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A Lively Reverence

Picture two men. One stands in a soaring cathedral. His eyes and mouth are closed. His hands have never leave the back of the pew in front of him. Around him, words are read or sung that speak of God’s transcendent holiness. He registers each truth with a small nod of his head and meaningful assent in his heart. The second man paces back and forth along the side of a low-ceilinged room. Tears flow down his face and his hands punctate his prayers as he pleads with God to save his wife. Occasionally he groans and sinks to his knees as he reaches a place where words are gone but the burden remains.

Question: which man embodies your definition of “reverence”? Read more…


‘Not My Will but Thy Will’ and our Free Will

Theology comes from two words meaning “God” “talk”. But there is more than one way to put those two words together. Does theology happen when we talk about God? Or does it happen when God talks to us about Himself? The answer, of course, is both. But the order is important. Before we talk about God we must have thoughts about Him. Our God-talk is the fruit of our God-thought. For this thinking to be in touch with the true God, however, it must be rooted in the revelation God has made of Himself. So the process of “God-talk” is: First, God speaks in Scripture and we listen. Second, we think over what God has said, asking for the illumination of His Spirit. And only then do we have anything to say about what God has said.

This need to hear Scripture clearly is particularly important as we cultivate a theology of free will because this topic stirs our society to speak with an especial energy. This means that the opinions we hear will be forceful, but may not be faithful to Scripture. Here are the steps we have taken in our study so far. In the first post we wondered at the biblical preoccupation with the final freedom of God’s will. In the second post we realized that our salvation depends on our dependently working out what God has decisively worked in. In the third installment we watched Scripture tear the veil of tension thought to exist between God’s unsurrendered sovereignty and our authentic responsibility. This post examines how closely this divine sovereignty and human responsibility can coexist – namely, in the one Person of Jesus Christ. Scripture teaches that man has a nature (Acts 14:15; Js. 5:17) and God has a nature (Rm. 1:20; Heb. 1:3). Furthermore, these natures are not the same. Yet Jesus is fully God and fully man. How does the union of these two natures help us think biblically about our free will?  Read more…

With the Early Church in the School of Prayer

The Bible has much to show and say about prayer. This teaching becomes incarnate in the Person of Jesus. While He walked the earth and taught His disciples, Christ lived by communion with His Father, particularly by prayer.  The book of Acts, as a continuation of His teaching and work (1:1), and so it is no surprise that we see the church regularly at prayer. As those who seek to learn from Him how to pray, it is helpful for us to study the 30 times that prayer appears in the book of Acts. This study will not yield a comprehensive biblical portrait of prayer, but it will present us with some important places to start developing our own prayer life as we see NT principles in action. (An asterix below represents the church at corporate prayer. It is instructive to note how often the church is reported as praying together.)

Following the example of the early church:

1. we pray when we are waiting for the fulfillment of divine promises.* Acts 1:14 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you will be my witnesses…all these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer. Acts 6:4 We will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.  Read more…

Our Free Will: A Gift of God’s Grace

We should expect to be surprised by the Bible. This expectation flows from our confession that Scripture is God’s Word. This means that the Bible is not only by Him, it is about Him. If God has thoughts that are above our finite attempts at thinking, and if He has ways that are above our creaturely attempts at synthesizing, and if in the Bible He reveals Himself to us, then we should expect to be surprised by the Bible. We should expect to be challenged out of our cozy mental ruts. We should expect to be invited into the joyful labor of building new categories. We should expect the opportunity to worship by prostrating our “natural” or cultural assumptions before the glory of holy wisdom.

Yet too often we come to Scripture expecting to find mesh rather than a mold. We are discomforted by the Psalms because of their imprecatory hatred of God’s enemies. We are embarrassed by the Song of Solomon because of its unblushing enjoyment of God-given sexuality. We nod uncomprehendingly at the Sermon on the Mount because we can’t imagine grace actually intensifying the demands of the law. And of course we explain away the book of Revelation because if such things ever began to break out across the earth our 21st century American dream would come crashing down.

The relationship of God’s sovereignty to our free will is one issue where we manage to be discomforted, embarrassed, uncomprehending and intent on explaining away the teaching of Scripture all at once! This is a popular and important topic – though for different reasons than we might imagine. What (surprises!) do we find when we go to Scripture and ask how to think and talk about free will? Read more…

Does Spontaneity Equal Spirituality?

Imagine this scene:

Paul has just spent days, maybe weeks, dictating his letter to the church in Rome. He has invested hours pacing and praying, laboring to pick just the word that will communicate the burden that is burning in his heart. Tertius has faithfully written as Paul talked, at times re-writing, at times reading  out loud so Paul can hear how it all flows together. The Spirit of God has been invoked from the very beginning. He has inspired not only the apostle’s thoughts, but the very words that are being used to squeeze the breath of God down into human syntax. It has been a season of work and worship like neither of them have ever known.

And just as Tertius finishes – to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen – and begins to roll up the scroll, Paul strides across the room, grabs the scroll, tears it down the center and says, “just dash off a note telling the church to ‘follow the Spirit’ when they meet together.”  Read more…

Christ, my Life, my living Flame

Christ, my Life, my living Flame,

burning off all guilty shame;

Every blessing found in You,

pollution cleansed, man made new.


Atonement takes sin’s stain away,

just execution granted stay;

New I am, and becoming new,

ever onward, more like You. Read more…

God Works on Our Will by His Word

Philippians 2:16 is an exhortation to “hold fast the word of life.” This “holding” means to fix on, to pay close attention to, not deviating from this word. And the “word of life” that we must lock onto and never let go of is the Scripture. The other place this phrase appears in the Bible is in 1 John 1:1 “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life – that which we have seen and heard we proclaim to you.” John here calls the revelation of God in Jesus Christ that comes through the word of his proclamation (which was subsequently written down in Scripture) “the word of life.” It is the word that transmits the life of God to those who hold it fast. Paul himself gives us a glimpse of how this transmission takes place in II Timothy 3:16 where he describes all of Scripture as “breathed out by God.” So the life-giving breath of God is breathed into Scripture by the Spirit. And when a believer holds fast to this word they are breathing in this divine, creating, transforming, sustaining, equipping, quickening breath by the that same Spirit.  Read more…

Can Two Wills Be Finally Free?

The question in the title of this post is my attempt to grapple with the way our creaturely, conditioned, and dependent freedom interacts with the unbounded and unconditioned freedom of our Creator. Our will is free in certain ways. And His will is free is certain ways. Biblically, it is important to affirm the real “freedom” of both wills, human and divine. But it would be a hasty and costly error to assume that this word “free” carries the same weight and scope in both cases. (Just as it would be to assume that freedom must be final in order to be real.) The word “finally” in the title is meant to identify the the difference between the freedom of the human will, where even our rejection of God is ultimately under His sovereign sway, and the freedom of the divine will which is neither boundaried nor conditioned by any other autonomy. This is final freedom – it belongs to the one whose freedom triumphs over all other freedoms. And the consistent biblical testimony is that this final freedom belongs only to God.  Read more…

Christian Service: A Sign of Salvation

…complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own but also to the others. Have this mind among yourselves which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a grasping thing, but made hiumself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

The main point that rises from the opening exhortation of Philippians 2 is this: God shows me how He saved me as you serve me! That is, I receive a physical, visible, tangible demonstration of the way God worked to accomplish my salvation as I am served by my “gospel-partners” (as Paul loves to call believers, Phil. 1:5).  Read more…

Planks and Pleas – for One Another

The “Golden Rule” from Matthew 7:12 is familiar to many of us. “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Despite this familiarity it was only this morning that I noticed how this sentence is a summary of a preceding line of thought. The word “so” or “therefore” at the beginning of vs 12 (which doesn’t appear in all English translations) means that the Golden Rule does not stand on its own but is weaving together the threads of what has come before.

The chapter begins with Jesus’ admonition that we should not judge blindly. There is a way of judging that brings condemnation on us, namely trying to remove the speck in our brother’s eye without first taking the plank out of our own. Without the humility and grace that comes from first taking the log out of our own eye, we cannot see clearly to help our brother. Tying this to the “therefore” of vs 12 we find an example of something we would not want done to us – eye surgery by a plank-eyed doctor – and so we should not do it to others. Read more…