A Green Country
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“PIPPIN: I didn’t think it would end this way.

GANDALF: End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.

PIPPIN: What? Gandalf? See what?

GANDALF: White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.

PIPPIN: Well, that isn’t so bad.

GANDALF: No. No, it isn’t.”

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

The Gray Havens Offer Brilliant Songwriting on Fire and Stone

Fire and Stone CDIt’s been a long time since I shouted “Alleluia!” and began drumming my steering wheel with abandon but “Inheritance” off The Gray Havens new CD “Fire and Stone” did the trick. Grabbing hold of the “golden chain” of Romans 8: 30, songwriters Dave and Licia Radford set us at sea in a ship called “Inheritance.”

There’s a ship that bears the name Inheritance
It’s pulled by golden chains from where it ends
No sail, no need for oar
With calm assurance carries on
And those aboard the ship
Were once among the ones that scoffed at it
But not a single one was lost to it
The sealed of the Inheritance

This musical painting is a joyous declaration of God’s sovereign love for His sons and daughters.

We will treasure and we will hold on
To the light, the light before us
We’ll be confident, we’ll be bold if
If we know the light is for us

I laughed out loud in my car and started the song again. I thought “surely the rest can’t be as good as this.” Happily I was wrong.  Once out on the sea of God’s grace, the sirens begin to call. Temptation must be battled and sin must be mortified. Even so, we hesitate just to listen one more time….

One taste of the sound
From the sirens in the water
And I’m thinking I should get out
The sharpest sword and suit of armor
So I can be ready to strike
But I pause, one more time
One last taste of the sound
Then I’ll cut these sirens down
But as they sang, I forgot
They were death, so I brought them my heart
To be filled, and I followed them

(From “Sirens”)

The empty promises reveal their ugly truth. Empty mediocrity is substituted for heavenly beauty and the heart needs to find it’s way home. The chorus of the song rises like a holy choir from the ocean floor:

Hold on, Hold on, my heart
You once were full and sang of grace
Hold on, Hold on, my heart
You’ve tasted joy that’s more than this

The album, Fire and Stone, can easily be described as “indie folk/pop but it’s some of the most creative of that genre that I have heard.  The Radfords take us on an imaginative journey by sea, mountains, fairy tales and mystery. It would have been an outstanding book of poetry but the music is equally good. Here is poetry and theology blending together within infectious melody lines that bounce on a bed of shifting rhythms that never allow for careless listening. This isn’t background music, this is an adventure in lyric and music that enriches the heart and makes the imagination soar. Set sail. Marvel at God’s redeeming grace and know that He will bring you home.

The Son running toward me
The kingdom cried
Alleluia, Alleluia, Welcome home…

Drums crash, gates rising
My soul dances like fire
With stained glass we try
But even Michael Angelo could not describe
This ceiling above me
Where Angels cry
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Welcome home
Yes, I was home

(From “Under the Mountain”)

Approaching Death with Joyful Hope

grandma devotionMy wife’s grandmother turned 106 on April 3rd. A fall has resulted in a broken hip and her health is declining rapidly. She will be with Jesus sometime soon. Can we have a joyful hope as we are approaching death?

Romans 8:30 gives us the promise that the One who called and justified us will also glorify us. Paul reminds us that to “be absent from the body is to be present, to be home with the Lord. (2 Cor. 5:8) His promise is sure and will not fail.  A couple of days ago Kitty Yancey​, my wife’s cousin, read the following devotion to Grandma. I thought it was so lovely and poignant that I wanted to share it will all of you.   We have such a great hope! Be encouraged.

We know that when Christ comes, we will be like him, because we will
see him as he really is. 1 John 3:2

When you arrive in heaven something wonderful will happen. A final transformation will occur. You will be just like Jesus….

Of all the blessings of heaven, one of the greatest will be you! You will be God’s magnum opus, his work of art. The angels will gasp. God’s work will be completed. At last, you will have a heart like his.

You will love with a perfect love.
You will worship with a radiant face.
You’ll hear each word God speaks.
Your heart will be pure, your words will be like jewels,
your thoughts will be like treasures.
You will be just like Jesus.
You will, at long last, have a heart like his.
Just Like Jesus

-Max Lucado

Like many others, I had grown up with the idea that bread and wine, Communion, taken too frequently would grow old and become a mere ritual. But personal experience has proven just the opposite. I have found the Table, like the Word, to be a satisfying means of nourishment and spiritual growth. Far from becoming routine, it has become like an intimate relationship.

Robert Webber

Worship Is a Verb: Celebrating God’s Mighty Deeds of Salvation (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishing, 1992), 53

It is highly significant that the only regular ritual act instituted and commanded by Jesus sets forth supremely his death. It is his death, his body given and blood shed, which the bread and wine were intended to signify. In issuing the command to ‘do this in remembrance’ of him, he intended that his atoning death should be kept before every generation, indeed ‘placarded’ before their very eyes. This according to Paul is the function of preaching. It is one of the functions of communion also.

The ministry of both Word and sacrament makes Christ’s death contemporary, presenting it anew not to God (for the sacrifice itself was offered on the cross once for all) but to men (for its benefits are always freshly available).

John Stott

Christ the Controversialist (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1970), 119
walkwithgod

R.C. Sproul on Evangelism from “A Walk with God”

“How far do we have to look in order to find people who are lost? They are all around us. There are millions of people in this world who know nothing of Jesus Christ. And yet the Lord of the church has commanded us to go into all the world. Some have yet to go into all of their communities, because they have fallen for the lie that evangelism is no longer necessary. In fact, not only is it not necessary, it is a negative social activity; some adopt the viewpoint that no-one has the right to seek to proselytize other people to their religious viewpoint. If that is true, then Jesus Christ was the chief violator of human rights because he made that kind of activity the central business of his life and he commanded his people to do the same.”

~ R.C. Sproul

 

Martin Luther on the Eucharist

Gm_1570 0001It’s interesting to read Luther’s views on the Eucharist. This material comes from his Larger Catechism

Now, what is the Sacrament of the Altar?

Answer: It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, in and under the bread and wine which we Christians are commanded by the Word of Christ to eat and to drink. And as we have said of Baptism that it is not simple water, so here also we say the Sacrament is bread and wine, but not mere bread and wine, such as are ordinarily served at the table, but bread and wine comprehended in, and connected with, the Word of God.

It is the Word (I say) which makes and distinguishes this Sacrament, so that it is not mere bread and wine, but is, and is called, the body and blood of Christ. For it is said: Accedat verbum ad elementum, et At sacramentum. If the Word be joined to the element it becomes a Sacrament. This saying of St. Augustine is so properly and so well put that he has scarcely said anything better. The Word must make a Sacrament of the element, else it remains a mere element. Now, it is not the word or ordinance of a prince or emperor, but of the sublime Majesty, at whose feet all creatures should fall, and affirm it is as He says, and accept it with all reverence fear, and humility.

Soteriology Simplified

Burk ParsonsThe word “soteriology” is the combination of two words; “ology” (the study of) and the Greek sōtēria (salvation). So, soteriology is the study of what the scriptures say in reference to salvation. Volumes have been written on the subject but it’s always helpful to find definitions that help us to convey monumental truths in memorable ways.  I came across a quote from Burk Parsons in which he offered a simple, useful and memorable explanation of soteriology.

“Soteriology simplified: God saves us by Himself from Himself unto Himself for Himself.” ~ Burk Parsons

There’s so much packed into that short statement! I posted the quote on Facebook and two comments inspired this post. One was “I’m so confused!” and the other was “…from Himself? That’s thin ice.” Comments like those are usually multiplied among readers and so I want to provide a brief comment and scriptural basis for each of the four ways in which God saves us.

1) God saves us by Himself.  

The song rings out in Revelation (7:10; 19:1) “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” God Himself is the one who has provided salvation for us through the substitutionary work of Christ on the cross. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21). God’s gracious gift of salvation is His alone to give. We merit nothing by our works, no matter how “good” we may think them to be. Even the faith to trust in Christ comes from God to us. ” For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

2) God saves us from Himself.  

The Bible is very clear on man’s relationship to God apart from Christ. Yes, God is love and it is His love that motivates the sending of His Son to secure our salvation. God is also holy and it is His holiness that required the sacrifice that Christ made on our behalf. Apart from the righteousness of Christ we remain in our unholy, sinful rebellion before God. The Bible tells us that we are God’s enemies (Rom.5:10; James 4:4), hostile to His law (Rom.8:7; Col. 1:21), spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1), deserving of judgment (Rom. 2:2-5; 12) and objects of God’s wrath (Rom. 2:8; Eph. 5:6). We cannot separate God’s wrath from His love. Both are central parts of His identity. God’s wrath is not human wrath. It is not an explosive reaction but rather a settled opposition to all that diminishes His glory. It is personal. It is an expression of His nature. So apart from Christ, we face the wrath of Holy God. John captures both ideas in the third chapter of his gospel. John 3:16 tells us “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” In the very same chapter we read:  “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” (John 3:36) This is where we all remain apart from Christ, under the wrath of God. God does not personally deliver His love to the redeemed and leave some wrathful force outside of Himself to express judgement on the un-redeemed.  No, both flow from His own nature. This is the glory of the gospel! A holy God who cannot receive rebellious sinners into His eternal presence, satisfies the demands of His own justice by becoming incarnate in Jesus Christ, living out the perfections of the Law as our “Second Adam”, taking our justly deserved punishment upon the cross, destroying the power of death in the resurrection and  securing for all time a bold and free approach into God’s eternal glory for all who put their hope in Christ. (2 Cor. 5:18-19; Rom. 3:21-25)

3) God saves us unto Himself.  

The idea that we are rescued from God’s wrath, eternal separation and sin’s enslavement – while true – is only half the story. We have not only be saved from these things but saved unto the God who loves us. God has always determined to have a people for Himself. At Mount Sinai, after Israel has been brought out of Egypt, God expresses His desire this way: ” Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” (Exodus 19:5-6) This has never changed! Peter tells us that in Christ, God has realized this eternal plan: ” you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:5) and in Revelation we see the culmination of what God began at Sinai. (Rev. 1:6; 5:10; 20:6)  (Rev. 5:9-10).

4) God saves us for Himself.

“For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.” (Colossians 1:16) God saves us unto Himself and for Himself.  He was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself (2 Cor. 5:18-19), redeeming us for His own possession (1 Peter 1:13-21), making possible and accomplishing our adoption as His own children (Gal. 4:5-6; Rom. 8:15). The great song of praise at the send of the age will be one of praise to the Lamb who has redeemed for God a worldwide people by His blood (Rev. 5:9) and  all of this is ultimately for His own glory. God is no egotist. He is perfect within Himself and values that which is most perfectly glorious: Himself! All that God has done in creation and redemption is for the glory of His own matchless grace. ” he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” (Ephesians 1:5-6) “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:11-14) As God’s redeemed people we are to live for His glory (1 Cor. 10:31; Eph. 3:21; Phil. 1:11; 2:11; 1 Thess. 2:12; 1 Peter 4:11).

This idea is presented beautifully in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians

To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12 ESV)

 

From Him
Through Him
To Him.
All things!
(Romans 11:36)

 

 

 

It is a good thing to let prayer be the first business of the morning and the last at night. Guard
yourself carefully against those false, deluding ideas which tell you, “Wait a little while. I will pray in
an hour; first I must attend to this or that.” Such thoughts get you away from prayer into other affairs
which so hold your attention and involve you that nothing comes of prayer for that day.

Martin Luther


“Although there are things that can be done to enhance corporate worship, there is a profound sense in which excellent worship cannot be attained merely by pursuing excellent worship. In the same way that, according to Jesus, you cannot find yourself until you lose yourself, so also you cannot find excellent corporate worship until you stop trying to find excellent corporate worship and pursue God himself. Despite the protestations, one sometimes wonders if we are beginning to worship worship rather than worship God. As a brother put it to me, it’s a bit like those who begin by admiring the sunset and soon begin to admire themselves admiring the sunset.”
D.A. Carson, Worship by the Book

 

D.A. Carson
Worship By the Book (Zondervan , 2010)