There and Back Again

As Bilbo was preparing to secretly leave the Shire forever, a hobbit asked him, “Mr. Bilbo, where are you off to?”  Bilbo answered, “I’m already late.”  “Late for what?” replied the inquirer. “I’m going on an adventure.”  These were the last words spoken to his admiring townsfolk.

“There and Back Again” was the original title of Tolkien’s “The Hobbit.”  It was the title of the book Bilbo would compose about his first adventure.  Well, like Bilbo, I have to bid you a farewell, for I must go on an adventure of my own.  As was Bilbo, I am late.  For years I have been perplexed with a nagging desire to search the depths of Covenant Theology.  For me there is a treasure of truth hidden in the riches of God’s promises annexed to his Covenant of Grace.  I am confident that the downgrading or downright denial of Covenant Theology by the visible Church, has hindered the spiritual growth of many believers. From the Protestant Reformation until the mid 19th Century, the majority of those saints who struggled before us, mostly in much more difficult situations than we have, relied on the God’s faithfulness in his promise keeping.  As my intent has been to encourage my fellow travelers on the journey through this foreign land, Middle Earth, if you will, and who seek to follow Christ into Glory, I have touched on my strong position concerning this doctrine, in order to show you from where I look for strength.

Being categorized as middle-aged, I feel more like Bilbo on his “eleventy” first birthday when he left on the final adventure.  There is no time to waste.  I must leave my blog for now and focus on this quest.  However I will be back again full of the tales of my adventure.  God willing, I may be able to share with you what I have found.

Farewell for now,

The Reformed Agonist

Soli Deo Gloria

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Be Logical

While attending my music theory class a few months ago, you know, riding on the tractor with my ear buds, I had one of my lyrical discovery moments.  I wasn’t sure what I would do with my thoughts, but now seems as good of a time as any to pontificate.  So here is an attempt to spew a little vitriol without alienating anyone.  Bordering on the edge of cynicism, or maybe from your perspective full-blown criticism, I possibly leave the safe harbor of encouragement for the believer.  However encouragement can come in different forms.  My brother taught me to dive from the diving board by pushing me off.  He encouraged me by helping me see how much better a self-controlled decent would be than a flailing plunge.

The song I heard that spoke volumes to me was “The Logical Song” by the 70’s British band Supertramp.  Written by keyboardist Roger Hodgson and released in 1979, this song turned out to be the biggest hit for the band.  Going to the top ten in the U.S. and the U.K.  There was much more accomplished by this song than charting.  A message behind the music spoken from a truly broken heart.

Supertramp – The Logical Song Lyrics
When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful,
A miracle, oh it was beautiful, magical.
And all the birds in the trees, well they’d be singing so happily,
Joyfully, playfully watching me.
But then they send me away to teach me how to be sensible,
Logical, responsible, practical.
And they showed me a world where I could be so dependable,
Clinical, intellectual, cynical.

There are times when all the world’s asleep,
The questions run too deep
For such a simple man.
Won’t you please, please tell me what we’ve learned
I know it sounds absurd
But please tell me who I am.

Now watch what you say or they’ll be calling you a radical,
Liberal, fanatical, criminal.
Won’t you sign up your name, we’d like to feel you’re
Acceptable, respectable, presentable, a vegetable!

At night, when all the world’s asleep,
The questions run so deep
For such a simple man.
Won’t you please, please tell me what we’ve learned
I know it sounds absurd
But please tell me who I am.
Songwriters: RICHARD DAVIES, ROGER HODGSON
The Logical Song lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

Obviously I’m no existentialist,  but as a follower of Christ to ask oneself, “Who am I,” is a necessary question.  To delve into the deep discoveries of origins, causes, and forces and how I relate to them is an age-old practice of all man. The recurring theme for Hodgson is “Who am I.”  What is the meaning of life and how do I fit in?  Shakespeare asked the binary question, “To be or not to be?”  The fallacy is in the premise of our “being” anything.  We are “becoming.”  He should have asked the question, “How to be or not to be?”  That is the question that everyone asks at some point in their life.  You really don’t even have to ask because it is presumed that you wish to know and there is no shortage of people and institutions out there to answer it for you.

The point I, and to some level Hodgson, want to make is who do you want answering this question for your children or grandchildren.  Hodgson made it plain that the institution given to him to implant wisdom and knowledge was not best choice.  He spent ten years of his childhood in an English boarding school.  This was not out for the norm for a child growing up in mid 20th century England.  Though the public school system was sufficient, boarding school was the best of both worlds for parents.  They had someone else educate, feed, cloth, shelter and everything in between, in their stead.  For Hodgson, it was a most regrettable experience.

You can feel his pain as you read the first stanza.  The sweet things of youth, the safety and security of home and family are taken away and you are plunged into a foreign world, dark and foreboding.  Life as the child knows it is over.  New standards, quite alien, are thrust into their life.  You might say, “Okay, I can agree that sending a child off to boarding school is horrid, I would never do that, but what is wrong with teaching the child to be sensible, logical, responsible, dependable, clinical, or intellectual?  Weren’t most of the greatest thinkers, including theologians, educated in boarding schools?  Wasn’t your hero, Thomas Boston, attending college at 15?”

You make a very good argument for sending your budding scholar to school.  However, what other option did oppressed, turn of the 18th century Scottish villagers have if the opportunity presented itself?  Take Boston for instance. His father, a cooper, a man who builds wooden barrels and buckets, working from before until after the sun, looses most of his customers due to his position on Church polity.  He is imprisoned even for his belief.  They live in a world where in order to worship, they have to meet secretly in a barn, half a day’s wagon ride from their home.  Oh, and no internet. No Amazon. No public library. Kind of a difficult situation.  I’m certain, had I been the father of young Thomas, I would have elected to send my son to get an education away from that mess too.  For what good is an apprentice cooper who could potentially speak four languages, three of which are dead and have a command for the forth that exceeds rare?  He had a just cause for sinking all of his savings in his sons education.  What is our justiufication today?

In an interview Hodgson says, “Throughout childhood we are taught to behave, yet we are taught very little about the deeper purpose of life.  We go from the wonder of childhood to the confusion of adolescence to the disillusionment of adulthood.”  Do you see the underlying helplessness in the tone of this man.  During his time away he would also feel the destruction of the last vestiges of security when his parents divorced.

I don’t know anyone personally who sends their children to boarding school.  However, I know mostly people who send their children away every day to have their question about who the are, and what is the origin and meaning of life, addressed by someone who they can only hope has the truth.  I am not against public school.  I am not against Christian schools.  I am not against college. They are all perfectly viable means of educating children.  In fact they are all very effective ways to educate.  That’s the problem.  If you send your children to school, any school, there is a 100% probability that they will be educated.  Schools have a perfect success rate. Children will have their questions answered.  That’s the problem.  What will those answers be?  Will they be the truth?  How will you know?

Seems to me like a good place to stop.

 

 

Prayer Done Aright: Part Five

We have given much attention to the necessity of the Holy Spirit for us to effectually pray.  When we think of prayer, most often the picture is a sending up or flowing outward of our words or thoughts or even our incomprehensible utterances.  How often do we consider just the opposite, the returning to us or, if you will, the speaking of God to us.  What are the communicable gifts of the Holy Spirit through prayer?

Boston does in no way intend that God communicates to us outside of his already spoken word, the bible.  There is no revelation of God by the Spirit other than what is included in the cannon of scripture and is represented in his creation. I tread carefully here because I am aware that there are those who believe that God at some point speaks personally to them.   What Boston is intending by way of the Spirit’s communicating is more in the inaudible yet clearly comprehensible and convincing revelation of how we see ourselves in relation to God.  The Spirit speaks to us in prayer by impressing upon us the truth.

To list a few examples that are helpful for us to consider, in the light of this blog’s intended purpose of encouragement to the struggling believer,  let us begin with Holy reverence.  To help illustrate this I will use the elements of prayer sequence acronym A.C.T.S: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving,  and Supplication.

The book that I have read over and over throughout various periods of my life is R.C. Sproul’s “The Holiness of God.”  If you read anything beyond the Bible you should read this book.  If you read the Bible you may not need to read this book,  but long before I read the bible I read this book.  A bit circular you might say, but so is the bible.  Understanding the Holiness of God is a prerequisite for understanding anything about God.  You cannot know the love of God unless you know the holiness of that love.. Pick any attribute you want; goodness, righteousness, gracefulness, mercifulness, all are just human concepts unless you understand the holiness of the one who possesses them.  The Spirit of God is who impresses upon you the nature of the holiness of God.  We know he does it through the word of God by illumining our minds.  He also does it through prayer by granting us the remembrance of who it is we are speaking to.  Without the Spirit we might be able to conjure up a dreadful fear of God.  On the flip-side we might easily possess a light vanity, a careless petitioning  of a wishing well.  Never would we ever be able to harmonize the majesty and sacrificial love of the creator and sustainer of all the universe, and thus give adoration to God in prayer, telling him what we believe him to be, unless the Spirit impress upon us those beliefs.

When we confess our sinfulness to God, the Spirit gives us humility, a view of our unworthiness.  The Popish confession of sin still exists in the hearts of Protestant believers.  The notion that confession of sin in prayer in some way exonerates us from those sins, still holds many believers in bondage.  For many years I thought that in order for God to forgive a sin we have to confess it.  I think that this is taught from many pulpits today.  If we are in Christ, our sins yesterday, today, and forever are already forgiven.  The purpose the Spirit of God uses confession of sin in prayer is humiliation.  His gift to us in prayerful confession is a sense of putting us in a right understanding of our place.  We cannot repent of sin unless we acknowledge our sinfulness.

By granting  Holy reverence and humiliation, he then gives us a thankful heart.  It seems only obvious that we should be thankful, but without the Spirit’s convincing us of the two previous conditions we cannot properly advance to a posture of thanksgiving.  The most important element of this Spirit infused thankfulness is a high view of Christ.  We, being shown who Christ is as King, what he does as Priest or Mediator, the Spirit makes known to us, by Christ’s office of Prophet, all that we should be thankful for.

All the preceding gifts from the Spirit, being confirmed to us in the ascent of our prayerful progression, we approach the throne of Grace with a Spirit confirmed confidence.  We are gifted with confidence that a Holy God hears us, that he is faithful and just to have forgiven us, and that he will continue to supply us with every good gift that is in heaven above or the earth beneath.  Without this confidence we shoot blindly in the dark only hoping that we hit our mark.  We have confidence that our Father when asked for bread would in no way give us a stone.  Most of all, this confidence assures us that God will give us what we need whether we acknowledge our need or not.

As this is the last part of this series, my prayer for you, the reader, and for those who are in the household of faith might know more fully what is this Spirit that we know so little about, and how we must depend on his work in our prayers.  As we are told to pray without ceasing we cannot rightly understand what this means.  We may, however, know for sure that the Spirit never stops praying for us.  Though we may drift far from him in seasons of decline, and for our own good he may suffer us to be insensitive to his presence, by the Son’s Word, the Spirit will never forsake us.

 

Just “Desserts”

Over the last month I have posted, under the category “Parents Concerns for Children,”  seven articles designed as encouragement for believing parent’s concerns for the salvation of their children.  These were theologically accurate depictions of the spiritual condition outside of Christ and doctrinally reformed in nature.  I presume that most of my readers are reformed and covenantal so most of what I have said should come as no surprise.  However I’m sure I struck a few nerves, and my guess is that if so this post will never see the light of day or the device screen of those whom I have offended.  Sadly they will miss dessert.  In the words of Pink Floyd, at the end of their song “Another Brick in the Wall,” in the dialog between the boarding school master and his oppressed students, “If you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have any pudding. How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat?”

Well I hope you have not only eaten the meat of the last seven articles but have had time to digest.  For if you are a follower of mine you probably have noticed that for me “pudding” is music.  My treat to myself is to enjoy Rock and Roll.  Therefore, my treat to you is to share a great story of God’s remarkable grace in the life of a rock and roll superstar.

If you were a child of the seventies, or if you are a retro-rocker today, the supergroup Kansas will ring true in your ears.  Rising out of the turmoil of America’s morality revolt in the 1960’s, the British invasion of the music world, and the experimental and experiential psychedelic drug culture, came a young man with a different view on things.  Kerry Livgren was born in Topeka, Kansas.  Not a hotbed of musical invention, Topeka is not where you would look for a superstar to come from.  However, Livgren, the founder and the primary songwriter for Kansas, grew up and set a path for greatness in the heartland of America.

What is most striking about Kerry’s story is not about his musical success, Kansas having had seven albums go gold and platinum with over 30 million sold, but rather his spiritual journey.  Kerry grew up in a believing home.  He was active in his Church as a youngster and was influenced by what he saw and heard.  He was what we in the reformed community would have called a covenant child, but he was not regenerate.  It would be years later after following all sorts of religious teachings, none of which even resembled Christianity, that God brought life to his dead heart.  To better understand the story you can go to his book “Seeds of Change” or find him on the web.

Kerry’s story is what inspired me to write this series on the spiritual condition of our children.  I had recently been interested in the music of Kansas as they were noted by some friends of ours, Samantha and Zeb Snyder of the Snyder Family Band, as being influential in there own writing style.  Kerry is an exceptional guitarist and his arrangements, using an orchestral flare, are enchanting.  For me however, not being a  musician, I was drawn to the lyrics.  The two songs most popular by far for Kansas were “Carry on Wayward Son” and “Dust in the Wind,” both written and arranged by Kerry.  To hear the words, you would be safe to say that they were written during a time soon after his rebirth.  Go look the lyrics up, and within them you can see flickers of light, and rumblings of the Gospel from the apostles and prophets.  But no, Kerry was dead in trespasses and sins, under the law, broken and enslaved to the father of lies. It would be almost eight years before he was born again.

However, the seeds were there.  Planted deep in the consciousness of a young boy were sown the truths of scripture.  God chose rather late than never to germinate what was there. He would then gradually water and illumine Kerry’s growing faith.  Kerry’s newfound freedom would play a critical role going forward as a Christian in an industry not accepting of him.

I could go on and on about how Kerry Livgren has been used by God for the purposes of the Kingdom.  For my purposes here I will just make this observation.  For God to save the soul of Kerry, and many others in the rock and roll industry, gives hope that every Christian parent needs.  Wayward sons, prodigals, or rebelous youth are not final categories for your children.  Whether you are Reformed and Covenantal or you have no idea what that means and are just simply trusting in God’s sovereign will to save your child as he has saved you, you must rely on the means by which he pours forth his grace.  Pray for and with your child.  Teach your child the bible.  Don’t rely on VBS, Sunday School, youth group, or Christian school,  which by the way, are none spoken of in the bible.  Rather, per Deuteronomy 11:19, YOU shall teach them about God in your home, along the road (in the car on the way to where ever), when you lie down (sometimes when you are so tired you don’t feel like it), when you rise up, or when ever that teaching moment appears. Place your child, regardless of age, under the preaching of the Word, not in nursery or children’s church.   Encourage your child to claim what is rightfully his, the inheritance in Christ.  Do not discount the seeds that have been already planted, but rather look faithfully for their springing forth in season.

 

 

Six Situations That Aren’t Signs That Your Child Isn’t Saved

This is a great article related to this series of posts.

The Responsible Puppet

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I believe one of the most important considerations a parent can have is whether or not their child is saved. And while we often can’t know with certainty whether or not another person is saved, there are things we can look for.

A while back I posted a list of signs a child isn’t saved. Recently I been thinking about human situations that might cause a parent to fear that the child they thought was saved really isn’t.

So let’s say you have a son or daughter who understands, believes and loves the gospel. You see real spiritual fruit and sanctification in their life and you feel they are walking with Christ.

But there is something going on in their life that makes you doubt their salvation.

Here is a list of real life situations that shouldn’t.

1. He is sinful.
The Bible is clear, we all sin…

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A Case for Grief and Bitterness

We live in an age of incredible advances in technology. To contrast the changes over the last one hundred years to those of the previous century is astounding.  These advances have had ripple effects that have changed the way society does nearly everything.  However, some things never change.  Godly parents love for their children is the same now as it was in the beginning.  Nearly three thousand years ago King Solomon spoke his wisdom for our benefit.  The Proverbs are full of truths which are just as, if not more, relative today as ever before.  Edward Lawrence, who I introduced in the last post, lived in a relatively modern age (mid 17th century) as compared to Solomon, however he saw the contemporary wisdom and truisms that the Proverbs supplied.  Three hundred and fifty years later many of us today can empathize with Lawrence and King Solomon when we read Proverbs 17:25 “A foolish son brings grief to his father and bitterness to the one who bore him.”

I love the style of instruction from the Puritan era.  When these men taught and preached they did so with authority.  I can’t imagine these men sitting around in a circle with their pupils asking them, “What does this passage mean to you?  How does this make you feel?”  They were really good at laying out the facts.  Lawrence began the lesson in his treatise “Parent’s Groans Over Their Wicked Children”  with a few explicative points.  He reminds us that both genders are capable of fitting into the category of wicked and ungodly, sons and daughters.  Secondly it is ordinary for godly parents to have wicked children.  I remember the moniker PK, preacher’s kids, tagged on the infamous children of the local ministers. For some reason preachers seemed to have the worst kids, or was it that for some reason we expect theirs to be good little saints, like ours of course.  Lastly he shows that the terms wicked and foolish can be used interchangeably in scripture when identifying the unregenerate or unsaved.  From Lawrence’s perspective you most likely have wicked children.  Here is a quote that struck me as a wonderful tool to help us measure the climate of our children’s condition.  Lawrence says, “Wicked children think themselves wise, wiser than parents, masters(teachers, bosses, coaches, etc.), or ministers.” Try that on for size.  How does that fit?

Now for some of you I am not presenting any new information here.  Those who have a good handle on the nature of man outside of the life giving  power of the Holy Spirit can easily digest the fact that little Johnny most likely is dead in his trespasses and sin. Still it is hard to see our children as wicked or dead.  If we would choose one of scripture’s terms we might rather use foolish.  However, as I mentioned in my post last week, “I’m Not the Villain Here,”  foolishness is not a benign condition.  God uses foolishness to identify the worst of the worst in those whom he has given over to their desires in Romans 1:18-32.  For the sake of time I’ll let you decide if you want to read this passage and see if you would list your children in the same category as Paul does when he characterized even disobedient children as wicked fools.  Just saying!

Lawrence loved his children.  All the work that went into this booklet was originally intended as an inheritance for his children, to give them a legacy to remember what he desired most for them.  He did not speak of their success in the world, their education, nor their comforts.  His desire was to see them enter the Kingdom of Heaven on the judgement day.

So as we push ahead, and I do mean push because of the dreadful nature of the topic, I challenge you not to give up on my efforts.  After darkness, light must be our reward.  Covenant Theology does not teach that God will save every child of every saint.  But it does teach that God generally elects from within his tribe those who will serve him.  In the next post I will give some examples of God’s exceptions to the rule from scripture and the lessons he teaches through them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

tha tbeing said

500 Years On: Let’s End the Sale of Self Indulgences

Stephen McAlpine

The Protestant Church could do worse this 500th Reformation year than ending the habit that has gripped so much of the church at the pointy end of the 20th and start of the 21st centuries, namely the promulgation of self-indulgence.

Just as the Reformation was birthed by Martin Luther’s revulsion at the sale of indulgences to build St Peter’s in Rome, how about we put our hand up, and say “Nein!” to what, quite frankly is self-indulgence espoused in the name of the faith once and for all delivered to the saints.

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Self indulgence by an over-bloated, self-focussed Western Protestant Church that, in the midst of a cultural tsunami, is content with navel gazing; is in thrall to celebrity; and is all too eager to sanctify dodgy methodologies with sub-scriptural, or non-scriptural reasoning.  A bit like those medieval indulgences were if truth be told.

Carl Trueman and Amy Bird made…

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