“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”
. . . Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God . . .”
(Hebrews 12:1–15 ESV)
Have you ever felt like you’ve lost your own vision? Mission; what mission?
It is not that I have not been busy. To the contrary. There is plenty to do. For various reasons, some good and some not so good, I am just having a hard time getting the right things done.
It feels like when I played football in the pouring rain trying reach the goal-line and score a touchdown while running through a swamp with a soaked uniform and defensive back hanging from your shoulder pads.
Only its not a game, and I’m not nearly as young and athletic as I used to be.
This week I am in Enterprise, Alabama with Vicki and her family. School is over for this semester. Rick Allen is preaching this week.
Last week, I gave you an assignment to think about the various vocations God has called you into. I was deeply convicted by the image of “Big Rocks.”
Here is a video from Franklin Covey that explains what I mean by Big Rocks (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j6m9WnNdpSw).
According to research, our vision leaks out of us every 28 days. Whether the “28 days” is universally true, I don’t know, but the “vision-leak” certainly is.
I waste so much time on the small unimportant things like watching TV rather than the most important “Big Rocks” revealed in my various roles and vocational calling.
To help complete our assignment, and in light of being deeply convicted myself my “Big Rocks” being displaced by “small rocks”, during this week off, I wanted to revisit my own personal mission statement and core values.
However, I discovered a problem. My personal mission and core values are essentially the same ones I used as mission and core values for our church (www.hickorygrovepca.org) during its replanting phase twelve years ago.
This created confusion. Are these our churches core values, or are they my core values? Well, yes . . . Should they be the same? Though they were mine before they were the churches, I don’t know. I’m interested in your opinions.
Leaving that question, I did revisit, edit and re-aquaint myself with these important core values. This was a good exercise for me to personally re-state my core values in the first person singular.
This is helping me to take ownership of how I have done individually in these areas, rather than excusing myself.
For the rest of the week, I plan to set some personal goals in these areas that will provide a weekly compass for planning weekly and daily activities rather than being tyrannized by the urgent and often unimportant.
The goal is to re-focus on what is most important in those various vocational callings God has given (Son, Husband, Father, Teaching Elder/Pastor, PhD Student, Presbyter/Brother, Citizen/Neighbor).
It would be interesting to get some feedback on what some of you think about these core values, how they should be shaped differently for us as a church, and how we can together re-aquaint ourselves with the most important “Big Rocks.”
Also, I would like to hear from you about how you are doing on your assignment and your core values and various vocations.
The Gospel IS the Power of God for Worship, Missions and Renewal.
Worship, Missions, and Renewal result from “living in line with the gospel.” They are interconnected. One does not exist without the others, and none exist without Christ working through the Holy Spirit is us.
The Gospel is the Power of God for Worship. God is the audience of our worship. In worship, our small faith grows as the Holy Spirit works ongoing repentance, faith and obedience in our hearts. This results in greater receiving of God’s love leading to deeper worship.
The Gospel is the Power of God for Missions. The Gospel is God’s mission to us, and fuels our mission to others. We desire for others to know the the saving grace of the Triune God, and partner with us in God’s mission to extend His good news locally, nationally and globally.
The Gospel is the Power of God for Renewal. The power to become a Christian and the power to live in the already-not yet of this life have the same source – The Gospel. When I am growing personally in “repentant-faith” being continually renewed by the Gospel inside-out, renewal overflows leading others to the Throne of Grace resulting in worship and missions to God’s glory and for our joy.
Because God is at work in me, I am “receiving grace upon grace through faith” in Christ. Faith more than believes; faith actively and presently receives from Christ’s work. Jesus knows my weakness. When I am weak he is strong. I can trust him, and actually move out in weakness while resting in his strength. I am not an orphan. He will never leave me nor forsake me.
Because God is at work in me, I love others in my various vocations through faith as I have been loved by God. Love is the multifaceted fruit of the Spirit that reveals God’s joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control; salvation that works out in me to others. “I love because God first loved me.” God loves to give his Spirit to those who ask him.
Because God is at work in me, I practice relational evangelism and biblical hospitality in my vocational callings. Opening my life to the needs of others, especially my family, I realize more of my own self-centeredness and great need for Jesus. Otherwise I will become stale and hard-hearted, and over time “in-grown” losing God’s heart for the lost. There is no better way to be dispossessed of my own self-righteousness than to love others different from me.
Because God is at work in me, I am enjoying Repentance. I don not run away from my Heavenly Father because of my sin, rather I run to my Father with my sin because of Christ. My “anxious fears” and “offensive ways” break intimacy with God. Because my heart is deceitful and wicked above all things, I cannot see the organic network of sin driving my sinful behaviors and over-desires. Even though seeing my sin initially may feel mean and harsh, I realize worldly sorrow leads to death. The Holy Spirit brings a godly sorrow that leads to life. Though painful, I am discovering joy in repentance, as the barriers to intimacy between God and me are removed.
Because God is at work in me, I am intentionally taking risks with and for others for the sake of the Gospel. The Gospel is too glorious for me to personally consume its goodness and not share it’s riches and joy with others. If I consume the gospel without sharing it, I naturally die inside. Good news is shared. If I am not sharing God’s good news, then I am saying his good news is not all that good. The Gospel is living water flowing into and out of the disciple. I am someone who is free to fail often and needs lots of grace, because I actively risk participating in God’s mission. When Christian growth is reduced to my personal change, I miss participating in the story of Christ bringing in His new creation.
Because God is at work in me, I am leading in Repentance and Faith. The Gospel has brought me into a family relationship with God. The same Gospel power sustains me in God’s family and changes me. Therefore, leading in ongoing repentance, faith and obedience characterizes how I live before others. I will be a sinner-safe Christian with whom it is safe to risk sharing problems and failures openly. I will not mistake “sinner-safe” with antinomianism, or “success” with legalism. I all grow to love God’s law while trusting his Fatherly discipline calling what he calls sin “sin”, and living in the light his presence
Because God is at work in me, I am working as unto the Lord. Justification by faith alone is true. I bring none of my works to God in an attempt to achieve merit, favor, acceptance or justify myself with him. Rather I receive the work of Christ on my behalf as my only rightness with God. Since the work underneath all my work is complete, I can rest more deeply than I’ve ever rested, and work harder than I’ve ever worked. All my work done by faith in Christ, no matter how successful or unsuccessful, is sacred to God. When I work to merit approval, acceptance, or rightness with God, my work will never be good enough. I cannot work hard enough to achieve what I have already freely received.
One day I received a note from some family members who knew that I was in the middle of a class studying Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. These particular members of my family have not attempted to mask their dislike of Calvin nor what is commonly known as Calvinism or Reformed Doctrine.
The note was intended to be a gentle warning from ones who dearly love us and want our best. Specifically, our family warned that we should not be too endeared to Calvin. After all, he was a miserable man who led a sad life without happiness. It was okay to learn from him, but not to imitate him, or else we too would be miserable and God did not intend on us living that way.
It would be one thing if I had heard this from only one source. But, unfortunately, this mindset is not rare. Listening to the popular preacher Adrian Rogers before he died, I heard him declare on a radio broadcast that his primary goal before retiring from ministry was to discredit John Calvin and Calvinism.
Most people that I know who are aware of the life of John Calvin caricature him as coldly austere, intolerant, mean, and belligerent; unable to get along with anyone.
Historical revisions have been unkind to John Calvin and his impact and teachings are largely ignored outside of reformed circles though this is changing. Yet often those of us in the reformed tradition have been effective in engendering such rejection among fellow believers by the way we (“the so-called frozen chosen”) un-biblically treat others.
Rather than approaching Calvin from the doctrines of grace, unlike Calvin, we abstract God’s sovereignty from his fatherhood ending in endless esoteric debates over predestination and free-will.
Nonetheless, after reading the Institutes of John Calvin, it is clear that this mechanistic, cold-hearted paradigm of John Calvin is false. We need another paradigm for understanding the historical John Calvin.
The goal of this essay is to present the historical person John Calvin that will provide a framework for reassessing our paradigms of him.
II. Historical Context of Calvin:
Calvin is very much a second-generation reformer, enjoying the benefits of those who came before as well as bearing the cost of their mistakes.
Calvin was a young man when he came to Geneva. The Reformation had been well under way. Luther had inflamed the world with his the gospel recovery of Justification by Faith Alone.
Calvin was a lawyer by training. His logic and legal acumen are clearly expressed in the Institutes.
It was a time of great trial for the church. On the one hand, Martin Luther was aging and wasn’t doing a great deal to bring about the unity that Calvin so longed for. On the other hand, Calvin also recognized the import of Luther’s reformational teaching.
During this time, the plague swept through Europe killing two students who were living in Calvin’s home.
Other plagues also swept Geneva. Calvin was plagued by slander on ever side. His letters were stolen and misrepresented to his consistory. During Calvin’s first years, the consistory often forgot to pay him, and when they did, it was only a pittance. After being run out of Geneva, and going six months without pay, he was still accused by his detractors as being in ministry only for acquisition of property.
Calvin was also plagued by physical illnesses. “Apart from his headaches…”, Calvin also suffered from “spitting blood when he preached too much… consumption which eventually took his life at fifty-five… abscesses that would not heal… gallstones, fever, kidney stones, intestinal influenza, and too all this was added arthritis.”
And with all that, his son James, and his wife Idelette died.
This gives us but a distant glimpse of what John Calvin suffered while living in this broken world.
“We today are keenly aware of our own particular problems, but we can not pronounce John Calvin as ‘a man of like problems as ourselves.’ Our discouragements are intermittent, but for him they flowed down the years in an unbroken stream…”
One of his own countrymen once wrote: “One must remember, . . . that he who fought against a world of deadly enemies was a very sick man.”
III. Reclaiming Calvin the Pastor
Nonetheless, though Calvin experienced no end to his troubles in this world, the Institutes and his other writings clearly demonstrate that he was a man full of gratitude for the great love shown to him by his heavenly Father.
The proper attitude for analyzing Calvin’s teaching is his own historical context as a person rather than anachronistically through our modern lens, or even through the lens of Protestant Scholasticism leading to the Synod of Dordt and the “Five Points of Calvinism” sixty years after Calvin had died.
We typically abstract and systematize Calvin and his teaching by uncritically accepting historically revised presentations of him and his work disregarding his particular sitz em leben.
This impersonal abstract knowledge divorced from time and space offers little if any contemporary application, and inculcates ridicule of a man whose theology was pastorally worked out in the mission of the church.
“Calvin’s ministry, as marked and memorable as it was in so many other respects”, seen properly as a whole, “was essentially one of encouragement… The Lord was his focal point; not man, circumstances, sin, self-examination, the church, . . . , vitally important though these were, but the Lord.”
In doing so, especially in his letters, we begin to catch a vision of who John Calvin was as a man, pastor, husband and father.
Calvin loved the Lord and his neighbor. “For most of Calvin’s ministerial life his home was the habitat of babies, children and teenagers. It was a haven for students.”… All of his writing and ministering was not done “in an ivory-towered academic tranquility but against a background of teething troubles, growing pains, and questioning.”
Our tendency is to read Calvin through the lens of Protestant Scholasticism. Seeing Calvin as a person, amidst the normal activities of life, struggling to work and love other people, helps us see him as a real person who loved Scripture rather than a heady logical systematic theologian locked up in a scholastic white tower.
In his own setting, Calvin undertook his ministerial work to pastor those around him. He was a counselor, a friend, a confidant. He wrote to kings, queens, and aristocrats, as well as orphans widows and paupers.
He went to the bed of a friend’s son dying of the plague, risking his own health and safety, to comfort this young man, and he paid the hospital bills and the cost of the funeral.
John Calvin provided hope and comfort to the persecuted in England and France. He gently rebuked, corrected, and encouraged leaders in the reformation including Luther, Melancthon, and Bullinger.
Aside from his pastoral duties, “the flood tide of Calvinistic literature reached its height in 1562. Toward the end of the period some sixty printers were at work on thirty-four presses… It was the largest single industry in the city and in one way or another absorbed the attention of much of the population.”
“Today, Calvin’s works comprise 59 volumes, not to mention the unpublished works which are still being produced, among which are some 4000 letters and 2000 sermons.”
I am not sure that we can gain more appreciation for this man we know as John Calvin than to listen to the words of his secretary, Nicholas des Gallars, who saw and interacted with Calvin virtually every day. Des Gellars writes to the printer Jean Crespin:
“When I look back upon his frankness and integrity, his affectionate benevolence towards me and the familiar intimacy which I enjoyed for sixteen years, I cannot but grieve for my separation from such a friend or, I would say, such a father. What labours, watchings and anxieties did he endure! With what wisdom and perspicacity did he foresee all dangers and how skillfully did he go out to meet them! No words of mine can declare the fidelity and prudence with which he gave counsel, the kindness with which he received all who came to him, the clearness and promptitude with which he replied to those who asked for his opinion on the most important questions, and the ability with which he disentangled the difficulties and problems which were laid before him. Nor can I express the gentleness with which he would console the afflicted and raise the fallen and distressed, or his courage in adversity and moderation in prosperity.”
What a eulogy! It is hard to imagine someone with whom I had spent sixteen intimate years, after my death, writing of friendship and ministry in such a way.
Only upon seeing this man in his historical setting, who lived the Christian life day in and day out, who walked by repentance and faith, are we able to adequately and properly consider Calvin’s theological contributions.
The doctrine of John Calvin is not abstract or inhuman, divorced from real life, floating around in thin air seeking for application as it were. Rather, his teaching is living application, or a J. Gresham Maachen so aptly put it: a life built on doctrine.
IV. Update: Salutatory Prayers of a Pastor-Theologian
When people react negatively to hearing the name John Calvin, I have often thought about the above (now somewhat edited) paper I had written nearly twelve years ago for Dr. David Calhoun while studying Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion.
At times, I attempted to counter critics of Calvin by sharing his pastoral heart and explaining the importance of hearing Calvin in his own historical and cultural context rather than uncritically swallowing modern, cynical, “predetermined and fatalistic” historically uninformed revisions erroneously portraying Calvin as “deterministic” and “fatalistic.”
This week, while researching for a PhD assignment on The Impact of the Recovery of Adoption on Evangelism (in process), I have been reading a dissertation entitled An Historical Study of the Doctrine of Adoption in the Calvinistic Tradition by Dr. Tim J. R. Trumper.
In Trumper’s dissertation, he provides so much more evidence of Calvin’s pastoral heart. Finally, after reading consecutive references to salutary prayers written in letters by Calvin to people and groups he loved and pastored, I decided to dust of my old paper, add these benedictory prayers to it, and share it with others.
One may still consider Calvin cold and harsh. Apart from being historically inaccurate, it robs the church of reading and understanding Calvin truly as an extraordinary pastor-theologian. Without question, had John Calvin been the person modern history depicts him as, no one then or now would bother.
Believe me, I have not always been a Calvinist. Reconsidering John Calvin in his historical context profoundly changed my view of him as a person and his ministry, enriched my understanding of the reformed faith, and deepened my love for the doctrines of grace he championed so effectively.
Instead of the doctrines of grace being abstract, esoteric and dead, they became personal, covenantal, living and loving orthodoxy; a change similar to that experienced reading Augustine’s City of God again after having read his Confessions.
My guess is that the doctrines of grace are so offensive to our darkened hearts and the gospel is so powerful that it seems easier to attempt assassination of the messenger than it is to kill the message.
Enjoy the pastoral heart of this theologian and pastor John Calvin as he continues to pray and pastor us today. May we who pastor and study theology admit our own need of fervent prayer while praying for and pastoring God’s people in such a way.
“Whereupon, my well beloved brethren, after having commended myself to your fervent prayers, I entreat our heavenly Father to hold you in his holy protection, to guide you by his Spirit in all prudence and uprightness, to confirm you in full virtue and constancy, and to make use of you more amply, not permitting his enemies to gain any advantage over you, whatever they may devise. – Your brother, John Calvin” (Letter to the Brethern of Poitou, Sept 3, 1554)
“Whereupon, beloved brethren, having commended myself to your fervent prayers, I supplicate our heavenly Father to be to you as a fortress and rampart against all your enemies, to support you in the midst of their fury, in the mean time to govern you by his Holy Spirit in upright wisdom and charity, so that, in despite of Satan and his agents, his name may be glorified in you to the end.” (To the Church of Angers, April 19, 1556)
“Whereupon I pray our heavenly Father to give you counsel and prudence, to mortify all disorderly passions; and in general to have you in his keeping, to fortify you with his invincible power, and to prevent what he has built up in you from falling into ruin. My brethren greet you, and I especially desire to be commended to your fervent prayers.” (To the French Church of Frankfort, Feb 23, 1559)
“For my own part, I could wish that God had given me the means of being nearer at hand to assist you, but since that is not possible I will pray our merciful Father that since he has confided you to the keeping of our Lord Jesus Christ, he would cause you to feel how safe you are under so good a protector, to the end that you may cast all your cares upon him; and that he would be pleased to have compassion on you and all those who are in affliction, delivering you from the hands of the ungodly. And as he has once made you partakers of the knowledge of the truth, that he would, from day to day, increase you therein, making it bring forth fruits to his glory.” (To Bullinger, Jan 25, 1560)
 Tait, p. 59
 Tait, p. 55
 Tait, p. 56-7
 Tait, p. 49
 Tait, p. 57
 Tait, p. 43
 Tait, p. 55-6
 Tait, p. 58
 Tait, p. 58
 Tait, p. 43
 Trumper, Timothy. An Historical Study of the Doctrine of Adoption in the Calvinistic Tradition. 2001; p. 179-180.
Lieutenant Colonel Don Robert McEachern went peacefully to be with his Lord and Savior on Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013, in Nashville, TN after a period of declining strength and health which he endured with patience and humor. The span of his earthly pilgrimage was eighty-eight years, two months and three days.
The only son of Don and Mayhoward Austin McEachern of Jacksonville, Florida, Col. McEachern married Bette Whitehurst on
New Year’s Day in 1948. He bravely served his country as a Marine Corps pilot in the Korean War, during which time he was awarded numerous medals,
including the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Purple Heart. After graduating from the University of Florida with a degree in mechanical engineering, he became a loyal employee of E. I. DuPont de Nemours Co. in South Carolina and in Old Hickory, Tennessee.
Col. McEachern faithfully served the Lord as a founding elder of Hickory Grove Church in Mt. Juliet, TN and as a founding member of the Rafiki Foundation, a mission organization devoted to meeting the needs of widows and orphans in Africa.
Col. McEachern was a steadfast servant to his family, and his concern for their welfare was voiced again in his final days. He was a loving brother, husband, father, grandfather and great- father, and an example to all in his church and community. His strength of character, his humility, and his gentle, generous heart will be missed.
Survivors include wife Bette, of the home; daughters Beverly Coffee and son in-law Gary, of Nashville, TN, Barbara McLaughlin and son in-law Chip, of Prescott, AZ, Bonnie Lloyd and son in-law Kevin, of Philadelphia, PA; son Don McEachern, Jr. and daughter in-law Christi, of Mt. Juliet, TN; grandchildren Kirsten, Aaron, Taylor, Katherine, Dylan, Grace, Reynolds, Molly, and Tripp; great-grandson Caden; sisters Jeanne Thune, Candi Ray, Rosemary Jensen, Cecil Young, and Austin Brayfield; and nineteen nieces and nephews.
“Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them” (Revelation 14:13).
Services are with Middle Tennessee Veterans Cemetery located at 7931 McCrory Lane Nashville, TN 37221 on Monday January 28, 2013 at 11:00 AM.
Visitation will be with Hibbett & Hailey Funeral Home located at 429 Donelson Pike Nashville, TN 37214 on Sunday January 27, 2013 from 4:00 PM – 8:00PM.
Remember the Magic of Christmas?
I certainly do. One Christmas my fishing pole I received for Christmas disappeared. On another Christmas my train broke. And yet on another, I drove my cousins go-cart into a tree.
For years I searched for that fishing pole, hoping it would turn up, but could never find it. I had asked for a fishing pole for Christmas. Fishing poles are important in Bayou La Batre when you spend all your time after school and during the summer on or around the water.
Add to it that I could sell all the fish I caught, you can see why I wanted a fishing pole.
Entering the living room, I was really excited to discover my first ever fishing pole. It was sort of strange though. My new fishing pole from Santa looked exactly like my brothers old fishing pole from years before.
I wondered how this could be. It didn’t matter. New or old, I had this great gift.
Its funny, fish don’t bite as well during the winter. But there I stood on the dock with my bait in the water, freezing to death from the wind.
I placed my wonderful fishing pole in a closet at the fish plant that night thinking it would be safe. I never saw that fishing pole again.
Losing the Magic of Christmas
Reflect with me on Christmas past. What was Christmas morning like for you?
Not everyone has a good experience at Christmas. For some Christmas has become a time of despair, pain, loss and loneliness.
Perhaps you can remember a time when it used to be magical; full of anticipation so much so you could hardly sleep on Christmas Eve.
As I look back, I don’t have any of those gifts I received on Christmas. Some disappeared like my fishing pole, some were broken, some simply wore out, some I threw away, and some I outgrew.
Often during Christmas, preachers moralize materialism and enslaving consumerism of our country, how we need to do with less, how Santa is not God.
Lately I’ve heard many Christians piously denouncing Santa altogether as unreal.
It sounds holy. But it is simply another naturalistic confusion of physical reality (what I can see and touch), a modern form of magic claiming there is no invisible world, and history doesn’t matter.
True myths and legends are real historical stories we have received and pass on that connects us with our past and allows us to celebrate, dream and imagine.
Had you spoken long ago with that first Saint Nicholas, he would have wanted to talk to you about Jesus.
Jesus Loves to Receive Gifts Too!
So I want you to remember the magic of Christmas. Even if now it is not so magical. Remember your favorite memories, because I want to tell you about the most magical Christmas Jesus ever had.
That’s right! Jesus Loves to Receive Gifts from His Father Too!
“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out… And this is the will of Him who sent me, THAT I SHOULD LOSE NOTHING OF ALL THAT HE HAS GIVEN ME, but raise it up on the last day.” (John 6:37, 39)
Theologians and scholars historically have referred to this gift-giving between the Heavenly Father and the Eternal Son as the pactum salutis, the Covenant of Redemption before the foundation of the world.
We have turned the meaning of Christmas on its head, and as a result, the magic is lost to our culture numbing “make-everything-about-me” experience.
Therefore, I have made it a Christmas tradition at Hickory Grove to remind you of the greatest gift ever given at Christmas.
The Greatest Christmas Gift Ever!
Whenever I asked “What is the greatest gift God ever gave at Christmas?” the answer the same, easy and quick, usually with a “duhhhh”: “Jesus of course!”
The follow up question always throws people, and exposes the central problem with Christmas in particular and Christianity as a whole.
Who can possibly argue that God giving Jesus is certainly the greatest gift ever given. I do!
So I ask, “What are other great gifts God gave at Christmas?”
First their is confusion and uncertainty. Their original confidence begins to dissipate as they think more deeply.
Often, with less conviction, some will say: “The Holy Spirit, fruit of the Spirit, gifts of the Spirit?” These too are certainly all great gifts too.
Don’t feel judged or bad because you may be confused about the greatest gift ever given at Christmas. I responded exactly the same way when my mentor Jeff Salasin asked me years ago.
But let’s think again about all those Christmas’ past. What is the problem when Christmas is about the gifts we receive?
The gifts we receive at Christmas from Santa provide a helpful analogy for how we also typically receive the gifts of God to us, that is, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and all his good gifts.
If you are a Christian, you remember the magic of first receiving Jesus as a gift; the great joy of a clean conscience, forgiveness, hope, life.
But what happened to these gifts over time? What happened to that original joy and love? We lose our first love.
Universally, throughout history and continuing today, Christians have made idols of, manipulated, lost, forgotten, misused, damaged, abused, neglected, and taken for granted God’s gifts.
So, if the greatest gift God has ever given at Christmas is to give Jesus to us, we are in trouble.
However, the greatest Christmas gifts God has ever given, is not giving Jesus to us.
The Greatest Christmas gifts God has ever given is that God gave you to Jesus!
This is exactly what John 6 says.
John 6 is about the gifts that the Father has given to His Son.
Unlike us and our gifts, when Jesus receives his gifts from the Father, he promises to treasure these gifts forever: “I will not lose one of these precious gifts that you have given me.”
He will not get tired of his gifts, or bored with his gifts, or lose even one of these gifts, and he will not take any of his gifts for granted.
But when he looks at the gifts his Father has given him, they are mess. We are not presentable to the Father. So he leaves his throne, empties himself for our sakes, becomes a man for the purpose of living the life that we should have lived, and dying the death we should have died in order to present us as holy and blameless to his Father.
Now we have arrived at the heart of Christmas.
Remember the anticipation and joy of Christmas when you received your gifts. And consider the great joy Jesus in receiving you as a gift from His Father.
Even, “For the joy that was set before Jesus, He endured the cross, suffering its shame” to become both the author and perfecter, the champion and finisher of your faith in Him.
Thank God! Christmas is infinitely more about God giving you to Jesus as a gift, than it is about Jesus being given to you a gift.
This Christmas, Jesus is saying to you, at the costs of his own life, “I will lose nothing of all that the Father has give me, and raise it up on the last day.” Trust Him alone for all your salvation.
Because you have been given to Jesus as a gift from His Father, that original Santa and I wish you a very merry Christmas in Jesus Name!
Love in Christ, Mike
All I could think about was returning home to see Vicki and the kids.
During my extended time in India, God sustained me largely through the care of my Indian brother, Kiran Kumar. Fast forward five years, our roles are reversed. Kiran is in the States, and his wife, Praveena, is in India.
In August 2012, after much prayer and questioning, Kiran, leaving his wife behind in India, enrolled at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, MS. Seminary in America is expensive for anyone, but for an Indian with a Dalit background, it is a great opportunity almost always out of reach.
Kiran, had been working with MTW, and was instrumental in planting the Presbyterian Church of South India.
As you can imagine, many of us questioned Kiran about the wisdom of his going to seminary in the States without Praveena. Though this is perhaps more of an American question than Indian, nonetheless, we all agreed it was not a good idea for Praveena and Kiran to be separated. Kiran and Praveena labored over this decision.
Uncertain, he took several courses through RTS Virtual Campus to see if he could actually do the work. He also considered seminary in India, and was encouraged to go to Philippines if he wanted to study outside his home country.
In the end, Kiran and Praveena continued being drawn to RTS, though it remained cost prohibitive.
Kiran told me several times that “We can’t afford it anyway, so if God doesn’t provide financially, that is an answer to prayer.” So they prayed.
The prohibitive cost began to change when Kiran received 100% tuition scholarship for tuition from Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson Campus, along with a job in the library to help offset living expenses.
What remained was room and board, $16,000 per year, about $8000 per person, plus travel expenses to US and Kiran’s English-language proficiency course. In order to obtain a student visa, these funds have to be deposited with the school upfront.
Since RTS rarely gives 100% scholarships to anyone, they could not hold Kiran’s place and needed to know soon if Kiran was to enroll.
Enough funds were provided for Kiran to come, but not for Praveena. It would take everything Kiran and Preveena had plus a loan from a friend for the English class.
Should Kiran come alone, hoping God would provide for Praveena to join him? Or should they turn down this great opportunity to study at RTS?
Difficult decisions are not usually simple choices between right and wrong. We generally know how to answer those questions. The most difficult choices are usually trying to decide between right and almost right.
Together, Kiran and Praveena decided Kiran should come to the states.
Immediately, to mitigate their time apart, we attempted to help Praveena obtain a tourist visa rather than a student spouse visa. This would allow to Praveena to come with Kiran for six months while we raised the funds required by RTS to issue academic forms necessary to obtain a student spouse visa.
However, Praveena’s application for a tourist visa was denied with instructions for her to apply for the student spouse visa. Of course we agreed that it was better for Praveena to come to US on a student spouse visa.
Denying our legal attempt to temporarily end-run the system, meant Praveena would need $8000 before she would be granted a student spouse visa ($6,000 for RTS, and $2,000 travel).
The $6,000 for living expenses at RTS is actually an annual requirement to prove that foreigners can live in the US. However, depositing funds in advance is not an ongoing requirement once a student is enrolled on campus.
This is because international students are often provided internships in their field of study and can earn enough to meet their living expenses.
Along with helping Praveena get to US, we also desire for Kiran to intern during the summers in Nashville. He will be working during the school year in Jackson. Between Nashville, Jackson, and on-campus employment, Kiran and Praveena should be sustained while they are here.
Currently Kiran and Praveena are speaking daily by Skype in India. Praveena is staying with her parents in Kavali.
This week we received another answer to pray even before I asked for help. One donor provided $6000 for Praveena that will meet the RTS deposit requirement.
What remains is travelling funds to get here, and a few supporters, both one time gifts and monthly donors willing to help fund an an internship for Kiran and Praveena in Nashville for the next three summers while they are in the states before re-taking up their work back in India.
When Kiran was with me this week, we actually visited an Indian supermarket on Nolensville Road that rivaled an American supermarket. It was packed with Indians.
Kiran and I had been talking about his working with Bridge International, our international church plant, helping us reach the increasing Indian population in Nashville that would have ongoing connections — Nation2Nation — with the Presbyterian Church of South India.
What looked like a super-market when we first entered, looked like a church plant by they time we left.
Kiran spent his fall break with us. While he and Praveena are in Nashville during breaks, holidays and summer internships, they will be living with the Grahams. If we don’t drive them crazy, this will allow them to have no living expenses, saving what they earn as interns to help with school living expenses.
Please don’t feel like you have to give financially.
You can intersect with this ongoing gospel story by praying for Kiran and Praveena. You also can call or write to encourage them so they will experience acceptance by the family of God here rather than as aliens in a foreign. Or you can just simply get caught up in God’s story through their story.
Usually my main reason for writing is to share the Gospel story in some way to encourage others in Christ. The power of the Gospel includes creating faith in our unbelieving hearts.
In any case, you are free in Christ!
Secondarily, if you want to give financially that would great too. You can send a check made out to Nation2Nation, c/o Hickory Grove Church, PCA, 84 South Greenhill Road, Mount Juliet, TN. 37122.
Please designate checks for “Kiran/Praveena” so we can make sure your gift us used as intended. Kiran and Praveena had an arranged marriage.
They hardly knew each other prior to marriage. Vicki and I had only dated for two months before being engaged, and as we soon found out, we also hardly knew each other.
Without going into details, Kiran’s marriage didn’t start well. For whatever reason, God had given Kiran and I a relationship where he felt safe to open up. Being vulnerable was a huge risk for Kiran and is not often done in this culture.
After teaching throughout the day, on several nights, and during several visits, Kiran and I had what I would call informal marriage counseling.
Can you imagine the oddity? Me, a southern American who had what Indian’s call a “love marriage”, counseling a south Indian guy who had an “arranged marriage”? We could make a comedy out of that.
But, though weakness, sin, and brokenness may take different hues across culture, generation, race, and class. That we are all weak, sinful, and broken, desperately in need Jesus, universally transcends those same barriers.
So, when Kiran and I were driving this week to one of our meetings, Kiran was thinking about having been apart from Praveena for two months. He was afraid to hope she could join him. But with people wanting to help, the intense anticipation that she could be joining him soon, caused him to notice the radical transformation.
Kiran asked me, “Do you remember four years ago? The way things were in our marriage?”
Of course I remembered. I saw the brokenness and pain.
Then, Kiran said, “Then, all we wanted to do was get away from each other. Now, neither of us can stand being apart, and all we want is to be back together!
This transformation was far more than a sentimental “absence makes the heart grow fonder.”
This is exactly what Kiran said: “THE GOSPEL SAVED MY MARRIAGE!”
And I agreed, “MINE TOO!”
And to be perfectly clear, it is the Gospel that keeps on saving and sustaining our marriage.
Love in Christ, Mike Graham
Grahamline will become a personal family blog of personal reflections and other articles of interest.
Of course these study questions, written sermons and podcasts should have always been posted on our church website.
But the reality is that I didn’t know what I was doing, and took the easy way.
As our church website is being upgraded, you can now find the relevant information there.
Sorry for the inconvenience.
Love in Christ, Mike
Scripture Intro: Our Missions Committee has that we designate next week as Missions Sunday. In preparation, I would like to give you an assignment.
Our missions committee would like to build a running list of missions agencies and missionaries that you may be supporting indirectly.
What we want to do is to encourage and facilitate ways you can give out of the abundance God has given you, whether it is through the local church or to a particular missionary or agency that God. Some designate some of their giving to a particular mission/person through the church.
What we simply like you to introduce us to them and help us build a master list of ministries and people so that we can get to know them as a church, and pray for them with you.
So would you let the Missions Committee know who they are by emailing Jennifer Spencer at the church.
On the subject of Missions, over the last month I’ve read a number of books making the point that all our missionary activity begins with The Trinitarian Heart of God and the double sending of God’s Mission sending His Son, and the Father and the Son sending the Spirit.
From this starting point, every Sunday is Christmas and every Sunday is Missions Sunday where we come to receive afresh God’s mission to us by receiving His gifts of grace.
Next week we will look at God sending His only Begotten Son from the famous passage in John 3:16 which ties in so well this week with Romans 8:3-4. What does it mean that God sent His Own Son?
Sermon Intro: My younger kids can hardly remember. But when I asked Mary Helen if she remember the Hampton Court Maze, she said, “I hated that Maze.”
We could have gotten a map that showed us clearly the way through the maze. But that wouldn’t have been challenging enough. I assured them it would be fun and easy to stumble our way through.
We now personally understand the British humorist who tells about two people walking through the Maze, “Well just go in there so that you can say you’ve been. It’s very simple. It’s absurd to call it a maze.” That was me telling the kids how much fun it would be.
“Keep on taking first right. Walk around for 10 minutes, and we’ll get some lunch.” Again that was me telling tim how easy it would be trying to get them to keep walking.
“They kept on walking turning to the right. It seemed such a long walk they supposed it was a big maze, one of the biggest in Europe. Yes, it must be because we’ve walked a good two miles already.” One of the kids made a similar observation.
After walking, walking, and more walking in circling back on ourselves, eventually, throwing our hands up in confusion and frustration, we quit and walked through the nearest tourist exit defeated.
Fallen Condition: Paul begins turning a corner in Romans 8:4 with the idea of “walking”, the Christian walk, the Christian life, when he says“who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
Many of us are walking the Christian life as if God has us in something like the Divine of Hampton Court Maze even though Paul has laid out the map beforehand for us to follow.
Some, have taken a right at sanctification too soon in chapter 7, and now you are lost in what seems like the maze of salvation, frustrated. You’ve been grinding it out in your own strength, and can’t understand why God would make it so difficult and confusing.
Some have been delivered from the law, but are circling back to the law giving the law a power to justify and transform you, a power it was never meant to have. Or, tired of the law, you just take the tourist exit, the easy way out of lawlessness or accept the middle way of being a carnal Christian.
The Christian life does include a walk, but it is not a confusing maze. In Romans 8:28-30, a more definite order of salvation will emerge, what has been referred to as the order of salvation.
In Romans 8:3-4 Paul connects what the Westminster Shorter Catechism calls the Three Primary Works/Benefits of Salvation, to the Three Primary Agents of Salvation, all committed to the One Goal of Salvation.
Proposition: Keep Walking according to God’s Spirit,
Because God the Father Sent His Own Son to Justify and Sanctify His Adopted Children.
Billboard: The Three Primary Works, The Three Primary Agents, All committed to The One Goal
M/P1: The Three Primary Works of Salvation
We have already covered these three works elsewhere in Romans — justification, adoption and sanctification before. Paul is not saying anything new in chapter 8 that he hasn’t already said.
What I want to you to see are these three works connecting to each other, and their three agents of salvation.
The first work is justification. Notice we have the same word “condemned”, that is “condemned sin in the flesh” in vs. 3 that we had in vs. 1. There is now therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
You will recall that the Latin word for “condemned” in vs. 3 and “condemnation” in vs. 1 is “damnation.” That is God condemned, damned, judged, poured out His wrath on sin in the flesh.
In whose flesh? By sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk…
The law can’t take away our condemnation. Actually, the law condemns sin. But even before the law condemns sin, first it displays the glory of God. We were created in His image and likeness and were to display for His glory in the world his good, righteous and holy character.
So the law first displays the positive righteousness of God, and then it exposes how far we have fallen from His glory and punishes and condemns us for failing to keep his law.
Justification mirrors these two aspects of the law. In our experience, we start with the second, no condemnation or forgiveness.
Instead of our receiving condemnation and punishment, all our punishment and deserved damnation for sin is punished in Jesus Christ. By His stripes we are healed says Isaiah.
However, the ultimate object of salvation negative — as in the removal of our sin and its punishment. Not only do I need forgiveness. If I am to live with a Holy God forever, I need a positive righteousness.
We will never be able to stand before a Holy God by means of forgiveness only. I need the righteousness that the law demands because it displays God’s holiness.
Vs. 3 tells us how God the Father justifies us delivering us from guilt and punishment of sin. Vs. 4 is about us God gives positive righteousness. He credits righteousness to us in justification in the first part of vs. 4 and fulfills the righteous requirement of the law.
And then He imparts righteousness to us in sanctification through the Holy Spirit as we keep on walking accordion to the Spirit and not according to the flesh.
Let me show you how this works out practically throughout Scripture. Take for example the famous story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8 because it uses our same word for “condemnation.”
There is not time to get into the detail of this horrible story of religious injustice. But when these people bring charges against this adulterous woman, Jesus responded, “Let him who is without sin among you cast the first stone.” You know the story. Everyone dropped their stones of condemnation and left.
But listen to what Jesus said to the woman. Has no one condemned you? There is our word. She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”
There it is! Do you see it? Justification and sanctification go together. There is no condemnation (justification) and no more sinning (sanctification). But they do not just go together. Notice the order.
If sanctification came before justification, Jesus would have said, “Leave your life of sin, and if you do that, I will not condemn you.”
However, the Gospel turns this order on its head. No condemnation precedes transformation. Justification is before sanctification. But also it is not justification without sanctification. It is “no condemnation”, then a holy life!
But let me add a third primary work — Sonship.
Paul will not introduce the idea of our adoption until vs. 13-14, which is why I’ve called it Sonship because he clearly and intentionally introduces the idea of Sonship in vs. 3 saying, “God sent His Own Son.”
RC Sproul writes, Later in this chapter Paul is going to talk about a different kind of sonship, that which comes by adoption. He introduces the concept of sonship here… God’s only begotten Son.
This relationship between justification, sanctification and adoption is an important area of study for me personally.
Here, it is enough to say that the gift of our eternal sonship through adoption as human beings created in the image of God, flows directly out of God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and is uniquely interrelated to both justification and sanctification.
My main point is to hold these three works working together from three agents.
M/P2: Three Primary Agents of Salvation
The most prominent point in these verses, contrary to what many think, are not the benefits we receive. I called them works of salvation to draw our attention to the workers, the agents, of salvation.
For us they are primary benefits of salvation. To God that are primary works of salvation.
The most prominent word in these verses is God — God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The whole point is that God Himself has done, what the law (not anything in all of creation could ever do) which is why nothing in all creation can undo it.
The whole point of these chapters is assurance.
I cannot say it better than Martyn Lloyd Jones.
You cannot have assurance of salvation or certainty of your final glorification unless you realize that salvation is altogether of God. If salvation depended in any way upon us, it could never have said “there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ’… If salvation… had to depend upon our flesh — my faith, my holding on, my abiding, or anything else — it would fail. But thank God, it does not depend upon us at any point. It is altogether from God. It is God’s action from beginning to end. The God who saves is the God who keeps. He keeps us. We are in His hands.
Every teaching about justification and sanctification which puts emphasis upon man or man’s “decision” or his “abiding” at any point is a denial of the Apostle’s teaching. We are not saved because we decide to go in for salvation, either justification or sanctification; it is God who justifies and sanctifies; it is His purpose, it is His power, it is His working — this is His great and eternal plan. (Martyn Lloyd Jones on Romans 8:4)
Let’s drink more deeply from this well of assurance in God sending His own Son.
Throughout scripture others are described as “sons of God” including angels, and Christians. There was a time when we were not, but now we are sons through adoption.
But this Son is unique, the One and Only Begotten Son of the Father, eternally generated from the Father. He always was, He always will be. He was not created or adopted.
He did not become God’s Son in Bethlehem in a manger. God’s Only Begotten Son “came in the likeness of sinful flesh as an offering for our sin” in that manger in Bethlehem.
That is the measure of God’s love for you. You will never have greater assurance. Because what God is saying is that there will never be a repetition of what happened with the first Adam.
God has not saved us by creating and sending a second man like Adam. God didn’t send a perfect created super hero — the Uber-man. Rather there is a second Man, an eternal Man, a whole New Humanity in Christ. God sent His Own Son!
What does this mean? Our salvation — including justification, adoption, sanctification — all the way to final glorification is guaranteed by God himself.
M/P3: What is His Goal?
God’s One Goal is redeeming for His glory His creation in the new heavens and new earth. Our salvation is a subset of this larger goal.
And within this larger goal of cosmic salvation, God’s goal for our salvation is that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.
In order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us.
It is not a maze of confusion. Justification and adoption precede and guarantee sanctification and final glorification.
And here is the question Paul asks in Romans 8:32? How will he who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, not also with Him graciously give us all things?
1. Why is it impossible for the law to effect the “no condemnation” of verse 8:1 on our behalf? Was the law weak? What does the law “weakened by the flesh” mean?
2. How did God do what the the law weakened by the flesh could not do? In the context of assurance of salvation, why does Paul want you to know that God sent His Own Son?
3. What does it me that He was sent in “the likeness of sinful flesh” and “for sin”? What does it mean that “he condemned sin in the flesh?”
Before going to question 4, take a moment and reflect from last week on Romans 8:1 and the meaning of “condemnation.” The opposite of “condemnation” is “no condemnation” or “justification” and not “sanctification.”
Condemning sin means punishing sin, not destroying sin. According to 8:1, there is “no condemnation.” God’s wrath, the real punishment for sin, has been removed, though sin is not yet finally destroyed.
4. According to vs. 4, why was sin “condemned” in the flesh? What is the goal?
5. How do justification/no condemnation, sonship/adoption and sanctification/transformation fit together? Which comes first and second and why? Does that mean the third is optional? Whose “likeness” are we being transformed into?