Friday, November 27, 2009

Today’s Gleanings 11/27/09

Phil Johnson at Pyromaniacs completed today his excellent series on why gambling is sinful. If you have any doubts yourself, or you wish you could better articulate to someone why gambling is wrong, you need look no further than this series. It’s the most comprehensive treatment I’ve seen developing the biblical case for why gambling is sin. Here are the links to whole series:

  • Is Gambling OK? Don't Bet on It
  • Gambling: Some Definitions and Distinctions
  • Answering a couple of objections
  • Oh, and one more thing . . .
  • Gambling vs. Faithful Stewardship
  • Does 'Mutual Consent' Eliminate the Evil in Gambling?
  • A good question
  • The Sin of Putting God to the Test
  • Gambling: The Moral Antithesis of Charity
  • Thursday, November 26, 2009

    Today’s Gleaning 11/26/09

    For some reason I have great difficulty remembering the meaning of metonymy and today’s reading in the Institutes (Section: 4.17.21-23) should be helpful in that regard, because Calvin helpfully points out that this figure of speech is the explanation for what Jesus meant when he said of the bread at the Last Supper, “This is my body.” Calvin goes on to point out many other scriptural examples of this literary device:

    “I say that this expression is a metonymy, a figure of speech commonly used in Scripture when mysteries are under discussion. For you could not otherwise understand such expressions as "circumcision is a covenant" [Gen. 17:13], "the lamb is the passover" [Ex. 12:11], "the sacrifices of the law are expiations" [Lev. 17:11; Heb. 9:22], and finally, "the rock from which water flowed in the desert" [Ex. 17:6], "was Christ" [I Cor. 10:4], unless you were to take them as spoken with meanings transferred. Not only is the name transferred from something higher to something lower, but, on the other hand, the name of the visible sign is also given to the thing signified: as when God is said to have appeared to Moses in the bush [Ex. 3:2]; the Ark of the Covenant is called God and God's face [Ps. 84:8; 42:3]; and the dove, the Holy Spirit [Matt. 3:16].”


    At the rate I’m referencing the daily Calvin reading, I may be approaching Blogging the Institutes, but more learned men, such as Sinclair Fergusson, Stephen Nichols and Derek Thomas are doing a great job at this eponymous site. Concerning today’s reading, Derek Thomas catalogs a long list of literary devices employed by the Bible’s authors:

    “Paul says "so is Christ" in 1 Corinthians 12:12 having spoken of the church, Christ is to be equated with the church's members. This is to fail to see the literary nature of Scripture, bearing marks of human (as well as divine authorship): thus we find acrostics, alliteration, analogy, anthropomorphism, assonance, cadence, chiasm, consonance, dialogue, hyperbole, irony, metaphor, meter, onomatopoeia, paradox, parallelism, repetition, rhyme, satire, simile and more. So why should we stumble over the meaning of "is" as metonymy?”

    Today’s Gleaning 11/25/09

    In today’s reading in the Institutes, (Section 4.17.18) Calvin offers a simple rubric for avoiding a wrong understanding of what takes place to the elements during communion:

    “Let us never (I say) allow these two limitations to be taken away from us: (1) Let nothing be withdrawn from Christ's heavenly glory-as happens when he is brought under the corruptible elements of this world, or bound to any earthly creatures. (2) Let nothing inappropriate
    to human nature be ascribed to his body, as happens when it is said either to be infinite or to be put in a number of places at once.”

    Wednesday, November 25, 2009

    Today’s Gleaning 11/24/09

    Matt Perman of the uber-helpful productivity site What’s Best Next, answers three questions in an interview by Josh Etter:

    1. What’s the most common mistake people make when developing a system for productivity?
    2. In the last three months, what is the most helpful insight that has helped you be more productive?
    3. In a nutshell, what is the most important and fundamental principle for being productive?

    Here’s a sample from the answer to question #3:

    “The key denominator of effectiveness is not intelligence or even hard work, as important as those are. It is the discipline to put first things first. You need to operate from a center of sound principles and organize and execute around priorities. This means that instead of prioritizing your schedule, you schedule your priorities.”

    Reading the whole thing would be a productive use of your time.

    Saturday, November 21, 2009

    Today’s Gleaning 11/21/09

    For some time now I have avidly read Doug Wilson, Idaho pastor and Christian thinker extraordinaire. Now I have more reason for being quite the fan boy: his church sings the Psalms in a manner to die for. Do yourself a favor and click here to listen to their rendition of a portion of Psalm 119. Or, you can click here to find a collection. It’s enough to make you want to let goods and kindred go and move to Moscow, Idaho.

    Friday, November 20, 2009

    Today’s Gleaning 11/20/09

    Calvin (from today’s reading in the Institutes), Section 4.17.7, writing with great humility on the difficulty of fully grasping the significance of the Lord’s Table:

    “Rather, I urge my readers not to confine their mental interest within these too narrow limits, but to strive to rise much higher than I can lead them. For, whenever this matter is discussed, when I have tried to say all, I feel that I have as yet said little in proportion to its worth. And although my mind can think beyond what my tongue can utter, yet even my mind is conquered and overwhelmed by the greatness of the thing. Therefore, nothing remains but to break forth in wonder at this mystery, which plainly neither the mind is able to conceive nor the tongue to express. Nevertheless, I shall in one way or another sum up my views; for, as I do not doubt them to be true, I am confident they will be approved in godly hearts.”

    Thursday, November 19, 2009

    Today’s Gleanings 11/19/09

    Today’s Calvin reading, Section: 4.17.2 features a lovely description of the benefits mystically conferred to the saints through communion:

    “Union with Christ as the special fruit of the Lord's Supper:

    Godly souls can gather great assurance and delight from this Sacrament; in it they have a witness of our growth into one body with Christ such that whatever is his may be called ours. As a consequence, we may dare assure ourselves that eternal life, of which he is the heir, is ours; and that the Kingdom of Heaven, into which he has already entered, can no more be cut off from us than from him; again, that we cannot be condemned for our sins, from whose guilt he has absolved us, since he willed to take them upon himself as if they were his own. This is the wonderful exchange which, out of his measureless benevolence, he has made with us; that, becoming Son of man with us, he has made us sons of God with him; that, by his descent to earth, he has prepared an ascent to heaven for us; that, by taking on our mortality, he has conferred his immortality upon us; that, accepting our weakness, he has strengthened us by his power; that, receiving our poverty unto himself, he has transferred his wealth to us; that, taking the weight of our iniquity upon himself (which oppressed us), he has clothed us with his righteousness.”

    The more I read of the Institutes, the more I wonder how the modern caricature of him came to be.


    Tim Challies let’s his hair down in major way today with a brilliant, hilarious parody of the state of Christian fiction. He manages to spear three genres at once: Amish Romance, End Time Action and Vampire Love Stories. Here’s an excerpt from his proposed back cover:

    “Meanwhile, the strength of the Antichrist grows as he consolidates his power and seeks to destroy the peace-loving people of Pennsylvania. A blossoming romance unfolds between Cassidy and Slade as the world around them changes forever. They must fight to stay alive, they must fight to keep their forbidden love a secret, but, as Amish, they must not fight at all.”

    Do yourself a favor and read the whole thing (and try not to snort toward your keyboard.)

    Urgent prayer request

    A long-time personal friend and dear brother in Christ from Richmond, Don Coleman, is in ICU at a local hospital on a breathing machine due to severe blood infection.  There are additional complications involving his diabetes impacting kidney function. Don has been a hard-worker and important force for Christ’s kingdom in the Richmond metropolitan area.  I would very much appreciate your prayers.

    Wednesday, November 18, 2009

    Today’s Gleanings 11/18/09

    Somehow due a mysterious eddy in the Christian blogosphere—or could it be providence?—independently of one another Phil Johnson (here, here, here, and here) and Kevin DeYoung (here and here) are both making a case against gambling.

    The best argument I’ve heard for Christians to be against gambling is the fact that in order to win, we have to hope for someone else to lose. Therefore, it is a strong violation of Christ’s command to do to others as you would have them do to you (Matthew 7:12) as well as the multiple NT commands to love one another (i.e. John 13:34).


    In today’s reading from the Institutes, Section: 4.16.31-32, Calvin responds to numerous objections from Servetus regarding infant baptism. Calvin considers these objections “a heap of trifles.” I don’t have a fraction of Calvin’s theological and intellectual horsepower, but it seems to me many of Servetus arguments are valid. Calvin repeatedly appeals to Jesus’ statement “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” (in all the synoptics), to make his case for infant baptism, which, in my opinion, is forcing the passage to carry way too much freight because baptism is nowhere in view.

    Tuesday, November 17, 2009

    Today’s Gleanings 11/17/09

    Over at the new evangelical Christian group blog, Evangel—hosted, by the way, by the Catholic website, First Things (confused yet?)—Joe Carter, John Mark Reynolds,  and Frank Turk weigh in on the question of whether evangelicalism is experiencing growing pains, death throes, or a mid-life crisis.

    If consensus can be found among these three it might be that the patient definitely has some symptoms, but it’s too early to tell what they mean.


    Dan Phillips posts some great thoughts on why we should be thankful for the fact that we live in a God-created and God-designed universe. Bonus: he includes a memorable example of a merism to help you learn what a merism is.


    Michael Patton channels Jon Acuff in a hilarious Beginner’s Guide to Christianity. Here’s item #23:

    “Lord,” “Lord God,” “God,” and “Father God” references in prayer: This is related to the previous, but an important addition to  your understanding of public prayer. While praying, Christians will continually repeat God’s name so as to remind you and themselves to whom they are praying. Therefore, do not be surprised to hear “Lord,” “Lord God,” ”Father,” or its popular variation, “Father God” at the beginning of every sentence. It sometimes will even occur multiple times in the same sentence such as the following: “Lord God, we just pray that you will be with us God during our trip God.” Pretty much, the more you say a variation of God’s name, the more spiritual you are.

    Scary how spot-on these are.

    Monday, November 16, 2009

    Today’s Gleanings 11/16/09

    Does a word or phrase exists to describe the effect of instantly recognizing what someone proposes as being true, but knowing you never would have thought of it yourself. Déjà true, perhaps?

    I felt this way after reading this essay from Michael Patton at Parchment and Pen. He describes how orthodox (little “o”) Christian belief grows over time. His premise is that ultimate truth never changes, but our understanding of it does. As God reveals truth to his people and the church wrestles with its implications, the church’s understanding grows over time.

    Here’s an example:

    “God gave man revelation in a progressive fashion. This is often referred to as “progressive revelation.” This simply means that when Adam and Eve were in the Garden, God did not give them a completed Scripture. For example, Abraham did not know as much as Moses about redemption. He had some basic components, but very few details. The same can be said of David. While he knew more than both Abraham and Moses, he did not know as much as Isaiah, and so on.”

    He includes some nice charts that helps the reader visualize what he’s describing. Great food for thought.


    The New York Times notes that only 42 days remain in this first decade of the 21st century, and we really should have a name for it, as in the manner of the Roaring Twenties. I’m still fretting over how to pronounce the “00’s”. The oughts? The double zero’s? No sooner will we have taken care of that and we’ll have to worry over what to call the “10’s”. I have a serious need to know this for future sermon illustrations. How will I say, “Back in the “00’s”, an event took place which perfectly demonstrates the truth of this passage?.”

    Sunday, November 15, 2009

    Today’s Gleaning 11/15/09

    Thabiti and Zach today both quote Ray Ortlund quoting Jonathan Edwards on pride:

    "There is no sin so much like the devil as this for secrecy and subtlety and appearing in a great many shapes undiscerned and unsuspected, even appearing as an angel of light. It takes occasion to arise from everything, it perverts and abuses everything, even the exercises of real grace and real humility. It is a sin that has, as it were, many lives. If you kill it, it will live still. If you suppress it in one shape, it rises in another. If you think it is all gone, it is there still. Like the coats of an onion, if you pull one form of it off, there is another underneath. We need therefore to have the greatest watch imaginable over our hearts and to cry most earnestly to the great Searcher of hearts for his help. He that trusts his own heart is a fool."

    - Jonathan Edwards, Thoughts on the New England Revival

    To which I say, Amen.

    Saturday, November 14, 2009

    Today’s Gleanings 11/14/09


    From Matt Perman, a great definition of virtue from Arthur Holmes:

    “A virtue is a right inner disposition, and a disposition is a tendency to act in certain ways. Disposition is more basic, lasting and pervasive than the particular motive or intention behind a certain action. It differs from a sudden impulse in being a settled habit of mind, an internalized and often reflective trait. Virtues are general character traits that provide inner sanctions on our particular motives, intentions and outward conduct.

    …virtue is the love of what is just and good.”


    Zach Nielsen quotes helpful advice on confronting legalism from Jerram Barr in Learning Evangelism from Jesus, p.177:

    “… we still must sit at Jesus’ feet and recognize that legalism is an implacable enemy of the gospel of grace. And we need to be prepared to fight against it, rather than bow to it or allow it to govern the life and outreach of our churches. Indeed, we may regard it as a principle: the more legalistic a church is, the less genuine outreach there will be.

    Attacking legalism is necessary to bring about the salvation of the legalists themselves by humbling them before the Lord, before his truth, and before his grace. Attacking legalism is also necessary in setting people free from the rules that the legalists impose upon them. We are to proclaim liberty: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1). This proclamation of liberty from legalism is one of the great friends of true proclamation of the gospel, both to the church and to the world.“


    Friday, November 13, 2009

    Today’s Gleanings 11/13/09

    Michigan is cold this time of year.


    Bible translation is more complicated than I imagined and I imagined it to be plenty complex. David Ker explains,

    “The qualities of a good Bible translation form a four-sided triangle. The basic characteristics are accuracy, naturalness and clarity. This means accurately representing the meaning of the original text using natural language in a way that clearly communicates. The fourth side of the triangle is acceptability. If a translation is not acceptable then it doesn’t matter how accurate or natural it is”.

    In other words, it doesn’t matter how faithful to the Greek, or how well-written it is, if no one will use it, it’s not effective. Scary thought, especially for those who spend a quarter century working on a single language.


    Justin Taylor via James Grant has an interesting quote from Ken Myers on “Two Kingdoms” thinking:

    “So I would say that there ought to be a Christocentric politic and aesthetic. Christians will not be the only ones who can recognize properly human and hence Christocentric realities. I think that is what the Reformed idea of common grace means. That non-believers will have the capacity to see that because they perceive things that are built into the structure of creation, built in there by Christ. So there is no getting away from Christ.

    I became excited by this when I read Colin Gunton, who points out that there has long been a tendency by Christians to view creation as Unitarians, in other words, an impersonal and non-Trinitarian view of creation. So we think that God the Father made everything, things got screwed up, God the Son came and paid the penalty, and God the Spirit comes along and affirms it. So there is a type of sequential Trinitarianism. But Scripture affirms over and over that creation is a Trinitarian act, and so we don’t separate Christ from the fact of creation and the ordering of creation. To do that too starkly is to make a mistake.”

    As a pastor, I’m wrestling with this all the time. Precisely how and to what extent do individuals and churches engage the culture, particularly in the realms of art and politics?

    Thursday, November 12, 2009

    Daily Gleanings 11/12/09

    In Section: 4.16.10 of the Institutes, Calvin considers those who “ceaselessly assail” the practice of infant baptism, “mad beasts”.


    A good definition of worship from Archbishop William Temple via Ravi Zacharias via Zach Nielsen:

    “Years ago, I read a definition of worship that to this day rings with clear and magnificent terms.(1) The definition comes from the famed archbishop William Temple: "Worship is the submission of all of our nature to God. It is the quickening of the conscience by his holiness; the nourishment of mind with his truth; the purifying of imagination by his beauty; the opening of the heart to his love; the surrender of will to his purpose—all this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable."

    Wednesday, November 11, 2009

    Today’s Harvest 11/11/09

    Thanks to Kevin DeYoung, I learned that Guido de Bres, the author of the Belgic Confession, was publicly hanged for his beliefs on May 31, 1567, at the age of 47.  Kevin points out how de Bres’ trust in God’s providence motivated him to be a faithful husband.

    Tuesday, November 10, 2009

    Today’s Harvest 11/10/09

    Timmy Brister posts this sobering thought from Jonathan Edwards’ The Religious Affections, p.51-53:

    “If true religion lies much in the affections, hence we may learn what great cause we have to be ashamed and confounded before God, that we are no more affected with the great things of religion.”

    Not sure why that didn’t jump out at me more when I read it the first time.


    From today’s Calvin reading, Section: 4.15.19-22:

    Speaking of sacraments, he writes, “It is, therefore, much more holy to revere God's ordinance, namely, that we should seek the sacraments from those only to whom the Lord has committed them.”

    I  don’t recall where in the Bible that either Baptism or Communion are to be administered only by a church officer. Anyone out there know of such a passage?

    Monday, November 09, 2009

    Retaining Somehow What I Read

    I love to read. I monitor forty-one blogs via RSS feed, read a book or two per week, do research for my weekly sermons and Bible Study, and am using Princeton Theological’s nifty feed to read through Calvin’s Institutes in the course of a year. Sadly, the realization has sunk in that I retain only the tiniest fragment of what I read. My wife often asks what I’ve been reading, and while I can recall the sources for the most part, I struggle to retain the content.

    Perhaps not surprisingly, though, I can remember what I actually use in my sermons and Bible studies.

    So, in an attempt to actually hang on to some of what I’ve read, I’m going to attempt regularly posting interesting stuff here as a form of memory enhancement. (This was actually one of my reasons for blogging in the first place. I fell off the wagon. Here’s my attempt to drag myself back on.)

    Recent nuggets:

    John Calvin baptized by immersion—who knew? (Section: 4.15.13-18 of the Institutes—if you don’t believe me, you can read it here.)

    David Ker, a field worker in Mozambique with Wycliffe Bible Translators writes sumptuous, evocative prose at his blog Lingamish, relating his path to Bible translatordom. (Obviously, I don’t write sumptuous prose.) Check out this paragraph about his learning Portuguese:

    “After several months of battle, I successfully learned how to pronounce, eu the personal pronoun, “I.” It is not YO, like those crude Spaniards would have it. It’s not AY-YU like some robot might say it. Eu is in fact a four syllable word pronounced without either opening or closing your mouth. It is the sound of the tide among the rocks, and the sound of a seagull’s wings. Eu is a mixture of pain and delight and the sigh of isolation you can only feel among the ghosts of an old city.”

    From Tim Chester and Steve Timmis’ book Total Church:

    “The role of rational apologetics is to demonstrate that unbelief is a problem of the heart rather than a problem of the head. People may claim that the obstacle to faith is the problem of suffering or the implausibility of miracles or the existence of other religions. The role of rational apologetics is to show that these are not the real causes of unbelief. It is to strop away the excuses and expose rebellious hearts.”