Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Calvin's Tracts and Letters

This year marks the 500th anniversary of John Calvin. In honor of this anniversary many resources, articles and conferences have been made available. Among those resources is a 7 volume set of Tracts and Letters written by or to John Calvin in the 16th Century. Here is Christian Book Distributor's description of the set:

Long unavailable, this collection of Calvin's tracts and letters will delight those who admire the great 16th-century reformer. Three volumes of tracts offer insight into Calvin's thought on a range of thorny issues, including his disagreements with Rome. Four volumes of letters document his correspondence with kings, princes, friends, fellow reformers, and common people. Seven hardcovers, from Banner of Truth.
I am pretty excited about these being made available and look forward to reading them. Click on the cover of the book to check out CBD's price for this set. The 7 volumes can also be purchased alongside of Calvin's Commentaries and Institutes for a VERY reasonable price. This is quite an opportunity for those who have an interest in Calvin's long-enduring effect on the Church.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Purely Delightful: The Benefits and Joy of Reading the Puritans

There are three major things that I seek to foster and maintain everyday: 1) an awareness of the presence, nature, promises and character of God, 2) an awe and feared-filled response to that awareness and 3) an appropriate and passionate response to God in all of the particular responsibilities, interactions and pleasures of the day.

The first and greatest way I perpetuate these three things throughout the day is a steady flow of scripture intake. When I realize both the source and consequent authoritative nature of the scriptures; I have found that I feel a great sense of security, clarity and peace. We are a generation of information. We all, very literally now, have it right at our finger tips. For most now, there is seemingly (emphasis on seemingly) no need to actually learn anything. Why learn something when you can pull up the information in seconds on your mobile device?

What is our obsession with having information so readily and instantaneously? Besides numerous other reasons, I would say that much of it has to do with creating a sense of security for ourselves and having more control through the power of remaining informed. In fact I would say the number one reason that many people stay silent or don't assert themselves in situations is due to a lack of confidence in knowing how to contribute in a valuable way. Information, or truth, is vital to every daily operation and to our joy. The more someone knows about something or someone the more they tend to respond appropriately.

Truth inspires, directs and comforts us. Truth also confronts us and causes us to change when necessary to avoid potential disobedience, harm or destruction even. Given the overwhelming power and necessity of knowing truth; we must love both the acquisition and dissemination of it. Truth, or Jesus, is the most valuable thing we can acquire and at the same time the most valuable thing we can offer anyone.

This leads me to one of the other most influential ways in which I cultivate those the three things mentioned above--reading the writing of the Puritans. Now I must say up front that I certainly read more than just the Puritans and also seek wise counsel from the living and not just the dead. That said, however, I would like to share with you some reasons why I find reading Puritan writing so influential to my growing in godliness. To do this I would like to share with you one of the six characteristics of Puritan literature that Joel R. Beeke and Randall J. Pederson (authors of the book "Meet the Puritans") put forward as why Puritan literature is so beneficial and profitable:

"2.[of six] They marry doctrine and practice. The Puritans did this by addressing the mind, confronting the conscience, and wooing the heart.

Addressing the mind. The Puritans refused to set mind and heart against each other but taught that knowledge was the soil in which the Spirit planted the seed of regeneration. They viewed the mind as the palace of faith. "In conversion, reason is elevated," John Preston wrote. Cotton Mather said, "Ignorance is the mother not of devotion but of heresy."

The Puritans understood that a mindless Christianity fosters a spineless Christianity. An anti-intellectual gospel quickly becomes an empty, formless gospel that doesn't get beyond "felt needs." That's what is happening in many churches today. Tragically, few understand that if there is little difference between what Christians and unbelievers believe with their minds, there will soon be little difference in how they live. Puritan literature is a great solution to this problem.

Confronting the conscience. The Puritans were masters at naming specific sins, then asking questions to press home conviction of those sins. As one Puritan wrote, "We must go with the stick of divine truth and beat every bush behind which a sinner hides, until like Adam who hid, he stands before God in his nakedness."

Devotional reading should be confrontational as well as comforting. We experience little growth if our consciences are not pricked daily and directed to Christ. Since we are prone to run for the bushes, we need daily help to be brought before the living God, “naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:13). In this, no writers can help us as much as the Puritans.

Engaging the heart. It is unusual today to find books that feed the mind with solid biblical substance and move the heart with affectionate warmth, but the Puritans do both. They reason with the mind, confront the conscience, and appeal to the heart. They write out of love for the souls of readers. They set forth Christ in His loveliness, moving us to yearn to know Him better and live wholly for Him.”

It is certainly needless to say that God uses other things in my life and the lives of others to grow us in godliness, however; I have found that usually these things are just another way of God giving us an opportunity to come to learn more truth, respond to it or to share it with others. The Puritanical emphasis on the marriage of doctrine (truth) and practice, as described by Beeke and Pederson, is like the meeting of a low pressure system and a high one that creates a wind or storm of divine awareness, reverence, repentance, awe, adoration and action.

Each week I hope to share with you a little from various different Puritan writings that have thus far impacted me the most. I think (and pray) you will find them as stirring as I have.

Soli Deo Gloria

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Daily Bible Reading and Keeping a Journal/Commentary

Those who know me know that I am a man of systems. The more complex and busy life gets the more intentional and creative my systems tend to get. Just as we have variable and fixed expenditures in life, so to are there some aspects of being a disciple of Jesus Christ that can be variable and some that must remain fixed.

I think it is hardly debatable that Bible reading is one of those disciplines that we should not be casual about and must remain fixed. All authentic, vibrant and fruitful discipleship flows from a deepening revelation and relationship with the Triune God. Although it is true that God often reveals Himself to us in a variety of ways; there is no clearer and more objective way that He does so than by His perfect Word.

The Word, then, should be more precious to us than any other thing we possess. If our joy is always relative to how satisfied in and dependent on God we are; then knowing, studying and meditating on the Word of God should be of the highest priority.

I have developed my own little system to make sure that I regularly study and meditate on God's Word. I use a daily Bible reading plan that takes me through 4 biblical categories of reading each day. I personally use the ESV Study Bible Reading Plan. ESV has several reading plans for you to choose from that help immensly in guiding your daily reading. I read from 4 places in the Bible each day, and usually spread it out to 2 in the morning and 2 in the afternoon or evening. Sometime I do just 1 in the morning, 1 in the afternoon and 2 in the evening. Being in God's Word all day has a dramatic effect on my thought and prayer life and thus affects the way I act during the day as well. Sometimes the daily reading has provided me with just the right verse to share with a believer who needed encouragement or an unbeliever.

Besides just reading God's Word daily with the help of a reading plan; I also journal or commentate on the reading for each day. I personally go verse by verse and so it ends up being a nice little commentary for me to go back and read each year and I get to write new notes for each verse each year. As the years go on you can look at the several different comments you have written for the same verses and compare them. This exercise of writing also helps you to retain much of what you read and stores it in your head throughout the day. I use a 3-ring binder with dividers and section titles to maintain my journal/commentary. It is cheap and it's easy to add and remove pages for more writing or to file away old entries.

This sort of journaling is also a great thing to leave your children. It teaches them the value of journaling for the purpose of godliness and they will have all of your journaling notes to look at someday.

If you struggle with maintaining a discipline of steady Bible reading, perhaps a more intentional system is just the thing you need!

Soli Deo Gloria

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Another Hallelujah

Here is an entry from my journal yesterday:

I Love you Lord with all my heart
You've given me a brand new start
And I just want to s
ing this song to you

It goes like this the fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
My heart and soul are praising Hallelujah!

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

I know that you're the God above
You're filling me with grace and love
And I just want to say thank you to you

You pulled me from the miry clay
You've given me a brand new day
Now all that I can say is Hallelujah!

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

As I listened to those words from Lincoln Brewster's version of "Another Hallelujah" while I stared out over Lake Josephine; it felt as though every pour on my skin might turn into millions of little mouths all shouting the chorus "Hallelujah!"

The trees that framed the lake seemed to join in the praise with its' leaves looking like hundreds of clapping hands as the wind whipped through them. Even the lake itself seemed to prostrate itself before the Lord over and over as its waves crashed on the shore one after another. It's as if nature perpetually hears the music that the angels worship to in the heavens and is forever responding and joining in the adoration of its' Sovereign King and Maker. When all mp3 players and radios turn off, and when all church worship services end, the heavenly chorus continues unceasingly crying, "Holy, Holy, Holy, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah."

No matter where and when we are; we are all privileged, welcomed and called to join in this celestial song!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Satisfaction in Affliction Silences The Wicked

I am currently reading "All Things For Good" by the puritan author Thomas Watson which is an exposition of Romans 8:28:

"And we know for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose."

In chapter 2, "The Worst Things Work For Good to the Godly," Watson says this on how afflictions work for good to the godly:

"Afflictions work for good, as they put to silence the wicked. How ready are they to asperse and calumniate the godly, that they serve God only for self-interest. Therefore God will have His people endure sufferings for religion, that He may put a padlock on the lying lips of wicked men. When the atheists of the world see that God has a people, who serve Him not for a livery, but for love, this stops their mouths. The devil accused Job of hypocrisy, that he was a mercenary man; all his religion was made up of ends of gold and silver. 'Doth Job serve God for naught? Hast not thou made a hedge about him? Etc. 'Well,' says God, 'put forth thy hand, touch his estate' (Job 1.9). The devil had no sooner received a commission, but he falls a breaking down Job's hedge; but still Job worships God (Chap. 1.20), and professes his faith in Him. 'Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him' (Chap. 13.15). This silenced the devil himself. How it strikes a damp into wicked men, when they see that the godly will keep close to God in a suffering condition, and that, when they lose all, they will hold fast their integrity."

I took away a few amazing things from this spectacular paragraph:

1. Affliction is good because it gives us the opportunity to prove that our love for God is not based on possession or earthly well-being.
2. Affliction is good because it confounds and confuses the wicked who don't understand the nature of true, godly love. The wicked think that all things must be done with a motivation of personal gain and are amazed when the saints rejoice in affliction and "loss" when they are seemingly gaining nothing.
3.Affliction is good because it gives great opportunity for great glory to God who upholds and gives joy to the righteous in affliction and proves His great and all-surpassing worth.

Monday, June 1, 2009

I Surrender All To You

I've been revisiting some of Lincoln Brewster's stuff lately. I love his worship music in general and this song, Surrender, in particular:

I'm giving you my heart, and all that is within
I lay it all down for the sake of you my King
I'm giving you my dreams, I'm laying down my rights
I'm giving up my pride for the promise of new life

And I surrender all to you, all to you
And I surrender all to you, all to you

I'm singing You this song, I'm waiting at the cross
And all the world holds dear, I count it all as loss
For the sake of knowing You for the glory of Your name
To know the lasting joy, even sharing in Your pain

And I surrender all to you, all to you
And I surrender all to you, all to you

The lyrics for this song were inspired by the following passage:

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith-- that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
(Philippians 3:7-11)

I have always particularly liked this passage because it captures 1) the theme of this blog and 2) a resounding theme of my life; Jesus Christ is a treasure worth more than all of the rubbish this world has to offer, and I would gladly give it all up to know and be satisfied by Him even if it means suffering great loss in this age. This being the case; I surrender all (which really is nothing of any value whatsoever) to Jesus in order to show Him and the world His all-surpassing worth. You can listen to the song below.