Two Different Good Friday Observances

Good Friday

Holy Week fast approaches.

Good Friday brings with it two options for observing the day, both unique in their own respects.

First, at 10 AM at the All Women’s Health Center (abortion clinic), there will be an hour of praise and prayer commemorating Jesus’ Preaching at All Women'sdeath on the cross and the advocacy for life at this modern killing field. The service will involve a blend of the regular sidewalk counseling that goes on, singing, Scripture reading, and praying. Furthermore, I have been asked to preach as I did last December for an Advent service. Any and everyone are invited to attend. You do not have to participate in the actual counseling, but your prayer and praise can make a powerful impact on this front-line spiritual battle zone.

Second, at 6 PM at OGC, we will host an agape love feast for our church-wide agape feastobservance of the day. In this we will break our 24 hour fast for conversions, baptisms, and discipleship here in Central Florida. Each household is asked to bring some bread, cheese, and fruit to share. We will have time for community around the tables, sharing, singing, and, of course, the Lord’s Table. I will share a brief homily from Matt. 27:51-54. All are welcome.

May these unusual approaches bring enhanced appreciation for all Jesus has done for us in His substitutionary sacrifice on the cross!

Praise for the Incarnation

Another benefit of my recent search for Advent resources came in the form of this lovely piece by the Puritan, John Newton.

Sweeter sounds than music knows
Charm me in Immanuel’s name;
All her hopes my spirit owes
To his birth, and cross, and shame.

John NewtonWhen he came, the angels sung,
“Glory be to God on high;”
Lord, unloose my stamm’ring tongue,
Who should louder sing than I?

Did the Lord a man become,
That he might the law fulfil,
Bleed and suffer in my room,
And canst thou, my tongue, be still?

No, I must my praises bring,
Though they worthless are and weak;
For should I refuse to sing,
Sure the very stones would speak.

O my Saviour, Shield, and Sun,
Shepherd, Brother, Husband, Friend,
Ev’ry precious name in one,
I will love thee without end.

May this be our praise and prayer this Christmas and always.

An Advent Strategy for Your Joy


In this season of preparation for the Christmas holiday, we can so easily get overwhelmed by the demands it brings into our lives. Using each of the letters of the word ADVENT, I offer this approach to the holidays as one more likely to promote our joy in God than not.

A – Ask the Lord often to keep you mindful that Jesus is the reason for the season.

D – Deepen your insight into the wonder of the incarnation by regularly reading the gospel nativity accounts at the beginning of Matthew and Luke as well as John’s prologue in chapter 1.

V – Venture to share your faith with someone by giving your testimony, walking them through the gospel, and/or inviting them to a Christmas Eve service.

E – Encourage someone struggling at this time of year through a note of appreciation, spending some time with them, or an act of kindness they don’t expect.

N – Nurture your worship quotient by listening to some sacred music of the season like Handel’s Messiah.

T – (and most importantly) Take to heart more than ever the gospel, the good news of great joy, that though you are more sinful than you could ever imagine that still you are more loved by God in Jesus then you could ever dare dream.

A Holiday Reflection


I woke up early this morning with First Thessalonians 5:16-18 on my mind. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” I got up and did some digging in the text. Here are some thoughts that may help shape this holiday in a Godward fashion. Bottom line?  Simple. Be joyful, be prayerful, and be thankful.

These staccato exhortations by the apostle come embedded in a series of final instructions to the church at Thessalonica.  Everything therein focuses on obligations for the church in community as a whole. Even the three verbs in v. 16-18 all have second person plural “we” subjects. So while I don’t think it wrong to apply commands (imperatives all) like rejoice, pray, and give thanks to the individual, personal life of the believer, Paul stresses in the text the necessity of the church gathered putting on these gospel graces. He’s adamant about this. It is the will of God for those of us who are connected to Christ Jesus by grace through faith. Corporate worship should consistently look like a joyful, prayerful, thankful affair. Do I hear an “Amen!” from the Hebrew poet (Psalm 95:1-2)? Absolutely.

The emphasis Paul puts on the need for consistency in these practices stands out big time in the Greek text. The present tense of the verbs conveys continuous, keep-on-doing-these-things, kind of action. As if that were not enough, Paul uses adverbs like “always” and “unceasingly” and the prepositional phrase “in all things.” And he places all three modifiers before each verb to punctuate the emphasis. ALWAYS rejoice, WITHOUT CEASING pray, IN EVERYTHING give thanks.  He virtually dares us to miss the point. A gospel-shaped people gathered to worship King Jesus for who He is and all He has done should relentlessly manifest a joyful, prayerful, and thankful DNA from start to finish.

What embracing each of these graces looks like will have to wait for later posts. But one final consideration. The three intersect and overlap. Charles Spurgeon said it well:

When joy and prayer are married their first born child is gratitude. When we joy in God for what we have, and believingly Spurgeonpray to him for more, then our souls thank him both in the enjoyment of what we have, and in the prospect of what is yet to come. Those three texts are three companion pictures, representing the life of a true Christian, the central sketch is the connecting link between those on either side. These three precepts are an ornament of grace to every believer’s neck, wear them every one of you, for glory and for beauty; “Rejoice evermore;” “Pray without ceasing;” “in everything give thanks.”

When you get dressed today for your Thanksgiving celebration with whomever and wherever, make sure you put on your ornaments of grace. Wear them for glory and for beauty. And please don’t forget to do the same when Sunday rolls around and you head off to church for your Lord’s Day worship.

Why Observe Reformation Sunday?


Fresh from two weeks in the wilds of Idaho, it feels good to get back in the blog posting saddle again. The church calendar constrains me. October 27 is Reformation Sunday. Every last Sunday of the month of October we at Orlando Grace, along with most churches in the Reformed tradition, mark the anniversary of the official start of the Protestant Reformation. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his church-shaking Ninety-Five Theses on the the door of the Wittenburg church, catalyzing a tectonic shift in Western Christianity.

I’m not sure I can improve on last year’s post to this end by a fellow officer of mine. However, I do feel certain things need to be said, if only by repetition. The question to observe or not to observe Reformation Sunday for this pastor is a no brainer. Yes, a thousand times yes. Although I must admit for years as a pastor, I failed to do so. I credit a former associate of mine, now turned jeweler, for opening my eyes on that score. Thank you, young squire. I miss you.

Orthodox Christians of the 21st century stand on the shoulders of giants who have gone before us. None matter more than the Reformers in one respect for what they recovered for the church laboring under the legalism and apostasy of Roman Christianity. As captured in the first of the solas, sola Scriptura, the Reformation saw a return to the ultimate source of authority over the church – the inspired, inerrant word of God (2 Tim. 3:16). Thanks to Luther, Calvin, Zwingly and the rest, no longer do we look to creeds, confessions or tradition for the source of truth guiding God’s people. Scripture sets the standard. Creeds and confession have enormous value, even as OGC subscribes to the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, but only as they accurately reflects the Word of God.

As captured in the additional solas – sola gracia, sola fide, sola Christus, and sola deo gloria, the reformation accomplished a recovery of the gospel that is rightly grasped and proclaimed only as salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone to the glory of God alone. Hence my sermon text for this Sunday – Ephesians 2:7-10 and title – Eternity’s Glorious Display. God will forever put on display the wonders of His grace precisely because the nature of the redeemed’s salvation is by grace alone, not a result of works, lest anyone should boast.

One final thought why we ought to observe Reformation Sunday. Because we need a modern day Reformation. I first became convinced of this by reading David Wells provocative book No Place for Truth: Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology. Lately I have been reinforced in my determination that the same need exists more than ever by reading Ross Douthat’s 9781439178331_p0_v3_s260x420helpful assessment of the American religious landscape Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics. Douthat chronicles the demise of orthodox Christianity over several decades into a panoply of false teachings and heresies that make one’s hair stand on end. In his concluding thoughts, he notes historical evidence including within America’s journey when it looked like all was lost for true religion when the opposite actually occurred. He offers this hope with the help of G. K. Chesterton:

In each of these cases , an age of crisis was swiftly followed by an era of renewal, in which forces threatening the faith either receded or were discredited and Christianity itself revived. Time and again, Chesterton noted, “the faith has to all appearance gone to the dogs.” But each time, “it was the dog that died.”

Yes, we should observe Reformation Sunday. May we celebrate what the Reformers recovered and hope the heterodox dogs of the day die once again.

Free Advent eBook

I received this from our friends at Desiring God today:

Dear Friends,

I’m excited to tell you about a new free eBook for Advent from Desiring God. It’s called Good News of Great Joy, organized specifically for this Advent, 2012.

The team here at Desiring God did a deep dive into our thirty-plus-year reservoir of sermons and articles, and selected brief devotional readings for each day of Advent. Our hope is that God would use these readings to deepen and sweeten your adoration of Jesus this Advent… (Continue reading and download the eBook)

John Piper
and David Mathis, Executive Editor

If you are looking for a devotional guide for personal and/or family use during this Advent season, this just may be your ticket.

Is the Reformation Over?

Intriguing question.

Some have raised it in recent past.

More recently, Dr. R. C. Sproul has revisited the question and offered a resounding “No” in reply in his book Are We Together?: A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism. I finished reading this relatively brief synopsis (129 pages) of the subject during my time in Idaho.

The author explains his purpose this way:

In this book, I have a simple goal. I want to look at Roman Catholic teaching in several significant areas and compare it with Protestant teaching. I hope to show, often using her own words, that the Roman Catholic Church has not changed from what it believed and taught at the time of the Reformation. That means that the Reformation is not over and we must continue to stand firm in proclaiming the biblical gospel (p. 9).

And look he does into six key areas:

  1. Scripture
    In what he calls the fundamental issue of the Reformation, Sproul explains that the basis of authority was the formal cause behind the protests of Martin Luther and company. They raised the rally cry Sola Scriptura, Scripture alone, in contrast to Rome’s appeal to Scripture PLUS tradition.
  2. Justification
    Commonly known as the chief article or the formal cause of the Reformation, regarding justification (how God declares the sinner righteous) Sproul masterfully explains the difference between the Reformer’s view of double imputation (that our sin was put on Christ and His righteousness was reckoned to us by faith alone – Sola Fide)  and Rome’s idea of justification as a matter of faith PLUS  works, namely participation in the sacraments (baptism and penance in particular). Especially sobering was the insight Sproul brings out from the Council of Trent (1545-1563), Rome’s response to the Reformation, declaring justification by faith alone as a view of salvation to be anathema (accursed)! He further notes that this is a position yet to be reversed by Vatican I (1869-70), Vatican II (1962-65), or the revisions to the Catholic Catechism as recent as 1995.
  3. The Church
    Sproul takes care as he writes to give credit where it is due throughout the book. He demolishes ill-advised caricatures of Roman Catholicism when necessary. He is no Catholic basher, to his credit. He shows in this chapter a more irenic tone from Rome in the move from labeling Protestants as “schismatics” and “heretics” in Vatican I to “separated brethren” in Vatican II. Still the question lingers as to whether someone can genuinely be saved outside the Catholic communion. Salvation for Rome must involve the sacraments which only an ordained priest may rightfully perform. Protestants appeal to justification by faith in Christ alone. They cannot both be the gospel at the same time.
  4. The Sacraments
    Sproul reviews how Protestants observe two ordinances of Christ – baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Catholics on the other hand have seven: baptism, confirmation, matrimony, extreme unction (prayer for the sick and dying), holy orders (for officers of the church), penance (for the restoration of justification when mortal sin kills it), and the Lord’s Supper. He zeroes in on the first and the last noting in the Roman system how baptism allegedly conveys the grace of justification (baptismal regeneration) and that in the Supper with the so-called miracle of the mass, the body of Christ is broken anew. He frankly concludes: Rome is proclaiming things that are repugnant to those who believe and trust the Word of God (p. 84).
  5. The Papacy
    A very interesting aspect of this study involves the development of the doctrine of papal infallibility. Dr. Sproul explains how this came about over time, well after the Protestant Reformation. Still it represents a significant departure from Protestantism, and more importantly the Bible, that declares only One man ever spoke entirely without error in dispensing divine revelation, the Lord Jesus Christ.
  6. Mary
    Like the doctrine of papal infallibility, the ideas related to Mary as “the second Eve” with her immaculate conception, bodily assumption, and coronation in heaven, came about long after the Reformation. And while considerable disagreement exists even within the Catholic communion about some of these things, Mary still takes on significance in their doctrine well beyond Scriptural warrant.

So why belabor all this? Well, for a couple of reasons. Recent movements in evangelicalism in the name of ecumenicism have sought to unite Catholics and Protestants. I would agree with Sproul that while they have their merit in calling the various traditions to stand together on social issues like abortion among others, the terminology contained within these various documents blurs the distinction between who is genuinely a Christian and who is not. Dr. Sproul does a great job in this book of demonstrating that we are decidedly not together and that what is at stake is nothing less than the gospel in the stand we take related to such broad-sweeping initiatives.

Another reason for this lengthy post lies with OGC’s unique location directly across the street from a Roman Catholic church. In all our endeavors to be good neighbors, like last week’s parking give-away, we must never lose sight that our core doctrines do not align and nothing less than the eternal salvation of souls hangs in the balance.

Finally, tomorrow is Reformation Sunday. We will gather to worship and praise our great God and Savior for the recovery of the gospel in the Protestant Reformation, the gospel in which we stand and about which I intend to preach from 1 Cor. 15:1-11. May we give thanks to God for our rich heritage and never fail to keep this precious gospel the main thing. As long the tendency to drift into error exists, the church must remain given to the rally cry semper reformanda (always reforming).

The Reformation is not over. Not by a long shot. It better not be in a church of our tradition.

Why I'm No Huckster, Charlatan, or Fraud

Tomorrow is Easter.

I will preach on the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead for the umpteenth time. I am getting up there in years and I have been a follower of Jesus of Nazareth since 1972 and a minister of the gospel most of the years since then.

My text for tomorrow’s message entitled Life’s Ultimate What If is 1 Cor. 15:12-20.  I will ask the question of questions that many have asked throughout the centuries: What if there is no resurrection of the body? What if this life is all there is?

Apparently some of the believers in the Corinthian church bought into the dualism Greek mindset of the day that denied the resurrection of the body.

In the text, as I shall attempt to show tomorrow, Paul proceeds to dismantle that erroneous strain of thinking by showing the logical consequences, devastating in every way, that follow from a denial of the reality of the resurrection of the dead.

One of those, according to v. 15, is that preachers like me who preach the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead end up misrepresenting God because of their testimony that Christ Himself has been raised from the dead.

This is no small concern. Nothing in me at all wants to be guilty of complicity in foisting upon humanity the cruelest hoax of all time if in fact Jesus has NOT been raised from the dead.

No worries. I am not alarmed. I am completely confident that rather than being a huckster, charlatan, or fraud, or any other word you can think of to describe somebody who takes people for a colossally deceptive ride down a bogus philosophical trail, I believe that I could hardly stand on firmer ground in terms of my confidence that Jesus Christ has indeed been raised from the dead and that, as such, He demands and rightly deserves my and your utmost devotion and the total dedication of my/our being every day until I/we cease to exist on this earth.

I say that because of three strains of evidence for the resurrection that I find ultimately compelling – documentary, well-established, and circumstantial.

My thanks to Douglas Groothuis in his substantive, award-winning tome Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith for this summary.

First, as for the documentary or minimal facts recorded in the gospels that are broadly agreed on by New Testament scholars of all stripes (Groothius’ exact words), there are four.

  1. Death by crucifixion – a well-established fact of history.
  2. Burial in a known tomb – that of Joseph of Arimathea (Matt. 27:57-61 et al).
  3. The empty tomb – discovered as such by several women (not considered in that day the most credible of witnesses mind you – an argument for the authenticity of the gospel records).
  4. The postmortem appearances of Jesus – twelve separate ones over a forty-day period according to the New Testament.The preponderance of eye-witness accounts of the resurrected Christ, including that of the Apostle Paul, cause Groothius to conclude This is either one of the greatest bluffs in the history of religion or a confident assertion of substantiated fact (p. 549).

Impressive enough standing alone is the documentary evidence. Groothius goes on to cite other well-established evidence in favor of the resurrection.

  1. The transformation of the disciples – from cowardice, despair and confusion to confident proclamation of the gospel and the willingness to suffer persecution, hardship and even martyrdom for the sake of Jesus and His gospel.
  2. The early worship of Jesus as divine – by monotheistic Jews no less who would not likely ever do such a thing apart from something so spectacular as Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

Finally, there is the circumstantial evidence.

  1. The practice of the early church in observing baptism, the Lord’s Supper and Sunday worship – all clearly tied in symbolism and motivation to the reality of the resurrection.
  2. Spiritual experiences in history and today – the fact that millions of Christ’s followers around the globe for the last two thousand years have testified to the reality of their risen Savior’s claims lends credibility to the reality of the resurrection (p. 554).

And I am one of them.

That I have the opportunity tomorrow to preach the gospel and proclaim the good news that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead is based upon evidence of the best and all kinds.

I will peddle no deception;  I will preach the truth, so help me God.

He is risen. He is risen indeed!

An Easter Gift During Holy Week

I came across this offer on Justin Taylor’s blog today.

I downloaded the files and listened to their rendition of O Sacred Head. Lovely. Hope you like it.

CXVI: “We’re giving away an entire album again in celebration of Easter! . . . We’ve even including a song off our upcoming album, Re:Hymns. Derek Webb remixed and reimagined 7 of our hymns, and it’s coming out June 12th, 2012. Enjoy!”

See below, or go here: