Monday, December 20, 2010

Seeking Love in a World of Lust

Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they shall see God (Matt 5:8).

A poem, submitted to blogger Tim Challies, by the wife of a man consumed with pornography broke my heart. You can read it here (Caution, a couple verses are understandably PG-13, so please read with discretion).

I am astonished and grieved at the Satanic inroads made by internet pornography into the lives of men - even in the Church! It may be - as once noted by theologian Carl Trueman - the greatest issue facing the Church today. When the men of Christ, who are called to lead the flock, are mesmerized by idols of lust, how can the Church be anything but weak and defiled? It is not a small nor insignificant issue.

Fortunately, there are many helpful resources in fighting this sin, such as those listed here, not to mention the sufficiency of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Pet 1:3), the sufficiency of Christ's Holy Word (John 17:17), and the all-sufficient work of Christ's Spirit in His people (Gal 5:16).

If lust and pornography go unchecked, your sight for our glorious Lord - as well as for those whom you love most - will be blinded and at that your only hope in this life will slowly dissipate, "to see His righteousness" (Micah 7:9).

PLEASE NOTE: If you are a man struggling with lust and pornography, especially a member of my church - there is a standing-offer for you to meet with me, confess your sin, and seek the forgiveness and cleansing found in Christ alone. By His grace, you will be greeted with the love of a pastor and a partner in killing this deceitful wickedness. Do not wait for the shame and reproof of having your sin discovered (cf. 1 Tim 5:24-25)... nothing can be hidden forever.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Raking the Leaves

Okay, so this is amounts to little more than a shameless picture of my favorite little heathen and I raking the leaves... he is daddy's boy, after all.

On the other hand, at the time the photograph was taken, I was listening to Sinclair Ferguson give the 2010 den Dulk Lectures on Pastoral Ministry at Westminister Seminary (which are superb and available for download here).

And, I am trying to apply this wise pastoral counsel: What is the One Regret All Pastors Should Want to Avoid?

Thus, this picture qualifies for the theme of this blog after all!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Preaching with Profound Simplicity

Great counsel from Prof. David Murray in "A Plea for Profound Simplicity", wherein he criticizes those of us who preach with a little "too much"...
  1. Too much material
  2. Too many words
  3. Too many long words
  4. Too many long sentences
  5. Too long arguments
  6. Simply too long
  7. Too many headings
  8. Too much logic, not enough like Jesus
  9. Too many quotations
  10. Too much clutter
  11. Too much reading
  12. Too much doctrine
Ouch! I recognize myself in several of Murray's criticism, so I am grateful for his Gospel-centered remedy:
The spiritual solution is a love for souls. That old-fashioned phrase must become a modern day reality in our pulpits. If we love our hearers and want to see them live better here, and also prepare for life hereafter, we will do everything to simplify our sermons for their benefit. If we keep the spiritual welfare and eternal destiny of our hearers in front of us at all times, making ourselves understood will become a life-or-death matter.

It’s wonderful that God is calling preachers with huge brains into the ministry of the Word. But huge brains need huge hearts if they are to lovingly and sympathetically serve God’s less gifted (but maybe more-graced?) children.

Now, back to seeking the love of souls through Micah 5.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Calvinism is Purely Supernatural Salvation

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) (Eph 2:4-5).

What is the most fundamental principle or center of the doctrines of grace, known as "Calvinism," by friends and foes alike? B.B. Warfield answered this question in his article, "Calvinism" (see Works, vol. V, pp. 353-69; online here), and his answer may surprise some.

It is not, as commonly supposed, the beloved (and berated!) doctrine of predestination, but the monergism of salvation. Or, the "I" in the familiar acrostic "TULIP." Warfield explains:
Thus it comes about that the doctrine of monergistic regeneration - or as it was phrased by the older theologians, of 'irresistible grace' or 'effectual calling' - is the hinge of the Calvinistic soteriology [doctrine of salvation], and lies much more deeply embedded in the system than the doctrine of predestination itself which is popularly looked upon as its hall-mark.

Indeed, the soteriological significance of predestination to the Calvinist consists in the safeguard it affords to monergistic regeneration - to purely supernatural salvation.

What lies at the heart of his soteriology is the absolute exclusion of the creaturely element in the initiation of the saving process, that so the pure grace of God may be magnified. Only so could he express his sense of man's complete dependence as sinner on the free mercy of a saving God; or extrude the evil leaven of Synergism (q.v.) by which, as he clearly sees, God is robbed of His glory and man is encouraged to think that he owes to some power, some act of choice, some initiative of his own, his participation in that salvation which is in reality all of grace. There is accordingly nothing against which Calvinism sets its face with more firmness than every form and degree of autosoterism (pp. 359-60).
Warfield concludes and summarizes this point in this clear and heart-warming sentence:
He who knows that it is God who has chosen him and not he who has chosen God, and that he owes his entire salvation in all its processes and in every one of its stages to this choice of God, would be an ingrate indeed if he gave not the glory of his salvation solely to the inexplicable elective love of God (p. 360).
Firmly set against "autosoterism," the Calvinist rejoices, "... by grace you have been saved!"

NB, for a practical expansion on this point into Christian life and worship, please see Ian Hamilton, "Heart-warming Calvinism." For one of the best recent treatments of regeneration, see John Piper, Finally Alive!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Gospel Light on "Black Friday"

We agree with Prof. Thomas, that "Black Friday" is incomprehensible to us and our usual commentary would sound something like Ephesians 5:5.

Yet, while we hesitate to encourage the voracious consumerism (= idolatry) today, there are a number of exceedingly helpful Christian works presently on-sale and we would be remiss not to point them out.

Several on-line Christian booksellers are having special deals this weekend, including:
Tolle lege!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Praise the Lord!
I will give thanks to the Lord with all my heart,
In the company of the upright and in the assembly
(Ps 111:1).

Now, here's a holiday that I can really get behind, it may even be my favorite. For starters, it is more biblical than Christmas (but, of course, so is Hanukkah [cf. John 10:22]), with a biblical word as its title, "Thanksgiving," and it is full of turkey and football... not to mention doughnut-holes on a cold morning with my favorite aspiring theologian. All the trappings for a great day!

Though it originated from a presidential decreed on October 3, 1863, even that rings with truth:
They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.

-Abraham Lincoln, "Thanksgiving Proclamation"
Unfortunately, even those of us Americans who actually know our Most High God through His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, may neglect the deliberate opportunity today to give thanks for His "gracious gifts" and "singular deliverances and blessings."

Psalm 111 is therefore a helpful corrective, reminding us of the wisdom and goodness of our God in our giving of thanks. Not only does thanksgiving increase our delight in the creative acts of God (vv. 2-3), our awe in the redemptive grace of God (vv. 4-9), but it reinforces our zeal to fight sin and obey our Lord (v. 10). Along these same lines, Ligon Duncan has written:
A sense of entitlement is the death of gratitude. In our comfortable and affluent world in the Christian West, we must be constantly on guard for this bane of ingratitude to God. The prime prayer-weapon that God has given to us to fight against it is thanksgiving. Without thanksgiving in our prayers we will lack assurance because when we fail to rehearse God's answers and blessings we become forgetful of them and hence are opened up to discouragement.
So, fight discouragement and disobedience today by giving sincere and earnest thanks! Recount the undeserved mercies we have received from God in our Lord Jesus Christ, particularly in view of "our national perverseness and disobedience." May each heart be full of thanks and give praise "in the company of the upright and in the assembly." Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Why Protestants are not Heretics

Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them (Rom 16:17).

In a letter to Pope Pius IX, Charles Hodge explained why American Presbyterians would not be sending delegates to the First Vatican Council in 1869. In this letter, Hodge gives an incredibly winsome, succinct, and helpful articulation of why Protestants in general are not heretics or schismatics (contrary to the claims of Roman Catholics, et al).

At the heart of the letter - and the heart of the matter - Hodge explains the frequently misunderstood truth about Christian unity:
We cordially recognize as members of Christ's visible Church on earth, all those who profess the true religion together with their children. We are not only willing but earnest to hold Christian communion with them, provided they do not require, as conditions of such communion, that we profess doctrines which the Word of God condemns, or that we should do what the Word forbids. If in any case any Church prescribes such unscriptural terms of fellowship, the error and the fault is with that church and not with us.
It is vital to remember that the guilt of division lay upon those who turn away from the truth of Christ revealed in Scripture, not upon those who refuse to discard this truth for the sake of visible or organizational coherence.

Read the full text of Hodge's letter at Banner of Truth.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Discipling Your Wife

Some good counsel even for us not-so-newly-married men:

  • Pray for your wife out loud.
  • Read the passage of Scripture preached last Lord's Day.
  • Read the passage of Scripture being preached the next Lord's Day.
  • Pray with your wife for others
Easy, but profoundly impacting from Brian Croft, "How Do You Teach a Newly-Married Man to Disciple His Wife?"

Monday, November 22, 2010

Guarding the Lord's Day for Kids

Some wise and helpful remarks on Guarding Sabbath for our Children, especially for those still wrangling little ones:
God forbid we value the discipline of a sport more than the discipline of Christian living. Both require great application of time and effort, but one is worth far more than the other. Because time is our most limited resource, how we allocate it reveals much about our hearts. Our time usage should look radically different than that of the unbelieving family. We must leave time for slow afternoons, for evening meals where we pray together and share our faith and struggles, for Sunday mornings of shared worship. God ordains Sabbath for our good and for His glory. May our homes be places where Sabbath rest is jealously guarded, that in all things God might have preeminence – even our schedules.
Personally, I cringe every time I hear of parents regularly removing their families from corporate worship, as well as personal rest, on the Lord's Day because of sports or other activities. What do you think the child is implicitly learning in that exchange?

Be not surprised to find that when the over-scheduled child grows, he or she values neither the Church nor the Lord of the Church. After all, they will just be accurately reproducing what was modeled to them as children.

Monday, November 15, 2010

TMS Chapel Audio

As an alumnus, I may have more affection than most, but I would point your attention (and your iPod) to the sermons preached in the bi-weekly chapels of The Master's Seminary.

Podcast and free downloads of these sermons are available and searchable here.

As a seminarian, the chapel gatherings on Tuesday and Thursday mornings were some of my fondest and most eagerly-anticipated times of devotion. Singing with my brothers-in-training and hearing God's Word proclaimed by our professors, visiting scholars, and alumni, were points of significant enrichment and challenge during my ministerial preparation. In fact, I can probably recall more "moments" where the Spirit of God personally addressed me during chapel, than during the lectures.

Take note of the Faculty Lecture Series, the most recent being Biblical Sanctification, as well as the other expositions (including one from this pastor, with whom some of our readers may be familiar).

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Approaching the Lord's Day

Pastor Josh Harris excellently shepherds his congregation on how we should be approaching the gathering of the church on the Lord's Day. The bottom-line:
It reveals something in our souls if we are treating the gathering of God's people on Sunday lightly.
Preach it, brother!

Eager, Expectant, and Early from Covenant Life Church on Vimeo.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

MacArthur's New Book: Slave

For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord’s freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ’s slave (1 Cor 7:22).

We have been eagerly anticipating the release of MacArthur's newest book, since we first heard it was under construction. Now, we can hardly wait for its post-Christmas release. Here's a sneak-peek via video:

Slave: The Hidden Truth about Your Identity in Christ is available for preorder now (Amazon | CBD)

Note: Murray Harris' Slave of Christ in the NSIBT series was the biblical-theological work that initially sparked MacArhtur's investment in a more popular treatment. Harris' study is worth your while.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Calvinist Crossing

We have not gotten to this in awhile, but here are some things worthy of a quick link and look:
  • Long Live the Serial Comma! Amen and amen! I wanted to stand-up and cheer when I read this. Leaving-off the final comma prior to the coordinating conjunction is for Sabellians, Socians, Arminians, and others who seem incapable of making proper distinctions in God's economy.
  • Protestant Amnesia. Another provocative and helpful piece from Prof. Trueman for those of us who are still protesting and increasingly affirming his main point:
My point here is simply that I repudiate the kind of Protestantism that claims it has no connection to past tradition. Pace such claims, only heretics reinvent the faith every Sunday....

That is what mere Christianity evangelicalism is: a movement of ecclesiastical, historical, and theological amnesia. It lacks any real appreciation of the the church and of doctrine, so crucial in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as is often evident from worship services which make no attempt to stand in continuity with the past, or from theology that is formulated with barely a nod in the direction of the creedal and confessional paths which the church has trodden for these many years.
  • Bethlehem Church of the Nativity to be Restored. It was just over three years ago we walked through this reminder of our Savior's humility at birth. I do hope that it can be restored and preserved as a testimony to future generations until the Babe from Bethlehem returns to reign as God's King.
  • Equipped for College. Articles in this month's Tabletalk are devoted to the issue of equipping students for the challenge of matriculating through college to the glory of God.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Both Hands Do It Well

Concerning evil, both hands do it well.
The prince asks, also the judge, for a bribe,
And a great man speaks the desire of his soul;
So they weave it together
(Micah 7:3).

Most excellent Christian music was written at least 200 years ago, by men like this, this and this.

Yet, there are notable stand-outs today. One of them may be Jon Foreman, frontman for Switchfoot (and fellow Monterey Bay kid!), whose adaptation of Micah 7, "Equally Skilled," is both excellent and exegetical, perceptive and poetic. In sum, this is a model for how God's Word may be adapted musically to His praise.

Listen here (the lyrics are below). Tip: Try listening to the song with your Bible open to Micah 7, and observe how Foreman moves through the text.

How miserable I am
I feel like a fruit-picker
Who arrived here
After the harvest
There's nothing here at all
Nothing at all here
That could placate my hunger
The godly people are all gone
There's not one honest soul left alive
Here on the planet
We're all murderers and thieves
Setting traps here
For even our brothers

And both of our hands
Are equally skilled
At doing evil, equally skilled
At bribing the judges
Equally skilled
At perverting justice
Both of our hands
Both of our hands

The day of justice comes
And is even now swiftly arriving
Don't trust anyone at all
Not your best friend
Or even your wife
For the son hates the father
The daughter despises even her mother
Look, your enemies arrive
Right in the room
Of your very household

And both of their hands
Are equally skilled
At doing evil
Equally skilled
At bribing the judges
Equally skilled
At perverting justice
Both of their hands
Both of their hands

No, don't gloat over me
Though I fall, though I fall
I will rise again
Though I sit here in darkness
The Lord, the Lord alone
He will be my light
I will be patient
As the Lord
Punishes me
For the wrongs I've done
Against Him
After that
He'll take my case
Bringing me
To light and the justice
For all I have suffered

And both of His hands
Are equally skilled
At ruining evil
Equally skilled
At judging the judges
Equally skilled
Administering justice
Both of His hands

Both of His hands
Are equally skilled
At showing me mercy
Equally skilled
At loving the loveless
Equally skilled
Administering justice
Both of His hands
Both of His hands

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Church as Center of Reform

And I said,
“Hear now, heads of Jacob
And rulers of the house of Israel.
Is it not for you to know justice?
(Micah 3:1)

As I alluded in a recent exposition of Micah 3, "The Cost and Courage of Christian Leadership," Christians are called to pursue change in the world, not primarily through propositions and politics, but by pursuing faithfulness in each of the spheres of influence in which the Lord has placed us.

This is not new counsel, as Pastor Edwards led his congregation in a renewal of their church covenant during the Great Awakening, a part of which included:
In all our conversation, concerns, and dealings with our neighbor, we will have a strict regard to rules of honesty, justice, and uprightness; that we don’t overreach or defraud our neighbor in any matter, and either willfully or through want of care, injure him in any of his honest possessions or rights; and in all our communication, will have a tender respect, not only to our own interest, but also to the interest of our neighbor; and will carefully endeavor in everything to do to others as we should expect, or think reasonable, that they should do to us, if we were in their case and they in ours.

- Edwards, "Memoirs," in Works, vol. 1, lx.
As we greet this post-election morning in our country, with undoubted disappointments and grateful victories on the mind of each individual, let us never forget that justice begins in the lives of those redeemed by the One who is both just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (see Rom 3:26). It is for us to know justice.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Resources for Remembering the Reformation

Celebrating the Reformation is a great way to celebrate the matters of "first importance" (1 Cor 15:3-5). So, in "Remembering the Reformation: Always Reforming" this past Lord's Day, we discussed the early ministry of Martin Luther and surveyed the ongoing relevance of the Reformation's solas.

For further (and admittedly better) resources on the Reformation see:
  • Here I Stand. Links to documentaries on Martin Luther by Justin Taylor.
  • Crash Course in Reformation History. Links to Stephen Nichols' teaching. (NB, Nichols is the church historian for the everyman-Christian. I have found him to be consistently accurate, articulate, and - most important - understandable! If you struggle with comprehending the events and teaching of our Christian heritage, Nichols is your guy).
  • Table Talk: The Reformation. Brief, but beneficial interview with Mark Dever on the on-going relevance of the Reformation for every Christian.
And then there is the "Reformation Polka, which is inexcusably silly, but nevertheless worth 3 minutes of your time (HT: RSM).

Semper Reformanda!

Update: For further study of the Reformation in brief and readable books, please see:

How Can I Serve Here?

...but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near (Heb 10:25).

Here is some great counsel from those indomitable Australians at Mathias Media, via 9Marks,

"How Members Can Serve the Church on the Lord's Day":

Before the Service

* Read the passage in advance
* Pray for the gathering
* Greet newcomers (act like you are the host)
* Think strategically about who you should sit with
* Arrive Early

During the Service

* Sing with gusto (even if you can’t sing)
* Help with logistics (if there’s a problem, help fix it)
* Don’t be distracted
* Listen carefully
* Be aware of your facial expressions (you may affect others and discourage preachers)

After the Service

* Connect newcomers with others
* Get newcomers information
* Start a conversation about the sermon
* Ask someone how they became a Christian
* Stay late

If you happen to be a member of this church, please consider this post as a loving exhortation and your pastors' prayerful expectation for each of us on each Lord's Day.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Pray for Iraq

Many nations will come and say,
“Come and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD
And to the house of the God of Jacob,
That He may teach us about His ways
And that we may walk in His paths.”

For from Zion will go forth the law,
Even the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
And He will judge between many peoples
And render decisions for mighty, distant nations.
Then they will hammer their swords into plowshares
And their spears into pruning hooks;
Nation will not lift up sword against nation,
And never again will they train for war
(Micah 4:2-3).

We prayed for the Gospel to advance in Iraq last night, so I was particularly saddened to read this report this morning, "Baghdad Church Siege Ends with 52 Dead"
Iraqi security forces stormed a Baghdad church where militants had taken an entire congregation hostage for four hours, leaving at least 52 people dead, including a priest, Iraqi officials said Monday.

(More info here from BBC).
I am sad because those who suffered were both defenseless and hopeless. Not only did these poor souls endure what must have been an unspeakably horrifying siege, but they did so under the hopeless false gospel of Roman Catholicism.

I am ever grateful to God for the Reformation we celebrated yesterday, in which God liberated His Church and the life-giving Gospel of Jesus from the Romanist errors. And I am humbled that He would allow our congregation to gather yesterday in peace and safety; a reality that I am sure most of us - if not all - took for granted.

Please pray for Iraq:
  1. A broken and demoralized society is the fruit of the harsh dictatorship.
  2. The international community has made Iraq a pariah among nations.
  3. The Christian community is largely Assyrian, with some Armenians, and most Assyrians are members of the Catholic-linked Chaldean Church.
  4. The few Evangelicals are mainly confined to the cities.
  5. Leadership for the churches is a desperate need.
  6. All peoples are unreached apart from Assyrian and Armenian minority groups.
And pray in view of that Day when the nations will stream to the mountain of the LORD and never again train for war.

Trembling on Monday

Not to us, O LORD, not to us,
But to Your name give glory
Because of Your lovingkindness, because of Your truth
(Ps 115:1).

Some very real pastoral confessions and prayers for Monday morning by Robert Murray M'Cheyne:
June 22. - Carronshore. My last. Some tears; yet I fear some like the messenger, not the message; and I fear that I am so vain as to love that love. Lord, let it not be so. Perish my honour, but let Thine be exalted for ever.

... Alas! how I tremble for my Monday mornings - those seasons of lifelessness. Lord, bless the seeds sown this day in the hearts of my friends, by the hand of my friends, and all over the world - hasten the harvest!

-Bonar, Memoir and Remains (Banner; reprint, 2004), p. 44

Friday, October 29, 2010

Preaching with Tenderness

I will surely assemble all of you, Jacob,
I will surely gather the remnant of Israel.
I will put them together like sheep in the fold;
Like a flock in the midst of its pasture
They will be noisy with men
(Micah 2:12)

From Andrew Bonar on M'Cheyne's approach to preaching sin and judgment:
Certain it is that the tone of reproach and upbraiding is widely different from the voice of solemn warning. It is not saying hard things that pierces the conscience of our people; it is the voice of divine love heard amid the thunder.

The sharpest point of the two-edged sword is not death, but life; and against self-righteous souls this latter ought to be more used than the former. For such souls can hear us tell of the open gates of hell and the unquenchable fire far more unconcernedly than of the gates of heaven wide open for their immediate return.

When we preach that the glad tidings were intended to impart immediate assurance of eternal life to every sinner that believes them, we strike deeper upon the proud enmity of the world to God, than when we show the eternal curse and the second death.

- Bonar, Memoir and Remains of Robert Murray M'Cheyne (Banner; reprint, 2004), p. 43.
Our sovereign God truly stands before the sinner as a Judge, but even more as a Savior and Shepherd, and so must His preachers declare Him. Prayerfully searching for such clarity and compassion in Micah 3.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The god of America's Choosing

Al Mohler has rightly observed, Prof. Stanley Hauerwas has a habit of "irritating the faithful," which is probably why I have enjoyed reading him since college, even though I would disagree with him on most theological issues. I am always provoked by how he arrives at his conclusions (see, for example, "Preaching as Though We Had Enemies").

Yet, Hauerwas' analysis of civil religion in the US is often hauntingly perceptive. Such as his recent comments in "How Real is America's Faith?", cited by Mohler:
Americans do not have to believe in God, because they believe that it is a good thing simply to believe: all they need is a general belief in belief. That is why we have never been able to produce interesting atheists in the US. The god most Americans say they believe in is not interesting enough to deny, because it is only the god that has given them a country that ensures that they have the right to choose to believe in the god of their choosing. Accordingly, the only kind of atheism that counts in the US is that which calls into question the proposition that everyone has a right to life, liberty, and happiness.
Mohler's analysis, I believe is correct. Hauerwas makes some sweeping generalities, but he is not wrong to suggest that most Americans believe in "the god that has given them a country that ensures that they have the right to choose to believe in the god of their choosing."

And for that reason, I pray for grace and clarity in preaching the glorious realities of the real - and interesting - God who inspired such prophetic words as these.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Pray before You Eat (His Word)

Do not My words do good
To the one walking uprightly?
(Micah 2:7)

The Lord has assured His people that His Word is given to them for their good - even those so-called "hard sayings." This, of course, brings to mind our concurrent obligation to “in humility receive the word implanted” (Jas 1:21-25).

One essential to putting aside all filthiness, all that remains of wickedness, and cultivating humility, so that we are ready to receive His Word, is to pray. Whether we are preparing to hear the Scripture preached from the pulpit, taught from the lectern, or to read it for ourselves in private, earnest prayer is essential.

One helpful aid is the biblical acronym developed by John Piper in When I Don't Desire God, IOUS:
Incline my heart to Your testimonies, And not to dishonest gain (Ps 119:36)

Open my eyes, that I may behold Wonderful things from Your law (Ps 119:18)

Unite my heart to fear Your name (Ps 86:11)

Satisfy us in the morning with Your lovingkindness (Ps 90:14)
I have pasted this my Bible as a continual reminder. How will you prayerfully prepare to receive His Word?


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Sin is a Matter of Opportunity

Woe to those who scheme iniquity,
Who work out evil on their beds!
When morning comes, they do it,
For it is in the power of their hands
(Micah 2:1)

I'm no prophet, but I would venture to guess that this piercing observation by Rev. Edwards is going to show-up in my forthcoming message on Micah 2:
Opportunity often shows what men are, whether friends or enemies. Opportunity to do puts men in mind of doing; wakens up such principles as lay dormant before. Opportunity stirs up desire to do, where there was before a disposition, that without opportunity would have lain still. If a man has had an old grudge against another, and has a fair opportunity to be revenged, this will revive his malice, and waken up a desire of revenge…

You object against your having a moral hatred against God; that you never felt any desire to dethrone him. But one reason has been, that it has always been conceived so impossible by you. But if the throne of God were within your reach, and you knew it, it would not be safe one hour. Who knows what thoughts would presently arise in your heart by such an opportunity, and what disposition would be raised up in your heart. Who would trust your heart, that there would not presently be such thoughts as these, though they are enough to make one tremble to mention them?

- Jonathan Edwards, "Men Naturally are God's Enemies," Works, Vol. 2, pp. 134-35.

(Apologies for the delay on Mueller, other things have overtaken me).

Monday, October 18, 2010

Rummaging in Presbyterian Trash Cans

Great conversation between Al Mohler, Kevin DeYoung, and Ligon Duncan on the nature and scope of the "New Calvinists." Mohler's response as to its rise, is both simple and true, "Where else are you going to go?"

DeYoung, Duncan, Mohler: What's New About the New Calvinism from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

(NB, we have been investing a bit of thinking and reading recently on what it means to be Reformed or "Calvinistic," but non-confessional and may attempt to address it here in the near future).

More from Mueller tomorrow, DV.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Theology as Spiritual Ability, 3: Theologia Irregenitorum?

... just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart (Eph 4:17-18).

In previous posts (1 and 2), we have seen in the dogmatics of the Lutheran theologian, J.T. Mueller, that theologians are born by the Spirit and not made or trained. Or, as he puts it, theology is a "spiritual habitude"
The theological habitude is a spiritual habitude (habitus spiritualis, supernaturalis), that is to say, an ability which is implanted in the soul not by natural gifts, but by the Holy Ghost. It presupposes personal faith in Christ's vicarious atonement and consequently the regeneration, or conversion, of the theologian.
This, of course, begs an important question: What do we say about the host of widely-respected theologians - men (and women) who inhabit significant chairs in universities and seminaries, write voluminously, and have their prestige validated on PBS specials and Discovery Channel exposes - and yet evidence no "personal faith in Christ's vicarious atonement"? Mueller's lucidity, again, is instructive:
Unbelieving ministers or teachers do not deserve the name of theologian; and in the sense of Holy Scripture they are not theologians, though they may have apprehended the doctrines of the Word of God intellectually and be able to present them clearly and correctly. In other words, there is no theologia irregenitorum, or theology of the unregenerate, since the souls of the unconverted and unbelieving are not inhabited and actuated by the Holy Ghost, but by the 'prince of this world,' that is, Satan. Eph 2,2.

Holy Scripture always describes a true minister of Christ as a penitent, believing child of God, who ascribes to divine grace both his sufficiency and his call into the ministry. 2 Cor 3,5; 2 Tim 2,1ff. A true minister of Christ, or theologian, is therefore a sanctified believer (pp. 33-34).
The unregenerate have no theology, but speculate in futility (Rom 1:21) and understand darkly (Eph 4:18), so that "Unbelieving ministers or teachers do not deserve the name of theologian."

While this in no way minimizes the need for true theologians to contend earnestly (Jude 3) or take thoughts captive (2 Cor 10:5), it does grant a settled confidence and dependent humility to their efforts. Theologians are born again, not trained, so we can trust in God to regenerate the irregenitorum , remembering that were it not for His grace, we too would still see His Word in futility and darkness.

So, the next time the theologia irregenitorum is paraded before you, respond like David, a true theologian:
But I, like a deaf man, do not hear;
And I am like a mute man who does not open his mouth.
Yes, I am like a man who does not hear,
And in whose mouth are no arguments.
For I hope in You, O LORD;
You will answer, O Lord my God
(Ps 38:13-15)

On Monday, we'll see what Mueller has to teach us about how God cultivates and trains His true theologians.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Theology as a Spiritual Ability, 2

"Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all" (Mark 10:15)

Continuing from yesterday, Mueller in Christian Dogmatics continues that the Spirit - not universities (!) - makes theologians:
Our Lutheran dogmaticians have rightly emphasized the great truth that 'the theologian is not born, but made.' (Theologus non nascitur, sed fit.) By this axiom they wished to say that not man by nature is a theologian nor can become a theologian by his own reason or strength. Theology is a God-given habitude. (Theologia est habitus practicus θεόσδοτος.) Hence the Holy Spirit Himself must make a person a theologian. (p. 86)
And why must the Holy Spirit Himself make a theologian?
As a matter of fact, Christian theology is not a speculative system of philosophy, the substance of which lies within human intellectual comprehension; but it is 'the wisdom of God in a mystery,' 1 Cor. 2,7. (The meaning of Paul's statement is evidently: 'In speaking the wisdom of God, we proclaim a mystery.') For this reason a childlike faith in God's Word is essential no less to the Christian theologian than to the ordinary Christian believer. A theologian is a Christian theologian only inasmuch as he implicitly believes in Christ and unconditionally accepts His Word. (p. 30)
What a subversive truth in a Church so often enchanted by the tier of of "lettered" teachers! No author or professor - irrespective of the number of PhD's, books, and storied-institutions which follow his name - is a theologian who does not come to the Word of God with the trembling eagerness of a child. Such humility cannot be professionally forged or academically achieved, it must come from the work of God in the carnal heart. And so we say, with all authority, "the Holy Spirit Himself must make a person a theologian."

Tomorrow, Mueller will help us address the especially relevant question, is there a theologia irregenitorum? (Trust me, you have asked this question).

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Theology as a Spiritual Ability

Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life (2 Cor 3:5-6).

During a recent foray into a used bookstore - as we are frequently wont to do - we happened upon a copy of J.T. Mueller's Christian Dogmatics, in excellent condition (Our guess is that we are the first to actually read it since it was printed in 1955). Essentially a condensation of Pieper's three-volume Christliche Dogmatik, we have enjoyed perusing the confessional Lutheran viewpoint without having to learn German.

While Mueller has admitted weaknesses - like supposing the Lutheran Church to be the orthodox visible Church of Christ (p. 24) and the bewildering doctrine of consubstantiation (p. 520-22; if you understand it, you obviously do not get it) - most of his foibles can be excused owing to the fact that the guy was after all Lutheran.

Yet, what has made Mueller's work worth all $6 are his introductory remarks on the role and purpose of sacred theology (pp. 1-86); specifically, arguing that it is a spiritual ability or "habitude" (habitus, Latin for deportment or custom, as indicative of one's "adequacy" [2 Cor 3:5-6]). Mueller makes the contention, which has all but evaporated in our day, that theological learning and/or teaching is neither an academic nor speculative discipline, but the Spirit-wrought ability to minister the Word of God in truth.
In this treatise we use the term theology both subjectively, or concretely, to denote the spiritual ability (ἱκανότης, habitus) to teach and defend the Word of God, in short, to administer the functions of the Christian ministry in the true Scriptural manner (2 Cor 3, 5. 6)... For the Christian theologian this distinction is of paramount importance because it constantly reminds him that studying theology means not simply the intellectual apprehension of a number of facts, but the true regeneration, conversion, and sanctification of his own heart, from which his whole ministerial service must flow (p. 32)
Or, as Paul himself first put it... "our adequacy [ἱκανότης, habitus] is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant." Theologians are not made, nor are they born, they are only born again. And though we be neither Lutheran nor the son of a Lutheran, we anticipate hearing more about this from Mueller in posts to come.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Praise God for John Piper

... hold men like him in high regard (Phil 2:29)

Today, thanking the Lord for the ministry of Pastor Piper... tomorrow, celebrating the 307th birthday of his hero and ours.

For more on this new book in honor on John Piper, see DesiringGod.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Virtue in Wasting Time

...making the most of your time, because the days are evil (Eph 5:16).

Laziness is no virtue, but neither is the harried pace of our present-day. As always, Carl Trueman is provocative and insightful with "On the Virtue of Wasting Time."

For obvious reasons, I especially appreciated this line (taken slightly out-of-context):
I suspect Luther's table companions learned more about life and ministry while drinking beer and having a laugh with the Meister than in the university lecture hall.
I would concur that you may learn a lot by "having a laugh with the Meister"!

More seriously, I personally have found Trueman's concluding exhortations true:
[L]aughter in the face of adversity and hardship not only being vital in this regard but also, of course, an almost exclusively social phenomenon that requires company; drinking beer with friends is perhaps the most underestimated of all Reformation insights and essential to ongoing reform; and wasting time with a choice friend or two on a regular basis might be the best investment of time you ever make.
Let us rejoice that on that Day, we will not exalt our action-items, but in the Accomplishments of the Savior and may that move us to take a moment to relax with some friends to encourage one another in Him.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Leaving a Local Church

They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us (1 John 2:19)

Jason Helopoulos
provides some good counsel for the oft-pondered issue of when it is acceptable to break fellowship with a local church. He helpfully divides the reasons between good, potential, and bad. It is unfortunate, and to the shame of our generation, that we encounter people leaving churches for the bad reasons more than any other.

Good Reasons for Leaving a Church ("The Four P's")

1. Providential moving—It is right and good to belong to a local church and covenant with brothers and sisters in my own “backyard.”

2. Planting another church— I am being sent out by my church, not leaving with a group of people because I am disgruntled or think it is a good idea.

3. Purity has been lost— ]It could be that heresy is being taught, the Bible is never read or preached, or a much more prominent manifestation these days is that the Word is no longer seen as sufficient; it is used as a seasoning for the message of the week rather than the diet by which the congregation is fed and nourished upon.

4. Peace of the church is in jeopardy due to my presence— There are cases where an individual/family can personally become a hindrance to the ministry of the local church and it is best for that person/family to move-on.

Possible Reasons Leaving a Church ("The Three S’s")

1. Spouse—An unbelieving or non-church will attend another church with you.

2. Special Needs— A possible example may be that my family has a disabled child and another faithful church in the area has a wonderful ministry to disabled people which can help us.

3. Special Gifts—Another faithful church in the area may have asked for you to use your special gifts in their midst for the building up of the body.

Insufficient Reasons for Leaving a Church

1. Children’s Ministry— This cannot be a reason for changing churches. It is rather an opportunity for you to get involved in the children’s ministry of your church.

2. Buzz— Many people will flow to whatever church in town has the current “buzz.” But buzzes come and go. And so do the people that follow them.

3. Youth Group— The unhappiness of our teenage children in the current Youth Group, because of activities, other youth, etc. is not a reason for leaving the church we have covenanted with. They should not be choosing the church we attend based upon their social status and network.

4. Church has changed—Churches always change. Unless the changes are unbiblical than we don’t have a reason to move on. We don’t move on when our wife or husband changes!

5. New Pastor—A new pastor is not a sufficient reason to change churches. You haven’t covenanted with a man, but with this body.

6. I’m Not Being Ministered to— Start ministering to others and you will find that you are being ministered to.

7. Music— Not a reason—whether it is slow, fast, traditional, contemporary, Psalms, hymns, or gospel choruses. Stop using it as an excuse!

8. There are others…we haven’t even mentioned the service is too early, the coffee is terrible, the pastor doesn’t know how to shuck corn (Yep…those are all true ones I have heard).

Read the whole thing here.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Revolutionary Theology

"In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets" (Matt 7:12)

One of our favorite heroes of the faith, perhaps even pre-eminent, is Jonathan Edwards. And we were reminded again by Marsden's shorter biography that we love to learn from Jonathan Edwards because his robust grasp of God's Word gave him convictions with which he stood against the innate corruptions of his own culture.

Perhaps this is most clearly seen during his ministry at Stockbridge and his dealings with the Mahicans and Mohawks. Edwards was having none of the abuse of the Native Americans in which many English settlers indulged for personal profit. Marsden describes one such encounter:
During Edwards's first summer in Stockbridge, some of New England's leaders met with an assembly of Mohawk chiefs to discuss the matter [of building a school for Mohawk children]. Edwards preached to the Indians, presenting the gospel in simple terms. What he said revealed his view of the Indians. Although he believed the Indians to be religiously deprived and hence culturally inferior, he did not see them as naturally or intrinsically inferior to Europeans. Alluding to the time during the Roman Empire when the ancestors of the English had been 'barbarians' prior to the arrival of Christian missionaries, Edwards assured the Indians, 'It was once with our forefathers as 'tis with you.' They had been in great darkness, but then they received the light of the gospel. 'We are no better than you in no respect,' he continued, 'only as God has made us to differ and has been pleased to give us more light. And now we are willing to give it to you.' Edwards believed that any nation might include true believers who, however humble their circumstances, might be spiritually superior to the greatest men anywhere. He also expected that one day there would be notable Indian theologians. First, though, Mohawks needed to asccept the simple rudiments of the gospel of God's love, and for that they needed God's revelation in the Bible. The French Catholics, said Edwards, kept Indians in the dark by withholding the Bible from them. Even many English failed to support missions because 'they choose to keep you in the dark for the sake of making a gain of you.'

- A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards, p. 120.
Edwards'scriptural vision of God's glory and enabled him to see beyond the selfish prejudices of his own people and call it for what it was... sin. Edwards' theology made him a revolutionary, a gentle, humble, and loving one (see 2 Tim 2:24-26), but a revolutionary nonetheless. Risking his own political protection and economic provision, Edwards confronted those English settlers who took advantage of the Indians with unjust dealings. He would go on to create no small stir during his ministry at Stockbridge, and created some influential enemies, by taking the side of the Indians in land-brokering, insisting that the settlers deal honestly and pay fairly.

Edwards' heritage continued in his son, Jonathan Jr., who played frequently with the Indian children as a boy and became an accomplished linguist in many of their languages. As an adult, Jonathan Jr. became a significant leader in the early abolition movement in the U.S. (see his sermon on Matt 7:12, "The Injustice and Impolity of the Slave Trade and the Slavery of Africans")

We are instructed by Edwards that our studies in the ivory story are for the purpose of pounding the asphalt with the glorious truths of the Gospel and confronting our own culture with its corruption... even to our personal loss. The most revolutionary act in the world is to see ourselves and our communities through "the Law and the Prophets."

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Death of the Book?

Yesterday was significant in the history of literature and publishing as Amazon sells more Kindle e-books than hardbacks. While it is hopefully not the death of literacy, it is certainly changing and at a rapid rate. This is not insignificant for Christians and the mission of Christ:

It is amazing, when you stop and think about it, that God has ordained, first, to reveal himself in history, in the great acts of the Old Testament, and then in his Son—"In these last days he has spoken to us by a Son." And then to ordain that there be prophets and apostles who would put it in a book, and this then, because it's their word, would become the foundation on which we build churches and we build life. That's amazing!

It has unbelievable implications.

Everywhere the Christian church has spread in the history of the world, it takes with it schools. Why? Mainly because you have to learn how to read, not to succeed in life, but to know this book.

Update: Do not panic, yet... What Amazon Didn't Say about E-Books.
The long and short of it is there are many ways to present numbers. Yes, the odds seem stacked against hardcovers these days (disclaimer: I have one out now and it's a lot easier to sell a $3.99 e-book than a $16.47 hardcover). And while the The New York Times and the American Publishers Association say that industrywide sales of hardcovers are up 22 percent this year that seems hard to believe, especially since e-book sales have allegedly quadrupled since last year.

But just remember who's trying to control the narrative here. Amazon has an agenda. It wants to sell e-books. And lots of them.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Don't Waste Your Life Sentence

We are grateful for the creative faithfulness of Desiring God. Count us "in line" for this upcoming Desiring God film:


For more on John Piper's visit to Angola Prison in Louisiana, the largest maximum-security prison in the U.S., please see:
And, if you have not already, check-out the new Desiring God website and join the DG Network.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Pastors: Trustworthy Stewards

Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy (1 Cor 4:1-2).

Two excellent posts this week from about the true nature of pastoral ministry in the local church. Enjoy!

First, by Ed Stetzer, The Problem with Pastor as Rock Star. The concluding appeal is spot-on:
The decline in the church, perhaps, is caused by our satisfaction with earthly appeal. We should endeavor to present the glory of God instead of the cleverness of our abilities to edit movie clips, mimic the local CCM station, or engage social issues. People can walk away from all of that unchanged. But nobody can encounter the glory of God and live the same as they did before.

The glory of God is a good place to end this article. Pastors (of churches of any size) need to worry less about their status and be concerned more with God’s mission and His glory. The glory of God should be your recurring song, and with that in mind, it’s okay for rock stardom to fade out and the Morning Star to rise in your place.
The second was by Frank Turk, cleverly titled,9 Minutes with Frank Turk. Turk's observations on the "big church" mentality are perceptive:
The problem is this: we are not marketing a product. We are not making widgets. Seriously: we are not really asking people to make some kind of commercial transaction where they give something and the church or God gives them something back. What we have is a situation in which everyone we want to tell about this Jesus who was crucified thinks they have much to give God - including advice about how to run and fix the world - when in fact we ought to point to the fact that they have nothing to give God, and that is their main problem. What we are here to put in the marketplace, as Paul did in Athens, is a declaration that for all our wealth and culture and religion, we are all now being told by God through Jesus Christ that we have no excuse of ignorance, and that when God comes to judge it will not be enough to say that we offered sacrifices and very solemn and earnest reflection to an unknown god.

...Think about that - because the last thing you want when you see Jesus is for him to tell your house is desolate. Who wants their life’s work to look like a cathedral on the outside, but in the end it gets burned up like a house made of straw and sticks?

Let me challenge you, folks, to make churches that are big churches - but not big as the world measures it, as if Jesus came to die so you could be a life coach, or have a famous podcast. Make your church big on Jesus’ death for sin, and big on mortifying our human accomplishments, and big on giving this message and everything else it takes in order that many people will be saved, and many people will hear Jesus say to them, “well done, you good and faithful servant”.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Calvinist Crossing

  • Some Thoughts on Pulpit Methodology. Helpfully provocative reminders for all preaching, and especially those committed to consecutive expositional preaching: 1) Each message must stand on its own and 2) Each message must exalt Christ and His Gospel. Lord, save expositors from the rambling commentary!
    For one thing, unless it is done well, consecutive exposition can dull the appetite of God's people for the Word by continuing next Lord's Day simply from where we left off last week. is possible that by being determined to preach through a whole book we actually end up not preaching at all, but giving an extended commentary on Bible passages. If all Scripture is inspired - including the very word choices and grammatical constructions - are we doing it justice by preaching on successive blocks of material, rather than concentrating on texts-in-context?
  • A Matter of Emphasis Amen and amen! The curse of Microsoft Word has been the increasingly gratuitous use of bold and italics in writing. May the tribe of "old-fashioned cranks" increase:
    Call me an old-fashioned crank, but I hope writers and publishers will not give in to the pressure to make all their prose a bouncing ball of bold print and italics. Emphases are like exclamations: save them for when you really need them. And for the 99% of our sentences that don’t, let’s rely on good writing and clear thinking to keep the reader’s attention and make our main points obvious.
  • There's No Escaping Doctrine, but Handle it with Care Always pertinent counsel from the Doctor:
    For myself, as long as I am charged by certain people with being nothing but a Pentecostalist and on the other hand charged by others with being an intellectual, a man who is always preaching doctrine, as long as the two criticisms come, I am very happy. But if one or the other of the two criticisms should ever cease, then, I say, is the time to be careful and to begin to examine the very foundations.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Church! So Now What?

...being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph 4:3).

Another gem of wisdom from DeYoung's message, "The Church," which we previously noted in this post. Here is a list of suggestions from DeYoung on the practical matters of making an impact for Christ in our local church:
  • Find a good local church.
  • Get involved.
  • Become a member.
  • Stay there as long as you can.
  • Put away thoughts of a revolution for a while.
  • Join the plodding visionaries.
  • Go to church this Sunday and worship in Spirit and truth.
  • Be patient with your leaders.
  • Rejoice when the gospel is faithfully proclaimed.
  • Bear with those who hurt you.
  • Give people the benefit of the doubt.
  • Say “hi” to the teenager that no one notices.
  • Welcome the old ladies with the blue hair and the young men with tattoos.
  • Volunteer for the nursery.
  • Attend the congregational meeting.
  • Bring your fried chicken to the potluck like everybody else.
  • Invite a friend.
  • Take a new couple out for coffee.
  • Give to the Christmas offering.
  • Sing like you mean it.
  • Be thankful someone vacuumed the carpet for you.
  • Enjoy the Sundays that “click.”
  • Pray extra hard on the Sundays that don’t.
  • And in all of this, do not despise the days and weeks and years of small things (Zech 4:8–10).
May Christ build His Church among us with such "plodding faithfulness"!


Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Phantom of Liberty

Jesus answered them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed' (John 8:34-36)

A highlight of the American summer, this weekend arrives with barbecues and children around the nation tempting dismemberment on driveways. The celebration of Independence Day will likewise include plenty of obligatory speeches and celebrations about "liberty."

We are well-served to be reminded of John Newton's words at the onset of the troubles that precipitated our nation's independence from Great Britain:
It grieves me to hear those who are slaves to sin and Satan, make such a stir about that phantom which they worship under the name of liberty, and especially to see not a few of the Lord’s people so much conformed to the world in this respect. Let us pray and watch, let us bear testimony against sin, and abound in the fruits of the gospel. The Lord help us to do thus, and then we may humbly hope He will preserve our liberty; if He does not I am sure we cannot preserve it ourselves.

- John Newton to John Ryland, Jr., on August 1, 1775 (reprint, Wise Counsel)
Even as you gather this weekend to celebrate this "phantom," pray, watch, and bear testimony that He might turn a nation of slaves into the freedom of His Son.

N.B. For more extracts from this letter, see Trading Political Measures for Earnest Prayer.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Teach Hell to Your Children, Part 2

But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ (Luke 12:20)

We observed yesterday, Gospel-success may be helped by teaching our children about the biblical doctrine of Hell. I am reminded (and rebuked!) by the example of the Puritans in general and our "homeboy," Jonathan Edwards, in particular.
Much of Puritan upbringing was designed to teach children to recognize how insecure their lives were. Every child knew of brothers, sisters, cousins, or friends who had suddenly died… Parents nightly reminded their children that sleep was a type of death and taught them such prayers as 'This day is past; but tell me who can say / That I shall surely live another day.'

...One of the Edwards children’s surviving writing exercises reads, ‘Nothing is more certain than death. Take no delay in the great work of preparing for death’… ‘In Adam’s fall, we sinned all,’ was the first lesson in the New England Primer.

- George Marsden, Jonathan Edwards, p. 27.
Flee the false security of the Western world that presumes your children will live to a ripe old age and that there will be plenty of time to teach them about the realities of sin, death, and hell. Teach them young and teach them plainly and teach them with love that they are sinners, they will die, and God judges sinners in hell.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Teach Hell to Your Children

Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell (Matt 10:28).

One of the thought-provoking pieces from the previously-noted series on Hell at The Briefing is by Gordon Cheng, "Should We Tell Our Children About Hell?" Of course, the short answer is "Only if you actually love your children."

Though Cheng's post is worth reading in its entirety, I was especially helped by his observations on what might occur if we consistently instructed our children in the biblical teaching on hell:
Naturally, if we begin to preach about hell and judgement to little children, we could potentially land ourselves in enormous strife. Those who have the privilege to teach children the gospel in schools would, in many cases, find it swiftly removed—through popular outcry in the school community or, eventually, through government legislation. The church, still seen as a community pillar in some places, might speedily become a community pariah. Funding would be withdrawn, tax breaks called into question and lawsuits would ensue. The pastor's phone would ring hot. The children's worker's phone would go into meltdown. Jobs would be threatened, committee meetings would be held and nervous warnings would be issued. In other words, the gospel would be heard and God would be glorified.
What an awesome thing such ostracism would be for the cause of Christ in our churches, communities, and country!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

10 Gospel Questions

... and after he brought them out, he said, 'Sirs, what must I do to be saved?' They said, 'Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household' (Acts 16:30-31)

Some helpful hints from Don Whitney for turning conversations toward the eternal things of the Gospel and Jesus Christ (I personally like using #'s 7 and 10):

1. When you die, if God says to you, "Why should I let you into Heaven?", what would you say? Are you interested in what the Bible says about your answer?

2. If you were to die tonight, where do you think you would spend eternity? Why? Are you interested in what the Bible says about this?

3. Do you think much about spiritual things?

4. How is God involved in your life?

5. How important is your faith to you?

6. What has been your most meaningful spiritual experience?

7. Do you find that your religious heritage answers your questions about life?

8. Do you have any kind of spiritual beliefs? If what you believe were not true, would you want to know it? Well, the Bible says . . . .

9. To you, who is Jesus?

10. I often like to pray for people I meet; how can I pray for you?

HT: 9Marks

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Church in the Future: Smaller and Stronger

... I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it (Matt 16:18).

In his recent talk at the Next conference, "The Church," Kevin DeYoung helpfully clarifies the grim numbers which frequently seem to indicate the decline of Christianity in America:
When you hear these numbers of the decline of the Church, on one level we are sad, but you dig into the numbers and you realize that it is not a new-found dissatisfaction with the Gospel, as much as it is the continuing story of Catholic and mainline protestants losing their young, not increasing through evangelism, and the old “dying-off.” What we are losing in this country are nominal Christians who no longer feel the cultural pressure to say they go to church or that they are Christians. hunch is that in your life time, my lifetime, we will see the church in North America smaller than it is today, but it will be more Gospel–centered, more Scripture-saturated, stronger, more doctrinally-robust, and more in love with the Savior than it has been in the last fifty years.
Christ will build His Church... and He continues to do so today.

(For more winsome wisdom on loving the Church see DeYoung and Kluck, Why We Love the Church).

Update: Providentially, CJ Mahaney and I posted on DeYoung's message today. See Mahaney's summary here.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Are We Still Serious about Hell?

Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell (Matt 10:28).

Here at TPC, we are strictly non-conformist, neither Anglican nor the son of an Anglican. Yet, we continually thank God for the Australian Anglicans and their ministry through Matthias Media! Their evangelistic efforts with Two Ways to Live, their book publishing with such gems as The Trellis & the Vine, and their monthly periodical, The Briefing, are continually Biblical, straight-forward, and helpful.

This continues with the most recent issue of The Briefing (June 2010), which is focused on the Church and the ignored (despised?) doctrine of Hell. In "Are We Still Serious About Hell?" Jonathan Gibson simply, but thoroughly, explains the current controversies and the biblical teaching on hell. Despite the intuitive difficulty, Gibson exhorts all Christians to upholding the Bible's clear teaching on hell:
But as I have studied this topic again, I am reminded of John Stott’s words: the issue is “not what does my heart tell me, but what does God’s word say?" If what God’s word says is true—that hell really does exist—then I need to face it. Ignoring it, denying it or even reinterpreting it will not change its reality. In fact, I believe that the reality of hell explains why Jesus taught more about it than he did about heaven. When given the only opportunity that we know of to address thousands of people, Jesus chose to speak about hell (Luke 12). And when interrupted with the tragic news of Pilate’s slaughter of Galileans (Luke 13:1-5), he refused to be taken off the topic: “unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (v. 3).

All this is to say that the issue of hell ultimately comes down to trusting Jesus—trusting that he’s telling us the truth and that he’s telling us for our good. I believe with all my heart that he is worth trusting, for he too wept over Jerusalem and, what’s more, vanquished hell, so that Jerusalem and all the ends of the earth might enjoy his heaven—a new heavens and a new earth, the home of righteousness.
Gibson has also expanded greatly on his article in three on-line posts that are worth your time:
  • Hell: Is the church still serious about it?
  • Hell: Theological Reflections on Hell
  • Hell: Pastoral Reflections on Hell
  • Wednesday, June 23, 2010

    Be Real: Confess Your Sins

    If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:8-9).

    Classic evangelical Christianity has often been accused of a morbid preoccupation with sin and guilt. John Stott reminds us that we are in no way to be offended by such criticism:
    We are not in the least ashamed of the fact that we think and talk a lot about sin. We do so for the simple reason that we are realists. Sin is an ugly fact. It is to be neither ignored nor ridiculed, but honestly faced. Indeed, Christianity is the only religion in the world which takes sin seriously and offers a satisfactory remedy for it. And the way to enjoy this remedy is not to deny the disease, but to confess it.

    - John Stott, Confess Your Sins, p. 9.
    There is no good reason for Christians to downplay the significance of sin in their personal testimonies, public worship, or even corporate prayer. In a world that asks for authenticity, here it is... you and I are undoubtedly sinners. So, let's get real and confess our sins.

    Tuesday, June 22, 2010

    Prepare for Persecution

    Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life (Rev 2:10).

    One of the more obvious observations of this passage is that our Lord felt it necessary to prepare His people for suffering. This is consistent with His teaching throughout the New Testament, that Christians are to know and expect suffering for Christ's sake. Receiving the "crown of life," humanly speaking, depends on it.

    I am continually mindful of this in my role as a pastor and teacher in Christ's Church. Are my people prepared to suffer well? Am I? Especially with the recent reports out of Dearborn, MI, where four Christians have been arrested for "disorderly conduct." What conduct merited such a charge? Sharing the Gospel at a gathering of Muslims.

    Todd Nettleton, of Voice of the Martyrs, has reported that they have video-taped proof of their conduct:
    'No one was screamed at. No one was accused. There was not a disrespectful tone toward Islam. There were not verbal attacks against Islam, there were not verbal attacks against Mohammad,' says Nettleton. 'It was simply a theological discussion, which, in the United States, we should be free to do.' ("Religious Freedom: Does it Still Exist for the USA?")
    If the United States follows the trends in Western Europe and Canada (as we have in so many other socio-economic areas), we should only expect such persecution to increase. This is no cause for alarm, the freedom we Americans have enjoyed the last two hundred years or so has been a brief anomaly out of two millennia of Christian history.

    Yet it is a cause for concern. I am concerned for the millions of professing Christians in America, particularly those in my congregation... are they prepared for the testing of tribulation? Generally speaking, most of our lives are filled with relative ease. We frequent social gatherings and have unending entertainment at our finger-tips (or our ear-buds). We have, in fact, grown so accustomed to gobs of leisure time that when you listen to most Christians complain it generally revolves around something that is hindering their leisure! Gathering each Lord's Day and during the week to pray and study God's Word costs most of us little more than gas and television-time.

    How will we fair when evangelism means imprisonment? What will attendance-trends be like in the US when going to worship with the church puts you on some government list? (I am guessing we will have less "mega-churches"). Are we prepared for such a day in our souls? What are we teaching our children about following Christ... is Christianity a prerequisite for a successful American life or is it a call to die so that we may live with Him, our Lord and our joy?

    Christ was and is very clear... be faithful unto death. Discipleship means believing, praying, serving, and expecting nothing less than that. I, for one, am praying that He will prepare all of us for such faithfulness.