Sunday, December 27, 2009

Hyvää Joulua!

"I am the light of the world."

- Jesus Christ

May God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has brought this light into the world through His only Son, give His grace that all sleeping ones would awaken to see the light of the world, that the eyes of all the blind would be opened to see light of the world, that all who are in darkness would see this light and that they, who see this light, would always remain in the light until that time that eternal light comes.

-Prayer of Lars Levi Laestadius, from a Christmas sermon

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Jonathan Edwards: The Necessity of the Incarnation

Christ became incarnate, or, which is the same thing, became man, to put himself in a capacity for working out our redemption. For though Christ, as God, was infinitely sufficient for the work, yet to his being in an immediate capacity for it, it was needful that he should not only be God, but man. If Christ had remained only in the divine nature, he would not have been in a capacity to have purchased our salvation; not from any imperfection of the divine nature, but by reason of its absolute and infinite perfection: for Christ, merely as God, was not capable either of that obedience or suffering that was needful. The divine nature is not capable of suffering; for it is infinitely above all suffering. Neither is it capable of obedience to that law which was given to man. It is as impossible that one who is only God, should obey the law that was given to man, as it is that he should suffer man’s punishment.

-Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), from his Works.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Let these plead for you

I was searching for a good Martin Luther quote for Advent. I found a quote I liked in one of Luther's Advent sermons although the subject matter is not dealing especially with Advent. I liked it so much I decided to post it though:

Here you must with all diligence beware of taking offense. Who stumbles at Christ? All that teach you to do works, instead of teaching you to believe. Those who hold forth Christ to you as a law-maker and a judge, and refuse to let Christ be a helper and a comforter, torment you by putting works before and in the way of God in order to atone for your sins and to merit grace. Such are the teachings of the pope, priests, monks and their high schools, who with their masses and religious ceremonies cause you to open your eyes and mouth in astonishment, leading you to another Christ, and withholding from you the real Christ. For if you desire to believe rightly and to possess Christ truly, then you must reject all works that you intend to place before and in the way of God. They are only stumbling blocks, leading you away from Christ and from God. Before God no works are acceptable but Christ's own works. Let these plead for you before God, and do no other work before him than to believe that Christ is doing his works for you and is placing them before God in your behalf.

In order to keep your faith pure, do nothing else than stand still, enjoy its blessings, accept Christ's works, and let him bestow his love upon you. You must be blind, lame, deaf, dead, leprous and poor, otherwise you will stumble at Christ. That Gospel which suffers Christ to be seen and to be doing good only among the needy, will not belie you.

-Martin Luther, in his sermon for the 3rd Sunday of Advent in his Church Postil

Sunday, December 20, 2009


Since arriving at the Portland International Airport on Saturday evening I've met an apt northwest welcome of nearly ceaseless rain and reunions with friends and family. The high point of my return since my longest absence from home was church this morning with friends and more importantly brothers and sisters in Christ who never cease to challenge and encourage me. As usual I was blessed this morning by the preaching and worship at Battle Ground Foursquare Church. From church I headed with some good friends to their new home in Venersborg, not far from where I grew up and enjoyed an afternoon of food, chai and playing Settlers of Catan. In Venersborg I was surprised to see that the small country store had reopened there. This store had been open 15 to 20 years ago when I was in middle school but closed while I was in high school. I stopped in and bought a red bull and also snapped a picture.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Thou Day-Spring, Key of David come

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan's tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o'er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Sunday, December 6, 2009


It's amazing how desperation can open the eyes to things never seen before. I think this happened to me recently as I studied John Owen's Mortification of Sin and then read and meditated on a scripture passage that Owen had quoted. I think that sin itself blinds us to truth but I think the conviction of sin by the Holy Spirit and gaining some idea of the depth of our depravity can lead to a state where we are humbled to the point of putting ourselves beneath the Word of God which, "is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword . . . discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." In this humbled state we can then receive truth which we could not in a comfortable and conceited state.

In the section I read Owen writes of how we can look to Christ by faith for the killing of our sin. Owen calls Christ's blood, "the great sovereign remedy for sin-sick souls," and says that if we live in the light of Christ's great work we will, "through the good providence of God, live to see [our] lust dead at [our] feet." Owen goes on to remind the weary Christian of the riches in Christ available for God-glorifying victory over sin. Here he writes of an episode from the life of the Apostle Paul, citing a verse of which I have often thought in times of trial but also a verse the true meaning of which I think I have never grasped. Owen writes:
God strengthened Paul under his temptation, with the sufficiency of His grace: 'My grace is sufficient for you' (2 Cor. 12:9). Paul was not immediately released from his trial, yet the sufficiency of God's grace sustained him.
When I read this I turned to 2nd Corinthians 12:7-10 to read again Paul's testimony. The apostle writes:
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
The first thing that struck me in this passage was an affirmation of the sovereignty of God in the trials of the Christian. Although it was Satan that sent the "thorn in the flesh," it was the will of God that Paul have this thorn. It was God's will, not Satan's, that Paul not become conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations he had received. Therefore God allowed this trial in the life of the apostle. But ultimately what struck me so deeply was God's response to Paul that His grace was sufficient. As I wrote earlier, I have often thought of this verse, of the sufficiency of God's grace and of His power being made perfect in weakness, during times of struggle. But even though I had often thought of this perhaps I had never taken the time to think about it.

Often in the midst of trial or temptation I have prayed to God for deliverance, having the sufficiency of His grace in mind. But often when I've thought of that sufficiency I've thought of it in terms of being delivered from the trial. But the sufficiency of grace in this passage does not refer to Paul being delivered from any trial. It is a sufficiency of grace in the midst of a trial, a "thorn," that would not cease to "harass" the apostle Paul. God's grace was sufficient for Paul in a way that even while he had this "thorn," whatever it may have been, that he could still bring the gospel to the gentiles, planting churches all over the Roman world, and write to Christians that they should imitate him (1 Cor 4:16).

When Owen cites this passage about Paul he writes as if the "thorn" were some sort of temptation. While we can never in this life know what Paul's "thorn" was I think that a scholar like John Owen must have had good reason for believing that this passage is applicable to a Christian's trials in being tempted. While Calvin in his commentary on the passage denies that Paul's thorn was the temptation "to lust," Calvin does write, "my opinion is that under this term is comprehended every kind of temptation, with which Paul was exercised. For flesh here, in my opinion, denotes - not the body, but that part of the soul which has not yet been regenerated." So it seems that Owen is in good company in believing that Paul's "thorn" could represent temptation.

As I wrote earlier, I've often thought of the sufficiency of God's grace as a sufficiency to deliver from a trial or temptation. And it is right to ask for deliverance from trials just as Paul did three times and as our Lord commanded as he taught the disciples how to pray. But what happens when we ask for deliverance but the temptation to sin is still there - or it's stronger. There have been times when, by God's grace, I've experienced a miraculous deliverance from temptation. But many times that miraculous deliverance doesn't seem to happen. At this point I can begin to feel sorry for myself or begin to justify myself in sin because I feel entitled to something from God. But it is at these times when the temptation doesn't go away that God's promise to Paul is most applicable. For Paul was not delivered either and yet God still says, "My grace is sufficient."

If we can believe that God's grace is sufficient no matter how strong the temptation and no matter what mistakes we've already made then I think a knowledge of that sufficiency will give us the real weapon to battle sin. That weapon is revealed where Paul writes, "For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities (2 Cor. 12:10)." For the sake of Christ Paul was contented! In the midst of his "thorn in the flesh," from which he asked to be delivered and yet it remained, Paul was contented. And it is a lack of contentment in Christ which causes me to be "enticed by my own desire" to sin, as James puts it (James 1:14). It is easy to believe that you are contented when things are going well, or when you are delivered from temptation, but when the deliverance doesn't come that is when the real battle begins to be contented in Christ. But if we can have the beginning of a knowledge of our riches in Christ and believe that God's grace is sufficient even in the midst of temptation then I think we can be contented in Christ even when we are tempted. If we are contented in Christ, when the world throws some temptation at us, we can, with the apostle Paul, count any gain we might think we would have in succumbing to temptation as "loss for the sake of Christ," we can count, "everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus." When it comes to being contented, John Owen offers his own advice:
I say, then, we must by faith consider the supply and fullness that we have in Christ Jesus, and how He can at any time give strength and deliverance. If you do not immediately find success in your battle, you will at least be secure in your chariot, and you will not flee from the field while the conflict continues. You will be kept from utter discouragement and lying down in unbelief, and from turning aside to false means and remedies that cannot help you in the end.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

We shall thank Him for every storm

If we are true Christians, we must not expect everything smooth in our journey to heaven. We must count it no strange thing, if we have to endure sicknesses, losses, bereavements, and disappointments, just like other men. Free pardon and full forgiveness, grace by the way and glory to the end – all this our Savior has promised to give. But He has never promised that we shall have no afflictions. He loves us too well to promise that.

By affliction He teaches us many precious lessons, which without it we should never learn. By affliction He shows us our emptiness and weakness, draws us to the throne of grace, purifies our affections, weans us from the world, makes us long for heaven. In the resurrection morning we shall all say, ‘it is good for me that I was afflicted.’ We shall thank God for every storm.

-J.C. Ryle (H/T: J.C. Ryle Quotes)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Battle for Joy

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Matt. 13:44

And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Luke 1:43-44

If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. John 15:10-11

And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, "This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep." For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them, "Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength." Nehemiah 8:9-10

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A help to the Prodigal

I read an abridgment of John Owen's masterful Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers a little over a month ago. This book was the most insightful and profound thing I have ever read on sin and the trials in the life of a believer. Modern evangelical writers could write an entire book with the content of one paragraph by Owen and have it be praised as a weighty thing. I knew that there was so much truth to be explored in this book so I hoped to go over it again slowly in the future. I did just that a couple of days ago, going over a small section with a friend who had also read the book. Many things stood out to me in the section we went over but the thing I want to discuss here is a brief mention by Owen of one of my favorite parables, the Parable of the Prodigal Son found in Luke 15:11-32.

When the believer is aware of some sin in their life they know that it is God alone, by His grace, Who can change their heart and destroy their sin. It is God who sanctifies. It is God who removes the heart of stone and gives the heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). While any Christian must assent to this truth it has often been difficult for me to understand how, when dealing with sin, to simply look to God for the killing of this sin instead of looking to my own strength to be free of it. And this is the question that John Owen deals with here, how can we look by faith to Christ for the killing of our sin?

Firstly, Owen says that we must, by faith, fill our heart with a right consideration of the provision that God has made in the work of Christ for the mortification of our sins. It is in reference to these riches in Christ that Owen cites the Parable of the Prodigal Son and brings out an aspect of that story which I had never thought of before. It is an aspect that I think is very important in my own battles with sin and an instruction on how we "look by faith to Christ," to be free from sin.

Owen writes:
This helped the prodigal when he was about to faint, that there was enough bread in his father's house. Even though he was a great distance from home it relieved him and strengthened him that at home he would find help. In your greatest distress and anguish, consider the fullness of grace, all the riches and treasures of strength, might, and help that are laid up in Christ for our support. 'And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace' (John 1:16). 'For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell' (Col. 1:19).
I think what struck me about this was that Owen seems to suggest that, for the Prodigal, it was a knowledge of the riches of his father which was a motivation for him to leave behind his life of debauchery. It was not simply a feeling of guilt or his disgust with the depths to which he had fallen. I know that for me in dealing with sin it has been guilt or disgust with myself that has usually been my motivation for wanting to be free. But I think looking to the riches and complete sufficiency and provision in Christ is the motivation I should have in seeking freedom from sin. Guilt and disgust seem only to motivate after I have already failed but those motivations quickly fade. A continual knowledge of my "riches and treasures" in Christ is something that I think cannot fail in motivating me toward holiness.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Your Best Life Now

The martyrdom of Polycarp, who was stabbed to death after being burned at the stake for his unyielding faith in Christ.

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
"My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives."
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?
-Hebrews 12:5-7

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs - heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
-Romans 8:16-17

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
-Jesus (Matthew 16:24b-25)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Luther's Wonderful Exchange

A while back I wrote a post where I quoted John Calvin where he speaks of a "Wonderful Exchange," in his Institutes. So as I was reading In My Place Condemned He Stood, I was surprized to see that Luther also wrote a passage where he speaks of a "Wonderful Exchange." Here's Luther's version:

This is that mystery which is rich in divine grace to sinners: wherein by a wonderful exchange our sins are no longer ours but Christ's: and the righteousness of Christ not Christ's but ours. He has emptied himself of his righteousness that he might clothe us with it, and fill us with it: and he has taken our evils upon himself that he might deliver us from them . . . in the same manner as he grieved and suffered in our sins, and was confounded, in the same manner we rejoice and glory in his righteousness.

- Martin Luther

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

How deep the Father's love for us

I'm still slowly reading Packer's In My Place Condemned He Stood and I recently came across a section which I think speaks well to an unfortunate error that is often made by people trying to grasp what happened when Jesus died. Instead of writing a big intro I'm just going to quote Packer and then leave you with a quote from John Owen which I think also goes well with with this passage. Packer writes:
It was not man, to whom God was hostile, who took the initiative to make God friendly, nor was it Jesus Christ, the eternal Son, who took the initiative to turn his Father's wrath against us into love. The idea that the kind Son changed the mind of his unkind Father by offering himself in place of sinful man is no part of the gospel message - it is a sub-Christian, indeed an anti-Christian, idea, for it denies the unity of will in the Father and the Son and so in reality falls back into polytheism, asking us to believe in two different gods.
Packer then quotes John Murray writing:
The doctrine of the propitiation is precisely this: that God loved the objects of His wrath so much that He gave His own Son to the end that He by His blood should make provision for the removal of His wrath. It was Christ's so to deal with the wrath that the loved would no longer be the objects of wrath, and love would achieve its aim of making the children of wrath the children of God's good pleasure.
Here's John Owen on the Father's love:
First, then, this is a duty wherein it is most evident that Christians are but little exercised — namely, in holding immediate communion with the Father in love. Unacquaintedness with our mercies, our privileges, is our sin as well as our trouble. We hearken not to the voice of the Spirit which is given unto us, “that we may know the things that are freely bestowed on us of God” (1 Cor. 2:12). This makes us go heavily, when we might rejoice; and to be weak, where we might be strong in the Lord. How few of the saints are experimentally acquainted with this privilege of holding immediate communion with the Father in love! With what anxious, doubtful thoughts do they look upon him! What fears, what questioning are there, of his goodwill and kindness! At the best, many think there is no sweetness at all in him toward us, but what is purchased at the high price of the blood of Jesus. It is true: that alone is the way of communication; but the free fountain and spring of all is in the bosom of the Father. “Eternal life was with the Father, and is manifested unto us.” (1 John 1:2). Let us, then—

Eye the Father as love; look not on him as an always lowering father, but as one most kind and tender. Let us look on him by faith, as one that has had thoughts of kindness toward us from everlasting. It is misapprehension of God that makes any [to] run from him, who have the least breathing wrought in them after him. “They that know you will put their trust in you” [Ps. 9:10]. Men cannot abide with God in spiritual meditations. He loses soul’s company by their want of this insight into his love. They fix their thoughts only on his terrible majesty, severity, and greatness; and so their spirits are not endeared. Would a soul continually eye his everlasting tenderness and compassion, his thoughts of kindness that have been from of old, his present gracious acceptance, [then] it could not bear an hour’s absence from him; whereas now, perhaps, it cannot watch with him one hour.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Mammoth and Mono

I've spent the last six weeks on my general surgery rotation and now I'm heading to six weeks of sub-speciality surgeries before Christmas. But this weekend I celebrated the end of g-surg with a great trip to the eastern Sierra Nevada. I went with a group from a local Bible church where many of my friends in med school attend. We stayed in Mammoth Lakes Friday and Saturday night. On Saturday I got my first taste of fly-fishing at Lake Mary and then in the Owens River. I didn't catch anything but I learned a lot about casting with a fly-fishing rod and look forward to trying it again in the near future.This morning we started the day with a time of worship and Scripture reading and then a few of us headed up to Mono Lake. Mono is a very unique place - it is a large alkaline, hypersaline lake at an elevation of 6,300 ft surrounded by peaks of the Sierra Nevada. The lake has areas of interesting rock formations called tufa formed by precipitation of calcium carbonate from underwater springs. Here are some pictures from the trip:

Learning to fly-fish at Lake Mary outside of Mammoth Lakes.

The banks of the Owens River where we spent the afternoon fly-fishing. One of my classmates caught a couple of fish in here.

A chilly morning on the banks of Mono Lake.

Some tufa towers at Mono Lake. It's hard to see but the moon is in between the two towers.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Orombi: Faith of our fathers

A man whom I respect greatly, the Anglican archbishop of Uganda, Henry Luke Orombi recently gave a message in Geneva, Switzerland. When I was confirmed as an Anglican I was confirmed by a pastor in the Church of Uganda serving under Archbishop Orombi so in some way he is a spiritual father to me. Here are some excerpts from his message:

Part of the difficulty we have today is that the word of God is not preached with the faithfulness of John Calvin, with the faithfulness of Martin Luther, with the passion that they had, with the desire that they had. They believed the word of God. And today the church of Christ does not believe with that passion that this is the transforming word of God...

... I speak to you because you brought us the gospel. I speak to you still because at the time you brought the gospel Africa was called the dark continent. Not because the sun does not shine in Africa. The sun shines 365 days a year but we were in perpetual spiritual darkness. Your ancestors brought the gospel to us. I'm eternally grateful. But where is that passion today? Where is that faith today? Where is that love of the word of God today? Where is that spiritual inquisitive desire that your ancestors had today? I believe with all my heart that something must be recaptured, that the whole world is waiting for the global West to rise up again and follow the footsteps of their ancestors.

-Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi

I love that line "rise up again and follow the footsteps of their ancestors," especially after talking of the faithfulness of men like Calvin and Luther. While so many in the western church strive for a man-centered "relevance" which is always seeking the newest gimmick or watered-down false gospel, Archbishop Orombi calls us back to the faith of our faithful fathers. Listen to the full message here.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Post tenebras lux

Hier stehe ich

Happy Reformation Day!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Second thoughts

Normally when I post something on this blog I like to write it and then give it a day or two before I hit "publish post." I do this because I know myself well enough to know that I am prone to getting caught up in the heat of the moment and then writing something that presents a more extreme position than what I really believe. I think that could be said for the last post I wrote. I got caught up in a debate, remembered something I read by R.C. Sproul (which I still agree with) and then posted it. I don't think there is actually anything in my last post that is incorrect. But I do think it might suggest that hell could in no way be described as a "separation from God," and if that is the way it is taken then I think that is wrong.

I'm writing this post after a long day in the hospital and before an early morning in the hospital tomorrow so I can't do the Bible reading I would like to before writing this. But as a corrective to any error that may have been expressed in my last post there is one source to which I go and that is Scripture. In talking to the Ephesians about their state before their conversion to Christ Paul writes, "remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world" (Ephesians 2:12 - ESV). Surely this "separation" from Christ and being "without God," not only applies to the unconverted in this life but also to those in hell. Also to the Ephesians Paul writes of unbelievers, "They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts" (Ephesians 4:18 - NIV). Here Paul speaks of a more specific separation for unbelievers - separation from the "life of God." I think this separation from God also applies to those in hell. But Scripture also speaks of God's presence in hell. Revelation 14:10, speaking of those who received the mark of the beast and are now in hell says, "he also will drink the wine of God's wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb." So it is obvious that the torment of those in hell takes place in the presence of Christ. So in this way, those there are not "separate" from God.

I think what I was reacting against in the last post wasn't so much the idea that hell is "separation from God," which in some important sense it is, but the idea that hell is only separation from God and nothing more. This idea is not scriptural and I believe it has become popular because it is more palatable to most than what Scripture actually teaches - that hell not only is separation from God in some sense but it is also the positive expression of the wrath of God against those who are in hell.

In the end I think the Westminster Catechism probably puts it best:

Q. 29. What are the punishments of sin in the world to come?

A. The punishments of sin in the world to come, are everlasting separation from the comfortable presence of God, and most grievous torments in soul and body, without intermission, in hell-fire forever.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Hell is not the absence of God

It has recently been suggested by a commenter on this blog that hell is "by definition" separation from God. This platitude is repeated so often that it is almost impossible not to start believing it. An Orthodox friend recently wrote a good post on the issue here, and here's R.C. Sproul's take, with which I agree:

It is common to say that hell is the absence of God. Such statements are motivated in large part by the dread of even contemplating what hell is like. We try often to soften that blow and find a euphimism to skirt around it.

We need to realize that those who are in hell desire nothing more than the absence of God. They didn’t want to be in God’s presence during their earthly lives, and they certainly don’t want Him near when they’re in hell. The worst thing about hell is the presence of God there.

When we use the imagery of the Old Testament in an attempt to understand the forsakenness of the lost, we are not speaking of the idea of the departure of God or the absence of God in the sense that He ceases to be omnipresent. Rather, it’s a way of describing the withdrawal of God in terms of His redemptive blessing. It is the absence of the light of His countenance. It is the presence of the frown of His countenance. It is the absence of the blessedness of His unveiled glory that is a delight to the souls of those who love Him, but it is the presence of the darkness of judgment. Hell reflects the presence of God in His mode of judgment, in His exercise of wrath, and that’s what everyone would like to escape.

I think that’s why we get confused. There is withdrawal in terms of the blessing of the radical nearness of God. His benefits can be removed far from us, and that’s what this language is calling attention to.

-R.C. Sproul (H/T: Desiring God)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Morally Doubtful?

If He fulfilled not justice, I must; if He underwent not wrath, I must to eternity

I've begun reading one of the books I recently got, In My Place Condemned He Stood, by Packer and Dever and I've been quite impressed by it so far. I'm hoping that reading this book will not only give me a greater understanding of the love and justice of God revealed in our Lord's Passion but that it will also inspire some blog posts. For now I'll just give a couple of quotes from the first chapter by J.I. Packer which especially impressed me:

The wrath of God is as personal, and as potent, as his love; and, just as the blood-shedding of the Lord Jesus was the direct manifesting of his Father's love toward us, so it was the direct averting of his Father's wrath against us.

So far from the manifestation of God's wrath in punishing sin being morally doubtful, the thing that would be morally doubtful would be for him not to show his wrath in this way. God is not just - that is, he does not act in the way that is right, he does not do what is proper to a judge - unless he inflicts upon all sin and wrongdoing the penalty it deserves.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Tidings from Lapland

I received another new book in the last few days, which I was also very excited to get as it is not available for purchase on the internet. The book is Memoirs of Early Christianity in Northern Lapland by Aatu Laitinen. The first couple of chapters on the lives of Laestadius and Raattamaa have been very interesting and I've enjoyed learning some details that I had never seen before. Raattamaa's testimony about his own conversion, which I read this morning, is something that I had seen before but I like it so much that I'll quote it here:

"But then it happened one day," we will continue Raattamaa's account, "that when I received the grace to gaze in faith and the Spirit at the bloodred thorn crowned King, power came from Him, and Christ's suffering affected in my soul a living power I had never known before. I believed my sins forgiven in the shed heart-sprinkling atoning blood, from which followed the recognition of the resurrected and living Lord Jesus. That which I had been seeking from afar was close at hand, and effected joy and peace in my soul. Now I was ashamed of my unbelief, and noticed that I had not previously believed from the heart."

-Juhani Raattamaa (1811-1899)

Friday, October 23, 2009


I don't know why some conversations are so memorable while most are quickly forgotten. One that is memorable for me is a short exchange I had while in Seminary at Asbury. I don't remember who the conversation was with but it occurred after some professor in some class, theology or church history, briefly explained a position on the atonement sometimes called "Ransom Theory" where a "ransom" was paid to Satan in the atoning death of Christ. This view was not being supported by the professor but simply presented as a view that had been held by some in the history of the church. I remember saying to a classmate that I believed in a ransom but that the ransom had been paid to God, not Satan. My classmate wasn't too impressed with my point of view and said something like, "well that's not very palatable." I was interested to read something by John Piper though in his devotional book, The Passion of Jesus Christ. In this book Piper writes of "fifty reasons why He came to die." In the chapter I read last night Piper wrote:
There is no thought in the Bible that Satan had to be paid off to let sinners be saved. What happened to Satan when Christ died was not payment but defeat...

...If we ask who received the ransom, the biblical answer would surely be God. The Bible says that Christ "gave himself up for us, [an] . . . offering . . . to God" (Ephesians 5:2). Christ "offered himself without blemish to God" (Hebrews 9:14). The whole need for a substitute to die on our behalf is because we have sinned against God and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). And because of our sin, "the whole world [is] held accountable to God" (Romans 3:19). So when Christ gives himself as a ransom for us, the Bible says that we are freed from the condemnation of God. "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1). The ultimate captivity from which we need release is the final "judgment of God" (Romans 2:2; Revelation 14:7).
So basically Piper articulated the view that I tried to argue for some years ago when I was much more unsure about what I believed. I can say now that I think the view supported here by Piper, that is, Penal Substitution, is central the gospel and necessary for faithfulness to Scripture, Old Testament and New Testament, in understanding what took place on the cross.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

New Books!

I've been looking forward toward getting a few books I ordered from Monergism and they came in the mail today... Not that I'm going to have time to read them while on my surgery rotation. I've already read one of them - Richard Rushing's modernization of John Owen's The Mortification of Sin, which I borrowed from a friend. I liked the book so much though that I wanted my own copy to go over more slowly. I've been wanting to read something on the atonement lately so I also purchased J.I. Packer's and Mark Dever's In My Place Condemned He Stood.
The books below, The Journey of an Immigrant Awakening Movement in America by Kulla and A Godly Heritage, edited by Foltz and Yliniemi, are a couple on Apostolic Lutheranism that I got a month or two ago. They're not as recent as the acquisitions above but I was also very excited to get my hands on them. I pretty much devoured all the chapters that were of most interest to me during a few coffee shop visits and I used some of the info for my post below, "Lapin Maija."

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Islands in a Sea of Meaninglessness

More recently, in some of the post modern readings, we are called to all experience Christ in our own way and not be bothered by the confines of some ancient Apostolic proclamation. Post modernism urges us to live as independent islands in a sea of meaninglessness. Your autonomous opinions, they argue, are just as meaningful and valid as those who deliberated at Nicea or who were first commissioned by the Risen Lord. A hermeneutic of proclamation and faith is replaced by a hermeneutic of suspicion and doubt and both called equally valid. According to this scheme, theology, it seems, is really – after all – only anthropology. The church is a human construct, not a divinely ordained community. Yet, in the face of all of this - though the tempest rages for a season, the church is once again reconstituted into the truth. What we are experiencing in our day has been the re-emergence of a more faithful church from other quarters, mainly in the non-western world and the great unanimity of the church throughout the ages marches on, because God is the one who preserves His church and its living witness to Jesus Christ...

...If Nicea does not lay out boundaries, then we are left only with self-identification and we can no longer use the word ‘Christian’ or ‘Body of Christ’ with any real meaning. For if you don’t have doctrinal stability, you cannot have ethical stability and if you don’t have ethical stability you don’t have stability of worship and therefore we are no longer related vitality and necessarily to the headship of Jesus Christ. Our historic boundaries would become lost in a post-modern sea of autonomous self-definitions. What a contrast from the Apostle John who gives that final testimony at the end of time which gives us the courage to know that in the Final Day the church will be preserved out of every snare for he hears this act of worship in heaven, testifying not to another gospel or something novel, but to the Apostolic proclamation:

You were slain and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation…and so… to him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power forever and ever (Rev. 5:9,13), thus fulfilling those words of the Apostle Paul in Col. 1:18: And He is the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning and the firstborn from the dead, so that in everything He might have supremacy.

- Dr. Timothy C. Tennent, President of Asbury Theological Seminary from his essay here.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Therefore, let your soul, by faith, dwell on such thoughts as these:

I am a poor, weak creature; unstable as water, and I cannot excel. This corruption is too hard for me, and is the doorway to the ruin of my soul. I do not know what to do.

My soul has become parched ground, and a habitation of dragons. I have made promises and broken them. I have made vows, but I did not keep them. Many times I have been persuaded that I have gained the victory, and that I should be delivered, but I was deceived. Now I plainly see that without some great help and assistance, I will perish and be forced to abandon God.

But yet, though this is my state and condition, I will lift up my hands that hang down, and strengthen my feeble knees, for, behold, the Lord Jesus Christ has all the fullness of grace in His heart, and all the fullness of power in His hand. He is able to slay all these enemies. There is sufficient provision in Him for my relief and assistance. He can take my drooping, dying soul and make me more than a conqueror.

-John Owen (1616-1683), from The Mortification of Sin in modern English by Richard Rushing.

Monday, October 12, 2009

I have despised all of them

Preaching to my own wretched self:

Bring your lust to the gospel. Not for relief, but for further conviction of your guilt. Look on Him whom you have pierced, and let it trouble you. Say to your soul, 'What have I done? What love, what mercy, what blood, what grace have I despised and trampled on! Is this how I pay back the Father for His love? Is this how I thank the Son for His blood? Is this how I respond to the Holy Spirit for His grace? Have I defiled the heart that Christ died to wash, and the Holy Spirit has chosen to dwell in? How can I keep myself out of the dust? What can I say to the dear Lord Jesus? How shall I hold up my head with any boldness before Him? Do I count fellowship with Him of so little value that, for this vile lust's sake, I have hardly left Him any room in my heart? How shall I escape if I neglect so great a salvation?

'What shall I say to the Lord? His love, mercy, grace, goodness, peace, joy, consolation - I have despised all of them! I have considered them as nothing, that I might harbor lust in my heart. Have I seen God as my Father, that I might provoke Him to His face? Was my soul washed that there might be room for new defilements? Shall I seek to disappoint the purpose of the death of Christ? Shall I grieve the Holy Spirit, Who has sealed me unto the day of redemption? Allow your conscience to consider these things every day. See if your conscience can resist the way in which these considerations aggravate guilt. If this does not cause your conscience to sink and melt, I fear that your case is very dangerous.

- John Owen, written in modern English by Richard Rushing.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Lapin Maija

Of all my reading on the Laestadian revival one character has intrigued me more than any other. Laestadius himself is a very interesting man, a scientist, a seminary trained Lutheran pastor and ultimately a man whom God would use to shake many in Lapland out of their spiritual slumber and death to repentance and life in Christ. Raattamaa is an interesting character, the man who carried the reigns of the revival from Laestadius and who held the revival together until his death. And there are numerous others such as John Lumijarvi that I would like to know more about. But as the title of this post suggests, the one by whom I've been the most intrigued is the Sami or Lapp woman named Mary or Maria. In Finnish she's known as Lapin Maija. Many believe that her real name was Milla Clementsdotter. It is of this woman that Laestadius wrote:
In the winter of 1844 I came to the Åsele region of Lapland in the capacity of inspector. I met a few Readers of the more moderate type there. Among them was a Sami girl named Maria who, after hearing my sermon from the altar, opened her whole heart to me. This simple girl had experienced the order of salvation in a way that was totally new to me. She had traveled far and wide, seeking light for her darkness. In her journeys she had at last encountered Pastor Brandell in Nora, and after she opened up her heart to him, Brandell released Maria from her doubts. Through him, Maria came to a living faith. And I thought to myself, "Here is a Mary who sits at the feet of Jesus. For the first time now," I thought, "I can see the way that leads to life; it was hidden from me until I had the privilege of speaking with Maria." Her simple account of her pilgrimage and experiences made such a deep impression on my heart that I, too, saw the light; that evening spent with Maria, I experienced a foretaste of the joy of heaven. But the pastors of Åsele did not understand Maria's heart, and even Maria recognized that they were not of this sheepfold. I shall remember the poor Maria as long as I live, and I hope to meet her in the brighter world beyond the grave.
This woman, who had been such a mystery to me, was part of a group which also had a mysterious title, the Readers. Until I recently acquired Carl A. Kulla's book, The Journey of an Immigrant Awakening Movement in America, I had a sense of who the Readers of Lapland were but this book has helped to clarify things. Kulla writes, "Pietism moved quickly from Germany to Sweden and the Baltic countries, where it met with strong opposition from the established church. . . Although Pietists remained within the state churches of their respective countries, they were a living church within the outward church, which caused Pietism to be in tension with the authorities." It seems then that the situation in the Scandinavian countries and Finland was not unlike the situation in the Church of England as the Methodist revival broke out in Britain and raised the ire of bishops and priests there. And as with the Methodist revival where John Wesley was converted to Christ under the tutelage of Moravians, it was also the Moravians who came to Scandinavia with the gospel. Kulla writes, "Already in 1731, and again in 1734, Moravian missionaries were spreading their influence throughout the land. From 1750 to the end of the century they permeated the religious life of Sweden." It was the spiritual descendants of these Moravian missionaries who were the Readers of Laestadius' time. Kulla writes, "Pietism was spread largely by the written word, the Bible, Luther's writings, and devotional writings from Lutheran heritage. Therefore the movement in Sweden received the name 'Lasare' which means 'Readers,' which name then became the general designation of all the awakenings."

With the presence of Christians like the Readers and also much depravity often seen in drunkenness and exploitation of the Sami, Mary was born into a Lapland of both light and much darkness. If her identity as Milla Clementsdotter is correct then it seems that early on at least, Mary experienced mostly the darkness of Lapland. But God by His grace and in His sovereignty would lead Mary to a living faith which would eventually be shared with Lars Levi Laestadius and ultimately millions of other "thirsty whelps of grace."

An account of the life of Milla Clementsdotter is found in an 1840 issue of the Swedish magazine, Nordisk Kyrkotidning. According to this account, Milla or Mary, which is a variant of that name, was born in Föllinge, Lapland on November 1st, 1815, although according to church records she was born on this date in 1813. Her father had lost his property because of his drunkenness and died after being assaulted when Mary was a child. Her mother remarried and Mary accompanied her mother and stepfather in their travels around Lapland. At the age of six, Mary was left with a farming family who agreed to teach her to read. Her time with this family seems to have been unhappy as she was harshly treated and was not educated well in reading as her mother had been promised. She seems to have moved from family to family as an orphan and during this time memorized the Lutheran catechism and took her first communion. Also during this time Mary witnessed much drunkenness in her caretakers and the sadness that this vice brought with it. After years of moving from family to family, including a time of working as a reindeer-herder, Mary's parents agreed to give her in marriage to a suitor many years her senior who was not known for his sobriety or Christianity. Mary successfully avoided the pursuit of this man and met some Sami "boys," as the biography calls them, who had been convicted of their sin and had heard the true gospel preached by Pastor Brandell of Nora. Of these boys the author writes, "even if their knowledge was not spectacular, their earnestness over the salvation of the soul was indeed all the greater. . . They were called madmen and fools by the apathetic people around them, but their admonitions, their mild, humble conduct, their devotion in prayer, to which they also exhorted her and with which she was so pleased, drew her to them and were a true joy to her in all her inner need and her present external distress."
Mary eventually came to live again with her mother and stepfather who had become "fisher-Lapps," along with her other siblings. During this time she was still troubled in conscience and had a dream of a group of people leaving a church, entering a cottage where there was merry-making and then being dragged to hell, chained together. In this dream Mary believed that she was warned by God of hell and admonished to carry this warning to her family. As would be expected, with her troubled conscience, Mary desired all the more to travel to Nora to hear the gospel preached by Pastor Brandell. Eventually Mary once again left her family to seek wages to send home. During these wanderings, when Mary was probably in her 20's, she fell very sick and was deathly ill for five weeks. After five weeks of bed-rest with a family who took her in, she eventually tried to hitch a ride to Nora to hear the gospel preached with a group of young people who were going to a dance. She was abandoned by this group and left stranded on a forest road on a winter night. Aila Foltz does a good job of describing this occurrence in the book A Godly Heritage, Foltz writes:
Falling snowflakes covered her as she lay unconscious on the road. It was Christmas time, and nobody was abroad at that hour in this sparsely settled region. A short distance from where Milla lay was an isolated farm. The farmer's son had gone visiting with the intention of returning the following day, but he was so overcome with anxiety about his family that he hitched up his sleigh and left for home the same evening. After traveling some distance, the horse shied and stopped abruptly. When the young man alighted to investigate, he found the Sami girl lying in the road covered with snow. He picked her up, laid her in his sleigh and took her home. In the warm house, she recovered enough to continue her journey the next day.
Mary eventually made it to Sollefteå where she met a Pastor Berglund, who had experienced living faith in Jesus Christ. Pastor Berglund encourged her to go on to Nora to hear Brandell preach the Word of God. Although the biography in Nordisk Kyrkotidning never tells of Mary finally making it to Nora, she must have eventually arrived there as Laestadius speaks of her hearing Pastor Brandell in Nora in his account of meeting her. It was in Nora where according to Laestadius, "Brandell had released her from her doubts and the girl was led by him to a living faith."

Not much is known about Mary after her fateful meeting with Laestadius. Foltz writes, "according to church records, she married Thomas Palsson, a Sami farmhand from Frostviken, a few years before she met Laestadius, and she gave birth to a daughter a few years later."

The account of Mary's life from Nordisk Kyrkotidning raises for me more questions than it answers. But one thing I am convinced of is that this was a woman of God in whose heart a wonderful work of grace had been done. Of his meeting with Mary, Laestadius wrote that she had opened her "whole heart" to him and, "I thought, 'I can see the way that leads to life.'" If opening one's heart to others leads to them seeing the way of repentance and faith in Christ I think it is obvious that it is Christ Himself who inhabits that heart.

I've been very happy to find books and websites that give an incomplete outline of Mary's life and the Readers but I would like to learn more about both. Although there are other resources out there I thought that this blog post might be interesting to anyone with a similar interest in the Laestadian revival or Mary of Lapland.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

First Call

I'm a night-owl. I like to stay up late. But I also like to sleep. The last time I fasted completely from sleep was eight years ago during a night of insomnia. Other than that I remember once when I was a kid I decided to stay up all night with a friend to see what it was like. I wasn't impressed.

But Friday night/Saturday morning became the third time in my life I went for 24 hours without sleep. It was my first real "on-call" experience in medicine, on my surgery rotation for my 3rd year of med school. The day started at 6AM Friday morning and ended at 10:30 AM Saturday morning, with 20 of those 28 hours spent working in the hospital. I spent the eventful evening running between the ER and the operating room as we saw a shreded leg from a motorcycle accident and point blank shotgun blast to an abdomen, among other things.

At around 4AM as I stood over an operating table, holding a retractor (a rather unimportant job), I was fading with my eyes attempting to force themselves closed. But I became aware of the importance of the circadian rhythm as 6AM rolled around and I began to feel as good and as wide awake as I do most mornings. This was a pleasant surprise. After rounding on our team's patients I headed back to Loma Linda for a much-needed nap.

You may have noticed fewer posts on this blog in the past week. It is likely to remain that way for the next five weeks as general surgery is a very busy rotation. I will put this teaser out there though... I'm thinking of writing a post entitled "Lapin Maija."

Sunday, September 27, 2009

San Gorgonio

Since moving to southern California for medical school I've had one goal that I had never been quite able to put on the back-burner. I've had a nagging voice in the back of my mind reminding me for years now that that highest peak off to the east - had not yet been conquered. Every time I looked at the massive grey-topped dome of Mt. San Gorgonio I was reminded that there was an 11,500 foot peak, a non-technical climb, yet a climb to the top of southern California - the highest peak south of those around Mt. Whitney in the Sierra Nevada, that I had not climbed. San Gorgonio is an unusual mountain in that this bulk of earth is separated for the most part by lower elevations from mountains of comparable size making it what Wikipedia calls, "one of the most topographically prominent peaks in the United States."

I started the climb with a classmate at Vivian Creek at an elevation of about 7000 ft. From there it was an eight mile hike to the summit with an elevation gain of 4,500 ft. Southern California is unfortunately not known for its clear skies but we still got to take in some awesome views during the climb. The climb was not difficult but the sixteen miles round-trip was a good workout. Here are a few pictures:

Looking West at an altitude of around 9000 ft. I never thought Southern California could look this green.

Looking south from at about 11,000 ft.

At the summit - 11,500 ft. It's hard to see but Big Bear Lake is in the background.

This small marker is in a boulder at the summit.

Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
Nor wanting, nor wasting, Thou rulest in might;
Thy justice, like mountains, high soaring above
Thy clouds, which are fountains of goodness and love.

-Walter C. Smith

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Shall We Draw Daggers?

From the biography of Anglican Calvinist preacher Charles Simeon, a conversation with John Wesley:

Sir, I understand that you are called an Arminian; and I have been sometimes called a Calvinist; and therefore I suppose we are to draw daggers. But before I consent to begin the combat, with your permission I will ask you a few questions. Pray, Sir, do you feel yourself a depraved creature, so depraved that you would never have thought of turning to God, if God had not first put it into your heart?

Yes, I do indeed.

And do you utterly despair of recommending yourself to God by anything you can do; and look for salvation solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ?

Yes, solely through Christ.

But, Sir, supposing you were at first saved by Christ, are you not somehow or other to save yourself afterwards by your own works?

No, I must be saved by Christ from first to last.

Allowing, then, that you were first turned by the grace of God, are you not in some way or other to keep yourself by your own power?


What then, are you to be upheld every hour and every moment by God, as much as an infant in its mother’s arms?

Yes, altogether.

And is all your hope in the grace and mercy of God to preserve you unto His heavenly kingdom?

Yes, I have no hope but in Him.

Then, Sir, with your leave I will put up my dagger again; for this is all my Calvinism; this is my election my justification by faith, my final perseverance: it is in substance all that I hold, and as I hold it; and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things where in we agree.

H/T: John Piper

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!

Below is a performance of the hymn, "It is well with my soul," along with some details from the life of the hymn's author, Horatio Spafford. We sang this hymn in church last Sunday and it's one of my favorites with a powerful story behind it so I thought I'd post it. Unfortunately this rendition doesn't have my favorite verse so I included it below.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, o my soul!
-Horatio Spafford