Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Review - The Ascension: Humanity in The Presence of God

The Ascension: Humanity in The Presence of God by Tim Chester and Jonny Woodrow

Finding this little 92-page gem last week at the Westminster Theological Seminary Bookstore was an answer to prayer. As I prepared to place my order online, I only needed to spend couple more dollars to meet the minimum order for free shipping. So, I browsed around for good deals and caught this one on sale for 50% off - only $4.50. I had no idea that inside I would find the answer to one of my more recent theological queries; How do I understand and believe the mysterious statement of Paul in Ephesians 2:6?

"And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus" 

Certainly, this short verse speaks volumes on its own merits, but I had only the barest of understanding with regard to what the ascension of Christ has to do with me in the here and now. As it turns out, many of my theological gaps reside in my lack of understanding of the ascension and why it is important to me - right now. The already and the not yet of our Christian experience is embodied in the ascension. Our mission as the Church in this world finds its true explanation, not in in the incarnation as we so popularly think these days, but rather in the ascension. An ascensional mission, rather than an incarnational mission, is understanding that this world is simultaneously being ruled over by Christ from heaven and simultaneously groaning for His return when we will rule with Him in the consumated and glorified new creation. The ascension helps me to reconcile the remaining sin and falleness and depravity that is visibly prevalent with the fact and knowledge that when He returns every knee shall bow and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Evangelism is not so much persuading someone to invite Jesus into their heart, but rather a proclamation to be believed and embraced - that He already is reigning; that Jesus already is the risen King.

Another amazing factor in the theology of the ascension which I had not previously studied or have not heard much about is why it matters that Jesus, as a man, risen to the right hand of the Father should matter at all practically. For me, this teaching is the beginning of a healing of a wound, or a sealing of a gap theologically perhaps. The authors say that we are not on hold and that we are not on pause in our experience of the already and the not yet. Wesley Hill wrote about his experience caught between the times in "Washed and Waiting" in a vivid and heartfelt manner with which I could personally identify. Chester and Woodrow connect the dots and bridge the gap by unfolding the doctrine of ascension.

Several weeks ago, when I first began to explore and question the meaning of Ephesians 2:6 and how I might better understand what it meant, I had no idea that stumbling upon the doctrine of the ascension in such a well-written little paperback would be so enjoyable and rewarding. I look forward to digging deeper into the ascension in the future, but for now, I highly recommend that anyone who is unfamiliar with these ideas, or anyone perhaps perplexed by the mystery of humanity in the presence of God, to get this book, read it and pass it on to someone else!

The Ascension: Humanity in Presence of God from TCH Sheffield on Vimeo.

For further study: The Man Christ Jesus: Theological Reflections on the Humanity of Christ by Bruce Ware on sale via Amazon Kindle.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Reading with Challies: Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices

In case you haven't heard, Tim Challies announced the next book title for his Reading the Classics Together  reading program. The title is Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices by Thomas Brooks. It is available for free download at a number of websites. I found my version at:

This will be one interesting and intense read, if the table of contents is any indication. Check it out:

The Epistle Dedicatory
A Word to the Reader

II. SATAN'S DEVICES TO DRAW THE SOUL TO SIN [12 devices and their remedies]
1. By presenting the bait and hiding the hook: For remedies, consider that
1) we ought to keep at the greatest distance from sin and from playing with the bait
2) sin is but a bitter sweet
3) sin will usher in the greatest and the saddest losses
4) sin is very deceitful and bewitching
2. By painting sin with virtue's colors: For remedies, consider that
1) sin is never the less vile by being so painted
2) the more sin is so painted the more dangerous it is
3) we ought to look on sin with that eye with which within a few hours we shall see it
4) sin cost the life-blood of the Lord Jesus

3. By the extenuating and lessening of sin: For remedies, consider that
1) sin which men account small brings God's great wrath on men
2) the giving way to a less sin makes way for the committing of a greater
3) it is sad to stand with God for a trifle
4) often there is most danger in the smallest sins
5) the saints have chosen to suffer greatly rather than commit the least sin
6) the soul can never stand under the guilt and weight of sin when God sets it home upon the soul
7) there is more evil in the least sin than in the greatest affliction
4. By showing to the soul the best men's sins and by hiding from the soul their virtues, their sorrows, and their repentance: For remedies, consider that
1) the Spirit of God records not only the sins of the saints, but also their repentance
2) these saints did not make a trade of sin
3) though God does not disinherit his sinning people, He punishes them severely
4) God has two main ends in recording the falls of His saints

5. By presenting God to the soul as One made up all of mercy: For remedies, consider
1) It is the sorest of judgments to be left to sin upon any pretense whatever
2) God is as just as He is merciful
3) sins against mercy will bring the greatest and sorest judgments on men
4) though God's general mercy is over all His works, yet His special mercy is confined to those that are divinely qualified
5) the saints now glorified regarded God's mercy as a most powerful argument against, and not for, sin
6. By persuading the soul that repentance is easy and that therefore the soul need not scruple about sinning: For remedies, consider that
1) repentance is a difficult work above our own power
2) repentance changes and converts the whole man from sin to God
3) repentance is a continued act
4) if repentance were easy, the lack of it would not strike millions with terror and drive them to hell
5) to repent of sin is as great a mark of grace as not to sin
6) Satan now suggests that repentance is easy, but shortly he will drive his dupes to despair by presenting it as the hardest work in the world

7. By making the soul bold to venture upon the occasions of sin: For remedies, consider
1) certain scriptures expressly command us to avoid occasions of sin and the least appearance of evil
2) there is no conquest over sin unless the soul turns from the occasions of sin
3) saints now glorified have turned from the occasions of sin as from hell itself
4) to avoid the occasions of sin is an evidence of grace
8. By representing to the soul the outward mercies enjoyed by men walking in sin, and their freedom from outward miseries: For remedies, consider that
1) we cannot judge of how the heart of God stands towards a man by the acts of His providence
2) nothing provokes God's wrath so much as men's abuse of His goodness and mercy
3) there is no greater curse or affliction in this life than not to be in misery or affliction
4) the wants of evil men are far greater than their outward blessings
5) outward things are not as they seem, nor as they are esteemed
6) God has ends and designs in giving evil men outward mercies and present rest from sorrows and sufferings that cause saints to sigh
7) God often plagues and punishes those whom others think He most spares and loves
8) God will call evil men to a strict account for all the outward good that they have enjoyed

9. By presenting to the soul the crosses, losses, sorrows and sufferings that daily attend those who walk in the ways of holiness: For remedies, consider that
1) all afflictions suffered by Christians turn to their profit
2) all such afflictions only reach their worst, not their best, part
3) all such afflictions are short and momentary
4) all such afflictions proceed from God's dearest love
5) it is our duty and glory to measure afflictions not by the smart but by the end
6) God's design in saints' afflictions is to try, not to ruin, their souls
7) the afflictions, wrath and misery consequent upon wickedness are far worse than those linked with holiness
10. By causing saints to compare themselves and their ways with those reputed to be worse than themselves: For remedies, consider that
1) to be quick-sighted abroad and blind at home proves a man a hypocrite
2) it is far better to compare our internal and external actions with the Word than to compare ourselves with others worse than ourselves
3) though our sins may not appear as great as those of others, yet without repentance responding to mercy, we shall be as certainly damned as others

11. By polluting the souls and judgments of men with dangerous errors that lead to looseness and wickedness: For remedies, consider that
1) an erroneous vain mind is as odious to God as a wicked life
2) it is needful to receive the truth affectionately and plenteously
3) error makes its owner suffer loss
4) it is needful to hate and reject all doctrines that are contrary to godliness, that lead to self-righteousness, and that make good works co-partners with Christ
5) it is needful to hold fast the truth
6) it is needful to keep humble
7) errors have been productive of great evils
12. By leading men to choose wicked company: For remedies, consider that
1) there are express commands of God to shun such company
2) wicked company is infectious and dangerous
3) it is needful to look upon the wicked in such terms as Scripture describes them
4) the company of wicked men was once a grief and burden also to saints now glorified
1. By presenting the world in such a garb as to ensnare the soul: For remedies, consider that
1) all things here below are impotent and weak
2) they are also full of vanity
3) all things under the sun are uncertain and mutable
4) the great things of the world are hurtful to men owing to the corruption of their hearts
5) all the felicity of this world is mixed
6) it is needful to get better acquainted with, and assurance of, more blessed and glorious things
7) true happiness and satisfaction does not arise from worldly good
8) the value and dignity of the soul is to be a subject of contemplation
2 By presenting to the soul the dangers, losses and sufferings that accompany the performance of certain religious duties: For remedies, consider that
1) all such troubles cannot harm the true Christian
2) saints now glorified encountered such dangers, but persevered to the end
3) all such dangers are but for a moment, whereas the neglect of the service of God lays the Christian open to spiritual and eternal dangers
4) God knows how to deliver from troubles by troubles, from dangers by dangers
5) In the service of God, despite troubles and afflictions, the gains outweigh the losses
3. By presenting to the soul the difficulty of performing religious duties: For remedies,
consider that
1) it is better to regard the necessity of the duty than the difficulty of it
2) the Lord Jesus will reveal Himself to the obedient soul and thus make the service easy
3) the Lord Jesus has Himself engaged in hard service and in suffering for your temporal and eternal good
4) religious duties are only difficult to the worse, not to the more noble part of a saint
5) a glorious recompense awaits saints who serve the Lord in the face of difficulties and discouragements
4. By causing saints to draw false inferences from the blessed and glorious things that Christ has done: For remedies, consider that
1) it is as needful to dwell as much upon scriptures that state Christian duty as upon those that speak of the glorious things that Christ has done for us
2) the glorious things that Christ has done and is now doing for us should be our strongest motives and encouragements for the performance of our duties
3) other precious souls who have rested on Christ's work have been very active and lively in religious duties
4) those who do not walk in God's ways cannot have such evidence of their righteousness before God as can those who rejoice in the service of the Lord
5) duties are to be esteemed not by their acts but by their ends
5. By presenting to view the fewness and poverty of those who hold to religious practices: For remedies, consider that
1) though saints are outwardly poor, they are inwardly rich
2) in all ages God has had some that have been rich, wise and honorable
3) spiritual riches infinitely transcend temporal riches, and satisfy the poorest saints
4) saints now appear to be 'a little flock', but they belong to a company that cannot be numbered
5) it is but as a day before these despised saints will shine brighter than the sun
6) the time will come even in this life when God will take away the reproach and contempt of His people, and make those the 'head' who have been the 'tail'
6. By showing saints that the majority of men make light of God's ways and walk in the ways of their own hearts: For remedies, consider that
1) certain scriptures warn against following the sinful examples of men
2) those who sin with the multitude will suffer with the multitude
3) the soul of a man is of more worth than heaven and earth
7. By casting in vain thoughts while the soul is seeking God or waiting on God: For remedies, consider that
1) the God with whom we have to do is great, holy, majestic and glorious
2) despite wandering thoughts it is needful to be resolute in religious service
3) vain and trifling thoughts that Satan casts into our souls are not sins if they are abhorred, resisted and disclaimed
4) watching against, resisting and lamenting sinful thoughts evidences grace and the sincerity of our hearts
5) we must labor to be filled with the fullness of God and enriched with all spiritual blessings
6) we must labor to keep up holy and spiritual affections
7) we must labor to avoid multiplicity of worldly business
8. By tempting Christians to rest in their performances: For remedies, consider that
1) our choicest services have their imperfection and weaknesses
2) our choicest services are unable to minister comfort and aid in days of trouble
3) good works, if rested upon, will as certainly destroy us as the greatest sins that we commit
4) God has met our need of a resting place in Christ Himself
1. By causing saints to remember their sins more than their Savior, yes, even to forget and neglect their Savior: For remedies, consider that
1) though Jesus Christ has not freed believers from sin's presence, He has freed them from its damnatory power
2) though Jesus Christ has not freed believers from the vexing and molesting power of sin, He has freed them from the reign and dominion of sin
3) it is needful to keep one eye on the promise of remission of sin, and the other eye on the inward operations of sin
4) believers' sins have been charged to the account of Christ as debts which He has fully satisfied
5) the Lord has good reasons for allowing His people to be troubled with sinful corruption
6) believers must repent of their being discouraged by their sins
2. By causing saints to make false definitions of their graces: For remedies, consider
1) there may be true faith, even great faith, where there is no assurance
2) the Scriptures define faith other than Satan tempts the saints to define it
3) there may be true faith where there is much doubting
4) assurance is an effect of faith, not faith itself

3. By causing saints to make false inferences from the cross actings of Providence: For remedies, consider that
1) many things, though contrary to our desires, are not contrary to our good
2) God's hand may be against a man when His love and His heart are set upon him
3) Cross providences are sent by God to work some noble good for saints
4) all the strange and deep providences that believers meet with further them in their way to heaven

4. By suggesting to saints that their graces are not true, but counterfeit: For remedies, consider that
1) grace may mean either the good will and favor of God, or the gifts of grace
2) there are differences between renewing grace and restraining grace, between sanctifying and temporary grace (to particulars given)
5. By suggesting to saints that the conflict that is in them is found also in hypocrites and profane souls: For remedies, consider that
1) the whole frame of a believer's soul is against sin
2) a saint conflicts against sin universally, the least sin as well as the greatest
3) the conflict in a saint is maintained for several reasons
4) the saint's conflict is constant
5) the saint's conflict is within the same faculties
6) the saint's conflict is blessed, successful and prevailing
6. By suggesting to the saint who has lost joy and comfort that his state is not good:
For remedies, consider that
1) the loss of comfort is a separable adjunct from grace
2) the precious things still enjoyed are far better than the joys and comforts lost
3) the glorified saints were once in the same condition
4) the causes of joy and comfort are not always the same
5) God will restore the comforts of His people

7. By reminding the saint of his frequent relapses into sin formerly repented of and prayed against: For remedies, consider that
1) many scriptures show that such relapses have troubled saints
2) God nowhere promises that such relapses will not happen
3) the most renowned of glorified saints have, on earth, experienced such relapses
4) relapses into enormities must be distinguished from relapses into infirmities
5) involuntary and voluntary relapses must be distinguished
6) no experience of the soul, however deep or high, can in itself secure the soul against relapses
8. By persuading saints that their state is not good nor their graces sound: For remedies, consider that
1) the best of Christians have been most tempted by Satan
2) all the saints' temptations are sanctified to them by a hand of love
3) temptations cannot harm the saints as long as they are resisted by them
THE WORLD [5 devices and their remedies]

1. By causing them to seek greatness, position, riches and security: For remedies, consider that
1) self-seeking sets men upon sins against the law, the Gospel, and Nature itself
2) self-seeking exceedingly abases a man
3) the Word pronounces curses and woes against self-seekers
4) self-seekers are self-losers and self-destroyers
5) saints have denied self and set public good above personal advantage
6) self hinders the sight of divine things: hence prophets and apostles, when seeing visions, were carried out of themselves
2. By causing them to act against the people of the Most High: For remedies, consider that
1) all who have acted against the saints have been ruined by the God of saints
2) the Scriptures show that God gives victory to His people against their enemies
3) to fight against the people of God is to fight against God Himself
4) men of the world owe their preservation from instant ruin, under God, to the saints
By moving them to pride themselves on their parts and abilities, and to despise men of greater grace but inferior abilities: For remedies, consider that
1) men have nothing but what they have received, gifts as well as saving grace coming alike from Christ
2) men's trusting to their parts and abilities has been their utter ruin
3) you do not transcend others more in parts and abilities than they do you in grace and holiness
4) men who pride themselves on their gifts and set themselves against the saints will find that God blasts and withers their gifts
By dividing them and causing them to 'bite and devour one another.' For remedies, consider that
1) it is better to dwell on the saints' graces rather than on their weaknesses and infirmities
2) love and union best promote safety and security
3) God commands and requires the saints to love one another
4) it is better to eye the things in which saints agree rather than those things wherein they differ
5) God is the God of peace, Christ the Prince of peace, and the Spirit the Spirit of peace
6) it is needful for the saints to make more care and conscience of maintaining their peace with God
7) it is needful to dwell much upon the relationship and union of the people of God
8) discord is productive of miseries
9) it is good and honorable to be the first in seeking peace and reconcilement
10) saints should agree well together, making the Word the only touchstone and judge of their words and actions
11) saints should be much in self-judging
12) saints should labor to be clothed with humility
By causing them to affect ignorance and to neglect and despise the means of knowledge: For remedies, consider that
1) an ignorant heart is an evil heart
2) ignorance is the deformity of the soul
3) ignorance makes men objects of God's hatred and wrath
4) ignorance is a sin that leads to all sins

1. By suggesting to men the greatness and vileness of their sins [Eight Remedies]
2. By suggesting to sinners their unworthiness [Four Remedies]
3. By suggesting to sinners their want of certain preparations and qualifications [Three Remedies]
4. By suggesting to sinners that Christ Is unwilling to save them [Six Remedies]
5. By causing sinners to give more attention to the secret decrees and counsels of God than to their own duty [Two Remedies]

point added]

"Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's
schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against
the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of
evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the
day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done
everything, to stand."
Ephesians 6:11-13

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Strange Fire: The Fear of the Lord

In keeping with my post from yesterday on highlighting the great fact that the wrath of God was satisfied on the cross by Jesus Christ, R.C. Sproul takes us yet another step further in his article called Strange Fire. Here is an excerpt:

"One aspect of the modern church ... is that believers are no longer encouraged to have a healthy fear of God. We seem to assume that the fear of the Lord is something that belonged to the Old Testament period and is not to be a part of the life of the Christian. But fear of God involves not simply a trembling before His wrath, but a sense of reverence and awe because of His glorious holiness.
"Even though we are living on the finished side of the cross, the fear of the Lord is still the beginning of wisdom (Ps. 111:10a). God is still a consuming fire, a jealous God (Deut. 4:24). When we come into His presence, we are to come as children, as those who have been reconciled, but there is to be a godly fear inspired by respect for the One with whom we are dealing."
-R.C. Sproul, Strange Fire, Ligonier Ministries

Monday, May 6, 2013

The wrath of God was satisfied

The PC(USA), in updating their denominational hymnal, recently voted to exclude the contemporary hymn "In Christ Alone" because the original authors would not agree to let the denomination change  one line in the second stanza (Ref: The specific line is found in the title of this post: "The wrath of God was satisfied". The PC(USA) had wanted to change the line just after "Till on that cross as Jesus died" to "The love of God was magnified." This seemingly minute change struck me as awefully important and immensely subversive to the message of the Gospel truth.

As I've spoken to a number of men and women who will call themselves Christians, but who struggle with the institutional church and orthodox teaching, the problem of evil invariably surfaces as a sticking point or area of doubt. This is ironically often followed by an ensuing discussion of the topic of God's wrath and the concept of hell and eternal damnation&nbsp. "How can a good and loving God punish people made in His image?" they will ask. Such a question truly highlights the frailty of our reasoning, since the problem of evil and the doctrine of God's wrath are intricately woven together. The same person who in a previous moment demonstrates a sort of self-righteous indignation about why evil exists and what should be done about it, in the next sentence rejects our Father's gracious solution - the Good News - as revealed in His Son Jesus Christ.
It would seem that many of us, and I include myself in this number, suffer more from the fear of man than the fear of the Lord. I would rather tell someone who doesn't know Christ, or someone who is backsliding from the faith, that the cross is only about God's love and mercy. Unfortunately, such a half-truth misses perhaps the most important piece of the Gospel, which is precisely why it specifically had to be Jesus' death on the cross that atoned for our sins.

Cosmic treason against our holy, perfect Creator and life-giver is an infinitely and eternally serious act. If I believe that my disobedience and sin can be simply swept under the carpet and erased without being dealt with and paid for, then that is just unhelpful, cheap grace. It's tempting to offer people the cheap grace way out of sin and guilt. But the problem is that if we only hold out God's love in this way and forget what it cost Him, we won't understand the depth of His love and nature of His grace - unmerited favor. The gift of God - eternal life - cost Christ the bitter cup of death on the cross so that we might walk free. To try to erase the depth of what Christ endured for us on the cross by wiping out the wrath of God and the equivalent of eternal damnation, is to mischaracterize the Christian faith. To do so is to wrongly succomb to the fear of man and to deny a true and proper fear of God. Since I talk to a lot of people outside the church, I do actually find myself doing this at times, sorry to say. When I do, I'm withholding perhaps the most beautiful and important aspect of the Gospel Good News. So, today I'm reminded, confessing, repententing, and encouraging others not to succomb to fear of man.

Here are the lyrics to the wonderful hymn that brought this all to mind today:

In Christ alone my hope is found;
He is my light, my strength, my song;
This cornerstone, this solid ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My comforter, my all in all—
Here in the love of Christ I stand.

In Christ alone, Who took on flesh,
Fullness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness,
Scorned by the ones He came to save.
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied;
For ev'ry sin on Him was laid—
Here in the death of Christ I live.

There in the ground His body lay,
Light of the world by darkness slain;
Then bursting forth in glorious day,
Up from the grave He rose again!
And as He stands in victory,
Sin's curse has lost its grip on me;
For I am His and He is mine—
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.

No guilt in life, no fear in death—
This is the pow'r of Christ in me;
From life's first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No pow'r of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home—
Here in the pow'r of Christ I'll stand.

"In Christ Alone"
Words and Music by Keith Getty & Stuart Townend
Copyright © 2001 Kingsway Thankyou Music

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Great Commission: Is it Legalism?

Anthony Bradley writing for World Magazine's blog calls out the contemporary church movement that beckons comfortable middle class Christians to become more "missional" and even "radical" as a new form of legalism. In some respects, I agree with him 100%. I've been involved with previous churches where the just-out-of-seminary assistant pastor will come up with all of these programs and campaigns to motivate young and old to become active in helping out with the needy outside of the church. As with many well-intended church activities, it doesn't take long for good ideas to go off the tracks or get misdirected.

My friend and I took a homeless man who is a Christian and living in his car to dinner one night a few months ago. We wanted to encourage him, to see how we could pray for him, and if there was anything that we could do to assist him in his journey to find long-term reliable employment. He told us how much he was enjoying the music and the preaching at the church that he attends every Sunday, but that he felt bewildered with their drive toward becoming missional and radical. During a small group meeting he had explained his current situation and asked for prayer and support in his walk with the Lord. Several of the small group members recommended that he needed to get active with outreach by going with them to work with the homeless at the soup kitchen.

So here we have a homeless man, in need of spiritual prayer and God's grace, and is told that he should get involved with the church's homeless ministry if he wanted his walk with God to grow. From my perspective, this example is a good illustration of what can go wrong in the "radical" movement. Just because someone has made into the church, even as a church member, doesn't mean that they have been automatically equipped. Sheep need to be fed. We can only give to others what we've received ourselves.

Our outreach and desire to minister to the poor cannot be seen as an ultimate thing or an end in itself. The worship of our glorious God in spirit and truth as we come together as the body of Christ is both our starting point and our trajectory for this type of ministry. If we don't see ourselves first as poor and needy, at the foot of the cross, it is not too long before our missional and radical motives turn into superiority complexes - or worse yet, God complexes. We may get a good feeling high from doing good and helping someone, but it doesn't honor the Lord and it won't help us grow.

Along with this, we have to always remember that mercy ministry begins with the household of God. Every Sunday, the Lord gathers His sheep into the fold. Sometimes, we don't have to go looking for the people who need our care. Often times they're standing right in front of us, waving their arms, saying "help me". In our blindness, we can actually miss the work God has already given us.

All of that said, I'm a big fan of cultivating a missional mindset and challenging myself not to get complacent wearing out a groove in the pew. Finding the right balance and proper amount of wisdom is journey for all of us, and I'm incredibly blessed that the church I'm in now is committed to doing all of these things in accordance with God's Word and not in human strenghth.