Human Dignity in a Post-Human World

Human Dignity in a Post-Human World

Yesterday, our church observed Sanctity of Life Sunday (a bit early due to our church’s involvement with the G3 Conference this week).  For the 2017 Sanctity of Life Sunday, we welcomed Scott Klusendorf, president of Life Training Institute to our church and our pulpit.  You can hear his full sermon as he pointed out the biblical, logical, and moral fallacies of the pro-choice movement.

+Full manuscript / notes

Paul’s Prayer for the Church

Paul’s Prayer for the Church

Yesterday, we continued our study through Ephesians on Sunday morning.  I had the privilege of preaching Ephesians 3:14-21 which is a prayer that the apostle Paul prayed for the church.  Paul approached the throne of God in humility as be bowed before the God of glory and lifted up petitions of prayer for the church.

Paul’s Prayer for the Church

When we read the prayers of Paul and we see his deep love for the local church and how he often prayed for them, it should cause us to examine how we pray for the church.  Notice the components of Paul’s prayer.

  1. Paul prayed for the church to have the strength of the Spirit of God
  2. Paul prayed for the church to have the fullness of Christ dwelling in their hearts by faith
  3. Paul prayed for the church to grasp the knowledge of God that would fuel their mission

The children of God need the Spirit’s power to serve God.  Without the power of the holy Spirit, we will fail in our mission.  Likewise, Paul pointed to the need for Christ to dwell, or take up residence, in the hearts of the believers by faith.  The point Paul understood was that if Christ dwells in a person’s heart, He will rearrange, reorder, and reprioritize the lives of His people.

The last request is centered upon the need for knowledge among God’s people.  If this was true in Paul’s day, it’s drastically worse in our present day.  In many circles of evangelicalism, the church is suffering from a severe lack of knowledge.  Many churches are a mile wide and only an inch deep.  In many cases, pragmatism has replaced theology—leaving the people spiritually ignorant and unable to even discuss theology and the overarching components of the faith.  This is tragic, but it’s real.  And just as Paul was writing and praying about real problems that he was witnessing in his day, so must we in ours.

Paul uses two Greek words here in this text to point to the need for knowledge.

  • Comprehendκαταλαμβάνω – “To lay hold of, to seize, detect catch.” The idea here is to grasp something.
  • Knowγινώσκω – “To know, come to know, gain knowledge.”

When it comes to the Christian faith, feelings must never replace knowledge.  If our mission for Christ is fueled by how we feel, we will certainly run out of gas in our journey.  Our worship, our service, our giving, our praying, our preaching and teaching—the totality of ministry must be built upon a firm foundation of knowledge.  Yes, love is important, but without knowledge, you can’t love properly.  Without knowledge, the mission and entire focus of the church is off center.

Like two wings of an airplane, knowledge and service for God are both important.  If you’re all focused on doing, going, serving, working, and laboring for Jesus but you’re not even able to spell the word “gospel” much less define it—you will come crashing to the ground.  The same thing is true with knowledge.  If the doctrine you learn doesn’t produce a passion to serve Christ, you should examine yourself and see if you’re in the faith.

Paul’s Confidence in God’s Power

Paul concludes his prayer by focusing on the power of God.  Paul is certain that God can do far more than we think or imagine.  However, as he prays and points to the Father’s power, we must note that he isn’t pointing to some disconnected sovereignty that is detached from the church.  Paul is confessing that God is able to do, in the church, far more than we could think or imagine.  The power of God on display in the world through the church is what Paul is praying for.  That’s what the world needs to see.

As we see Paul’s love and dedication to the church in his day, what does our dedication to the church look like?  As we see Paul praying for the church in his day to grow in knowledge and grasp the understanding of God in his day, what does the depth of our church look like today?  May the Lord grant to us the power of His Spirit, the knowledge of His Word, and the passion to serve Him faithfully.

The Reformation Resulted in an Explosion of Gospel Missions

The Reformation Resulted in an Explosion of Gospel Missions

Yesterday, on the first day of 2017, I had the privilege to preach from Romans 10 on the subject of missions.  Each year, typically during the final few weeks of the year, I preach a missionary biography.  The biography is either a missionary who served Christ on a foreign field or is someone used to educate and equip the local church at home to be involved in missions.

Due to the way the schedule fell in 2016, I was unable to preach that sermon due to a complicated church calendar, so yesterday, we started off 2017 with an emphasis on the Reformation and how our salvation is directly connected to the work of the Reformers.  R. C. Sproul writes, “The Reformation was not merely a Great Awakening; it was the Greatest Awakening to the true Gospel since the Apostolic Age.” [1]

In Romans 10:13-17, Paul is confronting Israel regarding their unbelief and pushing the need for zealous hearted missions. As the apostle to the Gentiles, you can hear the emphasis of a global salvation plan accenting the words of Paul as he points to “all” and “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord.”  Certainly, as we consider the failure of the Jews in Paul’s day and the laziness of the evangelicals in our day, it would do us well to look at the Reformation and see the need to walk in the footsteps of Paul as we begin 2017.

During the days that preceded the Reformation, the Bible had been locked away in a dark dungeon by the Roman Catholic Church.  They insisted that the Word of God must be heard by the priests, who would speak it only in Latin.  The Roman Catholic Church insisted that the common person was unable to understand the Word of God without the aid of a priest.  However, they were unwilling to release control of the Bible, and in order to prevent anyone from getting their hands on the Word of God—they would burn people at the stake as an example to all who resisted their authority.

John Hus was the first example, and John Wycliffe’s bones being exhumed, burned, and scattered in the River Swift many years after his death further illustrates their hatred for those who wanted to get the Bible into the hands of the common people in their own language.  In 1517, Martin Luther unknowingly sparked a debate that was like a hot ember falling to the parched dry ground of Europe as he nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the castle church door in Wittenberg.  After being converted in 1519 and preaching the true gospel, his Reformation zeal grew more intense and this led to a showdown at Worms where Luther made his famous “Here I Stand” speech.

God took a Roman Catholic named Johannes Gutenberg and his invention of the printing press, and used it as a vehicle to spread the truths of the gospel all across Europe.  Soon, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and many others would be writing and preaching and their works would be spreading all around the world.  Not only writing and preaching, but training and preparing missionaries to go and plant churches.  In Romans 10:14-15, Paul asks a series of questions that places direct aim upon the need for missions.  He writes:

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” [2]

As we look back at the historic Reformation, at the very core of the movement was a desire to unleash the Bible from the dark dungeon of the Roman Catholic Church.  How would people believe if they couldn’t hear?  How would people hear the good news unless someone was sent to preach?  Emerging from the darkness were preachers, relentless preachers of God’s Word who would live out the words of Luther’s hymn:

Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

Under John Calvin’s leadership in Geneva Switzerland, thousands of missionaries were being trained and by 1562, over 2,000 churches had been planted in France.  In 1560, the Geneva Bible was published which was greatly used in Europe and was also the Bible that was brought off of the Mayflower by the early Pilgrims of America.  Through the Reformation, an explosion of gospel missions took place that shook the world.

If you heard the gospel read and proclaimed from an English speaking preacher with an English speaking Bible, you can draw a straight line from Gutenberg’s press through Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses, to the work of William Tyndale and John Rogers in the printing of the first English Bible translated from the original languages, to the 1560 Geneva Bible, to your salvation.

We heard the good news that was preached and believed it by faith—all of this work of the Reformation and our individual salvation is the work of God.  How will God use you and your local church to continue in the footsteps of the early church to carry out the task of the Great Commission given to us by Jesus Himself?  In 2017, as we consider the historic Reformation that started 500 years ago, let us be mindful that the Reformation isn’t over and the Great Commission isn’t over—there is still much work to be done.  Pope Francis began 2017 with a blasphemous tweet, and 500 years after Luther took his stand, we are reminded that the Reformation is far from over.

  1. R. C. Sproul and Archie Parrish,The Spirit of Revival, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2000), Introduction.
  2. Romans 10:14-15 — ESV

The Incarnation and Tabernacle

The Incarnation and Tabernacle

Yesterday, we had the distinct privilege to gather with our church family on Christmas.  As we gathered for worship, it wasn’t just any Lord’s Day, it was the day set aside on the calendar each year to remember the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ.  I preached from John 1:1-18 and the focus of the sermon was the incarnation of Jesus.

Not only did the eternal Logos become a man, Christ also dwelt among His own people.  What a unique truth to behold in John’s Gospel.  In a masterful way, moved by the Spirit of God to communicate with precise doctrinal clarity, John the apostle connects the dots from the Tabernacle of the Old Testament to the incarnation of the New Testament.  When we consider the fact that God became a man, taking upon Himself human flesh, He not only did that in reality, but He dwelt among His very own creation.

Just as it was profoundly wonderful for the radiant glory of God to descend upon the tent-temple of the Old Testament tabernacle, in a far greater weight of glory was the arrival of God in the flesh of Jesus.  What a miracle to behold.  Wayne Grudem writes:

It is by far the most amazing miracle in the whole Bible – far more amazing than the resurrection and more amazing than the creation of the universe. The fact that the infinite, omnipotent, eternal Son of God could become man and join Himself to a human nature forever, so that infinite God became one person with finite man, will remain for eternity the most profound miracle and the most profound mystery in all the universe. [1]

The text explains that Jesus “dwelt” among us.  The word translated dwelt comes from the Greek word σκηνόω, meaning, “To pitch a tent or to tabernacle.”  When we pause to think about the fact that Jesus, the highest King of human history, was not born in a palace or behind the walls of a massive castle as royal babies typically are, but he instead was born in a stable for animals—it’s overwhelming.  Jesus, the Son of the living God, became a man and lived among His very own creation in a cruel sin-cursed world.

This was the purpose of the incarnation, Emmanuel—God with us.  As God, Jesus would minister in a way that no other human could possibly do.  Jesus would come to seek and save the lost, and to fulfill what the angel spoke to Joseph in Matthew 1:21.  Jesus was born to die.  Through His death, God and sinners would be reconciled, as Charles Wesley so eloquently described it in his hymn, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.

God became a man, yet He didn’t cease to be God.  He was God when He was conceived in Mary’s womb, He was God when they laid Him in the stable, He was God when He preached His first sermon, He was God when they nailed Him to the cross.  He was man, yet God at the same time, and after being brutally killed on the cross, He was raised from the dead proving His divinity.

What is the incarnation?  It’s when God became a man.  Why did He become a man?  He came to save His people from their sins.  Have you been rescued from your sin?  Have you been saved?  God motivated Caesar Augustus to make a decree regarding the registration which forced Mary and Joseph to travel 90 miles to Bethlehem so that she would give birth to Jesus in that particular city in order to fulfill the prophecy of Micah 5:2.  Could it be that the same sovereign God has ordained that you come to understand what Christmas is all about this season, in order to save you from your sin?

Unlike the most holy place within the Tabernacle of the Old Testament that was sectioned off and unapproachable by every person, when God became a man He said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). Consider these words written by Charles Wesley:

Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
risen with healing in his wings.
Mild he lays his glory by,
born that we no more may die,
born to raise us from the earth,
born to give us second birth.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the new born King!”

  1. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 563.

Was John Calvin a Hyper-Calvinist?

Was John Calvin a Hyper-Calvinist?

Many people claim that John Calvin was against missions and that those who call themselves Calvinists or ascribe to the 5-points of Calvinism are anti-missional in their thinking.  Is that true?  Does the belief in a robust God who saves spiritually dead sinners create cold hearts who resist any work of gospel missions among the neighborhoods and the nations?

Over the past several years, the population of men and women who embrace the doctrines often called Calvinism has drastically increased within the evangelical church—notably so within the Southern Baptist Convention.  This has caused many to question their beliefs, examine their positions, and in some cases, to take up the sword and fight.  The common charge is that anyone who’s a Calvinist is also a hyper-Calvinist—someone who opposes the spread of the gospel.  First of all, there must be a distinction between Calvinism and hyper-Calvinism (just as there must be a distinction between the First Baptist Church in your local community and Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas).  Calvinism is not hyper-Calvinism and before we label someone a heretic, we must understand that vocabulary choices matter.

John Calvin’s Missionary Zeal

Did John Calvin teach people to hide the gospel under a basket (Matt. 5:14-16)?  The very moment that you stop listening to horrible sermons, inaccurate lectures in Bible college and seminary settings, and stop reading historically and intellectually dishonest blogs in the Internet, you will actually discover something rather refreshing about this often hated figure from church history.  John Calvin was not only a man with a passion for preaching the Bible, he was also a zealous hearted, missions focused preacher.

As Calvin’s preaching thundered from his pulpit in Geneva, he was preparing men to go and lead churches in France.  He organized, trained, developed, and sent out hundreds of these zealous hearted missionaries who proclaimed the good news of the gospel.  These missionaries stood upon the firm foundation of a robust sovereign grace.  As these men were convinced of God’s sovereignty in salvation, such knowledge became the fuel in the furnace of their hearts as they went out to plant churches and preach the gospel.  By 1562, Calvin (with the aid of other surrounding cities) had planted over 2,000 churches in France.  Some of the missionaries who were sent out from Calvin’s church died as martyrs.  Does this sound like a hyper-Calvinist to you?

The hyper-Calvinist rejects any effort to proclaim the gospel to the non-elect.  Rather than preaching the gospel indiscriminately and allowing God to bring sinners to faith, the hyper-Calvinist resists any attempt to offer the gospel to those who aren’t the elect of God.  Does this sound like the ministry of John Calvin?  Edward Panosian writes the following:

From that city [Geneva], hundreds of missionaries, evangelists, and pastors traveled to all corners of the continent preaching the gospel.  Their efforts, sometimes sealed with a martyr’s blood but always crowned with success, thrilled Calvin. [1]

Harry R. Leader points out that “Calvin’s beloved France, through his ministry, was invaded by more than thirteen hundred Geneva-trained missionaries.” [2]  Why would someone who rejected the idea that we need to send out missionaries to preach the gospel actually send out hundreds of trained missionaries to preach the gospel?

I’ve read about (never met an actual hyper-Calvinist other than the Westboro group) people who were hyper-Calvinistic in their theology, and they would never send missionaries out to spread the good news of Christ.  They would consider it a waste of time and effort.  One such figure from church history was named John Ryland, and he rebuked William Carey for inquiring about “using means” to reach unbelievers (it should be noted that it was William Carey, the Calvinist, who was trying to organize a missions effort).

The Missions Preaching of John Calvin

No hyper-Calvinist would preach with a missionary zeal as was consistently evident in the preaching ministry of Calvin.  In a sermon titled, “The Call to Witness” Calvin preached from 2 Timothy 1:8-9.  He made this powerful statement:

If the gospel be not preached, Jesus Christ is, as it were, buried. Therefore, let us stand as witnesses, and do him this honor, when we see all the world so far out of the way; and remain steadfast in this wholesome doctrine. . . . Let us here observe that St. Paul condemns our unthankfulness, if we be so unfaithful to God, as not to bear witness of his gospel; seeing he hath called us to it.

The preaching ministry of a hyper-Calvinist is cold, lifeless, and without passion for the lost world.  That doesn’t describe the preaching of John Calvin.  For instance, in a sermon on Isaiah 12:5, he said the following:

[Isaiah] shows that it is our duty to proclaim the goodness of God to every nation. While we exhort and encourage others, we must not at the same time sit down in indolence, but it is proper that we set an example before others; for nothing can be more absurd than to see lazy and slothful men who are exciting other men to praise God.

John Calvin was not only a faithful expositor of God’s Word and a defender of the true faith, he was also a zealous proclaimer of the faith.  He preached with trumpet zeal and passionately pointed people to Jesus Christ.  In a letter to five missionaries who had been arrested and were facing death, John Calvin wrote a letter to them on May 15th, 1553.  Here is what he said:

Since it pleases him [i.e. God] to employ you to the death in maintaining his quarrel [with the world], he will strengthen your hands in the fight, and will not suffer a single drop of your blood to be spent in vain. And though the fruit may not all at once appear, yet in time it shall spring up more abundantly than we can express. But as he hath vouchsafed you this privilege, that your bonds have been renowned, and that the noise of them has been everywhere spread abroad, it must needs be, in despite of Satan, that your death should resound far more powerfully, so that the name of our Lord be magnified thereby. For my part, I have no doubt, if it please this kind Father to take you unto himself, that he has preserved you hitherto, in order that your long-continued imprisonment might serve as a preparation for the better awakening of those whom be has determined to edify by your end. For let enemies do their utmost, they never shall be able to bury out of sight that light which God has made to shine in you, in order to be contemplated from afar. [3]

Hyper-Calvinists are heretics who oppose the open preaching of the gospel and never engage in missions.  Whatever your opinion of John Calvin is, let’s be sure to make this clear point—he was no hyper-Calvinist.  The towering figure of Geneva who labored in his expository preaching, trained missionaries, and prepared them to die well—was no heretic.  We must be careful to learn church history from accurate records and to use vocabulary carefully.

If the missionary preaching of John Calvin’s ministry is what it means to be a Calvinist, may the Lord raise up many more.

  1. Edward Panosian, “John Calvin: The Theologian” in Faith of Our Fathers, ed. James Cardinal Gibbons, (New York: Aeterna Press, 2015), 109.
  2. Harry R. Leader, “The Churchman of the Reformation” in John Calvin: A Heart for Doctrine and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons, (Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust, 2008), 68.
  3. Letter 318 [in Jules Bonnet, ed., Letters of John Calvin, tr. Mr. Constable (1858 ed.; repr. New York: Lenox Hill Pub. & Dist. Co., 1972), II, 406].

What Child Is This?

What Child Is This?

Yesterday, in our incarnation series, I preached from Matthew 2:1-12.  As we’re mindful of the importance and significance of the incarnation, we are overjoyed with the truth that God became a man in order to save men by God’s grace.  W. Chatterton Dix, born June 14th 1837 in Bristol, wrote the following hymn:

What Child is this, who, laid to rest,
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?

This, this is Christ, the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
Haste, haste to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary!

Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear: for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.

So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh,
Come, peasant, king to own Him.
The King of kings salvation brings;
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.

What Child Is This — Causing Wise Men to Wonder?

The “wise men” here named in this scene are long debated mysterious figures.  Some translations render them “magi” while they have also been labeled “three kings” from the east.  The first mention of this Greek term (μάγος) in Scripture is in the Greek translation of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint.  We first see this term μάγος in Daniel 2:1-2.

The magicians and soothsayers could not interpret Nebuchadnezzar’s dream so they brought in Daniel, a young boy, who interpreted the king’s dream by pointing out four world powers.  He pointed to the Babylonian kingdom, the Medes and Persians, the Grecian kingdom, and the Roman empire.  However, he went on in Daniel 2:44-45 to point to another Kingdom that would never fall — God’s Kingdom in Christ Jesus.

Five hundred years would pass from the days of Nebuchadnezzar and the magicians who sought to interpret his dreams.  They would remember the response of Nebuchadnezzar to Daniel’s ability to interpret his dream (Daniel 2:46).  When the strange light, an odd star appeared in the sky – it got their attention.  They more than likely researched and discovered that this little boy promised something would happen one day – and this was somehow connected to that prophecy.

What Child Is This — Causing a Wicked King to Quake in Fear?

The Magi assembled themselves and it’s quite probable that there were more than three who went along for the journey.  Many scholars and historians estimate that they had a small Persian army accompanying them for their journey to Jerusalem.  As opposed to riding on camels, it’s likely that they were riding on horses as they were dressed in their typical oriental magi garb.

As they arrived before Herod, they asked a question that rocked his world.  “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him” (Matthew 2:2).  This question greatly troubled Herod.  He was a powerful ruler who opposed any threat to his throne.  Immediately, he started scheming a plan that would eliminate this ruler who was born “King of the Jews.”

Herod assembled the rulers of Israel (most likely the entire Sanhedrin) and inquired about this King.  They quoted Micah 5:2 and pointed out that one day their King would be born in Bethlehem.  He asked the Magi when the star had appeared, and they told him their answer.  Herod was doing the math in order to determine how many babies he would need to murder in Bethlehem.  King Herod was a man who was known as a brutal murderer.

  • Fearing the potential threat of the High Priest’s political power, he had him drowned. This man was his own brother-in-law.
  • He then killed his wife, mother-in-law and two of his sons.
  • Five days before his death, he had his other son executed.
  • Realizing that he would not be mourned for at his death – because people hated him – he had many of the distinguished Jewish community arrested. The order was that the moment he died to have them all executed in order that there would be great mourning following his death.

Being accustomed to murder, he used it to protect his throne against this baby boy who was born “King of the Jews.”  That was his title.  He was known as King of the Jews.  So, he had every baby boy in Bethlehem under two years of age killed.  As we know the story, Jesus was spared.  God’s sovereign plan would not be thwarted.

What Child Is this — Who Saves Pagan Star-Gazing Astrologers?

The Magi continued their journey, and as they made their way toward Bethlehem, they could see the star again.  It led them to the exact house where Jesus was with his family.  Jesus was no longer in a barn or stall used for animals (manger).  It’s likely that he was between one and two years of age at this point.  William Hendriksen calls these men “strange travelers” — and it’s likely that they appeared very strange to the baby Jesus and his family.  Why had they come from so far away?  They had come to worship Jesus!

They offered Him treasures – gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  These treasures were special to them and costly — they gave them as an offering of worship and sacrifice.  The third verse of Dix’s hymn is:

So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh,
Come, peasant, king to own Him.
The King of kings salvation brings;
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.

In the city of Cologne, Germany stands a massive cathedral that transcends over 500 feet upward above the city. Visitors come from all around the world to this historic landmark owned and operated by the Roman Catholic Church. The architecture is overwhelming and as you enter the lofty cathedral, it’s apparent that many people are on a mission to see the celebrated treasure in the heart of the cathedral.

They estimate that 20,000 people per day visit the cathedral.  It’s the centerpiece of the city.  Majestic stained glass windows decorate the walls and twin spires stretch high above the surrounding landscape.  What’s all the buzz about?  Why so many visitors?  As you make your way inside and continue to the front, you will see people taking pictures of a golden box at the front.  You can only get so close, and you certainly can’t touch it.  The Roman Catholic Church claims that inside this golden box rests the bones of the three wise men who came to worship Jesus (you can read more about that here).

Once again, it’s highly improbable that three men traveled from the east to find Jesus.  It was most likely a large group of people who made the historic journey.  But consider the irony.  The Roman Catholics are pointing people to the bones of men who once bowed and worshipped Jesus as opposed to pointing people to Jesus Himself.  What good is a golden box full of dead men’s bones?  W. Chatterton Dix’s hymn has a chorus that we sing. He penned these words as he answered the question – What Child Is This?

This, this is Christ, the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
Haste, haste to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary!