Gregory of Nazianzus on

April 30, 2011 § 2 Comments

I have been translating some segments of Greek texts from a number of important Greek-speaking Church Fathers this semester. The class is with Dr. Jon Robertson who did his doctoral work at Oxford in this same field. There are only two of us in the class so we get a lot of great interaction with Dr. Robertson.

This last week we translated Gregory of Nazianzus, sermon from Easter, here is excerpt from my translation:

1.3 Yesterday the Lamb was slaughtered and the doorposts were anointed, and Egypt sang a dirge for her firstborn, and the one who destroys passed over us, and the seal was fearful and awe-inspiring, and we were walled in with honorable blood. Today we have cleanly fled from Egypt and from Pharoah the bitter ruler and heavy commander, we were liberated from mud and brick making. And there is not one hindering us to celebrate the Lord our God, to celebrate our departure, not in the old leaven of malice and wickedness, but with unleavened bread of sincerity and truth,not bringing Egypt’s godless dough.

1.4 Yesterday I was crucified with Christ, today I am glorified with him. Yesterday I died with him, today I am made alive. Yesterday I was buried, today I rise. But let us offer to the one who suffered and rose again for us. You will perhaps think that I am going to say gold, or silver, or woven work or transparent and costly stones, the passing earthly material, that enslaves this world below, and is for the most part always possessed by bad men.  We offer ourselves, the possession most precious to God and most fitting, we give back to the image keeping with the image, we see our dignity, we honor our archetype, we know the power of the mystery, that Christ died.


Riches I Heed Not

April 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

When the Gospel really grips our heart, and sinks down deep, it changes everything, our motives, our joys, our loves, everything. Mere moral sway won’t really change us. Jonathan Edward’s, Thomas Chalmers, John Piper, Tim Keller, and many others all preach and teach with the Gospel of Jesus Christ at the center, they do this because they know that the truth of the Gospel is much more than just a message of justification, though it certainly and absolutely is a message of justification, but the Gospel is intended to pervade every sphere of our life and heart.

I was singing Be Thou My Vision with my kids this morning and realized that the Gospel was alive and well in the verses of the song, not just as a message of justification, but as a motivator for something else:

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

Why don’t we heed riches anymore? Because heeding riches is wrong? Because someone told us to stop heeding riches? We don’t heed riches anymore because we have a infinitely greater treasure and inheritance that is of far greater worth than mere earthly treasures, namely God Himself.

This reminds me of Abraham and Lot in Genesis 13. Abraham and his nephew Lot get into a skirmish and they decide that its time to separate company. Abraham tells Lot in verse 9, “If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right, or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left.” Abraham let’s Lot choose first. Lot gets to choose first? Why? Why would Abraham hold his land, wealth, and future prosperity with such an open hand? The answer comes in verse 15 when God tells Abraham to lift his eyes and see “ all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever.” All of it will belong to Abraham and his offspring. God really wants this to sink in deep for Abraham so in verse 17 God tells Abraham “Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” He has him just get up and walk the land, walk the land and get a glimpse of what you will inherit.

We are Abraham’s offspring, which means that we will inherit the world with Abraham. I think we would do well to “walk around” like Abraham a little more. We sometimes have too much emphasis on doing and not enough on being. So right now, for just a minute just be. Sit under and mediate upon the great and massive truths of the Gospel.

If we are ever going to stop heeding riches, if we are ever going to be like Abraham and let Lot choose first, if are ever going to start doing then it must come from being, we must let the truth of the Gospel sink deeper and deeper into our hearts. Nothing else will change us. Nothing.

Jonathan Edwards on The Pastor Stirring-up Affections

April 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

I am reading Jonathan Edwards’ Religious Affections this week and I was struck with how Edward’s described the work of pastor’s, namely to stir-up holy affections in their people through the Word of God. This is an explanation of Gospel-Centered preaching at its finest:

And the impressing divine things on the hearts and affections of men, is evidently one great and main end for which God has ordained that his word delivered in the holy Scriptures, should be opened, applied, and set home upon men, in preaching. And therefore it does not answer the aim which God had in this institution, merely for men to have good commentaries and expositions on the Scripture, and other good books of divinity; because, although these may tend as well as preaching to give men a good doctrinal or speculative understanding of the things of the word of God, yet they have not an equal tendency to impress them on men’s hearts and affections. God hath appointed a particular and lively application of his word to men in the preaching of it, as a fit means to affect sinners with the importance of the things of religion, and their own misery, and necessity of a remedy, and the glory and sufficiency of a remedy provided; and to stir up the pure minds of the saints, and quicken their affections, by often bringing the great things of religion to their remembrance, and setting them before them in their proper colors, though they know them, and have been fully instructed in them already, 2 Pet. 1:12, 13. And particularly, to promote those two affections in them, which are spoken of in the text, love and joy: “Christ gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; that the body of Christ might be edified in love,” The apostle in instructing and counseling Timothy concerning the work of the ministry, informs him that the great end of that word which a minister is to preach, is love or charity, 1 Tim. 3, 4, 5. And another affection which God has appointed preaching as a means to promote in the saints, is joy; and therefore ministers are called “helpers of their joy,” 2 Cor. 1:24.

Look particularly at 2 Pet. 1:12-13, here Peter says that he intends to always remind his readers of things that they already know. Peter inspires, motivates, encourages, and always reminds his people with something that they already know, namely, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Pastor’s job is to remind his people of what has always been true. No new fads. No new methods. Just the Gospel.

The Idol of Approval

April 22, 2011 § 4 Comments

On Sunday night my family went over to one of pastor’s home from our church. In the car I gave my kids the standard lecture, “I want you to sit still, don’t make a mess, don’t talk too loud, etc.” No such luck. One of my children decided that sitting still was over-rated and got up about 78 times, another decided that screaming was a good way to ask their sibling for a toy. My neck was getting tighter and tighter, my blood was almost boiling at this point. Now some instances are disobedience and some are just kids being kids, for example, our pastor was telling us about this lovely new rug that they had just purchased, at that very moment my oldest does a little twirley ballerina move and knocks over an entire glass of liquid on the new heirloom.  The response from our host was, “It’s fine, no big deal,” and at the same time, “Someone get a wet towel, quick!” Kids spill all the time right, I was way beyond  “that’s just what kids do.” Needless to say, I was done.

On the way home I was mad and I made sure everyone knew it. When we walked in the front door my wife gave me a look of disappointment, so I entreated her to explain the look, she said to me, “Dear, there is sin in your heart. You are mad at the children because they made you look bad. You care more about what people think of you than you do about them.” Boom.

We have been reading, thinking, and talking a lot lately about idols that control our hearts and she nailed me. I find security, satisfaction, comfort, and control by being approved of by others. But in the end all of our idols will let us down, every time, no exceptions. My happiness in other people’s approval failed me Sunday night, my idol failed me and I was left empty. But it’s in that place, a place of realizing that we have no hope, where we are ready for the balm of the Gospel to change us. Because its only in the Gospel of Jesus Christ that we can find an object of for our affections, a place to find our security, satisfaction, comfort, and control that won’t ever let us down, even when we let Him down.

So once my kids were in their pajamas, I had them all sit on my bed and I told them that daddy had disobeyed God and that I had sinned when I got mad at them. My 3-year old looked right at me and said, “God should put you in Hell for your sin.” She is right. But then my 4-year old looked right me and said, “But he isn’t going to, because Jesus died for you dad.” I was undone, the balm that only the Gospel can bring was ministered to my heart by two little girls that spoke the words of life.

Parents, husbands, wives, pastors, don’t live in the façade of the perfect life, you’ll never change and your people won’t either.

Shedding Light in the Darkness

March 19, 2011 § 1 Comment

I was recently listening to song by Andrew Peterson, called Planting Trees, and in the live version of the song he tells the story of how the song came to be. He was on a retreat with in a breakaway group with, what he calls, several remarkable people, authors, pastors, and musicians. The question to discuss was, “In what ways are you personally pushing back the darkness, pushing back the curse?” The answers in the group where generally about preaching to large groups of people, writing influential books, and writing beautiful songs, but Andrew’s wife was in the group too and her answer to the question was beautiful, “I am shedding light in the darkness by raising these 3 children in the Lord.”

Andrew goes on to share that he often receives encouraging notes, and letters, and emails about how his work is a blessing to people but that his wife, and most mothers, don’t receive the honor and praise for their ministries. The truth is that moms have a beautiful and glorious opportunity to tangibly share the love of Christ everyday with their children, to show them truth and love and beauty.

There are no shortcuts in life, hard work and a lot of grace and often many years, is the way to see any fruit that is really desired. I am thankful to God for my wife who loves our children and me unconditionally and is shedding light into the darkness, down the hall from me, even as I write this. So I want to honor her for her labor in love in the Lord.

Thomas Brooks

March 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

The Puritan, Thomas Brooks, wrote Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices offering helpful ways to embrace God’s grace and to flee from sin. I found Remedy 4 under Device 2 to be particularly illuminating and helpful:

Seriously to consider, that even those very sins that Satan paints, and puts new names and colors upon, cost the best blood, the noblest blood, the life-blood, the heart-blood of the Lord Jesus. That Christ should come from the eternal bosom of his Father to a region of sorrow and death; that God should be manifested in the flesh, the Creator made a creature; that he who was clothed with glory should be wrapped with rags of flesh; he who filled heaven and earth with his glory should be cradled in a manger; that the almighty God should flee from weak man—the God of Israel into Egypt; that the God of the law should be subject to the law, the God of the circumcision circumcised, the God who made the heavens working at Joseph’s homely trade; that he who binds the devils in chains should be tempted; that he, whose is the world, and the fullness thereof, should hunger and thirst; that the God of strength should be weary, the Judge of all flesh condemned, the God of life put to death; that he who is one with his Father should cry out of misery, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46); that he who had the keys of hell and death at his belt should lie imprisoned in the sepulcher of another, having in his lifetime nowhere to lay his head, nor after death to lay his body; that that HEAD, before which the angels do cast down their crowns, should be crowned with thorns, and those EYES, purer than the sun, put out by the darkness of death; those EARS, which hear nothing but hallelujahs of saints and angels, to hear the blasphemies of the multitude; that FACE, which was fairer than the sons of men, to be spit on by those beastly wretched Jews; that MOUTH and TONGUE, which spoke as never man spoke, accused for blasphemy; those HANDS, which freely swayed the scepter of heaven, nailed to the cross; those FEET, “like unto fine brass,” nailed to the cross for man’s sins; each sense pained with a spear and nails; his SMELL, with stinking odor, being crucified on Golgotha, the place of skulls; his TASTE, with vinegar and gall; his HEARING, with reproaches, and SIGHT of his mother and disciples bemoaning him; his SOUL, comfortless and forsaken; and all this for those very sins that Satan paints and puts fine colors upon! Oh! how should the consideration of this stir up the soul against sin, and work the soul to fly from it, and to use all holy means whereby sin may be subdued and destroyed!

Nate Dogg

March 17, 2011 § Leave a comment

Nate Dogg was known for his monotone, melodious, and stern voice, often bringing a unique intensity to rap songs. Nate Dogg had a stroke in 2008 and died two days ago, March 14th. I spent some time this morning listening to some of Nate’s tracks and I was struck with two things.

First, when listening to 21 Questions, by 50 Cent, Nate Dogg’s refrain goes like this:

Girl…It’s easy to love me now
Would you love me if I was down and out?
Would you still have love for me?
Girl…It’s easy to love me now (Woo!)
Would you love me if I was down and out?
Would you still have love for me?

What’s striking is that I have rarely met anyone with that kind of love and dedication. People desert people when they are down and out. People don’t want anything to do with lawbreakers. I know because I have been there. I lied, cheated, and stole and was rightfully punished for it. But few were remained close. Now, I understand why and I couldn’t say for certain that I wouldn’t have done this same thing.

The reality is when we commit the kinds of crimes that I did, or the more garden-variety Gangsta crimes, our crimes are not just against victims, friends, family, the State, or even ourselves, our crimes are first and foremost against a Holy God (Psalm 51:4). But God goes further than Nate Dogg does in this 50 Cent refrain, God doesn’t just love us when we are down and out, He becomes a man, Jesus Christ, lives the life we could never live and dies the death we deserve to die. He assumes our flesh and becomes a man, but he perfectly obeys the law of God, he never breaks it. Yet still at the end of his life he is rejected, he is the ultimate one who is down and out, he experiences the worst possible kind of rejection, while on the cross he is rejected by God “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). He is rejected in our place, we deserve to be rejected by God forever, but God shows his great love for us by being rejected for us, so that we might be able to spend eternity with God in Heaven.

The second observation from reflecting on Nate Dogg is that the Gangsta lifestyle that he evangelizes with is the source of his own death. The sin that promises joy and life leads to the grave. 41 years-old. But that’s how all sin is, to paraphrase the Puritan Thomas Brooks, Satan knows that if he would present sin in its own nature and dress, we would run from it rather than indulge in it. Therefore he presents sin to us, not in its own proper colors but he paints a false veneer over it with the name and show of something virtuous, or worth having, or promising pleasure or happiness or satisfaction.  Satan does this so that we may the more easily be overcome by it, and take the more pleasure in committing of it. Pride, he presents to the soul under the name and notion of neatness and cleanliness. Covetousness he presents as ambition and drive. Partying is presented as having a good time.

Sin kills. It killed Nate Dogg and it will kill everyone else. But death doesn’t have the decisive word, Jesus Christ conquered sin, Satan, and death when he rose from the grave giving us the opportunity to spend all eternity in his presence.

Our only hope in life and death is if we belong body and soul, in life and in death, to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watched over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven. In fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him. – Heidelberg Catechism