped were lying in the tomb intact. Grave robbers could not have left the grave clothes behind so neatly, and grave robbers do not unwrap bodies before they carry them away. Besides, no one had the motive, means or opportunity to steal the body, which was guarded by armed soldiers on the orders of the Roman governor!

Fourth, the resurrection is significant both for Jesus and for his people.

The resurrection was vindication and glory for Jesus. He had been condemned, but God, in raising him from the dead, attested that he is the Son of God. “[He was] declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection of the dead” (Rom. 1:4).

The resurrection proves that Jesus has conquered death. If Jesus had remained dead, we would have to conclude that death had permanently conquered him. And if that were the case, we would have no hope, for if Jesus could not conquer death for himself, neither can he conquer it for us.

The resurrection of Jesus is the way of eternal life for God’s people. Jesus died for sin, bearing in his body and soul the punishment due to the sins of his people. If Jesus did not rise, we can only conclude that he failed to satisfy the justice of God. Therefore, we are still in our sins. Paul writes,

And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept (I Corinthians 15:17-20).

Finally, because Jesus rose from the dead, we have the confidence that our bodies will also one day rise from the dead. That is the hope that a Christian has at the funeral of a believing loved one, a hope of which the unbeliever is altogether devoid.

That is the Christian gospel—the Son of God became a man; the Son of God was made under the law whose curse he suffered when he died on the cross; the Son of God was buried; and the Son of God rose again from the dead, triumphant over death!

The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed (Romans 10:8-11).

__________________

This post was written by Rev. Martyn McGeown, missionary-pastor of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland stationed in Limerick, Republic of Ireland. 

Comments

Jehovah Our Sun and Shield

A sun is Jehovah God!

Wonderfully significant is the sun in nature as an image of the Lord our God.

With relation to our universe, that golden bridegroom of the day, issuing forth from his chambers and going on his way through the firmament rejoicing, is radiating with fullness of life and blessing for every creature.

When in the still and dark hour just before dawn of a day in June you repair to a favorite spot—where gentle zephyrs lisp, the trees murmur mysteriously, and the brook ripples playfully; where the humble wildflower displays the rich beauty of its colored garment for which it did not labor or spin; and where winged beauties sing and call to one another—to wait and to watch for the rising of the sun…

And when, as you watch, a pale glimmer in the eastern sky announces the approach of morning and dispels the darkness of the night, rousing from their slumbers the feathered inhabitants of the woods, who respond to the call of the morning, first cooing sleepily and complainingly, and then, as gradually the pale gray of dawn brightens into the gold of morning, chirruping and singing cheerfully; and when you see how the rising sun, now fast increasing in strength of golden brightness until finally the last streaks of morning cloud have vanished before its splendor, suffuses the entire scene with wondrous glory, pouring life and light over flower and leaf, into brook and meadow, transforming the black robe of night’s darkness into a veritable garb of many-colored beauty…


Oh, how wonderful a picture is the sun!

 

 

 

 

 

What a fullness of life it pours into the universe.

What a center of blessings it appears.

It draws from sea, ocean, and lake the rain into soft cloud-vessels and pours refreshing showers over field and forest; it nourishes and warms the seeds in the furrows and causes them to sprout; it makes the flowers bloom and reveals their beauty; it spreads life and joy, energy and light, and it calls man and beast to action.

The Lord God is a sun.

A sun not as if there were other suns, for he is God and there is no God besides him, but a sun because he is in himself the fullness of all good. He is light and there is no darkness in him. Such is his being. He does not possess light, but he is light. He does not simply live, but he is life. He does not just contain goodness, but he is goodness. He is light and life, brightness and holiness, goodness and grace and mercy, righteousness and justice, joy and peace. He is goodness and perfection, an ever-blessed light. And his perfection is not derived from any other sources. It is absolutely original with him, uncaused, and eternal. As the triune God he lives the life of perfect light by and in himself.

Still more.

The Lord God is a sun also because he radiates his goodness and pours forth his light-life upon all who are in communion with him. He is for them the fount of all good, which spreads grace and glory. Like the rising sun in nature, so he dispels the darkness of the night of sin and death. For he reveals the brightness of his beauty, the glory of his goodness, the perfection of his holiness and righteousness, the blessedness of his grace in Christ Jesus, and through him Jehovah scatters the blessed rays of his own light into the hearts of his children.

For Jehovah God is a sun. The uncaused light in himself, full of grace and glory.

He is also the sole cause of all light and life, radiating his blessed goodness into the hearts of all his children. He makes them partakers of his holiness, love, blessedness, and joy. In their hearts he spreads abroad the riches of his love, makes the night flee away—a night of sin and corruption, of hatred and the lie, of death and hell—and calls forth the dawn of a new day, shining with the light of righteousness and holiness, of love in truth, of heavenly bliss and eternal life.

For the Lord will give grace and glory. He radiates grace and makes his children partakers of it in Christ Jesus. And his grace makes glorious. Even as sin is corruption and makes one inglorious, vile, abject, repulsive, leading to outer darkness in eternal desolation, so grace is goodness and brings glory to those who partake of it, making them full of grace and beauty.

How blessed is Jehovah God!

What a fullness of joy and life is he. Surely he is a sun.

How blessed is his communion! For without him, without the scope of the radiation of his blessed light, there is the darkness of death. In his communion there is grace and glory.

How amiable are his tabernacles, the place beside his altar. How much more blessed to be only a doorkeeper in his house, catching at least some of his blessed light, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness, where all is darkness and death!

O Lord of hosts, light of lights, radiant with eternal perfection, how blessed is the man over whom thou dost spread thy tabernacle and who dwells in thy light!

______________

This excerpt was taken from the book All Glory to the Only Good God (Chapter 4a).

Comments

Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life: Challenges

Last time we saw that spiritual disciplines are activities that arise out of a commitment or purpose to serve God in his kingdom. These activities are a part of our life of sanctification, and belong to the category of good works: activities that have their source in true faith, the law of God as their standard, and the glory of God as their goal. These activities, which we will explore in future posts, include, but are not limited to, public worship, family devotions, and private devotions.

This time we want to notice the internal and external challenges to this pursuit of godliness, and thus the need to persevere in these spiritual disciplines. I present here three such challenges; I am sure you can add to the list.

Challenge #1: Laziness. The greatest foe of spiritual devotion is the enemy found within: the sloth or laziness of our sinful flesh. To be in the scriptures and in prayer usually requires waking up from bed early or retiring to bed late. Such spiritual exercise demands our concentration, our energy, and the engagement of body and soul. But the old man rebels against that rigorous study, because it requires too much time and energy. Why study God’s Word, when the eyes are heavy late at night? Why rise to pray, when the bed is so warm and inviting early in the morning?

Challenge #2: Busyness. Another threat to the Christian life of discipline is a schedule that does not allow for such discipline. Maybe laziness is not the primary problem—it is not climbing out of bed on time that presents the issue, but finding the time for devotions is the problem. Consider a mother’s schedule: between showering, eating breakfast, dressing and feeding the children, seeing them off to the bus, cleaning the kitchen, searching through cookbooks for supper ideas, making lunch for the little ones still at home, organizing the house for company that weekend, making supper, and helping with homework, where does this time for spiritual exercise fit in? The packed schedules of fathers, young people, and children are not any less hectic. Exercising ourselves unto godliness demands not only total concentration upon the things of God and his glory, but also a block of time set aside every day. But, the rush of life so quickly crowds out these activities.

Challenge #3: The entertainment and technology craze. If each of us drew a line down the center of a piece of paper, identifying one side of the paper as “devotions” and the other side of the paper as “entertainment/technology,” and then wrote down during the course of the day how much time was spent on each, I wonder what we would find? The phone, blaring its notifications, is always within reach. A whole world of information and gaming is only a swipe away. Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube beg for our attention. Notifications, screens, and endless information pose a real threat to what is so vital for personal and family devotions: undistracted, concentrated, deep meditation upon the Word of God.

When we cave to the laziness of the flesh, surrender to the busyness of the schedule, and distract ourselves with entertainment and technology, the result is spiritual weakness. The Bible describes the disciplined life of the Christian, among other figures, as a soldier (II Timothy 2:3, 4), and as a runner (Hebrews 12:1, 2). If a recruit training for service in the United States Army refuses to complete his running, pushups, and crunches, he will be in no position to face the rigors of the battlefield. If a runner does not push himself in practice day after day, he will grow weak and flabby, unable to sprint even the first mile of the upcoming race. Likewise, one who is not disciplined in the private and public worship of God will grow weak and vulnerable, leading to a host of other temptations and sins.

Therefore, the calling of the Word of God is clear: as a good soldier of Jesus Christ, as one running the race of this life, persevere. Be disciplined, committed, and consistent in the study of the scriptures and in prayer. This is necessary in the life of the child of God—this concerns our spiritual health and strength! We must be strong to serve our God, strong to fight against sin, and strong to live faithfully in the calling that God has given to each of us.

For this disciplined life, Jesus is both our example and our strength. Jesus himself, taxed though he was, rose up early before dawn to pray: “And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed” (Mark 1:35). Jesus is not only our example in this regard, but it is in him that we have the desire and strength to live this disciplined, thankful life to the glory of God. In his power, we will fight against laziness, and be committed to the worship of God in the midst of the busyness and distractions of life. Pray for that strength.

Next time, we will begin considering these spiritual disciplines, one by one.

__________________

This post was written by Rev. Ryan Barnhill, pastor of Peace Protestant Reformed Church in Lansing, Illinois. If you have a question or a comment for Rev. Barnhill, please do so in the comment section on the RFPA blog.

Comments

Post Tags

On Twitter

Follow @reformedfreepub