Thursday, September 6, 2012

Luther and the Gospel

A few days ago I posted some links to a series of talks delivered by Dr. Derek Thomas on understanding the Gospel.

Today, I ran across a few quotes from Martin Luther on the subject.

Here's how Luther described the difference between law and gospel:

  • "We must now learn to distinguish between the two parts which are called the law and the gospel...The law brings us before the judgment seat, for it demands that you settle accounts and pay what it requires, there it cancels itself. For even if you have performed what it requires, this still will not stand before God, since before him there will still be much which is lacking and failing....The law keeps harrying you and accusing you through your own conscience, which testifies against you, and absolutely demanding he judgment upon you." (Luther's Works 51.279)

According to Luther, the law points out sin,

  • the "law is a word of destruction, a word of wrath, a word of sadness, a word of grief, a voice of the judge and the defendant, a word of restlessness, a word of curse....Through the law we have nothing except an evil conscience, a restless heart, a troubled breast because of our sins, which the law points out but does not take away. And we ourselves cannot take it away." (Luther's Works 31.231)

The Gospel, however, is truly Good News. According to Luther,

  • the "gospel is a preaching of the incarnate Son of God, given to us without any merit on our part for salvation and peace. It is a word of salvation, a word of grace, a word of comfort, a word of joy, a voice of the bridegroom and the bride, a good word, a word of peace."

Because of the work of Christ  a "joyous exchange" (Luther's Works 7.1) has occurred, where

  • "the rich, noble, pious bridegroom Christ takes this poor, despised wicked little whore in marriage, redeems her of all evil, and adorns her with all his goods." (Luther's Works 31.51)

In light of this work of Christ,

  • "Therefore for those of us who are held captive, who are overwhelmed by sadness and in dire despair, the light of the gospel comes and says, 'Fear not,' and 'comfort, comfort my people...' Behold that one who alone fulfills the law for you, whom God has made to your righteousness, sanctification, wisdom, and redemption, for all those who believe in him....Therefore those who are still afraid of punishments have not yet heard Christ or the voice of the gospel, but only the voice of Moses." (Luther's Works 31.231)

I hope you find this comparison helpful. I'll post more about the resource that summed up these quotes in a future post.


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Promise Driven Life

Here's a conference message called Grace Liberates from Dr. Michael Horton.

In his message, Dr. Horton discusses Romans chapter 4,

A few quotes:

  • "We are not employees working on a contract basis but heirs waiting for an inheritance."
  • "I grew up in Bible believing churches that treated religion as a contract."
  • "It is not a contract. We are not employees. There is an inheritance. We are poor, he is rich.  And for our sakes He became order for a last will a testament to go into effect, someone must die."
  • "We inherited an estate."
  • "When it comes to your relationship with God you are a recipient."
  • "We live joyfully...fully convinced that what He has promised he has performed."

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Understanding the Gospel

The word Gospel is the word that the Bible uses to describe the Good News of the work of Jesus Christ.
At the start of His ministry Jesus proclaimed:
  • “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15)

Later, the Apostle Paul explained that he was,

  • "not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes..." (Romans 1:16)

Thus, this concept of Gospel is important for Christians to understand.

Getting the Gospel Right is the title of a very good book by Rev. R.C. Sproul that was published in 2003.

The same title Getting the Gospel Right is also the title of a summer sermon series that Dr. Derek Thomas recently completed at First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, South Carolina.

Here is the link to all of the church's sermons:

Here are the links to each sermon in the series on understanding the Gospel:

What is the Gospel

Gospel Basics: A Need

Gospel Basics - A Holy God

It's All About Jesus


Gospel and Law: Friends or Enemies?

The Gospel-Centered Life

The Gospel-Centered Life: Mission Focused

I pray that this sermon series helps you grow in your understanding of the Gospel - the good news about Jesus Christ.


Thursday, August 30, 2012

Analyzing Eastwood

I've been a fan of many Clint Eastwood movies over the years and it was enjoyable to watch him tonight at the Republican National Convention. He missed out on a career in stand-up comedy.

As I've written before, I'm also a fan of Mars Hill Audio, a bimonthly audio magazine (that is available currently in CD or MP3) that focuses on matters of faith and culture.

I was pleased that the most recent edition of Mars Hill Audio featured an interview with Sara Anson Vaux, whose most recent book is called The Ethical Vision of Clint Eastwood.

Here's the blurb from the Mars Hill Audio website:

"The next segment features Sara Anson Vaux on the ethical concerns of Clint Eastwood. Vaux describes the qualities of Eastwood's directing that she appreciates and discusses some of the themes that are prevalent in Eastwood's films: the capacity of humans for slaughtering others, betrayal, beauty, bonds of friendship, the needs of community, and the relationship between members of different generations. In the process, Vaux draws on a number of Eastwood films, including The Outlaw Josey Wales, Mystic River, Unforgiven, Changeling, and Invictus."

Another great interview from Mars Hill Audio, although she didn't cover my favorite Eastwood quote that I used to have memorized and speak in a similar gravely voice:

I know what you're thinking. "Did he fire six shots or only five?" Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?

I felt lucky to hear the interview with Ms. Vaux (sorry couldn't stop the marketing pitch).

Here's a link to order the CD:



In Christian theology, the doctrine of justification means being declared righteous by God because of the work of Christ.

As Billy Graham famously explained, because of the work of Christ, God views Christians “just as if” we had never sinned.

In addition, justification also means that God views Christians as if they had lived a perfectly righteous life because Christians are covered by Christ's righteousness.

Pastor Alistair Begg has a helpful sermon in two parts on justification called "After Darkness, Light" that can be found here…

I pray that you would find this resource helpful in learning more about being justified by God’s grace.


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Fare Forward

Found a new quarterly journal that looks promising. It is called Fare Forward: A Christian Review of Ideas. The name comes from T.S. Elliot's Four Quarets and the site is written and edited by several "emerging adults" (as they describe themsleves) who are "young people who have graduated from college and begun to enter the work force but who are still facing a period of transition and uncertainty."

Their website can be found here:

Their blog here:


Becoming a Nation

This past weekend I finished reading an interesting and well-written book called "Destiny of the Republic: A tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President."

The book was written by Candice Millard, the author of a wonderful book called "River of Doubt" - an incredible account of Theodore Roosevelt's journey through an unmapped river in Brazil - and a book that is one of my favorites.

In "Destiny of the Republic" (which was published in 2011), Millard describes the life and tragic events surrounding the brief presidency and assassination of James A. Garfield, the 20th President of the United States.

It is mostly a sad and depressing tale - of mental illness (by Garfield's attacker) and prideful physicians (Garfield's attending physicians refused to believe in sterilization of medical equipment or that their hands could spread germs).

In reading the book last week, I was struck by a few thoughts:

One thought (that was not new to me last week -- but one that has been a challenge for me during my adult life) is how attributing events to "Providence" or "God" can be a tricky thing.

Garfield, I learned from the book, had left home at the age of sixteen to work on the Ohio and Erie Canal. One night he fell into the canal and was saved from drowning by grabbing a rope that should have fallen into the water when he grabbed it. At that moment he felt like his life was worth living and headed for home. He eventually went to and excelled at college, became a college professor, then president of his college, then a General in the Civil War, then an Ohio representative to the U.S. Congress.

Sadly, Garfield's assassin also felt that he was led by God, that he was providentially saved from a disaster (also on the water) and in his warped thinking, believed that it was God's will that he kill Garfield.

A second point that was interesting to observe was that Millard makes a point about Garfield's death that Jay Winik made about Lincoln's death (that had occurred 16 years before). Winik, in his book "April, 1865" (which I blogged about a few weeks ago) explained that in the fractious land, Lincoln's death helped make the United States become a nation.  Millard sees Garfield's death as accomplishing a similar purpose.

She explains,

"Garfield's long illness and painful death brought the country together in a way that, even the day before the assassination attempt, had seemed to most Americans impossible. 'Garfield does not belong to the north alone,' read a letter that was written by a southerner to Lucretia (Garfield) soon after the shooting, and printed in papers across the country. 'From this common vigil and prayer and sympathy in the travail of this hour there shall be a new birth of the Nation.' That prediction was realized the day Garfield's death was announced, when his countrymen mourned not as northerners or southerners, but as Americans. 'This morning from the depth of their grief-stricken hearts all Americans can and will thank God that there is no North, no South, no East, no West,' a minister said from his pulpit. 'Bound together in one common sorrow, binding in its vastness, we are one and indissoluble.' (pg. 288) 


Thursday, August 9, 2012

When God withdraws the sense of His presence

Do you feel at times that God has withdrawn the sense of His presence?

Here's a good article and interview today from The Gospel Coalition with Ryan Kelly about how it feels when God withdraws the sense of His presence.

Rev. Kelly notes that the Psalms deals with this topic in great detail as do a number of books by the Puritans.

A few quotes from Rev. Kelly:

-there is "an ebb and a flow to our sense of His presence. And that is why we see Paul praying for more grace and more peace and more comfort. It implies that there are times when you don't experience His grace and peace and comfort like you had at other times. And the pastoral take-away is: that's okay. Be patient, wait on the Lord...wait on the Lord while you work, wait on the Lord while you ask yourself hard questions."

-"It is a fair thing to wait on the Lord and trust that He is good even when you cannot trace His hand."

My prayer for you (and me) is that we would grow in God's grace and peace and comfort in times when we can sense His presence and times when we cannot.


Monday, August 6, 2012

This Year and American History

The year is 2012 and as a sometime student of American History it is interesting to note the anniversaries that this year brings with the:
-200th anniversary of the War of 1812
-150th anniversary of the Civil War
-50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis
-40th anniversary of the Vietnam War
-10th anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan

The Atlantic magazine had a recent article on the Bicentennial of the War of 1812, which can be found here.

On the hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the U.S. Civil War, the New York Times has a blog that chronicles the events of 150 years ago (which can be found here). 

There was much that was happening in 1862.  In the western theater, the Battles of Shiloh and Perryville occurred, as did the capture of New Orleans by Union forces.

In the East in 1862, the Battle of Antietam was fought in September. The Union victory was followed by Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. The year ended badly for the Union, however, with the defeat at the Battle of Fredericksburg.

Lessons in the fiftieth anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis are chronicled in the recent July/August edition of Foreign Affairs magazine here. The author notes that "The U.S. air strike and invasion that were scheduled for the third week of the confrontation would likely have triggered a nuclear response against American ships and troops, and perhaps even Miami. The resulting war might have led to the deaths of 100 million Americans and over 100 million Russians."

Reflecting on these events (and near events) I'm amazed at the tremendous sacrifices that so many Americans have made to defend our freedom.
I'm also reminded of the prayers for peace in the Book of Common Prayer:

"Give peace, O Lord in all the world; for only in you can we live in safety."

Sunday, July 29, 2012

April 1865

Finished a great book tonight called "April 1865: The Month that Saved America" by Jay Winik. 

An engaging read, the author describes many of the month's events - from the surrender of Gen. Robert E. Lee to the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln and many other events in the remarkable month.

While vividly describing the month, the author notes the many things that could have happened (such as continued battles - if Lee had been able to meet up with Joe Johnston's troops to the south, if others in Lincoln's administration had been killed, or if the Confederacy had waged prolonged guerilla warfare from the mountains).

Winik also describes how the outcome of the Civil War shaped the view of our nation. Previously, as Montesquieu had advanced, many believed that a representative democracy could only be successfully implemented in a small area.

There were problems too, as Winik explained,  in the founding of the new country:

"Virtually unique to all of human history, Americans had a Consitution and a country before they had a nation. And until the Civil War, America remained just that, an artificial state, or, to be more exact, a series of states, and even several incohate nations, bound together, not by a thousand years of kinship and shared memory, but by loosely negotiated agreements and compacts, neither wholly federal nor national." (p. 373)

But the results of a bloody, difficult Civil War established a greater sense of a union - of one nation - in Winik's words, "a powerful, compelling, enthralling idea, a symbol of a sturdy country, an embodiment of an enduring people..." (p. 387).

Interesting things to think about nearly 150 years later.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Good news in the midst of disappointment

Link to a great message from Rev. Ligon Duncan on disappointment in ministry (and life).

Best line...
Elijah has something to teach us because he "knew the relentless, ruthless, compassionate God who pursued him for his glory and the good of his people."

Click here for a link to the video.

Click here for a transcript of his message.


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

What if?

Over the Christmas and New Year's holidays I read a fun historical book called What Ifs? of American History.

Published in 2003, the book contains chapters by some of America's premier historians who imagine what might have happened if episodes in America's history had been different. Chapters include topics such as:

- if the Mayflower had reached a different destination

- if William Pitt the Elder had been able to stop British policies that led to the American revolution

- if George Washington had not been able to evacuate his troops from the battle of Brooklyn Heights

- if Robert E. Lee's Lost Order had not been lost and the South had won the battle of Gettysburg

- if John Wilkes Booth and his conspirators had been able to kill not only the President but also the Vice President (causing a constitutional crisis)

- if there had been no attack on Pearl Harbor

.....and other counterfactual historical scenarios.

It was a very enjoyable read....not just thinking about the possible scenarios, but learning more about the actual events themselves.

The book was also interesting to read from a Christian perspective. As someone trained in Reformed theology, I hold the view that God brings everything to pass for His own glory and the good of His people. Thus, the study of history not only reveals much about the participants in the events, it can also reveal more about God and His will.

After reading the chapters in the What If book --in particular the account of the potential "doomsday" scenario with the Soviet Union during the Cuban Missile Crisis--I was reminded again of God's grace to all people. Theologians call it God's "common grace"--His kindness and blessing to all the world. Even though each of us are deserving of God's judgment, God has chosen to be loving and kind (even though this love and kindness is undeserved and unearned).

Because God restrains His wrath, the world has not degenerated into chaos and there is a level of political harmony and peace.

Interesting things to consider as we read about current events and those of long ago.


Monday, January 2, 2012

Family Worship

Several years ago we started something in our family that we called "Sunday Night Prayer." During this time we gather as a family and read from the Bible, discuss what we've read and then pray for each other. It has been an important part of my spiritual life and a highlight for me to get to talk and laugh about life and matters of faith with Sue and the boys.

Dr. Joel Beeke has written a resource on Family Worship - explaining why this practice is important and the types of things that could be done during a time of worship together.

Here's a link to a lecture that he gave in 2011 on the topic:

I found it to be really encouraging.