Sunday, 31 October 2010

Conclusion from Five Leading Reformers

Similarly, how much do we look to the pastor (or vicar or elder or whatever we call him) to do everything for us? Do we examine the Scripture for ourselves, weigh up the Sunday sermon in the light of the Bible (as Paul instructed us to do), or simply take it from the minister? Do we develop ourselves spiritually, seeking to grow and mature together actively with the other believers in the Church, through our conversations, our reading, our home groups? Or are we completely passive? We can hardly condemn the clerical-led nature of Roman Catholicism when we ourselves are the spiritual equivalent of couch potatoes! Roman Catholicism itself has changed much, not least in the encouragement of lay activity. All the more reason for professing Protestants to be active likewise.

- p. 187-188 Five Leading Reformers

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Five Leading Reformers

I've just finished reading "Five Leading Reformers" by Christopher Catherwood.
I was inspired to read more church history books after reading "Church History in Plain Language" some time ago, and this book seemed to be a good follow-up for me to read. As a Protestant, Reformation period is the most exciting era of church history for me, and I had this book for quite a while.
Now I have finished reading this not-so-thick book (less than 200 pages), I have less admiration for these reformers, Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Cranmer, and Knox. Yes, less, not more. They were great men, convicted by great truths of the Gospel, whose works changed the world and their legacy is still felt and experienced in most parts of the world to this day. But the author did well in showing the very human side of these reformers, although I believe he portrayed them only fairly and as accurately as possible. This author also honestly explained the political nature of reformation very well.
Hence, these men, as great as they were, were men, naturally. And so my admiration grew smaller, and my appreciation and reverence towards the God who worked so powerfully through these men, and in fact, through the whole affairs of reformation, both in the trials and victories, has increased.
So, this book had a good effect on me, I'd say.

The author's conclusive paragraphs were a real challenge. It is long-ish to post in one go, so I will be posting up one at a time in coming days.

Here's the first paragraph.

As we have just seen, Protestants often criticise the Catholic 'Cult of Saints'. But how often do we unwittingly do something similar? Many Protestant traditions including Presbyterians of most hues, look back in awe and gratitude to Calvin. There are churches named Lutheran to this day. Other denominations are no different, whether it is the Wesley brothers, Smyth and Helys, Azusa Street or whatever your past hero's name or location might be. We all too easily tend to look at Scripture through the prism of their teaching rather than, as the Reformers did, looking directly to scripture itself, as the doctrine of sola scriptura surely teaches. It would be too ironic if, by quoting, say, Calvin or Luther slavishly, we treat them as being infallible! If we teach that the Pope is not infallible, then neither is any other church leader, however revered. (italics original)
- p. 187 Five Leading Reformers

You can get Five Leading Reformers from BookDepository, Koorong, or Amazon.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Sacrifices that God does not despise

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
-- Psalm 51:17

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards: #70 (and some final thoughts)

70. Let there be something of benevolence, in all that I speak.
Aug. 17, 1723
(Source: A Puritan's Mind)

This is the last resolution Jonathan Edwards wrote.
So has my project of posting the resolutions of Jonathan Edwards with little bit of my thoughts attached time to time come to its conclusion too. Yes, I failed to keep to my initial plans of posting regularly and finishing up by the end of last year! Ah well, my life is full of failures and God is full of grace.

Anyway, here are my final thoughts.
1) Jonathan Edwards sure displays an amazing level of maturity from such a young age. He was born in 1703. So by the time he wrote this last resolution of his, he was only 20 years old. Perhaps it was the the culture of his generation, that people matured (or had to mature) early. But it is not just the maturity. There were plenty of men who had to grow up quickly and provide for his family back in those days for example. But what is remarkable is his "Christian maturity" in his thinking and in his conduct. What was going on in his mind in regards to God (or in his own words, religion) had a definite and powerful impact on his heart, and consequently, he was compelled to review and reflect on his life again and again. Hence his long list of resolutions. And all these by the age of 20. Look around. Or perhaps look at yourself, if you are 20. How do they compare with Jonathan Edwards' seriousness towards God? I certainly do not come close to his relentless zeal and passion for godliness.

2) One comforting fact remains, however, for all of God's saints. Jonathan Edwards may have been (and I believe he really is) a great role model for other Christians. Yet, the fact that he had to make all these resolutions to remind himself regarding his faith and conduct only shows that he was also a mere mortal sinner. He wouldn't have made a resolution to speak with love (as in this last resolution) unless he had failed to speak lovingly at some point and realised it by God's grace some time later. We are all at the mercy of God's grace. None of us can boast about our own achievements however great they may make us look great. When properly understood, everything comes from our gracious God, for our own strength, our own intellectual power, our disciplined attitude towards others, even our own faith, all come from God. There is no need for us to revere Jonathan Edwards beyond respect. He was much loved by God and received some great gifts from God so that we can benefit from his gifts as well. God loves us as much and He is still working in us, sometimes through the work He had done in Jonathan Edwards' life. So we are all in one Church of God and are all taking part in building up His Church. It is God who is to be revered and adored, not Jonathan Edwards.

3) Finally, just to lighten up the whole thing a little bit, what I would tell Jonathan Edwards about all these resolutions?
When I see him in heaven, I'll probably say, "Hey, bro, you had so many resolutions, how did you go about keeping them, eh?" and we both will laugh at our short-comings, and give each other a brotherly hug, and turn to look towards the One who graciously redeemed both of us and sing praises.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Saturday, 16 October 2010

No need to prove myself

Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards: #68

68. Resolved, to confess frankly to myself all that which I find in myself, either infirmity or sin; and, if it be what concerns religion, also to confess the whole case to God, and implore needed help. July 23, and August 10, 1723.

It is an awful thing to face yourself and be honest about all the weaknesses and sins in yourself. Trust me, I know. But it is far better to be honest about it yourself, and confess that to God. See, God knew all that all along, and more. The beauty and majesty of the gospel is that God, knowing all your shortcomings, sent His Son to die for our sins yet still, so He may display His glorious grace over our sins, and rescue us from the eternal damnation and restore to us the eternal joy that He always intended. And even now, when I discover sins in my life, I can and must turn to God who is gracious. His promise is sure that on that cross where Jesus died, all my sins, including this sin that I just discovered I had in me, are cleared off and I am declared, "RIGHTEOUS!" by God.

(Source: A Puritan's Mind)

Thursday, 7 October 2010

God of relationship

I started reading "God of Promise" by Michael Horton. So far, I've only got through the first introductory chapter, which doesn't even really go much into what "covenant theology" is. Yet, reading it, I've realised once again just how much relational our God is!

Our God is a Trinitarian God.
God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. Not three gods, but one God, three Persons.
From this God, I can make sense out of relationships and see what the community is meant to be.

It is obviously not individualistic. I am not to insist only on my desires and needs if I am to be in a healthy relationship. It is fairly well understood that the western culture has become so individualistic, church life also suffers from it. So we hear from preachers warning us about treating our faith as a complete private affair. Christians are called to be part of Christian communities. We are admonished to take active part in meetings and serving others.
Yet, we remain individuals. We don't simply become nobodies within a kind of uniform mass of indistinguishable persons. We are not saved by belonging to a certain group of people. God saves individuals. It is just that when He saves an individual, He saves her into a community. Not for her to seize to be herself, but to take part and find her place in a community, the community made by and for God. It is in this context of a community she can fully utilise the talents God has given her and be who she is.

There is much more to be said and the application of this truth about our God is far more practical than many people realise.

But I'll close here with a couple of questions.

If the claims of other religions or philosophies are correct, how would you make sense out of the relentless longing for relationships that everyone has?
If you adhere to theologies of other religions, which may be monotheistic, polytheistic, pantheistic, or even atheistic, what would an ideal human society look like, if there could be one consistent with the given theology? How do you like that picture?

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards: #67

67. Resolved, after afflictions, to inquire, what I am the better for them, what good I have got by them, and what I might have got by them.

For JE, not one opportunity was to be missed, it seems. Continuous disciplined reflection is crucial in learning from your own experience indeed. It would serve me well too to count what I have just experienced and examine myself how I have been affected, and what I can still learn from it.

(Source: A Puritan's Mind)

Monday, 4 October 2010

What it means to believe in a sovereign God

I have a lot of worries. My friends and families told me in numerous occasions to stop worrying about things so much. They lovingly reminded me of God who is in control and I need to trust him more and needn't worry so much with what may come my way in the future.

What I haven't realised till recently, was that I believe in a sovereign God.
Not that the sovereignty of God was a new thing to me, but I failed to see an aspect of it.
I believe in the sovereignty of God and I have been taking and do take great comfort from the fact that He is in control of all things including my life. But most often, my vision was only on the eternity in the future. I was only trying to take comfort of knowing sovereign God who has elected me out of His own pleasure, and will not fail to take me home one day. When I learned this a few years ago, it was a kind of revolution in my spiritual life. It really did not lie within my power to save myself, but all is done by God's grace and I am eternally thankful and can be reassured of His unfailing purposes. It was magnificent salvation, God was majestic in His total, sovereign rule.

Yet, how foolish and slow is my heart, that it escaped me, that God is sovereign not only in the grand scheme of salvation of His people, but while I live on this earth, on this 4th of October, 2010, He is involved in my life, He is not losing any sight on what is going on in my life, He does protect me, and guard my steps. He knows what I am fearful of, what I am worried about, what I am capable of at this moment, what are my weaknesses, physically, and spiritually, relationally, and intellectually. In all things, He has not lost touch with any thing.

So I ask myself, what am I so afraid of?
I do not know what tomorrow will bring.
I do not know where God is going to take me and my family, and my church.
I don't know what's going to cost me.
I have been disappointed many times in the past with what had happened around me, whether that be personal relationships, sufferings of close family members, or some kind of heart-aching, desperate situation at church.
While I acknowledged that all these happened for a purpose and God had His gracious hand in these, I am still quite a skeptic and a cynic, while desperately trying to control this fear within me whenever some changes are on the horizon.

But, the question I need to come back to is this.
Do I believe in God who is absolutely sovereign?
The God who reigns over the rise and fall of empires over the history of the human race.
The God who is in control of where rain would fall and Sun would shine.
The God who decides where and when a new star is to be born, and an old star destroyed.
The God who chose a man out of idol-filled nation, and brought through that one old man, a multitude of God worshippers and ultimately, the promised Messiah, His only Son.
The God who throughout the two millennia, against all imaginable odds, protected, nurtured, and renewed church to carry out His mission with the gospel of grace.
This grand God is also the God who is in charge of which sparrow would fall to the ground, and numbers the hair on our head. (Matthew 10:29-31)

So Jesus told us:
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:25-33)
I am not fearless. I am not completely worry-less. I am one of whom Jesus here calls, "you of little faith." I do not have a great faith. But I know this great God. So I will, by His grace, stand and face uncertainties in life. And when all things are over and done with, no tongue would praise my strength as if I got myself through it all, but only God's sustaining power be known and His Name be exalted high.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards: #66

66. Resolved, that I will endeavor always to keep a benign aspect, and air of acting and speaking in all places, and in all companies, except it should so happen that duty requires otherwise.

I take that word, "benign" as meaning kind, or gentle. Unless it is required, I also wish to be kind and gentle with the one I am speaking to.
God has been so gentle and patient with me, although He had been firm and disciplined me when required. I just want to be like Him who is good and gracious. I just want to be like my Father, not just because Jonathan Edwards had this resolution.

(Source: A Puritan's Mind)