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Posts Tagged ‘Alistair Begg’

Today, the body of believers to whom we have committed ourselves, communed with each other and with our Lord Jesus over the elements of His Supper.  These days, I am trying to discipline myself to personal reflection as the elements are being passed around – to review that “I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior” (Newton).

 

I want to be mindful of the great honor I have received – “once His enemy, now seated at the table” – wonder of all wonders!  Further, this memorial meal foreshadows the meal we will share with King Jesus in eternity at his wedding feast when the Lord himself will dress himself for service… and He will come and serve those who have watched for his return (Luke 12:35-38) – what?!? how can this be?

 

My time around the Lord’s Table has been enriched by a message given by Sinclair Ferguson at the 2017 Pastors’ Basics Conference sponsored by Parkside Church, Chagrin Falls, OH, and their pastor, Alistair Begg.  Ferguson likens the Lord’s Supper to a dress rehearsal for that glorious day when we, Christ’s bride, set apart by Jesus himself, will be presented to our Bridegroom in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing – holy and without blemish, having been cleansed by Him by the washing with the Word (Ephesians 5:26-27).

 

These days it’s common for the wedding party to celebrate a joyous meal together after the rehearsal.  Ferguson points out that the rehearsal dinner or Groom’s Dinner, as we call it, is traditionally paid for by the groom’s father.  And so it is with the meal we celebrate in our churches around the Lord’s table – it is a meal paid for by our Groom’s Father…  and at the dearest of costs (John 3:16).

 

Similarly, the banquet we celebrate following a wedding is traditionally paid by the Bride’s Father… and so it will be on that resplendent Day. The bride’s Father, our Father, will have provided all for that Day – that day of rejoicing when we will glory in our beloved Groom and need never be parted from Him ever more.   No wonder we will sing and shout the victory – “Hallelujah!  All I have is Christ!”

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Vincent-Van-Gogh-Rest-Work-after-Millet-

“If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath,
from doing your pleasure on my holy day,
and call the Sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the Lord honorable;

if you honor it, not going your own ways,
or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly;

then you shall take delight in the Lord,
and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;

I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

~ Isaiah 58:13-14 ~

 

I’ve written of Sabbath-keeping before, here and here.  For the orthodox Christian, this means keeping the Lord’s Day, the first day of each week (i.e. Sundays).  I was first challenged by a “theology of rest” by Joe Rigney, Professor at Bethlehem College and Seminary, in his message the God Who Loves Us by Giving Us Rest.  I heard this message about the same time that my daughter and son-in-law were beginning to adopt the Sabbath-keeping practices of their new church.  And not long after, I heard a couple sermons from one of my preaching heroes, Alistair Begg as he spoke compellingly of the joys of keeping the Sabbath in his Pathway to Freedom series.  Begg teaches both the principles and the practices of Sabbath-keeping.  As he recalls his childhood in the small Scottish community where he grew up, he reminisces of the wide-spread observance of the day and waxes almost melancholy over what has been lost by God’s people in forsaking its practice.

 

As I was growing up it was a given that Sunday morning we’d be in church.  Even though my dad went to his church a few blocks away from that which my mom and my sisters attended, we knew we’d all be getting up Sunday morning to head to our respective churches.  Different churches, but the value of church attendance was instilled by the modeling of both my parents.  Happily, I grew up in a state that kept its blue laws until 1991, so the rhythm of Sunday was always a bit different from the rest of the week, but once home from church we were not opposed to using the day as a sort of “second Saturday” to finish up all the things we did not get done during the week previous or those things we did not want to carry into the week to come.

 

Well, the Lord has been patient to allow me to study, observe, and grow in this area.  For the past year or so, Dana and I have been trying to adapt our Sundays and its activities to better reflect who we are becoming in Christ regarding this commandment.  We may not be as strict (that’s not the same as oppressive) as our daughter/son-in-law, but we are more mindful than ever of setting this day apart for rest and delight in the Lord.

 

Years and years ago when my kids were little, I remember reading Karen Mains’ Making Sunday Special.  I think I still have it somewhere and I suppose that I should dust it off and give it another look.  At that time, I don’t think I even associated it with the command to keep the Sabbath day holy; I just loved the Lord and wanted my family to find Sundays special.  More recently though, I just finished reading Celebrating the Sabbath by Bruce A. Ray.  Looking beyond the dated cover, I found a pretty measured and gracious handling of the topic, not at all formalistic as I might have expected.  Ray spends several chapters working through the biblical principles of God’s Sovereignty over our entire lives (i.e. time, work, rest) as well as the biblical roots and fruits of Sabbath-keeping.  His banner text is the one above from Isaiah 58, making the case for delighting in the Lord through Sabbath-keeping.  The fourth commandment is clearly a positive, not a negative, command for which we should thank God.

 

It is his last two chapters, though, which provide a nice practical evaluation of our hearts toward the Lord’s Day.  Ray is wisely unwilling to be the Holy Spirit in our lives; he does not give a list of dos and don’ts for the day.  He is not the least bit formulaic or legalistic, but offers grace throughout.  He offers alone these four principles: (1) keep it holily, (2) keep it happily, (3) keep it honestly, (4) keep it humbly.  What follows is primarily taken from Ray’s book.

 

  • Keep it Holily. “It is important to recognize that we cannot make the Sabbath holy.  God has already done that by his works of creation and redemption in the Old Testament, and by the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the gift of his Holy Spirit in the New.”  We are only charged to keep it.  Surely, a major part of keeping this day holy is by meeting with other believers for corporate worship.   The author of Hebrews 10:19-25 pleads: Let us draw near to God; let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess; let us consider how to spur one another on; and let us encourage one another.  Then, almost as if to give answer to these pleas, he offers one let us not: Let us not give up meeting together.  “We need the friendship and the fellowship… we need the stimulation and the encouragement to love, obedience, and kindness that meeting together can provide.  When Sunday is swallowed up by the weekend and loses its uniqueness – its holiness, as the Lord’s Day – then you and I are the inevitable losers.” [pp. 94-97]

 

  • Keep it Happily. Although we must confess our sins and seek grace for further sanctification, the atmosphere of worship must not be dominated by heaviness and remorse (Walter Chantry).  To get there, Ray reminds us that our joy, happiness, and contentment are not to be found in our physical or financial circumstances, but in the joy of knowing Christ in the power of his resurrection.  “Rested and refreshed by the power of Christ’s resurrection from the dead, which we celebrate in the worship of the church, we are physically and spiritually ready to begin a new week.” [pp. 97-100]

 

  • Keep it Honestly. Christianity Today’s former editor, Ben Patterson, noted that Christians “always seem to be looking for loopholes: ways to get credit for keeping the Sabbath without actually having to keep the Sabbath” [Sept. 19, 1986].  For the definition of what is work, Ray appeals to common sense.  Our jobs or occupations are obvious (although I recognize that some in mercy or protection jobs may need to carve out a Sabbath Day around their job schedule).  Also obvious are activities we outright identify as work: housework, yard work, office work, homework, etc.  But we are relieved to find that “rest does not require idleness and can be very active.”  The challenge, though, for the Church is how to do these and all things for the glory of God – how to keep our recreation from interfering with our fellowship with God.  “We must labor to bring our wills into submission to [God’s].  The Sabbath calls us to make God’s will our own.”  Consider the caution of John Winthrop (1588-1649), the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  He admitted some moderate recreation may be admissible on the Sabbath, but cautioned against Christian liberty – that it not, by degrees, ensnare our hearts so far in worldly delights and cool the graces of the Spirit by them.  Our hearts must be kept free, for God is jealous of our love and will not endure any pretenses in it.  [pp. 106-112]

 

  • Keep it Humbly. It is Ray’s belief that the Sabbath is a problem for many Christians, but it is not of intellect or even of practicality.  For many, it is primarily spiritual in nature.  “We are the heirs of centuries of self-exultation and our minds are not yet submitted to the Word of God and we resist God’s right to rule over us.  We come into our King’s presence and our spiritual family reunion tired, late, and unprepared to worship him – if we make it at all.  This is not right.”  Thinking ourselves wise, we are actually robbing our own souls as we lose this beautiful means of grace.  But we must guard against self-righteousness, legalism, and externalism – all pitfalls in which our enemy would be too pleased to lead us in our newfound commitment to Sabbath-keeping.  Ray guides us in this: The way to gain a name and a blessing is not by building it yourself, but by humbly choosing what pleases God, resting in his works, and keeping his covenant and his Sabbath holy.  Sabbath wars, he says, must all come to an end in Christ, the Prince of Peace.  [pp.112-116]

 

Then… the cream of the book, especially for someone like me who was not raised with the kind of Sabbath-keeping Alistair Begg remembers (see above) – Ray offers a very practical checklist (but not the kind you might expect). It’s actually a series of questions to ask concerning any proposed activity.

 

  • Will it in fact refresh me or will I be worn out by it?
  • Is a competitive spirit, as in league sports, compatible with the purpose of refreshment and of the Sabbath?  What if I lose? [ky-I couldn’t help but think of Eric Liddell with this one.]
  • Will a planned recreational activity interfere with my previous commitment to corporate worship and fellowship?  If I do this, will it cause me to miss or be late to the morning or evening services of my church?
  • Is my will subordinated to the will of God or am I “doing my own thing” and thus doing as I please on God holy day? Is what please me what pleases God?
  • Can I do what I am thinking of doing to the glory of God?

 

I end with Bruce Ray’s translation of Governor John Winthrop:

Be careful you don’t by degrees turn liberty into license and make God’s holy day your play day.  But, at the same time, don’t be so afraid to experience pleasure that you turn dancing into mourning.  The Sabbath really is a day of rejoicing and relaxing with both your natural and spiritual families.

 

 

[Image: Van Gogh’s Noon: Rest from Work]

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Arm Yourself
“You live in a world where your soul is in constant danger. Enemies are round you on every side. Your own heart is deceitful. Bad examples are numerous. Satan is always labouring to lead you astray. Above all, false doctrine and false teachers of every kind abound. This is your great danger.

“To be safe you must be well armed. You must provide yourself with the weapons which God has given you for your help. You must store your mind with Holy Scripture. This is to be well armed.

“Arm yourself with a thorough knowledge of the written Word of God. Read your Bible regularly. Become familiar with your Bible… Neglect your Bible and nothing that I know of can prevent you from error if a plausible advocate of false teaching shall happen to meet you. Make it a rule to believe nothing except it can be proved from Scripture. The Bible alone is infallible… Do you really use your Bible as much as you ought?

“There are many today, who believe the Bible, yet read it very little. Does your conscience tell you that you are one of these persons?

“If so, you are the [one]…

that is likely to get little help from the Bible in time of need. Trial is a sifting experience… Your store of Bible consolations may one day run very low.

“If so, you are the [one]…

that is unlikely to become established in the truth. I shall not be surprised to hear that you are troubled with doubts and questions about assurance, grace, faith, perseverance, etc. The devil is an old and cunning enemy. He can quote Scripture readily enough when he pleases. Now you are not sufficiently ready with your weapons to fight a good fight with him… Your sword is held loosely in your hand.

“If so, you are the [one]…

that is likely to make mistakes in life. I shall not wonder if I am told that you have problems in your marriage, problems with your children, problems about the conduct of your family and about the company you keep. The world you steer through is full of rocks, shoals and sandbanks. You are not sufficiently familiar either with lighthouses or charts.

“If so, you are the [one]…

who is likely to be carried away by some false teacher for a time. It will not surprise me if I hear that one of these clever, eloquent men who can make a convincing presentation is leading you into error. You are in need of ballast (truth); no wonder if you are tossed to and fro like a cork on the waves.

“All these are uncomfortable situations. I want you to escape them all. Take the advice I offer you today. Do not merely read your Bible a little – but read it a great deal… Remember your many enemies. Be armed!”

~Tract, 19th century English evangelical preacher and writer, J.C. Ryle
[Thank you to Alistair Begg for distributing the quote.]

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beggar
Pastor Alistair Begg invites all who will, to come to Christ, but he gives this warning:  Those who would come to Christ must come to him as beggars, begging for a crust of bread.  Of course, this is the difficulty of the gospel for many.   We want so desperately to make the case for ourselves, to present our well-lived lives (if they are well-lived) and deny the sin that so easily entangles.  For those of us tempted to underestimate the affront that our sin is to a holy God, Pastor James MacDonald reminds us we need only consider the dire means by which our sins were paid.

In truth, there is not a thing we bring to the table of our salvation, nothing to recommend us before the throne of God.  This, of course, includes our very faith which is “not your own doing; it is the gift of God.[1] Until God caused light to shine in my darkened understanding or made my blind eyes see the truth of my sin and the glory of the Gospel, until he breathed onto the dry, dead bones of my soul, neither repentance nor faith could be born in my heart and life would not have occurred.  After all, I was dead in my trespasses and sins, [2] and dead men are unable to seek or choose or believe lest they first be quickened.

 —

Charles Spurgeon would have us marvel at this, though:  We come as beggars, but are adopted as children, and there is nothing our Father will withhold from his children.  Spurgeon’s own wonder at this, excerpted from the on-line devotional Morning and Evening, is shared by Nick Roarke on his wonderful blog Tolle Lege:

 

“And the glory which Thou gavest me I have given them.” — John 17:22

banquet table“Behold the superlative liberality of the Lord Jesus, for He hath given us His all. Although a tithe of His possessions would have made a universe of angels rich beyond all thought, yet was He not content until He had given us all that He had.

It would have been surprising grace if He had allowed us to eat the crumbs of His bounty beneath the table of His mercy; but He will do nothing by halves, He makes us sit with Him and share the feast.

Had He given us some small pension from His royal coffers, we should have had cause to love Him eternally; but no, He will have His bride as rich as Himself, and He will not have a glory or a grace in which she shall not share.

He has not been content with less than making us joint-heirs with Himself, so that we might have equal possessions. He has emptied all His estate into the coffers of the Church, and hath all things common with His redeemed.

There is not one room in His house the key of which He will withhold from His people. He gives them full liberty to take all that He hath to be their own; He loves them to make free with His treasure, and appropriate as much as they can possibly carry.

The boundless fullness of His all-sufficiency is as free to the believer as the air he breathes. Christ hath put the flagon of His love and grace to the believer’s lip, and bidden him drink on for ever.

For could he drain it, he is welcome to do so, and as he cannot exhaust it, he is bidden to drink abundantly, for it is all his own. What truer proof of fellowship can heaven or earth afford?

When I stand before the throne
Dressed in beauty not my own;
When I see Thee as Thou art,
Love Thee with unsinning heart;
Then, Lord, shall I fully know—
Not till then—how much I owe.

–Charles Spurgeon, “June 30 –  Morning” in Morning and Evening (Geanies House, Fearn, Scotland, UK: Christian Focus, 1994),  382.

[Hymn: When This Passing World is Done]

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[With school drawing nearer, I have found my available time for posting significantly diminishing.  I know that the school year will create a challenge to my posting, but I hope to keep a respectable presence here throughout the months ahead.

Not intentionally, but perhaps in compensation, I offer this lengthy post.  For a quick read, I would refer you to the Acts 2 text which offers the framework for this subject, and Begg’s own two-sentence summary at the end of the post.]

 

If you are sober-minded about your faith and have ever had to look for a new church, you’re well-acquainted with the enormity of the task.  It begins with a general canvassing of local churches (or even some on the outer reaches of your drive zone) to root out those that are clearly not a good mix.  After this, when the search is narrowed, that “good mix” only becomes evident by investing time at those remaining churches.  To be honest, the investment is probably quite a lot of time.  Only as one is able to participate over an extended period of time, do the intrinsic values of a church begin to show themselves; not only the obvious outward workings observed in a visit or two, but the roots that drive the church’s every decision.

My husband and I are not “church hoppers,” but after 25 years at our old church, it had ceased to have the same “intrinsic values” of the church we had first joined and we knew that we could no longer stay.  Alistair Begg offered a timely blog post for us on the subject of choosing a church.  The outline of his 2009 message is expounded below.

 

Begg used the description of the early church from Acts 2: 42-47 as his text:

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, pleasing God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching…”

This, of course, would refer to a church’s statement of faith which must first align with Scriptures and traditional, orthodox Christianity.  It should be easily found (on their website or on printed material) and not cloaked in uncertain phraseology.  But beyond this, we must observe a congregation’s use of the Word of God.

In our day, it is far too easy to find a church that uses the Bible as a reference book or for illustration, but does not teach it and certainly is not devoted to it; or worse, actively avoids it so as not to appear too “churchy.”  A yearly sermon or two on the importance of reading one’s Bible takes the place of the hard work of creating a culture of devotion to the Scriptures.  Doctrine is shunned as divisive and discernment of application is never modeled or guided.  In adult Bible classes, congregational meetings, personal testimonies, and casual conversations far too few congregants are able to bring appropriate teaching from the Word to bear on any current issue or discussion.  How refreshing to find a congregation hungry for God’s Word and devoted to its teachings, a place where both women and men know and refer to and correctly apply Scriptures even in the most casual of settings, bearing witness to the congregation’s devotion to the apostles’ teaching.

 

“They devoted themselves…to the breaking of bread…”

The word sacrament means a visible sign of an inward grace.  Not to be confused with a means of grace, the sacraments testify before others of a grace that has been inwardly received.  There are two sacraments instituted by Jesus himself while on earth: baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  Any church one chooses should not only recognize and participate in these sacraments, but should seek to guard that which they’ve been entrusted.  The sacraments should not be experimented with and clear teaching and explanation should always accompany their administration to assure that those who participate do so with gravity and understanding.

 

“They devoted themselves…[to] prayer.”

Hudson Taylor once asked, “Since the days of Pentecost, has the whole church ever put aside every other work and waited upon Him for ten days that the Spirit’s power might be manifested? We give too much attention to method and machinery and resources, and too little to the source of power.”

All churches pray at times, but in choosing a church, look for a church that does not rely on their own strength and cleverness, on their programming, advertising or pragmatic brainstorming.  Instead, choose a church that recognizes “apart from Christ [they] can do nothing.”  Therefore, their natural instinct and public practice is to seek in prayer the very Source of their power. Creativity and self-expression should never be confused with the hard work of persistent, dependent prayer.

 

“Everyone was filled with awe…” 

In our entertainment-oriented day, it is easy for a church to gauge its effectiveness by the emotionalism created by a carefully crafted service.  But emotionalism is not the same thing as hearts brought by reflection to a place of wonder and praise.  What’s more, it is not sustainable over time because the mind is not deeply engaged in the outward expression.  In short, worship is not an experience to be had, but an inevitable overflow of an informed heart filled with awe.

 

“They devoted themselves…to the fellowship…”

Despite the popularity of the phrase, the church is not a community; it is a body.  In a community one chooses the degree to which they will be involved (or not) in the lives of others in that community.  One easily moves from one community to another depending on personal benefit.  In a community everyone has value, but not everyone is needful for the health of the community.  Ex: the mom and pop store may reside in my community, but I might choose to drive across town to shop at the big box store instead.  In such a case, I will probably weigh the value of one option over another and may decide to choose a café model—buying select items locally and others from a neighboring community, depending on what will be most beneficial to myself.

A community is a human confederation, but the Body of Christ is a divinely-wrought organism, united to each other by Christ, the head. In fact, 1 Corinthians 12 reminds us that all members are needful to the health of the body; and not only needful, but equipped with gifts to share with the rest.  Until Christ transplants us, we are bound to the other members of the body.

We are committed to the health of each individual because as a body, if one suffers, we all suffer.  We are also committed to the health of the body as a whole, which may involve church discipline when necessary for the individual’s sake as well as the sake of the larger body.  We do not readily “shop elsewhere” when difficulties arise, because it would mean a painful cutting out of ourselves from the rest.  Instead we work through difficulties and do what we can to fight infections until we find ourselves whole and healthy on the other side.

 

“All the believers were together and had everything in common.  Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.”

This echoes Galatians 6:10, “As we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”  Generosity characterizes a good church as well as the individual lives of its members.  They seek to distribute their resources to those in need “at all times and in every circumstance with sacrificial generosity” as Begg puts it.

 

“Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.”

A good church will be eager to encourage one another and build one another up according to 1 Thessalonians 5.  Its people will meet often together, not only in the temple (or church service), but outside as well, in the temple courts.  Here they are able to enter into the lives of the others to whom they belong; where they cry and laugh together, help each other and rejoice with one another, and where they model, mentor and pray for each other.

 

“And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

A good church knows that it is the Lord who adds to their numbers, but he most often uses means to bring people to faith.  These means primarily are mere people and the Word of God, whether preached or taught or shared in intimate conversations.

Conversely, man-centered endeavors employ the trend-of-the-day and lots of marketing and money spent on promotion and tokens.  They are heavy on programming and big flashy events instead of presenting sound doctrine.  This approach reveals a belief that God needs our creativity or ability to surprise and wow an “audience” to gain their ear.  This diminishes a belief that God and his Word presented through finite, dependent humans is altogether effective to save.

It causes God’s glory to be shared in the minds of the congregants as they rejoice in their methodology and it actually weakens the church’s ability to do evangelism.  Because sound doctrine takes a back seat to programming, the members, going out into the world Monday through Saturday,  are ill-prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks them for a reason for the hope that is in them.

 

Begg’s own words offer a good summary to his post:

“If you are seeking a church, seek one where the Word is proclaimed, where the sacraments and prayer are honored, and where worship is reverent. Seek a church where the fellowship is characterized by joy and generosity, and where the gospel is boldly proclaimed…It’s that simple.”

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