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The Happy Man

Jul 22, 2015 | Jason Helopoulos

Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos

I have yet to meet someone who doesn’t want to be happy. In fact, most people would readily admit this desire as the supreme goal and aim of their life. Do you know how to find happiness? What does the happy man actually look like? Do your family members know? Co-workers? Neighbors? Friends? Maybe no better words were ever penned to answer this question than those written by the early 20th century Scottish Highland’s minister Lauchlan Mackenzie. Rev. Mackenzie helpfully and poetically detailed the life of the happy man:

The happy man was born in the city of Regeneration in the parish of Repentance unto life. He was educated at the school of Obedience. He has a large estate in the county of Christian Contentment, and many times does jobs of self-denial, wears the garment of Humility, and has another suit to put on when he goes to Court, called the Robe of Christ’s Righteousness. He often walks in the valley of Self-Abasement, and sometimes climbs the mountains of Heavenly-mindedness. He breakfasts every morning on Spiritual Prayer, and sups every evening on the same. He has meat to eat that the world knows not of, and his drink is the sincere milk of the Word of God. Thus happy he lives, and happy he dies. Happy is he who has Gospel submission in his will, due order in affections, sound peace in his conscience, real Divinity in his breast; the Redeemer’s yoke on his neck, a vain world under his feet, and a crown of glory over his head. Happy is the life of that man who believes firmly, prays fervently, walks patiently, works abundantly, lives holy, dies daily, watches his heart, guides his senses, redeems his time, loves Christ and longs for glory. He is necessitated to take the world on his way to heaven, but he walks through it as fast as he can, and all his business by the way is to make himself and others happy. Take him all in all, in two words, he is a Man and a Christian.

Who isn’t looking for happiness? Do you know the way? Do your friends, family members, co-workers, and neighbors? The Christian life alone is the way of happiness now and forever.

 

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The Sunday Worship Killer

Jul 21, 2015 | Jason Helopoulos

Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos

Few things harden the soul, deaden the heart, close the ears, and chill the affections more. It serves as one of the greatest weapons of our adversary, though few recognize it. One would expect such a foe to be obvious, but it often chooses to operate subtly in the shadows of the mind and the private ruminations of the heart. It has the added deadliness of feigning holiness while encouraging pride with the false assumption we are more holy than others due to our greater “discernment.” Donning the robes of the critic maims and kills many would-be worshipers in churches every single Sunday morning.

In all honesty, very few of us knowingly enter church with such a motivation. How silly it would be for us to rise early on Sundays to play the role of the critic. But as we take our seat in the church pew, our focus and motivation cowers to the voice crying out within, “they are not doing this right,” “they are not doing this well,” “they are not doing this as I would do it.” And in the midst of it all, we move from worshipper to critic. No doubt, the Christian is called to be discerning and discriminating in worship. All that passes for worship these days should not receive our approval. Paul has no qualms identifying wrong practices in the worship of the Corinthian Church (1 Corinthians 11-14), Jesus is clear about worthy and non-worthy worship (John 4), and God’s seriousness about the manner and means by which we worship cannot be overestimated (Leviticus 10). Yet, there is a temptation to spend more time at church critiquing than confessing, judging than rejoicing, criticizing than praising, and challenging than receiving when there is very little reason to do so.

This trap is great and our adversary is pleased with the results. The Christian leaves church with a satisfied conscience. She rests having fulfilled her “weekly duty,” but little worship was practiced or experienced. Instead of meeting with God, she played the cynic. Instead of hearing the voice of God, she heard the frail words of the preacher. Instead of a mind stirred by truth, it was stymied in criticism. Instead of a heart moved with joy, it was hardened in judgment. If you or I depart church on Sunday mornings and our main thoughts or topics of conversation consist of concerns, critiques, and criticisms, it is likely we have become a critic rather than a worshiper.

How do we fight this tendency? First, we must remind ourselves of the great privilege of corporate worship. My friends, we are meeting with the Triune God of the Universe. The Lord of Glory is speaking to us, the grace of Christ is being extended to us, and we are enjoying a taste of that which we shall enjoy for all of eternity. Nothing in all the earth is more significant, monumental, and remarkable than the reality that God chooses to meet with us by His Word and Spirit week in and week out. Corporate worship is the high-point of the Christian’s week. Anything that detracts from it is an enemy.

Second, intentionality goes a long way in fighting unnecessary critique. Begin Saturday night by setting aside time in prayer and reading the Bible to soften your heart for the next day’s holy appointment. On Sunday, rise early enough to seek the Lord in order to have your heart moved with affection for Him before entering the church building. As you take your seat in the sanctuary, remember above all else that worship is a meeting between God and His people. You are not there to sit in judgment or question the motives of others. You journeyed to this place at this time to meet with the Living and True God of heaven and earth. What a delight! As the music begins, even if it is not your “cup of tea,” seek to meditate upon the words you are singing. Allow your affections to be stirred as you think and meditate upon Him. As prayers are uttered, seek to stay your thoughts upon Him. Say over and over in your mind, “Amen,” as you agree with the words offered in corporate prayer. As the sermon is preached, plead with Him to lay bare your own heart, root out sin where it is found, and provide comfort where it is needed. When driving home from church talk about how the service or sermon impacted you. Limit critiques and abound in discussion about how the Word preached, sung, read, confessed, and prayed that morning shaped and informed your own understanding and life in Christ. And throughout the week meditate upon that Word and watch for how the Lord is conforming you more and more to the image of Christ.

Criticism can detract and deject the worshiper. We all must seek to limit it to healthy bounds. It may be the case that you attend a church where the Word isn’t preached, the Sacraments aren’t administered, and worship is absent. If that is the case, it is time to move on. However, if you attend a church where the Word is preached, the Sacraments are rightly administered, and worship is present then delight in worshiping God. You are meeting with the Triune God of the universe. Don’t let our adversary tempt you to do something less. The worship critic stands in judgment over everyone and everything else, the God-adoring worshiper rightly kneels in unity with her brothers and sisters humbly before her King.

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Monday Morning Humor

Jul 20, 2015 | Jason Helopoulos

Laughing is good for the soul and the subway…

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Jesus Loves the Little Children

Jul 17, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

Oddly enough, it’s sometimes progressives who are most eager to move the culture backward.

As we reflect in horror at the utter callousness with which some persons and organizations speak of (not to mention crush) the tiniest humans, it’s worth remembering that the ancient world was unabashedly open to the killing of children. For starters, they had almost none of the sentimentality we have towards kids. There was no Disney, no summer camps, no play dates. Family life–even if there was such a thing–certainly did not revolve around children. In general, children, were useful at best, burdens at worst, and almost never coddled.

If there was one dominant fact regarding children in the ancient world it was their high mortality rates, especially among infants. Many newborns were stillborn or died in labor. Those who made it safely out of the womb often went hungry. There were too many mouths to feed and too little food. As a result, children were often abandoned, exposed to the elements, literally left on trash heaps to die. From 230 B.C. onward, the most common family in Greece was a one-child family. Families of four or five were rare. Some families might want two sons, but rarely would they want two daughters.

Unwanted children were disposed of, often sold into slavery. Others were aborted in the womb. Many more were simply killed as infants. Newborns were not considered part of the family until the father officially acknowledged them and received them into the house by religious ceremony. Consequently, ancient Greeks and Romans thought little of little babies and did not hesitate to get rid of them.

In the ancient world, it was uniquely the Jewish people who prohibited abortion and infanticide, the latter of which was not outlawed until Christianity took on a privileged place in the empire. Christians have always opposed killing children, whether infants outside the womb or infants inside the womb. The two were one and the same crime. “You shall not abort a child or commit infanticide,” commanded the Didache, a late first century church constitution of sorts. Despite the muddled arguments of progressive Christian groups and demoninations (whose obfuscation with language is positively Orwellian), opposition to abortion and infanticide is not simply one position for Christians, it is the Christian position.

Jesus welcomed children when others wanted to push them away (Mark 10:13-16). He said the measure of our love for him would be measured by our love for children (Mark 9:36-37). He took the children in his arms as if to say, “Honor these little ones, and you honor me. Send them away because they are weak, socially insignificant, and bothersome, and you’ve demonstrated you don’t understand the values of the kingdom.”

As abortion is again in the public eye (though willfully ignored by major media outlets), let’s pray for our society to change its mind regarding the smallest and most helpless of its citizens. Let’s pray for the church to lead the way in protecting, honoring, and caring for children–not matter how unborn or unwanted. Let’s pray that every judge, politician, and doctor becomes convinced of the sanctity of unborn life and acts accordingly. Let’s pray for the flourishing of pregnancy centers and women’s clinics that provide an alternative to abortion. Let’s pray for the women contemplating such a tragic choice, and for the family members encouraging them in the wrong direction. Let’s pray for men to be men, to stop fooling around and to stop fleeing when they have. Let’s pray that hundreds of politicians, thousands of pastors, millions of would-be moms and dads, and 300 million hearts are gripped by a Jesus-inspired view of children.

Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world. Even the ones with an umbilical cord.

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Heaven Is a World of Love

Jul 15, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

Most people know Jonathan Edwards as the guy who preached hellfire and brimstone sermons like “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” But fewer realize that the pastor from Northampton, Massachusetts also preached sermons like this one, called “Heaven is a World of Love.”

The Apostle tells us that God is love, 1 John 4:8. And therefore seeing he is an infinite Being, it follows that he is an infinite fountain of love, Seeing he is an all-sufficient Being, it follows that he is a full and overflowing and an inexhaustible fountain of love. Seeing he is an unchangeable and eternal Being, he is an unchangeable and eternal source of love. There even in heaven dwells that God from whom every stream of holy love, yea, every drop that is or ever was proceeds.

There dwells God the Father, and so the Son, who are united in infinitely dear and incomprehensible mutual love. There dwells God the Father, who is the Father of mercies, and so the Father of love, who so loved that world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life [John 3:16].

There dwells Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, the Prince of peace and love, who so loved the world that he shed his blood, and poured out his soul unto death for it. There dwells the Mediator, by whom all God’s love is expressed to the saints, by whom the fruits of it have been purchased, and through whom they are communicated, and through whom love is imparted to the hearts of all the church. There Christ dwells in both his natures, his human and divine, sitting with the Father in the same throne.

There is the Holy Spirit, the spirit of divine love, in whom the very essence of God, as it were, all flows out or is shed abroad in the hearts of all the church [cf. Rom. 5:5].

There in heaven this fountain of love, this eternal three in one, is set open without any obstacle to hinder access to it. There this glorious God is manifested and shines forth in full glory, in beams of love; there the fountain overflows in streams and rivers of love and delight, enough for all to drink at, and to swim in, yea, so as to overflow the world as it were with a deluge of love. (The Sermons of Jonathan Edwards, 245)

Jonathan Edwards was one of those rare persons who saw the terror of hell and the extraordinary beauty and loveliness of heaven.  He understood that we do not worship a cartoon deity.  God is not a one-dimensional character out of  a summer blockbuster.  He’s not some petty, insecure despot with lightning bolts who nurses a grudge against the human race.  But neither is he a souped up version of  American Ninja Warrior’s uber-supportive audience, a feel good god eager to cheer on anyone no matter their failings so long as they have a back story.

These are not biblical images of God.  The God of the Bible is a God of unswerving justice and boundless mercy. And never can the two be divorced from each other.

One of the striking things in reading the excerpt above is to see just how much this depiction of heaven rises out from the most foundational elements of Christian theology. The love in Edwards’ vision of heaven cannot be reduced to sentiment, sympathy, and bumper sticker notions of acceptance and affirmation. The love that awaits the saints in heaven is far different, not because it is something less, but because it is so much more.

The love Edwards extols is rich with theological reflection on the Trinity, the two natures of Christ, substitutionary atonement, Christ as Mediator, the importance of the church, and the immutability of God. Edwards’ heaven is full of a love that only makes sense in the world of thought shaped by the whole counsel of God. Cheap imitations of biblical love never plumb the depths of the Christian tradition. Instead they plunder the booty of Christian vocabulary and employ in such a way so that everyone from Donald Trump to the Dali Lama can nod in agreement. Edwards tells a different story, reminding us that heaven is a world where Trinitarian-wrought, cross-bought, sorrow-easing, wrath-appeasing, Christ-centered, church-focused, overflowing, inexhaustible, incorruptible love wins.

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Monday Morning Humor

Jul 13, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

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Hymns We Should Sing More Often: Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah

Jul 10, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

This is part of an intermittent series I’ve called “Hymns We Should Sing More Often.” The aim is to remind us (or introduce for the first time) excellent hymns that are probably not included in most church’s musical canon. A few hymns–like Holy, Holy, Holy or Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing—are familiar to many congregations and get sung in conferences and other large gatherings. Unfortunately, for a growing number of churches, there are no hymnals in the pews (or on the chairs), and consequently there is little opportunity to draw from the deep well of Christian hymnody. Most of the hymns in this series are not unfamiliar, just underutilized. I hope you will enjoy learning about these hymns as much as I have and enjoy singing them even more.

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William Williams (1717-1791) came to Christ through the evangelistic preaching of a man named Howell Harris in Wales at the same time that John Wesley and George Whitefield were leading revivals in England. After serving two local parishes in the Anglican church, Williams himself felt the call to become a traveling evangelist. He devoted the next 43 years of his life to minister to his home country of Wales on horseback (traveling almost 100,000 miles) preaching and singing Christ. He wrote approximately 800 hymns in Welsh, and was known as the “sweet singer of Wales.”

“Guide Me, O My Great Jehovah” is Williams’ most famous hymn. It compares the life of the believer with that of the Israelites during their 40 year wilderness wanderings in the “barren land”, and makes illusions to manna (“bread of heaven”), the crystal fountain, the fire and cloudy pillar, the Jordan River, and crossing over to Canaan’s side.

The most familiar musical setting of “Guide Me” was written by the Welsh composer John Hughes in 1907. The tune (known as CWM RHONDDA) was written for a Baptist singing festival at Capel Rhondda, in Pontypridd, Wales. The English translation of the Welsh text was done by Peter Williams in 1771.

Guide me, O thou great Jehovah, pilgrim through this barren land;
I am weak, but thou art mighty; hold me with thy pow’rful hand;
Bread of heaven, Bread of heaven, feed me till I want no more, feed me till I want no more.

Open now the crystal fountain, whence the healing stream doth flow;
let the fire and cloudy pillar lead me all my journey through;
strong Deliv’rer, strong Deliv’rer, be thou still my strength and shield, be thou still my strength and shield.

When I tread the verge of Jordan, bid my anxious fears subside;
Death of death, and hell’s Destruction, land me safe on Canaan’s side;
songs of praises, songs of praises I will ever give to thee, I will ever give to thee.

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Love Incorruptible

Jul 08, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

Paul concludes his letter to the Ephesians with four precious gospel words: “Peace to the brothers, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible” (Eph. 6:23-24). Those are four of the most important words you’ll ever hear: peace, love, faith, grace. And what about the last sentence? Absolutely beautiful. How fitting that Ephesians would end with the phrase “love incorruptible.”

And what does undying love look like?

It looks like Ephesians 4-6.

We love Jesus enough to obey his commands. We abide in Christ by letting his words abide in us. We live a life worthy of the calling we have received. “Love incorruptible” is an elegant phrase, but it’s hard work. It means no longer living as the pagans do. It means taking off the old clothes of greed, sensuality, and impurity and putting on the new garments of truth, righteousness, and holiness.

It’s very easy to talk about love. What the world needs now is love, sweet love. But few people bother to define love any more. Except that Paul does, all over the place in Ephesians. If we truly love, we will be changed people. We will put off falsehood, unrighteous anger, stealing, unwholesome talk, and bitterness. And we will put on truth-telling, righteous anger, hard work, edifying conversation, and compassion. We will be imitators of Christ. There is no real love for Christ if we do not long to be like him in his perfect righteousness and justice, his perfect truth and grace.

If we love our Lord Jesus with undying love we will live as children of light, exposing the shameful deeds of darkness. We will be careful how we live, making the most of every opportunity, understanding the Lord’s will, and being filled with the Spirit. Out of love for Christ, wives will submit to their husbands, children honor their parents, and workers obey their bosses. And out of love for Christ, husbands will lay down their lives for their wives, parents will instruct their children in the Lord, and bosses will treat their workers as they themselves wish to be treated.

If we love our Lord Jesus Christ, we not give up in our fight against the flesh and the devil, but we will stand our ground and resist the schemes of the evil one. And above all, and under all, we will pray–at all times, with all kinds of prayers, for all the saints, in all perseverance.

That’s a lot for God to ask of us in the name of love. But, do not forget, all that he asks he provides. We love our Lord Jesus Christ with undying love because in him we know God’s own immortal, imperishable, incorruptible love for us.

That’s Ephesians 1-3.

In Christ we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing. We were chosen in him to be holy and blameless. Through Jesus, we have been adopted as God’s children. In him, we have redemption through his blood. And in him, God is bringing the entire universe to its fulfillment–to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. In him, we were also chosen, predestined according to God’s sovereign plan. In Christ we have been sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, marked out as God’s own possession to the praise of his glory.

In our Lord Jesus Christ, God is right now working his mighty power for us who believe. And in Christ we have already been made alive with him, even when we were dead in transgressions. And in him we have been seated in the heavenly realms, in order that in the coming ages God might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

In him we have been created for good works. In him we who were far away have been brought near. In him, Jews and Gentiles, blacks and whites, Croats and Serbs can come together in one body. In him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. In him is a love that is wide and long and high and deep and surpasses knowledge.

To this Jesus Christ, whom we love with undying love, be glory throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

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Monday Morning Humor

Jul 06, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

I hope your holiday weekend was at least this good.

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A Republic of Laws, Not Men

Jul 03, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

John Adams speaking in favor of American independence:

Objects of the most stupendous magnitude. Measures which will effect the lives of millions–born and unborn–are now before us. We must expect a great expense of blood to obtain them, but we must always remember that a free constitution of civil government cannot be purchased at too dear a rate as there is nothing on this side of Jerusalem of greater importance to mankind.

My worthy colleague from Pennsylvania has spoken with great ingenuity and eloquence. He has given you a grim prognostication of our national future. But where he foresees apocalypse, I see hope. I see a new nation ready to take its place in the world, not an empire, but a republic. And a republic of laws, not men!

Gentlemen, we are in the very midst of revolution; the most complete, unexpected and remarkable of any in the history of the world. How few of the human race have ever had an opportunity of choosing a system of government for themselves and their children?  I am not without apprehensions, gentlemen. But the end we have in sight is more than worth all the means.

My belief says that the hour has come. My judgment approves this measure and my whole heart is in it.

All that I have, all that I am, and all I that I hope in this life I am now ready to stake upon it.  While I live, let me have a country. A free country!

Watch the moving speech from the excellent John Adams miniseries here.

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