The task of the Christian then, is to be less and less the foul odor of sin, and more and more the pleasing aroma of Christ. We are to be little pockets of the new creation in the midst of a desert of sin. Or, to put it another way, we are to be reservoirs of beauty and greenness in the middle of the smog and harsh realities of sin.
Within the city I live in, there is limited natural, green space in which to escape the cacophony and the concrete. But there is one place my family and I frequent that gives us some sense of escape. It is a small water reservoir with a dirt path on the perimeter and populated by a variety of birds and flowers. It’s a nice place, other than the the greenish, contaminated water, the beer bottles, the lost shoe, the bag of garbage, etc.
This little reservoir reminds me of how sin contaminates our world and compromises its goodness and beauty. I don’t just mean sin in a general sense, I mean my own sin. My sin makes this world an ugly place because it hurts others and is an offense to God.
That was true for Israel as well. God had promised his chosen people a land flowing with milk and honey – symbols of its flourishing. It was to be a little bit of Eden in a desert of sin. It was to be a holy land and a place where people could go and catch a glimpse of what the world was like before sin crept in and infested everything under the sun.
But Israel could not keep herself holy. The nation was rarely a light to the nations and the land was frequently defiled with immorality. Despite the prophets warnings, Israel persisted in her sin and continued polluting the land.
And then God said enough!
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By Joel R. Beeke — 2 weeks ago
Paul did not consider his life as precious or “of great value.”11 When he understood that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem to glorify God, he did not protest, saying: “But Lord, they want to kill me there. I have an important ministry among the gentiles. The churches in Asia and Greece need my theological wisdom and my practical guidance. Surely someone else could go.” Instead, Paul saw himself as a servant “for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor. 4:5). Nothing was more precious to him than to submit to the will of God. Nothing was more important than completing the work that the Lord Jesus gave to him. Thomas Manton (1620–77) said, “Life is only then worth the having when we may honor Christ by it. . . . Paul loved his work more than his life, and preferred obedience before safety.”12
In this way Paul denied himself, took up his cross and followed Christ, who, “being found in fashion as a man, . . . humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:8). Christ is God; yet Christ is also God’s servant par excellence. If He, whom we rightly call Lord and Master, washed the feet of His disciples, how much more should we be willing to undertake lowly and difficult tasks? Henry wrote of Paul, “He was willing to stoop to any service, and to make himself and his labors as cheap as they could desire.”13
Gisbertus Voetius (1589–1676), a leading theologian of the Dutch Further Reformation, wrote voluminous theological disputations in Latin while seeking to reform the church and society of the Netherlands. Voetius has been compared to the English Puritan John Owen in stature and influence, yet Voetius took time every week to teach catechism to orphaned children.14 He did not regard that work as something too lowly for someone of his standing but gladly obeyed the Bible’s call to care for widows and orphans (James 1:27).
2. He delights in giving more than in receiving. Paul says in Acts 20:33–34, “I have coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel. Yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me.” As Apostle to the gentiles, Paul started many churches in centers of wealth, but not with the idea of making himself rich in the process. He gladly preached the gospel for free, earning his own way as a tentmaker if no one was able or willing to support him. He was willing to spend his own money on these churches, much as parents support their children (2 Cor. 12:14–15). So, Paul could say to the Ephesian elders, “I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35, KJV). How precious these words are from Christ’s earthly ministry, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
Proud people are like black holes in outer space. They think they deserve glory, honor, and power for what they do, but whatever they manage to get simply disappears into their darkness, for they are never satisfied. They are like Haman, who was a great prince in the Persian Empire but was “full of wrath” when one man refused to bow to him (Est. 3:1–5). By contrast, people of humility are like the sun. They constantly shine forth light and warmth, blessing those around them. They do not covet glory and honor for themselves; they give freely, willing to “spend and be spent” for Christ’s sake. In doing so, they attract people as the sun attracts objects with its gravitational pull, and they create beautiful, ordered families, churches, and societies.
By David de Bruyn — 3 weeks ago
The more these Dionysian-dominant songs are sung, the more they tend to choke out older and classical hymnody. Unless the pastors have a strong sense of what music communicates, they will be led by the same appetitive pull that passion-centred music has on all. They will see how much the congregants enjoy such songs; they will interpret this enjoyment as “connecting meaningfully” with the music, and notice how the visceral response is absent in some of the more Apollonian classic hymns.
We began this series by making the claim that Pentecostalism has quietly (or not so quietly) colonised Protestant worship, even in those churches and groups that explicitly reject Pentecostal theology. We have described the distinctives of Pentecostal worship, not in terms of its views regarding the operation of the charismatic gifts, but in terms of its focus on intensity, spontaneity, and its distinctive “praise-and-worship” theology of worship. It now remains to make the case that these approaches are widely shared and practiced in non-charismatic, or cessationist circles.
In the first place, there is little doubt that what is prized as “intensity” in Pentecostal circles is fairly well accepted as a laudable goal in cessationist evangelical circles. The move towards intensity is seen in many a non-charismatic church’s method of singing one song after another, in rapid succession, only the occasional musician’s deejay vocals over the bridge intro. The practice of singing five, six, or more songs one after the other, apart from causing some of the elderly to just eventually sit down during the songs out of sheer pain and frustration, is closer to the “flow-like” worship of Praise and Worship theology than like a thoughtful response to God’s Word. The choice of songs also appears suspiciously like the Praise and Worship, Five-Stage theology of the charismatics. Beginning with upbeat, thanksgiving songs, reaching a crescendo of triumphalism, and then gliding down into the zone of breathy, ‘deep’ songs of intimacy just before the offering or sermon.
A second mark of the takeover of worship by charismatics is that non-charismatic evangelicals are drawn to rather uncritically embrace the music of charismatic songwriters. Of course, several of the modern hymns written by those in openly charismatic circles (such as Sovereign Grace) or “cautious-but-open” circles qualify as decent or even good hymns, having both theologically sturdy lyrics and readily likeable and singable melodies. There is little wonder that many of our churches sing them, for their lyrics are often without cliches, and their music answers to 21st-century musical sensibilities.The problem is not the contemporary nature of these songs. It does not matter if a song was written in 221, 1021, or 2021, as long as it is true, good, and beautiful. The problem is not even the charismatic commitments or associations of the songwriters. Enough beautiful hymns were written by people whose theology we do not all share, for example Charles Wesley, Nikolaus von Zinzendorf, Paul Gerhardt, or Frederick Faber.
The problem is far more that that on the spectrum of Apollonian to Dionysian sentiment, they probably lean closer to the Dionysian side, at least musically.
By Ajith Fernando — 2 weeks ago
We can weep, we can be angry over wrongs, we can be upset about situations. But we can’t be bitter. And of course, if we are bitter, we end up hurting people. How can we not be bitter? Because God, Jesus is walking with us through the pain. And we have comfort and strength.
The topic given to me is, ‘Embracing suffering in ministry,’ and I want to take the second half of Romans 8, and present to you six words that will help us to be joyful in the midst of the suffering that we encounter in ministry. So, if you read the passage, you come to verse 20, which says, “The whole creation, for the creation, was subjected to futility. Not willingly, but because of him who subjected it in hope.” That’s the first-word, “futility,” or, as other translations put it, frustration. Things don’t work out as we expect them to all the time. Because of the fall, the world lost its equilibrium. And things happen that we don’t plan or desire. And of course, the pandemic has made it even more marked, as our plans have to be constantly changed because of the situation around us.
Of course, Jesus himself had to face frustration. We know that Jesus had a disciple Judas, who used to steal. I mean, the all-knowing Savior of the world, had the treasurer of his group, steal from him, take money from the common purse. He prayed, “Let this cup pass away from me,” but it was not fulfilled. That prayer was frustrated because God had a greater plan. According to that, Jesus came to serve incarnationally, and incarnational ministry means he had to be one with humanity and one with humanity as they suffer. So, Jesus suffered as people suffered, and we too must suffer. Our plans, ambitious, sometimes are dashed because of problems. Even while preparing for this talk, I found event after event because of the needs of people coming in to stop me from doing the preparation I wanted to do. This happens to us often as we are servants of people. Their plans sometimes supersede ours, so that our preparation has to be done with great difficulty like financial problems. I’m sure many pastors would be encountering financial problems during this pandemic. That’s what many are facing in Sri Lanka, as people are not working, and they cannot send their normal tithes to the church because some have lost their jobs. There are problems with the weather, lockdowns, sickness, and sometimes even death, unpleasant relationships at home, sometimes with spouses, problems that we encounter. And these are all coming under the rubric of frustration. So that’s the first word, frustration.
The second word is groaning. Verse 22, says, “The whole creation is groaning together in the pains of childbirth.” Of course, childbirth means there is hope something wonderful is going to come, that is that the creation is going to be redeemed. But even while we have this hope, we groan. Because now there is pain. And not only does the creation groan, but verse 23 says, “We who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly.” We have the first fruits of the Spirit. In other words, we have experienced God. We know he’s with us. We know our eternal destiny. We have had a taste of heaven already. But now, we experience pain and frustration. And so we groan. We have been given the freedom to groan by God, to express our pain.
Now groaning is different from grumbling. Grumbling is done by those who are disobedient, who are rebelling against God’s will. Groaning in the Bible is the groaning of the obedient, who have been faithful to God, and in spite of their faithfulness, they are experiencing problems, troubles, difficulties, and deprivation. The Old Testament Psalms give many laments, maybe 60 out of the 150, depending on whose classification you follow, are laments. And one of the most famous ones is Psalm 22, which starts with the words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And Jesus took those words and made them his own. So we can weep. We can question God, like the psalmist questions God. We can express our pain in words, in sighs. We don’t have to bottle up our pain and our questions. That will make us depressed, and even bitter. God has given us the freedom to weep. In fact, I would say that groaning is the alternative to quitting. Some people don’t know how to groan, can’t handle the frustration, and in their frustration, they quit. We don’t quit, we groan. We express our pain to our colleagues, to God, and mainly to God. We express our pain. So that’s the second word, groaning.
Now we come to the third word, which is fellowship, the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. The first part of verse 26 says, “Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.” Though God is strong, still, while we live on Earth, we have weaknesses. Here, the particular weakness mentioned is that we do not know what to pray for, as we ought. I’m sure many of you have felt that with this pandemic that we are going through. We feel helpless. We don’t know what to pray for, we don’t know what we should pray about. Many of us, because we are leaders, ask God, “Lord, help us, help me, help me to say the right prayer to direct these people right in prayer.” There are so many situations that we cannot control, and we feel weak.