Book Review – The Essential Trinity

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The Essential Trinity (P&R, North American Edition, 2017) is a collection of chapters by various contributors, edited by Brandon D. Crowe and Carl R. Trueman.

This book is definitely on the theologically academic side of the spectrum and that is appropriate given the nature of the subject matter.  The trinity needs to be explored at a good depth – our God is unmatched in his depth and complexity.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33 ESV)

This book is very solid and thoroughly researched, while not being too deep so as to make for tough sledding.   It’s divided up into two parts – (1) New Testament Foundations – which essentially is a trinity-centric commentary of the NT books and (2) Practical Relevance – which, as titled, provides practical application of the doctrine of the trinity for personal and church contexts.

In Part 1, the various contributors diligently mine the Scriptures to shed light on their overall trinitarian structure.  As a pastor preaching through the gospel of John at the moment, I perhaps most enjoyed the chapter from Bauckman – “The Trinity and the Gospel of John,” though he does get a bit bogged down in the eternal existence of the Son nuances.  As Bauckman writes “The Gospel of John has played a hugely important role in the formation of classical Christian doctrine and in continued reflection on the Trinity” [91], and he solidly expounds that for us.

As one would expect, the letters of Paul are highlighted “alongside the Gospel of John as containing the richest vein of trinitarian theology in the New Testament.” [118] I appreciate the depth in which Brian Rosner wove together the trinitarian construct from various Pauline writings, with a particular focus on salvation.  Highlighting the perfect harmony of our three in one God and each role in salvation he writes “salvation is the narrative of the saving Trinity’s acting on behalf of human beings.” [122] I found myself welling up in worship and gratitude (with a healthy bit of awe) as “nothing magnifies the grace like appreciating the triune God’s work in salvation. And nothing gives believers more confidence that they are known and loved by God than pointing out the collaborative activity of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, and God’s Spirit.” [125]  AMEN!

The book has an appropriate balance of theological practicality in Part 1, touching on how the trinity impacts good works and conformity to Christ, and upholding the divinity of Christ and substitutionary atonement. As “some have argued (Gungor anyone?) that the Father’s sending of the Son to die amounts to an abusive, tyrannical act. However this misguided view severely misunderstands the trinitarian works of God.” [168]

Part 2 is really where the book powerfully shines in it’s application of the doctrine of the Trinity.  “Not only does the doctrine of the Trinity identify God; it also illumines all of God’d works, enabling us to perceive more clearly the wonders of the Father’s purpose in creation , of Christ’s incarnation and of the Spirt’s indwelling.” [213] This impacts prayer, revelation, worship, and preaching and each are thoroughly addressed in their own chapters in Part 2.

What we believe about God affects our prayer life – “a healthy, vibrant prayer life depends to a large extent upon a good understanding of trinitarian doctrine.” [228]  I was more than slightly convicted to remain diligent in promoting a robust understanding of the trinity from the pulpit, as was written – “not as an abstract truth, but as something with obvious, vital, practical significance.”  [239]

Our three-in-one God speaks to us, through His word and as he reveals himself to us – as “the goal of revelation is not just knowledge about God, but the knowledge of God” [257] and the “centerpiece of God’s revelation is the gospel.” [262]  We see the roles of the Trinity front and center as God the Father plans the redemption, God the Son fulfills the plan, and God the Spirit impresses the truths of the gospel on human hearts. [“Initiated by the Father, accomplished by the Son, and applied by the Holy Spirit – 270]

The basis of church worship must be an accurate knowledge of who God is and what he has done, according to His Word. Letham reviews key passages relating the doctrine of the Trinity and worship.  [Eph 2:18; John 4:23-24]  “Since Christian worship is determined, initiated and shaped by, and directed to, the holy Trinity, we worship the three with one undivided act of adoration.” [274]  There was an air of opposition to an “anti-liturgical movement” in this chapter, which came off as having an axe to grind, but the points of intentionality in Trinitarian worship were well taken.  However, getting real practical, a properly informed Trinitarian worship perspective should affect the way we treat people – specifically, it should unite, not divide.

Finally, the chapter on the Trinity and Preaching was the one that I found the most helpful.  It encouraged me in the importance of proclaiming God’s word where our three-in-one God actually speaks to us. “Without God’s word we simply would not know God.” [292]  There seems to be a frustrating increase in preachers and authors claiming direct revelation from God, and this chapter clearly reinforces the power and uniqueness of God speaking through His Word. “The fact that God is triune, and always speaks in a trinitarian way, should inform both the content and the intent of Christian preaching.” [298]  As Reeves writes, “preaching should foster sincere worship” [307] and this book as a whole strikes a good balance between the academic and the inspirational.

 

 

Signs of the Spirit – Book Review

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Jonathan EdwardsReligious Affections is one of the most foundational books on the life of a believer ever written. But reading Edwards can be a bit…challenging, shall we say?Henceforth – in Signs of the Spirit, Sam Storms takes on the massive task of recasting and commenting the treasure trove that is sometimes buried within his writing style.

Edwards wrote Religious Affections as a response to the controversy surrounding the Great Awakening, particularly answering the questions “What is the nature of true religion/conversion?” and “How can we tell between authentic and spurious holiness?”

What is the evidence of a genuine saving encounter with the Spirit of God?

Storms sets a foundation from Edwards and then he goes on to explain and apply Edwards’ 12 signs of genuine religious affections.

First, per 1 Peter 1:8, we see that love for Jesus and joy in Jesus are the essence of true spirituality. This love and joy should endure through trials and pain, knowing that God is working within us, like a sculptor who “chips away in us anything from our lives that doesn’t look like Jesus.” This then is no ordinary, temporary emotion, but more of an “inclination of the will,” or as Edwards puts it an “affection” of the heart.

Inclinations and affections should therefore not be half-hearted or lukewarm, but intense and vibrant – ultimately giving way to outward actions that are pleasing to God. As anyone knows, affections cannot (most of the time) be self-generated, we are thus dependent on God to bring them, and that’s where prayer comes in. Storms powerfully writes/summarizes “We are not to pray as if our petitions inform God of what he doesn’t know or change his mind or prevail on him to bestow mercy that he was otherwise disinclined to give. Rather we pray “to affect our own hearts with the things we express, and so to prepare us to receive the blessings we ask.” In fact, virtually all external expressions of worship “can be of no further use, than as they have some tendency to affect our own hearts, or the hearts of others.”

Likewise, our singing should be vibrant and stir our affections. Our preaching should aim to affect hearts, not just inform minds. Our enemy, Satan, is quite happy to see Christians fall into a zone of lifeless religious ceremony, stoicism, and routine. “There is no true religion where there is no religious affection, because if the great things of religion are understood, they will affect the heart.” Chief among these great things is the gospel of Jesus Christ! There should be our greatest joy, delight and affection.

The controversy therein is which are genuine, biblical affections and which are not. Sometimes people can appeal to affections which in actuality prove nothing of genuine spirituality. In Edwards day, as in today, there is a school of thought that would put all the weight on a “spiritual experience” rather than the fruit of genuine faith. We cannot rely on outward expressions, but rather something much more deep. This has everything to do with assurance of faith and Storms/Edwards is right in saying that there is no assurance of salvation in any other way, than by mortifying corruption, and increasing in grace, and obtaining the lively exercises of it.

This then sets the stage for an analysis of the twelve signs of authentic affections that Edwards provides. I’ll try to quickly list and comment on each.

  1. Authentic religious affections arise from supernatural influences on the heart. God, in response to our hearing of the gospel, through the power of His Holy Spirit, gives us new life – which includes new perspectives, feelings, desires, and appetites.
  2. An awareness that divine things are not for self-benefit. In short, it’s not about us. It’s about God and we are drawn then for more of God. The hypocrite rejoices in self, the child of God rejoices in God. Our primary joy must be of God Himself, and not in even in any perceived “experience” of God. I unfortunately see this all over the church today, primarily in the false gospels of prosperity and charismatics. We don’t come to God for what he can do for us, period.
  3. Affections that are founded on a belief of the goodness, sweetness, and beauty of divine things. Do we really believe that God is good, that his word is true and sweet, that prayer is joyful dependance, that the church is our spiritual family? Or do we consider other things more valuable, when they are in actuality pale substitutes.
  4. Affections that result from the mind being divinely enlightened about spiritual things. When God’s word is read, preached, spoken of – it becomes understood by us through the Holy Spirit. Subsequently, per the last point, spiritual things aren’t merely intellectually appreciated, they are savored in the heart.
  5. Affections that come with a level of conviction about the seriousness, judgement and reality of the gospel. These again, are not a mere intellectual belief, but a deeper conviction that spiritual things are indeed truth.
  6. Affections must be accompanied by humility. An awareness of one’s sinfulness and the gift of God in Jesus. Not to mention, deep pain at the signs of sin and the lack of deeper affections for God Himself.
  7. A change of nature must be visible. True conversion includes a gradual renovation of the thoughts, impulses, and actions.
  8. A reflection of the character of Jesus in love, humility, forgiveness, mercy…and many other things.
  9. A tenderness of spirit and a sensitivity toward sin. If we are claiming to be Christians, are we more inclined to determine what is sin and act on it?
  10. A symmetry and pervasiveness in Godly affections. It is a characteristic of the hypocrite to pick and choose where Christlikeness applies in their lives. This is still alive and well in the church in legalism. We pick and choose our pet issues and are willing to die for them, but then subsequently express an inconsistency and imbalance in applying sanctification in other areas of our lives.
  11. True religious affections want more. False affections are satisfied in spiritual complacency. We are called to grow (Eph 4:15) and to give ourselves to seeking God and applying his likeness in “ever increasing measures” so that we will not be ineffective or unfruitful. (2 Peter 1:3-8)
  12. Straight up – we bear the fruit of holiness in our actual lives. This is the most important of the signs. True Christians are never content with the presence of sin in their lives. True Christians will sin, but never completely forsake righteousness. Always fight, by the grace of the gospel, to be more consistent with their spiritual new life in Christ. As Edwards wrote “holy affections have a governing power in the course of a man’s life.” Then we have come full circle, because holiness fuels Godly affections.

Storms includes an additional part of the book about the personal spirituality of Edwards. If you haven’t read a biography on a saint like Edwards that has gone before, please do so. (PS:  Here is a good one on Edwards if you’d like.) They are tremendous soul building exercises. Storms includes a mini-biography in the final part of the book that explains in transparency how much Edwards believed and lived by his faith. We see a mini-tour of his confessions, struggles, and aspirations and it should encourage and give hope for us.

We have much to learn from the saints that have gone before us, your soul will benefit from getting to know Jonathan Edwards.  Thank you, Sam Storms for making these deep truths even more accessible.

Lessons from the Spartan Race

Moomer_Dad_SpartanYesterday, I ran a Spartan Sprint race with my daughter Morgan. For those of you who are unfamiliar with what a Spartan race is…this is the “Intro” one called a “Sprint.” It was 5.2 miles with 20 obstacles…not the least of which were crawling under barbed wire in the dust and rocks for what seemed like 10 miles, carrying a 40lb bag of sand up hill (did I mention this was a ski mountain?), rope climbs, more walls than I care to remember, sporadic mud and very smelly water, and just generally enduring the punishing, unrelenting Summer sun.

Yes, we paid to do this, and I’m glad we did.  Here are some lessons and thoughts:

  1. Training.  It cannot be overstated the importance of being ready for this race.  It was punishing.  I was very happy I had been diligent in training.  Still.  It. Was. Hard.  Makes me think – are we prepared for trials and suffering in our lives?  We are preaching thru 1 Peter right now at Highlands and suffering is unavoidable. Am I ready?
  2. Military.  I grew in appreciation for our military in not only how hard they train, but also the danger they face.  As I said to one fellow Spartan as we were crawling under the barbed wire – “Hey.  At least we aren’t getting shot at.”
  3. Team Work.  There is a generally good sense of team work at these races.  Morgan and I definitely cheered each other on, helped each other, and celebrated overcoming the obstacles.  Are we helping each other run our “life races” well?
  4. Goals.  Straight up – it’s awesome to set goals and then accomplish them, even in the face of suffering and resistance.  We were walking up our final hill and one woman said “Keep your head up. One foot in front of the other and don’t stop.”  It was so simple, yet true – each step we took literally got us closer to the end.  Set goals, get going, push yourself past where you think you can go and don’t stop.
  5. Stewardship.  This wasn’t about us, it was about the challenge, but it made me think of being a good steward of what God has given us in our health and the gospel. I think of 1 Timothy 4 – for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:8 ESV).  Am I giving enough dedicated, diligent attention to growing in Godliness and living daily in the gospel?  Our bodies will pass away, we need to be healthy and diligent stewards of them, but ultimately we exist not for our own glory but for the glory of God!

Ignoring God = Idolatry?

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For the last few years, idolatry has been a big buzz word in chruchy circles.  As a Pastor, I have even thought to myself sometimes: “Oh boy, here I go again…beating on the same idolatry drum.”

It is still true, that anything we hold higher than God in our affections and priority is an idol and all the usually illustrated suspects come into play – money, status, relationship, sex, comfort, substances, etc.  How can you tell if something is an idol?  If we sin in order to get it, or if we sin when we don’t get it.

But something dawned on me, as when I’m starting to feel overwhelmed my default mode is to go turtle.  I withdraw into myself.  It dawned on me that when I don’t turn to God for comfort, identity, help…I’m essentially ignoring God and my idol is me.  Not that I think too highly of myself, but instead I don’t look outside myself to God for redemption.  The answer (as Shane and Shane so well put) is never more of me.

This concept is not foreign to the Scriptures.  Many Psalms are “lament” Psalms that are not complaining into thin air, or withdrawing into a turtle shell, it is a directed lament at the all powerful God who alone can help.  There is usually a turning point in the Psalm where the author snaps himself back inline to realize the greatness of God, the great salvation he offers by faith in the Messiah that nothing can take away, and the futileness of turning only to himself.  It would be a soul-building exercise for me (and perhaps I’m not alone) to soak in some Psalms and remember that I’m not the answer.

I’ll leave you with a great example in Psalm 13:

O THE CHOIRMASTER. A PSALM OF DAVID.  How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken. [Editorial note: turning point ahead!]

But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.

(Psalms 13:0–6 ESV)

 

2016 Is Here – What’s Your Reading Plan?

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2016 is nearly upon us!  With each new year, it is a great chance to start fresh – make positive changes.  (For one, I resolve to be nicer to the cat.) One of the best things you can do is have a plan to read the Bible.  Like…the WHOLE Bible in a year. You can do it. Why should you?  Glad you asked. I can think of a few really awesome reasons.

  1. It builds understanding. Bad thinking starts with a partial understanding of Scripture.  We have all seen verses ripped out of context and misapplied.  Building a view of God around a verse (or a handful of verses) plucked out of context is super bad.  When we read all of the Bible it brings balance and interpretation.
  2. It builds self-discipline.  Have a plan.  Have a time that you read, pray, and meditate every day.  Build it into your routine…make it a habit.  Use the common grace of God found in good coffee. You might have to make little adjustments to protect it.  For example, my wife and I this year are printing out our reading plans and using paper Bibles to be away from our iDevices so that we do not get sucked into social media distractions.
  3. It spills out into other people’s lives.  The more you read and seek to understand Scripture, the better you are able to be an instrument of blessing in other peoples lives.  One of my mini-“resolutions” is to try to use Scripture more in every day conversations.  I can’t do that if I’m not reading it.
  4. It causes you to grow in Godliness and wisdom and character and strength…and a zillion other ways.  One of the things that I find very hard to hear is when someone says “I just wish God would speak to me.”  HE. HAS.  God speaks in His word and we come to understand more of who God is and how we are to live by reading, meditating, and applying His Word.
  5. It’s EASY to find a plan.  You can find them EVERYWHERE.  If you are disciplined enough to be able to use your phone/tablet to read the Bible without being distracted by other stuff you have a plethora of options that serve up the Word right to your screen.  You an also find a treasure trove of other plans on the InterWebs.  For example – here’s a great list.

However you chose to do it…please…let me go “Nike” for a second and “Just Do It.”  Many people gave their lives so that we can have access to God’s Word and many other believers still do not have access to a Bible in their language.  God speaks through His word, let us listen and be changed!

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalms 119:105 ESV)

 

 

Haiti Day 5 = Chaos (and Bools)

So.  Yeah. Friday’s during Haiti VBS are nuts! Reason being…the kids all expect us to give them presents in the last day. We certainly has our share of soccer balls (about 50) and various other things…but when you have a couple hundred kids that doesn’t go very far.  Chaos is a good word to describe the atmosphere today. And shoving. Lots of shoving. With lots of yelling in CreoleEnglish telling us to “Give me bool.”  (Ball)

  
We did give away all of our “bools” via a contest where the kid lines up far away from the goal and gives it his best kick.  If he or she gets it in, they win the bool.  Here’s a pic of one of the attempts. I’m pretty proud of this shot, every once in a while I get a good one!

  

I had the opportunity to talk again with Alberto. He seems to be a legit follower of Jesus. I saw a man selling Bibles and bought one. After that Alberto asked me if that was a Creole Bible, which it was, and he told me that he didn’t have one. He only had a French one on his phone.  When I gave him the Bible his face lit up. He as so excited to have a Bible in his home language. Here is a shot of my bud and his new Creole Bible. 

  
Tonight we are going back to the town to hold a “crusade” – basically a church service. We will sing a few songs, and I am preaching from Luke 5. Please pray for the Word to go out and for it to penetrate hearts!

Haiti – Day 3 – It Begins

One of the things I am liking the most is the chance that we have every night to sing together, be in God’s word together, and share what is going on in our hearts. Last night Alex challenged us from Matthew 19 that we desire most of the time to be first in yet Jesus calls us to put others before our own needs. 

 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.

(Matthew 19:30)

When we do VBS in Haiti, unfortunately the opposite of this verse is in effect. There is a great amount of clamoring, yelling, and pushing and shoving him to be at the first of the line to have a chance to get in. 

I had the opportunity to preach to the crowd this morning – telling them we are here because we love them very much and so does Jesus. We see brokenness and the effects of sin and evil all around us – in Haiti or America, and God has done something about it. He has supplied us the restoration and healing in Jesus. Ours is to live by faith in Him while remembering what he has done for us in securing our new identity. 

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

(Galatians 2:20)

Today we started VBS and while it was controlled chaos, it still was chaos.  I saw some of the kids that we saw 2 years ago. But even in the midst of chaos,  the warmth and the love of the children is just absolutely amazing.

   

After our VBS classes we fed the community as far as two giant pot of rice and beans could go.  One of our translators suggested that would be a good idea to take some plates of food into the street and find the people that of been hiding in the shadows and bring them to them. This turned out to be a great idea as many were doing just that received the food gladly. 

 
After that we spent some time in small groups with children who wanted to learn English.  

We spent time showing them pictures from our iPhones are pointing to drawings and the books teaching them the English word for many common objects. The Haitian children are very excited to learn English and it was a blessing to spend some one-on-one time with them. 

  
We’re looking forward to a nice time together tonight over dinner and more singing and time of sharing this evening. Lauren has volunteered to lead our studying the word tonight and we are excited to hear from her. 

So far everyone is doing great and no one has become sick. Please pray for our stamina to keep up in the punishing heat and most of all for God’s word to have an impact in the hearts and lives of these precious children.