Friday, June 22, 2018

The Vision (6.22.18): Courageous Thomas


Image: Roses, North Garden, Virginia, June 2018

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on John 11:1-16.

Then said Thomas, which is called Didymus, unto his fellowdisciples, Let us also go, that we may die with him (John 11:16).

Thomas makes this declaration upon Jesus’s announcement that he plans to go to Bethany after Lazarus had died: “nevertheless let us go unto him” (v. 15).

The disciples had earlier registered their concerns about the dangers of such a journey: “Master, the Jews of late sought to stone thee; and goest thou thither again?” (v. 8).

Now Thomas tells his fellowdisciples, “Let us go also, that we may die with him.” He recognized that this journey to Bethany might well mean not only the death of Christ but of his followers also.

There is something praiseworthy about Thomas’ words. He and the other disciples did go back with Jesus toward Jerusalem. There is something spiritually right about this. To follow Jesus one must be willing to lay down his life (cf. Luke 9:23-24; see esp. v. 24: “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.”).

Still, we know that there is also something gravely disappointing about it. Though Thomas promises loyalty to the death, he, and the other disciples, will all eventually desert the Lord Jesus when he goes to the cross. The shepherd will be struck and the sheep scattered (Matthew 26:31).

We might call the Thomas of John 11:16 “Courageous Thomas.”

But when Christ goes to the cross he will become “Fearful Thomas.”

Of course, he is best known as “Doubting Thomas,” because he will not believe that Christ has been raised from the dead: “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails…. I will not believe” (John 20:25).

Finally, by God’s grace, however, he become “Confessing Thomas” when he meets the risen Lord and confesses, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).

There is something in the fickleness of Thomas and the other disciples with which every disciple can relate. Like Thomas we are sometimes, courageous, fearful, and doubting. But, by God’s grace, we are also confessing disciples, trusting the Lord to keep us in the faith.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Scenes from CRBC's 2018 VBS



Image: CRBC kids lined up for Vacation Bible School (VBS).

We finished up the last session of our VBS today, which met Monday-Thursday, June 18-21. Great group of young people and great CRBC team working together on this ministry. Our theme this year was the life of Elijah from 1 Kings 17--2 Kings 2. In addition to Bible study and Bible songs, we also had recreation, arts and crafts, and lunch each day. I enjoyed serving as the "one room school house" Bible Study teacher. Here are a few scenes from the week:


Image: Singing Bible songs


Image: Bible verses and Elijah picture.






Images: Recreation

















Images: Arts and Crafts







Images: Lunch fellowship




Images: Water balloons


Image: 2018 CRBC VBS crew

Friday, June 15, 2018

The Vision (6.15.18): Making Himself God



Image: Hydrangea, North Garden, VA, June 2018

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on John 10:31-42.

The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God (John 10:33).

Christ’s Jewish opponents respond in v. 33 by saying that they do not seek to stone him for his good works (something of a reluctant acknowledgement of those works), “but for blasphemy.” Blasphemy is an expression of irreverence, contempt, or insult against God. It is high treason against the King of Kings and Lord or Lords. They accuse Jesus of being a blasphemer. This is a serious charge. And what is its basis? See v. 33b: “and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God.”

This seems to stem, in particular, most directly, from his immediate words in v. 30 (“I and my Father are one”), but, no doubt, it also comes from all that he has said before (including the “I am” sayings, in particular).

We might say that these opponents have properly understood what Jesus was saying about himself. They rightly understood that he was making a claim about his identity as the Son of God that makes him equal in essence, power, and glory with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit.

This is a charge that had been previously made against him in John 5:18, that he was “making himself equal with God.”

At the root here is the doctrine that will be acknowledged in later centuries in the orthodox creeds that speak of the one person of Christ being very God and very man.
This passage creates insurmountable problems for the Arians and Unitarians who suggest that the Lord Jesus was subordinate with the Father and did not claim equality with him. The charge against Christ was that he was making himself to be God!

If someone who was merely a man made such a claim the proper response would, indeed, have been the charge of blasphemy, and death was the appropriate penalty under the OT law. Compare:

Leviticus 24:16 And he that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, he shall   surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the Lord, shall be put to death.

But the followers of Jesus have always seen his claims not to be blasphemy but perfectly fitting and true.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

WM 95: Conversation with Steve Clevenger on the SBC


Image: Prayer at the SBC meeting in 2016.

I recorded and uploaded WM 95 yesterday (listen here). This episode is a conversation with Pastor Steve Clevenger of Covenant RBC in Warrenton, VA. We discuss recent tumult in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and in broader evangelicalism from the perspective of being former Southern Baptists.

In this episode I make reference to this video showing a 1993 Q & A with then newly elected SBTS seminary President Albert Mohler and to a series of youtube videos from the tumultuous 1985 SBC convention in Dallas, TX (begin here).

JTR

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Book Note: Herman J. Selderhuis's John Calvin: A Pilgrim's Life



Herman J. Selderhuis, John Calvin: A Pilgrim’s Life (IVP, 2009): 287 pp.

I just finished reading this popular level biography of Calvin by the respected Dutch church historian Herman J. Selderhuis. A Presbyterian pastor friend gave a copy to me earlier this year. I met Selderhuis back in 2016 when he was one of the plenary speakers at the Houston Baptist University’s Erasmus conference (I recorded and uploaded one of his conference addresses here). He also attended the breakout session at the same conference in which I presented my paper on “John Calvin and Text Criticism” (audio here) and offered some encouraging feedback.

This is an engaging and very readable book, chocked full of interesting anecdotes and insights on Calvin, including ones that are both well-known and lesser known, drawn from Calvin’s letters, sermons, and papers. This is a not a hagiographic work. Selderhuis does not present Cavin as a cardboard cutout Protestant saint. On the other hand, the author is clearly sympathetic to his subject and keen to defend Calvin’s legacy from popular myths and historical misconceptions (e.g., notions that Calvin was a heartless stoic, that he reveled in the death of Servetus, etc.).

The book is written in simple and arresting prose. A brief note at the back offers thanks for translation help to Albert Gootjes, though he is not credited in the front matter (p. 262). Here is a sampling of some witty quotes sprinkled throughout the book:

“Servetus’ defamations of Calvin were like ‘the barking of a dog at a pile of manure’….” (p. 33).

“When a Reformed child sits in a church, there is nothing to do but listen or read because there is nothing to look at, and at home it is barely any different” (p. 41).

On Calvin’s expansion of his Institutes over time: “Just as with children, the book kept its name and main characteristics, but in growing up it gained experience, size, and weight” (p. 45).

“Calvin suffered from an inability to accept that not everyone was as enthusiastic as he was” (p. 145).

“He was like a scholar who dealt best with people when he did not see them” (p. 165).

“That he did not much care for women can almost be seen in his appearance” (p. 167).

On limitations placed on social interactions for courting couples in Calvin’s Geneva: “In short, there was little for couples to do except read the Institutes together” (p. 181).

“Seeing himself as an Old Testament prophet, he stood in confidence and pulled no punches” (p. 202).

“Servetus was burned, but the smell of smoke has clung to Calvin’s clothes for centuries” (p. 205).

“Calvin was not made of stone, and if there are Reformed Christians who are, they are not Calvinists” (p. 254).

The overarching theme of the book is reflected in the subtitle. Selderhuis holds that Calvin saw himself as a pilgrim in this life. He had fled his beloved France to live and minister in Geneva. More importantly, as a believer, he was the kind of “alien” and “stranger” in this life described in 1 Peter and Hebrews. So, Selderhuis observes: “Calvin was a stranger who felt at home only where the gospel could make its home” (p. 251).

The closing sentence of the main body of the work is also interesting. The friend who gave me the book had cited it once while we had a discussion on assurance of salvation, and this had prompted the gift. After discussing Calvin’s anticipation of heaven, Selderhuis closes with an observation that reflects some strains of high Dutch Calvinism regarding assurance, “If I am to end up there myself, there are some things that I would like to talk to him [Calvin] about” (p. 259).

The book is excellent and commended to all. Tolle lege!

JTR

Friday, June 08, 2018

The Vision (6.8.18): Three Marks of Christ's Sheep



Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on John 10:22-30.

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me (John 10:27).

Christ here says three things about his sheep:

First, they hear his voice. The first disciples could hear the audible voice of Christ. Believers now recognize the voice of Christ in the Scriptures as they are read and taught. They recognize that Scripture is God-breathed (2 Tim 3:16). In 1 Thessalonians 2:13 Paul commends the believers for receiving the preaching of the gospel “not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.”

Second, he knows them. The shepherd has an intimate knowledge of his sheep. False professors hear Christ say to them in the end, “I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matt 7:23). Christ has known his sheep from eternity past: “those whom he did foreknow he did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:29).

Third, they follow him. Compare 10:4: “and the sheep follow him.” Following is the language of discipleship (cf. Luke 9:23). This is basic Christian language. It is not enough simply to say that one is a Christian. This will be shown in how one follows the Shepherd.

Calvin says, “the reason the name of sheep is applied to believers is, that they surrender themselves to God, to be governed by the hand of the Chief Shepherd, and, laying aside the fierceness of their nature, become mild and teachable.”

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Friday, June 01, 2018

The Vision (6.1.18): One Pasture, One Pastor



Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on John 10:16-21.
And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice: and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd (John 10:16).
After identifying the “other sheep” in v. 16 (Gentile believers and those who will come to Christ through the ministry of the apostles), the Lord Jesus proceeds to say at least three important things concerning them:
First, he describes the necessity of their salvation: “them also I must bring.” The particle dei is used here. It conveys a sense of necessity or compulsion. It is not just possible that these other sheep will be brought in by the shepherd. It is necessary. It is inevitable. Christ is compelled to bring them into his flock. What confidence this should supply to us in our evangelism! We should never be morose or discouraged. Christ must bring in all who are his.
Second, he describes their recognition of him: “and they shall hear my voice.” This demolishes any notion of “anonymous” salvation. How will they hear the voice of Christ after his ascension? In the faithful reading and preaching of his word. They will receive the external call and the internal, effectual call of God. And they will recognize the voice of their Shepherd.
Third, he describes the unity of his sheep: “and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.” Notice the “and” is in italic in the KJV, as a word supplied by the translators. In the original Greek there is a striking play on words: mia poimne [one fold or flock], eis poimen [one shepherd]. In English we might approximate this by translating: “one pasture, one Pastor.” We are the flock in his pasture, and Christ is our Pastor-Shepherd. The source of our unity is not that we are all the same but that we follow the same Shepherd.
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Calvin responds to the charge of being a "Schismatic"




There was a division therefore again among the Jews for these sayings (John 10:19).

In Calvin’s commentary on John 10:19 he reflects on the charge laid against him and other Reformed ministers of being “Schismastics”:

Thus, the wickedness of many is still the reason why the Church is troubled by divisions, and why contentions are kindled. Yet those who disturb the peace, throw the blame on us, and call us Schismastics; for the principle charge which the Papists bring against us is, that our doctrine has shaken the tranquility of the Church. Yet the truth is, that, if they would yield submissively to Christ, and give their support to the truth, all the commotions would be immediately allayed. But when they utter murmurs and complaints against Christ, and will not allow us to be at rest on any other condition than that the truth of God shall be extinguished, and that Christ shall be banished from his kingdom, they have no right to accuse us of the crime of schism; for it is on themselves, as every person sees, that this crime ought to be charged. We ought to be deeply grieved that the Church is torn by divisions arising among those who profess the same religion; but it is better that there are some who separate themselves from the wicked, to be united to Christ their Head, than that all should be of one mind in despising God. Consequently, when schisms arise, we ought to inquire who they are that revolt from God and from his pure doctrine.

JTR