Importance of Words

Are historic Christian creeds and confessions important for the church today? Carl Trueman makes the case that they are. But we’ll never see their value unless we have a biblical view of language and truth; a tough sell in a culture that emphasizes emotional impressions over clear, word-based articulations of truth.

The full video of this lecture from the 2010 Life Reformation conference is available here. It’s not too late to plan on attending this year’s conference!

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The Greatest of Friendships: Developing Friendship with God

By Phil Urie

Most of my high school classmates signed their yearbook pictures with the letters “A. F. A.” above their signatures. Back then these letters stood for, “A Friend Always.” It goes without saying that most of these messages have proven to be empty promises.

Young people often wonder why their list of close friends actually shrinks as the years go by. For all our Twitter and Facebook accounts, real friendship is often missing. Families barely know their next door neighbors. Some married couples face the reality of waning interest and intimacy with each other. The prospect and pain of old age can gnaw away any sense of real meaning for tomorrow.

It has been well said that our acquaintances are many, but our lasting friends are few.  With this reality we need to look to God’s word for help in the area of true friendship. More importantly, we need to look to God himself as a personal, perfect and perm-anent friend, as well as pattern for friendship.

God’s Personal Friendship

The truest friendship that you and I can ever experience is rooted in the greatest friendship ever known, the friend-ship between God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand” (John 3:35). The great wonder is that God sent the Son of his love into a hateful world to befriend lost sinners. Read More »

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Calvinism in a Cloud

Here’s a word cloud for the Canons of Dort, which is the historical-confessional source of the Five Points of Calvinism and one of the several scripturally-based secondary theological standards in the Protestant tradition (1618-19; watch an introduction to the Canons of Dort here.)

Here are a few simple observations of biblical doctrine drawn from this word-image (the larger the word in the cloud the more frequently the word is used in the document) :

1. Sovereign election lies at the heart of and under girds all of the points of Calvinism. God’s unconditional election means that Christ died for a definite people, not for no one in particular (Limited Atonement). God’s unconditional election is the only sure remedy for a people totally unable to save themselves (Total Depravity). God’s unconditional election guarantees the perfect application of the merits of Christ’s death to a people naturally prone to resist God (Irresistible Grace). God’s unconditional election ensures that those in whom God has begun a good work will be carried through to completion (Perseverance of the Saints).

2. The need for personal faith is not minimized by sovereign election. The Canons insist just the opposite: The promise of the gospel, “…Together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of His good pleasure send the gospel” (Canons 2.5).

3. The Calvinistic doctrine highlights the grace of God. Grace is sometimes defined as undeserved favor. If God, in the distribution of salvation, is compelled to respond to man then salvation is not of grace but of works. If man’s salvation is not a work of God from beginning to end then salvation is not absolutely gracious.

4. The doctrine of sovereign grace magnify Christ as no other doctrine can. The covenant promise of God is that He would be a God to his people and they would be his people (Heb. 8:10). The people of God could never realize the blessings of this covenant by being obedient but by having a mediator keep the covenant for them as surety. The people with whom God has decreed to eternally covenant “receive the promise of the eternal inheritance” (Heb. 9:15) because Christ lived and died to fulfill the terms upon which the distribution of the inheritance depended. Christ’s death actually accomplished salvation for actual people; it didn’t merely make salvation possible.

5. While the Arminian system (unintentionally) ends up highlighting man, the doctrines of sovereign grace emphasize God. The Calvinist system rightly exalts the love (and the justice) of God. Rather than focusing attention on the decision of man, the Canons exalt the God who “has chosen his own from eternity in Christ, calls them effectually in time, confers upon them faith and repentance, rescues them from the power of darkness, and translates them into the kingdom of His own Son; that they may show forth the praises of Him who has called them out of darkness into His marvelous light…” (Canons 3-4.10).

Rediscover the gospel in a seventeenth century confession!

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Faithful Families

The family is a haven in a heartless world.

Those words, written by Christopher Lasch, create a desirable picture in most of our minds. We imagine a place where family members love each other unconditionally and support each other at all times, a place where we can retreat to escape the harshness and alienation of the world around us. Sadly, this beautiful scene often exists only in our minds. In reality, our families can become places where parents abuse their positions, fathers escape through their occupations, mothers become emotionally and physically drained, and children resist guidance. Rather than sacrificially loving and encouraging each other through thoughtful words and actions, we find fault and focus on the negative. Rather than sticking together, families break apart.

Christians are convinced that God has better plans for our families than we are presently experiencing.

Life Reformation has organized a conference designed to explore the themes of marriage and family and to help bridge the gap between God’s beautiful plan for families and the difficulties we face in implementing that plan. The event is also designed to introduce to each other those who desire to build healthy families God’s way.

The conference will feature three main sessions with Dr. Joel Beeke as well as five optional workshop talks with local pastors. With over thirty years of experience working with families, Dr. Beeke is a frequent conference speaker and voluminous writer on life issues. He and his wife, Mary, have three children. In his three addresses, Dr. Beeke will explore such themes as, how parents can exercise appropriate leadership in the home, how families can grow closer to each other and to God through family worship, and how godly families from the past can help us examine some of our contemporary preconceptions and practices regarding families.

Workshop talks will also be delivered by Rev. William Boekestein (A Pattern for Motherhood: Learning to Mother from our Maker), Rev. Paul Brace (A Christian Approach to Divorce), Rev. Mike Conroy (Our Adoption in Christ: Reflecting the Love of God in Our Families), Rev. Allen Mickle (My Warmest Love: Samuel and Sarah Pearce as Models of Christian Marriage), and Mr. Phil Urie (Turning the Corner on Negativity: What the Goodness of God Can Do for Your Family).

The public is welcome to attend this conference to be held at Grace Bible Church, 130 University Drive, Dunmore on July 16 from 1 to 6 PM. Come for any part or all of the conference which is free of charge (although donations are welcome). Attendees may wish to pre-register at www.lifereformation.org or 570.282.6400 to receive a free book by Joel Beeke, however, pre-registration is not required.

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Applying Total Depravity

The Bible teaches that far from having a morally righteous, or even a morally neutral nature, natural man has a morally depraved nature. As such man is conceived in sin (Psalm 51:5), incapable of saving good (Isaiah 64:6), unable and unwilling to seek God and offer the sacrifice of a contrite and broken spirit (Romans 3:9-20), prone to evil (Genesis 6:5; 8:21), and dead in and enslaved to sin (Ephesians 2:1,5).

That’s a pretty bleak picture.

But those who accept God’s diagnosis of fallen man are helped by this knowledge in at least four practical ways.

(You can view the complete sermon on Total Depravity here: http://vimeo.com/25060616)

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Is Debating the Finer Points of Theology Important?

“If we cannot hope to understand these details why is it important?”

“Does anyone really believe Calvin and Lewis are now in Heaven debating the finer points of the atonement?”

These are some of the questions of recent that I have come across as a pastor both within my church and without. I have faced some heavy criticism of being a very heavily “theological” pastor. Whether it be preaching the Word or interacting with people or teaching a theology class in our PM services, I have felt that a thorough and sound teaching of the foundational theological truths is incredibly important for the life of the Christian and the church. Unfortunately, this has met with some resistance. When we have been discussing the finer points of thinking on human responsibility and God’s sovereignty in salvation I have heard the comments that this is really unimportant. We need simply to preach the Word. All of this fine theological discussion does not actually help us to grow in the faith.

Yet, does not our love for God grow through our profound knowledge of God? And as our love for Him grows does not our service to Him grow in proportion?

I had the same discussion with someone on Facebook about the differences between John Calvin and C. S. Lewis and that neither are debating issues of “Calvinism and Arminianism” in heaven. I was astounded at this. Will, when we reach heaven, know infinitely all there is to know about God and His plans? Or will we continue to plumb the depths of the wisdom and glory of God for all eternity since He is infinite and we will always be finite? No, Calvin and Lewis are seeking to still understand the wisdom of God in all these things. They’re just not doing it as acrimoniously as we do today.

I wondered if this was simply new to our age. We live in an age or feeling and emotion and care not for the finer details of theology. But as I was reading Justification Vindicated by the Scottish Covenanter, Robert Traill (1642-1716) written when it was a time when theological precious and acumen was greatly prized, I realized the same issue has existed forever. He writes,

A light, frothy, trifling temper prevails generally; doctrines of the greatest weight are talked of and treated about with a vain, unconcerned frame of spirit, as if men contended rather about opinions and schoolpoints than about  the oracles of God and matters of faith. But if men’s hearts were seen by themselves, if sin were felt, if men’s consciences were enlivened, if God’s holy law were known in its exactness and severity, and the glory and majesty of the Lawgiver shining before men’s eyes, if men were living as if leaving time and launching forth into eternity, the gospel salvation by Jesus Christ would be more regarded (pp. 39-40).

The reality is, these finer details of theology, about justification, regeneration, election, substitutionary penal atonement, are of paramount importance both for the individual Christian and for the church. And if we only recognized our own limitations and God’s glory, we would spend far more time seeking to fine tune our theology to be most faithful to the Word of God.

So, I continue to teach theology. I continue to preach the whole counsel of God. I continue to recommend (and read myself) good, solid books, emphasizing right theology. I realize it is not just this day that makes men sloth for caring about the eternal purposes of God in the Word, but every age. And with every age there needs to be pastors who prompt and prod his people to know God and His Word better and to live it more faithfully and teach it clearly to the next generation.

In the end, we’re not going to know everything. There is a certain mystery to so much of the workings of God. Yet, our goal is to know and love God completely. We won’t have that perfected even on the other side of glory, but that does not abrogate my responsibility to work at it. I pray, that as I teach theology to my people, they will in turn love God more, and serve Him more faithfully.

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Psalm 5: The Deep Prayer of Praise

By Phil Urie

Much of the praise of God found in the Psalms was formed in the depth of prayer. Such is Psalm Five. All who will bow down to God our Father in prayer, are enabled to lift their eyes to Him in worship. When did the Holy Spirit come to rest on Christ? When He was baptized of course. Yes, but not until He prayed! “When all the people were baptized, it came to pass that Jesus also was baptized; and while he prayed, the heaven was opened.” (Luke 3:21) Prayer is a great privilege, for in prayer great things happen.

When we pray, God hears. Elijah and Elisha felt the power of their Messiah in them. When they prayed things happened. It has been written of some preachers that they could call down heaven by their prayers! In Psalm Five David speaks to God and asks things from God, knowing his God would answer.

In the first three verses David uses many similar phrases: “Give ear to my words . . . Consider my meditation . . . Give heed to the voice of my cry . . . to You I will pray . . . my voice you shall hear in the morning . . . I will direct it to You.” David relives his past experience that God is a listening God. This repetition of words is not because David doubts God, or that he thinks he must convince God to hear and act, as if God is unwilling to bless him. Rather David is praising God His Father. David is on a roll! Praise is rolling from his mind, into his heart, and onto his lips and face. Without deep prayer from the heart, our praise is shallow and is only lip service.

The last phrase in Verse Three is “I will look up” or “I will wait in expectation” (NIV). When I became a teenager I worked several summers for the neighbor. One day this man said to me, “Phil, someday I’m going to have steak and eggs for breakfast every morning.” This was his great expectation. But David had a higher hope. In Verse Seven David says “As for me, I will come into Your house. . . In fear of You, I will worship toward Your holy temple’ But David had not built the temple yet! He was looking toward God’s temple in heaven. In the depth of his prayer David was enabled to “look up”, that is, to worship God in His heavenly temple. So in verses 11-12 David “shouts for joy” for God’s blessing and favor.

God even uses the evil in the world to cause His people to pray. David did not want to be like the men that surrounded him! (Verses 4-5 and 9-10) We must feel the same way about David’s description of God’s judgment of evil. One day David’s Messiah will come and say, “Cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 25:30) In the kind of deep prayer found in Psalm Five for Jesus Christ to come and rescue us from such a fate, David-like worship and praise will be found in our own souls.

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An Invitation to Building Faithful Familes

We invite you to join us on July 16th to learn how we can be faithful to Christ and honor Him in our families.

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Ultimate Question: Helping Our Children Discern God’s Will

Dr. Joel Beeke is president of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. With over thirty years of ministry experience, Joel is a frequent conference speaker and voluminous writer. He and his wife, Mary, have three children. Joel is scheduled to speak at this year’s Life Reformation Conference (July 16, Dunmore, PA.).

We have only one opportunity to walk through this world. Our life is like a vapor that appears for a short time and then vanishes (James 4:14). The choices we make in this life are critically important; if we make the wrong ones we cannot come back and redo them.

These realities should impress upon parents and other mentors the import-ant role we play in helping our children discern God’s will. Our children wonder what schools they’ll attend, what career they will choose and who they will marry. We validate their search for answers when we give respectful and sober consideration to their questions. We can do so by helping them consider the important decision-making roles of the Bible, providence, prayer and counselors. Read More »

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The Five Points of Calvinism

In recent years the idea of “Calvinism” has acquired a new level of energy and interest. In 2009, Time Magazine called Calvinism one of the top ten ideas changing the world right now. The question, “What is Calvinism?” is being asked with increasingly greater frequency.

So what is Calvinism?

In a broad sense Calvinism is the theological system articulated, among others by John Calvin, the sixteenth century reformer of Geneva. In this sense Calvinism is a broad theology embracing, for example, the mind, the heart, the church, the family, vocation and government.

In a more narrow sense, Calvinism is the Reformed or Calvinistic understands salvation, sometimes referred to as sotereological Calvinism. Here we have in mind the Five Points of Calvinism articulated in the 16th century Canons of Dort and sometimes given the acrostic form TULIP: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace and Perseverance of the Saints. It is this Calvinism that I began considering in a lecture at our church this past Sunday.

I think its helpful, in trying to understand the Five Points, to begin with a historical introduction. After all, no thought is born in a vacuum. If you want to understand the thought you have to understand the context. Also, history offers profound lessons. It’s been said that history is moral philosophy teaching by example.

For those interested in the history of the Five Points of Calvinism as articulated in the Canons of Dort and some of the lessons which I have (reservedly) drawn from this history, a video recording of the lecture (feel free to skip the 3 minute introduction to our church), as well as a skeleton outline of the lecture can be found below.

I. The Background of the Five Points
A. 16th c. melding of Dutch social, religious and political life.
B. Formation of the Dutch Reformed Church
C. Challenges to a Calvinistic consensus

1. Natural appeal of Pelagianism and semi-pelagianism
2. Influence of Erasmus
3. Influence of James Arminius
4. The Remonstrance
5. Ongoing work of the Remonstrants
D. Demand for a Synod
II. The Birth of the Five Points
A. Preliminaries
B. Commencement of the work
C. Decision of the Synod
D. Reflection on the Synod

III. Concluding Reflections
A. Doctrine Matters
B. Maintain distinction between church and state
C. Be transparent even in disagreement
D. Maintain high standards for ministers and theological schools
E. Deal with opponents graciously.
F. Convictions cannot be forced on others
G. Theology must not be shaped by Philosophy

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