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.

    Friday, June 18, 2010

    Looking Down on Youthfulness

    Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe (1 Tim 4:12)

    Pastoral ministry in the local church is not the easiest endeavor in God's world, but as Paul anticipated for his young disciple, and as Jon Acuff has humorously observed, it is only compounded when you're not the oldest guy in the room:
    Sure Whitney Houston, I believe that children are the future, but I’d be lying if I said that’s the first thing I think when a minister younger than me takes the stage. Call it jealousy that the next generation is about to lap me or that the generation behind me has a cooler name, “millennial tweener x-tremes,” but when youth is served at church, sometimes Christians like to tune out and think:

    “Oh no, where’s the regular pastor? Is it ‘regular’ or ‘senior’ or ‘teaching pastor of imaginevisioneering’? I can never get those right, but who is this kid up on stage? Is he doing the announcements? Is there a youth group fundraiser I need to know about? Fine, I’ll get my car washed in a Chick-fil-A parking lot. That’s like a win-win right there, holding a Christian event in the parking lot of a Christian restaurant. That’s God squared.

    But why isn’t this kid getting off the stage? Is he, no, is he about preach? Is it youth Sunday already? What, he’s the youth minister? That’s great, but this isn’t youth group. He’s way too young to school me in the game of life. Oh, but this is happening. It’s tool ate for me to walk out and leave. It’s time for the junior hour of power.

    Please just don’t use that phrase that all young ministers bust out. Please don’t say, oh no, you just did. You just said, “When I was growing up.” You said it like it was over, like you’ve crossed from young man into wizened old gentleman. But you’re only twenty-four. The toughest decision you’ve faced in life so far was whether to get the full meal plan or the five-day-a-week meal plan at seminary. You went with the five? That’s good to know, let me scribble that down here in the sermon notes section of my bulletin.

    But I’ll forgive you that one. I’ll let that one slide as long as you don’t give me any marital advice. You’ve been married for about fifteen minutes. You’re still tan from your honeymoon. I can still kind of smell suntan lotion on you. If at any point in this sermon you try to give me marriage advice, I am going to think about college baseball. I just want to be up front about that. The toughest marriage decision you’ve faced so far is whether to exchange one of the china sets you got as a wedding gift for a George Foreman grill that is shaped like a massive charcoal grill. Don’t, I’ve done that, I fought that battle, and it was not worth it. You need more plates than you think and less George Foreman grills than you think. Trust me on that.

    See, I should be doing this sermon, I just gave you some free marital advice. You’re welcome.

    - Stuff Christians Like, pp. 84-85.
    This seems to be God's recipe for hammering humility in the ranks of youthful pastors. (FYI, I brown-bagged lunch at seminary, but we did get a Foreman Grill at our wedding!). Of course we also have Psalm 119:99-100 at the ready to remind ourselves and everyone else that the root of wisdom is not experience.

    HT: Kevin DeYoung

    Thursday, June 17, 2010

    Piper: Is Church Membership Important?

    Now you are Christ's body, and individually members of it (1 Cor 12:27)

    As usual, John Piper is perceptive and right on point. Do not miss his, in our opinion, accurate diagnosis of the resistance to church membership in American evangelicalism:
    If you want to say, "OK, I believe the New Testament says, 'Be a part of a community, give yourself to ministering there and receiving ministry there, and advancing the cause of the gospel there, and upholding the name of Jesus there, and doing mission there,' and I'm a part of that," then to resist putting your name on the line for that is probably not a biblical conviction. It's probably an American, independent, give-me-elbow-room, don't-get-in-my-face-too-often conviction, which I don't think is biblical.

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010

    Ligonier National Conference

    The 2010 Ligonier National Conference begins tomorrow morning and will be live-streamed for free here.

    This year the teaching line-up will include John MacArthur, who will be preaching twice tomorrow on "Why Did Jesus Have to Die?" (12:10pm, PST) and "Does the Doctrine of the Divine Decrees Eliminate Human Will?" (5:00pm, PST), as well as Al Mohler, Steve Lawson, R.C. Sproul, Michael Horton, Derek Thomas, and others.

    More information is available on the Ligonier website, as well as the electronic copy of the conference program available here.

    Tuesday, June 15, 2010

    Calvinist Crossing

    Here are some places we've been and would recommend you see for yourself...
  • Why It's OK that Some are Happier than Others in Heaven
    Let Pastor Edwards explain via Miscellany #5 the idea of greater rewards in heaven.

  • Repentance and Reformation
    A good reminder of semper reformanda: "If we would find reformation again, we must repent of our failure to live lives of repentance. We will change the world out there when we change the church in here. We will change the church in here when our own hearts are changed. That happens only as we repent and believe the gospel."

  • Pray for Kyrgystan
    Pray for the believers and missionaries in Kyrgystan, on the brink of civil war, that His Gospel would advance in a tumultuous world.

  • Some Thoughts on Persecution
    Classic Spurgeon: "Be watchful, therefore, walk circumspectly, do not put yourself into their hands; let them have nothing to say against you save only upon the point of your religion. Nothing bothers opponents like integrity, truthfulness, and holiness: they long to speak against you, but cannot find a fair opportunity. Take care that you daily pray for grace to keep your temper, for if you fail there they will boast of having conquered you, and will assail you again in the same way."
  • Monday, June 14, 2010

    Gnats, Camels, and Amillennialists

    ...who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! (Matt 23:24).

    Admittedly, eschatology was not Jesus' consideration when He hurled this rebuke at the Pharisees for pedantically avoiding ceremonial uncleanliness, but neglecting the clear matters of the Law (v.23). We would be permission, however, to apply the principle eschatologically anyway.

    Premillennialists, which is the eschatological conviction of this blog (yes, and Calvinist, if you haven't heard, "Every Calvinist should be a Premillennialist"... just ask SLJ!), receive unending grief from our amillennialist brethren about the fantastic and weird "literalism" with which we read God's Word, Revelation 20, in particular. Prospects of a final Satanic rebellion following the reign of Christ, as well as the material nature of the Millennial Kingdom, with glorified and non-glorified humanity co-inhabiting the earth, are just too much for them to, well... swallow.

    Yet, here is what the Amillennialist on your block will, in fact, swallow:
  • John's use of ἀνάστασις ("resurrection") in Rev 20:5 is an innovation to its meaning, referring not to bodily resurrection, as it does in every single one of the other 42 occurrences in the New Testament (not to mention every other instance in Greek literature), but to spiritual rebirth or conversion.

  • John uses the same verb, ἔζησαν ("came to life") in the space of 12 words to indicate two different phenomena. In v. 4, ἔζησαν means spiritual rebirth (consistent with their reading of "resurrection"), but in v. 5, again only 12 words later (!), it refers to bodily resurrection.

  • The testimony of the first 3 centuries of Christianity, recognized as almost entirely premillennial in conviction, was wrong. Note that. This means that amillennialists believe that the guys who actually knew the author of Revelation, Apostle John himself, have misinterpreted it!
  • Though he gave it over 100 years ago, the observations of commentator Henry Alford are worth reviewing:
    It will have been long ago anticipated by the readers of this Commentary, that I cannot consent to distort words from their plain sense and chronological place in the prophecy, on account of any considerations of difficulty, or any risk of abuses which the doctrine of the millennium may bring with it. Those who lived next to the Apostles, and the whole Church for 300 years, understood them in the plain literal sense: and it is a strange sight in these days to see expositors who are among the first in reverence of antiquity, complacently casting aside the most cogent instance of consensus which primitive antiquity presents. As regards the text itself [i.e., Rev 20:1-6], no legitimate treatment of it will extort what is known as the spiritual interpretation now in fashion… if in such a passage the first resurrection may be understood to mean spiritual rising with Christ, while the second means literal rising from the grave; - then there is an end of all significance in language, and Scripture is wiped out as a definite testimony to anything.

    - Henry Alford, Greek Testament [1878], Vol. 4, p. 732.
    Read that last line again... "and Scripture is wiped out as a definite testimony to anything." These are the real stakes of the "millennial debate" and they extend far beyond our eschatology to the very root of the faith. That is, do Christians have the confidence that they can actually understand what God Himself has revealed? The grammatical and lexical gymnastics amillennialists undertake to make the their reading of Revelation 20 plausible completely undermine, however unintentionally, the clarity and perspicuity of God's Word.

    Interesting isn't it? Amillennialists undo by their interpretive method the very Reformation in which they exult. Without any interpretive control in grammar or context, an external authority (dare we say, magisterium?) must be presupposed, cracking the foundation of the Reformation's formal principle, sola Scriptura. And, once again, God's people strain out a gnat to swallow a camel.

    Tuesday, June 8, 2010

    Trading Political Measures for Earnest Prayer

    '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).

    Election Day has arrived in California with all the accoutrements, not the least of which is transforming places of worship into “polling places” (including the one in which I now sit). While this is probably indicative of little more than the utility of church buildings as convenient and accessible locations for voting, it may also be something of a parable for how often the people of another Kingdom hope in the nations of this world. The attention Christians give to political fervor is one of the subjects John Newton covered in his letters to John Ryland, Jr., which have recently been published by the Banner of Truth as Wise Counsel.

    The British Empire of the late eighteenth century was no less familiar with geopolitical controversy than we are today. In fact, the main topic of conversation and contention for Newton’s and Ryland’s congregations was the inception of hostilities with the colonies in America. The united rebellion of the 13 colonies divided many in England along political lines, as not every British citizen was a consistent loyalist. Many in England agreed with the colonial leaders in Boston (the original “Tea Party”) and were angered that their sons faced death on foreign soil because the dolts in Parliament had mishandled the entire situation (sound familiar?).

    Ministering amidst such political and national ferment, Newton gave Ryland this counsel in a letter dated August 1, 1775 (Wise Counsel, pp. 83-86):
    It seems to me that if I was to outcry the loudest patriot at a city feast I might as well save my breath to cool my pottage [stew or soup], for things would go on just as they do. As a minister and a Christian I think it is better to lay all the blame upon sin. Instead of telling the people Lord North [British prime minister from 1770-82] blunders, I tell them the Lord of hosts is angry. If God has a controversy with us, I can expect no other than that wisdom should be hidden from the wise. If our Lord’s kingdom was of this world, then I think his servants would have as good a right as others to take the lead in political disputes; at present I believe they will do as well to let the dead bury the dead, to mourn for what they cannot help, and to ply the throne of grace as the best and most effectual method of serving their country.
    Simply and pointedly, Newton reminds us that the blame for strife and international duress ultimately lay upon man’s sinfulness. It is for this reason that political players make foolish decisions; they walk not in the wisdom of God, but in the counsel of the wicked. The response of Christians, who are claim to understand this, should therefore not be political contention, but contrition and petitions to God for His mercy and enlivening grace. Newton continued along this line:
    It seems to me one of the darkest signs of the times, that so many of the Lord’s professing people act as if they thought He was withdrawn from the earth, and amuse themselves and each other, with declamations against instruments and second causes and indulge unsanctified passions instead of taking that part which is assigned them Ezek 9:4. I believe if instead of unavailing clamours against men and measures they would all unite in earnest prayer, we might hope for better times, otherwise I fear bad will be worse. Thus you have the substance of my political creed. Only I should add farther that I believe the Lord reigns, that He is carrying on His great purposes in a straight line, that His wall shall be built in troublous times, and that He will be a sure sanctuary to them that fear Him.
    These passions that Newton describes still diverts well-intentioned Christians today. Rather than lamenting the sin and transgression of which they are also accountable, they lay blame on “second causes” with “unsanctified passions.” The social betterment for which they strive might actually be experienced if instead of focusing upon “men and measures,” the people of Christ again returned to “earnest prayer.” It is to our shame that we so often need to be reminded that the Lord is not “withdrawn from earth” and His sovereign purposes follow “a straight line.” He concludes his thoughts with these exhortations:
    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.
    What profound insight and truly wise counsel! All of humanity is enslaved, so speaking of liberty and freedom in any real sense is to discuss a “phantom.” To the extent that Christians involve themselves in the same, they deny the very foundations of their confession, especially that God is now declaring to all men everywhere they must repent.

    Over 200 years later, Newton still helps us navigate the political process of our own day. Without minimizing the privilege of suffrage or the legitimacy of politics as a vocation, let us be careful to never obscure the fact that Christians have no real hope in human government or political machinations. For all who have had the veil removed in Christ, and eagerly await His Kingdom, theirs is not the picket line, but the prayer meeting. Theirs is not the political grandstand, but the pulpit of the Gospel. Theirs is not political action committees, but a community zealous for good deeds.

    Especially on Election Day, let us remember that true freedom will never be created by the institutions of an enslaved humanity, but is only given in and by the Son.