The Most High A Prayer Hearing God – Jonathan Edwards (1735)

jonathan-edwardsPsalm 65:2 is Edwards text in the winter of 1735, January 8.

O you who hears prayer, to you shall all flesh come.

Doctrine – It is the character of the Most High, that he is a God who answers prayer.

Four headings drive the sermon.

1. The Most High is a God that Hears Prayer

Though he is infinitely above all, and stands in no need of creatures; yet he is graciously pleased to take a merciful notice of poor worms in the dust.

Edwards argues that God not only accepts the supplications of all the saints; he does so willingly with favor.  He adds, “While they are praying, he gives them sweet views of his glorious grace, purity, sufficiency, and sovereignty; and enables them, with great quietness, to rest in him, to leave themselves and their prayers with him, submitting to his will, and trusting in his grace and faithfulness.”

2. He is Eminently Such a God

Edwards provides several examples of how God answers prayer:

  • In his giving such free access to him by prayer.
  • That God is eminently of this character, appears in his hearing prayer so readily.
  • That the Most High is eminently one that hears prayer, appears by his giving so liberally in answer to prayer.
  • That God is eminently of this character, appears by the greatness of the things which he hath often done in answer to prayer.
  • This truth appears, in that God is, as it were, overcome by prayer.

3. Reasons for the Doctrine

A crucial point that Edwards makes is that God answers prayer because “he is a God of infinite grace and mercy.”

  • He hath by his blood made atonement for sin; so that our guilt need not stand in the way, as a separating wall between God and us, and that our sins might not be a cloud through which our prayers cannot pass.
  • Christ, by his obedience, has purchased this privilege, viz, that the prayers of those who believe in him should be heard.
  • Christ enforces the prayers of his people, by his intercession at the right hand of God in heaven.

Application

Edwards draws out many practical applications, the chief of which alerts the saints to make good use of prayer; to be prayer warriors in this wicked age.

“Seeing we have such a prayer-hearing God as we have heard, let us be much employed in the duty of prayer: let us pray with all prayer and supplication: let us live prayerful lives, continuing instant in prayer, watching thereuto with all perseverance; praying always, without ceasing, earnestly, and not fainting.”

 

Why We’re Protestant – Nate Pickowicz (2017)

why we're prot

“Justification is the article upon which the church stands or falls.” So said Martin Luther as he battled for reform in the eye of the sixteenth-century storm that we know as the Protestant Reformation. The Reformers rediscovered the truth and beauty of the gospel message and proclaimed it faithfully and forcefully. Their allegiance to the gospel inform and inspire us as we strive to follow in their footsteps.

Nate Pickowicz beautifully summarizes the spirit of the Reformers in his most recent book, Why We’re Protestant: An Introduction to the Five Solas of the Reformation. First, the author clearly describes the “gospel crisis” that emerged in the sixteenth century. The crisis involves a fundamental disagreement on how sinners are justified. The answers proposed by Rome and the sixteenth century Protestants are clear. The answer proposed by Rome falls short of the biblical benchmark and leads sinners to a pathway of destruction. The Protestant reply is faithful to Scripture and leads sinners on a pathway to the Celestial City.

The essential message of the Reformation is captured in the five solas – grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone, Scripture alone, and to God alone be the glory. Pickowicz guides readers on a journey that unfolds these remarkable truths in a way that is winsome, historically accurate, and faithful to Scripture.

Why We’re Protestant is a veritable battering ram and a boon for the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. As we draw near to the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation, I commend this fine work and trust that God will use it to fortify a new generation of reformers who exalt the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ!

Preaching and Teaching With Imagination – Warren Wiersbe (1997)

Preaching and Teaching With Imagination is a book whose goal is to help preachers so proclaim the Word that the people who hear them will experience the power of God’s truth changing their lives.  It argues that biblical preaching must be accompanied by a vivid imagination.  It rejects the “conveyor-belt” mentality of dispensing knowledge which merely fills minds and notebooks.  Dr. Wiersbe writes, “We have forgotten that the bridge between the mind and the will is the imagination, and that truth isn’t really learned until it’s internalized.”

The book includes three major sections.  The first addresses imagination and life.  Here the author contrasts the communication styles of Hushai and Ahithophel.  Hushai is presented as one who speaks in pictures and addresses the imagination.  Ahithophel, on the other hand, is seen as a left brained, analytical thinker who communicates to the mind alone.  The argument is that preaching must help put pictures into the gallery of their minds which reveal the beauty of the Lord.

Section two deals with the numerous ways that Scripture communicates by way of imagination.  Word pictures are presented from Genesis to Revelation and give the preacher a better idea of how to use words creatively.  The key according to this section is to balance images with concepts.

Section three discusses the role the imagination can have on a variety of preaching settings including biographical and evangelistic preaching, funerals, holidays and special occasions.

Preaching and Teaching With Imagination is a very helpful book.  It encourages creativity and imagination without dismissing the crucial disciplines of exegesis, hermeneutics and biblical theology.  The irony is that many times in graduate school, students are discouraged from doing what Wiersbe is prescribing.  This book is balanced.  It encourages the preacher to present images along with concepts.  It emphasizes using words to turn ears into eyes so that people see the truth and in turn want their lives to change.  The documentation and extensive footnotes are extremely helpful.  Finally, Dr. Wiersbe’s book is about transformation.  It seeks to use preaching as a means of life change.

I Will: Nine Traits of the Outwardly Focused Christian (2015)

rainThom S. Rainer, I Will: Nine Traits of the Outwardly Focused Christian Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2015, 198 pp. $10.48

“I want hymns in the worship service.” “I want sermons that are practical and tug on my emotional apron strings.” “I want a slick youth program.” “I want the worship team to dress up.” “I want a quarterly business meeting.” “I want, I want, I want.” This is the lament of many twenty-first century Christians. It is a cry that has been informed by our consumer-based culture. It is an inward cry that makes a plea on the basis of personal preference.

That is the subject of Thom Rainer’s excellent little book, I Will: None Traits of the Outwardly Focused Christian. Rainer contrasts the inward pleas above with a response that is outward. Instead of “I want,” he urges Christians to begin with “I will.” “It is about learning how to have complete joy in your service through your church,” Rainer writes. “It is about becoming a fully functioning member of the body.

The author argues that right attitudes (“I am”) lead to right actions (“I will”). “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4, ESV). Readers are therefore encouraged to commit to the following right actions:

  1. I Will Move From “I Am” to “I Will”
  2. I Will Worship With Others
  3. I Will Grow With Others
  4. I Will Serve
  5. I Will Go
  6. I Will Give Generously
  7. I Will Not Be a Church Dropout
  8. I Will Avoid the Traps of Churchianity
  9. I Will Make a Difference

There is nothing original here – just biblical admonition for Christ-followers who desire to make a maximum impact with their lives to the glory of God. Readers who are troubled by Rainer’s challenges should look deeply at their own motives and their commitment to the local church.

Personally, I was deeply encouraged by Rainer’s timely book. I Will is a reminder that a self-focused approach to Christianity will only do harm and discourage the household of faith. The nine traits that Rainer advances will serve the church well and prompt spiritual growth among the faithful flock of God.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

Lincoln’s Battle With God: A President’s Struggle With Faith and What It Meant For America (2012)

linStephen Mansfield, Lincoln’s Battle With God: A President’s Struggle With Faith and What It Meant For America Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2012, 254 pp. $13.31

The sixteenth president of the United States is dearly beloved by conservatives and liberals alike. He is known for his exemplary leadership, uncompromising character, and love for liberty. Yet his approach to God and the Christian life is something that is either assumed or neglected altogether. Either option shows a certain amount of naivety and must be challenged. Stephen Mansfield’s book, Lincoln’s Battle With God: A President’s Struggle With Faith and What it Meant for America addresses this matter in a way that is educational and inspiring.

Mansfield presents Lincoln as one who was raised in a strict Calvinistic home which was discarded during his teenage years. During his legislative years in Illinois, he was referred to by friends and associates as the “infidel.” One friend spoke candidly about Lincoln’s early rejection of the Christian faith: “Lincoln denies that Jesus was the son of God as understood and maintained by the Christian world.”

Yet, when Lincoln began his bid for the White House, his antipathy toward historic Christianity appears to cool. In his earlier days, some considered him to be an atheist, yet as he progressed in politics, his worldview begins to shift. He is a man who as Mansfield writes, “believes in a God who exerts some degree of sovereign rule in human affairs … whatever the case, he appears to have emerged from his season of ‘infidelity’ and moved toward a less skeptical view of Christian truth.”

Pastor James D. Smith may have played an important role in Lincoln’s view of religion. Smith was a scholar in his own right and was welcomed by Lincoln for his rational approach to Scripture. He stood head and shoulders about some of the revivalists who were excessive in their methodology, not to mention their theological foibles. Whatever the case, Smith was convinced that Lincoln was converted under his ministry. “It is a very easy matter to prove,” writes Smith, “that while I was Pastor of the 1st Presbyterian Church of Springfield, Mr. Lincoln did avow his belief in the Divine Authority and Inspiration of the Scriptures.” Considerable debate has taken place and continues to this day whether or not Lincoln put his faith in Christ at this point.

But in 1850, Lincoln son Eddie grew ill and eventually died on February 1. Most agree that significant change in Lincoln’s worldview occurred during this time. Mansfield writes, “Had Lincoln become a Christian? We cannot know definitively. We do have reason to suspect, though, that something had changed in his ongoing battle with God … A process of spiritual broadening had clearly begun.”

The author continues to document the ongoing theological development in Lincoln and argues convincingly that a work of grace had likely taken place. Later speeches and letters force one to conclude that at the very least, Lincoln had turned a theological corner; at the very best, a true conversion had taken place. Much of Lincoln’s correspondence and especially his speeches give evidence of a truly converted man.

Lincoln’s Battle With God is an illuminating look at one of the most influential leaders in American history. Mansfield writes objectively and provides a depth of research that guides readers into the inner recesses of our 16th president’s heart. I commend Steven Mansfield for offering such a heartfelt book and encourage many to enjoy the fruit of his labor.

The Vanishing American Adult – Ben Sasse (2017)

sasseBen Sasse, The Vanishing American Adult New York: St. Martins Press, 2017, 306 pp. $16.75

Senator Ben Sasse is concerned. He is concerned about the next generation. To put it bluntly, Sasse argues in so many words that we are experiencing a crisis of maturity. Young people are being raised to be lazy, self-indulgent, ungrateful, and unproductive citizens.

The Vanishing American Adult by Ben Sasse focusses on “rebuilding a culture comprised of resilient, literate, thoughtful individuals.” Tragically, many Americans fail to achieve this high standard. In a fascinating twist of irony, one of the first reviews I read on Amazon (which incidentally rated this book with one star) weighed in: “Did not hold my attention. I got very bored.” Such a comment only heightens the appeal that Sasse makes and should prompt this reviewer to reconsider.

After brilliantly articulating our propensity to be passive, Sasse proposes five character building habits:

  1. Discover the body its potential and its frailty, and the many diverse stages of life that lie ahead – by breaking free of the tyranny of one generation.
  2. Develop a work ethic.
  3. Embrace limited consumption.
  4. Learn how to travel and to travel light.
  5. Learn how to read and decide what to read.

The author develops each character building habits and provides “stepping stones” at the conclusion of each chapter. Readers who participate will no doubt be encouraged and will likely take great steps to repudiate the prevailing passivity that dominates American culture.

The Vanishing American Adult is a much-needed corrective and will benefit many readers. The crisis that Senator Sasse presents is real and dangerous. Left unchecked, this crisis will lead to the the steady erosion of American culture and the loss of virtue. Thankfully, Sasse offer workable solutions to “stop the bleeding.” My hope is that many will listen, learn, and change. The future generations will thank us.

What Can a 508-Year Old Man Teach Us?

July 10, 2017 marks the 508th birthday of John Calvin.  But the streamers and balloons are nowhere to be found.  Simply put, we live in a day that is so wrapped up in technology and new inventions that we tend to forget the lessons of the past, especially the lessons of dead guy.

Calvin’s life was a pilgrimage that was characterized by God’s providential grace.  It was God’s providential grace that led him from place to place, equipping him for a lifetime of ministry.  It was God’s providential grace that sustained him during his period of exile and sheltered him through the storm.  It was God’s providential grace that empowered him to write and preach and shepherd the people of God for the glory of God.  It was God’s providential grace that brought Calvin “through many dangers, toils and snares.”  Indeed, it was God’s providential grace that rescued his soul from hell and seated him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6).  And it was God’s providential grace that led Calvin to assume a particular posture that is best articulated in Isaiah 66:1-2.

Notice three things about the Genevan Reformer.  First, Calvin was a humble man.  C.J. Mahaney lays bare the heart of a humble man: “Humility is honestly assessing ourselves in light of God’s holiness and our sinfulness.”  And the Scriptures demand this kind of humility.  “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind” (1 Pet. 3:8, ESV).

Calvin was humble before his God.  He understood that he was a recipient of God’s grace (Rom. 3:24) and that he had been saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone (Eph. 2:8-9).  Consequently, he understood that his only boast was in the cross-work of Christ (1 Cor. 2:2; Gal. 6:14).  Calvin understood the absolute contrast between the sinfulness of man and the majesty of God, what many have referred to as the Creator-creature distinction.  He writes, “Men are never duly touched and impressed with a conviction of their insignificance until they have contrasted themselves with the majesty of God.”

Calvin was humble before people.  He understood that humility is the foundation of Christian character.  The libertines of the 16th century were naming their dogs after Calvin – but Calvin remained humble despite the hatred hoisted upon him.  Calvin opines, “I have always been exceedingly delighted with the words of Chrysostom, ‘The foundation of our philosophy is humility’ and still more with those of Augustine.  If asked, ‘What are the precepts of Christianity?’ I will answer, ‘First, humility, second and third humility.”

Second, Calvin was a contrite man.  The contrite is one who is “stricken, smitten, or crushed in spirit.”  John Calvin was a man of Christ-exalting contrition.  His contrition was Christ-exalting because he knew that Christ was the One he had offended and that Christ alone could free him from his sin.  No work could forgive him, no prayer could forgive him; no priest could forgive him.

As beneficiaries of the Protestant Reformation, this is a truth we too often take for granted.  Even worse, some professing Evangelicals have begun to subtly fall under the spell of the Roman Catholic Church and either forget free grace or ignore it all together.  Perhaps it is time for a new Reformation; a radical rekindling of the precious truths that drove Calvin, Luther, Zwingli, and Knox to their knees in contrition as they celebrated the free grace that was theirs in Christ alone!

Third, Calvin trembled at God’s Word.  He revered the truth of God’s Word.  Steve Lawson adds, “Calvin stood firmly on the chief cornerstone of the Reformation – sola Scriptura, or ‘Scripture alone.’  He believed Scripture was the verbum Dei – the Word of God – and it alone should regulate church life, not popes, councils, or traditions.  Sola Scriptura identified the Bible as the sole authority of God in His church, and Calvin wholeheartedly embraced it, insisting that the Bible was the authoritative, inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word of God.”

Calvin responded to the truth of God’s Word.  He was a sinful man who had a heart that desperately sought to respond obediently to the Word of God.  To that end, he preached the Word of God faithfully with all the passion he could muster!

Calvin rejoiced in the truth of God’s Word – even difficult doctrines.  He rejoiced in difficult doctrines like predestination and conscious eternal punishment.  He rejoiced in mysterious doctrines like the Trinity and the hypostatic union.  And he rejoiced in paradoxical doctrines like the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man.

So what can a 508-year-old man teach us?

Calvin understood that people are transformed by truth

We live in an age where technique is king and pragmatism is queen.  The church has fallen prey to this vicious cycle.  We tend to do what works and invest in what brings results.  Steve Lawson writes, “The church is always looking for better methods in order to reach the world.  But God is looking for better men who will devote themselves to his biblically mandated method for advancing his kingdom, namely, preaching – and not just any kind of preaching, but expository preaching.”  In a day when preaching is being downplayed and theology is being ignored, we need to remember what Calvin understood, namely, people are transformed by truth.

Calvin understood and modeled the need for courage in times of adversity and persecution

Calvin lived in a time when Protestants were being burned at the stake because they were being transformed by the truth.  He was committed to boldly proclaiming the truth no matter what the cost.    Calvin adds, “If, while conscious of our innocence, we are deprived of our substance by the wickedness of man, we are, no doubt, humanly speaking, reduced to poverty; but in truth our riches in heaven are increased: if driven from our homes, we have a more welcome reception into the family of God; if vexed and despised, we are more firmly rooted in Christ; if stigmatized by disgrace and ignominy, we have a higher place in the kingdom of God; and if we are slain, entrance is thereby given us to eternal life.  The Lord having set such a price upon us, let us be ashamed to estimate ourselves at less than the shadowy and evanescent allurements of the present life.”

Calvin reminds us of the sinfulness of humans and the utter need for God’s grace

The flaws in Calvin himself remind us of the sinfulness of sin.  He was deeply aware of his own sin.  But he was also acutely aware of the reality of grace.  His life bears witness to this: He was simul iustus et peccator – simultaneously righteous and sinful..

Calvin reminds us what one man on a mission can accomplish in Christ’s strength

My good friend and colleague, Pastor Wayne Pickens rightly says, “God uses people to reach people.”  God used an ordinary man for an extraordinary purpose.  Or as David Hall writes, “A single man with heart aflame changed the world.”

Calvin reminds us of the sufficiency of Christ and his work on the cross for sinners

The cry of Calvin’s heart was the Lord Jesus Christ.  He constantly pointed sinners to Christ and his cross.

May the life of John Calvin serve as an inspiration to live the Christian life with vibrancy to the glory of God.  May his courage embolden each of us in the difficult days ahead.  When the days grow dark, persecutions escalate, and our freedoms begin to erode, may we remember the motto still etched in Genevan stone, “post tenebras lux,” after darkness light.  May his humility, contrition, and trembling before the Word of God mark our lives as well.  And may the contemporary pulpit be a reflection of Calvin’s pulpit; may men of God stand behind the sacred desk and faithfully deliver to unchanging truths of Scripture so that saints might be strengthened, edified, convicted, encouraged, and equipped!

Calvin agrees, “Let them edify the body of Christ.  Let them devastate Satan’s reign.  Let them pasture the sheep, kill the wolves, instruct and exhort the rebellious.  Let them bind and loose, thunder and lightning, if necessary, but let them do all according to the Word of God.”