This is a stirring message from Sinclair Ferguson, giving at the beginning of the year at Ligonier Ministries’ national conference. He speaks on someone in the Reformed tradition, but his message from Revelation 2:3 isn’t limited to those churches. It’s a timeless message of seeking God’s favor over our comfort, of returning to our first love.
Even among the congregants of churches that do observe the advent season, which began last Sunday, many believers allow the time to slip by unobserved. Timothy Paul Jones, a Southern Baptist, asks why.
Perhaps it’s because, for believers no less than nonbelievers, our calendars are dominated not by the venerable rhythms of redemption but by the swifter currents of consumerism and efficiency. The microwave saves us from waiting for soup to simmer on the stove, credit cards redeem us from waiting on a paycheck to make purchases, and this backward extension of the Christmas season liberates us from having to deal with the awkward lull of Advent.
. . .
Why this Advent-free leap from All Hallow’s Eve to Christmas Eve?
Perhaps because Christmas is about celebration, and celebrations can be leveraged to move products off shelves. Advent is about waiting, and waiting contributes little to the gross domestic product.
On a related note, Tony Reinke tweeted this today.
How to abuse narratives by importing our own mood expectations (Newell, The Feeling Intellect). pic.twitter.com/JVfgWmru5J
— Tony Reinke (@TonyReinke) December 1, 2015
“The other Scriptures speak to us,” observed Athanasius (AD 296–373), “but the Psalms speak for us.” For 3,000 years the Psalter has been the prayer book and songbook of God’s people. It was also the prayer book and songbook of God’s Son. Our Savior quoted from the Psalms more than any other biblical book—even while breathing his last (Matt. 27:46; Luke 23:46).
Matt Smethurst asks Pastor Tim Keller about reading the Psalms and his new devotional based on them.
“So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom.
Return, O Lord! How long?
Have pity on your servants!
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days” (Psalm 90:12–14, ESV)
On verse fourteen, the great Charles Spurgeon writes:
The prayer is like others which came from the meek lawgiver when he boldly pleaded with God for the nation; it is Moses like. He here speaks with the Lord as a man speaketh with his friend.
O satisfy us early with thy mercy. Since they must die, and die so soon, the psalmist pleads for speedy mercy upon himself and his brethren. Good men know how to turn the darkest trials into arguments at the throne of grace. He who has but the heart to pray need never be without pleas in prayer. The only satisfying food for the Lord’s people is the favour of God; this Moses earnestly seeks for, and as the manna fell in the morning he beseeches the Lord to send at once his satisfying favour, that all through the little day of life they might be filled therewith. Are we so soon to die? Then, Lord, do not starve us while we live. Satisfy us at once, we pray thee. Our day is short and the night hastens on, O give us in the early morning of our days to be satisfied with thy favour, that all through our little day we may be happy. That we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Being filled with divine love, their brief life on earth would become a joyful festival, and would continue so as long as it lasted. When the Lord refreshes us with his presence, our joy is such that no man can take it from us. Apprehensions of speedy death are not able to distress those who enjoy the present favour of God; though they know that the night cometh they see nothing to fear in it, but continue to live while they live, triumphing in the present favour of God and leaving the future in his loving hands. Since the whole generation which came out of Egypt had been doomed to die in the wilderness, they would naturally feel despondent, and therefore their great leader seeks for them that blessing which, beyond all others, consoles the heart, namely, the presence and favour of the Lord.
- Why you never question Allah: Islam’s trouble with blasphemy. This points out the shallowness of Islamic teaching. Their god supposedly knows everything, but if you don’t keep your nice face on, he’ll hammer you. Of course, it appears he will hammer you for just about anything, which is a theological perspective not unique to Islam.
- In the United Kingdom, an video intended to play among the trailers in front of the new Star Wars movie encourages viewers to seek the Lord in prayer using The Lord’s Prayer specifically. It has been pulled from the schedule because it could offend someone, which Andrew Wilson says is precisely what it should be doing. There is, after all, only one true God.
- St Helen’s Church in Eston, Middlesbrough, has suffered vandalism for years. It’s now being rebuilt, brick by brick, forty miles north in County Durham.
- Twenty-five things we’ve forgotten about vikings.
(Last two links via Medieval News)
Wheaton College has posted eighty-one hours of free videos of Dr. Arthur F. Holmes lecturing on the history of western philosophy. Dr. Holmes has just the right English accent to give his subject the proper authority. Just think about having to learn anything from the farmer in his clip. (via Justin Taylor)
Also The Gospel Coalition has produced its first eBook as a response to an earlier book. Revisiting ‘Faithful Presence’: To Change the World Five Years Later.
“In 2010, noted University of Virginia sociologist James Davison Hunter published the landmark book To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. On the five-year anniversary of its publication, we asked eight contributors to engage the book’s thesis and assess its effect on the ongoing interaction of evangelical Christians with the surrounding culture.”
Those contributors are Hunter Baker, John Jefferson Davis, K. A. Ellis, Greg Forster, R. Albert Mohler Jr., Vermon Pierre, Daniel Strange, and Collin Hansen as editor. The eBook is free.
“Why does it matter that Christ’s sacrifice is superior to Levitical sacrifices? The author emphasizes that Christ’s blood truly cleanses our guilt, and thus we can enter God’s presence boldly and confidently. As believers, we can be full of joy because our evil is cleansed forever. People today aren’t tempted to offer animal sacrifices, but they struggle mightily with guilt. They aren’t tempted to look to Levitical priests for salvation, but they find great comfort in knowing that Jesus is an exalted priest who intercedes for them at the right hand of God.” – See more in this interview.
“Do you understand that God is not looking for ‘the cream of the crop?’” Jared Wilson asks. “He is in the margins, picking the scrubs, the losers, the dum-dums.”
Because in the Kingdom of God, the first, in our way of thinking, shall be last, but the last, as we see them, shall be first. God is not vindictive in saying this. There’s no mean spirit about him. He is simply telling us that we look at each other in ways he does not. Those we consider to be losers will not lose a thing in Christ.
Micah Mattix reviews a book that explores the passions and brotherly love of that group of people popularly slandered as being close-minded and stern.
Preaching on 1 Peter 3:8, Nicholas Byfield remarked, “The doctrine is cleer. That we ought to have a sympathie one towards another.” Robert Bolton urged his readers to “make conscience” their sympathy. Puritan sermons often aimed at stirring the holy affections of congregants, and Van Engen writes,
The imaginative work of sympathy, furthermore, constituted its own distinct practice. Puritan ministers instructed their parishioners to pray for others and provide physical aid, but before they acted, they had to be moved.
This helps explain why the Puritans, contrary to popular belief, were so expressive. When his wife was dying, John Winthrop was “weeping so bitterly,” Van Engen writes, “she asked him to stop” because (in her words) “you breake mine heart with your grievings.” When the Puritans fled England, and British soldiers separated children from their parents, William Bradford wrote that there was “weeping and crying on every side.” Anne Bradstreet regularly refers to her “troubled heart,” “sorrows,” “cares,” “fears,” and “joy” in her poetry. One of the most popular poems of the early colony was Michael Wigglesworth’s “The Day of Doom” (1662), in which he imagines the “weeping” and wailing of sinners but also the singing and “great joy” of God’s elect at Christ’s second coming. Van Engen writes that each instance of “tears and grieving, melting and weeping, pity and sympathy” in Puritan texts fits within “a broad tradition of Puritan fellow feeling.”
Author Abram C. Van Engen reveals these and other events in his book Sympathetic Puritans: Calvinist Fellow Feeling in Early New England. He touches on theological controversies and the witch trials, saying there are elements of Christian charity in all of Puritan life.
Speaking of early America, Mark David Hall criticizes a book on the religious mindset of the founding fathers. Were they a group of “pious, orthodox believers who sought to establish a Christian nation” or were they “Enlightenment deists who created a secular republic that strictly separated church and state”? Were they rational men who were strongly influenced by Christianity? Hall notes some good and bad points in Steven Green’s book Inventing a Christian America. (via Prufrock)
Thomas Boston said, “God gives no empty titles, nor will empty titles answer the necessities of believers. As his name, so is his nature; the name truly expresses what he is. He manifests himself to be what the name bears. What he is called, he is found to be in the experience of saints.”
I quote Boston in a devotional on living in Jesus’ glorious name, which has been posted on Midwestern Seminary’s For the Church website.
A new devotional on the life of Ruth will be released tomorrow, one that I had the joy to work on. Kevin Foster, a Bible student and teacher who has been a missionary of one kind or another almost his entire life, wrote a remarkable book on the ideas, culture, and themes found in the book of Ruth. He calls it The Gospel According to Ruth and broke it into 121 devotionals with many quotations from the KJV and NKJV.
From Ruth 1:2, he drew this insight. “Elimelech placed a great burden upon his family fleeing Judah for Moab from the correction of God. The famine was not for the nation only, but also for the man himself. Famine is a calling card of God, calling the man to repentance.”
The book is worth sampling, and Kevin has given readers a large sheath of options in both written and audio excerpts. The Gospel According to Ruth touches on ancient Hebrew feasts, harvest seasons, God’s blessing on Bethlehem, Christ’s foreshadowing in Boaz and other characters, and other enlightening points.
“Christ is our protector, our covering, and our shield. ‘He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler’ (Psalm 91:4 KJV).”
The Lord blessed me deeply by allowing me to edit this book and advise Kevin on getting it published. He has been a great man to work with. He has the kind of pastoral spirit you hope to see in every gospel minister.
Again, from the book:
A hundred years ago, it seemed obvious that the whole region was naturally destined to be Muslim, and little attention needed to be paid to the uncivilized and illiterate animists of the south and east. History was clearly moving in an Islamic direction. By the end of the 20th century, though, growth, progress, and wealth were badges of the emerging Christian Nigeria, and aggressive evangelism even threatened to make inroads into the Islamic heartland. Muslims still dominated the government and especially the armed forces—another legacy of the British colonial preference for that faith. But how long could that political dominance continue?
Philip Jenkins reviews the book Boko Haram: Nigeria’s Islamist Insurgency by Virginia Comolli.
“In her introduction,” he writes, “Comolli makes the telling point that the social contract on which government is based is thoroughly broken in Nigeria. People give up certain rights to governments in exchange for protection and security, gifts that have been so obviously lacking for decades.”
While there are religious undercurrents throughout the country, Boko Haram is gaining both religious and civil ground in some ways, losing it in others. Nigeria hasn’t yet seen a civil war grounded in religious conflict, but much of the conflict it has seen has been helped along by spiritual hopes and fears.
Pastor Joshua Wilson writes about losing a church plant. “I believe the Spirit prepared me for the church’s demise, and gave great comfort as this season in our lives came to an end. However, I was already plagued by a thought that would not be easy to erase: I had failed.”
What do you do when, despite your best efforts, your ministry fails? “What happens when you put your hand to the plow,” he asks, “but the visible outcome of what you do is meager or nonexistent?”
Ed Stetzer writes, “For Evangelicalism, the Sky Is Not Falling but the Ground Is Shifting.” It’s one in a series on Evangelicalism in America.
Stetzer says, “Recently, I interviewed Rodney Stark, one of the nation’s leading sociologists, and asked him about the state of Evangelicalism today. He was perfectly blunt. ‘I think the notion that they’re shrinking is stupid. And it’s fiddling with the data in quite malicious ways. I see no such evidence.'”
In his article, Carl Trueman explains, “Conservative Evangelicalism may be more robust in terms of recruitment than other Christian alternatives at this point but it looks singularly ill-equipped to face the challenges of the coming days. It simply lacks the identity and the resources that come with historic rootedness, a point which makes it perennially vulnerable to becoming simply American culture in a Christian idiom.”