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Posts Tagged ‘Worship’

I live in the present for a number of reasons. I like adventure, even if ever so small, so I seek out new experiences. I have never been able to attach times with events; I have a friend who can name the year, month, and frequently which day an event happened. I have discovered, save a few rare jewels, that few people want to hear about what happened long ago. But today at lunch a definite opening to the past came about and I related a story and asked my colleague to relate a similar experience, “What was the most interesting night you have ever spent backpacking?” She related that it was the first and last time she ever saw a porcupine. Part of her adventure was a lack of understanding at the time of how quills work, that is, how porcupines use them for defense.

I told of a night when it was snowing hard, large wet flakes at dusk and we were looking for an opening with a flat spot for our tent. We came down to a road where a man was checking his mailbox. My friends got into a conversation with him about the weather and camping sites. He offered his barn loft and we jumped at it. The loft smelled of hay but there was none other than a dusting on the floor. We swept the loft so we could start our cook stoves without burning the barn down. Svea stoves sound like small jet engines, so it drown out the windy storm for awhile. Candlelight caste eerie shapes and shadows on the rafters and slats. I took several time exposures with my film SLR. We told stories, read abit and lay down to a long winter’s slumber. It was a pleasant place to sleep not having the tent flapping in the breeze. The next morning it was in the upper teens. My wet boots had frozen overnight and were painful to put on and to walk. I am sure that  up on Whitetop Mtn. there were significant drifts, but there was dry snow here, too. I feel like I have experienced a small taste of what life used to be like when I have done things like sleeping in a barn. Of course, our forebearers didn’t have nylon sleeping bags and packs, or pre-packaged food or white gas stoves or SLR cameras, but they did live simply and sleep hard on occasions.

Telling this memory reminded me of other memorable nights in the woods. Once with another friend we spent the night in a forest of young, straight trees. It was hard to hang our packs with no branches within throwing distance of our cord, so we hung our packs between two small, understory trees with the bottoms of our packs hanging barely above our reach. It had been a very wet day and now set in for a foggy night. We may have napped an hour in our tent when we heard pack rattling noises. Our flashlights revealed three large cubs, perhaps even yearlings, taking turns climbing one of the small trees and jumping out to swipe at the packs. We had left the pockets unzipped so that any mice that managed the climb would simply enter rather than chew holes in our packs. This detail meant that the cubs’ swipes were effective at knocking out our granola and snack bars and meat packets, and so forth. Before they had done much damage to our food supplies or torn open any stuff sacks we were out of our tent yelling and banging tree trunks with sticks, to which they scurried into the rhododendron out of sight. After several exchanges of this kind we could see that they thought it was a wonderful game, but we were becoming more leery at the thought of mother bear being just out of sight ready to attack if our admonitions were not to her liking. Wearily and warily we decided that there was no help for it other than to start a fire under the packs to keep the cubs away and mother hidden from sight. It was the hardest fire I have ever started. My friend collected every potentially dry twig and leaf possible, from under rocks and under logs and in tree hollows. There was only relatively less wet; dry did not exist. With a little of our toilet paper, some white gas from our stove, many minute twigs and needles we somehow got a fire going, but keeping it going and drying wood in the smokey fire was just as hard. Walking most of the day with a pack on requires two things: lots of food and good sleep. We were not getting much of the latter. We took two hour shifts of keeping the fire going and sleeping in the tent. Some time during the wee hours the fog lifted to reveal a moonless, starlit, branch filled sky. It was perhaps the first time that I realized that the sky begins to lighten as early as 3 AM in the summer. What is not perceivable to the eye around light pollution is a wondrous sight to the dark adjusted pupil. We didn’t see the cubs again and can’t say with any assurance that mom was anywhere around, but our packs smelled of smoke for a long time after that.  

Another memorable night I spent on Camp Town Bald, which I think was renamed Viking Mountain. There are few fire towers left in the mountains and probably none used for their original purpose, but one of the larger ones stood on top of the Bald in the late ’70’s- I estimate 80+ feet tall. My most frequent backpacking partner and I camped at the base of it in the tall grass. After dark I mounted the tower to the deck above. The glassed in portion was locked so a sat down, curled up in my sleeping bag, leaning against the wall of the enclosed space. I had a wonderful time of prayer and singing hymns as I gazed over the lights in the valley and the stars above. I began to see flashes of lightning in the far distance, so I moved around to the other side of the cat-walk in order to watch the fireworks. Above the trees and over 5000′ elevation, I could see the storm many miles away. Now that I reflect on it, it was odd that the storm was coming from the East over the mountains moving toward me. Thunderstorms rarely come from that direction. The storm kept building in my direction until I figured that perching atop a metal tower in a thunderstorm was probably not the safest vantage point. Having such a grand view of it I feel sure that I abandoned my post in plenty of safe time, but my friend down below had been getting worried. This story doesn’t make for quite as interesting telling or hearing, but if you can envision the scene with its three kinds of lights and the opportunity to worship the Creator of all that is light and life and beauty, you may imagine the depth of peace and joy the situation brought to me.

For it is this same Creator who has saved me and given me purpose and a future with Him. He commands the thunderstorm and the snowstorm, sets the stars in their places, gives man shelter and provides all that he needs, grows the trees and provides for the bear cubs, and will extend to you grace also if you will acknowledge your sin and His Son’s work to put it away. Glory to God for His goodness and His benefits to those upon whom His grace abounds.

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On Resurrection Day
God’s power on display
No better way to say
Death’s sting has gone away

Great exchange took place
The Pure One for the base
Elect ones of the race
Will meet Him face to face

Now I have been set free
From death, sin’s penalty
Live no longer for me
For God and His glory

Death to life He will bring
Sinless life enabling
All Creation will sing
Saints with praise rejoicing

Reflect on His goodness and grace on this Resurrection Celebration Day. We have been made alive; we have hope; we have a purpose and a message to share. Rejoice!

Lily1

Signs of New Life

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When my pastor was leading the Lord’s Supper yesterday, he spoke of the Savior’s perfections, making mention of His impeccable life. For those who have read my blog for some time, you know that words and thoughts can set me off. Words beginning in “im” and “in” began to pour into my mind concerning all the ways that Jesus is perfect. The only one that didn’t come to me was inimitable, but I was looking for an “i” word that means perfect to use in the title. I came home in the afternoon and wrote the following poem. I have provided definitions below to help you.

His impeccable life
On display to see
His impervious character
The reason it could be
His invincible power
Makes His enemies flee
His indescribable wisdom
Totally beyond me
His indefatigable grace
Has set believers free
His incomparable mercy
I praise on bended knee
His interposed blood
Rescued His church, we
His inconceivable love
In salvation the key
His infinite existence
The great I AM is He

Inimitable-so good or unusual as to be impossible to copy; unique
Impeccable-in accordance with the highest standards of propriety; faultless
Impervious-unable to be affected by
Invincible-too powerful to be defeated or overcome
Indescribable-too unusual, extreme, or indefinite to be adequately described
Indefatigable-persisting tirelessly
Incomparable-without an equal in quality or extent; matchless
Interposed-place or insert between one thing and another
Inconceivable-not capable of being imagined or grasped mentally; unbelievable
Infinite-limitless or endless in space, extent, or size; impossible to measure

 

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When two different objects or ideas are placed near to one another, so that their nearness emphasizes their differences, this is called juxtaposition. [Raise up an off white, slightly stained rag and ask, “Is it clean?” When there is doubt, say, “Let me help you.” Raise up a very white, clean rag and point to the first rag, saying, “Is it clean?”] The hymn writer highlights the juxtaposition well, a contrast of seemingly incompatible facts, when he writes: “’Tis myst’ry all: th’ Immortal dies: Who can explore His strange design?” (Charles Wesley) Indeed, how can this be, that the infinite, immortal, all powerful, all knowing, everywhere present, eternal God sovereignly limits Himself to finite, mortal, frail, limited in knowledge and location and time, human flesh?

We do not merely speak of incarnation. You and I are incarnate, that is, housed in flesh. No, we speak of Divine Incarnation, God in flesh. As the Scripture says, “Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself” (Philippians 2:6-8) But another Scripture says, “He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.” (Hebrews 1:3)

We have stated the fact of God the Son taking on human flesh. But what was the means? How did it happen? The Scripture says, “an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.” (Matthew 1:20-24)

Through the conception by the Holy Spirit within the Virgin Mary, Jesus retained His sinless, divine nature enabling Him to live a perfect life and overcome death, which had the power to save. By being developed in Mary’s womb, Jesus gained a body of flesh and human nature and capacities by which He could be a substitutionary sacrifice for “without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin.” (Hebrews 9:22)

Therefore, we should celebrate the Incarnation of Christ, because by it we are both saved and taught about God. We should also resolve to serve the Incarnate Christ, because we owe Him our life now and for eternity. As the songwriter says:

“From heaven you came helpless babe
Entered our world, your glory veiled
Not to be served but to serve
And give Your life that we might live

This is our God, The Servant King
He calls us now to follow Him
To bring our lives as a daily offering
Of worship to The Servant King”                (by Graham Kendrick)

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On October 31, 1517, the Protestant Reformation began when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on to the Wittenburg Castle Church door. The Protestant Reformation was a movement in the 16th and 17th centuries in Europe, which tried to reform the Roman Catholic Church, because of perceived doctrinal and moral corruption that undermined the Christian gospel. The result was excommunication and the Protestant movement. These Latin phrases; sola scriptura (Scripture Alone), sola gratia (Grace Alone), sola fide (Faith Alone), sola Christus (Christ Alone), Soli Deo Gloria (for the glory of God Alone), were the fundamental principles of the protestant reformers. They were developed over time, to summarize the theological conviction of the reformers and are central to the doctrine of salvation. -John Piper

In April of 1518, the head of the Augustinian Order called for a formal disputation of the ideas that Martin Luther had put forth. This gave Luther an opportunity to expand upon his concerns. At the meeting, Luther put forward a “theology of the cross” as opposed to a “theology of glory.” -Editors Introduction to the Book of Concord

A theology of glory expects total success, finding all the answers, winning all the battles, and living happily ever after. The theology of glory is all about my strength, my power, and my works. A theologian of glory expects his church to be perfect and always to grow. If a theologian of glory gets sick, he expects God to heal him. And if he experiences failure and weakness, if his church has problems and if he is not healed, then he is often utterly confused, questioning the sufficiency of his faith and sometimes questioning the very existence of God. -Gene Edward Veith

To better understand the theology of glory, one need only look at the adjective included in the five Latin phrases. Alone. The use of this simple term suggests that the theology of glory, understood God’s work of Scripture, Grace, Faith and Christ were insufficient.

The Catholic Church adhered to what Martin Luther called the “theology of glory” (in opposition to the “theology of the cross”), in which the glory for a sinner’s salvation could be attributed partly to Christ, partly to Mary and the saints, and partly to the sinner himself. The reformers responded, “No, the only true gospel is that which gives all glory to God alone, as is taught in the scriptures.” -Monergism.com

This true and Biblical gospel, proclaimed by the reformers, was about how man can be justified before a holy God. Not by any merited favor, but by grace alone. Not any works a man can do such as the confession, penance or indulgences, but by faith alone. Not by any other sacrifice, such as mass, but only in Christ alone. Not found in the church, papacy or tradition, but in Scripture alone. And not for the veneration, worship or glory of Mary, Saints or Angels, but to the Glory of God Alone.

For Luther, the bottom line was the bondage of the will, or the deadness of the human soul. The Bible tells us that we are totally helpless. Ephesians 2:1-3, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.” We were dead in our trespasses and sin and by nature children of wrath. Only grace can raise us from the dead and only Christ could be our punishment. Those two miracles, life from death and wrath removed, can only be received as a gift. Thus, it is to the glory of God alone. -John Piper

When reflecting on today’s subject of God receiving all glory, you may have thought, “I am a Baptist. I know that we do not glorify Mary, Saints or Angels.” This, I’m sure, is true for many of us here. However, these two verses may shed some light on our weakness and who we do glorify instead of God alone.

Proverbs 14:12, “There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.”     2 Timothy 3:2, “For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy…”                            

The Bible tells us:

  • Scripture is from God. 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is inspired by God…”
  • Grace is from God. Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves…”
  • Faith comes from God. Hebrews 12:2, “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith”
  • Christ was sent by God. John 3:17, “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.”
  • Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
  • Proverbs 16:9, “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps”
  • Psalm 103: 19, “The Lord has established His throne in the heavens, And His sovereignty rules over all.”
  • Psalm 19:1, “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.”
  • Romans 13:1, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.”
  • Ephesians 1:11-12, “also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory.”
  • Colossians 1:16-17, “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”
  • Hebrews 1:3, “And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…”
  • Hebrews 11:10, “for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”
  • John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He sent His one and only son, that everyone believing in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
  • 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
  • Philippians 1:6, “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”
  • Revelation 4:11, “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.”

Soli Deo Gloria

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In this third installation of the 5 solae, we come to what another brother had to say about grace alone:

I want to begin with a personal testimony from January of this year…

After a brief explanation from the Lutheran pastor, I followed the funeral procession into the church—deeply moved. Why? For sure I was going to miss my wife’s aunt, who had been a dear family member to us.

But more importantly, what impacted me was the symbol on her casket that illustrated a truth most dear to me. You see, the casket was covered in a white cloth, symbolizing righteousness, which would be the only thing God would accept from her as she would be presented to Him for judgment. But…whose righteousness?

The symbolism goes further—on the cover was the shape of a cross, and the Greek symbols for Christ. Whose righteous works is God accepting?   Would He see ANY of my aunt’s works?

No, for He would not accept them!

She was being presented to God, covered by the righteousness of our blessed Christ! And THIS was our family’s comfort in our loss.

Eph 2:8-10: “For by grace are you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; not of works, lest anyone may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

In this short statement is the sum of the Biblical teaching of the work of grace. It begins with God-working in us faith which justifies us (giving us Christ’s righteousness), which results in good works which please Him—according to His working in us.

Over time, as the Church of the Middle Ages abandoned the supreme authority of Scripture—“Sola Scriptura” in favor of traditions, other doctrines began to emerge—not only those absent from the Bible, but also changes to the understanding of grace itself.

The Medieval Church’s teaching gradually drifted to the assertion that God’s grace would help us produce the works that He would accept for justification, rather than the grace of Christ’s finished work of cross and resurrection for us.

It is in this world that Martin Luther sought to be right with a Holy God.

In keeping with church traditions, he followed the rules of the monastery, and did penance–all to a radical extreme (and even the annoyance of his fellow clergy)—all the time being under condemnation in his heart because of the majesty of God’s holiness and perfection overwhelming him.

At this point, as he studied the Bible, he discovered that it is not his righteousness that God will accept, but Christ’s, and that he should by faith abide in Him! Luther received God’s gracious gift of eternal life.

Luther and the other reformers returned to the Biblical, apostolic understanding that good works and a changed life flow from Christ’s righteousness given to us, instead of leading to it. God will not have his glorious gospel assisted by human works.

Our Christ, as God in human flesh, takes on Himself ALL of our sin and sinfulness on the cross, and gives us ALL of the righteous obedience of His perfect life.   We call this teaching Sola Gratia, or “grace alone.”

In short, God’s grace justifies us completely in Christ’s work, and gives us a heart of repentance, rather than demanding we “do penance.”

Church Historian Stephen Nichols tells us that Ulrich Zwingli, the Swiss reformer, is portrayed in a portrait with an open Bible.

In an illustration of this grace to us, the Bible was opened to Matt 11:27-30:

“All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

This is Christ’s gracious invitation to us—then, and now.

On this 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we celebrate our salvation in Christ, Sola Gratia, by grace alone—in the words of the Apostle Paul: “…to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved…”

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Several weeks ago my brother in Christ shared this about the sufficiency of Scripture:

“Sola Scriptura is a reminder that God has always worked and will always work on this side of eternity through His word the Bible. Sola Scriptura deals primarily with the issue of authority. It is not a base claim that says that nothing except Scripture is helpful. It is not a claim to Scripture only in all cases. That would not be Biblical. Recognizing this is to distinguish between Sola Scriptura and Scriptura Nuda. Sola Scriptura does not argue that there is no value in anything except for Scripture standing on its own. It is an argument that Scripture is the only basis of authority.

I think a couple of verses would help us frame this discussion. Psalm 138:2 captures the sentiment of Sola Scriptura in a poetic way, but it also stresses a note of praise and worship which seems very appropriate when we are remembering God’s faithfulness over the 500 years since the Reformation. The psalmist here says:

“I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your                       steadfast love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your                   name and your word.”

Several translations say this slightly differently, but the idea is clear: God exalts his Word. And God exalts those who exalted his word, and God will be exalted when his word is exalted.

The Reformation, which was a great turning from the time when doctrinal error was pervasive in the church, to a time when the church was based much more on the truth of Scripture follows clearly a line or trajectory of a return to Scripture. Every individual who had a hand in the Reformation of the church was a person who had first learned to see the Scriptures as their sole authority. You can back up to 200 years earlier and look at the life of John Wycliffe in England, who was persecuted for his position on the authority and importance of Scripture. You can look in the 1400s at John Huss, who was also persecuted for a similar stand. He was martyred for his belief in Scripture. But he is the one who famously said, “you may cook this goose.” His name Huss meaning goose, “but in its stead God will raise the Swan who will sing his praises.” That Swan came 100 years later, just a few miles away, in the person of Martin Luther. Martin Luther, was ironically induced into the priesthood in the same church that the bishop who condemned Huss was buried in. And so we see consistently through history, God superintending to bring about his own glory and the reform of his church through the honoring of Scripture. Each of those men engaged in the great task of putting the Scriptures into the language of the common man of their day. Each one of them understood that one of the great tasks of their life was to put Scripture into the language of the common man, so that the English plough boy could read Scripture in English, and the German peasant could read Scripture in German.

Simply put, Sola Scriptura is the cause of the Reformation. The other principles, or rally cries of the Reformation; the other solas, whether it is Sola Gratia, Solus Christus, Sola Fide, or Soli Deo Gloria. We could not and would not have any of these were it not for return to Scripture only. Scripture is the foundation; it is the foundation upon which God’s work will always be built.

Peter reminds us in II Peter 1:16. In this passage Peter reminds us of a pivotal time during the life of Christ. A time where Peter and two other disciples are alone with Christ on a mountaintop, and there in that Transfiguration moment they see the Lord in His glory. But Peter tells us in verse 19:

“And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to          pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the                    morning star rises in your hearts.”

The King James translation express this as “we have a more sure word of prophecy”. One of the things Peter is reminding us of here, is the fact that even if God were to reveal himself physically to us, as Christ was revealed to the disciples on that mountain Transfiguration, that appearance would not and should not be as authoritative or as significant to us as the physical pages of the word of God that we have in our hands. Peter says that what we have is a more sure word; it is a word more fully confirmed, which we do well to pay attention to. Sola Scriptura thus speaks to the authority and sufficiency of the word of God.

The threat to Scripture in the time leading up to the Reformation, came from an approach to Scripture which claimed that we could not know for sure what Scripture was saying. The scholars and some church authorities the time said that we could look to tradition and Scripture, we could look to reason and Scripture, we could look to the great leading voices of the church and Scripture, and we can look to experience and use that to temper our understanding of Scripture. And out of that mixture of endless qualifications and piles of meaningless footnotes maybe we can come up with something that in some way we could call true. Martin Luther said that that approach to truth, and approach to truth that is merely tentative, an approach to truth that denies the absolute authority of God’s word, an approach that says truth is only possible, is an approach to truth that paves the road to hell. Martin Luther said we do not need possible truth. We need therefore truths; truths that are absolute and unequivocal. We need truths that come to us with the thunderous certainty of Romans 5, “therefore there is now no condemnation for those that are in Christ Jesus.” We need truths that are absolute! And our only hope, our only source for that kind of truth comes in the revealed Word of God, Sola Scriptura.

Sola Scriptura is thus the basis of our confident joy. Every commemoration, every anniversary, every celebration, should ultimately be characterized by gratitude. A gratitude that shows that we are thankful to God. God is the only reason why good things live long. On the 500th anniversary of the Reformation our heart should be hearts that are filled with gratitude that God has kept his word. We can say with the hymn writer:

         “How firm a foundation the Saints of the Lord

          Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word

         What more can He say than to you He has said

         To you who to Jesus for refuge have fled.”

Let us be thankful for Sola Scriptura.”

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My son and his wife hosted a Reformation 500th Anniversary Conference back in April. The website for the conference has history of the various states in Europe that were effected by the Reformation. They wrote and edited summaries of these histories. The website also has links to all of the conference speakers’ talks. Soon the site will have legible pictures of the 40 story boards (trifold boards) he and his wife made for the conference. All of these resources may be accessed at www.reformation500pa.com

Happy 500th and happy researching!

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Evidently, last night a spider had laid three lines of silk down the windshield of my truck squarely in the line of my vision for driving. The Sun shining in from just south of my predominantly easterly direction on the way to church down the interstate produced little repeating rainbows in the silk. From bottom to top they gleamed: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and the last two just looked like black gaps before the next red. The colors were brilliant and made the silk appear much wider than it did when the Sun was obscured once or twice by tree branches. I noticed that when I moved my head left or right the colors changed. When I moved to the right the color transitioned to longer red beads up and down the silk. When I moved my head left the color transitioned toward blue. Just before I exited the interstate the roadbed trends slightly more North and I finally began seeing violet when I leaned left.** I was thankful for light traffic on the interstate since I was focusing on 5 lines, one solid white, one dashed, and three multicolored. I thought of lunar eclipses, when the Moon is blood red or orange. Light from the Sun is refracted by the atmosphere onto the surface of the Moon which is moving through the shadow of the Earth. The shorter wavelength colors bend more evidently, careening off into space between Moon and Earth. I also reflected on the refraction that occurs in a droplet of water on a leaf producing and fisheye view of flowers or landscapes behind. The Sun was also pleasantly warm on me. I praised God for beauty He instilled into Creation which points to His superior beauty and His goodness that allows me to be aware of and see it and experience warm Sun and have a truck to travel in, and so on. I went to a corporate worship service later, which I would always recommend, but I got started early with three lines of evidence for God’s beauty and love of beauty.

**I don’t think that I ever see indigo, or is it violet I don’t see? That is, I don’t discern two colors, indigo and violet. I had the thought for the first time today that perhaps I don’t see violet. When I get in discussions with my family about a transition color between green and blue, they always say it looks blue and I most usually say it looks green. Does that mean that I see colors differently than most people, seeing what normal (whatever that means in this situation) eyes discern as blue as green or that I just name them differently? If it is the former, then perhaps I also see indigo as blue and violet as indigo and don’t see a separate violet color. If this is true it in no way changes reality, but only casts a shadow of doubt on my perception of reality. Afterall, certain people certainly hear more or most frequently less than 20 to 20,000 Hz frequency of sound.

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The hymn by this name has become one of my favorites over the years because it conveys the holiness and glory of God by transporting the mind to the mercy seat both in the tabernacle and in heaven. The version I have has 5 verses. The original, written by Frederick Faber, has 8 verses: (for a choir rendition, albeit too slow for my liking, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t4VtpEu3CDQ)

My God, how wonderful Thou art,
Thy majesty, how bright;
How beautiful Thy mercy seat
In depths of burning light!

How dread are Thy eternal years,
O everlasting Lord,
By prostrate spirits day and night
Incessantly adored!

How wonderful, how beautiful,
The sight of Thee must be;
Thy endless wisdom, boundless power,
And glorious purity!

O how I fear Thee, living God,
With deep and tender fear;
And worship Thee with trembling hope,
And penitential tears!

Yet, I may love Thee, too, O Lord,
Almighty as Thou art;
For Thou hast stooped to ask of me
The love of my poor heart!

No earthly father loves like Thee,
No mother, e’er so mild,
Bears and forbears as Thou hast done,
With me, Thy sinful child.

Only to sit and think of God,
Oh, what a joy it is!
To think the thought, to breathe the Name,
Earth has no higher bliss.

Father of Jesus, love’s Reward!
What rapture it will be
Prostrate before Thy throne to lie,
And gaze, and gaze on Thee!

As I sang this wonderful hymn, and others, and mused on Psalm 103, more verses came to me. They are not of a quality of the original but I do intend them as worship to God:

He righteous deeds each day performs
Judgments for the oppressed
Compassionate and gracious He 
With love for the distressed

As high as heaven above earth
So great His steadfast love
Is toward all those who fear their God
The God who dwells above

As far as east is from the west
Transgressions He removes
A Father who compassion on
A child who his God fears

For all is peace, my soul at rest
Submitted to His will
Our God is good and great and kind
To know Him is a thrill

One day in heaven we will be
Adoring face to face
But now we see His glory great
Through His redeeming grace

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I have always struggled to get a handle on the essential essence of integrity. It is far more than honesty and deeper than mere examples. While studying Daniel 6 I was struck with new force by Daniel’s faithfulness, trustworthiness, moral uprightness, whole and undivided spirit that resulted in him being the same in public as he was in private. That is to say, Daniel exhibited godly integrity. What is the source of integrity and what does it produce? As I searched for answers in the passage and on the internet I came across an interesting statement by  Larry Sternberg that says,

“In common conversation the word “integrity” is most often associated with honesty. But that’s a very narrow understanding of the concept. In addition to honesty, integrity is about being whole and unimpaired. We can speak about the integrity of a roof or a ship’s hull. When a structure can remain unimpaired in the face of pressure, assaults or stressors, that structure has strong integrity.

When it comes to a person, integrity involves the ability to remain true to one’s values in the face of pressure, assaults or stressors. We know little about the strength of a person’s integrity when life is easy. What if it will cost you your job? What if you’ll lose some friends? What if you’ll go to jail? What if you’ll get beat up — or worse? We only learn about the strength of a person’s integrity when things get tough, when adhering to those values involves a high cost.” (reference

Though not stated directly, the take away I gained from this short article was ‘Integrity produces courage and courage reveals integrity.’

And even though the wicked can be ‘true to himself’ (a phrase I’ve heard a number of times), it is godly integrity that is admirable. It is unselfish and gives glory to God, its source. It frustrates the wicked as with the satraps (provincial governors) and counselors who envied Daniel, but impresses those who see its purity and simplicity as with Darius the king. Daniel is not called upon to state his refusal to obey the edict as his friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were in chapter 3: “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18) He does state his innocence after the fact: “My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, Your Majesty.” (Daniel 6:22) Daniel’s unstated trust in God points to God’s trustworthiness. So Darius gives glory to God because he recognizes the miracle that God did for Daniel:

“I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel.

“For he is the living God
    and he endures forever;
his kingdom will not be destroyed,
    his dominion will never end.
27 He rescues and he saves;
    he performs signs and wonders
    in the heavens and on the earth.
He has rescued Daniel
    from the power of the lions.” (Daniel 6:26-27)

Darius also recognizes that Daniel’s integrity points to God: “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?…The king was overjoyed.” (Daniel 6:20,23)

And this has long been my desire, that I would have the integrity of Daniel and that my life would point to God. I have not been so faithful as Daniel but God has been faithful to work wondrously in my life so that I pursue the goal of integrity each day so that I might give glory to Him and hear one day, “Well done thou good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:21)

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Yeah, man, my life motto, “Life is Good”, “livin’ the dream!” Good vibes, positive outlook, need plenty of that, right? Not so fast. What about when you are sick and you just lost your job and the dog got run over and taxes went up and there is another war and…you get the idea. So, does that mean life is bad then? Is that what I’m saying? Let’s take a closer look. If the phrase, “Life is Good” was the end of the thought, it has limited utility to help us along in life perhaps, but as used in our society at this time it has modifying thought that follows. This implied extension of the thought is also explicitly stated in places like the “Life is Good” Facebook page. It goes something like this: Life is good because I’m doing what I like and liking what I do. The implication is a totally self focused or humanist view of life and it doesn’t work on several levels. First of all, you can’t always do what you want to. Secondly, in a more narrow sense, if doing what you want to do refers to your vocation, it is an economic impossibility for everyone to have the job of their dreams. And as just pointed out, many times life is hard. The idea may well turn into life is good for some subset of the population for whom everything is falling into place, but that must surely imply that I don’t care what happens to the other half or I think they just need to get their life together, think positive, and make it happen. Or maybe we are being urged to follow blind optimism: Let’s pretend life is good and that will somehow make it better. All of these possibilities seem a bit depressing unless you happen to be riding the wave, and even then it probably won’t last.

Rather than just burst your bubble and leave you hanging, I would like to suggest a more meaningful and purposeful phrase and explain why it is not just wishful thinking: “Life is good because God is good.” Stated this way the fact that life is also at times hard is not ignored or denied. God is working blessings deeper and more lasting. In the midst of hardship God is training us to trust Him (Proverbs 3:5-6,12) and look for what is honorable, pure, and good (Philippians 4:8). He is building, reserving, and guaranteeing future blessings (1 Corinthians 2:9) that outweigh these present difficulties (Romans 8:18). Through His gifts of goodness to us and as we praise Him we are given value, comfort, and provision (Psalm 34). Our lives are filled with meaning (Romans 8:28) and purpose (Psalm 67:7); He is given glory (John 15:8). These reasons that life is good will seem foolish to those who do not know Him (1 Corinthians 1:18), but I invite you to find the peace, joy, and purpose in serving God through the knowledge of His Son, Jesus (Psalm 34:8; Colossians 1:9-13), for He is the way to God (John 14:6). “Life is good because God is good”, which means that all of life is life gained from God and lived unto God (2 Peter 1:2-4), to His glory and for our benefit.

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My pastor taught on Jesus’s warning in the Sermon on the Mount concerning false prophets found in Matthew 7:15-20. He asked, given the teaching of 7:1, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged“, and theme of how to live in the Sermon, why is this passage about false prophets (and teachers) here? He concluded that there is a balance to not being condemningly judgmental in 7:1 that emphasized being discerning and discriminating. False Prophets destroy the church from within frequently before their presence is detected. They must be recognized and ousted. The pastor showed from the passage that they have three characteristics: 1) Inwardly Corrupt (outward appearance with no inward experience), 2) Bad Fruit (coming from deeds of the flesh), and 3) Destined for Destruction (true belief includes growth in righteousness). On the second point the pastor describe a bad tree with bad fruit. As happens on occasions my mind drifted off into a parallel illustration.

Eastern Black Walnut (Juglans nigra (I actually remembered that without looking it up, but I can’t remember people’s names. I have poor skills at people name association.)) is an easy tree to identify in the woods. As you approach it you know what it is before you can discern leaves or bark. Very little grows under a walnut tree. The fruit (really the hull of the fruit surrounding the nut) has a poison that prevents other trees and many herbaceous varieties from growing under it. A tree given wide berth by other trees in the eastern forest is rare. More frequently trunks are quite close and roots intertwine each other if sunlight is sufficient for both. When I arrived home I found that the leaves and twigs, but especially the roots, also have the poison,“juglone” (5 hydroxy-1,4­ napthoquinone) (https://hort.purdue.edu/ext/HO-193.pdf). The information I read says that many trees and plants are tolerant to juglone, but my observation in the woods tells me that though tolerant in the sense that their leaves don’t turn yellow or the plant die, the plants do not evidently sprout well under walnut trees since the ground most usually looks almost as if it is mowed.

 The spiritual metaphor here is the same as that of a fruit tree but more caustic perhaps? Green, developing walnuts look nice enough and are certainly abundant. The False Teacher may have the appearances of fruitfulness in quality and quantity, but they inhibit life and growth. And the source is the roots which one source said can poison the ground for several years after the tree is removed. Wow! This happens in churches so that they are still reeling years after the false teachers has been run off. “You have seen their abominations and their idols… so that there will not be among you a man or woman, or family or tribe, whose heart turns away today from the Lord our God, to go and serve the gods of those nations; that there will not be among you a root bearing poisonous fruit and wormwood. (Deuteronomy 29:17-18) And Jesus said, Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.” (Matthew 12:33-34) May God multiply to His Church the grace of discernment to recognize and biblically deal with false teachers in their midst so that the sheep are not led astray and poisoned. May He strengthen and refresh those churches who have fallen prey to the poison root and fruit of false prophets that have inhibited growth among its members. May God purify us and build us up in the knowledge of Him so that we may worship Him in spirit and truth and share His glory accurately in the world.

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In the fourth generation and 60 years after King David died there arose a king over Judah whose name was Asa. His father and grandfather had no heart for God, worshipping idols and allowing the people to run wild in their pursuit of idolatry. And his great-grandfather, Solomon, turned away from God in His old age because of the enticement and idolatry of his many wives. So it is a surprise the high praise Asa is given in I Kings 15: “Asa did what was right in the sight of the Lord, like David his father. He also put away the male cult prostitutes from the land and removed all the idols which his father had made. He also removed Maacah his mother from being queen mother, because she had made a horrid image as an Asherah; and Asa cut down her horrid image and burned it at the brook Kidron… the heart of Asa was wholly devoted to the Lord all his days.” (v.11-13, 14b) Much of Asa’s story is repeated in II Chronicles 14-16, but as is frequently the case the story includes more spiritually commentary on details given in Kings. Besides removing idols and their worshippers, II Chronicles 14 also says that he “commanded Judah to seek the Lord God of their fathers and to observe the law and the commandment” (v. 4) and God rewarded him in that “the land was undisturbed, and there was no one at war with him during those years, because the Lord had given him rest.” (v. 6) Asa took advantage of these benefits of time and security by fortifying cities and strengthening the number and equipment of his army. And yet he did not put his trust in these but called on God to defeat a million man Ethiopian army that came against him. In response God indeed defeated the army and sent Azariah the prophet to strengthen and encourage Asa and Judah to continue seeking God because there is reward in it (II Chronicles 15:1-7). Asa indeed took courage and increased his reforms in Israel by more idol worship removal, restoring the altar of the temple and sacrificing on it, and promoting a covenant among the people to serve God only. There was peace for 20 more years.

     In all of this glowing report about Asa there are two blindspots of his that arise in the story. One is obvious and the other is not. “In the thirty-sixth year of Asa’s reign Baasha king of Israel came up against Judah and fortified Ramah in order to prevent anyone from going out or coming in to Asa king of Judah. Then Asa brought out silver and gold from the treasuries of the house of the Lord and the king’s house, and sent them to Ben-hadad king of Aram, who lived in Damascus, saying, ‘Let there be a treaty between you and me, as between my father and your father. Behold, I have sent you silver and gold; go, break your treaty with Baasha king of Israel so that he will withdraw from me.’” (II Chronicles 16:1-3) Baasha does withdraw and Asa has all of his people carry away the materials of fortification to build other fortifications. Well played, right? No, poorly played because as the prophet Hanani points out, “you have relied on the king of Aram and have not relied on the Lord your God.” (v. 7) Asa’s blindspot, indeed his sin, is pride in the form of self-reliance. This had not been a problem 20 years before when he had called on God to defeat the enemy. Three indicators that it is indeed pride and not a simple oversight follow. Asa throws the prophet into prison and oppresses some of the people, maybe because they agreed with Hanani. The third indicator of his old age pride appears three years later when God further tests him with disease in his feet. “Yet even in his disease he did not seek the Lord, but the physicians.” (v. 12) The word “yet” indicates that this activity was a continuation of the self-reliance with the scheming that trusted a king rather than God. Such self-reliance is a danger for us all. For youth it may generally fall more in the realm of strength and supposed invincibility, but for the wizened king it may have been more the bane of years of experience without continued growth in reliance upon God due to comfort. We cannot let our guard down, “For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.” (v. 9) The biter was the prophet’s next words: “You have acted foolishly in this.” If Asa had repented right then and there God may not have strapped him with so much war thereafter, or not tested him with foot disease. God is more concerned with purifying us than making us comfortable.

     The less obvious blindspot of Asa appears in one short phrase basically repeated in the other passage. “But the high places were not taken away,” and “…not removed from Israel.” (I Kings 15:14a; II Chronicles 15:17a) These detractors from Asa’s reputation are almost dismissed by their follow-up phrases: “nevertheless the heart of Asa was wholly devoted to the Lord all his days,” (I Kings 15:14) and “nevertheless Asa’s heart was blameless all his days.” (II Chronicles 15:17) It seems that even though the high places were an oversight in Asa’s reforms and worship, his intentions toward God in worship were always pure. But this is not quite the end of the discussion because the Chronicles passage adds some facts that seem to confuse this whole problem. One of the first things that II Chronicles 14 indicates that Asa did was “he removed the foreign altars and high places, tore down the sacred pillars, cut down the Asherim…” (v. 3). Did he remove the high places or did he not? I think that the answer is both yes and no. This latter mention of high places is surrounded by mention of “foreign altars” with specific examples. The other high places may have been of the type mentioned when God spoke to Solomon in I Kings 3: “The people were still sacrificing on the high places, because there was no house built for the name of the Lord until those days. Now Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of his father David, except he sacrificed and burned incense on the high places. The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the great high place; Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. In Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream at night; and God said, “Ask what you wish Me to give you.” (v. 2-5) Solomon along with the people and subsequent kings all had this blindspot. They were worshipping God but not how and where He told them to worship. In fact it was not until Hezekiah, 9 generations and over 210 years later, that “he removed the high places…” (II Kings 18:4) The Assyrian general scoffing at Judah’s confidence confirms that these are the high places of worship to God when he says, “is it not He whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah has taken away, and has said to Judah and to Jerusalem, ‘You shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem’?” (II Kings 18:22) What then is my point by all of this “high places” discussion? What may I learn? As I grow older I certainly want to avoid the glaring sin of self-reliance, and repent where it rears its ugly head. But I also want to ferret out the more subtle blindspots, sins of my culture that are dragging us down and we don’t even see it. God is gracious with us overlooking so much. When our heart is right before Him, He extends more grace, guiding us through many difficulties with help and rest on all sides. But our blindspots are not overlooked; He knows them every one. O Lord, reveal them to us so that we may go deeper with You, gain Your blessing on ourselves and our culture, and glorify Your name in every crack and cranny of life, so that “we are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (II Corinthians 10:5).

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A blog titled this way could take many paths through Scripture and personal experience. This entry will only be an abbreviated sequence of thinking that occurred to me while reading about anointing oil and incense for the tent of meeting in Exodus 30 expanded with Scripture references.

God has appeared in the cloud and spoken to the sons of Israel from Mt. Sinai, scaring them sufficiently for them to plead with Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, or we will die.” Exodus 20:19  But it did not scare them enough to serve the purpose for which Moses said that God spoke for: “Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin.” Exodus 20:20 The evidence of course is Exodus 32 when Moses is up on the mountain: He [Aaron] took this [gold] from their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool and made it into a molten calf; and they said, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” (v.4) The rapidity with which the Israelites turned away from God is both amazing and frightening, but it pales in comparison to what Aaron, the recently consecrated and anointed High Priest, did by way of directing and encouraging their sinful passions. There is much warning to be taken from this scene. Rather than a rabbit trail about our sinfulness, I see this as the fuller context for the comments I want to make about God.

God knew their tendencies and even warned them to watch out for them by giving them a scare at Mt. Sinai.

So what is God saying to us about worship of Him?

Is He ‘pleading’ with us to worship Him as though He will be lacking and sad without it. No, God is not in need of anything we possess or can give, as Psalm 50 says,“Hear, O My people, and I will speak; O Israel, I will testify against you; I am God, your God. I do not reprove you for your sacrifices, and your burnt offerings are continually before Me. I shall take no young bull out of your house nor male goats out of your folds.
For every beast of the forest is Mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird of the mountains, and everything that moves in the field is Mine. If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is Mine, and all it contains. Shall I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of male goats? Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving and pay your vows to the Most High; call upon Me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me.” (v.7-15)

Is He ‘expecting’ us to worship Him? In the sense of an expectation placed upon us I would say yes, but in the sense of surprised if we don’t, I think not.“You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did.” Acts 7:51 “Nothing really changes; everything remains the same. We are what we are ’til the day that we die,” sang Larry Norman. God knows the true nature of our hearts. But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.” John 2:24-25

Is God “demanding” that we worship Him? No, He has left us with free will to the extent that we do what we always want to do, namely turn away from Him, for “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.: Isaiah 53:6

Instead, I think the Scripture is saying that God is ‘commanding’ us to worship Him. He is worthy of worship, as Psalm 29:2 says, “ascribe to the Lord the glory due to His name”. Worship of God is also beneficial to the worshipper: “Sing for joy in the Lord, O you righteous ones; praise is becoming to the upright.” Psalm 33:1 “‘I will lead him and restore comfort to him and to his mourners, creating the praise of the lips.
Peace, peace to him who is far and to him who is near,’
Says the Lord, ‘and I will heal him.’” Isaiah 57:18-19 Worship trains the next generation for worship of God: “We will not conceal them from their children, but tell to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and His strngth and His wondrous wondrous works that He has done.” Psalm 78:4

Give praise to God for Who He is; praise Him for the glory and efficacy of His name; praise God for His wonderful works in creation and beneficial works in salvation through His Son Jesus Christ.

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