Posted by: reiterations | September 5, 2015

Saturday Spurgeon (3)

A prayerless soul is a Christless soul.  Prayer is the lisping of the believing infant, the shout of the fighting believer, the requiem of the dying saint falling asleep in Jesus.  It is the breath, the watchword, the comfort, the strength, the honor of a Christian.  If you be a child of God, you will seek your Father’s face and live in your Father’s love.  Pray that…you may be holy, humble, zealous, and patient.  Have closer communion with Christ and enter oftener into the banqueting-house of His love. – Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892), from a meditation on Colossians 4.2.

Posted by: reiterations | September 4, 2015

A Bible Story

Lot’s Wife

And he who was righteous loomed radiant, striding/Behind the Lord’s messenger up the black hill/But she walked reluctant, alarm spoke within her.

“It is not too late, you may look on it still/Upon the vermilion-stained towers of Sodom/You spun in that court and you sang in that square/That house whose tall windows confront you with blankness/Once knew you, a bride/You bore your sons there.”

She turned to behold it/And pain was her master/Her eyes yearning toward it could no longer see/Salt-white grew her body/The blood in it withered/Firm earth held her feet/That would never go free.

And is there not one who would weep for this woman/Or one who would find her loss bitter to brook?/Alone in my heart, uneclipsed, unforgotten/Is she who gave over her life for one look.

Poem by Anna Akhmatova, composed in 1924 (based on Genesis 19.23-26).  Translated from the Russian by Babette Deutsch.  This poem has been set to music by the American singer and songwriter, Iris DeMent (born in 1961).  It appears on her new album, The Trackless Woods, which consists entirely of settings of Akhmatova’s poems.  The CD is on Flariella Records and is available from Amazon.com.  Also, check out Iris DeMent at http://www.irisdement.com.

Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966) was a Russian poet.  She, along with the classical composer Dimitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) was one of the artists who survived the many brutalities and cruelties of Joseph Stalin (1878-1953), the Communist dictator of the Soviet Union.

Posted by: reiterations | September 3, 2015

Reaching the Culture for Christ – Part 2 of 2

When preaching on Psalm 19 or Romans 1 or many other psalms of the creation telling of the existence and glory of God, you could quote Leonard Bernstein [1918-1990, American conductor and composer] who admitted that, when he was in the presence of great music and great beauty, he sensed “heaven,” an order behind things, “something we can trust, that will never let us down.”  If you are teaching on virtually any passage on human sin and rebellion – but especially texts, like Romans 8.7, that speak of our hearts’ natural hostility to God – you would do well to quote a remarkable passage by the atheist philosopher, Thomas Nagel [born in 1937], who candidly confessed, “It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief.  It’s that I hope there is no God!  I don’t want there to be a God.  I don’t want the universe to be like that…This cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition.”

If you are preaching on Satan, you can be sure your listeners will begin to roll their eyes.  You can quote Andrew Delbanco [born in 1952], a secular scholar at Columbia University, whose book The Death of Satan argues that “a gulf has opened up in our culture between the visibility of evil and the intellectual resources available for coping with it.”  He argues that many secular people understandably attribute all human cruelty to psychological deprivation or social conditioning and, in so doing, trivialize the terrible wrongs people are capable of.  Delbanco recounts the story of Franklin D. Roosevelt [1882-1945, president of the US, 1933-1945] who, along with many of the American elites during the Holocaust, gave “no priority to the rescue” of the victims.  Late in the war, after the evidence for the atrocities became too great to disbelieve, the president was given [Soren] Kierkegaard 1813-1855, Danish] philosopher to read and said that, for the first time, the Christian philosopher gave him “an understanding of what it is in man that makes it possible…to be so evil.”  Delbanco avers that secular liberals (a group of which he considers himself a member) had lost any concept of “radical evil.”  If you speak of the devil to a secular audience, you must use sources such as this to dislodge the posture of ironic incredulity that they would otherwise assume when hearing this biblical teaching.

If you are preaching on original sin, you could cite C. E. M. Joad [1891-1953], a British atheist intellectual who came to belief in God after World War II.  “It was because we rejected the doctrine of original sin that we on the Left were always being so disappointed, disappointed by the refusal of people to be reasonable…by the behavior of nations and politicians…above all, by the recurrent fact of war.”

This is a crucial part of preaching to the heart of the culture.  It is no guarantee of persuading a skeptical audience, but it will go a long way toward keeping them from tuning you out almost immediately.  It often results in their increased respect for the wisdom – and, eventually, the authority – of the Bible.

From: Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism by Timothy Keller (New York: Viking, 2015), pp. 108-110.  All material in square brackets added by me.

Posted by: reiterations | September 2, 2015

Reaching the Culture for Christ – Part 1 of 2

If you are preaching or speaking to people who have strong doubts about the Bible, you should reinforce the points you are making from the biblical text with supporting material from sources that your listeners trust.  Paul himself most famously does this in Acts 17.28 when he quotes the pagan writer, Aratus [ca. 315-240 BC, Greek poet], to an audience of pagan philosophers who would not otherwise grant the Bible any authority.

Many will balk at the idea of supplementing the Bible at all.  Shouldn’t you simply preach the text itself and allow the Bible’s own authority to come through and convince people?  The Bible, indeed, has a unique, divine, living power, a penetrating persuasiveness that issues from God Himself (Hebrews 4.12).  Yet, to quote some other thinker is not fundamentally different from using illustrations out of daily life to reinforce the Bible’s teaching.  No preacher simply reads the biblical assertions to people.  All teachers and communicators deploy anecdotes, examples, stories, and other accounts that convince listeners and drive the biblical truths home.

If you are preaching on the First Commandment (“You shall have no other gods before me”) or Ephesians 5.5 (which calls greed idolatry) or any of the several hundred other places in the Bible that speak of idols, you could quote David Foster Wallace [1962-2008], the late post-modern [American] novelist.  In his Kenyon College commencement speech, he argues eloquently and forcefully that “everyone worships.  The only choice we get is what to worship.”  He goes on to say everyone has to “tap real meaning in life,” and whatever you use to do that, whether it is money, beauty, power, intellect, or something else, it will drive your life because it is, essentially, a form of worship.  He enumerates why each form of worship does not merely make you fragile and exhausted but can “eat you alive.”  If you lay out his argument in support of fundamental biblical teaching, even the most secular audience will get quiet and keep listening to what you say next.

If you are teaching on moral absolutes – on any of the hundreds of biblical texts that say God’s Word has authority over human opinion and legislation – you could quote Martin Luther King, Jr. [1929-1968, American preacher and civil rights activist] with great effect.  In his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” he cites both Augustine and Thomas Aquinas to argue that human laws are only just when they square with “the moral law…the law of God…eternal law.”  King’s personal example and argument are very disarming for secular listeners and almost guarantee consideration of your thesis.

From: Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism by Timothy Keller (New York: Viking, 2015), pp. 106-108.

Timothy J. Keller (born in 1950) has pastored Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in New York, New York, since it was founded in 1989.  He is a prolific author.  Material in square brackets added by me.

Posted by: reiterations | September 1, 2015

Roman Religion

The religion of the Roman world, under the later republic, passed through an apparent state of stagnation or even of decay.  While the cults of the homestead retained their old-time vitality (of which the family altars in the houses at Pompeii and Delos offer visible proof), the worship of the state-gods was undergoing ossification.  No further deities of any importance were admitted into the official pantheon.  While the ius civile was being expanded in the light of wider experience, the ius divinum was becoming stereotyped.  But the fixity in the outer form of the state religion was of less consequence than the change in its inner spirit.  In the second century [BC], the pax deorum had become a conspiracy between the state-gods and the governing aristocracy for the maintenance of the latter’s ascendancy.  In the first century [BC], it was further perverted to the selfish uses of individual politicians, who misused the elaborate code of divination for their personal advancement or the discomfiture of personal enemies.  Under such conditions, the official worships lost much of their remaining hold on the Roman people.  From the point of view of the ordinary citizen, their chief function was to provide him with amusements at the public festivals.

From: A History of Rome Down to the Reign of Constantine by M. Cary; second edition (London: Macmillan & Co., Ltd., 1954), p. 468.  First edition published in 1935.

Posted by: reiterations | August 31, 2015

Rendering Mysteries in Words

Within the parameters of the Christian tradition, humanity is to be seen as the height of God’s creation, whose life is shaped by the overwhelming radiance of the vision of God.  The church is called into being through its apprehension of this vision of God, which it is called to pursue in its theology, spirituality, and ethics.  Theology begins within this community of faith as it seeks to give an account of its communal beholding of the vision of God.  Indeed, it could be argued that the supreme task of theology is to keep this sense of wonder alive as the process of unfolding the object of wonder and worship proceeds – in other words, as apprehension gives way to reflection and, supremely, the formulation of theory.  The Christian community regards itself as being under an obligation to tell what it has seen, like the appointed observers at the great festivals of classical Greece.  To behold is to report.  Theory is an attempt to render in words the great wonders and mysteries of faith.

From: A Scientific Theology: Volume 3: Theory by Alister E. McGrath (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003), p. 3.

Posted by: reiterations | August 30, 2015

For the Lord’s Day (396)

I hope, in the Lord Jesus, to send Timothy to you soon so that I, too, may be cheered by news of you.  For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare.  For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.  But, you know Timothy’s proven worth, how, as a son with a father, he has served with me in the gospel.  I hope, therefore, to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me and I trust, in the Lord that, shortly, I myself will come, also.  (Philippians 2.19-24)

Posted by: reiterations | August 29, 2015

Saturday Spurgeon (2)

We, the called and faithful and chosen, we will drive away our griefs and set up our banners of confidence in the name of God.  Let others lament over their troubles.  We, who have the sweetening tree to cast into Marah’s bitter pool, with joy will magnify the Lord…..We are ordained to be the minstrels of the skies.  Let us rehearse our everlasting anthem before we sing it in the halls of the New Jerusalem.  We will be glad and rejoice: two words with one sense – double joy, blessedness upon blessedness. – Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892), from a meditation on Song of Solomon 1.4.

Posted by: reiterations | August 28, 2015

Regarding the Trinity

Since there is only one form of Godhead in the indivisible unity of His self-revelation as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we believe that He is eternally triune in Himself.  It is, indeed, through the Trinity that we believe in the unity of God, but it is also through acknowledgement of the oneness and identity of being in the Son and the Spirit with the Father that faith in the holy Trinity takes its perfect and full form.  This is the doctrine of God as Trinity in unity and unity in Trinity.  It is hardly surprising, therefore, that Athanasius should equate theologia, in its deepest sense as the knowledge and worship of God as He is known both through Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit and as He is eternally in Himself, with the doctrine of the holy Trinity.

From: Trinitarian Perspectives: Toward Doctrinal Agreement by Thomas F. Torrance (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1994), pp. 7-8.

Posted by: reiterations | August 27, 2015

Coram Deo

By the Spirit’s work in our hearts, we should regularly renew our commitment to remain faithful to our Creator.  As we seek to understand the Lord’s ways as they are revealed in His Word, He will grant us comprehension as we determine to do what He says.  We will not be perfect in this, of course, but we should see a general determination to do all that the Lord has commanded us to do throughout our lives.  May God grant us the grace to do what He commands. – Tabletalk, Volume 39, Number 8 (August, 2015), p. 39.  Meditation on Psalm 119.105-112 for Monday, August 10th.

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