Monthly Archives: December 2005

Advent Candle 3: Mercy

We lit our 3rd advent candle in celebration of God’s mercy to us in Christ Jesus. In Luke 1, mercy is definitely a theme that continues to shine through…these were my thoughts to our family…

1. God’s Mercy is upon those who fear Him. (Luke 1:50)
And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. (quoted from Psalm 103:17)

  • His use of Mary, a humble girl to accomplish this amazing act displays the pouring out of His mercy upon those who are unable to boast in their own characteristics. This conception was rooted in God’s mercy, and Mary was His vessel.

2. He has chosen Israel because of His mercy. (Luke 1:54)
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy…

  • Here Mary recounts all that God has done for his chosen people (he has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart, He has brought down rulers from their thrones and has exalted those who were humble, He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent away the rich empty handed; and the culmination of that mercy is the conception of Jesus. Mary has become theotokos the God-bearer.

3. He showed mercy in causing Elizabeth to conceive and give birth to John. (Luke 1:58)
And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.

  • She was barren! The mercy of God caused her to become pregnant and give birth to the forerunner of the Gospel! MERCY PREVAILS!
  • We shouldseparateerate this act of God from all others! Mom’s, teach your daughters that babies come from God…they are not accidents, suprises, or even planned events. They are sheer acts of God’s mercy.

4. He showed mercy in Christ to our fathers by remembering His promise. (Luke 1:72) to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant…

  • God keeps His promises. This is very helpful for children to see. We looked back at Genesis 12:3 and reflected on the promises God is keeping for us in Jesus. Over and over in Genesis we see “your descendant will be blessed or the world will be blessed through your seed.” That seed (singular by the way) is Jesus!

5. He showed mercy in bringing sinners from death to life in Christ. (Luke 1:78)
because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high…

  • Verse 78 is referring to the prophesy of John the Baptist by Zacharia. He will be the prophet of the Most High, he will go before the Lord to prepare His ways, to give to His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins. Mercy! Mercy! Mercy!
  • This is all because of the tender mercy of our God who lets the sun shine upon our faces each day. This sun shine especially reminds us of those who are in spiritual darkness who are brought into light and life through Christ (verse 79).

I read Mighty Mercy, by John Piper. (probably not the best for a 2 year old, but my 7 year old caught on to some crucial words in the rhyming scheme.)

After this, we all took turns lighting the previous candles and the “mercy candle.” We then sang “O Come all Ye Faithful”

Merry Christmas!

The Importance of Biblical Church Leadership

It is so clear to me that leadership in the local church is vital to it’s health and witness to the outside world. When I say leadership, I do not mean dynamic “styles” of communication, or “people skills.” I am not referring to politicking or “working a room.” I am referring to the biblical model of a plurality of elders that is rooted deeply in the New Testament.

One example of the fruits of this “leadership model” is found in a recent incident involving the elders at Bethlehem Baptist Church (John Piper’s church) and those at Clifton Baptist Church in Louisville KY (Tom Schreiner, teaching elder). Many of you were aware of the proposal of the elders at BBC to allow membership to those who had been baptized as infants. This letter from the elders at Clifton is a response to that proposal that grew out of a conversation at ETS this year. I encourage you to to read it, if nothing else to be reminded of the importance of baptism and the effects of “waffling” (as the letter describes) on this issue.

(to view, right click and ‘save target as’)

Download: Proposal and Response to the Elders of Bethlehem Baptist Church From The Elders Of Clifton Baptist Church

I want to observe that in this situation, the letter from the elders at Clifton has no binding authority on the course of action for the leadership at BBC. However, what an example of New Testament polity in action. To observe one body of believers, so caring for another body to lovingly disagree and seek to persuade them for the glorification of God is encouraging and inspiring. Perhaps you have not seen a practical implication of the fruit of this form of leadership until now. This type of thing is beneficial for Baptists to see who might be unfamiliar with this type of leadership.

May God make us biblical in all that we do, so that he receives glory and the church receives power!

New Married Life Link

Hey all you feisty married folks out there! I’m putting a link to a blog that will interest you. Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg Maryland is the home of C.J. Mahaney, one of my pastoral role models. He is no longer the senior pastor at CLC, as he has recently passed that role over to Joshua Harris. C.J. and his wife Carolyn are amazing people. They have a wonderful family and much wisdom on marriage and family matters. Check out the Sovereign Grace Store for books by C.J., Carolyn, and Joshua.

This blog is an outgrowth of the married ministry of Covenant Life Church and it seems very informative and creative. Lots of good ideas for date nights and well informed, theological advice on marriage and family. I’ll be listing it on my links section as Married Life Blog.

Guys–check out the blogs on Date Nights!

…”he preached the gospel to the people”…

Luke 3:18–So, with many other exhortations he preached the gospel to the people.
Our family will be looking through the eyes of John the Baptist this week as we continue to prepare for the “coming” or Advent of Christmas. Last week we celebrated the hope and expectation (see below) that the people under the Old Covenant held onto dearly. We also are hoping this Christmas season that Jesus will return soon!
This week we will be studying 4 major passages dealing with the role of John the Baptist in preparing the world for King Jesus.
  • The Birth of John Foretold: Luke 1:5-25.
  • The birth of John: Luke 1:57-66.
  • Zacharia’s Prophecy: Luke 1:67-80.
  • John Preaches and Prepares for the Messiah: Luke 3:1-20.

Poem: John the Baptist, by John Piper.

Spoken Hymn: How Beautiful the Mystery.

It seems very interesting to me to read Luke 3:18 quoted above. It says that John preached the gospel to the people! What gospel was he preaching? Jesus was just beginning his ministry…in fact he had yet to be baptized! Is this referring to John’s message of repentance? Some might argue this, but the Greek word here is the word meaning “good news.” This exact form was is used by Luke in Acts 8:40 speaking of Phillip in Azotus “preaching the gospel” in the towns. It is also used by Luke in Acts 17:18 when Paul is described as “preaching Jesus and the resurrection.”

So, the question is, what gospel is John preaching here? There has not been a cross yet! My point is that John (who is the last Old Testament Prophet) is preaching the gospel according to the Old Testament. He is using all of the Scriptures, as Jesus said in Luke 24:27, to explain that the Christ is coming. He knows that God has promised to redeem His people, thus people must repent and trust in the Messiah to come. That Messiah is the reason that we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit today, if we are believers. That Messiah is the fully God, fully man, to be acknowledged in two natures, Savior of the world!

If John could confidently proclaim the Gospel on his side of this cross, what is keeping us from proclaiming it on this side of the cross? May this Christmas be a time of celebration, proclamation and exaltation in the One true King!

The Bible in Worship

My friend and professor Dr. Jim Hamilton is the interim pastor for preaching at the Baptist Church of the Redeemer, in Sugarland, Texas. He has graciously posted a sample of their order of worship on his blog and I wanted to share it with you. This shows the beauty of a mixture of Scripture and prayer that balances out very nicely. Also, read his blog entitled Shakespearean Worship and the Emergent Church. This helped me to see the common denominator between these two approaches. Enjoy!

Advent at the Cardwell’s Home

I’m by no means putting my family forward as model for celebrating the birth of our Savior. We are far from having it all together. For example, it’s December 5th and I’ve yet to lead our first Advent family time. Better late than never I always say. We have a short history of starting late, so ideally all the preparation for this celebration should be done in early November.

Let me first say that there are many routes you can take with your family to celebrate Advent. Advent is from the Latin adventus meaning “coming.” This would be the main theme of Advent; celebrating the coming of the Son into the world. The method for doing that will need to be worked out in your family. Here is basically what we do:

My beautiful wife has arranged an Advent Wreath with different symbols that are important to our family. Traditionally the advent wreath symbolizes the eternality of God (the circle) and his endless mercy. The green of the wreath symbolizes the hope that we have in God; the newness of life with the Son. The candles (five of them) symbolize the light of Jesus coming into the world. Don’t put too much emphasis on colors here..we have one maroon, three green and one white. I know that these are not the traditional colors, but that’s ok with me. The first candle (maroon) symbolizes hope and expectation for us this year. The three green candles will represent different aspects of the coming and life of Christ (also I will use characters from the Bible to illustrate from a different angle). The white candle is the Candle of Christ, lit on Christmas day (or eve).

The wreath sits on our dining room table with the candles in the middle, with the white candle being in the very center. Each week of the Christmas season, we gather around the table, light the particular candle, read Scripture, sing and I will teach the lesson for that week.

I will try to put my notes from each week on the blog to give a taste of what this family time looks like. If you already spend time together as a family in worship each week, this is no big deal. However, if you do not regularly worship with your family, this is a great way to begin!

Our first candle will represent HOPE. We will begin by reading John Piper’s poem, Christmas Candle.

This draws attention to the anticipation of the coming of a Messiah that weaves its way throughout the Old Testament into the New. The entire Bible is focused on the coming of the Messiah, beginning in Genesis 3:15–

13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” 14 The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. 15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (emphasis mine)

It seems that from the fall God’s judgment was clothed in hope for his people. The seed of the Woman promised here is partially fulfilled through Noah, Moses and David, but ultimately comes to pass in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! He CRUSHED the head of the serpent when the work of the cross was completed.

The people of the Old Testament were patiently waiting and hoping for this Messiah! Of course this hope was realized through the birth of a baby in Bethlehemam in a stable. He grew to be a man and was crucified for our sins. That hope should also be stirred in us as we prepare for the 2nd coming of Jesus!

I hope to close our time each week by singing a hymn. One that I really enjoyed was by Eric Schumacher entitled How Beautiful the Mystery.

May God bless your time with your family this Christmas.

From Geneva to Nashville?

The soteriological (doctrine of salvation) debate still ranks as a “hot button” issue in many churches, seminaries and living rooms in my immediate context. Living in Southern Baptist circles, the topic can bring about frustration and cold responses. My hope is that this blog will help to bridge the gap between what we now see as “the Baptist Church” and the Historical Baptist Church which was rooted in Reformed Theology.

Tom Ascol, a southern Baptist scholar and pastor of the Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Florida has written on the relationship in an article that you can find here.

This is a lengthly article, but I encourage you to grab some popcorn or a beverage and enjoy it. It might take you about 30 minutes or so. (It will be worth it!) Hopefully no one will need to read from this point on, but I will summarize the article for those who are “paragraph-handicapped.”

Ascol begins to set the stage by asking the question: What Hath Geneva To Do with Nashville? Of course Geneva would be the place of ministry and study of John Calvin and Nashville referring to the headquarters of the SBC. This brief historical overview begins with the Protestant Reformation. He outlines the 5 Distinctive “solas” referred to by the Reformers: (quoting from his article)

1. Sola Scriptura: Scripture Alone
The Reformers taught that the Scripture alone is the final authority for what we must believe and how we must live. This view sounds commonplace to us today, but it was radical in the sixteenth century. For centuries the Roman Catholic Church had asserted its authority over against that of the Bible. The authority of the Pope, tradition, and councils were all regarded as authorities along with the Bible. Against that view, the Reformers asserted sola Scriptura: the Bible, and the Bible alone, is our only infallible source of authority for faith and practice.

2. Sola Gratia: Grace Alone
How can a sinful man become right with a holy God? That is always the most important religious question. It was the question that plagued Luther’s conscience and nearly drove him insane before he was converted. Rome had developed a very elaborate system in response to that question. Rome’s answer involved human works and merit–a sinner must perform sufficiently well before God if he would receive the blessing of salvation.
But through the study of the Scriptures the Reformers rediscovered that salvation is the gracious gift of God. Man contributes nothing to it. It is only by the sheer, absolute grace of God. Bible words like election and predestination, which magnify the grace of God in salvation, were rediscovered, having been largely forgotten or drained of their meaning by the mainstream of medieval Roman Catholic teachers.(2)

3. Sola Fide: Faith Alone
The Reformers taught that the means whereby a sinner is graciously justified before God is faith–not faith plus merit or faith plus works–but faith alone. Luther discovered that the Bible teaches that the sinner must place his trust in Jesus Christ in order to gain a right standing before God. Through faith alone the righteousness of Jesus Christ is imputed to the one who believes.

4. Solo Christo: Christ Alone
The Reformation rejected Rome’s requirement that common church members put their faith implicitly in the church’s teachings. Instead, they argued, Jesus Christ alone is the proper object of faith. He is to be trusted for salvation–not priests, popes, councils, or traditions.

5. Soli Deo Gloria: The Glory of God Alone
In one sense the Reformation can be seen as a rediscovery of God–a reawakening to the greatness and grandeur of the God of the Bible. It is God, not man, who belongs at the center of our thoughts and view of the world. And it is God’s glory alone that is to occupy first place in our motivations and desires as His children. He created us and the world for Himself, and He redeemed us for Himself. Our purpose is to glorify Him.

Ascol says “Certainly there are other truths which would need to be discussed in a thorough consideration of reformation theology, but these themes summarize the essence of Reformed thought. It is obvious that the Reformers did not invent these teachings. They simply rediscovered them in the Bible and brought them out into the light for all of God’s people to experience. Baptists have been greatly influenced by these Reformed themes.”

He goes on to speak of the caricatures made of John Calvin and the misunderstandings most people have of what “Calvinism” truly is. He points out rightly that he was not a man to completely model ministry and theology after. When people say that they are Calvinists, they do not mean that they want to imitate John Calvin in all aspects of ministry. They are referring to the affirmation of the doctrines of grace, outlined well in Ascol’s article. These articles were put into articulation after the Synod of Dort in 1618 and 1619. This meeting of the Dutch reformed church was intended to review the 5 points of Arminianism which are summarized as follows:

1. God elects or does not elect on the basis of foreseen faith or unbelief.

2. Christ died for every man, although only believers are saved.

3. Man is not so corrupted by sin that he cannot savingly believe the gospel when it is put before him.

4. God’s saving grace may be resisted.

5. Those who are in Christ may or may not fall finally away.

The five points of Calvinism respond to these points with biblical retort: (from the article)

1. Election is the unchangeable purpose of God whereby, before the foundation of the world, He, out of mere grace and according to His sovereign good pleasure, chose certain persons to be redeemed by Christ.

2. The death of Christ is “of infinite worth and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world” (Article III). The saving efficacy of that death extends only to the elect because “it was the will of God that Christ by the blood of the cross, whereby he confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation and language all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation and given to him by the Father” (Article VIII).

3. Though man was originally created upright, because of the Fall, “all men are conceived in sin, by nature children of wrath, incapable of any saving good, prone to evil, dead in sin, and in bondage thereto; and, without the regenerating grace of the Holy Spirit, they are neither able nor willing to return to God” (Article III).

4. Those whom God chose from eternity in Christ, He calls effectually in time and “confers upon them faith and repentance, rescues them from the power of darkness, and translates them into the kingdom of his own dear Son” (Article X). God does this by causing the gospel to be externally preached to them and powerfully illuminating their minds by His Holy Spirit, so that they may rightly understand and discern the things of the Spirit of God. By the Spirit’s work of regeneration He pervades the inmost recesses of a man; He opens the closed heart and softens the hardened heart and infuses new qualities into the will, which, though heretofore dead, He quickens (Article XI).

5. Those whom God effectually calls do not totally fall from faith and grace. Though they may temporarily fall into backslidings, they will persevere to the end and be saved.

Ascol continues to helpfully distinguish “hyper-Calvinism” from regular or strict Calvinism. (Most people that I meet who are against “calvinism” are against “hyper-calvinism.” Here is a hymn written and sung at a hyper-calvinistic church of the time: (remember–this is heresy!)

We are the Lord’s elected few,
Let all the rest be damned.
There’s room enough in hell for you,
We’ll not have heaven crammed!

Then Ascol brings the reader through the emergence of the modern Baptists in England, the general Baptists (believed in a “general understanding of the atonement”) and the particular Baptists (believed in a “particular understanding of the atonement”), and other significant beginnings in the church of America. You will also find a good summary of the roles of the Sandy Creek, Philadelphia and Charleston Associations and their respective confessions.

Basically, the thesis of Ascol is “Southern Baptists come from Reformation stock.” He argues this thesis well, and I encourage you to read his treatment of the issue.