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.