Monday, November 30, 2009

Pray for Matt Chandler

Just learned that Matt Chandler suffered a major seizure last Thursday. CT reports a mass was found on his frontal lobe. He's seeing a neurologist on Tuesday. As you think of Matt or your own pastor, please pray for them today.

His fellow elders have released the following statement:
We want to provide you some guidance during this trial, a few details about Matt and a timeline in which all of us can actively participate over the next few days as we wait anxiously on the Lord regarding Matt’s health.

We rest in the knowledge that Matt is in the sovereign hand of our heavenly Father who loves him immensely more than we can comprehend. First Peter 1:3-7 says that times like this are given to us and are useful for our testing and refining. Take time to read those verses today.

Be encouraged that Matt is responding as you would hope and expect. His spirit is steadfast and secure, and his words reflect faith, love, joy and contentment even in a state of uncertainty.

Many of you are eager to help and ensure that he and his family are loved and cared for well. Right now the doctor’s order is for him to rest. Additional tests and doctor visits are to come, and we will provide regular updates as they are appropriate. Matt and Lauren know you are ready and willing to meet any practical needs, and their love for you will make it extremely difficult for them not to embrace those who knock on the door or call. Right now, though, the best gift is the physical space to afford them time to rest.

On Monday afternoon, Matt is meeting and praying with the church staff. Monday night, the elders are meeting with Matt and Lauren to pray with them. Matt’s appointment with the neurosurgeon is on Tuesday. During all of these times, join us in prayer wherever you might be. Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Highland Village, Denton and Dallas worship centers, we will gather as a church body to pray. We encourage you to fast throughout that day and join us to pray that evening.

Certainly pray for Matt’s healing, and pray that he and his family would experience great peace during this time. But don’t stop there. Ask God to reveal what work he plans to do in you, in Matt and in our church through this trial. Although it may be easy to see the hand of the enemy in a situation like this, remember that God is sovereign that he may ordain trials to deepen our faith, draw us closer to him or to accomplish some other purpose. Therefore do not fear.

One thing to consider would be to send Matt a written note. His words and actions faithfully point to how lives are changed through the gospel of Christ so it always encourages him to hear what God is doing in you. The time and effort to reflect and write out your thoughts on God’s goodness in your life could warm your soul and allow Matt to hear, see and celebrate the work and blessings of Jesus. Bring your notes with you on Wednesday night. If you cannot be there, mail them to 2101 FM 407, Flower Mound, TX 75028.

Isaiah 26:3
You will keep in perfect peace
him whose mind is steadfast,
because he trusts in you.

We love you and are praying that during this unsettling time your steadfast trust in the Lord will reflect an uncommon peace and be a light among those whom the Lord puts in your path.

Trust Only in Divine Grace

Jim Elliot:
I see clearly now that anything, whatever it is, if it be not on the principle of grace, it is not of God. Here shall be my plea in weakness; here shall be my boldness in prayer; here shall be my deliverance in temptation; at last, here shall be my translation. Not of grace? Then not of God. And here, O Lord Most High, shall be your glory and the honor of your Son. And the awakening for which I have asked--it shall come in your time, on this principle, by grace, through faith. Perfect my faith, then, Lord, that I may learn to trust only in divine grace, that They work of holiness might soon begin....

In Shadow of the Almighty: The Life and Testament of Jim Elliot, p. 110.

On Holy Ground with Chris Castaldo

In God's gracious economy, the Lord sometimes gifts the body of Christ with people who can be expert tour guides to other faiths or other viewpoints. These men and women, sometimes by virtue of their studies, sometimes as a consequence of personal experience, are uniquely gifted to educate others regarding perspectives and beliefs different from our own. And that's a gift.

Over the past couple weeks, I've had the opportunity to read Christ Castaldo's new book,
Holy Ground: Walking with Jesus as a Former Roman Catholic. You can find Chris' website and some good video here.

Chris was raised on Long Island, New York, as a Roman Catholic and worked full-time in the Catholic Church for years. He is a graduate of Moody Bible Institute and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and he now serves as Pastor of Outreach and Church Planting at College Church in Wheaton.

In the book, Chris skillfully combines one part personal testimony, one part focus group research, one part theological study, and one hefty dose of pastoral discernment and care. In other words, what we have here is a well-informed, sensitive, winsome, and insightful look at Roman Catholicism from one who left Catholicism and now serves as an evangelical pastor at College Church in Wheaton, IL. It's a real tool in the hands of pastors and family members often called to love and understand those inside Roman Catholicism.

I had the privilege of asking Chris a question or two, and I hope you enjoy the exchange!

1.) How would reading Holy Ground specifically benefit pastors?

Here it is in a nutshell: estimates say there are 14 million former Catholics in the United States who now identify as “evangelical” or “born again.” These are people who struggle to understand how their Catholic background still exerts influence upon them and who need to confront patterns of faith that are less than biblical, while simultaneously applying more of the gospel. At the same time, they wrestle with the challenge of effectively communicating the hope of Christ to Catholic family and friends. Most of us pastors have at least some of these folk in our churches. Holy Ground is written to help church leaders offer these individuals the contextualized form of discipleship they so desperately need.

Through an extended narrative describing my personal journey as a devout Catholic who worked with bishops and priests before eventually becoming an Evangelical pastor, Holy Ground tries to help readers to understand:

  • Priorities which drive Catholic faith and practice
  • Where lines of continuity and discontinuity fall between Catholicism and Evangelicalism
  • Delicate dynamics that make up our relationships
  • Principles for lovingly sharing the gospel of salvation by faith alone
  • Historical overview from the Reformation to the present

Because Holy Ground is a pastoral work, there are several aspects pertinent to church ministry, but let me mention one I constantly deal with in my role of equipping our people for evangelism.

When we communicate the gospel to Catholics we often make the mistake of thinking that our conversations should directly address doctrinal issues. This is not only incorrect, it is impossible. When speaking to a friend about faith, we don’t speak directly to his religious beliefs; we speak to a person who holds religious beliefs. This is a crucial, overlooked distinction. John Stackhouse in his book Humble Apologetics puts his finger on it:

To put it starkly, if “message without life” was sufficient, Christ didn’t need to perform signs, nor did he need to form personal relationships in which to teach the gospel to those who would believe him and spread the word. He could simply have hired scribes to write down his message and distribute it (John G. Stackhouse, Jr., Humble Apologetics: Defending the Faith Today. [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002], 134).

This is what sometimes frustrates me about books written to equip Evangelicals to discuss Jesus with Catholics. They seem to operate according to the assumption that if you can simply pile up enough proofs, Catholics will have no choice but to surrender under the weight of your argument. Sure, we must have reliable evidence and must know how to marshal it effectively; but, we can’t ignore the personal, cultural, historical, and religious dynamics which are also part of these conversations. Like: What are the different types of Catholics in America today? How do Catholics generally view Protestants? What are the prevailing caricatures? What landmines do we routinely step on? What language is helpful and what terms undermine fruitful discussion? How can we navigate through controversies related to one’s ethnic background or the history of anti-Catholicism in America? Where is common ground and where must we necessarily draw lines of distinction? And the list goes on. Holy Ground addresses these and other such questions in order to help ourselves and the people we serve more effectively proclaim Christ’s glory among our Catholic friends and loved ones.

2.) In light of the Decrees of Trent, wouldn’t we still have to say that official Catholic doctrine on the matter of justification rises to the level of error so serious that it amounts to ‘another gospel’ – thus warranting an apostolic anathema?

The most helpful book I’ve read on this topic has been Justification by Faith in Catholic-Protestant Dialogue: An Evangelical Assessment by Anthony Lane, Professor of Historical Theology at London School of Theology. Tony Lane is a fine scholar (it’s a T&T Clark book, so if you buy it, do so when you still have a sizable chunk in your book budget). Here are a couple of Professor Lane’s conclusions, which I agree with and have found helpful.

Is the positive exposition of the Tridentine decree compatible with a Protestant understanding?

“No. When the difference in terminology is taken into account and when allowance is made for complementary formulations the gap turns out to be considerably narrower than is often popularly supposed, but a gap there remains.”

Do the Tridentine canons condemn the Protestant doctrine or only parodies of it?

“Many of the canons do not directly touch a balanced Protestant understanding, but a number clearly do. The verdict of The Condemnations of the Reformation Era (a joint ecumenical commission which met in the early 80’s) is as much a statement about the intentions of the churches today as a statement about the intentions of Trent and the Lutheran confessions.”

According to Lane’s conclusion, disagreement between the Catholic and Protestant understanding of justification remains, although it may not be as profound as we tend to think. Still, giving the binding nature of Trent’s decrees, evangelical Protestants remain in the crosshairs of the Catholic Church’s anathematizing canons. To the extent that Catholics operate according to this Tridentine framework (i.e., defining their position over and against justification by faith alone), they appear to be skating on the same thin ice as Paul’s Galatian interlocutors and in imminent danger of falling into the frigid water of “another gospel.”

Yet, we must realize that many Catholics, including Pope Benedict himself, don’t understand justification in this Tridentine light. For instance, in the Pope’s sermon on justification in Saint Peter’s Square on November 19, 2008 he said, “Being just simply means being with Christ and in Christ. And this suffices. Further observances are no longer necessary. For this reason Luther’s phrase: ‘faith alone’ is true, if it is not opposed to faith in charity in love.” A week later on November 26 in the Paul VI Audience Hall the pontiff continued this emphasis, “Following Saint Paul, we have seen that man is unable to ‘justify’ himself with his own actions, but can only truly become ‘just’ before God because God confers his ‘justice’ upon him, uniting him to Christ his Son. And man obtains this union through faith. In this sense, Saint Paul tells us: not our deeds, but rather faith renders us ‘just.’”

Lest you think the Pope’s statements were an out of turn, momentary flash in the pan, you can also read them in his recent book Saint Paul (Pope Benedict XVI. Saint Paul. [San Francisco: Ignatius Press], 82-85). This same note is hit by many Catholic theologians, particularly those like Beckwith who identify as evangelical Catholic.

Of more immediate concern to me is the penetration of the biblical gospel—the message of divine grace accessed through faith alone—into the hearts of Catholic people who haven’t a clue why Jesus died, much less how salvation is appropriated. Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft describes this problem:

“There are still many who do not know the data, the gospel. Most of my Catholic students at Boston College have never heard it. They do not even know how to get to heaven. When I ask them what they would say to God if they died tonight and God asked them why he should take them into heaven, nine out of ten do not even mention Jesus Christ. Most of them say they have been good or kind or sincere or did their best. So I seriously doubt God will undo the Reformation until he sees to it that Luther’s reminder of Paul’s gospel has been heard throughout the church” (Peter Kreeft. “Ecumenical Jihad.” Reclaiming The Great Tradition. Ed. James S. Cutsinger. [Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1997]. 27).

This is the concern of Holy Ground—that the grace of God in salvation remains central. When talking with Catholics, there are myriads of potential rabbit trails. We may enter into a conversation to talk about how Jesus provides life with meaning and suddenly find ourselves enmeshed in a debate about the apocrypha or Humanae Vitae. Sometimes it’s right to broach these subjects, but too often we do so at the expense of the gospel. This is tragic. What does it profit a person if he explicates a host of theological conundrums without focusing attention upon the death and resurrection of Jesus? In all of our discussion with Catholics we must consider, celebrate, and bear witness to the splendor and majesty of our Savior, the one who died, rose, and now lives.

3.) What are the distinct features of Holy Ground that separate it from other such books?

Among evangelical books that address Catholicism, Holy Ground has a couple of features that make it unique. First, many such books convey an unkind attitude. The doctrinal emphasis of these works is commendable, but the irritable tone rings hollow and fails to exhibit the loving character of Jesus. It's the tone that my seminary professor warned against when he said, "Don't preach and write as though you have just swallowed embalming fluid. As Christ imparts redemptive life, so should his followers." This life is communicated in the content of God's message and also in its manner of presentation. Therefore, I seek to express genuine courtesy toward Catholics, even in disagreement.

Second, most books on Roman Catholicism and Evangelicalism emphasize doctrinal tenets without exploring the practical dimensions of personal faith. Important as it is to understand doctrine, the reality is there's often a vast difference between the content of catechisms and the beliefs of folks who fill our pews. Holy Ground is concerned with understanding the common ideas and experiences of real-life people.

4.) What should be the centerpiece of Catholic/Protestant dialogue?

When talking with Catholics, there are myriads of potential rabbit trails. We may enter into a conversation to talk about how Jesus provides life with meaning and suddenly find ourselves enmeshed in a debate about the apocrypha or Humanae Vitae. Sometimes it’s right to broach these subjects; but too often we do so at the expense of the gospel. This is tragic. What does it profit a person if he explicates a host of theological conundrums without focusing attention upon the death and resurrection of Jesus? This, I would contend, is the “centerpiece”—considering, celebrating, and bearing witness to the splendor and majesty of our Savior, the one who died, rose, and now lives.

5.) How would you counsel Evangelical pastors and Christians in the care of persons leaving Roman Catholicism?

When folks leave the Catholic Church, more than anything, they are susceptible to the pendulum swing, the typical 180 degree turn that transforms mild fellows into Yosemite Sam-like Christians, ready to point and shoot any Roman Catholic that moves. This extreme, which is often justified in the name of “truth” or “biblical conviction,” is motivated more by frustration, anger, and a misunderstanding of duty: frustration with a Catholic background that perhaps confused the simple message of the gospel, anger with clergy who seemed to have mislead them, and a view of evangelism that regards aggressive opposition to Catholics as one’s duty.

Over and against this perspective, our people must view the circumstances and timing of their conversion in the light of God’s sovereignty. Instead of regret or anger, we can be thankful for the lessons that God has taught us through our Catholic experience and use these lessons to help others. Moreover, we would do well to remember Paul’s words in 1 Tim 1:5, “The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart, good conscience and sincere faith.” Love is not antithetical to truth; it coalesces with it. Indeed, this is the best approach we can take toward Catholic friends and loved ones, speaking the truth in love.

The one other lesson I’d want to emphasize among those leaving the Catholic Church is the centrality of grace. Most former Catholics I’ve met (including myself) struggle with unhealthy religious guilt to such an extent that divine grace is difficult to accept. I devote an entire chapter to this in Holy Ground, but the bottom line is that we ex-Catholics benefit enormously from memorizing biblical texts dealing with grace alone such as Psalm 103:12, Rom 8:1, Gal 2:20, and 2 Cor 5:21. Eventually, God’s Word renews our minds to appreciate, both propositionally and existentially, that our right-standing with the Father has nothing to do with our meritorious behavior and everything to do with the once and for all victory of King Jesus, to whom belongs all the glory.


Thank you, Chris, for this interview and for this wonderful book!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Care Free Christianity

"Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you" (1 P et. 5:7).

That's Peter's direct and simple instruction to a church of "pilgrims" or "sojourners" scattered throughout the world, suffering persecution for righteousness' sake.

"Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you."

The Action

Cast all your anxiety. Anxiety is not meant to be held onto. It's not a treasure or a keep-sake. Anxiety is not a bosom friend or a comfort toy. Anxiety is an enemy. It's an enemy to a sober mind. It's an enemy to peace. It's an enemy to faith. Anxiety chews at the roots of the plant of faith and life until, having eaten away the root system completely, it leaves us like stalks stuffed into fertile soil but with no way of gathering nourishment and nutrients.

Dishonest Christians pretend their is no anxiety in life. They "keep a stiff upper lip" and don plastic masks. Inside they're twisted into a pretzel of worry, but their dishonesty and hypocrisy keeps them from telling others. The text simply assumes that faithful Christians living for the Lord Jesus will know anxiety in this world. All those who live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. And that persecution will give rise to anxiety, worry, and fear.

But, we are to throw or cast anxiety away.

The Target

But we're not to throw our anxiety in any direction or at any target. How often do we make this mistake? We grow anxious, full of worry, doubt, and fear, so we hurl that anxiety in every direction and at every target in sight. We cast our anxieties on our families. We cast our anxieties on our friends. We cast our anxieties on our churches. We cast our anxiety on politicians. Indiscriminately casting our anxiety around only means we fill our world with more anxiety-producing people and circumstances.

The text says we are to cast our anxiety to One who is big enough to handle them. We are to cast our anxiety to One who can resolve them. There is only One who is big enough, wise enough, and powerful enough to handle all the anxieties of all God's people at once.

It is "Him." It is Jesus, the Lord, the Savior, the Shield of His people. We cast our anxiety to Him who is able to keep us from falling and to present us faultless before the throne of God. What peace would fill our homes, our workplaces, our churches if God's pilgrims all cast their anxiety to the resurrected King and let Him handle them?

The Reason

The reason we cast our care to Jesus is not just because He is big enough, strong enough, wise enough to handle them. For we can think of presidents, kings, potentates, rulers and people of authority who could give us some measure of peace, who could perhaps address many of our anxieties. And if the truth is told, don't we often seek care-free, anxiety-free lives from those around us we think can help?

But we're often frustrated when we do that because (a) we find the limits of their ability to help--they can't really settle our hearts; and (b) we find the limits of their motivation--they may or may not care anything about us, powerful though they are.

But here is the Savior, full of wisdom, power, and mercy, who also "loves us." We go to Jesus "because he cares for us." And may we never forget that no one cares for us the way Jesus cares for us. No one.

It is not true to say in our anxiety that "no one cares for us." There Jesus is, full of compassion, full of care, intimately aware of our sufferings and fully able to identify with us. There is our Great High Priest who ever lives to intercede for us, carrying our groaning and travails right to the Throne of Heaven, never slumbering, never sleeping.

How our anxieties lie! In a thousand voices with ten thousand sentences our anxiety whispers and yells, "You are alone; no one cares." Don't listen! You are not alone! You are not abandoned! Jesus cares for His people. The Son of God cares for you!

The cross is the proof. "God demonstrated His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us" (1 John 3:16a).

So now there is an exchange of care. We cast all our cares upon Jesus, and He returns to us divine care and love. We give Him anxiety, He gives us peace. He does it because He cares for us.

We may live an anxiety-free Christian life. That is not to say we may live a life with no suffering or hardship. The people Peter wrote to were experiencing great suffering and struggling to understand it all. This word of comfort comes to the suffering and the worried, people with reason (humanly speaking) to be anxious. And it says simply, "Cast all your anxieties upon Him because He cares for you." Trade your worries for God's care through Christ.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

"Will We Have to Leave?"

The iMonk has a good post today about people who have gotten the message that they aren't welcome at church because of cohabiting or some other sin. One paragraph I appreciated:

Christians believe some things very deeply, but they don’t always see things clearly or express them with Gospel wisdom. When they forget the Gospel, they forget who they are and start finding ways to be justified in comparison to “real sinners.” There’s nothing about the Kingdom of God in a snarky morality club, but too many people don’t know the difference. They usher people out as if they are the angels gathering the elect at the last day, not signs pointing every person, no matter what their sin of the day, to the savior and the wedding feast at the end of the world.

Read the entire post here.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Preacher's Prayer for His Words

Colin provides this helpful, pithy prayer:

“Lord, keep me from saying words that later need recalling;
Guard me, lest idle speech may from my lips be falling:
But when, within my place, I must and ought to speak,
Then to my words give grace, lest I offend the weak.”

(Johann Heermann, 1585-1647)

The Foolish Sins of Leadership

I'm reminded this morning that the foolish sins of leaders have devastating effects on the lives of God's people. In 1 Chronicles 21, King David instructs Joab and the commanders of the army to take a census of Israel. For that decision, incited by Satan (v. 1) under the sovereign control and anger of God (2 Sam. 24:1), God displays his wrath against the people of Israel.

David confesses his sin simply and powerfully: "I have sinned greatly in that I have done this thing. But now, please take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have acted very foolishly" (v. 8). What was his great sin and the very foolish act?

It's not simply taking a census. In numerous passages of the Old Testament a census is taken. A census was taken for military purposes (Num 1:3, 45; 26:2), for the sanctuary tax (Ex. 30:11-16; 38:25-28; Num. 3:40-41), for populating the land (Num. 26:52-55; Neh. 3:40-41), for organizing the Levites (Num. 3:14-39; 1 Chr. 23), and for building the temple (2 Chr. 2:17-18). The census isn't itself the problem.

The great sin, the foolish act, was to act:

1. Independent of God's purpose. In all the other instances of census taking, there is a specific God ordained purpose for the census. The census isn't an end itself; it serves some other goal in God's expressed will. David's action was taken without consideration of the purposes of God.

2. Ignorant of God's power. Joab speaks to warn David against this act, saying, "May the Lord add to his people a hundred times as many as they are!" (3a). David blows past his friend's warning. He wants a count, and seems to think his own military prowess depends upon the size of his army and not the "size" of his God.

3. Unappreciative of God's gifts. Joab goes on to point out, "Are they [the people] not, my lord the king, all of them my lord's servants? Why then should my lord require this?" (3b). The Lord had taken David from the sheep pastures and made him king over all Israel. He had been given a stewardship, to shepherd all of the people of Israel. Even if he had an exact head count, it would not change his stewardship responsibility and privilege for every one of them. He failed to appreciate them singly and ultimately collectively.

4. Undeterred by advanced warning. Joab concludes his speech by saying, "Why should it be a cause of guilt for Israel?" (3d). The counting of the people by the head of the people would bring guilt on all of the people. Indeed, the three possible punishments all affected the entire nation (vv. 11-12). David's sin is not a victimless crime. He vaults over Joab's warning, and with him the entire nation lands in the pit of God's wrath. He awakens to his folly in v. 17, praying to God he says, "Was it not I who gave command to number the people? It is I who have sinned and done great evil. But these sheep, what have they done? Please let you hand, O Lord my God, be against me and against my father's house. But do not let the plague be on your people." The life of the leader affects the people.

I'm certain I've committed every one of David's errors and thus very great and foolish sins of my own. Before the day is over, I'll have done it several times again. I'll lose sight of God's purposes. I'll act without dependence upon His power but my own. My sinful heart will grumble in some pastoral responsibility, failing to see the precious gift and privilege it is to serve as a shepherd of God's people, entrusted to my care. And, boy, will there be warnings everywhere. But I'll not see or heed some of them. And with pride far surpassing David's, I'll act foolishly and sin greatly against the God I love. And in some way, sometimes small and sometimes significant, one or more of the sheep will be affected. I'm a great sinner, the worst I know.

But what shines through most gloriously in this chapter isn't David's sin; it's God's mercy. God's wrath is terrible, but His mercy triumphs over judgment. God sends the judgment but He also stays the sword of the angel of the Lord. He doesn't have to, but He accepts David's sacrifice. The altar David builds will one day become the Temple of Israel. The sacrifice David also will one day be surpassed by the perfect sacrifice God will make of His own Son. And by His sacrifice the Lord Jesus becomes a living stone Who makes of us living stones in a new temple to the Lord (1 Pet. 2:4-5). And one day yet future, soon to come, He'll bring us into His glorious presence where the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb will be the Temple of that place (Rev. 21:22). Shining all through 1 Chronicles 21 and the remainder of the Bible is the staggering mercy of God toward sinners!

The Lesson: Avoid foolish, sinful leadership by depending upon the purposes, power, gifts and warnings of God, as you look to the mercy of God in Christ and the hope of glory.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Healthy Kids Expo

Last Thursday, just in time for Thanksgiving, our church school sponsored a "healthy kids expo." (brief video here) It was a high-energy time, encouraging young and old to live more active lifestyles. Frankly, it was an encouragement I needed as well.

Big props to our P.E. Teacher, Claire Hughes, who organized the event. And many thanks to the many school staff and church members who volunteered and came out to make this a great time for the entire community!

Question: What kinds of events does your church have to serve the community in various ways?

The Gospel Old and New

Kevin DeYoung has a great post today reflecting on the "new" gospel and why it's chic. Here are the reasons Kevin gives for why this new gospel is so hot among some:

1. It is partially true..
2. It deals with strawmen.
3. The New Gospel leads people to believe wrong things without explicitly stating those wrong things.
4. It is manageable. The New Gospel meets people where they are and leaves them there.
5. The New Gospel is inspirational. This is what makes the message so appealing to young people in particular.
6. The New Gospel has no offense to it. This is why the message is so attractive.

Read the entire post here, including what's wrong with this new gospel.

Loved This Quote on Sex

HT: Desiring God.

"To complain that I could only be married once was like complaining that I had only been born once. It was incommensurate with the terrible excitement of which one was talking. It showed not an exaggerated sensibility to sex but a curious insensibility to it. A man is a fool who complains that he cannot enter Eden by five gates at once. Polygamy is a lack of the realization of sex; it's like a man plucking five pears in mere absence of mind."

G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, 103.

Who Said This?

"The history of salvation is not a small event, on a poor planet, in the immensity of the universe. It is not a minimal thing which happens by chance on a lost planet. It is the motive for everything, the motive for creation. Everything is created so that this story can exist – the encounter between God and his creature. In this sense, salvation history, the covenant, precedes creation. During the Hellenistic period, Judaism developed the idea that the Torah would have preceded the creation of the material world. This material world seems to have been created solely to make room for the Torah, for this Word of God that creates the answer and becomes the history of love. The mystery of Christ already is mysteriously revealed here.... One can say that, while material creation is the condition for the history of salvation, the history of the covenant is the true cause of the cosmos."

Two questions:
What do you think of the statement?
Who do you think said it?

Monday, November 23, 2009

The TV Is My Shepherd

I don't know who first penned this, but a brother at church shared it with me in something he has written. Thought it might be helpful and challenging for some in this over-connected, over-imaged world we live in:

The TV is my shepherd,
I shall want more.
It makes me lie down on the sofa.
It leads me away from the faith;
It destroys my soul.
It leads me in the path of sex and violence
for the sponsor's sake.
Yeah, though I walk in the shadow of Christian responsibility,
there will be no interruption, for the TV is with me.
It's cables and remote control, they comfort me.
It prepares a commercial for me in the presence of my worldliness;
It anoints my head with humanism and consumerism;
My coveting runneth over.
Surely, laziness and ignorance shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house watching TV for ever.

I Cried Watching This

Thanks Kevin DeYoung

Sunday, November 22, 2009

What's at Stake in Anglican and Roman Catholic Unity Discussions

Archbishop Rowan William's address at the Willebrand's Symposium underlines striking and worrying concerns regarding recent movements of some conservatives in the Anglican communion toward Rome. The Anglican church seems embattled on both right and the left. On the left, discussions about ordination of practicing homosexual bishops, women bishops, and homosexual "marriage" threaten to pull the church into the left side of the abyss. But on the right, there is an equally dangerous peril--conservative wings of the communion offered 'a home' in the Roman Catholic Church.

Why would conservative movement to Rome be as "equally dangerous a peril" as the church drifting leftward into liberal positions on women's ordination, homosexuality, and marriage? In short, both positions lose their grip on the gospel. On the one hand, there is an obvious abandonment of the gospel in favor of unbiblical sexual ethics and church order clearly contrary to Scripture. On the other hand, there is what should be seen as the obvious abandonment of the gospel of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, apart from any works.

Let me offer an example of the latter from the opening of the Archbishop's address at Willebrand. Williams references discussions the Roman Catholic Church has had since Vatican II with various other churches and what he sees as the legacy of those discussions "justly and happily celebrated" in the day's events. He writes:
The strong convergence in these agreements about what the Church of God really is, is very striking. The various agreed statements of the churches stress that the Church is a community, in which human beings are made sons and daughters of God, and reconciled both with God and one another. The Church celebrates this through the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion in which God acts upon us to transform us 'in communion'. More detailed questions about ordained ministry and other issues have been framed in this context.

That's a really interesting summary definition of the Church, and an ominous omission of what, in fact, creates the Church. Is she not constituted by those in saving relationship and union with Christ? And, precisely, how is that salvation and union wrought? The Archbishop's statement suggests--by what it does not say as much as by what it does say--that the Church is created by the sacraments "in which God acts upon us to transform us 'in communion'." Hmmm.... That's mighty slippery language that completely blanks the cross.

One might read these comments are "loose" statements, not meant as precise or clarifying comments, the way people might talk at the barbershop or their kids' soccer match. But this is not a barber shop or soccer match, and Archbishop Williams is no armchair theologian speaking loosely. What he considers important he states more clearly in the following paragraphs:

Therefore the major question that remains is whether in the light of that depth of agreement the issues that still divide us have the same weight – issues about authority in the Church, about primacy (especially the unique position of the pope), and the relations between the local churches and the universal church in making decisions (about matters like the ordination of women, for instance). Are they theological questions in the same sense as the bigger issues on which there is already clear agreement? And if they are, how exactly is it that they make a difference to our basic understanding of salvation and communion? But if they are not, why do they still stand in the way of fuller visible unity? Can there, for example, be a model of unity as a communion of churches which have different attitudes to how the papal primacy is expressed?

The central question is whether and how we can properly tell the difference between 'second order' and 'first order' issues. When so very much agreement has been firmly established in first-order matters about the identity and mission of the Church, is it really justifiable to treat other issues as equally vital for its health and integrity?"

It's staggering to think that the head of the Anglican communion could relegate the matter of authority to secondary importance, questioning whether it's even a "theological" issue in the same sense as "the bigger issues" already agreed on; namely, that "the Church" is "transformed in communion" by the sacraments. Really. The sacraments are more important theological issues than the cross, justification, grace and faith, authority, papal primacy, and so on? The sacraments are first order issues, while justification is second order?

One suspects that if that's the case it's because a comprise agreement has already been reached by some, and it's agreement itself that establishes order. Wherever there can be agreement, there must then be a first order issue. If there is no agreement, then obviously it's second order.

It's not difficult to tell that if Williams' definition of first and second order issues prevails, the Roman Catholic Church's definition of the Church and justification have already carried the day. Apparently Williams believes that treating justification as equal in importance is... well... not justified.

The Archbishop is serious about visible and institutional unity. He thinks there are some trends that might adjust ecumenical conversations downward, but the goal of visible, institutional unity remains. It would seem that the repeated casualty in historical and contemporary ecumenical discussions is the gospel itself. The one giant opposing issue unresolved in these discussions, side-stepped with sophisticated theological chatter and noise, is the gospel. It is marvelous that the central message of the faith is the central point of disagreement among those who value community.

But we're not surprised because those who champion "community" the loudest are often those who demonstrate little love for "the truth." If truth creates community, the tent of unity appears smaller but the stakes are driven deeper into the bedrock of God's salvation. Where community "creates" truth, the tent seems larger but it floats aloft in the winds of compromise and novelty.

Take, for example, Williams' meditation on the limits of ecumenical unity imposed by the issue of papal primacy. How do you establish institutional or visible unity where one communion maintains centralized and juridical papal primacy and another does not? Williams argues that we should take a:
look back to Cardinal Willebrands' celebrated sermon in Cambridge in 1970 which spoke (using the language of Dom Emmanuel Lanne) of a diversity of types of communion, each one defined not so much juridically or institutionally as in terms of lasting loyalty, shared theological method and devotional ethos. The underlying idea seems to be that a restored universal communion would be genuinely a 'community of communities' and a 'communion of communions' – not necessarily a single juridically united body – and therefore one which did indeed assume that, while there was a recognition of a primatial ministry, this was not absolutely bound to a view of primacy as a centralized juridical office.

Again, the emphasis on community espoused here rests upon "lasting loyalty, shared theological method and devotional ethos," not the truth of the gospel, the faith once and for all delivered unto the saints. A "community of communities and a communion of communions" somehow magically allow centralized papal authority to happily co-exist with other polities and views of authority. If that were ever possible, we might expect that the reformation would never have happened to begin with.

Williams alludes to doubts of his own, though they're not grave enough for the Archbishop to oppose the drift of conservatives in his communion toward Rome and the Apostolic Constitution under which conservative Anglicans may be welcomed into Roman arms. Williams writes:
The recent announcement of an Apostolic Constitution making provision for former Anglicans shows some marks of the recognition that diversity of ethos does not in itself compromise the unity of the Catholic Church, even within the bounds of the historic Western patriarchate. But it should be obvious that it does not seek to do what we have been sketching: it does not build in any formal recognition of existing ministries or units of oversight or methods of independent decision-making, but remains at the level of spiritual and liturgical culture, as we might say. As such, it is an imaginative pastoral response to the needs of some; but it does not break any fresh ecclesiological ground. It remains to be seen whether the flexibility suggested in the Constitution might ever lead to something less like a 'chaplaincy' and more like a church gathered around a bishop.

Williams' statement reads like an exercise in voluntary, willful schizophrenia. If the Constitution doesn't grant to the "community of communities" parallel methods of oversight and decision making but little more than autonomy in "spiritual and liturgical culture" and something like a chaplaincy for those moving to Rome, why as the leader of the communion would you support it?

For its part, Rome doesn't seem to yield one square inch of theological turf. And, honestly, I can't blame her. If she believes she holds the truth, why abandon it for a yarn as fuzzy as "community of communities"? The RCC leadership demonstrates more integrity with its theological positions than Anglican leadership does with her own, whether within or outside Anglican communion. For example, ordination of women is an open question for Anglican communions doing theology along the lines of Williams' understanding of the church and authority. But that's not an open question for Rome, and the Roman Catholic Church's steadfastness threatens Williams' vision for unity. He writes:
To take the most obvious instance in the relations between the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches at present, the local decision to ordain women as priests – and as bishops in some contexts – is presented by Roman Catholic theologians as one that in effect makes the Anglican Communion simply less recognisably a body 'doing the same Catholic thing'.

Here, I say, "Three cheers for Rome!" While perhaps not popular, I'd say it's better for conservative Anglicans to bite the bullet and embrace Rome wholeheartedly than to remain an ostensible part of the "Protestant" fold in a communion abandoning biblical authority and the gospel that saves. The more you look at some quarters of the Anglican church, the more one has to agree that it's not "doing the same Catholic thing." It's doing something completely different than biblical Christianity. At least those moving to Rome would move to a communion where clarity holds and keeps the main issues the main issues.

In his conclusion, Williams makes my point:
Once again, I am asking how far continuing disunion and non-recognition are justified, theologically justified in the context of the overall ecclesial vision, when there are signs that some degree of diversity in practice need not, after all, prescribe an indefinite separation. I do not pretend to be offering a new paradigm of ecumenical encounter, far from it. ... At what point do we have to recognise that surviving institutional and even canonical separations or incompatibilities are overtaken by the authoritative direction of genuinely theological consensus, so that they can survive only by appealing to the ghost of ecclesiological positivism?

What exactly is "the authoritative direction of genuinely theological consensus"? Is that what happens when you get enough people simply agreeing to a position, a kind of democratically-determined sanity and truth? If so, that'll never do.

Williams goes on to state:
All I have been attempting to say here is that the ecumenical glass is genuinely half-full – and then to ask about the character of the unfinished business between us. For many of us who are not Roman Catholics, the question we want to put, in a grateful and fraternal spirit, is whether this unfinished business is as fundamentally church-dividing as our Roman Catholic friends generally assume and maintain.

It would seem that among all those who believe in truth and that truth is not determined by consensus, yes, the business of Protestant-Catholic unity is unfinished and church-dividing. Until we all hold the same gospel, there can be no deep, lasting or real unity. For it is the message that saves and the Savior of that message that creates the Church of His calling. Everyone in the "community of communities" had better make sure they know this message and this Savior. We don't get a vote or a community caucus on judgment day. Those who do not love the truth perish while those who obey the gospel of our Lord enter life (2 Thessalonians).

What do you say: Is the Anglican-Roman Catholic discussion of unity helpful? Is union possible?

Related Posts:
Are Protestants Still Protesting?
So, Again, What Is an Evangelical?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Read This with Hunger and Joy

Seek the Lord and His strength;
Seek His presence continually.

Splendor and majesty are before Him;
Strength and joy are in His place.

1 Chronicles 16:11, 27

Friday, November 20, 2009

Be Yourself As a Preacher

Kevin DeYoung at the 9Marks blog:

One of the hardest things for any preacher to learn, especially young preachers, is to simply be yourself. Don’t put on someone else’s passion or humor or learning. And don’t take off your own personality because one of your heroes doesn’t share it exactly. Go ahead and learn from the best. But your congregation needs to hear you on Sunday, not an impression of the preacher you wish you were. Let your person constantly be refined by the Spirit of God, and let the truth of God’s word shine through your own personality. Preach as a dying man to dying men. And don’t forget to be your own man.

Read the entire, typically-Kevin (funny and insightful) post here.


That's a word I don't hear much any more: "consecration." It's a great word, smooth to start then crunchy. Say it: "consecration."

When I was a new Christian, I used to hear talk of consecration a lot. That's probably because a lot of the people I knew then were Pentecostals, neo-Pentecostals, Bapticostals, charismatics, and the like. And to their credit, these people took holiness seriously. I don't mean they were narrow and legalistic, or that they had a superficial idea of holiness. I mean they genuinely wanted to be "laid aside" or "set apart" for God's use. They taught me to pray for and to seek to be consecrated unto the Lord. Looking back, I think this was really formative.

But over the years, to be honest, I don't know that I pray that as fervently any more or that I hear many people in my circles speak this way. Sometimes it's because some of my circle is "garden variety" evangelical. There's more talk about "engagement with the culture" and "culture wars" than there is talk about being "set apart." Some of my friends are just plain pragmatists; they want to "do something that works" and maybe aren't all that concerned about the interior life. Sometimes it's perhaps because some in my circle of friends have really great theology, and maybe they demur at less precise understandings of holiness. Maybe the idea of consecration suffers from its association with Pentecostalism because many people historically have held condescending and class-prejudiced views of Pentecostals.

I don't really know what the mix of reasons are. But I was struck fresh this morning when I read this: "David gathered together the sons of Aaron and the Levites... and said to them, 'You are the heads of the fathers' houses of the Levites. Consecrate yourselves, you and your brothers, so that you may bring up the ark of the Lord, the God of Israel, to the place that I have prepared for it." (1 Chr. 15:4, 12).

I heard that smooth and crunchy sounding word and thought, Consecrate yourself. Set yourself apart. Yes, you're set apart in Christ, and you're committed to the cause of the gospel ministry. But consecrate yourself. Renew your spirit toward the Lord and seek afresh to be wholly His. Present your body as a living sacrifice unto the Lord, holy and acceptable.

Then the Lord began to address me more directly by His word:

If then, Thabiti, you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Thabiti, set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then, Thabiti, you also will appear with him in glory.

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you [consecrate yourself]: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. Thabiti, in these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away [consecrate yourself]: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its Creator.

Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your heart, Thabiti, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.

And whatever you do, Thabiti, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. (Colossians 3:1-10, 12-15, 17)

That's for me this morning. Consecrate yourself afresh. Put off the old man, put on the new. Put to death whatever is earthly, set your mind on Christ above. Consecrate yourself.

Oh Lord, renew a right spirit within me. I need the renewing work of your Spirit today! Grant me this heavenly mindedness, the mortification of sin and earthly desire, the putting on of Christ, and the seeking after your glory!

How about you? Are you consecrated unto the Lord and His purposes today? Is your heart and mind and body fully set apart for Him?

Related Posts:

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Love the Truth

We had a wonderful time in Bible study last night at church. I love our Wednesday night meetings; they're filled with such joy in the word and eager fellowship one with another. We've been working our way a couple verses at a time through 2 Thessalonians. In recent weeks we've been considering chapter two, with all its interesting and sometimes difficult discussion of apostasy, the "man of lawlessness," and "the one who now holds it back". Interesting, humbling, shocking, and energizing time.

Last night we considered verses 10b-12:

"They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness."

Just before these verses the text reads: "The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan and displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing" (v. 9-10a).

Consider the sweep of things detailed in this passage:

First comes Satanic power displayed in supernatural acts that deceive.
Second is the refusal of some to love the truth and be saved.
Finally God sends a "powerful delusion" that seals people in the lie they believe and condemns them eternally.

Satanic deception. Human self-deception. Divine delusion that dooms.

This scene is horrible! It's unimaginable for so many who fancy themselves "enlightened" and think of a passage like this as pre-scientific. And surely that's part of the deception and the refusal to love the truth that God will in His glorious righteousness judge with a powerful delusion, a continuing delusion, a condemning delusion.

But we must not lose sight of this: God is ruling throughout 2 Thessalonians 2. There is no evil--not even that of Satan himself--that goes unbounded by the power and judgment of God. And there is no evil in the history of the world that will not finally be "destroyed by the splendor of Jesus' coming" (v. 8). And there is no wickedness in men that will not be condemned (v. 12). And in it all, God will be exalted and glorified and praised for all eternity (Rev.).

And so, we don't merely "accept" the truth of 2 Thessalonians. We don't just acknowledge it and go on to more "pleasant" things. We don't look at these realities and grudgingly admit them to our understanding of the faith. No. We are to love the truth--all of it. We are to rejoice and exult in the truth of God's Son--crucified, buried, resurrected, ascended, returning, judging and reigning. All of it, and all of its implications, are to be loved... lest we in any way resemble those who "refused to love the truth" and who "believed the lie" and who "delighted in wickedness." For what our God does, He does well. What appears horrible to us (the strong delusion that condemns)--and is horrible--is also glorious and will be seen to be glorious when we more fully sympathize with God in His holiness and not with man in his sin.

"What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath--prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory--even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?" (Rom. 9:22-24).

If I might attempt a perhaps too simplistic reduction... "What if God prepared some for wrath and destruction so that those he prepared for mercy and glory would better know the riches of his glory?" What if God wants to show the riches of His glory by having an eternal contrast between those prepared for destruction and those prepared for glory? And what if some knowing more fully the riches of His glory justifies God's preparation of some as objects of His wrath?

What would make such an action by God "defensible" or even "worth it"? It must be that the "riches of His glory" are so indescribably "worth it," and the expression of that glory not only defensible but the highest possible good, that God is right to act in this way. Seeing and savoring the glory of God must be so ineffably splendid and wonderful that God determines that even the horrible contrast between the eternal state of the wicked and the righteous would be a good and right way of making that glory known to the universe.

Can you imagine a God so wonderful in glory that even the just damnation of sinners makes His glory to shine forth even more?!

Behold your God--awesome and terrible in all His ways. Behold Him, love Him, fear Him, and worship Him.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Five Things I Need to Remember as a Pastor Today

"Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen" (Heb. 13:20-21).

1. I need to remember the resurrection of our Lord.

God the Father raised His Son from the dead just as He planned. And that changes everything. Life triumphs over death, eternity trumps time, glory follows suffering. It was "the God of peace" who purchased peace for us through the sacrifice of Jesus (Eph. 2:14). "By the blood of an eternal covenant" my Father in Heaven purposed that I, too, should share in resurrected life with Jesus. Whatever affliction awaits in the ministry, whatever suffering and hardships come, even if I should despair of life and feel crushed to death, I'm being taught to "rely not on myself but on God who raises the dead" (2 Cor. 1:8-9). The hope of the resurrection teaches me to abandon myself and trust more fully in my Father, and it teaches me that this life does not have the last say-so. The Life to come does.

2. I need to remember that Jesus is the great shepherd of the sheep at FBC.

What good news that is! I'm going to experience countless limitations and failures today. I'm going to see people who need real and deep help. I'm going to encounter people undergoing tremendous suffering, receiving wounds and scars sometimes the length of their souls. I'm going to have to put aside a hundred good tasks, in order to do the more essential. That will be the correct decision, but I'll still agonize over the 100 other good things. There will be sheep I can't find today. There will be sheep who feed on brown, worthless fields rather than the lush green fields of our Lord's fold. There will be sheep who look and act like goats. There will be sheep entangled in the thicket of sin and worldliness. And I won't be the shepherd they need. I won't get it all done. I'll finish the day with a good exhaustion from trying. But it won't be enough. So how wonderful that the Great Shepherd, the Chief Shepherd says, "I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak...." (Ezek. 34:14-16; read all of Ezekiel 34 and John 10). The Great Shepherd uses us under-shepherds, but He is providing for all the Sheep himself without fail. So I can rest after an imperfect day, sleep through the night, and rise tomorrow to again joyfully face pastoral limitations and failures with zeal.

3. I need to remember that God equips me with everything I need to do His will.

"His divine power has granted us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence, by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature..." (2 Pet. 1:3-4a). In His word I find sufficient equipment for all the tasks of pastoral ministry. "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:16-17). He equips me with His Spirit, His word, His promises, and everything else needed for competence in every good work. I don't need my own equipment or ideas or strategies; I simply need to reach into the toolbox the Lord supplies and withdraw the equipment He provides.

4. I need to remember that I not only want to please God but He is the one working in me so that I will please Him through Christ.

How amazing is that? The power that raised Jesus from the dead is at work in us who believe. That power is "working in us that which is pleasing in His sight." I'm not only created unto good works (Eph. 2:10) "out there," but God is at work in me to will and to do His good pleasure. The Lord is producing in me the things that He finds lovely and commendable. I'm not producing it by sheer grit and determination, or by genius and cultured habit. If there is anything good in me, it's because the Lord God is working it in me through Jesus Christ. "I have been crucified with Christ. It is not longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20). Oh, how I need to remember this today in pastoral ministry and the Christian life!

5. I need to remember God gets all the glory.

To Jesus Christ be all the glory forever and ever, Amen! "Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory because of your love and faithfulness" (Ps. 115:1). He lived in perfect righteousness for me, He died brutally for me, He swallowed the cup of God's wrath for me, He rose from the grave for me, ascended to the right hand of the Father for me, and He's coming again for me. So to HIM be all the glory forever and ever, Amen! He was resurrected, He shepherds, He it is who equips, He works in men. To HIM be all the glory and honor and praise forever!

I so desperately need to hold onto this divine benediction today: "Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen."

What about you?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Who Makes You Laugh on Tuesdays?

There are Friday Funnies at GirlTalk.

Kevin DeYoung devotes Mondays to starting with a laugh.

But who makes you laugh on Tuesdays?

Today, it's comedian Michael, Jr. for me. Check him out...

Jesus' lil' brother

Father Abraham

Related Posts:
One of the Funniest Pastors I Know on Humor in the Pulpit
How to Fill Your Church with False Converts

Monday, November 16, 2009

Mohler at UofL

Here's audio of Al Mohler speaking at the University of Louisville about his book, Atheism Remix. Mohler comments on the event itself here.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Celebrity and Riches Don't Have to Destroy You

Mockingbird has interesting and encouraging short post about a somewhat unusual species... an athlete, singer, movie star, politician who lives to give away all that he earns to those in need. He's the modern-day opposite of the rich young ruler... and of professing Christians who love the world and wealth.

Oh, how I pray the Lord would raise up more Manny Pacquiaos, and that He would make me one as well!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Bruh Ripped It Up!

Was thrilled to have a front row seat for this one!

See JT (HT) for the lyrics.

Edwards on Pride

Quoted at Christ Is Deeper Still:

"There is no sin so much like the devil as this for secrecy and subtlety and appearing in a great many shapes undiscerned and unsuspected, even appearing as an angel of light. It takes occasion to arise from everything, it perverts and abuses everything, even the exercises of real grace and real humility. It is a sin that has, as it were, many lives. If you kill it, it will live still. If you suppress it in one shape, it rises in another. If you think it is all gone, it is there still. Like the coats of an onion, if you pull one form of it off, there is another underneath. We need therefore to have the greatest watch imaginable over our hearts and to cry most earnestly to the great Searcher of hearts for his help. He that trusts his own heart is a fool."

Jonathan Edwards, Thoughts on the New England Revival, page 155, edited slightly

Related Posts:
Pride and Preaching
Good Words on Faithfulness, Fruitfulness, and Pride

Friday, November 13, 2009

Kobe, Lebron, or D-Wade?

Personally, I'm drafting D-Wade. Exhibit A:

That may leave a bruise! HT: Z

Desperate Church Leaders

Al Mohler comments on a story about churches who are having special services for people and their pets. I've long heard of Roman Catholic churches that have a special service where pets are blessed. But this particular story features Protestant churches doing the same, and a handful having not an annual "special" service but regular services complete with treats and trinkets for the animals. One pastor featured in the report says he hopes that having these services will help revitalize his aging church and help people love God as much as their pets.


Well, we must eagerly desire the revitalization of churches that have experienced decline--whether the decline comes from an aging congregation or other things. We love the church. And so, we pray for her vibrancy and power.

But c'mon. "Woof 'n Worship" and "Canines at Covenant." Depending upon pets to put the power in the gospel is beyond desperate. And it's the wrong kind of desperation. It's an unleashed pragmatism.

We want that kind of desperation that pleads often and long with the Lord to send laborers into the harvest, to enlarge the work of His Holy Spirit, to stoke burning zeal in the hearts of His people, to touch the preacher's tongue with burning coals from off the altar. We ought to be desperate, but the means of expressing our desperation should be the means established by God Himself in His word. After all, it's God who both creates the longing in our hearts and satisfies it with his presence.

I read Mohler's commentary and I was made freshly grateful for the over 95% of churches who don't stoop to such things, but trust God in more biblical fashion. I was made thankful for the churches that hold differing ministry philosophies than my own, but who nonetheless stay far away from such gimmicks. I'm thankful the Lord has a very large remnant that has not bowed the knee to Spot and Fido.

Lord, we praise you for everyday, mundane faithfulness and trust in your Word. And Lord, please fill our desperation with more of Yourself.

Our Great Need: To Know God's Love

"The more I study the New Testament and live the Christian life, the more convinced I am that our fundamental difficulty, our fundamental lack, is the lack of seeing the love of God. It is not so much our knowledge that is defective but our vision of the love of God. Thus our greatest object and endeavor should be to know Him better, and thus we will love Him more truly."

D. Martin Lloyd-Jones, The Love of God, pp. 49-50.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Strauch on Effective Elders' Meetings

HT: JT. Further to yesterday's post, here are 16 more things to consider for effective elders' meetings.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Call to Christian Unity

Tony Carter on Moody radio.

Elders' Meetings That Work

My wife, the faithful and constant helper, sent me this link from Jim Eliff. We had a great meeting last night, and so this was affirming in a lot of ways. You might not agree with everything that's recommended here, but it's good food for thought. Read the entire post here.

Here are his 7 headings:

1. Plan for meeting together more often and for a longer period of time.
2. Challenge each other spiritually.
3. Discuss the state of the flock.
4. Have an agenda.
5. Actually pray for individuals and issues being faced.
6. Study together toward a unified position on difficult issues.
7. Make these meetings non-optional.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Thank God for the Safety of Our Children

I was touched as I read this post from Conrad Mbewe about the safety of children in Zambia. Here's the conclusion:
There are many mornings and afternoons when I see small children in school uniforms walking alone or in pairs as they make their way to or from school--and the school is quite a distance away. on other occasions I see children coming from the market with small packets of groceries in their hands, blissfully walking along as they make their way home. And here are cops saying they never get reports of missing children around here. That must sound like heaven for many of our friends in the West, where children are preyed upon and snatched by human predators. Let us never take this common grace for granted. Let us thank God for the safety of our children.

Amen. I remember when we first arrived in Cayman. It was one of our first Sundays at the church. After the service, the children had disappeared. We'd been hanging around after the service for a while, so we panicked because the kids could have been taken at any point.

I went one direction; Kristie went another. People looked at us with some surprise. "Relax," they said. "This is Cayman. The children are safe." Honestly, I still felt very nervous. I could only think of the horror stories filed away over many years of news reports of missing children in the States.

For me, children were no longer safe after the Atlanta child murders in the late 1970s. Childhood changed then. That's when I couldn't ride my bike beyond certain borders in town or after early evening. That's when my parents, like a lot of others, started requiring from their children exact reports of planned movements around the neighborhood. So, it was incredible to find in Cayman a place where there wasn't the low-level fear gnawing at every parent's heart.

But, here, children are safe. I praise God along with my brother Conrad.

Remembrance Day

Yesterday we celebrate Remembrance Day in the Cayman Islands. Remembrance Day commemorates the courage and sacrifice of those fallen in war.

Today is a public holiday. So, we're headed to the beach.

The Next Step... The Threshold of Heaven

I'm being challenged right now reading Shadow of the Almighty: The Life and Testament of Jim Elliot. I've just started the book, but already I'm deeply encouraged by the zeal that shows through the life of a young man joyfully serious about Jesus. Elisabeth Elliot's writing is almost spartan, but always appropriate and useful. I particularly appreciated these paragraphs in the preface:
Jim's aim was to know God. His course, obedience--the only course that could lead to the fulfillment of his aim. His end was what some would call an extraordinary death, although in facing death he had quietly pointed out that many have died because of obedience to God.

He and the other men with whom he died were hailed as heroes, "martyrs." I do not approve. Nor would they have approved.

Is the distinction between living for Christ and dying for Him, after all, so great? Is not the second the logical conclusion of the first? Furthermore, to live for God is to die, "daily," as the apostle Paul put it. It is to lose everything that we may gain Christ. It is in thus laying down our lives that we find them. (pp. 9-10).

While at college in Wheaton, Jim wrote this advice to his 15-year-old sister:
Fix your eyes on the rising Morning Star. Don't be disappointed at anything or over-elated, either. Live every day as if the Son of Man were at the door, and gear your thinking to the fleeting moment. Just how can it be redeemed? Walk as if the next step would carry you across the threshold of Heaven. Pray. That saint who advances on his knees never retreats.

I've only started, but it's an excellent read, another "classic" I'm just getting around to. And I can tell I'll be thankful and in some measure changed when I've finished it. If you've read it, how did the book affect your life?

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Sunday, November 08, 2009

Prophet and Shepherd

“A ministry that is all prophetic all the time will wear down a congregation. It will eventually defeat a congregation. A ministry that is all sympathetic all the time will coddle the congregation straight into the deadly pastures of unwarranted self-assurance and the false pastures of self-security. A pastor who would be a theologian knows when and how to be both convicting prophet and comforting good shepherd.”

--Stephen J. Nichols, “Proclaiming the Image: Theology and Preaching,” Gheens Lectures at Southern Seminary

Which was your pastor today?

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Saturday, November 07, 2009

Appropriate Pomp for the Circumstance

Yesterday, the Lord granted me the privilege of observing seismic historical changes in the Cayman Islands. The country celebrated the adoption of its new constitution, replete with new authority, new political positions, and some continuity with previous ties to England. The constitution modernization process also included a Bill of Rights, identifying 19 basic human rights for people in the Cayman Islands.

Yesterday's celebration was a long time in the making. The constitution modernization process took a LOT of time, with a LOT of people, thinking through a LOT of issues. The democratic process was at its messy best with multiple public hearings, negotiations with England, public debate between various stakeholders, including voices secular and religious. Along the way, there were "make or break" issues that threatened one side or another. But in the end, the Constitution was approved by a huge margin in the Country's first-ever public referendum. Free democracy fueled by an enlightened citizenry produced another happy result in the cause of just rule.

Writing or editing a constitution for a country is arduous and at time precarious in any county. But I was struck at the clash of ideals that often occurred in this process. Ideas have consequences and one could see that as issues like marriage and public education were discussed.

As I sat among the crowd yesterday, I caught sight of a number of my colleagues in ministry here. Some of them played herculean roles in this process, giving biblical and prophetic witness during many discussions. What a blessing to know these men and to live in a country that seeks the blessing of God and the input of pastors.

The first ever Premier, Deputy Premier, and Deputy Governor were sworn in during the service. As an American, I'm still a bit allergic to referring to Queens and her appointees with titles like "Her/his majesty." Kinda puts the taste of tea in my mouth. But there was a majesty about the day. One official donned powdered wig and robe. His Majesty the Governor, appointed by the Queen of England, inspected the ceremonial guard who shouldered arms, paraded, and saluted at all the appropriate times. And at times, the Premier's speech cast high and lofty vision in common and accessible language. There was a brass band, the national choir, and tons of people assembled on this historic day. We witnessed something of the peaceful transition of power and the day-one inauguration of a new era of legal and governmental authority.

Throughout the day's ceremony, many thanks were given to God. Pastor Alson Ebanks prayed the invocation and did so with keen and clear meditation on the Lordship of Christ. It was great. The Premier gave honor to God throughout his remarks... even if he gave a bit too much honor to himself. He's a politician after all. The national choir sang "the Hallelujah Chorus," and a quartet led in a song that very much celebrated "the victory of the Lamb." The ACLU would have wet its pants, and already a case would be making its way to the Supreme Court.

But with all the pomp and circumstance, I'm most thankful for how I was left longing for the coronation of Christ the True King and Only Majesty, Potentate of potentates, Lord of Glory! What a coronation it will be when the King Eternal consummates His reign and puts death under His feet. What a processional of angels and saints marching up to Zion! And, oh! how the heavenly choir will sing and the harps play! Redeemed Premiers and Governors and High Officials will bow with martyrs and missionaries and housewives and all creation to give all praise and honor to the Lamb who is worthy! On that day, the pomp will match the circumstance and the circumstance will be the transformation of all creation into a showcase of Jesus' unveiled glory!

Come, Lord Jesus, come!

An Overview of "The Decline of African-American Theology"

This year at The Gospel Coalition conference, I had the privilege of doing an overview of The Decline of African-American Theology: From Biblical Faith to Cultural Captivity. In the talk, I tried to accomplish four things:

1. Provide a brief biblical basis for writing a book like The Decline, a book that critically examines the theological positions of professing Christians writers and theologians. We briefly looked at Colossians 2 for support.

2. Provide an overview of the book's methodology and limitations.

3. Give a general overview of the African-American theological starting point as characterized by writers in the 1750s to early 1800s, who were largely Calvinistic, then work through historical turning points in the theological history.

4. And a few thoughts on the way forward: including correcting the revisionist history and bad theology out there, a call for more writers contributing to this field, recover the Bible to make it functionally central in the African-American church, recovering a high view of God and the recovery of the gospel, and recovering the purity and centrality of the local church as "the colony of God left here to beam out the gospel and to organize its life around the gospel".

Take a listen and let me know what you think.

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Pick Up "The Decline" Here: