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Statistics and the Providence of God.

It’s funny how we use statistics to comfort us. With this Covid plague going on around us we can be fairly certain – statistically speaking – that most of us aren’t going to die from the virus. Yet, when we talk to those around us or when we look at the news, there is great fear out there because people are just plain scared of dying. So, to find some comfort we might quote the stats. But it’s not always all that comforting really is it? Stats only spell out – from human perception – the less than perfect measure of likelihood that someone may or may not die, it doesn’t tell us who will die. Imagine a world where we could know who would die. Every morning we could wake up hearing the names etc., read off tv of those who would succumb to the virus that day, week or month. That could be greatly comforting – at least for those whose names are not read. I guess the problem would lie in the fact that people would still go to sleep wondering if their name was next?!

We have a problem here don’t we. It doesn’t matter how much we could comfort ourselves about our longevity, likelihood or risk, there is no tangible way for anyone to take comfort with statistical analysis. Why? Well, even if we were to have 1% risk of perishing, I would feel fairly safe, but if that 1% also relates to my children I would have a slightly different perspective. I am willing to the take that risk for myself, but when it come to those I love a 1% risk is not actually something I am prepared to entertain! What if my family was to be part of that 1%? Well, in that case, stats are not particularly useful.

Well that’s where we as Christians have a greater resource for comfort – the sovereignty and providence of God. The understating that God is actually in charge of all things -governing the good and the bad, it doesn’t matter what the stats or experts say, unless God says you will die of Covid (for example), you will not die from Covid. In fact, there is no chance you will die from Covid if God has not determined it for you. Moreover, there is no chance you won’t die from Covid if God has determined that that is how you will die. In the end, there is no chance at all in our world, in anything, if God is sovereign. Chance simply does not exists, thus stats are merely a fictional and superficial comfort and a vain intellectual exercise when it comes to God, and I am 100% sure of that. As Christians, we are not fatalists, we know that if God in his love and wisdom chooses for the sake of his holy name to take us to be with Him – then we know 100% that is it for our good, that it is 100% for His glory, and that His faithfulness will continue to prove 100% true. Now, that is a comforting statistic. I don’t know of anything else that is. Thus, stats cannot comfort, only the sovereign rule of God and 100% confidence that he is working all things for good. Something, that we as christians can be 100% sure of.

Here is what the Westminster Confession says:

5.1. God the great Creator of all things does uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by His most wise and holy providence, according to His infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of His own will, to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy.

WCF 5.1

This truth in practical truth has been so wonderfully put to words in the Heidelberg Catechism (this is distinct to the Heidelberg Disputation – same city different people involved):

1. Q. What is your only comfort in life and death? A. That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by His Holy Spirit He also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for Him.

Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 1.

Amen.

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My New Motorbike…

Having sold my Triumph some months ago – a decision the orthopaedic surgeon was pleased about – there were probably some ‘naysayers’ and ‘soothsayers’ out there who were disappointed and unconvinced I would ever get a bike again. Well, I am happy to say to my detractors that I am no longer ‘bike-less’.

My new bike is cheap to run and maintain, it has little to no emissions, it is unlikely to rust; and compared to my Triumph it is super light and no doubt will get the orthopod’s tick of approval. Moreover, I am no longer a temporary Australian in owning this bike…unless of course I were to trip over it and hit my head on the table. Bikes of all sizes can be dangerous you know.

Here she is:

The test ride went really well too. My German friend took it for a spin but got a speed ticket in Wittenberg…

My German friend also went on to write some books on his motoring experience: ‘The Ninety-Five Tune-Ups’, ‘The freedom of a motorcycle’ and ‘The Bondage of the Thrill.’ He then got kicked out of the infamous outlaw bikie gang ‘The False Prophets’ by their leader ‘Popey Boy’ which is a subset of the aptly named ‘Hell’s Angels’.

God Speed – just don’t get a ticket…

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Have you ever wondered why some Christians want to defend free will?…

Many christians want to defend the idea of free will because somehow without it we must turn into some form of Robo Cop style robot rather than a human being. It’s funny, I wonder what the argument would have been before robots were invented? Yet many christian folk are willing to die on the hill of ‘free-will’ in order to prevent God from becoming some form of monster who just does what he wants to humans. But hang on, God does do what he wants. We have a word for that – sovereign! Yes God can be sovereign and not be a big mean monster because He decides who He wants His children to be. Abraham is point and case. Was Abraham a robot because God broke into his world – against his will – and called him out of his own country into another and further called him to be the father of many nations? You see the idea that we must have free will – in order to choose God and thus be saved – is a furphy.

Adam and Eve could be said to have had true[er] free will. But their rejection of God and the fall of mankind has actually affected – though not removed – the will. How? Well, because of sin all we want to do now is choose sin. It’s not that we want to choose good – not at all. Our will post-fall delights in doing evil. If this is the case, how does one choose God? He doesn’t. That is why free will is not a requirement in our coming to Christ. In fact, in regeneration we are rescued from that pre-Christ free will (that we like to defend) when Christ forgives us and we start our journey of sanctification. But here is the important point. Our freedom to choose good (albeit still struggling with sinful desires) is only reawakened as a regenerated believer – and only then! So our salvation does not depend upon us using our free will to choose God!

Funny this. Those who wish to defend free will pre-salvation need to know they are in good company: hmm, who could they be? the Devil, Pelagius and semi-pelagians…yes the Arminians are right to start shaking right now with an awkward clearing of the throat and a ‘nothing to see hear folks!’ Those with some theological training under their belt will notice that the defence of a true free will before regeneration is a view held by heretics…(and yes RC Church that includes you!) Augustine famously had a shoot out with Pelagius who thought we were born sinless and therefore could choose God and choose activities that would make us righteous. In one of his writings against a pelagian, Augustine gets to the heart of why people want to defend free will:

‘You want a man to glory, not in the Lord, but in his own free will, for you want him to be ‘aroused by the stirrings of a noble heart to what is praiseworthy,’ so that he would first give, that recompense should be made him, and in this way grace would no longer be grace, because it is not gratuitous.’ – Against Julian 4.3.15

So do you see folks? There is more at stake here than just a term. It is the grace of God. This is why Luther also focused on the bondage of the will in his defence of the gospel because for grace to be grace, we could not choose ourselves into heaven. The Roman Catholic Church was in cahoots with Pelagius. In thesis 13 of the Heidelberg Disputation Luther argued this:

‘Free will, after the fall, is a thing in name only and while it ‘does what is in it’ it commits mortal sin.’

Luther later went on to have a shoot out with Erasmus on this very matter. There is a theme here isn’t there? When we want to seem righteous in our own eyes we resort to the self praise of free will and ‘I should get some kudos for choosing God.’ But God chose us. We are saved by His free will – not ours.

After all, these two men were just following Paul:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

Ephesians 1:3-6 (ESV)

Amen

*Written from a hotel quarantine room where I do not have the choice to leave. But praise God for His grace!!

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Woe to you Padres and Chaplains…

Matthew 23:1–36 (NMV – Nathan’s Modified Version)

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, ‘The Padres and Chaplains sit in Christ’s office so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they claim to preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders they do not like, but they themselves are not willing to move the burdens with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others and particularly by those of rank and influence. They make their actions known and their preaching scarves long. They love the place of honour at mess dinners, the best seats at ceremonies, greetings in the workplace and being called ‘Sir’ or ‘Father’ by others…Call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called Sir, for you have one superior: Christ! The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

But woe to you, Padres and Chaplains, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.

Woe to you, Padres and Chaplains, hypocrites! For you travel across sea, land or air to make a single proselyte who will justify and affirm your disobedience and rebellion, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves…

Woe to you, Padres and Chaplains, hypocrites! For you spend much time on welfare, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law and gospel: justice, mercy, and faithfulness. This you ought to have done, without neglecting the former. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

Woe to you, Padres and Chaplains, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside you are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Padres and Chaplains! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

Woe to you, Padres and Chaplains, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

Woe to you, Padres and Chaplains, hypocrites! For you pay lip service to the prophets and pretend to admire the righteous, saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets, wise men, scribes and Bible believing Padres and Chaplains, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog, disparage and undermine with your mouths and persecute from base to base, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel and…to my own blood split on the cross…

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Happy Reformation Day!!

Well the 31st of October has come around again. The day on which we celebrate Luther’s posting of his 95 Theses in Wittenberg in 1517. These theses attacked the cruel notion that we can purchase forgiveness and less time in purgatory. Luther came to understand that the gospel of God’s righteousness is good news which is a gift to us–not a threat of punishment! The just shall live by faith (Rom. 1:17), not by faith and works. Luther was really discovering the Apostle Paul for the first time and not inventing anything new…Soli Deo Gloria.

This song was written to reflect on the 5 solas of the reformation by Tim Chester and Bob Kauflin:

1. Your word alone is solid ground,
the mighty rock on which we build.
In every line the truth is found,
and every page with glory filled.

2. Through faith alone we come to you,
we have no merit we can claim,
sure that your promises are true,
we place our hope in Jesus’ name.

     Gloria, gloria, glory to God alone.
     Gloria, gloria, glory to God alone.

3. In Christ alone we’re justified,
his righteousness is all our plea.
Your law’s demands are satisfied,
his perfect work has set us free.

     Gloria, gloria, glory to God alone.
     Gloria, gloria, glory to God alone.

4. By grace alone we have been saved,
all that we are has come from you.
Hearts that were once by sin enslaved,
now by your pow’r have been made new.

     Gloria, gloria, glory to God alone.
     Gloria, gloria, glory to God alone.

Optional final verse for Reformation Sunday:
And on this Reformation day
we join with saints of old to sing;
we lift our hearts as one in praise:
Glory to Christ our gracious King.

Tim Chester and Bob Kauflin

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For the tired and weary…we are almost home…

‘Don’t drop a single anchor, we’re almost home
Through every toil and danger, we’re almost home
How many pilgrim saints have before us gone?
No stopping now, we’re almost home…’

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The new blog ‘Riding Shotgun’ has arrived…

'Riding Shotgun' was the term used for the role a bodyguard sitting alongside the driver of a stagecoach in the Wild West. The bodyguard's role was to provide some 'double barrel' action against bandits, cowboys and hostile Indians. The Wild West days might be long gone, but theological bandits, religious cowboys, and yella liberals (some masquerading as tobacco chewing evangelicals) are still nonetheless circling and harassing those faithful to the historic Protestant and reformed faith. These people seek to undermine and steal away the precious gospel rediscovered at the reformation.

In a day marked by unquestioning and blind adherence to the philosophy of cultural marxism and moral therapeutic deism - I am talking first about the church not the world - we need more than ever to remember our history. Orwell was right, 'He who controls the past, controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.' But if we remember and teach the past, they cannot control the future (What Orwell never knew, however, was that behind it all God controls the past, present and future). But Orwell's point, from a human point of view, is well made. 

Thus, before those controlling the present cancel out the past through their vivid imaginations, ignorance, and shameless rewriting of history, we are going to ride shotgun with the Protestant reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin (and by default Augustine and the Apostle Paul). These two men provide us with the theological 'double barrels' required to ward off any threat we face from the hostile forces encircling us today, whether they those forces be good, bad, or ugly...and maybe learn some history and chew theology in the process.

But remember, and most importantly, if you want to ride shotgun properly with Luther and Calvin, you will need a moustache, a sense of humour, a scatter gun and...hmm...to have seen one John Wayne movie - at least!
**DISCLAIMER**

No anabaptists were hurt in the production of this blog. For those mountain men and hill billies who need to be told: no it is never ok to use a shotgun in the defence of the Christian faith...I recommend an 1892 lever action Winchester like the Rifleman used, although it wasn't invented yet...when he used it.
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Wittenberg Door is changing name!

The Wittenberg door is going to close. But – wait for it – the blog will continue under a different name and direction. Plus the shonky and annoying adds will be removed. Anytime now…

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Harry Potter eat your heart out!

I’m listening to On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson, narrated by Andrew Peterson on my Audible app. Try Audible and get it here: https://www.audible.com.au/pd?asin=1529371147&source_code=ASSORAP0511160006

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A Diet of Worms… (1)

On the 18th of April 1521 Martin Luther stood before Emperor Charles V during the Imperial Diet held at Worms in Germany. The Emperor had summoned Luther for what would be his ‘most dramatic public event of his career.’ Luther had already been threatened with excommunication by Pope Leo X. Now he was facing the fury of the Roman Catholic Emperor. Given a pledge of safe conduct from the Emperor (i.e. the promise to protect Luther in order for him to appear at the Diet) Luther held in close memory the pledge of safe conduct given to Jan Hus almost 106 years earlier. Hus too had questioned the infallibility of the pope and despite the promise of safe conduct was burned at the stake at the Council of Constance. Hus’s last words were reported to be that they can burn the goose (His name means goose in Czech) but in 100 years a swan will come that they could never kill. This swan—or so it was inferred—was now standing before the Holy Roman Emperor hoping to have the opportunity to argue his case from Scripture.