Friday, December 30, 2011

Fighting under the Prince of Peace

The annual cleaning of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the (likely) traditional spot where Jesus was crucified and buried, degenerated into a fight on Wednesday between Greek Orthodox and Armenian priests.

You can watch it unfold:

Read the story from the Israeli paper, Haaretz (HT: BiblePlaces)

When I saw this, it reminded me of my own visit to the Holy Sepulchre. While reflecting on the death of Christ, I found myself quite suddenly inserted in a conflict between a desperate old woman and an angry Armenian priest (see Luke 20:46-47). For a brief moment, I thought I was going to have to tell my wife to run and go for his beard, but fortunately it was diffused before it came to that.

Though this fight is further proof that Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) remains relevant, even at the spot where He died for those who cannot possibly justify themselves. By God's grace, I hope to expound it on the first day of next year.

NB, also coming in 2012 are some significant changes to this blog. So you six readers, stay tuned!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Take the Good: Merry Christmas!

We have various examples in our recent history on how a Christian may set aside Christmas Day.

John Murray, that stalwart Presbyterian theologian of the previous generation, made the following comment from the library at Westminster Seminary in a letter written to Valerie (who eventually became his wife) on December 24th:
I hope to be here all day tomorrow. I have not even accepted a dinner engagement for what they call ‘Christmas.’ I hate the whole business.

- Collected Writings of John Murray, Vol 3.
Let's just say that Prof. Murray was not hurt if he did not make it on your Christmas card list! Though we can be assured Murray's his time was well-invested in that library and finishing his (still authoritative) Romans.

Then are responses like that of C.H. Spurgeon, The Incarnation and the Birth of Christ:
This is the season of the year when, whether we wish it or not, we are compelled to think of the birth of Christ. I hold it to be one of the greatest absurdities under heaven to think that there is any religion in keeping Christmas-day. There are no probabilities whatever that our Saviour Jesus Christ was born on that day, and the observance of it is purely of Popish origin; doubtless those who are Catholics have a right to hallow it, but I do not see how consistent Protestants can account it in the least sacred.

However, I wish there were ten or a dozen Christmas-days in the year; for there is work enough in the world, and a little more rest would not hurt labouring people. Christmas-day is really a boon to us; particularly as it enables us to assemble round the family hearth and meet our friends once more. Still, although we do not fall exactly in the track of other people, I see no harm in thinking of the incarnation and birth of the Lord Jesus. We do not wish to be classed with those

"Who with more care keep holiday
The wrong, than others the right way.”

The old Puritans made a parade of work on Christmas-day, just to show that they protested against the observance of it. But we believe they entered that protest so completely, that we are willing, as their descendants, to take the good accidentally conferred by the day, and leave its superstitions to the superstitious.

HT: Challies
We are with Spurgeon, leave the superstitions to the superstitious and take the good from God's providence to meet again with friends once more. I hope this Lord's Day, assembled with the saints, was edifying and that time around that family hearth is enjoyable (even if it it is now electric!).

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christian Bookstores are Worse than Amazon

I agree with Challies:
Speaking personally, I have long since stopped shopping at the nearby Christian bookstore. They almost never have the books I want and even if they did, I would pay quite a bit for them and spend a lot of time driving there and back. And then there’s the fact that so much of what they carry is junk—not just trinkets and toys, but material that is opposed to sound doctrine. The last time I went to a Christian bookstore there was a section for Roman Catholics and a section for people who need their fix of Joyce Meyer and Benny Hinn. And I thought, “This is no more Christian than Amazon.” In fact, I think it is actually worse; under the banner of “Christian” things are being sold that claim to be Christian but are deceptively anti-Christian. That may have been the moment I realized that I felt no obligation to support that business.

Let me be brutally honest: Visiting a local Christian bookstore feels like visiting a has-been business (as is the case with pretty much any other bookstore). The whole publishing industry is changing and the little family-owned Christian bookstore seems to be increasingly obsolete. And at least as it pertains to me, I don’t think I will lose anything when the last local Christian bookstore has closed its doors. I feel guilty saying that and I truly feel for the people who own those stores. But unless they can radically change what they do and how they do it, I don’t see most of them making it in this new world.

Read The Local Christian Bookstore.

Providentially, I came to the exact same conclusion just last week. After finding myself in a local Christian retailer I realized that this place is over-priced, poorly-stocked, heresy-filled, and packed to the gills with nonsense. I'm done.
Challies is right, most of them will not make it. But neither is that a bad thing. We need less (anti)Christian bookstores on the market.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Created to Habituate

Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being (Gen 2:7).

Can you believe it's almost shutters on 2011? We have come to that time of year when many begin to reassess their life-patterns and even make one or two of those pesky resolutions. I've never been a fan of that particular New Year's ritual, but I like considering how to habituate better activities (in hopes that considering will one day lead to doing).

As Lionel Windsor points out, we are "creatures of habit," because we are, well, creatures:
We all develop habits, because we are creatures. That common expression, ‘creatures of habit’, points to an important truth. Habits are an aspect of the way God has made us, as creatures who live in his good creation. God has created us from the ‘dust of the ground’ (Gen 2:7). He’s placed us in time and in space. He’s given us minds and bodies that are suited to this world; we respond to familiarity, regularity, cycles and seasons. Because of this, we’re all constantly forming habits—often without even realising it. Our habits are a key part of our character, of who we are; and so they are closely bound up with our decisions and our desires. Even our seemingly spontaneous decisions are highly influenced by our character and habits.
Windsor continues by offering 13 tips for developing habits:
  1. Motivate yourself by preaching to yourself the gospel of grace.
  2. The ultimate goal in developing a particular habit is coming to the point where you love to do it.
  3. Realise, though, that the goal I mentioned in the previous point (to love what you’re doing) will probably take a very long time to develop.
  4. Don’t be a hero—you’ll only set yourself up for failure.
  5. The flipside of the previous point is to start small.
  6. Start now. Just do it.
  7. Think creatively about ways to fit your habits into your life circumstances.
  8. Learn from the habits of others, but don’t follow them slavishly.
  9. When it comes to habits, simple regularity is much better than sporadic brilliance [that is gold, my friends].
  10. Make your habit-developing plans simple.
  11. Develop the super-habit of regularly reviewing your habits!
  12. Use the relatively good or easy times in your life to work hard at developing your habits. When the hard times come, and/or when life changes, you’ll have spiritual resources to use.
  13. I said it at the start of the list, and I’ll say it again at the end: keep coming back to God’s grace.
I know this is good counsel from personal (mostly, failed) experience. One more gem from his article:
In war (I’ve been told), very little time is spent waging glorious battles and smiting the enemy. Most of the time, warfare is about training, preparing and honing skills. The effectiveness of a soldier is only as good as his habits: his reflexive reactions developed through constant, repetitive training. The same applies to spiritual warfare. Our main task in spiritual warfare is to get prepared: to put on the “armour” of truth, righteousness, the readiness of the gospel of peace, faith, salvation and the word of God through prayer (Eph 6:10-18). Putting on this armour is, in large part, about developing good habits.
Read all of Creatures of Habit, because the more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in battle.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011)

Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! For why will you die, O house of Israel?

For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies, declares the Lord God. Therefore,
repent and live (Ezek 18:31-32)

Last night, Christopher Hitchens - the vocal and articulate atheist apologist - succumbed to esophageal cancer and stepped into eternity. Though I oppose everything he advocated, and that with every fiber of my being, I oddly enjoyed his writing. Perhaps it was the honesty with which Hitchens presented what was at stake - more honest than many "evangelicals" with rooms of elephants that I know of.

Justin Taylor, reflects:
He once expressed incredulity at the platitudes of a Unitarian minister who saw the beauty of Jesus’ moral teachings while rejecting his divinity:
I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.
He was no admirer of C. S. Lewis, but he did agree with Lewis’s statement about Jesus: “Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse.”
Read Taylor, Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011).

Hitchens' sparing partner in Is Christianity Good for the World? - and the subsequent documentary, Collision - Douglas Wilson made the following insightful comments on his death:
Christopher knew that faithful Christians believe that it is appointed to man once to die, and after that the Judgment. He knew that we believe what Jesus taught about the reality of damnation. He also knew that we believe—for I told him—that in this life, the door of repentance is always open. A wise Puritan once noted what we learn from the last-minute conversion of the thief on the cross—one, that no one might despair, but only one, that no one might presume. We have no indication that Christopher ever called on the Lord before he died, and if he did not, then Scriptures plainly teach that he is lost forever. But we do have every indication that Christ died for sinners, men and women just like Christopher. We know that the Lord has more than once hired workers for his vineyard when the sun was almost down (Matt. 20:6).

... Christopher Hitchens was baptized in his infancy, and his name means "Christ-bearer." This created an enormous burden that he tried to shake off his entire life. No creature can ever succeed in doing this. But sometimes, in the kindness of God, such failures can have a gracious twist at the end. We therefore commend Christopher to the Judge of the whole earth, who will certainly do right. Christopher Eric Hitchens (1949-2011). R.I.P.
Read Wilson, Christopher Hitchens Has Died. The Judge of the earth will do right, taking no pleasure in the wicked one's death, but delighting in the exercise of His own impeccable justice.

If you have not seen Collision, do so - perhaps invite a friend to watch it with you. (You can view it for free here). It is worth discussing the exchange in the final scenes when Hitchens says he would not convince the last Christian on earth, even if he could... even the most virulent atheist can never fully erase the image of God.

Repent and live.

Friday, December 2, 2011

A "Stupid and Graceless Culture"

Bob Costas nails it:

HT: Challies

Predictably, perhaps, I blame "mindless exhibitionism" on Facebook and Twitter. Of course, it's been around a lot longer than social media.

There have, however, been Christians with the opposite concern of exhibiting their victories:
For if I do wish to boast I will not be foolish, for I will be speaking the truth; but I refrain from this, so that no one will credit me with more than he sees in me or hears from me (2 Cor 12:6).
This is good for Christians to keep in mind. Showboating is stupid and graceless on and off the field. And even more so for children of His grace.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Brief Rant on "The First Christmas"

I typically try to keep my posts more substantive and edifying, but I need some outlet for a brief bit of nit-picking.

I am an annoying stickler for language. I understand the annoyance others experience, but remain nonetheless undeterred. Why? Words create perceptions. It's axiomatic. Just ask a drunkard if he'd prefer to be called an "alcoholic," or whether an adulterer would prefer to refer to his "affair," or (as has recently been highlighted) whether Mormons would rather be described as cult-members or "Latter-Day Christians." Words create perceptions, which is why we should choose ours carefully.

With that in mind, I am unnerved by the unrelenting references to "The First Christmas" or "The Story of Christmas" or "The Christmas Narrative" this time of year. You want to tell the story of Christmas? Fine. It goes something like this: Romans had a pagan celebration of the winter solstice surrounding Saturn's fertility cult that involved trees, lights, gifts, and parties - sound familiar? So, when the Roman Empire mandated Christianity to a pagan populace in the mid fourth century, they amalgamated their holidays with Christian themes and picked December 25th for the solstice turned celebration of the birth of Jesus. In contrast to the very early annual celebration of the resurrection (you know it as "Easter," better, Resurrection Sunday), Christians never celebrated the incarnation until this point. Later, around the 11th century, it was dubbed "Christmas," which is from "The Christ Mass." Yep, the Mass.

And that is the "story of Christmas" or "the first Christmas" or "the Christmas narrative." The plain fact is that the "first Christmas" was held hundreds of years after our Lord Jesus had died on the cross and ascended into heaven. Are there Roman Catholic priests or altars in Luke 2? Do any of the Gospels give a recounting of the Mass? Was Jesus born anywhere near the month of December? If the answer to all these (and other) questions is "No," then quit referring to the birth of our Lord as "Christmas"!

Now, before I am hastily labeled a hopeless curmudgeon, I would direct you to explicit proof to the contrary: the 7ft tree in my living room. Truth be told, I love the lights and the trees and my wife's pumpkin pies (with extra homemade whip cream on top!). But what does it have to do with the humiliation of our Lord Jesus, who became poor for our sakes, took the form of a bond-servant, and was born of a virgin in first century Bethlehem? Absolutely nothing.

Tell the story of Christ. Shout it from the mountaintops! And use every cultural opportunity to declare that all people everywhere must repent before Jesus or be judged by Him (Acts 17:30-31). Just please quit referring to His coming as "Christmas." It's confusing. People have no idea what trees and parties and gifts have to do with the Savior of the world, and because we sinners prefer the former to Jesus Himself, the real meaning of His incarnation is quickly lost in a sea of twinkling lights.

It's not the "First Christmas," it's the coming of the Savior. It is not the "Christmas Narrative," it is the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is not the "Story of Christmas," it is the good news of the Son of Man who came to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.

The last thing you ever want to do is confuse people about Jesus.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Edwards' Manuscripts Online

Now, this is just plain fun. Digital images of Jonathan Edwards' original manuscripts are now available online.

For those of us who have yet to make a pilgrimage to Beinecke Library, this is a real treat. And it definitely beats standing in-line this morning for a cheaper camera.

Here is the preface to one of my favorites, Edwards' A Farewell Sermon, where he explains why he's no longer the pastor at Northhampton.

Viva La Resolution!


Monday, November 21, 2011

Singing about Election

just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world... (Eph 1:4)

After Jonathan Edwards was convinced of the doctrine of election from Scripture, that bare conviction eventually grew into a delightful one:
But I have often, since that first conviction, had quite another kind of sense of God's sovereignty than I had then. I have often since had not only a conviction, but a delightful conviction. The doctrine has very often appeared exceedingly pleasant, bright, and sweet. Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God.

- Personal Memoir, Works.
Much more recently, Sinclair Ferguson has likewise observed:
Until we have come to the place where we can sing about election with a full heart we have not grasped the spirit of the New Testament teaching.

- The Christian Life, 125.
I have long abominated the sentiment that God's sovereign grace in electing and predestining unworthy sinners is the Church's "family secret." That is not biblical, nor consistent with the best of Christian tradition, nor edifying for Christians today, who grapple with the teachings of Scripture.

So, how can we sing about election? Well, we can learn from prior eras and traditions of the Church that were not as burdened by such foolish sentiments. For one example, the 19th century hymn by Josiah Condor, 'Tis Not That I Did Choose Thee:

'Tis not that I did choose Thee,
For, Lord, that could not be;
This heart would still refuse Thee,
But Thou hast chosen me;
Thou from the sin that stained me,
Hast cleansed and set me free,
Of old Thou hast ordained me,
That I should live to Thee.

'Twas sov'reign mercy called me,
And taught my op'ning mind;
The world had else enthralled me,
To heav'nly glories blind;
My heart owns none before Thee,
For Thy rich grace I thirst;
This knowing, if I love Thee,
Thou must have loved me first.
Paul the Apostle gave the Ephesians much to sing of in chapter 1, and we are constrained by conscience and the Spirit to offer no less in our congregations today. Until we can sing heartily such hymns, we have not truly grasped the meaning of the New Testament.

"If I love Thee, Thou must have loved me first"... sing it!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Prayerful Ministry of the Word: The Pastor's Measure

But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word (Acts 6:4)

John Owen gets to the rub of pastoral ministry in The True Nature of a Gospel Church:
The second duty of a pastor towards his flock, is, continual fervent prayer for them. 'Give ourselves unto the word and prayer.' Without this, no man can or doth preach to them as he ought, nor perform any other duty of his pastoral office. From hence may any man take the best measure of the discharge of his duty towards his flock. He that doth constantly, diligently, fervently pray for them, will have a testimony in himself of his own sincerity in the discharge of all other pastoral duties; nor can he voluntarily omit or neglect any of them. And as for those who are negligent herein, be their pains, labour, and travail in other duties never so great, they may be influenced from other reasons, and so give no evidence of sincerity in the discharge of their office. In this constant prayer for the church, which is so incumbent on all pastors, as that whatever is done without it, is of no esteem in the sight of Jesus Christ.
Those who neglect the ministry of word and prayer - regardless of their tenacity in other labors - can have no assurance as to the faithfulness of their ministry. Whatever else you do, whatever else you sacrifice, if it is lacking in prayer, it is "of no esteem in the sight of Jesus Christ" - and, to be clear, His is the only esteem that actually matters.

Owen concludes with the simple challenge of whether we actually believe the Gospel we have been installed to minister:
To preach the word therefore, and not to follow it with constant and fervent prayer for its success, is to disbelieve its use, neglect its end, and to cast away the seed of the gospel at random.
See Owen, Works, vol. 16, p. 78.

I ask myself - and encourage everyone who ministers, in or out of church office - how do we measure the discharge of our duties and faithfulness of our roles? By personal labor or by personal prayer? Not an unimportant question.

HT: 9Marks

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Penn St. and Protecting Children Like Jesus

But Jesus said, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these" (Matt 19:14).

Our Savior's love for children was built into the fabric of His creation. Just consider His sovereign options before the world began. Our Lord could have made every man and woman like our two fore-bearers (see Gen 2:7, 21-22), straight from dust to adult! But He decreed an entirely different process for Adam and Eve's subsequent offspring. God determined that His image-bearers would bring about His global purposes for eternal glory through conception, birth, growth, and natural dependence as children (Gen 1:28; cf. 3:15).

And "her seed," as we tend to emphasize this time of year, was born in Bethlehem to be our Savior. Do not overlook that the radiance of eternal glory - the exact representation of God's nature and the fullness of Deity - was once Himself a child. Jesus was born (Luke 2:7), circumcised (v. 21), developed in strength and wisdom (vv. 40, 51), and even astonished His parents (v. 48) - though He perfectly subjected Himself to them (v. 51)! So, in the earthly ministry of our Incarnate Creator as an adult, He loved and blessed children. Now, one of the more obvious take-aways for His disciples is: I love children and so should you.

It is possible that this take-away is what makes the recent events at Penn State all the more sickening - and latent with critical lessons for Christians and local churches.

From time to time - fortunately, more infrequently than not - I am contacted regarding my advice as to how to handle a suspected or newly-discovered case of child abuse. You see, the tension that many pastors, church officers, and Christians in general tend to feel is how should we who know the transforming power of Christ for the most heinous of sinners (with the violent, murderous life of our beloved Apostle, Paul, being case in point) address heinous sin when it (inevitably) lands across our desk? Should we minister the Gospel according to Scripture or notify the governing authorities? The answer, of course, is yes. In other words, you call the police and then you follow close behind with your Bible.

I was grateful to read the counsel of Al Mohler to churches and Christian organizations in the wake of the tragic Penn State debacle:
Sometimes Christians are reluctant to report suspected sexual abuse because they do not feel that they know enough about the situation. They are afraid of making a false accusation. This is the wrong instinct. We do not have the ability to conduct the kind of investigation that is needed, nor is this assigned to the church. This is the function of government as instituted by God (Romans 13). Waiting for further information allows a predator to continue and puts children at risk. This is itself an immoral act that needs to be seen for what it is.

... After law enforcement authorities have been notified, the church must conduct its own work of pastoral ministry, care, and church discipline. This is the church’s responsibility and charge. But these essential Christian ministries and responsibilities are not substitutes for the proper function of law enforcement authorities and the legal system. As Christians, we respect those authorities because we are commanded to do so.
It is worth reading The Tragic Lessons of Penn State - A Call to Action, in its entirety.

Mohler's counsel is fundamentally sound and should be heeded by every Christian in these situations. Biblically-speaking, by invoking Romans 13:1-4 (or 1 Pet 2:13-14), we are not thereby denying Matthew 18:15 -20, much less 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 or 1 Timothy 1:15-16. We have not set aside our spiritual responsibilities in any situation by appropriately dealing with the legal or criminal ones.

As a pastor and minister of the Word, I am more than ready to take the Gospel of the grace of God to child molesters, abusive parents, and every other manifestation of unrighteousness that scars His world and bars His image-bearers from the Kingdom (1 Cor 6:9-10). I am willing to proclaim to any and every perverted wretch that he or she may be washed, sanctified, and completely "justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God" (v. 11).

And I am ready and willing to extend that Gospel to them behind bars.

Christians must not perceive contacting the proper authorities and addressing spiritual concerns as somehow inconsistent. It is "an immoral act" to leave children at risk while we dance in indecision. God must not be mocked, men must reap what they have sown (Gal 6:7). Self-evident sins must result in judgment (1 Tim 5:24). And it is not unbiblical nor sub-Christian nor un-Gospel-centered to insist upon this. Quite the contrary, in fact.

The Master who rebuked His disciples for hindering children is the same Savior who gave His life as a ransom for even the most vile of sinners (Matt 20:28). Even for child molesters. Christians, you can preach the Gospel and protect our children. Doing both is very much like Jesus.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Idolatry in Pastoral Ministry

... it is a fine work he desires to do (1 Tim 3:1).

Church-planter, Eric Davis, a friend from my seminary days, has offered a very important post on Church-Planting and Idolatry. I would suggest that the relevance of Eric's thoughts extend beyond church planters to younger pastors, specifically, but even more generally to all the Christians who pray for them, are shepherded by them, and who occasionally form committees to hire them.
A desire for ministry, and especially church-planting, should never be thought of as a sanitized, neutral desire. On the contrary, there are not many more dangerous means of laboring for self-approval than ministry.

... It’s ok if your resume says: “____ has never: spoken at a conference, planted more than one church, written anything, or preached anywhere outside of Ulysses, Kansas. He does 2 services per week with 42 people in a dilapidated modular building.”

Take a deep breath and remember that your well-being is in the finished work of Christ and not filled pews and satellite campuses. Recall that Jeremiah was not invited to a conference, but thrown in a mud pit. This is not to glory in hard ministry or little fruit, but to calibrate our motives. Hunker down and give yourself fully to the word and prayer until your promotion to glory where you will be rewarded by the Chief Shepherd. Neither repudiate, nor be enamored by, apparent success. Praise God that Christ is preached; take heed to your own faithfulness, and thank the Master that you get to shepherd his flock among you.

Much of what is happening in contemporary evangelical church-planting is fleshly. Young men, who, perhaps, mean well, yet are looking to leap over the cross and grab that crown.
Please read Eric's entire post.

I agree - and have previously-posted regarding the same - that the "fleshiness" in many contemporary evangelical circles is distressing and disconcerting. I for one am growing less and less enamored with my own generation, which may be the point (of God's sanctifying work in my own heart).

Interestingly, Paul uses ἐπιθυμέω (epithumeo) in describing the aspirations of the elder / pastor in 1 Timothy 3:1. It is interesting because that word is typically rendered as "lust" in your English Bible. In fact, Paul will use the nominal form in 2 Timothy 2:22 and exhort Timothy to "flee from youthful lusts [= ἐπιθυμίας, epithumias]." Our fight as younger pastors is keep sin, Satan, or the world-system from turning our good desire into one from which we are accountable to flee.

So, if you are not a pastor, this is how you should pray, encourage, and even hire (when that comes up) the younger pastors in your life. And it may be as simple as, "Lord, please make and keep his epithumia the good kind."

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Perfection of Beauty

The heavens are telling of the glory of God;
And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands
(Ps 19:1)

Even though our musical genre preferences are more punk-rock than rap, we cannot help but enjoy and appreciate the Godward efforts of Shai Linne.

shai linne - "The Perfection of Beauty" ft. Blair Linne (Official Trailer) from Lamp Mode Recordings on Vimeo.

Preach it, sister! (Don't get carried away; yes, we still firmly believe in 1 Tim 2:12). By the way, Blair is Shai Linne's wife, who is also an alumnus of TMC.

Our favorite lines:

'Cause dimes get lost day-dreaming in dark gutters,
Unable to hear the call to wake up!

If they truly beheld Your beauty,
You'd make magazines and Mattel go bankrupt.
Shai Linne's new album, The Attributes of God, is being released today and available at Lampmode Records. I believe it even comes with a copy of Pink's book.

Even those of us who like it turned-up to eleven, give thanks for God-centered rap!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Holding onto Tradition: Responsive & Non-Captive

Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, so that in us you may learn not to exceed what is written, so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other (1 Cor 4:6).

Good, clear, and helpful thoughts from John Frame:
... I try to encourage Bible interpretation that is responsive to tradition, but not captive to it. The chief rule of Reformation hermeneutics is that Scripture is the best interpreter of Scripture, under the illumination of the Holy Spirit. “Biblical” theology is often defined as a method of Bible interpretation focusing on redemptive history. That’s fine, but it should not be the only method we use. Redemptive history may be the chief content of Scripture, but there are many things in the Bible (Psalms, Proverbs, e.g.) that are most narrowly historical.

... We should certainly learn from people God has appointed to teach the word, both in our generation and in the past. However we should be ready to make a break with the past if Scripture forces us to do that. That itself has an important precedent in tradition: the Protestant Reformation. And when we do make use of tradition in our theology, we should not be narrowly confined to the tradition of our own denomination. Theology today, in my view, partly because of the nature of graduate education, is far too focused on theologians in the past and present and far too little focused on Scripture itself. The best balance is in John Murray’s work.

Read the Credo Magazine's entire interview with John Frame.

There is a lot of wisdom in Frame's answers. Not least of which is his simple principle on the relationship between Scripture and tradition: Responsive, but not captive. It often seems that Christians are either captive or non-responsive to Christian tradition. Either position leaves us impoverished and ill-equipped. With Reformation Day upon us, Frame's encouragement that "we should be ready to make a break with the past if Scripture forces us to do that" is a timely reminder.

In what I read and observe in contemporary theology, I heartily agree with Frame that "graduate education" has set theology too far adrift from its source in the Word of God and made it far too concerned with the personal theology of individual writers / lecturers. I am grateful for Frame's courage to (frequently) call theologians and the Church to account on this matter (see previous post on Schreiner for a similar point).

Also, I second his nod to John Murray, who is truly a great resource for responsive, but not captive theology. After more recently procuring his four-volume, Collected Writings, I have been greatly helped. Murray is moving closer to the top of my "consult-first" list in my library. (Hint: The "Library of Light" in my church has a copy of his biography, Life of John Murray. It is a heartening read and good introduction to this faithful brother in Christ).

Finally, in this category of tolle lege, John Frame's Theology of Lordship series is likewise a real gem, I consult one of those four volumes in my library regularly. Frame writes lucidly and biblically, not afraid to challenge his readers nor his own tradition. Personally, I am ambivalent toward his triadic structure, but that does not diminish the value of his works.

You would be wise to add Frame to your "wishlist" (Tip: start with Doctrine of God or Doctrine of the Word of God).

NB, his Apologetics to the Glory of God is likewise indispensable on that topic... especially if Van Til is a bit much for you.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

It Matters What You Wear

that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless (Eph 5:27).

As you lay out your clothes for corporate worship tomorrow on the Lord's Day, please keep in mind that your attire does matter.

R.C. Sproul Jr.:
The glory of the gospel is that God isn’t looking at my clothes when I come to worship. Whether I am dressed to the nines or dressed in flip-flops, He isn’t looking at my clothes. He is, however, looking at what I am wearing. And praise God what I’m wearing not only covers my body, but covers my heart as well. What I wear to worship is what I wear the rest of the week. I do not come dressed for a formal dance. I do not come dressed for a picnic on the beach. I come instead dressed like royalty. I come dressed like a prince. For I wear the righteousness of the Son of God. I do not come as I am. I come as I AM is.
Read Come As You Aren't.

Join the saints tomorrow in the finest dress in the universe... the spotless garments of the bride of Christ.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.

- "Rock of Ages" by Augustus Toplady

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found,
Clothed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne!
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

- "My Hope is Built," by Edward Mote

Friday, October 14, 2011

Evangelicalism, We Have a Problem

...I refrain from this, so that no one will credit me with more than he sees in me or hears from me (2 Cor 12:6).

Okay, this is the last post on the whole "celebrity pastor" thing (see 1, 2, & 3). We'll let Carl Trueman, Don't Know Much about Art, but I Know It When I See It, offer the last word:
The issue is that there is a real problem -- in fact, many real problems -- to which some are trying to draw attention. There is a problem with the yob aesthetic, the arrogant stage swagger, the stand-up routines, the obsession with talking about sex in sermons which puts some of these conference headlining pastoral role models about as far from Paul's vision of leadership as possible; there is a problem with pastors who tell their people they will only visit them in hospital once they have been placed in a body bag; there is a problem with pastors who make videos which ape the aesthetics of the mainstream media and focus on the pastor, not the pastor's God; there is a problem with churches of thousands of people, few of whom ever get to meet an elder, let alone the pastor; there is a problem with church planting strategy that is so wedded to the cult of the one man that he has to be skyped in to the community; there is a problem when a man has to phone the librarian at Westminster Seminary with a pastoral issue because nobody at his home church of thousands has the time to speak to an ordinary church member about his crisis of faith.
Read his entire post.

Without exaggeration, there is a problem. There is no hyperbole in that paragraph. And Trueman's last example especially - of a call placed to the seminary librarian - makes me want to weep.

Regardless of what you term it, the behavior of many Christian leaders runs directly counter to Paul's concern that the Corinthians not "credit me with more than he sees in me or hears from me."

D.A. Carson explained Paul's attitude: is the typical attitude displayed by this apostle, who is always concerned to insist that people should focus on the gospel and on the Savior; not the messenger.

- A Model of Christian Maturity, p. 149.
Yet, we often find the messenger himself precisely at the focus. Or, as Trueman puts it, "focus on the pastor, not the pastor's God." It can be subtle, to be sure. Though a careful observer can distinguish when something has been written or said to exalt God or to exalt a man's exaltation of God - and there is a world of difference between those two.

Keep that difference in mind the next time you read a bio, conference introduction, or book blurb. There is a problem when Christians are too eager to be credited with more than is seen in them or heard from them. Or they are least negligent in allowing others to do it for them.

I have a close friend who is fond of saying his goal in life is "to die in obscurity for God's glory." Amen, brother. And I do hope he represents the majority of the next generation of missionaries, teachers, and pastors. We are messengers. And whether many people know us or like us - or even remember us when we die - is utterly unimportant.

May the Spirit of our Savior remind us that irrespective of the venue that is afforded to our teaching or writing, we have been called to be pastors, not personalities.

Related Posts:

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

It Will Happen to Us

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever (Heb 13:8)

During a recent visit, Christian journalist, Collin Hansen, was dismayed over the abysmal conditions of a once-faithful and historic church. In fact, this church was once led by none other than Jonathan Edwards himself.

So, Hansen applied this living parable:
Future generations may wonder how Bethlehem Baptist Church of all places could lose its missionary zeal. They may look back on a theological downgrade at Redeemer Presbyterian Church. If the Lord tarries, they might mock a ministry called The Gospel Coalition that lost the gospel. If it happened to Edwards, Luther, and Wesley, it can happen to us.

We should take every precaution to guard our confessions and plead with the Holy Spirit to give our descendants the new birth. Even these efforts, however, guarantee nothing. The history of redemption is littered with the rise and fall of evangelical empires. Only God remains the same, and only God deserves our worship.
Read his entire article, Rise and Fall of an Evangelical Empire.

Respectfully, I would add that Hansen overlooked an important element... the writing is always on the wall. Take Northampton, for example. Let's not forget that in 1750 this congregation actually fired Pastor Edwards. So, how can we feign surprise that the church continued to slide from orthodoxy? Edwards himself warned them at that time in "A Farewell Sermon," from Acts 20. (It is one of our favorite Edwards' sermons).

It is no less true today. Let's just take, for example, The Gospel Coalition. Hansen muses about a future when the TGC might tragically mock its own name by losing the Gospel itself. Again, we would add that the writing is already on the wall. On this immediate point, see these previous posts: Yet, even with this oversight, Hansen is spot-on. There are no efforts that we can invest to guarantee anything. If one thing is certain, neither you nor I can keep it all together. It happened to Paul (see 2 Tim 4:9-16), Luther, Calvin, Edwards, et al. Be assured, it will happen to The Gospel Coalition and other contemporary "empires." It will happen to us... the writing is always on the wall.

Our glorious God only guarantees the preservation of His name and His glory. So, when we celebrate any movement, give thanks for any institution, or even cherish our own local church, we must end where our Lord Himself taught us to begin:

Our Father who is in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.

"Only God remains the same, and only God deserves our worship." Amen, brother.

N.B., for a helpful analysis and application of Jonathan Edwards' termination, please see Mark Dever, "How Jonathan Edwards Got Fired and Why It's Important for Us Today," which was subsequently published as a chapter in A God-Entranced Vision of All Things.

Friday, October 7, 2011

It's Not a Couple of Hours

On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together... (Acts 20:7)

I'm convinced. Though I'm more of an American Football man myself, I am convinced that we need more rugby players in our churches. Devout Euan Murray Questions Sunday Matches:
It's basically all or nothing, following Jesus. I don't believe in pick 'n' mix Christianity. I believe the Bible is the word of God, so who am I to ignore something from it?

I might as well tear out that page then keep tearing out pages as and when it suits me. If I started out like that there would soon be nothing left.

I want to live my life believing and doing the things (God) wants and the Sabbath day is a full day.

It's not a case of a couple of hours in church then playing rugby or going down the pub, it's the full day.
Read the entire article, which gives also nod to Eric Liddell.

May Murray's tribe of rugby-theologians increase... even in the US! (I think they would make great ushers).

Enjoy the Lord's Day.

HT: Ref21

Related Posts:

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Afraid. The End

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Ps 111:10a).

In Mark's Amazing Ending, Jesse Johnson identifies the purpose of Mark's actual ending:
The book also ends with a powerful evangelistic thrust. So far, the only person to open his mouth and positively identify Jesus as the Son of God has been a Roman—the same soldier responsible for his arrest, trial, and execution. The apostles haven’t said it, and neither have the women. When the book ends with the phrase “And they said nothing to anyone…” it serves as a rhetorical device: will you open your mouth? Will you join the centurion and even the demons that identify Jesus as God’s son? Will you tell others? Or will you go missing like Peter, or silent like the women?

When the ending of Mark is seen as it was written, it ranks with Judges, Jonah, and Revelation in terms of having a powerful ending that raises a question. Do you do what is right in your own eyes? Do you have compassion on the lost? Do you long for the Lord’s return? And finally, are you amazed at what Jesus has done? You should be, and you should open your mouth about it.
Read Jesse's entire post.

I concur entirely with his observation: "knowing that those final 11 verses of Mark 16 are not Markan should actually bolster one’s confidence in the transmission of Scripture, not lesson it."

I argued the same in A Tradition of Translation Timidity:
Leaving passages like Mark 16:9-20 and John 7:53-8:11 in the same flow of the canonical text - just because the publisher does not want to handle the deluge of angry e-mails that are sure to follow their exclusion - just seems irresponsible.

Furthermore, this practice actually undermines our confidence in the inerrant text and undoes all that was accomplished in the Reformation's call to sola scriptura. For a vigorous application of "ecclesiastical usage" amounts essentially to a Roman Catholic view of binding authoritative tradition.

By not distinguishing these inauthentic passages - something like Wallace's footnote proposal - we are truly doing a great disservice. By offering a more transparent admittance of what we have known (for centuries!), we give greater witness to the text of Scripture and greater credibility to the preaching and teaching within the Church.
Identifying what we know only serves to hinder the Church's confidence in Scripture's transmission. Ignorance can bolster neither confidence nor conviction.

Mark actually ends with "... for they were afraid" (16:8) and that is the best ending (or question) that the Spirit of the Lord could have ever superintended for His Church.

After all, it is the beginning of wisdom.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Exporting our Evangelical Freakshow

Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches (2 Cor 11:28).

Little did I know that when I wrote on Asterisks for Celebrity Pastors, that very world of personalities and media platforms would furnish an ample illustration that very week. If you missed it, James MacDonald, pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel and council member of The Gospel Coalition, invited T.D. Jakes - yes, that T.D. Jakes - to speak at The Elephant Room, for a dialogue-style conference. Perhaps even more implausible than the invitation itself, was MacDonald's defense of his invitation. It is a staggering and almost unbelievable lapse in judgment from such a prominent Christian leader. (I keep waiting for MacDonald to say, "Gotcha! Just kidding!").

Thoughtful and biblical responses have been offered by Tim Challies, Phil Johnson, Nathan Busenitz, and Thabiti Anyabwile, not to mention the glut of resources from Ligonier. Though, as usual, I find the rejoinders of Carl Trueman to be among the most perceptive:
Phil Johnson observed the same today in The Evangelical Freakshow. Though Phil notes an important disagreement with Trueman's analysis. Namely, could these sorts of celebrity pastors ever exert influence over Christians in other parts of the world? Of course, the shameful answer is that they already do.
It is precisely the celebrity of American evangelical rock stars that the rest of the world seems so attracted to. And the more outlandish the personality, the more other cultures seem interested. These things spread around the world, not only because American evangelicals are wantonly imperialistic but because morbid curiosity, worldly interests, and carnal lusts are a problem in every culture, and the mortification of those passions fell out of fashion among church people ages ago.

...And Dr. Trueman is right to point out that it is a uniquely American evangelical phenomenon to foster these cults of celebrity and to encourage each wave of superstars to push the limits of sobriety and propriety further than the last superstar did. American evangelicalism has become a large jingoistic freak show.
Read Phil's entire post here. I have personally observed this tragedy on 3 different continents. And every time it was emotionally taxing, as I vacillated from sorrow to rage to near comatose apathy - and usually in the same hour!

It should come as no surprise to us. The world is enamored with our salacious entertainment. They are desperate to catch-up to our styles in food, fun, and fashion. Even our political enemies cannot wait to eat at their own McDonald's or Starbucks! And the very real tragedy is that things are no different in the Church.

Just as quickly as evangelical movements and personalities take hold in the US, they export the same to our brethren around the world. Our brothers and sisters who need our time and our heritage of biblical resources, are instead deluged by our pointless fads.

If for no other reason than this, The Gospel Coalition - whose confessional statement actually begins with "The Tri-une God" - faces a pivotal moment:
  • Will TGC remain a coalition around the Gospel or will they defer to influential personalities? (Please remember that Arianism did not flourish in the 3rd century because Arius was a boring and unpersuasive communicator).
  • Is TGC actually a movement to "unite on the nature of truth, how best to read the Bible, on our relationship to culture, on the content of the gospel, and on the nature of gospel–centered ministry" (TGC, Vision Statement) or simply another manufactured platform for celebrity pastors?
  • What does subscription to TGC's own confessional statement mean for their own council members? Put more simply, what role does TGC believe doctrine should have in their vision for evangelicalism? Or put more pointedly, is TGC just another collection of ecclesiastical pragmatists with theological window-dressing?
This is no molehill. When we talk about doctrines like the Trinity, we are not debating peripheral issues. We are asking, will our generation of Christian leaders remain Christian?

Without any sensationalism intended, I do pray that there is an Ezekiel out there - perhaps a whole coalition of them - that sees "what they are doing" (Ezek 8:6). And that not only for the sake of the Church in America, but for all the churches around the world who are watching us - even now.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Dead Sea Scrolls Online

The grass withers, the flower fades,
When the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
But the word of our God stands forever
(Isa 40:7-8).

One of the most enjoyable moments of life thus far has been visiting Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the late 1940's. The Dead Sea Scrolls, contrary to speculations from 19th century historical critics, confirmed our Masoretic Text (the Hebrew manuscripts from which your English Old Testament was translated) as reliable and therefore God's Word as accurately preserved through the centuries. It was no small find!

The year following our visit to Qumran, we were able to actually view the Dead Sea Scrolls on display in San Diego - ever the romantic, I took my wife to stare for hours at dusty old papyri and to discuss advances in biblical archaeology (she was overcome with excitement, as you can imagine).

Now, the Israel Museum (in Jerusalem) and Google have collaborated to make such an experience much easier - searchable, high-resolution images of the Dead Sea Scrolls online in The Digital Dead Sea Scrolls Project!

Currently including the largest and most-known scrolls, such as the Great Isaiah Scroll (see below) and the Habakkuk pesher (i.e., Commentary on Habakkuk), this project will eventually include all the scrolls.

Even more exciting are some of the features, like searching the Isaiah Scroll which can be searched verse by verse, with an English translation just a mouse-click away! (Even if it's all Hebrew to you, scrolling through Isaiah is just plain fun).

Even though Google is slowly eating-away our brains (see here), the accessibility and usability of this resource is a real gift. And just one more testimony that the "word of our God stands forever (Isa 40:8).


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The New and Cooler Pharisee

For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt 5:20).

After recently finishing lessons on the Sermon on the Mount, the subtle self-righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees are often on my mind. Hypocritical (6:1), dividing between those they must love and those they may hate (5:41), and seeking the things of this world, under the guise of religious devotion (6:32; cf. 23:6-7).

The term "Pharisee," however has been spun in our modern culture in a very, well, pharisacial way. Jared Wilson explains in The "Religious People Boogeyman":
“Pharisee,” “legalist,” “religious person” is the church version of racist or Nazi. It is the rhetorical nuclear option specifically designed to shut up anyone with questions and paint them among their brothers and sisters as graceless jerks. But I think it actually works the other way around:

Employing the “religious people” boogeyman ironically indulges in what it professes to decry. It is a great way to pray along with the self-justified pharisee, “I thank you God that I’m not like those religious people.”

If you’ve got real legalists in your church—and you do—the only way to intentionally offend them is by preaching the gospel of grace in Jesus Christ. Everything else is just vain posturing and prideful provocation.
Read his entire post. "Pharisees" are still hypocritical, unloving, and fundamentally worldly... they're just not always who you think they are. In fact, the Pharisee in the pew is probably not even the guy in the suit. He may actually be the "coolest" guy in your church.

And Jesus says - in sober warning - the self-righteous, unloving, and the hypocritical, however influential and hip, will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven without repenting.


Monday, September 26, 2011

On Asterisks for Celebrity "Pastors"

As I had considered this very issue earlier this morning, I was pleased with the providential reading of Ed Stetzer's post, Should 'Broader Interests' Preclude Pastoring? (HT: Challies). I am grateful for Stetzer's three reasons on why Christian speakers and writers must stay close to the local church:
  1. I love the church
  2. I need the church
  3. I'm committed to serve
And he concludes with this perceptive statement:
Reality means accountability to some kind of leadership structure in the church and to body as a whole. Rick Warren alluded to this problem in a tweet that followed the Rob Bell announcement: "Speaking tours feed the ego = All applause & no responsibility. It's an unreal world. A church gives accountability & validity" The last thing anyone needs is more to feed out selfish egos, but that is precisely part of the challenge associated with the speaking circuit (emphasis added).
Read his entire post.

We do not often gel with the views of Rick Warren, but he could not be more right on this one. Pastors and teachers who leave local churches for the speaking and/or writing circuit, have departed reality for a manufactured environment without real accountability. And it is that last aspect which is especially troubling.

It is all the more troubling because their move from accountability is a move into greater influence before the eyes and ears of impressionable Christians. Such influence is guaranteed by retaining the privilege and prerogative of the title, "Pastor."

God intended the local church to be the auspices under which teaching, speaking, and writing was to be conducted. Any author or speaker who is not under accountability, has no credibility. This is to say that even our best-selling authors - irrespective of how crazy their love - simply lack credibility as representatives (much less as leaders!) of Christian faith and life.

Now, here's what I'm thinking and proposing. If we are concerned to inform impressionable young boys to hold their admiration because that athlete was "juiced-up," should we not tell Christians that the water-treading faith of their favorite speaker or author is worth questioning? And why not use the same asterisk?

Maybe Christian publishers could agree on some standardized warning that the asterisk would indicate:
* This author has removed himself from the accountability of the local church, which is the normal community for every Christian and is probably assumed by you. In other words, this author is mostly accountable to the dictates of his personal ambitions, along with those of his agent, who profits monetarily by any increase in popularity. Please read this book with that in mind. Any self-reference as "Pastor" should be read with suspicion.
It may be unrealistic, but I like the idea of asterisks for celebrity "pastors."

The point is that if you find the other-worldly spirituality of such men unbelievable, you are right. It is unbelievable because they are unaccountable. The spirituality of the Christian speaking and writing circuit is not a spiritual reality.

Is everything such writers say unhelpful, unedifying or even unbiblical? Of course not.

But all their books are followed by a *

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Reformation Commentary Series

This is a brief note on what may be a helpful resource for those of us who cherish the insights of the Reformers, but who lack the time to hunt down all their works. Can we read and reflect on commentators of the Reformation other than Calvin?

It looks like it! The forthcoming commentary series, The Reformation Commentary on Scripture, ed. Timothy George., is hot off the press of IVP, this month.

The first volume - Galatians, Ephesians - and the companion introduction by Timothy George, Reading Scripture with the Reformers, is available.

If you sign-up for the service through IVP, you save 80% on Galatians, Ephesians and also receive George's introductory volume for free (I believe that each subsequent volume is 40% off). I joined the service in July and look forward to receiving these volumes (maybe a brief review will show-up on this blog?).

Anyway, now you know, so you may plan accordingly.

Semper reformanda


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Our Holy Husband

...the Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven and brought me in the visions of God to Jerusalem, to the entrance of the north gate of the inner court, where the seat of the idol of jealousy, which provokes to jealousy, was located. And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was there... (Ezek 8:3-4)

John Calvin aptly described the faithful jealousy of our God and how it speaks of His love for His people:
The more holy and chaste a husband is, the more wrathful he becomes if he sees his wife inclining her heart to a rival.

In like manner, the Lord, who has wedded us to himself in truth, manifests the most burning jealousy whenever we, neglecting the purity and his holy marriage, become polluted with wicked lusts.

- Institutes of the Christian Religion, I.VIII.18.
Any husband who met his bride's adultery with indifference would be unloving and rightly described as unfaithful himself! And our Lord is the holiest of husbands. His jealousy is His holiness, faithfulness, and love expressed against the sin of His bride.

It is in glory that He is provoked to jealousy in faithfulness and in love for His bride - redeemed by Him, called by His name, and covenanted to Him in love. We are His Temple, "bought with a price" (1 Cor 6:19-20). We are His Bride, for whom He died in His love "that He might sanctify here... that she would be holy and blameless" (Eph 5:25-27).

So wedded to the Lord by the blood of Jesus His Son and by the bond of the New Covenant, we are instructed to flee immorality. Our husband loves us faithfully. Let us seek His glory in purity until we recline at His side forever at the marriage supper of the Lamb.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The One Thing That Matters

Ask, and it will be given to you... (Matt 7:7)

That great and assuring promise of Christ, as explained by the Doctor:
Abraham was like the Lord Jesus Christ Himself who, under the shadow of the cross, and knowing that even His most trusted disciples were suddenly going to leave Him and forsake Him in their fear and concern about saving their own lives, nevertheless was able to say this: 'The hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me' (John 16:32).

According to the Bible, that is the one thing that matters. Our Lord does not promise to change life for us; He does not promise to remove difficulties and trials and problems and tribulations; He does not say that He is going to cut out all the thorns and leave the roses with their wonderful perfume. No; He faces life realistically, and tells us that these are things to which the flesh is her, and which are bound to come. But He assures us that we can so know Him that, whatever happens, we need never be frightened, we need never be alarmed. He puts all that in this great and comprehensive promise: 'Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.'

- Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, p. 457

There are many things He does not promise. But, the one thing He does is the only thing that actually matters.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Luther on Multi-Roled Ministry

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

The most encouraging thing I have read this week from Martin Luther:
I have need almost continually of two secretaries, for I do scarce any thing else all day long than write letters. I am preacher to the Convent, reader of prayers at table, pastor and parish minister, director of studies, vicar of the priory, (that is to say, prior ten times over,) inspector of the fish ponds of Litzkau, council to the inns of Herzberg at Torgau, lecturer on St. Paul, and commentator on the psalms.

Seldom have I time to say my prayers, or to sing a hymn; not to mention my struggle with flesh and blood, the devil and the world. See what an idle man I am!

HT: What's Best Next
I have no idea how to inspect a fish pond, but my days often feel (and smell) like I imagine it. And two secretaries, indeed, would be a luxury!

Of course, herein is a hint at why there have been no new posts at TPC. Weary in the work, but not of it; continually pressing against "idleness."

Me too, brother Martin, me too!

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Lord's Prayer is Reproof

Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name...

Excepting Psalm 23, no other passage of Scripture is more apart of our common memory than this one. Though it has long been entitled “The Lord’s Prayer,” that title lacks accuracy since it is our Lord's instruction on prayer to His disciples. So, we may prefer “The Disciples’ Prayer" as a heading, though it is doubtful that will ever enter popular recognition.

This misnomer does tell us that we may not have understood the point of the Lord's Prayer. If we only observed its use in catechisms, in lessons for children and in repetition in corporate worship for centuries, we might get the impression that the Lord ascended to His sermon just to impart some new liturgical method or write a new prayer-book for Christians. So it is something of a surprise to reenter the context of the Sermon on the Mount and find that Jesus' purpose in the Lord's Prayer goes far beyond even the topic of prayer itself.

The Lord's Prayer is not the model for prayer - certainly our Lord prayed from the Psalms as well? Nor is it even a mandated protocol or formula of prayer for Christians. In short, the Lord's Prayer is a rebuke. A reproof. A removal of our false sense of righteousness to view the inner corruption of our hearts before the holiness of God Himself. To say the Lord's Prayer is a rebuke really shouldn't surprise us. That is essentially the point of the entire Sermon on the Mount and certainly no less that of Matthew 6:9-13.

The Sermon on the Mount

Our Savior began His sermon by pointing to the character of spiritual blessedness (5:3-12). Including those who are of a poverty of spirit, a personal mourning, a believing humility, and desperately hungering and thirsting for righteousness. What is the reason for their spiritual pangs and pantings? The standard to which they must be held accountable:
For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven (5:20).
That is unsettling for at least two reasons. First, Jesus told His audience they have to be holier than the holiest men they knew to enter the kingdom of heaven. Second, even the holiest men they knew were not entering the kingdom of heaven!

Pharisaic tradition had lowered the bar of righteousness so that sinners might actually feel they were righteous without a twinge inconsistency. They assiduously avoided placing themselves in the category of “sinner,” even incredulously asking Jesus’ disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?” (Matt 9:11). Or accusing a once blind man, “You were born entirely in sins!” (John 9:34). Were they really any different? Well, they thought so. Pharisaic tradition instructed people to be those “who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt” (Luke 18:9). So our Lord begins His public ministry by disabusing them of such notions.

The Context of Chapters 5-6

Jesus gave six contrasts in 5:21-47 to illustrate the impeccable righteousness of God as:
  • Peaceful appreciation of each life, even those with whom you conflict.
  • Purity in thought and desire, even if your body is not involved.
  • Fidelity in marriage, even when you complete the protocols and paperwork for divorce.
  • Honesty in speech and commitments, even if you allowed yourself a loophole.
  • Sacrifice and suffering in love, even if people persecute or oppress you.
  • Universality in whom you love, even toward your enemies and those who hate you.
Or, in a word, perfect. “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (v. 48).

And the perfection of God’s standard is still the Savior’s focus into chapter 6. Except, instead of addressing self-righteousness in moral issues, He narrows upon religious ones. Every Pharisee then – and since! – should be sweating at this. Not only are you not as morally blameless as you think you are, but you are not even as religious as you think you are! Actually, your religion is hypocrisy (vv. 2, 5, 16). So, the Lord offers three examples to prove His point - notably, the three main acts of Jewish piety. He taught that true and righteous religion:
  • Is not giving for gratitude, but giving before God (vv. 2-4)
  • Is not praying as performance, but praying in private (vv. 5-6)
  • Is not fasting for fanfare, but fasting before the Father (vv. 15-17)
With each example, our Lord reproves hypocritical practices with the nature of true religion that is rewarded by our Father in heaven. It is no less a rebuke than chapter 5 and may be even more so, since we especially love to deny our depravity in our acts of devotion. And this is the context for the Lord's Prayer.

Our friend and mentor, Robert Murray M’Cheyne is reported to have said, "A man is what he is on his knees before God, and nothing more." That was Jesus’ point.

What and how we pray tells us who we are, in truth. Just ask this Pharisee (Luke 18:11-12). The Lord's Prayer is impossible for sinners. Just as we have no hope of exceeding the righteousness of a scribe or Pharisee (5:20), and even less hope of attaining the perfection of the Father (5:48), we have no hope of ever praying the Lord's Prayer with full integrity. And that is precisely the point. The Lord’s Prayer is a rebuke.

We will try to unpack our Savior's reproof a bit further this week - and unfold the refuge that we must find Him, lest we be forever barred from the Kingdom.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Do Not Lose Sight of Christ!

For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified (1 Cor 2:2).

Great exhortations to preachers from a wise steward, Sinclair Ferguson, in A Preacher's Decalogue. Particularly, "Don't Lose Sight of Christ."
What do I mean? Perhaps the point can be put sharply, even provocatively, in this way: systematic exposition did not die on the cross for us; nor did biblical theology, nor even systematic theology or hermeneutics or whatever else we deem important as those who handle the exposition of Scripture. I have heard all of these in preaching . . . without a center in the person of the Lord Jesus.

Paradoxically not even the systematic preaching through one of the Gospels guarantees Christ-crucified centered preaching. Too often preaching on the Gospels takes what I whimsically think of as the “Find Waldo Approach.” The underlying question in the sermon is “Where are you to be found in this story?” (are you Martha or Mary, James and John, Peter, the grateful leper . . . ?). The question “Where, who and what is Jesus in this story?” tends to be marginalized.

The truth is it is far easier to preach about Mary, Martha, James, John, or Peter than it is about Christ. It is far easier to preach even about the darkness of sin and the human heart than to preach Christ. Plus my bookshelves are groaning with literature on Mary, Martha . . . the good life, the family life, the Spirit-filled life, the parenting life, the damaged-self life . . . but most of us have only a few inches of shelf-space on the person and work of Christ himself.

Am I absolutely at my best when talking about him or about us?
Great question for Saturday night sermon-review: Is this about Him or about us?