Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Muslim-Christian Dialogue, Part 2

Four more sections (parts 5-8) from the Christian--Muslim Dialogue this past march.

Muslim-Christian Dialogue Video

The video from the recent Muslim-Christian dialogue in Dubai is now being posted. Looks they'll be uploaded to YouTube in 22 parts. Below is the opening introduction along with Bassam Zawadi's opening remarks. Lord willing, I'll post my opening remarks in a day or so. I'd welcome your feedback, comments, suggestions for improvement, etc.

Part 1: Welcoming Comments

Parts 2-4: Zawadi's Opening Remarks

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Random Reflections and Hopes Following the Gospel Coalition

If you haven't found the already, you can find the conference talks from The Gospel Coalition here.

So, now that I'm down from the conference mountain top, I'm trying to prayerfully sift through some of the things the Lord showed me and hopefully taught me while there. Here are a few random reflections. I'd be interested to hear some of your own in the comments section.

1. The Lord has given me the outstanding privilege of pastoring a church full of "positives." I like Driscoll's description of positives, negatives, and neutrals. The framework was helpful and easily recognizable. And I had one of those moments that sometimes happens, where something is said in the sermon and the Lord draws your attention away from the sermon to a particular thought needing your attention and prayer. I was drawn to listing the people in the church who were "positives." In a couple minutes, I had a sheet of paper full of people and the definite sense that I could go on if I had my membership directory with me. [Note to self: keep the directory with you all the time]

2. Do not fear and do not shy away from suffering. Boy, do I need to hear that again and again, and I'm grateful to those who will preach the difficult things of the ministry. Speaker after speaker called us to do the hard things in the ministry with joy, to endure suffering like a good soldier, and to count the suffering nothing compared to the riches of Christ.

3. The Keller, Fernando, Carson talks form an outstanding primer on preaching the gospel in a way that makes contact with modern pagans and religious folks who have a form of godliness but deny the power thereof. If you only listen to three talks, listen to these three. I don't know that there were any set of talks at any conference that have so quickly and deeply impacted my view of preaching or quickened as much desire to preach than these three together. Keller addresses idolatry so clearly. Fernando helped so much with thinking about communicating to folks who don't share your assumptions, language, etc. And Carson's discussion about the "third position" from which we flex to win people was simply outstanding. I'm going back to these more slowly and carefully.

4. One talk for preachers: Bryan Chappel's sermon. Must listen! "We not only preach about God and for God, but also as God." Preacher, you need that unpacked for you if you've never thought about it or heard it. Must listening for preachers and for those who listen to preaching. The Scriptures are the voice, hand and heart of God. Chappel's use of Lewis' liar, lunatic and Lord applied to the word of God was brilliant! Listen to this sermon.

5. The fellowship of 3,000+ saints. I can't say enough about this. Old friends; new friends. Re-acquainting and rejoicing together in our Lord.

6. The fellowship with the three brothers who attended with me. This, by far, was the most precious part of the time there, growing together with brothers who love the Lord and His gospel. And this was only possible because of the generosity of the church. Our partnership in the gospel enriches me beyond description. Again, the "positives" are too numerous to count.

7. I was deeply impressed with how The Gospel Coalition and T4G and the Sovereign Grace Pastors' Conference and Worship God and The Shepherd's Conference are being used of the Lord to prepare the coming generation of pastors. These meetings are young! Overwhelmingly, twenty- and thirty-somethings come to these meetings, and one can see the torch being passed as they sit under the ministries of those who've been at it 30, 40 and sometimes 50 years. I love the humility on display when a man in his 30s sits under the teaching of someone who has been serving the Lord's church longer than they've been alive. That's good and healthy. All over the place there was the exchange of head and heart between young and old. It was sweet.

8. World Christianity. That's what you get a glimpse of when you have the privilege of attending something like The Gospel Coalition. When you're at something like this, you see that the church is bigger than your own local congregation. You see that neither your successes or struggles are unique to you. You see thousands of people representing thousands of churches where the Lord is very actively at work! It reminds you that you're not alone, grows your prayer life, and strengthens you for the work ahead.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Does God's Love Really Comfort You?

"To the degree that you have based your life on something other than the Lord, to that degree God's love and the hope of the gospel will not comfort you."

Paul David Tripp, War of Words, p. 98.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Joys of Talking with Little Kids

My wife: "Titus I love you."

Titus: "I love you toooo!"

My wife: "Titus, I love Daddy too. He's my best friend."

Titus: "NNNNNNNO!"

My wife: "Why can't I love Daddy too?"

Titus: "Because he can get bugs on him...and mosquitos."

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Great Commission Resurgence

President Danny Akin of Southeastern Baptist Theological recently addressed Southeastern Seminary students in the school's chapel. In the address, Pres. Akin called for a "Great Commission Resurgence." (Baptist Press coverage) The resurgence would be built on twelve axioms. Here's one that caught my attention:

Axiom 6: A passionate pursuit of the Great Commission's command to go to the United States and all nations, to disciple, baptize and teach. Starting at home, this means racial reconciliation in every Southern Baptist church and a commitment to reach those of every race and social class in their own communities and elsewhere.

"We must pursue a vision for our churches that looks like heaven," Akin said. "Yes, we must go around the world to reach Asians and Europeans, the Africans and the South Americans. But we must also go across the street, down the road and into every corner of our local mission field where God, in grace, has brought the nations to us.

"This means planting authentically Bible/Baptist churches and filling them with authentic followers of Jesus, irrespective of nationality, race, economic or social status. Genuine discipleship is not negotiable."

You don't hear this from Southern Baptists everyday--and I am one! Go 'head Danny!

HT: Reconciliation Blog

This Is HOT!

LeCrae's "Don't Waste Your Life," a video for the upcoming tour. HT: JT.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Discussing "The Decline" on Iron Sharpens Iron

It'll be a privilege and a joy to join Chris Arnsen on his radio show, Iron Sharpens Iron, today and tomorrow at 3pm Eastern. We'll be discussing The Decline of African American Theology. If you're in the NY area, please tune in and join the discussion. Or join us online as well.

Have You Lost the Joy of the Election?

If you're a pastor that believes the Bible teaches both (1) the responsibility of man to repent and believe and (2) the sovereignty of God in choosing people unto salvation, you probably spend a lot of time explaining at least one-half of that belief to a number of your congregants. It is a joyful privilege to explain the whole counsel of God, to encourage people in new areas of biblical truth that they might not have seen or understood before.

It's also sometimes disconcerting for people as they learn things they hadn't understood before, things that really alter their understanding of the Scriptures and of God in a major way. The fancy-smancy psychological term for this is cognitive dissonance. Well, in a number of such conversations, it's not cognitive but emotional dissonance. People sometimes see the truth, have an emotional reaction to the truth (not necessarily denying the truth), and decide they don't like it. Patience is required in such cases, as well as helping people understand that an emotional impulse to deny the truth does not come from the Lord. The truth should shape our emotional responses, rather than our emotional responses shaping our acceptance of the truth.

All that to say: it's really helpful to underscore reasons why a particular truth should be cause for rejoicing. Truth is for our joy. And that's true of every truth in Scripture, including God's sovereign choosing of His people.

A few biblical reasons to rejoice in election:

Election ensures that God's purposes stand:
"Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad--in order that God's purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls--she was told, 'The older will serve the younger'." (Rom. 9:11-12)

Election ensures that our salvation depends on mercy, not ourselves:
"It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy" (Rom. 9:16).

Election maintains the Creator-creature distinction, producing humility:
"One of you will say to me: 'Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?" But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? 'Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, "Why did you make me like this?"' Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?" (Rom. 9:19-21)

Election guarantees our good in life and our glorification with Christ:
"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he justified; those he justified, he also glorified" (Rom. 8:28-30).

"But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Thes. 2:13-14).

Election ensures blameless justification:
"Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies" (Rom. 8:33).

Election guarantees that God will be worshipped:
"God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don't you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah--how he appealed to God against Israel: 'Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me'? And what was God's answer? 'I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal." So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace" (Rom. 11:2-5).

"In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory" (Eph. 1:11-12).

Election establishes grace:
"So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace" (Rom. 11:6).

Election obtains the salvation we seek:
"What Israel sought so earnestly it did not obtain, but the elect did. The others were hardened, as it is written: 'God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes so that they could not see and ears so that they could not hear, to this very day'." (Rom. 11:7-8).

"But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth" (2 Thes. 2:13).

Election makes the gifts and calling of God irrevocable:
"As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God's gifts and his call are irrevocable" (Rom. 11:28-29).

Election accords with God's plan to make us holy and blameless:
"For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight." (Eph. 1:4)

Election expresses itself with the Father's love toward us in adoption:
"In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will..." (Eph. 1:4-5).

Election coincides with the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit:
"To God's elect, strangers in the world... who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood" (1 Pet. 1:1-2).

"But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth" (2 Thes. 2:13).

Election provides the ground for our perseverance in gospel ministry:
"One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: 'Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.' So Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God" (Acts 18:9-11).

"Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God's word is not chained. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory" (2 Tim. 2:10).

Election limits the deception and the destruction of the last days:
"those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now—and never to be equaled again. If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them" (Mark 13:19-20).

"For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible" (Matthew 24:24).

Rejoice! And again I will say, Rejoice! The truth will make you free!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Piper Tells Us...

What he told the Bethlehem staff about unity amid differences.

"I Believe in God, but Not Jesus"

God talk is an incredibly delusional activity.

The number of people who say they "believe in God" but who do not believe in Jesus is alarmingly high, especially in regions of the world that are culturally/nominally Christian. The sentiment is nearly everywhere.

"I believe in God. I say my prayers each morning and each night."

Or, "I believe in God. I know He has seen me through a lot of struggles."

Or, "I believe in God. And I don't play with Him."

I'm glad for all of these statements, and they contain some important truths. For example, God is not to be toyed with. He isn't a teddy bear. He is to be reverenced and loved and worshipped in awe. And God does make His rain to fall on the just and the unjust alike. His common grace toward creation means that a whole bunch of people who do not know Him experience His goodness in myriad ways, including deliverance in struggle. These things can be affirmed, and should be.

But we dare not stop there! This kind of belief in God is hardly any different from James' famous assessment: "You believe there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that--and shudder" (James 2:19).

The reality: it is impossible to believe in God in any saving way and not come to Him through faith in Jesus. The unavoidable Person in all creation is Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

We do not have God the Father apart from God the Son. "No one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him" (Matt. 11:27). Or Jesus' extraordinary words in John 14:6-7a: "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well."

Appeals to 'believing in God' without believing in the Son are empty idolatries, demon-like faith often without the shuddering. So much God talk allows the veneer of religiosity and faith, but denies the power by denying the Son. And that self-deception is eternally dangerous.

Of course, the opposite problem exists as well. There are those who love Jesus meek and mild but who deny the Father, at least any biblical understanding of the Father. But Matthew 11:27 speaks to them as well: "No one knows the Son except the Father...." Or, John 10:30, "I and the Father are one." And John 14:9, "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father."

The Father and the Son come together. You can not have one and not the other. Either you have the Father with and through the Son, or you have nothing. Vague God talk obscures this critical reality.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Props to My Pops

Ronald Alexander, son of the Rev. Eric Alexander, has built a website in honor of his father's preaching and teaching ministry. (HT: Challies) The site includes over 20 years of exposition from Alexander the elder's ministry at St. George's Tron in Glasgow, Scotland. You'll also find a brief biography of Alexander.

From the site's welcome page:

Eric Alexander has spent his adult life serving Jesus Christ, in His Church, as a minister of His Word. He has preached Christ exclusively from Holy Scripture, convinced that the Bible is the only reliable and sufficient revelation God has given us of His Son.

The conviction behind all Eric Alexander's preaching is that Scripture is fundamental to the Church's life and continuance, and therefore it is the exposition of Scripture which is fundamental to the Church's pattern of activity.

As the years have passed and the world has changed, he has grown ever more convinced of the urgent priority of summoning the church to the Apostolic priority expressed by the Apostles themselves in Acts 6v4; "We will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the Word."

Yes, Jesus, I Trust You SOOO Much!

How often does our trust in the Lord look like this?

Monday, April 13, 2009

On Tour with Tullian

Virtually, that is. Today marks the beginning of Tullian Tchividjian's blog tour for his new book Unfashionable: Making a Difference in the World by Being Different (Multnomah, 2009).

Many of you will be aware of Tullian's work as a pastor and writer. Tullian is the former church planting pastor of New City Church in Miami, FL, and now the new senior pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, a merger of New City and Coral Ridge. You can get to know Tullian a bit through this interview with Justin Taylor.

In this age of video, we have the wonderful opportunity to hear the authors themselves summarize their books and why they wrote them. Here's a youtube video from Tullian discussing Unfashionable.

I had the privilege of reading a pre-publication draft of Unfashionable and offering an endorsement. Here's my take:

"The most wonderful thing happened to me as I read Unfashionable: I was helped."

In a nutshell, the book is helpful. It's helpful to anyone trying to think through what does it mean to be a counter-cultural Christian. Tullian's repeated refrain--"To be for the world by being against the world"--helps clarify how as Christians our stance can be both oppositional in a fallen culture and redemptive. Many Christians have found this tension too elusive, falling off on either the side of retreat or of worldliness. Tullian helps us through that precarious balance with Unfashionable.


Tullian organizes the book into four parts with 17 chapters.

Part 1: The Call
1. A Cry for Difference
2. A World Without Windows
3. Seduced by Cool

Part 2: The Commission
4. An Unfashionable Standard
5. The Purpose-Driven Death
6. Redeemed to Renew
7. Presence of the Future
8. Where in the World Are Christians?
9. Unfashionable United
10. Making the Difference Together

Part 3: The Community
11. A Truthful Community
12. An Angry Community
13. Putting Off Stealing
14. Redemptive Words
15. No Longer Clammed Up
16. Love, Not Lust

Part 4: The Charge
17. Last Call

The book also includes a reading list and study guide for personal and group use. Tim Keller's foreword offers a very succinct lay of the land regarding the different approaches Christians have generally adopted to engaging the culture.

Some Appreciations

I appreciate several things about Tullian's vision in this book. First, it's biblical. I love pastors and preachers who limit what they "see" to what has been shown in the text of God's word. It would be fashionable to offer a "sure-fire" way of being and doing this or that as a Christian. But this book is all about being unfashionable, which, in a wonderful sort of way, is all about being biblical.

Second, I appreciate Tullian's wrestling with the nature of the church and her calling in the world. It would be easy to offer another call to Christians as individuals to engage in this or that way. And as individuals we must be in this warfare. But we're more than the sum of our parts if we're Christians. We're a family, a household, a nation, a flock. Including our corporate identity and resources makes wonderful sense in a time where it's fashionable to lament and neglect the church. And he goes so far as to call us out of our "tribal mindedness" and segregated churches to reflect the reconciled reality of life in Christ as His church. This book doesn't skip over issues but addresses them head on. That makes it worth reading.

Third, I appreciate that Tullian tries to work out what it means to be unfashionable in light of his eschatology. Not everyone will agree with his eschatology (does anyone ever agree on eschatology?!), but the attempt to understand the cosmic implications of the cross and resurrection and their bearing on the church's mission is refreshing. Tullian believes in "the presence of the future" and, believing it, tries to understand our marching orders in light of it. A pursuit well worth making.

Fourth, and finally, I appreciate the book as a pastor. Pastors are given a front-row view of the effects of culture on the lives of people and the church. We're often at pains to describe this effect, analyze it, give some prescriptions, and bind the wounds of our people and our churches. That's not easy; at least I don't find slaying the hydra-headed monster of the world an easy task. So, I'm always on the lookout for works that will be readable, engaging, and helpful. I want things I can recommend to my people that would benefit their souls, challenge their thinking, insist upon transformation and faith and dependence and risk-taking, that would call us out of ourselves and into the world, but not leave us like the world. For me, that's a helpful book.

Tullian Tchividjian's Unfashionable is a helpful book. And I'm not the only one who thinks so. Eighteen others have offered endorsements of the book, from Tim Keller to Chuck Colson to J.I. Packer to R. Kent Hughes to D.A. Carson to Ed Stetzer to Collin Hansen and Kevin DeYoung.

Available at:
Barnes and Noble
Christian Audio

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Do You Know Who Did This First?

I was surprised when I read at JT's that this riff was first written by Dr. S.M. Lockridge. I first heard E.V. Hill run this down. See the two videos below. The first has Hill's voice, the second also has Hill's voice (I think) but is set to contemporary music. Does anyone know when Hill first preached this?

We Have to Come to Our Senses

From the recently deceased Richard John Neuhas' Death on a Friday Afternoon: Meditations on the Last Words of Jesus from the Cross:

Forgive them, for they know not what they do." But now, like the prodigal son, we have come to our senses. Our lives are measured not by the lives of others, not by our own ideals, not by what we think might reasonably be expected of us, although by each of those measures we acknowledge failings enough. Our lives are measured by who we are created and called to be, and the measuring is done by the One who creates and calls. Finally, the judgment that matters is not ours. The judgment that matters is the judgment of God, who alone judges justly. In the cross we see the rendering of the verdict on the gravity of our sin.

We have come to our senses. None of our sins are small or of little count. To belittle our sins is to belittle ourselves, to belittle who it is that God creates and calls us to be. To belittle our sins is to belittle their forgiveness, to belittle the love of the Father who welcomes us home.

From the same Latin root come "complicity" and "complexity." Only the dulling of moral imagination prevents us from seeing how we are implicated in the complex web of human evil. The late Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was fond of saying, "Some are guilty, all are responsible." We rightly condemn the great moral monsters of history--the Hitlers and Stalins and Maos and lesser mass murderers. Justice requires the gradation of guilt. Distinctions are in order. In important ways, we are not like them, and they are not like us. Yet complicity and complexity alert us to the ways in which their crimes find corrupting correlates in our own hearts. "He who looks at a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery with her in his heart." Such words of Jesus encourage not scrupulosity, but candor. Contemplating the unspeakable crimes of Stalin's gulag archipelago, Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote, "The line between good and evil runs through every human heart."

We would draw the line between ourselves and the really big-time sinners. For them the cross may be necessary. For us a forgiving wink from an understanding Deity will set things to right. But the "big time" of sinning is in every human heart. We make small our selves when we make small our sins. Fearing the judgment of great evil, we shrink from the call to great good. Like Adam, we slink away to hide in a corner. Like the prodigal son, we hunker down behind the swine's trough of our shrunken lives. But then he came to his senses. He remembered who he was in his former life, in his real life. There is no way to have that dignity restored except through the confession of that dignity betrayed.

Still we hold back from confession, holding on to the tattered remnants of our former dignity. The more Adam hides from his shame, the more he proclaims his shame. What ludicrous figures we sinners cut. It is all so unnecessary; it only increases the complicity that we deny. We act as though there is not forgiveness enough. There is more than forgiveness enough.

Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Yes, we were there when we crucified our Lord. Recognizing the line that runs through every human heart, no longer do we try to draw the line between "them" and "us." Who can look long and honestly at the victims and the perpetrators of history's horrors and say that this has nothing to do with me? To take the most obvious instance, where would we have taken our stand that Friday afternoon? With Mary and the Beloved Disciple or with the mocking crowds? "Know thyself," the philosophers said, for this is the beginning of wisdom. "The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom," wrote the Psalmist. Knowing myself and fearing God, knowing a thousand big and little things that I have done and failed to do, I cannot deny that I was there. In ways I do not fully understand, I know that I, too, did the deed, wielded the whip, drove the nails, thrust the spear.

About chief of sinners I don't know, but what I know about sinners I chiefly know about me. We did not mean to do the deed, of course. The things we have done wrong seemed, or mostly seemed, small at the time. The word of encouragement withheld, the touch of kindness not given, the visit not made, the trust betrayed, the cutting remark so clever and so cruel, the illicit sexual desire so generously entertained, the angry answer, the surge of resentment at being slighted, the lie we though would do no harm. It is such a long and tedious list of little things. Surely not too much should be made of it, we thought to ourselves. But now it has come to this. It has come to the cross. all the trespasses of all the people of all time have gravitated here, to the killing grounds of Calvary.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

I Know It's Easter, But...

the potential "resurrection" of Henry Lyons inside the National Baptist Convention, the largest African-American denomination in the U.S., is ridiculous.

From the story:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The ousted former president of a national organization of black Baptist churches is running for the position again, a decade after he was sent to prison for stealing millions of dollars from the group. The Rev. Henry J. Lyons was forced out as leader of the National Baptist Convention USA in 1999 after an investigation revealed he abused his power in the convention to steal about $4 million. He used the money to buy luxury homes and jewelry, and to support his mistresses.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Christianity Is Not Your Grandma's Preserves

You must advance the gospel to see society reformed. Only born-again people can live born-again lives.

When Christians speak of “preserving a Christian heritage,” that’s the last gasping breath of a dying faith. The Christian influence of that society is about to expire.

You can only talk about "preserving a Christian heritage" when you’re living with the privilege of being the majority in a society. Christians don’t talk about "winning the culture" or "preserving a Christian heritage" in places like Saudi Arabia or Pakistan or Egypt. They pray and strategize and talk about advancing the good news of Jesus Christ.

You cannot preserve a Christian heritage. It's not like jelly that's jarred. You can only live it and advance it through the gospel. It's more like butter that's spread.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009