Trembling Joy

February 22, 2021

The next Bowman newsletter is just days away from arriving in your mailbox. There’s my contribution from last month’s letter…

Last month I wrote about the fear of God. The fear of the Lord is foundational in the life of a believer. We will never live the life we’re called to live unless we have a healthy understanding of the awesomeness of God. We need to remember that our God is a consuming fire. He is the holy God. The creatures who live closest to God (seraphim) can only say one thing about Him — that He is holy. Holy gets at the idea of being separate. God is separate from sin but also from creation. Isaiah understood this holiness to some degree. His response was, “I’m undone.” I think we can lose the understanding of how terrible (Psa. 47:2, 68:35 KJV) our God is. We’ve become familiar with the One who is always to some degree unfamiliar (incomprehensible). When this happens, it impacts how we live. Like the guy who is in awe of his girlfriend when they first start dating, but after several years of marriage he loses the thrill he once had, so we can treat God with an air of inappropriate familiarity.   

Sometimes the proper response to God isn’t noise but silence. Hab. 2:20 says, “But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him. Why silence? Because sometimes we need to think more than talk. Psalm 76:8 implies the same thing, Psa. 76:8 “From the heavens you uttered judgment; the earth feared and was still.” Perhaps you’re familiar with the ancient hymn, “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent”? It dates from the fifth century. The first verse says, “Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and with fear and trembling stand. Ponder nothing earthly minded, for with blessing in his hand Christ our God to earth descending comes, our homage to demand.” There should be an element of solemnity as we worship God. It’s serious business. Sometimes I think we evangelicals miss this truth.

Yet, there’s a place for a joyful noise. Psa. 95:1-2 says, “Oh come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!” We make a joyful noise because of the “Rock of our salvation.” Psa. 66:1 gets at the same idea, “Shout for joy to God, all the earth.” It’s appropriate for us to vigorously worship our great, generous, saving God. 

We understand our reasons to worship. First, he’s holy. But also our God is good to us. He loves us and saves us. He is the Rock of our salvation. He abundantly provides for us every day. He is the perfect Father in every sense of the term. He is working everything for our good. Let Psalm 84:11 sink in: “For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.” If there’s something good that you need, you will have it. Our Father is loving, wise and powerful. So, “Make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!”

I hope that what I’m suggesting is clear. We’re to live and worship with fear and trembling. But at the same time we make a joyful noise. Both elements are needed. If I had to find a parallel to our Sunday worship it would be a wedding ceremony. In fact, Sunday, especially a Communion Sunday, is a time of covenant renewal. “This is the new covenant in my blood.” It’s a covenant renewal between the Bridegroom and His bride. A wedding ceremony is about covenant making (Mal. 2:14). It’s a joyous event and yet there’s great solemnity. Lifelong promises are being made and witnessed. God is making a man and a woman one flesh. There will be joyous and even funny moments. But at the same time it’s dead serious. Sunday worship should be the same. It’s joyous and serious as we worship the God we tremble before. Heb. 12:28 puts this tension this way: Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe.” The word “reverence” might be translated “caution.” Psa. 2:11 captures this balance: “Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.” For most of us, Sunday is a joyous day to gather and worship with our brothers and sisters. But, to some degree we miss the point of what’s to happen if somehow we forget that proper worship is about both joy and trembling.

Christ Intercedes for Us!

January 25, 2021

Those at church will remember that Chloe read a section from Dane Ortlund’s “Gentle and Lowly.” Here’s what she read plus a little bit more. Read and be blessed:

What is intercession?

In general terms it means that a third party comes between two others and makes a case to one on behalf of the other. Think of a parent interceding to a teacher on behalf of a child or an agent interceding to a sports franchise on behalf of an athlete.

What then does it mean for Christ to intercede? Who are the parties involved? God the Father, on the one hand, and we believers, on the other. But why would Jesus need to intercede for us? After all, haven’t we been completely justified already? What is there for Christ to plead on our behalf? Hasn’t he already done all that is needed to fully acquit us? In other words, does the doctrine of Christ’s heavenly intercession mean that something was left incomplete in his atoning work on the cross? If we speak of the finished work of Christ on the cross, does the doctrine of intercession suggest that the cross was actually left unfinished?

The answer is that intercession applies what the atonement accomplished. Christ’s present heavenly intercession on our behalf is a reflection of the fullness and victory and completeness of his earthly work, not a reflection of anything lacking in his earthly work. The atonement accomplished our salvation; intercession is the moment-by-moment application of that atoning work. In the past, Jesus did what he now talks about; in the present, Jesus talks about what he then did. This is why the New Testament weds justification and intercession, such as in Romans 8:33–34: “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” Intercession is the constant hitting “refresh” of our justification in the court of heaven.

Pressing in more deeply, Christ’s intercession reflects how profoundly personal our rescue is. If we knew about Christ’s death and resurrection but not his intercession, we would be tempted to view our salvation in overly formulaic terms. It would feel more mechanical than is true to who Christ actually is. His interceding for us reflects his heart—the same heart that carried him through life and down into death on behalf of his people is the heart that now manifests itself in constant pleading with and reminding and prevailing upon his Father to always welcome us.

This does not mean the Father is reluctant to embrace us, or that the Son has a more loving disposition toward us than the Father does. (We’ll consider this more fully in chapter 14.) The atoning work of the Son was something the Father and the Son delightedly agreed to together in eternity past. The Son’s intercession does not reflect the coolness of the Father but the sheer warmth of the Son. Christ does not intercede because the Father’s heart is tepid toward us but because the Son’s heart is so full toward us. But the Father’s own deepest delight is to say yes to the Son’s pleading on our behalf.

Think of an older brother cheering on his younger brother in a track meet. Even if, in that final stretch, the younger brother is well out ahead and will certainly win the race, does the older brother sit back, quiet, complacently satisfied? Not at all—he’s yelling at the top of his lungs exclamations of encouragement, of affirmation, of celebration, of victory, of solidarity. He cannot be quieted. So with our own older brother.

John Bunyan wrote a whole book on Christ’s heavenly intercession called Christ a Complete Savior. At one point he explains how the doctrine of intercession is a matter of Christ’s heart. There is an objective side to our salvation, which Bunyan puts in terms of justification: God “justifies us, not either by giving laws unto us, or by becoming our example, or by our following of him in any sense, but by his blood shed for us. He justifies by bestowing upon us, not by expecting from us.” But added to this objective side of the gospel is a subjective reality, and notice how Bunyan puts it:

“As you must know him, and how men are justified by him, so you must know the readiness that is in him to receive and to do for those what they need that come unto God by him. Suppose his merits were [completely] efficacious, yet if it could be proved that there is a loathness in him that these merits should be bestowed upon the coming ones, there would but few adventure to wait upon him. But now, as he is full, he is free. Nothing pleases him better than to give what he has away; than to bestow it upon the poor and needy.”

Even if we believed fully in the doctrine of justification and knew all our sins were totally forgiven, we would not come to Christ gladly if he were an austere Savior. But his posture right now as he is in heaven, his disposition, his deepest desire, is to pour his heart out on our behalf before the Father. The intercession of Christ is his heart connecting our heart to the Father’s heart.

That text on which Bunyan based Christ a Complete Savior, Hebrews 7:25, is perhaps the key text in all the New Testament on the doctrine of Christ’s intercession. After reflecting on Christ’s abiding, permanent priesthood, the writer concludes: “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.”

The phrase “to the uttermost” is one Greek word (panteles). It’s a word denoting comprehensiveness, completeness, exhaustive wholeness. The only other place it is used in the New Testament is Luke 13:11, where it describes a woman who cannot stand up straight “all the way” but has been disabled for eighteen years.

What is the point of saying Christ saves “to the uttermost”? We who know our hearts understand. We are to-the-uttermost sinners. We need a to-the-uttermost Savior.

Christ doesn’t merely help us. He saves us. This may seem obvious to those of us who have been walking with the Lord for some time. Of course Jesus saves us. But consider how your heart works. Do you not find within yourself an unceasing low-grade impulse to strengthen his saving work through your own contribution? We tend to operate as if Hebrews 7:25 says that Jesus “is able to save for the most part those who draw near to God through him.” But the salvation Christ brings is panteles; it is comprehensive. In the flow of thought in Hebrews 7, there appears to be a special focus on the time aspect of this salvation. Because Jesus “holds his priesthood permanently” and “continues forever” in it (v. 24), unlike previous priests who all died (v. 23), Christ “is able to save to the uttermost.” Our presence in God’s good favor and family will never sputter and die, like an engine running out of gas.

We all tend to have some small pocket of our life where we have difficulty believing the forgiveness of God reaches. We say we are totally forgiven. And we sincerely believe our sins are forgiven. Pretty much, anyway. But there’s that one deep, dark part of our lives, even our present lives, that seems so intractable, so ugly, so beyond recovery. “To the uttermost” in Hebrews 7:25 means: God’s forgiving, redeeming, restoring touch reaches down into the darkest crevices of our souls, those places where we are most ashamed, most defeated. More than this: those crevices of sin are themselves the places where Christ loves us the most. His heart willingly goes there. His heart is most strongly drawn there. He knows us to the uttermost, and he saves us to the uttermost, because his heart is drawn out to us to the uttermost. We cannot sin our way out of his tender care. But how do we know?

The text tells us. “He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” Christ’s heavenly intercession is the reason we know that he will save us to the uttermost.

Here’s what this means. The divine Son never ceases (note the word “always”) to bring his atoning life, death, and resurrection before his Father in a moment-by-moment way. Christ “turns the Father’s eyes to his own righteousness,” wrote Calvin, “to avert his gaze from our sins. He so reconciles the Father’s heart to us that by his intercession he prepares a way and access for us to the Father’s throne.” Do we realize what this means? Note the blessed realism of the Bible. This is the explicit acknowledgment that we Christians are ongoing sinners. Christ continues to intercede on our behalf in heaven because we continue to fail here on earth. He does not forgive us through his work on the cross and then hope we make it the rest of the way. Picture a glider, pulled up into the sky by an airplane, soon to be released to float down to earth. We are that glider; Christ is the plane. But he never disengages. He never lets go, wishing us well, hoping we can glide the rest of the way into heaven. He carries us all the way.

One way to think of Christ’s intercession, then, is simply this: Jesus is praying for you right now. “It is a consoling thought,” wrote theologian Louis Berkhof, “that Christ is praying for us, even when we are negligent in our prayer life.” Our prayer life stinks most of the time. But what if you heard Jesus praying aloud for you in the next room? Few things would calm us more deeply.

The doctrine of the present heavenly intercession of Christ is neglected today. That is too bad, because it is a consoling truth and flows right out of the heart of Christ. Whereas the doctrine of the atonement reassures us with what Christ has done in the past, the doctrine of his intercession reassures us with what he is doing in the present.

If you are in Christ, you have an intercessor, a present-day mediator, one who is happily celebrating with his Father the abundant reason for both to embrace you into their deepest heart. Richard Sibbes wrote:

“What a comfort it is now in our daily approach to God to minister boldness to us in all our suits, that we go to God in the name of one that he loves, in whom his soul delights, that we have a friend in court, a friend in heaven for us, that is at the right hand of God, and interposes himself there for us, in all our suits that makes us acceptable, that perfumes our prayers and makes them acceptable. . . . Be sure therefore in all our suits to God to take along our elder brother. . . . God looks upon us, lovely in him and delights in us, as we are members of him.”

Our sinning goes to the uttermost. But his saving goes to the uttermost. And his saving always outpaces and overwhelms our sinning, because he always lives to intercede for us.

Ortlund, Dane C.. Gentle and Lowly (pp. 70-75). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

America’s Only Hope

January 20, 2021

Today is obviously an historic day. America has a new leader. As believers we are called to respect and obey him — unless he mandates that we disobey God. Obedience and honor to President Biden is an expression of our obedience to God.

That said, for Bible-believing saints, it appears that storm clouds have gathered on the horizon. It seem that if our freshly-minted President has his way there are at least three disturbing directions. First, there will be an effort to more thoroughly press abortion into every nook and cranny of our country. One of God’s critiques of OT Israel is that they literally sacrificed their children to the idols of the land. This is exactly what is happening in our country. Our children are sacrificed to our idols of pleasure and convenience. Our country will pay a price for this atrocity. Second, it seems that our President is facing an overwhelming push toward socialism from those left of him in his own party. As 18th century Edmund Burke said, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” It seems like lunacy to insist on a strategy that not only doesn’t work, but has led to the mass murder of millions. We’re also aware of Paul’s command: “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” Socialism violates a clear dictum of scripture. Finally, as we will soon see, our President is determined to advance a social agenda that is anti-biblical. The Bible is clear when it comes to marriage, sex, and gender. God makes us either man or woman. He determines our sex. More than this, marriage is between a man and a woman for life. I realize that we live in a broken, sinful world. Our inclinations and bodies are broken. But this doesn’t mean that we have the right to say that, “God made me this way.” My point is that true Christians are going to face a terrible storm regarding these issues. It doesn’t matter that the views we hold are thousands of years old, we’re going to be told to get on the right side of history.

If these things were merely different political views, it wouldn’t matter as much. More national parks? Sure. A more cozy relationship with China? Problematic, but again, I’d probably be ok with it. Pushing the Green agenda? I don’t think it makes any sense, but again, it’s not like abortion, socialism, or the pressure to recognize and celebration of sinful lifestyles. Ultimately, President Biden is for death, for socialism, and radically for the repression of those who hold historic Christian beliefs. Unless the SCOTUS intervenes President Biden will open the door to Christian persecution. 

We realize that the real problem is the electorate of the United States. America has become a secular country. Many don’t believe in God. Others say they believe in God but their lives don’t reflect this claim. Additionally, we’re being told that the moral views of the Bible don’t belong in the public sphere. Of course, atheism and it’s children, humanism and secularism, are just as faith-based as Christianity is. It’s just that our faith system isn’t popular any longer. If this is true, we shouldn’t be surprised that we’re electing people who are advocating anti-biblical, foolish, immoral agendas. Those who aren’t rooted in a relationship with God do not have the ability to make wise choices. Prov. 1:7 says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” If there is no fear of God there is no accurate understanding of truth. It’s impossible for someone with no fear of God to know reality accurately. Prov. 9:10 says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” Same idea. If the almighty, wise God isn’t a consideration then there is no ultimate wisdom. Craziness ensues. We’re blessed to have lived in this great country. But, we’re seeing it disintegrate before our eyes. The freedom we’ve enjoyed is being eclipsed. This is because freedom can’t exist in a secular society for very long. Freedom flows from a theistic worldview.

All this to say our battle is spiritual. We need renewal, revival, and an awakening. Our ultimate answer isn’t political, it’s spiritual. Christians need to live distinctive Christian lives where we ourselves live according to the truth found in God’s Word. We’ve compromised in too many ways. We’re lukewarm. But then we must hound the Hound of Heaven. Unless or until God regenerates a majority of our country our beloved nation will continue to slide into oblivion as we elect immoral, foolish people. Without God this will happen.

Just a quick post-mortem on Trump. He reminds us that God draws straight with a crooked stick. Before he was elected he struck me as a buffoon. Near the end of his term, I was reminded of this assessment. That said, if for no other reason, his SCOTUS appointments made his presidency worth it. He reminds me of Samson. If there’s one person that doesn’t fit the hero mold of the Bible, it’s Samson. He was a great sinner. Right until his last move he never seemed to do the right thing. He was his own worst enemy. Yet, God used him in a mighty way. Similarly, Trump was his own worst enemy. Aside from his policy issues, he never seemed to do or say the right things. Yet, it seems that God used him to maintain some sanity in our country for a bit longer. I thank God for him. 

Fear and Trembling

January 20, 2021

Here’s my January newsletter contribution:

Routine can sometimes make things too familiar. If we do something enough we can get to the place where even something dangerous loses its appropriate fear. We drive all the time usually without any sense of the risks. Deadly accidents happen every single day. Even if we’re careful drivers, the guy coming at me might not be. We run our chainsaws, fool with electricity, and use ladders all the time. Danger might lurk when we’ve done something too often. Appropriate fear can keep us alive.

Most of us are probably familiar with the story of Uzzah found in 2Sam. 6. The ark of God was being moved to a more desirable location. The problem is that it wasn’t being moved in the prescribed manner. The ark was supposed to moved with poles (Ex. 25:14). Instead of poles the ark was being moved on a cart. As the ark was being carted along, “David and all the house of Israel were celebrating before the LORD, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals,” 2Sam. 6:5. Then disaster stuck. The oxen pulling the cart stumbled and “Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it,” 2Sam. 6:6. The verdict: “And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God.”

The people of God were delighted with what God was doing. This is why they worshipped. While the celebration is in full swing, the ark begins to slide and the next moment Uzzah has fallen into eternity. I’d suggest that they’d forgotten the fear of the Lord. They were cavalier in their behaviors. It didn’t matter how God said to move the cart. After this incident 2Sam. 6:9 says, “And David was afraid of the LORD that day, and he said, ‘How can the ark of the LORD come to me?’” The word afraid is the typical word for fear. It’s as if God reoriented David to the truth of who He is. God put the fear of God back in David.

There is a sense in which the fear of the Lord gets at the idea of awe. This is driven home in Psa. 33:8, “Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him!” Fear is standing in awe of God. But we must also remember that fear when it comes to God always includes real fear. Psa. 2:11 says, “Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.” Indeed God favors the one who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at God’s word, Isa. 66:2. Most of us don’t tremble in fear much. We’re too familiar. There’s little solemnity. Ex. 20:18 says, “Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off.” Don’t we need a little more of this?

You might be thinking that this trembling idea is just an Old Testament idea. Phil. 2:12-13 says, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” This is the same logic that we find in the Old Testament. We’re to work out our salvation with fear and trembling because God is working in us. When God is near there should be fear and trembling.

I think the Psa. 2:11 verse mentioned above is helpful, “Serve the LORD (Yahweh) with fear, and rejoice with trembling.” There’s a tension. We rejoice with trembling. We wildly rejoice. God is good to us. At the same time we tremble realizing that we’re in the presence of the holy God, and He’s deadly. Given the risk of being in God’s presence, when we gather to rejoice, we should also tremble. We’re fools if we don’t. There should be an element of solemnity as we worship. Again, tension, God is our refuge (Psa. 62:6), but he’s also a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29). Tremble!

Bible Reading

January 5, 2021

I very much appreciated Scott’s encouragement this past Sunday. It was on my mind to do the same. With a little discipline it’s fairly easy to read the Bible through in a year. It’s one of those things that is very beneficial. 

The point of reading the Bible isn’t primarily to know the stuff, the information, that’s in the Bible, it’s about knowing God. I’m reminded of Paul’s line in Philippians 3:10, “That I may know HIm.” I think there is a legalistic trap to avoid when reading the Bible. It can become a duty. Like buying flowers for one’s wife because it’s what a husband is supposed to do, something is wrong with this. The point of Bible reading is relationship with God. Seek to hear Him and not check off a box.

Here are some additional thoughts about Bible reading. First, when reading the Bible seek to understand the interpretation of a passage before applying it. Just because God fed Elijah with ravens doesn’t mean that he’ll feed us with ravens. Second, I realize that some of us just aren’t readers. This isn’t a legitimate excuse these days. There are audio Bibles. Siri (or her Android sister) will read it to us. Third, use the Word to shape your prayers. As you’re convicted or encouraged, respond appropriately to your Father. 

Fourth, as I said Sunday, work to get in the Word on a daily basis. If reading the Bible through in a year isn’t realistic then read a chapter a day. Read a section a day. If God is the love of your life, you will want to hear what He has to say. As Scott said, there are many reading plans. 25 years ago I faithfully used Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s plan. It’s been around well over 150 years. It’s designed to be read with the family and in private, and gets one through the Old Testament once and Psalms, Proverbs, and the New Testament twice a year. 

As I said Sunday, now I simply try to read 4 chapters a day. Since you get through the Bible in a year reading 3.25 chapters a day, reading 4 chapters a day builds lots of flexibility into the schedule. When I restart reading the Bible through (I almost never start at the New Year — again I want to avoid legalism. I finished Jeremiah this morning.) I start in Genesis and Psalms at the same time. After Psalms I read Proverbs then I go to the New Testament. By the time I’m done with the New Testament I jump back to wherever I am in the Old Testament. This usually happens about the time I get to Isaiah. I finish the Old Testament and keep reading through the New Testament. Then I’ll go back and reread Pslams. So, I get the whole Bible once and the New Testament and Psalms twice.

I mention this not because it’s a perfect system. It isn’t. I mention it to say that Christians ought to have a desire to hear the voice of God. How amazing it is that we have the Word of our Creator. Our goal isn’t to legalistically march through the Bible. We might march through the Bible but our goal is to know God. What I’m saying is that we need to find a strategy that gets us in the Word everyday, fits who we are, and builds intimacy with God.    

I realize that I’m probably preaching to the choir. That we’re to read isn’t debatable. We live by every word that comes from God’s mouth, Mt. 4.4. How much Word we need to sustain our spiritual lives varies from person to person and from situation to situation. 20 years ago or so when I was “only” reading my Bible through once a year I had a conversation with the Village Missionary from Horse Creek, Jeff Pratt. He told me that he was reading the Bible through twice a year. I had to think about that. Was I a slacker? Probably. But the thought that I arrived at is that I really can’t digest more than 4 or 5 chapters a day. I can obviously read more, but at some point the Word is just whistling between my ears, and it isn’t impacting me as it should. So, be in the Word daily and find that pace that keeps you spiritually full. 

Why Celebrate Christmas?

December 7, 2020

What follows is this month’s newsletter offering. What I’ve written can be substantiated many different places. What spurred this topic was a conversation that I heard on the Theology Pugcast. On the Pugcast, Glenn Sunshine made the comment that no one connected the idea that Christmas was an effort by the church to adopt (steal) pagan celebrations for many centuries after Christmas celebrations began. That jarred some memories and the newsletter followed. Speaking of which …

“As you might know, Jake and Chloe’s twins just had a birthday. They just concluded their first trip around the sun. Earlier this year, Revi did the same thing. Of course, these birthdays were celebrated with appropriate fanfare. For those of us related to Revi, Miles, and Eliza these birthdays were reminders of God’s incomprehensible grace. Their birthdays needed to be marked with celebration.

December is the month we celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus. His birthday too needs to be marked by celebration We typically spend the month not just celebrating His birth, but also meditating on the significance of His life. Overall, this is a very good thing. Spending time unpacking Jesus’ life and work is the most beneficial activity on the planet. We can’t do too much of it. It’s the spiritual equivalent to breathing. It sustains us spiritually. 2Cor. 3:18 says, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” It’s as we behold or contemplate the glory of Jesus that we’re transformed into His image. Christmas by its very nature causes us to turn our eyes upon Jesus. Granted the view is often cluttered, yet the more we see Jesus, the more we are blessed.

Every now and then we run into people who tell us that celebrating the birth of Jesus isn’t a good thing. These folks come in two flavors. First, there are the skeptics. These are the people who have no connection to Jesus, and all they want to do is to stop Jesus’ birthday party at all costs. Second, there are scrooges who think that because the birth of Jesus isn’t commanded in the Bible, believers ought to stay away from the party. Both of these groups will team up in an effort to keep houses and churches free of celebration. The arguments used are twofold. First, there is the claim that Christians simply repackaged pagan celebrations as Christmas in the fourth century. Kind of like our Fall Frenzy where we repackaged Halloween, these people believe that Christians made either the Saturnalia festival (December 17-23) or the feast of the birth of Sol Invictus (the unconquered sun) celebrated on December 25, about the birth of Jesus. The claim is that Christians believed that this would have spread the gospel. There is a problem. There are NO ancient writings supporting this claim. No one until the 12th century ever mentioned this idea. In fact, the view that Christian stole these pagan holidays didn’t become popular until 18th and 19th centuries. This just didn’t happen.

The second argument is that we’re not commanded to celebrate Christmas in the Bible. And, of course, we’re not. But, remember the feast of Purim initiated in the book of Esther. The people of that day decided that Purim ought to be celebrated every year to remember the deliverance that God provided. It wasn’t commanded by a prophet or priest. It just made sense to celebrate the work of God. In John 10 Jesus is in the temple celebrating the Feast of Dedication. This is known to us as Hanukkah. Hanukkah is about the dedication of the temple after Antiochus desecrated it during the intertestamental period. There is no biblical warrant for this feast. Yet, Jesus is present as the celebration is going on. If these festivities were legitimate with no prophetical or even biblical warrant, shouldn’t Christmas be legitimate? Christmas is about God’s greatest deliverance. It seems to me that if Hanukkah is legit, certainly Christmas is too.

Why December 25? Again, the accusation is that this date was chosen to correspond to winter solstice celebrations. Of course, the 25th isn’t the solstice. Actually, there’s a better reason. The thought in antiquity was that people died on the day they were conceived. Jesus died on the 15th of Nisan, which corresponds to our March 25. So the ancients believed that the Holy Spirit “overshadowed” Mary on March 25. Add nine months to March 25 and you end up with December 25.

So, celebrate our great deliverance. Fight to see Jesus during this special time of year. Indeed, if there’s one thing we need, it’s to see Jesus more clearly.”

Thinking About Thanksgiving

November 23, 2020

This is from the November Bowman newsletter:

As you well know, this is the month we think about gratitude, thanksgiving. We realize that we should be thankful all the time, but November is the month of our Thanksgiving holiday. There are many verses telling us to be thankful. Passages command us to be thankful in and for all circumstances. You and I can struggle to do this. Philippians 2:14-15 get at the negative side of the same issue. They say, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” Grumbling is the opposite of gratitude. Jon Bloom has written that grumbling is the accent of hell, while gratitude is the accent of heaven. So, what accent do you speak with?

Just for a moment, think about how easy it is to grumble. Most of life doesn’t unfold according to our script. Things just don’t go according to plan. Sometimes we look back over our day and realize that we failed to accomplish the one thing we wanted to get done. Then there’s the usual litany of bugaboos that are always lurking. Things like health, finances, jobs, and relationships with our loved ones continue to frustrate us. All this to say that grumbling can be my natural accent. Those closest to me probably have no difficulty detecting this.

Grumbling flows from eyes that are focused on our earthly problems rather than on our Savior and His incomprehensible grace. Grumbling is a sign of vision that is earthbound. More than this, it is an indication of frustration with God’s plan for our lives. Grumbling is about putting my desires and plans above God’s. My cravings are what’s important and when they go unfulfilled I voice my displeasure. Grumbling ultimately is about unhappiness with God’s Good, acceptable and perfect will, Romans 12:2.  

Gratitude flows from eyes that are focused on the infinite grace of God. Again, gratitude is the accent of heaven. As we consider the truth that we don’t deserve God’s grace and mercy, we’re driven to be people of gratitude. Gratitude is birthed by the idea that God’s grace is truly sufficient to meet our every need. Additionally we realize that God is always treating us better than we deserve. 

Going back to the Philippians verse, this isn’t optional for believers. We’re to do “all things without grumbling.” The bar is very high. We do this so that we will “be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation.” Paul is telling us how important this issue is. To be a grumbler is to be guilty of disobedience. It is to be like those who are part of this crooked and twisted generation. 

So we need to be focused on God’s grace and not our problems. Also, we need to be people of prayer. Our natural accent of grumbling easily sneaks back into our conversation. We must have God’s help if we’re going to speak with the accent of our new homeland. Here’s how Jon Bloom frames his prayer:   

Prone to grumbling, Lord, I feel it,

Prone to scorn the God I love;

Here’s my eye, O take and peel it

Till I see the grace above.

How do we shine as lights in this crooked and twisted generation? We speak with gratitude and thanksgiving. Awhile back Debbie and I were listening to a podcast. As we were listening Debbie said, “It sounds like this guy is from Canada.” Turns out she was right. She could tell by his subtle accent that he was Canadian. Let’s speak with the accent of heaven. Hopefully when people hear us talk they don’t hear grumbling and griping, rather they hear the brogue of heaven. Instead of hearing what’s wrong, they’ll hear the delights of God’s grace.

Thinking About the Election

November 2, 2020

This is from Bowman’s October newsletter:

We find ourselves in the throes of another election season. Elections in the State of California are always dicey affairs. We have a government bent on expansion, wanting to interfere in every area of our lives. Worse, we have a government bent on the murder of human babies in the womb. It seems that election after election in California confirms both of these two trajectories. 

Our national election is precarious as well. Many are advocating a direction that most of us would find most uncomfortable, if not outright immoral. If one side wins the conscience saving Hyde Amendment goes away and the unthinkable advance of socialism seems unavoidable. We realize that from a human perspective a great deal hangs in the balance this November 3. Making things worse, the C-19 thing keeps threatening. It isn’t just the virus that lurks, it’s the new, potentially irrational mandates that might come our way. Believe it or not, I’m not trying to ruin your day.

Christian voting ought to reflect biblical morality. I realize that there are many issues that concern us, and we need to vote for those as well. Yet, the abortion issue ought to be our primary concern. John MacArthur has said, “There’s no way that a Christian can affirm the slaughter of babies, homosexual activity, homosexual marriage, or any kind of gross immorality.” Again, morality ought to dictate how believers vote.    

It really doesn’t matter what side of the aisle people are on, no doubt many will be reaching for the Xanax come November 3. It doesn’t matter who wins. There will obviously be millions of people who will be deeply troubled with the results. While I realize that we might be very disappointed with the outcome, we as believers can rest. We have truth that soothes the soul no matter how disappointing the political landscape might be.

There are two things to keep in mind as we work through potentially unhappy election results. The first is that election outcomes are from the hand of God. Indeed He works all things according to the counsel of His will (Eph. 1:11). Specifically, the “governing authorities” we end up with are God’s chosen servants (Romans 13:1-7). We might not like them, but they’re where they are because God put them there. We might not understand why we have the governing authorities we have, but God does. We rest in God’s incomprehensible wisdom. Is. 55:8-9 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Furthermore, as long as we’re not asked to violate God’s law we have an obligation to obey our authorities.  

Second, while it’s wonderful when God gives us governing authorities that think like we do, ultimately whether we have great authorities or not, we trust in the Lord. Psa. 20:7 says, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.” We can over trust great rulers. We want leaders whom we can trust. Just as people of old wanted to trust their war machine made up of horses and chariots, we want to rely on our political leaders to give us the life we want. No, we’re to trust in the name of the LORD our God. About 700 BC many in Israel were afraid of the Assyrians. Their solution? Run to Egypt for help. How did God respond? Is. 31:1 says, “Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help and rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel or consult the LORD!” While we desperately want great politicians, our hope is in the Lord. 

One thing for sure, come November 4 a significant electoral college minority will be in mourning. I hope that whatever happens we as the people of God will rest that the King of Kings is still on the throne, and He’s still caring for His people. We need to not only rest in this truth, we need to rejoice in it.

Veni, Creator Spiritus

October 17, 2020

This wonderful poem (prayer) is best read out loud. It was written with 9th century hymn, Veni, Creator Spiritus, in mind. Dryden was a 17th century poet and playwright.


Creator Spirit, by whose aid 
The world’s foundations first were laid, 
Come, visit ev’ry pious mind; 
Come, pour thy joys on human kind; 
From sin, and sorrow set us free; 
And make thy temples worthy Thee. 

O, Source of uncreated Light, 
The Father’s promis’d Paraclete! 
Thrice Holy Fount, thrice Holy Fire, 
Our hearts with heav’nly love inspire; 
Come, and thy Sacred Unction bring 
To sanctify us, while we sing! 

Plenteous of grace, descend from high, 
Rich in thy sev’n-fold energy! 
Thou strength of his Almighty Hand, 
Whose pow’r does heav’n and earth command: 
Proceeding Spirit, our Defence, 
Who do’st the gift of tongues dispence, 
And crown’st thy gift with eloquence! 

Refine and purge our earthly parts; 
But, oh, inflame and fire our hearts! 
Our frailties help, our vice control; 
Submit the senses to the soul; 
And when rebellious they are grown, 
Then, lay thy hand, and hold ’em down. 

Chase from our minds th’ Infernal Foe; 
And peace, the fruit of love, bestow; 
And, lest our feet should step astray, 
Protect, and guide us in the way. 

Make us Eternal Truths receive, 
And practise, all that we believe: 
Give us thy self, that we may see 
The Father and the Son, by thee. 

Immortal honour, endless fame, 
Attend th’ Almighty Father’s name: 
The Saviour Son be glorified, 
Who for lost Man’s redemption died: 
And equal adoration be, 
Eternal Paraclete, to thee. 

The God-Man

October 10, 2020

On Sunday evenings at Bowman as we’ve been unpacking the theology of Keach’s Catechism we’ve talked some about who Jesus is. This is a devotional from Philpot’s Through Baca’s Vale. It’s the Cliff Notes on the incarnation. It’s well worth the time spent thinking about what’s said. If you want to understand who Jesus is, this is a good place to start:

Father, I will that they also, whom you have given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which you have given me–for you loved me before the foundation of the world.” John 17:24

How great, how elevated above all utterance or all conception of men or angels, must the glory of Christ be–as the Son of the Father in truth and love! And not only is the Lord Jesus Christ glorious in his essential Deity as the Son of God, but glorious also in his holy, spotless humanity which he assumed in the womb of the Virgin Mary. For this, though the flesh and blood of the children, was “that holy One who was begotten of the Holy Spirit,” and was taken into union with his eternal Deity, that he might be “Immanuel, God with us.” The purity, holiness and innocence, the spotless beauty and complete perfection of this human nature, make it in itself exceedingly glorious; but its great glory is the union that it possesses and enjoys with the divine nature of the Son of God. The pure humanity of Jesus veils his Deity, and yet the Deity shines through it, filling it with unutterable brightness, and irradiating it with inconceivable glory. There is no blending of the two natures, for humanity cannot become Deity, nor can Deity become humanity; each nature remains distinct; and each nature has its own peculiar glory. But there is a glory also in the union of both natures in the Person of the God-man. That such wisdom should have been displayed, such grace manifested, such love revealed, and that the union of the two natures in the Person of the Son of God should not only have, so to speak, formerly originated, but should still unceasingly uphold, and eternally maintain salvation with all its present fruits of grace, and all its future fruits of glory, makes the union of the two natures unspeakably glorious.

And when we consider further that through this union of humanity with Deity, the Church is brought into the most intimate nearness and closest relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit, what a glory is seen to illuminate the Person of the God-man, who as God is one with God, and as man is one with man, and thus unites man to God, and God to man; thus bringing about the fulfillment of those wonderful words, “That they all may be one; as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us.” And again, “I in them, and you in me, that they may be made perfect in one.”

Thus there is the glory of Christ as God, the glory of Christ as man, and the glory of Christ as God-man. And this threefold glory of Christ corresponds in a measure with what he was before he came into the world, with what he was while in the world, and with what he now is as having gone to the Father, according to his own words (John 16:28). Before he came into the world his chief glory was that belonging to him as the Son of God; while in the world his chief glory was in being the Son of man; and now that he is gone back to heaven his chief glory is that of his being God and man in one glorious Person.

This latter glory of Christ, which is, in an especial sense, his mediatorial glory, is seen by faith here, and will be seen in the open vision of bliss hereafter. The three disciples on the Mount of transfiguration, Stephen at the time of his martyrdom, Paul when caught up into the third heaven, John in Patmos, had all special and supernatural manifestations of the glory of Christ; that is, surpassing what is generally given to believers. But the usual way in which we now see his glory is by the Holy Spirit “glorifying him by receiving of what is his, and showing it to the soul.” This divine and blessed Teacher testifies of him; takes away the veil of ignorance and unbelief which hides him from view; shines with a holy and sacred light on the Scriptures that speak of him; and raising up faith to believe in his name sets him before the eyes of the enlightened understanding, so that he is looked unto and upon; and though not seen with the bodily eye, is loved, believed, and rejoiced in with joy unspeakable and full of glory. Thus seen by the eye of faith, all that he is and has, all that he says and does is made precious and glorious. His miracles of mercy, while here below; his words so full of grace, wisdom, and truth; his going about doing good; his sweet example of patience, meekness, and submission; his sufferings and sorrows in the garden and on the cross; his spotless holiness and purity, yet tender compassion to poor lost sinners; his atoning blood and justifying obedience; his dying love, so strong and firm, yet so tried by earth, heaven, and hell; his lowly, yet honorable burial; his glorious resurrection, as the first-begotten of the dead, by which he was declared to be the Son of God with power; his ascension to the right hand of the Father, where he reigns and rules, all power being given unto him in heaven and earth, and yet intercedes for his people as the great High Priest over the house of God. What beauty and glory shine forth in all these divine realities, when faith can view them in union with the work and Person of Immanuel!