Dare to Be a Daniel

Yesterday, we were studying the book of Daniel with the college class at church. During the lesson, our college pastor, John Aaron Matthew, referred several times to a sermon by Charles Haddon Spurgeon called “Dare to Be a Daniel.” The sermon was delivered on January 15, 1893, and can be found here.

The sermon takes its title from a popular song written by Philip P. Bliss (who also composed “Man of Sorrows, What a Name,” which was sung in our morning worship service yesterday), and quotes the song’s chorus:

Dare to be a Daniel! Dare to stand alone! Dare to have a purpose firm! Dare to make it known!

Incidentally, this was Spurgeon’s second sermon which made reference to this song (the first, “Daniel’s Band”, can be found here), which Bliss composed as a teaching tool for a children’s Sunday School class he was teaching. Almost 150 years later, it remains an instructional tune, which I learned as a child, and which my kids have in their music collection at home:

A few things that stand out upon reflection on the lesson, and after reading those two Spurgeon sermons:

  1. I love that Spurgeon preached so often from the Old Testament. It seems we have a tendency to treat the Old Testament as a compilation of “stories” that we teach our kids in Sunday School, and spend most of our adult lives studying the New Testament. But the truth is that the gospel is found in both testaments, and we need to be fed a steady diet of Old and New if we are to understand any of it in its proper context. It’s one reason I’m so fond of The Gospel Project (the curriculum from which our lesson in Daniel was taken), and so glad that our pastor alternates teaching Old and New Testament books in his sermons.
  2. Spurgeon compares Daniel to John the Apostle, speaking of them as counterparts. In fact, in the second of the sermons listed above, he teaches on the life of Daniel while expositing 1 John 4:9-21. If there ever was an Old Testament saint whose love for God cast out all fear, it was surely Daniel!
  3. It seems that Philip Bliss took his Sunday School lesson to heart, exhibiting the love of Christ and the bravery of Daniel in his death. Just three years after composing “Dare to Be a Daniel,” Bliss and his wife were travelling via train through Ohio, when a bridge they were crossing collapsed near Ashtabula, Ohio, sending the train plummeting into a ravine. Bliss escaped the wreckage alive, but climbed back into a burning carriage trying to save his wife. Both were among the 92 people who died in the Ashtabula River Railroad Disaster. Among the wreckage, Bliss’ trunk was recovered undamaged. Inside it were found the lyrics to a new hymn he had just composed: “I Will Sing of My Redeemer.”

And because you really can never have too much Spurgeon, there’s one more resource you should check out. I told the college students in my small group yesterday that they should all read Spurgeon’s “Lectures To My Students” at their earliest convenience. It’s incredibly helpful, and not the least bit outdated, though it was written more than a century ago. You can get it for FREE as a PDF, or for under a dollar for Kindle, so there’s no reason not to!

Image Credit: This painting is by the 17th Century Flemish painter Sir Peter Paul Reubens, and is on display at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Behold the Lamb of God 2012

Yesterday, due to the unfortunate illness of the child of one of our staff members, Laurie and I were given their tickets to last night’s performance of Behold the Lamb of God by Andrew Peterson. He’s now been doing this show for 13 Advent seasons, and it keeps getting better each time I see it! If you aren’t familiar with the BTLOG tour, here’s a little promo video they put together this year:

I’ve seen the show at least six times now, but last night’s was by far the best performance I’ve seen yet. Partly that was due to the experience of hearing it at the historic Ryman Auditorium, which allowed for a sound and light experience unlike anything I’ve seen from previous performances, but the assembled cast of musicians (which changes from year to year, and sometimes show to show) was really outstanding!

When I discovered that Buddy Greene and Jeff Taylor were on the program, I was pumped! Their bluegrass performance of “Sleigh Ride” was worth the price of admission (or in our case, the price of babysitting, since we were blessed with free tickets) all by itself. They were followed by a few numbers from Steven Curtis Chapman, which was also a special treat.

The second half of the concert (the actual BTLOG portion) began with Sally Lloyd-Jones reading from her Jesus Storybook Bible (my review) and her new book Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing (which is also great, though I haven’t yet written a review). We have quite a few of her books in our house (including our kids’ favorite bedtime book) and it was an honor to see and hear in person!

I can’t recommend this show more highly to you, nor the Behold the Lamb of God album which gets played pretty much every December day in the Gardner house. It never gets old!

A few years ago, I wrote a series of devotions based on the tracks from this album. You can find them here:

You may also be interested in Andrew Peterson’s excellent fiction series, The Wingfeather Saga. Here are my reviews of the first three books, with the final book of the series due to be released next year:

Where Will You Turn?

Yesterday, our Sunday School lesson in the college class was on the importance of the sermon. One of the discussion questions from the lesson sparked a great conversation at the table I was leading.

The question was, “Where can you turn when you are convicted or confused by your pastor’s sermon?”

Immediately, many students responded by saying that they could “turn to God“, or “turn to the Bible“… not wrong, of course! But I answered them with a challenge:

“Those are great Sunday School answers, but what does that look like? What exactly will you do when (not if) one of our pastor’s sermons places you under conviction, or when you don’t understand something that he said?”

After that, they started giving much more thoughtful replies, with some very good practical wisdom, but still not quite what I was looking for. What I really wanted was not a “what”, but a “who”.

“If names don’t immediately come to your mind when you hear those questions, then consider this an invitation to lean more on the Body of Christ.”

The questions about conviction and confusion point to two of the greatest relationship needs that a Christian has: accountability and discipleship. When I am feeling especially convicted about something, the first person I talk with about it is my wife, who is the greatest accountability partner I could have. But there are some things that are best shared among guys. That’s why I’m so thankful to know exactly who I can call at any time, and trust to hold me accountable. The Lord has blessed me with some tremendously godly friends!

Similarly, God has placed certain men in my life who have graciously and patiently taught me God’s Word, and answered my questions. I still have men in our church who I know are ready and willing to help me work through problem areas and points of confusion. I’m also thankful that the Lord has allowed me to serve in the role of discipler for many other young men, and always humbled when they bring their questions to me. I’m fairly certain I learn more than they do every time!

So how about you? When you are convicted or confused, where will you turn?

Jesus Shall Reign

During this evening’s worship service, our church spent time praying for Southern Baptist church planters in all 50 states, as well as elected officials from each state and our national leaders. To follow up on this, I wanted to share a passage on which I’ve been reflecting during this week’s final run-up to the big election on Tuesday. From the ESV, here is Psalm 72:1-7:

  1. Give the king your justice, O God,
    and your righteousness to the royal son!
  2. May he judge your people with righteousness,
    and your poor with justice!
  3. Let the mountains bear prosperity for the people,
    and the hills, in righteousness!
  4. May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
    give deliverance to the children of the needy,
    and crush the oppressor!
  5. May they fear you while the sun endures,
    and as long as the moon, throughout all generations!
  6. May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass,
    like showers that water the earth!
  7. In his days may the righteous flourish,
    and peace abound, till the moon be no more!

While in many ways this passage (and the rest of Psalm 72) is messianic, pointing ultimately to the future eternal reign of Christ, it was also a prayer for an earthly ruler. It’s a good reminder that we should pray for our leaders, but also that our final hope lies in Jesus, not in a political leader (Psalm 146:3).

Regardless who wins the presidential election on Tuesday, I pray that the next four years would be a period in which Americans may be judged with justice. I pray for righteousness and prosperity for all people, and that our nation’s poor would see their needs met and their oppressors crushed. I pray that many will be saved, coming to know and fear the Lord. May God’s people flourish, and may peace abound!

Here is an excellent arrangement by Enfield of an Isaac Watts hymn based on Psalm 72:

The Mystery of Regeneration

This morning I had a few people ask for the list of Scripture passages I referenced in my Sunday School lesson last week, so I decided to just copy and paste my lesson outline to the blog. Hope it’s helpful for the guys who asked, and for anyone else who happens to stop by. Also, the numbers next to each text are references to numbered bookmarks I printed out before class. I figured we’d spend the entire lesson flipping through pages, so I had everybody grab two or three bookmarks and find their passages before class started so I could just call out a number to have the verses read. It worked pretty well!

Here’s the outline:

“The Mystery of Regeneration”

What is regeneration?

  • What does the word make you think of? (biology, theology, electronics?)
  • Dictionary definition of “regenerate”:  to re-create, reconstitute, or make over, especially in a better form or condition
  • Word only used once in Scripture: Read Titus 3:4-5 (#1)
  • Theological definition of regeneration: Regeneration is a secret act of God in which he imparts new spiritual life to us. (Wayne Grudem) Sometimes called “being born again” (the word “generation” has to do with birth; regeneration is re-birth). Scripture tells us a lot about regeneration, but much of the process is a “mystery”.
  • There are some important questions that we must ask about regeneration. All Christians believe that regeneration happens, but differ in how and when it happens. So the way we answer these questions has a lot to do with how we will understand salvation. Rather than reading a system of theology (like Calvinism or Arminianism) into our understanding of regeneration, let’s try to build our understanding from Scripture. Here are the questions we’re going to ask:
    • What is our state prior to regeneration?
    • What happens in regeneration?
    • When does regeneration take place?
    • What is our state after regeneration?
    • What is God’s role in regeneration?
    • What is man’s role in regeneration?

What is our state prior to regeneration?

What happens in regeneration?

  • To sum it up, regeneration does what?
    • New heart
    • New spirit
    • New life

When does regeneration take place?

  • Now it gets trickier… Regeneration is not the same thing as faith. The Bible tells us that we are saved through faith, but given a new life of obedience through regeneration. So which comes first, regeneration or faith? This is one question lots of people don’t agree on, so let’s see what we can figure out.
  • Starting with Scripture:
    • First set of verses:
  • Next set (revisiting):
    • 2 Corinthians 5:17 – New Creation
    • 1 Corinthians 6:11 – You were washed
    • Passages in Jeremiah & Ezekiel – Once God gives us a new heart, it works
    • Conclusion: Regeneration happens in an instant and it only happens once
  • Next set:
    • (#21) 1 Corinthians 2:14 – Remember: what is the state of the “natural” man?
    • (#22) Romans 3:11 – Without a new heart, nobody is seeking God
    • (#23) John 3:5
    • (#24) John 6:44; 63-65 – Notice verses 60 & 66; a lot of people don’t like this teaching!
    • (#25) Acts 16:14, which is similar to…
    • (#26) Luke 24:45 – After the resurrection
    • Conclusion: Regeneration appears to be necessary before someone can understand the message of the Gospel and place faith in Christ. However
    • This is a logical progression from regeneration (or being born again) to having faith and being saved. On a practical level, for all intents and purposes, these things happen at the same time. Another way to put it is that from God’s perspective, he acts to regenerate someone’s heart so that that person can believe, but from our perspective this is pretty much simultaneous. It’s one reason why we tend to use the terms “born again” and “saved” interchangeably, even though the Bible describes them as separate things.

What is our state after regeneration?

  • Scripture verses:
  • Second set:
    • (#30) 1 John 3:9 – This refers to habitual, unrepentant sin
    • (#31) 1 John 5:18 – We have protection from Satan’s attacks
    • (#32) Galatians 5:22-23 – Regeneration produces fruit (evidence of salvation)
    • Conclusion: Though we still have two natures, we become more and more like Christ (sanctification)
  • Last set:
    • (#33) 1 Corinthians 15:49-58
    • Conclusion: One day we will be made perfect like Christ is perfect, and will sin no more (glorification)

What is God’s role in regeneration?

  • What we’ve already seen:
    • Gives us a new heart, spirit, and life
    • Works alone in this (“I will do this…”)
    • See also:
      • (#34) Ephesians 1:3-12
      • Conclusion: God not only works alone to regenerate our hearts; he also had a plan “before the foundation of the world”, and salvation happens according to the purposes of his sovereign will.

What is man’s role in regeneration?

  • Is there anything then left for man to do? Yes!
  • Starting with Scripture:
    • First set:
      • (#35) Acts 2:21
      • (#36) Romans 10:9, 13-17
      • Conclusion: We are not puppets. Man has responsibility to exercise faith. Those who do this will be saved, those who do not will be held accountable for their choice.
  • Second set:
    • (#37) Colossians 3:1-2 – “Seek… set…”
    • (#38) Colossians 3:5-10 – “Put to death… put them all away…”
    • (#39) Colossians 3:12-17 – Things to “put on” in place of the old self
    • (#40) Romans 13:12-14
    • (#41) 1 Peter 2:1
    • (#42) Ephesians 6:10-20 – The armor of God
    • Conclusion: Man has responsibility to walk according to the new life he has been given, following the example of Christ and putting our own sin to death (what the Puritans called mortification).
  • Last set:
    • (#43) James 2:17
    • (#44) 2 Peter 1:10
    • Conclusion: While we are not saved by our works, a regenerated person will produce good works (this is the fruit of the Spirit). Thus, an absence of good works means that our “faith” is dead – it is not true faith at all. Someone who does not bear fruit has not lost salvation; it is evidence that he has not (yet) been given a new heart at all.

Final Thoughts

There is a huge debate going on within the Southern Baptist Convention right now about whether the SBC should officially affirm or deny the “Five Points of Calvinism”. Thankfully, most Southern Baptist leaders on all sides agree that Calvinists, Arminians, and others can all worship and minister together as Southern Baptists. Most of the area of dispute between Calvinists and Arminians (and those in between) has to do with where regeneration and faith relate chronologically to one another. Do we believe because God gave us new hearts, or do we get new hearts because we believe?

As we’ve seen this morning, from our perspective these things happen pretty much simultaneously. Here are some things that Calvinists and Arminians all affirm:

  • Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone
  • God is triune, and sovereign over all things, including salvation – (Though there are different understandings for how God exercises his sovereignty)
  • The Bible is inerrant and authoritative – We all believe the Bible and base our doctrinal beliefs on it
  • We agree on how Christians should live; on what the “new life in Christ” looks like

I really like an illustration that a theologian named Donald Barnhouse used to use:

Imagine a cross like the one on which Jesus died, only so large that it had a door in it. Over the door were these words from Revelation: “Whosoever will may come.” These words represent the free and universal offer of the gospel. By God’s grace, the message of salvation is for everyone. Every man, woman, and child who will come to the cross is invited to believe in Jesus Christ and enter eternal life. On the other side of the door a happy surprise awaits the one who believes and enters. From the inside, anyone glancing back can see these words from Ephesians written above the door: “Chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world.” Election is best understood in hindsight, for it is only after coming to Christ that one can know whether one has been chosen in Christ. Those who make a decision for Christ find that God made a decision for them in eternity past.”

I’m a Calvinist, and I believe that the doctrines of grace (the Five Points of Calvinism) are true, but I’m not that concerned with convincing you to be Calvinists. But I do want to point out that saying “I don’t believe in predestination or election” is not an option. The words are in the Bible and we have to deal with them. Some people have different understandings of how God predestination and election work, but we can’t just totally throw them out like a lot of non-Calvinists want to do. Likewise, we must avoid thinking of the doctrine of sovereign election as an excuse to not evangelize, which is a common error among Calvinists.

For further study: