Yesterday at Providence Church we had opportunity to acknowledge the Lord's goodness in bestowing a little girl to one of our families. I even had the joy of playing a part in the dedication service.
Why is a paedo-baptism guy helping to preside over a child dedication? Wouldn't it be more proper to protest the act with folded arms, furrowed glares, and other signs of great disapproval?
Certainly, I believe that the child ought to have the sign of the covenant applied to her, and I could go into the reasons why it is imperative that we do so. [After all, one of the blessings of Providence is that there is freedom to argue the matter in Christian love being that it is not a core essential to the faith.] However, my point is not to do flesh out the doctrine of paedo-baptism now. My aim is to affirm why I could stand up front in solidarity with my credo-baptist elders at the church.
The dedication service has at least this in common with the baptism of infants: The parents have been given a great responsibility, and they now have the duty before God of raising this covenant child in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Moreover, in both services we affirm the necessity of this child looking to Christ in faith for salvation individually and for herself.
While I wish we could have affirmed the child's membership in God's covenant through baptism, I am glad for the opportunity to stand with my brethren in the affirmation of God's covenant love. That we could, at the very least, publicly declare these vows and corporately look to God in prayer for the child's spiritual development is a grand sign of our union and communion together as believers.
And now for the prayer which I offered on the occasion...
We thank you for your tender mercies and we are glad that we can be present here today to acknowledge your goodness and covenant love. You have blessed this family with yet another child, and we praise you that another disciple has been added to your kingdom.
We ask, O God, that you would be favorable towards this family. We pray that you may enable them to make good on the vows that they have taken today. Give them that grace so needed so that they may be diligent in imparting the faith to their little one. Help them to train her up in the way she should go, and rear her in the fear and admonition of you. Grant them all wisdom so that they may pamper her with the gospel all her days and nurture her in truths of our holy religion.
Moreover, we look to you now for the fulfillment of your promises. You have said that you show mercies to the thousands of them that love you and keep your commandments. So we call upon you today to bring to fruition the things of which you speak. May your Spirit quicken her heart and cause her early to profess the Lord Jesus. May she claim you as her own and cleave to you all her days. May the light of the gospel enliven her soul in the early morning of life, that she can in later years testify that she never knew a day where she did not know Jesus as her Lord and Savior.
For this we pray in the strong Name of Jesus, Amen.
[The following was a comment that I made in a discussion linked to the recent Chick fil a frenzy. Various people I've spoken with have couched their discussions of Chick fil's stand for Christian family in "We've too often put homosexuals on the outs and been legalistic about marriage and not emphasized the gospel enough."]
I'm all for the gospel. It drives our Christian life. Agreed. But sometimes I feel there is not the balance there ought to be regarding the law and gospel. Sometimes, among the Reformed, I think it is GOSPEL and... (law, oops, did I say that? Sorry. I meant GOSPEL!).
I want to say at times, "Why can't we have a vigorous affirmation of both LAW and GOSPEL?"
Sometimes I am deeply saddened that a Reformed guy can't be up front about the depths and extent of the law. In the end, they do a injustice to the gospel because they are not driving men to Christ as they ought. Moreover, they do an injustice to the whole of Christianity becuase they fail to show how God reigns (through his law) over all aspects of life.
As for the whoop-la of the moment: I don't think it is so much anything Christians have done (or said) wrong. I simply think it is the hatred of the world for the law of God. They will claw and fight the light of the truth no matter where it may be found (or how dim the light may be--from what I gathered, Chick fi lay didn't really lay it on think. They simply made a little statement and got jumped on for it.)
“And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals.” Judges 2:11
What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
Are any of you are literary geeks? Do you know from whence that phrase came? It is one of the more popular phrases of Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet. It’s a good question though. “What’s in a name?” If you called a rose a pineapple, it wouldn’t change the aroma that it gives off, would it? It would still have the same fragrance.
Shakespeare was trying to make a point. He was trying to communicate that what you call something doesn’t really matter. What matters is what it is.
But Shakespeare is dead wrong. Biblically speaking, of course. Language IS important. The way you speak about something gets at the essence of something. Or at least gives the impression of what you think the essence of a thing is.
What do I mean? Well, let me read this Scripture passage again. “And the people of Israel did what was EVIL in the sight of the Lord.” You’ll notice that it did not say, “And the people of Israel had a slip up in the sight of the Lord.” It doesn’t say that the people of Israel goofed or made a miss judgment. It says that they did EVIL in the sight of the Lord.
What’s in a name? I would suggest to you that everything is in a name! This passage is giving us the divine perspective on Israel’s rebellion. God doesn’t see us as making blunders or mistakes. When we sin we do EVIL in the sight of the Lord.
Unfortunately we like to pad it and pretty it up. When it comes to our rebellious acts, we don’t put the same emphasis on it or attribute the same degree of heinousness to it. We’ll rename it and call it a foible, a bad habit, or (maybe if we are really holy) we’ll say we did something wrong. But typically we don’t want to admit that we do things that are evil.
Would a sin by any other name still smell so foul? Yes, at least to God. But we change what we call it because want to change the nature of it. We don’t want to tone it down and relieve some of its abhorrence. We don’t want to think that the things we do are as gross and vile as they really are. Do we really want to admit that our sins are so foul that they may be termed evil in the sight of God?
But if we want to be right with God, we must. The only way we can escape the wrath of God is through repentance. And repentance means having a true sense of our sin. It means owning up to the severity of our offenses and recognizing something of how truly revolting our acts have been.
Imagine your little girl coming in and holding up a big bouquet of green flowers she found while she was outside. She’s so proud and you know you are supposed to take them, make a big deal out of it and put them in a pot. But as she holds them up to you you can’t bring yourself to take hold of it. And you say to her, “Honey, that’s poison ivy.” Once that girl comes to that realization, what’s she going to do? She’s going to drop it and scream.
Well that’s what God wants us to do. He wants us to face up to the truth of our depravity. He wants us to see it as he does, so that we might cast them off and flee from them. And that is what we are going to do right now. Please join me in prayer.
You are the one who dwells in heaven, where perfection, purity and holiness exist in all their splendid brilliance. We are of the earth and cannot even attempt to ascend that height. For our deeds are evil. Our ways have been fraught with corruption. And we wish to confess that to you now. We grieve the way we make light of our sin. We joke about it and carry on like it is nothing. Instead of being filled with a holy revulsion at them, we frolic in them and enjoy them as if they were toys and flavorful delicacies. And that only compounds the loathsomeness of our actions. But we recognize now that, while in the sight of man they may be pleasantries and objects of adoration, in your sight they are contemptible and full of evil. They are crimes against the Most High God.
And we confess that to you now and declare our desire to turn away from them. And as we come to you we plead for your mercy, asking that you would blot out these iniquities and not count our vile acts against us. Moreover we pray that we would be washed by your Holy Spirit and so cleanse of them that we would not return to them. We desire that we would be given a new mind so that we would not even think of sin lightly any longer.
We remember the cross of Christ, O God. And there we behold the true nature of our sin. But we also behold the beauty of your grace in the sacrifice of your Son. And we come to you now only by virtue of his life and death, asking for the deliverance promised therein.
Sofia Coppola is brilliant, and her 2003 movie Lost in Translation (LiT) is virtually epic, both from a cinematic and philosophical point of view.
For the last 24 hours I have not been able to do anything except laud what Coppola did in the film. In one fell swoop Coppola spoofs your typical romantic comedy and slaps the existential philosopher Jean Paul Sarte in the face.
I love it mainly because the movie preaches and is theologically pregnant. To be sure, it is not for the faint of heart. It is a movie that the entertainment seeker may quickly turn off. Though it stars Bill Murray, who is normally associated with levity and fun, the overarching tone is rather depressing.
That's mainly because of the message it communicates. Coppola essentially makes a movie out of the book of Ecclesiastes. LiT, from begining to end, decries, "Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless."
LiT presents us with two characters who attempt everything within their vain power to bring meaning to a meaningless life. Beautifully, their attempts fail.
The first half of the flick depicts the existential malaise. The two main characters (Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson) are set in the vast sea of metropolitan Tokyo with no means of communication with the foreign culture. The screen shots of tall buildings and large crowds underscore the "I'm just a clog in the wheel" feel.
It quickly becomes apparent that the two are not only lost in a foreign culture, but are much estranged from their families and careers. This enhanced sense of loneliness creates a contemplative feeling of "Why am I here?"
As you delve into Bob's life you find that he has the prospective of reflection. He is a washed up actor whose fame and fortune have brought him nothing of real significance in life.
Charlotte, by contrast, stands on the front end of life. Her perspective though, is not much different. Despite having just earned a degree in philosophy she is obviously floundering as to her purpose. In desperation she picks up a book entitled, "Soul Search" to help her discover what she is to do in life. (The irony is thick here as the main study of a philosophy student is supposedly 'the meaning of life.')
The two eventually decide to go out on the town and attempt to bring meaning to the meaninglessness of their lives. In keeping with the romantic comedy plot, one expects a bond to form here. Yet, one strains to call it that. Their relationship remains very much platonic--almost a meaningless distance.
The night on the town is a good time, but barely so. One cannot escape the feeling of meaninglessness. Despite the opportunity to indulge in the pleasures of life, they continue to have expressionless faces which cry out "This too is vanity." Even their stop in a stripper club affirms this. The scene, though sensual, is far from erotic. One feels the emptiness of it.
The final stop of their night on the town finds them in a room doing karaoke. Charlotte sings the words "I'm special," but being that it is karaoke (a form of music that is typically not taken seriously) you conclude "Special? Who's to say that we're special?"
In the final scene Bob is driving to the airport to go back to America. He see Charlotte in the midst of the crowd and stops the car to run after her. Here we feel ourselves following the romantic comedy plot line. We expect them to consummate their relationship with a kiss never to part again.
However, such is only a ploy. The story jumps from the romantic comedy tracks and virtually makes fun of it. Bob embraces Charlotte and whispers in her ear (yet it is "empty" because the audience is not permitted to hear it). They kiss, and do so passionately. Yet it essentially means nothing for they part. That which was supposed to symbolize their union is itself meaningless for the two "lovers" (if you can call them that) part ways. They proceed back to their meaningless existences, as if to tell us that the relationship itself was void of anything significant.
So what makes the movie so epic? It is this: John Paul Sarte was an existentialist philosopher. He believed that man, having no spiritual significance, was born into a meaningless existence. Yet he said that in view of the meaninglessness, one must choose to create meaning. He must set his destiny and do his best to overcome the meaninglessness.
In this film Coppola says, "Bunk!" She understands that choosing to make meaning out of a meaningless life is still meaningless. If it is meaningless, it is meaningless and nothing can change that.
Why did I like it, you ask? Because Coppola exposes the despair that existentialism naturally ought to produce: Without God, all is meaningless. In the end, you simply fade into oblivion (as Coppola depicts in having the main character drive off into the lost sea of the metropolis).
While it most likely was not her objective, Coppola implicitly affirms the need for a Christian worldview. Meaning and significance can only be obtained through a Creator God, who endows a person with basic dignity and establishes meaning for life.
One of the things that I love about Providence Church is that they still have this beautiful piece of furniture. Such things are rarely found in churches anymore, being replaced with music stands or stools. It is a commentary on how the ministry of the word of God is vanishing in our day.
Providence, in contrast, continues to center its focus on the pulpit ministry. This delightful work of craftsmanship is a testimony to that. And I am delighted to have the opportunity to stand here and expound the doctrines of Scripture from week to week.
Woo-hoo! The July newsletter for Providence Church is now out. Wonderful bite sized theology; perfect for the armchair theologian.
The theme for this issue is worship. In keeping with the focus on Reformed distinctives, the articles deal with the specific issue of the regulative principle of worship.
In other words, it deals with why we worship in the wacky way we do.
Give a click and check it out. And, by all means, subscribe while you are there so you can get it delivered right to your inbox next time!
We are about to embark on a new Sunday evening study. We will be watching and reflecting on this dvd, which is put out by Focus on the Family.
Teacher and author Ray VanderLaan will bring to light the death and resurrection of Christ through his usual methods. As he brings the light of Jewish and Roman culture, you will see the sacrifice and victory of Christ in new and moving ways.
We meet each Sunday evening at 6:30 at my house and the time is accompanied with singing, prayer, and fellowship. We'd love to have you join us. Contact me for more details if you wish.
I always enjoy it when, right after a Sunday service ends, someone bounces up to me and says, "Hey, I have a question."
That's why I've added a new page to this site entitled, "Ask the Pastor." You can pose your questions there.
Feel free to ask anything you want. It's an open line. It can be biblical in nature, theological, or ethical. If its just a curiosity you have or a real personal dilemna you are dealing with, feel free to send me a line.
I recently read that 5,000 people a day google the question "What is the meaning of life?". So, yeah, people have got questions. Big questions on their mind that need serious theological reflection. I don't have all the answers, but I'll do my best to bring the light of God's word to bear on the subject.
Grace Brethren Church is scheduled to have speaker and author Susan Hunt come to town on Saturday September 8 to present on the topic of Biblical Womanhood. Find out specifics or register here.
This is a vital issue for today. Most women do not know how they have followed the leading of the feminist agenda. This emphasizes the need for these sorts of messages. Most certainly this will help give us a revitalization of the "noble woman" in Proverbs is so necessary
Here's a little Bio of Hunt from the PCA's publishing branch:
"Susan is the Women’s Ministry Consultant for CEP. She is a graduate of the University of South Carolina and Columbia Theological Seminary. She has authored numerous books and travels extensively speaking to various women’s groups. Her desire to help women have a heart for each other, for the church, and for the Reformed faith is unparalleled. Some of Susan's many books include: Spiritual Mothering, By Design, True Woman, Heirs of the Covenant, the Biblical Foundations for Womanhood Bible Study series, and the new 3-year Bible study series for teen girls."
From whence cometh the power to stop smoking? I've often heard people talk about wanting to stop. Or perhaps they have made great attempts at stopping. Some have gone so far as to admit that they are professional quitters (i.e. they've quit many times...and restarted soon after).
The question arises: What is the best way to quit this pesky habit.
Let me first say that I do not think that smoking is altogether a sin. I myself enjoy a cigar from time to time. Having an occasional puff is certainly not condemned in the Scripture.1 What the Bible forbids is enslavement. To have an inordinate affection for cigarettes (or any other item in creation, for that matter) is to have an addiction. That is equal to having an idol in one's life.
An idol is anything that competes with God or replaces one's affection for Him. When one is unable to control his or her passions and is unable to set aside a habitual practice, he or she has come into idolatry.
Why is it important to understand compulsive smoking in this way? The religious significance of it all shapes the way we deal with the addiction. When we discern this reality, we will understand that quitting cold turkey or using alternative methods (nicotine patches, hypnosis, etc) are all illegitimate forms of dealing with the problem.
Sure, these methods may work for some. However, if one quits cold turkey, he has not yet dealt with the real issue. The spiritual realities have yet to be solved.
Understanding the addiction in this light will also help us to admit that this is not an issue of will power. To confess such is vanity at best. Man's heart is evil. His addictions are expressions of his depraved will. And if we say that we have conquered the addiction by our own efforts, we are showing a great deal of arrogance. It is an admission that we do not understand our own hearts and the offense we are making to God.
Addictions are essentially spiritual traps. We are powerless to escape them on our own. The Bible puts it in terms of dogs returning to their vomit (Proverbs 26:11). Even though the thing is putrid and we want to be rid of it, we are continually drawn back to it.
The only way to keep a dog from returning to his wretch is by physically restraining him. So too the only way to extricate ourselves from our addictions is through the external power of the Holy Spirit. Christ alone can restrain us from pursuing our wayward loves and passions.
How does this occur? It begins with repentance. We confess to the Lord that we have an idol in our lives. We must admit that we are enslaved to this vice and that our love for the Lord has been compromised. In doing this we must really and truly be sorry that we have misdirected our love for God towards this thing and hate the fact that we have. As we express this grief, we then must cry out to the Father for the power to overcome it and begin expressing the sort of temperance that He desires.
[Notice I said temperance. I am not of the opinion that complete abstinence is required. Should one chose that route, that would be noble. However, I reiterate that smoking in and of itself is not inherently wrong. When one is able to demonstrate godly moderation he is free in Christ to do as he pleases.]
After confession and prayer for enabling grace, one must then begin to work out his freedom. It is not enough to pray a prayer and think that the work is done. Prayer is only the first step. It would be wise to seek further accountability from godly friends, or even a leader in the church. Keeping a personal log is always good too. It assists the soul in its determination, and by it you can track the ground you've made (or even be a means of expressing continued repentance in failure).
Another course of action is to continually reaffirm the truth of the gospel. Thomas Chalmers once preached a sermon entitled, "The expulsive power of a new affection." His argument was that one can only replace a faulty love with a new and greater love. He was right. So he who would be free of his old love must continually grow in his affection for Christ. And the way to to that is by remembering how excellent Christ is; how he has forsaken all and given his life for our redemption, and then was raised to life again as the final victor and life giver.
Regarding this I might note the importance of regular participation in a God fearing local church. Those who attend worship and fellowship with other Christians will find that they are moved more to Christ and obedience to Him than those who do not.
A final action I would suggest is a zealous attempt to transform of all of one's life. Most smokers have many other habits that contribute to their enslavement: gluttony, fellowship with people who lack godly character, bar hopping, lewdness, idleness, gossip and the like. We must understand that sin is interconnected and discipline in one area can affect many other aspects of one's life. It is said of John Newton that he would limit his diet to bare necessities when women would travel aboard one of his ships. In doing this he sought to discipline his consumption of food as a means of helping to discipline the wandering eye.
All this does not necessarily mean that one will quit smoking or immediately lose the desire to light up. Sometimes the Lord does grant this grace. Oftentimes though, it is a work that entails a battle that ensues over time. Nevertheless, once the work of repentance starts and one owns up to having disavowed the Lord with his practices, he has become a victor. The moment Christ is acknowledged, he is an addict no more. Christ assumes the throne and the individual begins the process of working out the details of this Christ honoring life.
1. I recognize that there are many Christians who would differ with me on this view. Many would posit that smoking of any kind is inherently wrong. It is not my objective to deal with this argument in this post. Let it be enough for now to say that smoking is an issue of Christian liberty.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.