Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Perspective for the Current Crisis

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand
and marked off the heavens with a span,
enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure
and weighed the mountains in scales
and the hills in a balance?
Who has measured the Spirit of the Lord,
or what man shows him his counsel?
Whom did he consult,
and who made him understand?
Who taught him the path of justice,
and taught him knowledge,
and showed him the way of understanding?
Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
and are accounted as the dust on the scales;
behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust.
Lebanon would not suffice for fuel,
nor are its beasts enough for a burnt offering.
All the nations are as nothing before him,
they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.
To whom then will you liken God,
or what likeness compare with him?
An idol! A craftsman casts it,
and a goldsmith overlays it with gold
and casts for it silver chains.
He who is too impoverished for an offering
chooses wood that will not rot;
he seeks out a skillful craftsman
to set up an idol that will not move.
Do you not know? Do you not hear?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
and spreads them like a tent to dwell in;
who brings princes to nothing,
and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.
Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when he blows on them, and they wither,
and the tempest carries them off like stubble.
To whom then will you compare me,
that I should be like him? says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes on high and see:
who created these?
He who brings out their host by number,
calling them all by name,
by the greatness of his might,
and because he is strong in power
not one is missing.

Isaiah 40:12-26

Dawkins Always Disappoints

There is a very helpful post at Christian Thinker proving once again that Richard Dawkins may be a good scientist but he is a dismal philosopher.

Here is Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion:

If you were born in Arkansas and you think Christianity is true and Islam is false, knowing full well that you would think the opposite if you had been born in Afghanistan, you are the victim of childhood indoctrination.

Before we take this quote too seriously, we should consider the fact that this is the same Richard Dawkins who claimed that raising a child Catholic is worse than sexually abusing him. Credibility issues aside, what can we make of statements like the one above? This sort of reasoning is very prevalent in the writings of the new atheism of Dawkins, Harris, et al. But this is a typical Dawkinsian non-argument. There is no there there. What is the point of such statements other than to offer intellectual kudos to those who already disbelieve in any particular religion?

Consider the following variation on the above quote:

If you were born in Arkansas and you think representative democracy is the best form of government and that Islamic theocracy is the worst, knowing full well that you would think the opposite if you had been born in Afghanistan, you are the victim of childhood indoctrination.

Or how about this one:

If you were born in 1980 and you think the world is round instead of flat, knowing full well that you would think the opposite if you had been born in 1089, you are the victim of childhood indoctrination.

If you can understand the silliness of the two latter statements, you should be able to understand the silliness of the first.

Read the entire post HERE.

Common Grace and Learning

Engaging God's World is a wonderful book by Cornelius Plantinga. Dr. Plantinga, one of the foremost philosphers in the country is also President of Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In the preface, Plantiga provides a wonderful connection between our learning and how we love God.

"Thoughtful Christians know that if we obey the Bible's great commandment to love God with our whole mind, as well as with everything else, then we will study the splendor of God's creation in the hope of grasping part of the ingenuity and grace that form it. One way to love God is to know and love God's work. Learning is therefore a spiritual calling: properly done, it attaches us to God. In addition, the learned person has, so to speak, more to be Christian with. The person who studies chemistry, for example, can enter into God's enthusiasm for the dynamic possibilities of material reality. The student who examines one of the great movements of history has moved into position to praise the goodness of God, or to lament the mystery of evil, or to explore the places where these things intertwine. Further, from persistent study of history a student may develop good judgment, a feature of wisdom that helps us lead a faithful human life in the midst of a confusing world. And, of course, chemistry and history are only two samples from the wide menu of good things to learn...

"This thoroughgoing vision of Christian higher education may be traced to John Calvin, and to others before him, but its nearer proponent for Calvin College was Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920), an extraordinary Dutch theologian, newspaper editor, and prime minister. Kuyper took a large view of the Lordship of Jesus Christ, assuming that when Scripture says God has made Jesus Christ 'the head over all things' (Eph. 1:22), 'all' means what is says. Thus Kuyper's most famous saying: 'There is not a square inch on the whole plain of human existence over which Christ, who is Lord over all, does not proclaim: This is Mine!' As generations have seen, the implication is staggeringly clear: those who follow Christ must bring all the parts and passions of their lives - including education - under the Lordship of Christ."

- Cornelius Plantinga

Uncomfortable Grace

When you get a chance read Lost in the Middle by Paul Tripp.

Who is my neighbor?

In the parable of The Good Samaritan Jesus is offering a kind of quiet polemic against the prevailing notion of the day that your neighbor, those who were the proper objects of your charity were those who were within your own sphere of culture, ethnicity, and religion.

As Jesus tells the parable he moves his listeners toward the introduction of an extraordinary individual whose identity will stagger the expert in the law.

“But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion” (v. 33).

The striking contrast set up in this parable revolves around the Samaritan’s compassion. The contrast is not between Jew and Samaritan. It is not between cleric and layman. These are the contrasts the people would probably have anticipated. Rather the contrast is between the dreadful lack of involvement and care on the part of the priest and the Levite and the extraordinary compassion shown by this outsider.

The compassion of the Samaritan that shows the shocking immorality displayed by the priest and the Levite. We rightly speak out against the immorality of abortion and sexual perversion. But where is our outrage against our own pattern of neglect toward the wounded and outcast?

What would have made this story so unsettling to the expert in the law (and everyone else) is that Jesus was saying that this "unclean" Samaritan was reflecting the compassion and love of God in a way that the religious leaders of Israel did not. We might have expected a parable telling how a Jew should show love to anybody, even to a Samaritan, but in fact Jesus shows how even a Samaritan may be nearer to the kingdom than a pious, but uncharitable, Jew.

The lawyer asked, ‘Who is my neighbour (i.e. the person whom I should help)?’ Jesus suggests that the real question is rather ‘Do I behave as a neighbour (i.e. a person who helps others)?’ D.A. Carson writes, “Failure to keep the commandment springs not from lack of information but from lack of love. It was not fresh knowledge that the lawyer needed, but a new heart—in plain English, conversion.”[1] How much more responsibility do we have who live on this side of the cross! We know things about the compassion and love of God which the priest and Levite had not yet seen.

Love for neighbor (the kind of love the Samaritan showed toward a stranger) is not the means by which we enter heaven. It is, however the responsibility of those who have received by God’s mercy the promise of heaven. The priest and Levite are proof that faithfulness to a creed is not enough if it locked away in a heart that lacks the compassion and love of God.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus is undermining the importance of status in the community of God’s people. Status in the kingdom of God has nothing to do with clerical titles or educational achievements. Status in God’s kingdom has to do with sacrificial love and humble service.

We also need to infer from this parable that the reality of salvation by grace alone through faith alone apart from any of our good works does not relieve us of the responsibility to do good works for the glory of God and the good of our fellow man. This is not about good works for the sake of our justification before God. It’s about good works joyfully offered because God in his lavish grace has justified us through the good work of Christ.

Jesus' parable is not meant to draw us into the drudgery of legalism. It is meant to coax us into the joy of lavishing compassion upon others as God has lavished compassion upon us.

The parable of The Good Samaritan is a wonderful invitation to us to search our hearts to see whether or not the compassion of God is being reproduced in our own lives. It can serve as a diagnostic tool, if you like, to determine the practical reality of our conversion or lack thereof.

Jesus asks the expert in the law a question: “Which one was the neighbor?” The man can’t even bring himself to say, “The Samaritan.” So he says, “The one who had compassion.” And in putting it like that, ironically, the reality is underscored all the more. God’s people will be recognized by their love; their compassion.

[1]Carson, D. A.: New Bible Commentary : 21st Century Edition. 4th ed. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA : Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, S. Lk 10:25

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Gospel and Deeds of Mercy

Don Carson has a good article in the latest edition of Themelios.
In many parts of the evangelical world, one hears a new debate—or, more precisely, new chapters in an old debate—regarding the precise place that "deeds of mercy" ought to have in Christian witness. I am not talking about the perennial debate between left-wing and right-wing economic solutions, that is, between those who think there will be more social justice and less poverty if the government takes a greater share of the nationally produced wealth and distributes it more equitably, and those who think there will be more social justice and less poverty where government legislation offers carrot-and-stick incentives to help people get off welfare rolls and become less dependent on initiative-killing generosity, while providing a safety net for those truly incapable of helping themselves. I am talking, rather, about the debate between those Christians who say that we should primarily be about the business of heralding the gospel and planting churches, and those who say that our responsibility as Christians extends to the relief of oppression, suffering, and poverty in all their forms.

Carson goes on to challenge Christians to keep in mind our calling to make the Gospel plain in all of its joy and sobriety. Deeds of mercy are a vital complement to the proclamation of the Gospel. If we neglect the Gospel, however, then we cease to be the church and we rob people of the news of eternity's greatest deed of mercy.
As long as you are prepared to plead with men and women to be reconciled to God and to flee the coming wrath, you are preserving something that is central in the Bible, something that is intimately and irrefragably tied to the gospel itself—and those who want to shunt such themes aside and focus only on the relief of present suffering will not want to have much to do with you. Thus you will be free to preach and teach the whole counsel of God and to relieve all suffering, temporal and eternal, without being drawn into endless alliances in which people never focus on anything beyond threescore years and ten.

Read the entire article HERE.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Taming the Tongue

At the Desiring God National Conference Sinclair Ferguson presented a stiring and God-exalting challenge. It came in the form of resolutions drawn directly from the book of James.

Read it. Love it. Live it.

James 1:5 To ask God for wisdom to speak and with a single mind
James 1:9-10 To boast only in exaltation in Christ, & humiliation in world
James 1:13 To set a watch over my mouth
James 1:19 To be constantly quick to hear, slow to speak
James 2:1-4 To learn the gospel way of speaking to poor and the rich
James 2:12 To speak always in the consciousness of the final judgment
James 2:16 To never stand on anyone’s face with my words
James 3:14 To never claim as reality something I do not experience
James 4:1 To resist quarrelsome words in order to mortify a quarrelsome heart
James 4:11 To never speak evil of another
James 4:13 To never boast in what I will accomplish
James 4:15 To always speak as one subject to the providences of God
James 5:9 To never grumble, knowing that the Judge is at the door
James 5:12 To never allow anything but total integrity in my speech
James 5:13 To speak to God in prayer whenever I suffer
James 5:14 To sing praises to God whenever I am cheerful
James 5:14 To ask for the prayers of others when I am sick
James 5:15 To confess it freely whenever I have failed
James 5:15 To pray with and for one another when I am together with others
James 5:19 To speak words of restoration when I see another wander

Take time to listen to Dr. Ferguson's message HERE.

Dr. Michael Horton

Take advantage of this great resource.

One of the blessings of the internet is that it provides Christians with access to wonderful teaching that once was limited to seminary students. Michael Horton is a wonderful gift to the church. His books range from the academic to the pastoral. I believe you will find his teaching to be challenging and edifying.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Why are so many quitting church?

A new book by Washington Times reporter Julia Duin examines the reasons behind why so many professing Christians are choosing to leave the church. The book Quiting Church promises to be an interesting and perhaps sobering study.

Duin writes:

There are paradoxes in this story, too. In recent decades, thriving megachurches have dominated the landscape, offering media-friendly services and chatty sermons in gigantic sanctuaries that give seekers a cushion of anonymity. But in 2007, the influential Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago found that many older members said they are now spiritually "stalled" or "dissatisfied."

Duin is convinced many evangelical churches are also struggling to deal with rising numbers of single adults and single-parent families. In 2005, a University of Virginia researcher found that 32 percent of married men and 38 percent of married women are churchgoers. But only 15 percent of single men and 23 percent of single women go to church.

There's another reality that is hard to put into statistics, said Duin.

Many believers have grown tired of quickie services, PowerPoint answers and pop lyrics. Many "quitters" she interviewed were yearning for intimate, down-to-earth churches where pastors and people knew their names. They'd been born again. Now they wanted to know how to face the doubts and pains of daily life. They wanted real spiritual growth.

Many candid believers, said Duin, "are perplexed and disappointed with God" and they found that when they asked tough questions, they "were not getting meaningful answers from their churches. In fact, they were encouraged not to talk about their pain. ...

The Spurgeon Fellowship Journal

Check out this issue of The Spurgeon Fellowship Journal. Good Stuff!

One article by Arturo Azurdia entitled "Is Methodology Neutral?" is particularly interesting (even important).

He writes:

Consider the nature of your calling, my brothers. The preacher brings to a fallen humanity the testimony of God centered on the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, a work that by nature shatters all human self-sufficiency. To employ methods, in turn, that reflect the wizardry of men is to eviscerate the gospel of its own content. If God has supremely disclosed Himself in the cross, and if following Jesus Christ means dying daily, then to adopt a style of ministry that is triumphalistic, designed to impress, and calculated to win acclaim is a serious contradiction of the gospel; perhaps, even, anti-Christian.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Just For Fun

J.I. Packer and John Piper on the ESV Study Bible

I have already ordered MY COPY. Click HERE to learn more.

Music Break

The Call was one of the best bands of 80's and early 90's. This song is from Reconciled.

My Sin for His Righteousness

“My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.”

The day before he died, J. Gresham Machen, founder of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia sent a telegram to his friend and colleague John Murray that read simply, “So thankful for the active obedience of Christ; no hope without it.” The “active obedience of Christ” is a reference to the perfect obedience of Jesus during his life as God incarnate. The words of the familiar hymn quoted above are an appropriate meditation on the fact that we are not only cleansed from our sin by the atoning death of Jesus but are credited with the righteousness of Jesus as well.

Both cleansing from sin through Christ’s death and the imputation of his active obedience are essential elements of our being justified before God. Most so-called evangelicals will not quibble with the first point. It is rather the second element, imputation that causes some stir. The controversy is due, at least in part to the fact that imputation and substitution are doctrines that belong together. Penal substitution, the doctrine that Christ bore our sins on the cross and received in himself the punishment we deserved, though clearly biblical, is always under attack by those who desire a moral example theology of the cross. In the words of Steve Chalk, an influential leader in the emergent church movement has written that the doctrine of penal substitution is “divine child abuse.”

Scripture, however, is rich in the language and imagery of substitution and imputation. When the priest symbolically imputed the sins of the people upon the scapegoat he was acting as a shadow of the substance to come in Christ’s work of imputation. Indeed the entire old covenant sacrificial system bore graphic testimony to the substitutionary work of God’s coming Messiah.

The prophets bore witness to the realities of substitution and imputation. Isaiah wrote, “We considered him stricken by God…The punishment that brought us peace was upon him…The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all…For the transgressions of my people he was stricken…It was the Lord’s will to crush him…The Lord makes his life a guilt offering (53:4-10).

In Romans chapter four Paul offers powerful commentary on Genesis 15:6: “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Paul writes, “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but his due. And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” (Rom. 4:4-5).

In chapter five Paul continues the theme of justification through the atoning death and active righteousness of Christ. “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (vv. 9-10).

Louis Berkhof wrote of both the “negative” and “positive” realities of our justification. On the negative side is “the remission of sins on the ground of the atoning work of Christ.” Berkhof was right to point out that Scripture makes it clear that “justification is more than mere pardon.” What is needed is “the active obedience of Christ” (Systematic Theology, 515).

Jonathan Edwards wrote that in justification God accepts “a person as having both a negative, and positive righteousness belonging to him.” Edwards’ reference to “positive righteousness” does not mean that the man or woman justified before God has come to embody perfect righteousness in their behavior. Rather, Edwards is pointing to the reality of imputation. God justifies sinners by crediting the righteousness of His beloved Son to them.

The Church of Rome grievously errs when it teaches that God infuses righteousness into sinners and then justifies them on the basis of their good deeds. This is a denial of the biblical doctrine of justification. It is why the doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone has been and continues to be anathema in the Roman Catholic Church.

The Heidelberg Catechism of 1563 states well the radical grace reflected in the biblical doctrines of substitution and imputation:
Question 60: How art thou righteous before God?
Answer: Only by true faith in Jesus Christ; that is, although my conscience accuse me that I have grievously sinned against all the commandments of God, and have never kept any of them, and that I am still prone always to all evil, yet God, without any merit of mine, of mere grace, grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never committed nor had any sin, and had myself accomplished all the obedience which Christ has fulfilled for me, if only I accept such benefit with a believing heart.

O Christ, what burdens bowed Thy head!
Our load was laid on Thee;
Thou stoodest in the sinner’s stead,
Didst bear all ill for me.
A victim led, Thy blood was shed;
Now there’s no load for me.

The Holy One did hide His face;
O Christ, ‘twas hid from Thee:
Dumb darkness wrapped Thy soul a space,
The darkness due to me.
But now that face of radiant grace
Shines forth in light on me.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Christianity and Politics

Take time to listen to this round table discussion on The White Horse Inn concerning Christianity and politics.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Out of Pocket

I am taking the next few days off. I'll be back in touch sometime after the weekend.



Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Politicians - Stop Using Jesus!

Nothing against them but Jesus was NOT a community organizer (whatever that is). He is Messiah, King, Lord, Servant, Sacrifice, and Savior. He did not come to make bad men good or good men better. He came to make dead men live.

I wish that politicians would stop dragging the name of Jesus through the political sewer. It is fine for a politician to profess faith in Christ (if it's genuine) but beyond that they should give expression to their faith by how they lead and serve. Their dalliances into theology are embarrassing at best, blasphemous at worst.

I am convinced that if Jesus walked the earth today He would refuse to associate himself with any political party. He would not campaign for Democrats or Republicans. It's quite possible that Jesus would prepare a whip just in case any of these yo yo's came into a church spouting their sentimental and self-aggrandizing platitudes.

Time To Panic?

Too often Christians respond to time of crisis with little discernable difference from those who do not know hope in Christ. This helpful post from Justin Taylor is designed to assist us in thinking biblically about the present banking crisis.

I think it is appropriate to pray for the economy. After all, God said to Jeremiah, "Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare" (Jeremiah 29:7). When the economy is strong, people are able to work and support their families, believers have greater opportunities for generosity, and many benefit from this common grace.

We can pray for integrity and wisdom for government officials who are faced with the incredibly complex task of regulating investment securities and banks in a way that is transparent and serves all of the varied stakeholders. We can pray that those who are willing to work will be able to find gainful employment. We can pray that greed would be restrained at all levels, from the leaders on Wall Street to individual families tempted to live beyond their means. We can pray for ourselves that we will participate in the national economy that keeps in mind the time is short and the present form of this world is passing away (1 Corinthians 7: 29-31).

- David Kotter

Music Break

Gotta love The Band!

This is from "The Last Waltz" the greatest concert film ever made.


I read this over at Reformation 21:

"According to The Sunday Times (9/14/08), the British government has incorporated Islamic law into the British legal system by establishing five sharia courts. The judgments of these courts are now enforceable with the full power of British law, running all the way up through the High Court. This is only the latest step in the Islamicization of Britain. The results will be especially damaging to women, since many of the disputes that end up before sharia tribunals are domestic, and the rights of women are dramatically restricted under Islamic law."

- Phil Ryken

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Dealing with Adversity

Terry Johnson, pastor of the Independent Presbyterian Church in Savanah, Georgia is one of my favorite writers. In his wonderful book When Grace Comes Home he demonstrates how the doctrines of grace are not simply theological lumber but they actually apply beautifully and profoundly to our lives. When you get a chance check out THIS LINK to chapter four which speaks to the issue of God's goodness and sovereignty in our darkest moments. It is powerful stuff!

"In 1858, a gifted young Presbyterian missionary named John G. Paton sailed with his wife and infant son to the New Hebrides in the South Pacific to begin missionary work among the islanders. Within a few months of arrival, both his infant son and his wife had died, leaving him to labor alone.

"In August 1876, a gifted young theologian names Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield and his bride were honeymooning in Germany. While sightseeing in the Black Forest region, they were suddenly caught in a severe storm, and something that was never quite explained happened to his bride, rendering her an invalid for the rest of their lives together.

"In the 1950s the Independent Presbyterian Church of Savannah congregation called a young preacher to take the reigns of a very divided church. He came with his wife and their five children, the youngest only three years old. Within a year and a half, Anton Van Puffelen developed a brain tumor, and in just over two years after he started his work in Savannah the Rev. Van Puffelen was dead.

"How do you explain these things? Perhaps just as baffling, how do you explain the responses of these individuals? John G. Patton stayed on the field and reaped a great harvest, later saying:

I built the grave round and round with coral blocks, and covered the top with beautiful white coral, broken small gravel; and that spot became my sacred and much frequented shrine, during all the following months and years when I labored on for the salvation of these savage Islanders amidst difficulties, dangers and deaths. Whensoever Tanna turns to the Lord, and is won for Christ, man in after-days will find the memory of that spot still green – where with ceaseless prayers and tears I claimed that the land for God in which I hand ‘buried my dead’ with faith and hope.

"Warfield cared for his wife the remaining forty years of their adult life together, humbly, submissively, without complaint, without self-pity, without justifying a need for his own fulfillment, fulfilling his marital vows, doing his duty toward his wife.

"‘Mrs. Van,’ as she was known in Savannah, gentle and meek on the surface, touch as nails underneath, began to teach in the Independent Presbyterian Day School and reared her five children at tremendous self-sacrifice, again without complaint.

"What was the key in each of these situations? The key is that each believed in the sovereignty of God. Each understood God’s justice, His mercy, His absolute rule, and each received their circumstances as from his hand for their good and submitted to it.

"Still, how do you explain adversity? How do you deal with the suffering that is in the world? Granted that it takes time for our emotions to catch up with our minds, that there are no ‘easy’ answers, and that when we answer the ‘why’ question we must do so not simplistically or matter of factly; yet we do have an explanation for suffering that works and makes room for comfort in the world of pain."

- Terry Johnson from When Grace Comes Home.

The Church of England Apologizes to...Charles Darwin!

Just when you thought the near vaudevillian atmosphere in the Anglican Communion couldn't get worse they go one better. Now they have issued an apology to Charles Darwin. Do they know he's dead? You can read an article about it HERE.

Deletetd Post

I deleted the last post (a video of Jack Van Impe) because I noticed that after the video there was a link to something inappropriate. Oh well. It was funny (and sad) stuff.

I have been reading a wonderful book by Paul Zahl entitled Who Will Deliver Us? It is about the blessings of Christ's substitutionary atonement. Do you ever wonder if Christ's work on the cross has any relevance beyond your enternal salvation? Zahl does an excellent job of encouraging the reader with "the present power of the death of Christ."

I am a little like the duck hunter who was hunting with his friend in a wide-open barren of land in southeastern Georgia. Far away on the horizon he noticed a cloud of smoke. Soon he could hear the sound of crackling. A wind came up, and he realized the terrible truth: a brushfire was advancing his way. It was moving so fast that he and his friend could not outrun it. The hunter began to rifle through his pockets. The he emptied all the contents of his knapsack. He soon found what he was
looking for - a book of matches. To his friend's amazement, he pulled out a match and struck it. He lit a small fire around them the two of them. Soon they were standing in a small circle of blackened earth, waiting for the fire to come. They did not have to wait long. They covered their mouths with their handkerchiefs and braced themselves. The fire came near - and swept over them. But they were completely unhurt. They weren't even touched. Fire would not pass where fire had passed.

The law is like the brushfire. I cannot escape it. But if I stand in the burned-over place, where the law has already burned its way through, then I will not be hurt. Not a hair of my head will be singed. The death of Christ is the burned-over place. There I huddle, hardly believing yet relieved. I believe in the atonement. The law is powerless: Christ's death has disarmed it. 'Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!'

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Common Grace and The Blues

Stephen Nichols new book Getting the Blues promises to be a good read. The subtitle of the book is "What Blues Music Teaches Us about Suffering and Salvation." The idea that God communicates truth and beauty through music, art, science, etc is what is known as "common grace." By God's grace believer and unbeliever alike may enjoy the beauty of great art and the benefit of scientific advances. Anyway, I encourage you to read Dr. Nichols. He writes smart, accessable books.

More good stuff from Stephen Nichols:

Tim Keller speaks at Google

Thank You Metro East

What a great time we had today at Andover Central High School! I love having all of us together in one service. Thanks to all those who prepared the contintental breakfast and the lunch. You served us very well. Thanks also to those who labored to ensure that the music was oustanding. Jason, musicians, and singers - Thank you!

A very special thank you for all your kindness expressed to me today. It is hard for me to believe that I have been the pastor of Metro East for nine years. I am so grateful to God for bringing me to this church. You have been a consistent source of encouragement to me. You have allowed me to flourish in that which God has called me. At the same time you have shown remarkable patience with me in my weaknesses. It is a blessed thing to be the pastor of Metro East Baptist Church.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Ray Boltz and Romans 1

Sad news has come to light about Ray Boltz. He has announced that he is a homosexual. You can read a brief article from Christianity Today HERE.

“This is what it really comes down to,” he says. “If this is the way God made me, then this is the way I’m going to live. It’s not like God made me this way and he’ll send me to hell if I am who he created me to be … I really feel closer to God because I no longer hate myself.”

His reasoning is well described by Paul in Romans one.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to
impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:18-32)

Make no mistake. Ray Boltz knows that homosexuality is a sin just like I know that lust and pride are sins. The answer is not to adjust what God has said in order to suit my lifestyle. Rather, as a new creation in Christ I am not only able to rightly discern the sin I harbor in my life but I am blessed with the means by which I may effectively fight against my sinful impulses. Those means include, but are not limited to the continued washing in God's Word, the fellowship of God's people, and the ongoing sanctification of the Holy Spirit.

This does not mean that battling against homosexual impulses is an easy thing. Indeed, who of us would call it easy to battle against pride, addiction, or covetousness? Is it loving to say to the addict, "This is the way God made you. Instead of fighting it why don't you just embrace it?" Would we say the same thing to one struggling with arrogance or materialism?

There is hope for Ray Boltz but it must involve repentance. Perhaps in his kindness God will give him some brothers in Christ who will speak to him the truth and walk with him through his struggle.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Liam Goligher

One of my favorite books in the last couple of years is "The Jesus Gospel" by Liam Goligher. It is a tremendously helpful and insightful unfolding of God's redemptive purposes as revealed in Scripture. He effectively demonstrates how the Gospel runs like a thread throughout God's Word. As you read you will not only gain a deeper understanding of the Bible but will freshly revel in the good news of Jesus.

I am looking forward to reading Dr. Goligher's newest book "Joseph: The Hidden Hand of God".

When you get a chance listen to Dr. Goligher's excellent sermon on Isaiah 40 HERE.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Abortion as a means to improve the species

Leave it to Joycelyn Elders to elucidate the moral goodness of abortion. Tucker Carlson, writing for The Daily Standard website points out how abortion has become a form of eugenics.

Commenting on the horrific moral reasoning of the former Surgeon General Carlson writes:

Testifying before Congress in the spring of 1990, Arkansas state health director Joycelyn Elders took an unusual tack in her defense of legal abortion. "Abortion," she said, "has had an important, and positive, public- health effect," in that it has reduced "the number of children afflicted with severe defects." As evidence, the future surgeon general cited this statistic: "The number of Down's Syndrome infants in Washington state in 1976 was 64 percent lower than it would have been without legal abortion."

Her remark went all but unnoticed at the time and has received little attention since, even during Elders's contentious tenure as surgeon general in the Clinton administration. But it was a significant statement nonetheless, if only because it represents one of the few occasions on which a public health official has publicly acknowledged the eugenic utility of abortion. Terminating a pregnancy, Elders argued, is not simply a difficult personal decision, an agonizing last resort. When guided by public-health objectives, abortion can also be a positive act -- a means of improving the species.

Read the entire article HERE.

Thanks to Justin Taylor for posting a link to this article.

A Christian who believes in hell!?

Al Mohler has commented on a piece by Lisa Miller in Newsweek. Apparently it is a shocker to Miss Miller that an evangelical preacher (Sarah Palin's pastor) believes in hell as well as the necessity for faith in Christ if one is to be saved. It says a lot about the increasingly post-Christian nature of our culture that these fundamental, biblical doctrines are now worthy of headlines.

Mohler writes:

Of course, belief in hell as the just punishment of the impenitent is part and parcel of historic biblical Christianity. Taken at face value, the belief that "anyone who isn't saved by Jesus" faces the verdict of hell is as normative as any other Christian belief.

There is no way to read the New Testament without encountering the very clear message about the reality of hell. "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul," Jesus warned. "Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell" [Matthew 10:28].

Read the rest of Mohler's post HERE.

Recommended Reading:

Why Baptists Don't Dance

Thanks to Justin Taylor for finding this little gem.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Horton Interviews Sproul

Michael Horton's upcoming book "Christless Christianity" is going to be well worth the read.

Free Stuff!

One of the advantages of the internet is the kinds of resources available for Christians. To be sure there is a lot, and I mean a lot of junk out there. But there are also some outstanding resources. Here are three great places to find some of the best theological instruction and biblical preaching in the world today:

Covenant Theological Seminary

Faith By Hearing

Monergism MP3's

"The megachurch story is not really about growth"

Check out this interesting article from USA Today.

The unchurched remain untouched. While the number of people who say they attend at least once a week hovers around 30% year after year, the number who say they "never" go to church climbs.

The tally of "Nevers" varies from 16% in Gallup surveys to 22% in the General Social Survey, conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, to 32% in an Ellison Research survey this year. The new "Nevers" come from the pool of people who once attended monthly or a few times a year.

Many slide away from church to find other answers to their spiritual quest or another church where the preaching or music or family programs better suit their style.

"The megachurch story is not really about growth, it's about shifting allegiances. People want to feel good about who they already are," says Philip Goff, director of the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture at Indiana University in Indianapolis. "If church is too challenging or not entertaining, they'll move on."

Just when you think you've seen it all...

Can anyone explain to me the appeal of this junk? Are people truly this gullible? Why is he oinking?

Neighbor Love

This Sunday I am preaching on Jesus' parable of "The Good Samaritan". It can be a tricky text because of the ease with which we can make it a law unto salvation by which we justify ourselves before God. This was the same error the expert in the law was making. At the same time, if we are thinking honestly about it, who among us can truly be justified before God on the basis of our obedience to love our neighbor as ourself? How often do any of us love anyone with the same love with which we love ourselves? How often have we loved an enemy this way? How often have we loved our spouse this way? It is no wonder that Scripture tells us that by works of the law no one will be justified before God.

I saw the following posted over at Justin Taylor's blog. It is an excellent meditation by John Piper on the Christian's responsibility to serve others without expecting anything in return.

Why do Christians walk through life feeling a humble sense that we owe service to people, rather than them owing us? The answer is that Christ loved us and died for us and forgave us and accepted us and justified us and gave us eternal life and made us heirs of the world when he owed us nothing. He treated us as worthy of his service, when we were not worthy of his service. He took thought not only for his own interests but for ours. He counted us as greater than himself: “Who is the greater,” he said, “one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves” (Luke 22:27).

That is where our humility comes from. We feel overwhelmed by God’s grace: bygone grace in the cross and moment-by-moment arriving grace promised for our everlasting future. Christians are stunned into lowliness. Freely you have been served, freely serve.

So the crucial relational mark of the culture of our church should be Philippians 2:4: Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” This is the “mind” or the “mindset” that we should have in life together. This is the relational atmosphere where God will grant wisdom for the perplexing work of living n this world.

John Piper

Redefining the Church?

There are a chorus of voices within evangelicalism that call for the redefining, rethinking, or reimagining of the church. I first became aware of this in the late 1980's as a student in Bible college. For a young guy who thought he knew everything it sounded right. "Everything must change!" I was absolutely convinced by the pragmatic arguments of the church marketers. The call was to change the methods but not the message. What we have come to learn however is that there is a closer connection between the medium and message than we previously believed.

More recently the call for change is coming from the emergent church "conversation". Where they differ from the church marketers is that they make no pretense about not changing the message. Brian MacLaren has written in Leadership Journal that he and his fellows in the emergent church are dedicated to changing both the methods and the message of the church. I appreciate the honesty. While the emergent church is spot on in some of its critiques of the contemporary church I find their prescriptions to be dangerous. The fact is, we are not called to redefine or reimagine the church as if God has not already told us in His Word who the church is and what the church is to do.

In his brilliant book The Courage to Be Protestant David Wells writes:

"[We] do not need to be rethinking the visible church. Today, prodigious amounts of energy are being poured into this effort. Everything about the church must be rethought! we must rethink how it becomes successful! We must rethink it all because this is what businesses have to do! Their products are all the time dying as new niches and needs arise. So it is in the church! Rethink or die!

In my view, so much of this rethinking confuses rethinking the nature of the church with rethinking its performance. For the multitude of pragmatists who are leading churches in America today, these are one and the same thing. The church is nothing but its performance. There is nothing to be said about the church that cannot be reduced to how it is doing, and that is a matter for constant inventories, poll taking, daily calculations, and strategizing.

I beg to differ. These are two entirely different matters. We intrude into what is not our business when, in our earnest pursuit of success in the church, which we think we can manufacture, we confuse its performance with its nature. Let me explain.

The church is not our creation. it is not our business. We are not called upon to manage it. It is not there for us to advance our careers in it. It is not there for our own success. It is not a business. The church, in fact, was never our idea in the first place. No, it is not the church we need to rethink.

Rather, it is our thoughts about the church that need to be rethought. It is the church's faithfulness that needs to be reexamined. It is its faithfulness to who it is in Christ, its faithfulness in living out its life in the world, that should be occupying us. The church, after all, is not under our management but under God's sovereign care, and what he sees as health is very often rather different from what we imagine its health to be.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Tabletalk Online

One of my favorite magazines is Tabletalk which is published by Ligonier Ministries. You can read the latest issue online HERE. Each issue is filled with great articles and a month's worth of daily Bible readings and commentary. I highly recommend Tabletalk as a resource for sharpening your theological and biblical knowlege.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Sarah Palin and Clashing Worldviews

I read two very helpful articles today that I thought I would pass along to you.

The first is from Charles Colson who invites us to be somewhat introspective about the choices we would make if faced with similar circumstances as the Palins.

Colson speculates as to why the selection of Sarah Palin as GOP vice presidential nominee has causes such an uproar. He writes:

I believe it is this: In the life of Sarah Palin, we see the clash of worldviews playing out before our own eyes. Consider every major controversial issue in American politics and culture right now . . . and somehow, they touch her personally. Start with the most obvious: abortion.

Palin, a mother of five, is staunchly pro-life. And, as you know by now, her fifth child, Trig, has Down syndrome. Knowing full well the challenges such a baby would become, Mrs. Palin chose to bring the baby to term. Then, over the weekend, the Palin family announced that their oldest daughter was pregnant out-of-wedlock—and that the daughter would have the baby...

Would your belief in the sanctity of life have stood the test if you had found yourself in the Palins’ situation? Either as a middle-aged working mom, or as the father of a pregnant teenage girl? How supportive is your church of young, unwed mothers?

Read Colson's entire post HERE.

The second article worth checking out is from Andy Crouch over at "Culture Making."
Andy writes:

Upwards of 85 percent of parents who receive a prenatal diagnosis of Down Syndrome elect to terminate the pregnancy, according to several studies in the peer-reviewed journal Prenatal Diagnosis. A 1999 British study in that journal found the termination rate to be between 91 and 93 percent. When I was a teenager in the 1980s, I remember seeing many people my age and younger who had the distinctive facial and behavioral characteristics of Down children. These days I rarely see a Down Syndrome child at all.

What is peculiar about Down Syndrome as a reason for termination is that, plainly put, you rarely meet a Down Syndrome “sufferer” who is notably unhappy. The condition has a range of manifestations, some more disabling than others, but many, many persons with Down Syndrome thrive as children and adults, even if they may not have the same range of capabilities as you or I do.

Read Crouch's entire post HERE.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The "Culture War" is getting interesting again

From Peggy Noonan's article in the Wall Street Journal:

I'll tell you how powerful Mrs. Palin already is: she reignited the culture wars just by showing up. She scrambled the battle lines, too. The crustiest old Republican men are shouting "Sexism!" when she's slammed. Pro-woman Democrats are saying she must be a bad mother to be all ambitious with kids in the house. Great respect goes to Barack Obama not only for saying criticism of candidates' children is out of bounds in political campaigns, but for making it personal, and therefore believable. "My mother had me when she was eighteen…" That was the lovely sound of class in American politics.

Let me say of myself and almost everyone I know in the press, all the chattering classes and political strategists and inside dopesters of the Amtrak Acela Line: We live in a bubble and have around us bubble people. We are Bubbleheads. We know this and try to compensate for it by taking road trips through the continent -- we're on one now, in Minneapolis -- where we talk to normal people. But we soon forget the pithy, knowing thing the garage mechanic said in the diner, and anyway we weren't there long enough in the continent to KNOW, to absorb. We view through a prism of hyper-sophistication, and judge by the rules of Chevy Chase and Greenwich, of Cleveland Park and McLean, of Bronxville and Manhattan.

And again we know this, we know this is our limit, our lack.

But we also forget it.

And when you forget you're a Bubblehead you get in trouble, you misjudge things. For one thing, you assume evangelical Christians will be appalled and left agitated by the circumstances of Mrs. Palin's daughter. But modern American evangelicals are among the last people who'd judge her harshly. It is the left that is about to go crazy with Puritan judgments; it is the right that is about to show what mellow looks like. Religious conservatives know something's wrong with us, that man's a mess. They are not left dazed by the latest applications of this fact. "This just in – there's a lot of sinning going on out there" is not a headline they'd understand to be news.

So the media's going to wait for the Christian right to rise up and condemn Mrs. Palin, and they're not going to do it because it's not their way, and in any case her problems are their problems. Christians lived through the second half of the 20th century, and the first years of the 21st. They weren't immune from the culture, they just eventually broke from it, or came to hold themselves in some ways apart from it. I think the media will explain the lack of condemnation as "Republican loyalty" and "talking points." But that's not what it will be.

Contemporary Preaching's Infatuation with Technology

Yesterday I received from a friend a copy of Al Mohler's new book on preaching - He Is Not Silent. If you are a preacher then do yourself and your congregation a favor and read this book. I have been devouring it. In the opening chapter Mohler makes a point about a current trend in preaching that for many is simply a fresh and effective way to communicate with contemporary audiences. The issue is the use of video and various other images in the preaching event.

Mohler writes:

Contemporary preaching suffers from an infatuation with technology.

The French philosospher Jacques Ellul was truly prophetic when he pointed to the rise of technology and technique as one of the greatest challenges to Christian faithfulness in our times. We live in a day of technological hubris and the ubiquity of technological assistance. We are engaged in few tasks, physical or mental, that are now unassisted by some form of technology. For most of us, the use of these technologies comes with little attentiveness to how the technology reshapes the task and the experience. The same is true for preachers who have rushed to incorporate visual technology and media in the preaching event.

The effort is no doubt well intended, driven by a missiological concern to reach persons whose primary form of 'mental transport' has become visual. Thus, preachers use clips from films, dynamic graphics, and other eye-catching technologies to gain and hold the congregation's attention. But the danger of this approach is seen in the fact that the visual quickly overcomes the verbal. Beyond this, the visual is often directed toward a very narrow slice of human experience, particularly focused on the affective and emotional aspects of our perception. Movies move us by the skillful manipulation of emotion, driven by sound track and manipulated by skillful directing techniques.

This is exactly where the preacher must not go. The power of the Word of God, spoken through the human voice, is seen in the Bible's unique power to penetrate all dimensions of the human personality. As God made clear, even the Ten Commandments, He has chosen to be heard and not seen. The use of visual technologies threatens to confuse this basic fact of biblical faith.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Violence against Christians in India

Phil Johnson over at Pyromaniacs has posted two important articles about recent anti-Christian violence in India (Here & Here).

One particularly moving passage is Johnson's retelling of the martyrdom of Graham Staines and his two sons in 1999.

"Jungle Camp" was an annual event in Manoharpur; Staines had been organizing them there for fourteen years. Graham and his sons were well known and well loved by the villagers there, and he would teach them every year on a broad range of subjects ranging from public health and hygiene to the gospel, which he proclaimed
unapologetically, but without pressuring villagers for conversions. Nevertheless, some 22 low-caste families had reportedly converted to Christianity over the years, and Hindu radicals in the surrounding district used the charge of "forced conversions" to incite hostility against Staines's work.

Sometime in the early-morning hours of January 23, a mob of more than 100 angry Hindu radicals approached the vehicle where Graham Staines, nine-year-old Philip, and seven-year-old Timothy were sleeping. The group surrounded the automobile,
trapping Staines and his sons inside. They doused it with gasoline and then torched it, burning Staines and his two young sons alive. According to a short news item featured in Christianity Today a couple of months later, "As the flames engulfed the vehicle, the mob danced and some shouted, 'Justice has been done; the Christians have been cremated in Hindu fashion.' The mob kept would-be rescuers at bay for more than an hour until making sure the missionary and his sons had died."

Please remember and pray for our brothers and sisters in India and the other places around the world where it is not always "safe" to labor for the Gospel.

Finally! A book on sanctification

Tim Chester's new book, You Can Change, promises to be well worth the reading. I am a fan of Chester's writing. His books Total Church, Delighting in the Trinity, and From Creation to New Creation are outstanding.

Of You Can Change Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church writes, "A book about Christian growth that is neither quietistic nor moralistic is rare. A book that truly practical is even rarer. Tim Chester's new volume falls into both categories and therefore fills a gap."

Paul Tripp calls the book "shockingly honest, carefully theological, and gloriously hopeful...The carefully crafted personal 'reflection' and 'change project' sections are worth the price of the book by themselves."

Take and read!

Monday, September 1, 2008

What Price Relevance?

The August 31st edition of the Washington Post featured a front page article on the preaching of pastor Robert Seagears of Christ Chapel Mountaintop in Virginia.

Here is an exerpt:

"Good morning, Mountaintop!" he growled to the congregation before launching into his Sunday sermon based on the R-rated, curse-filled Hollywood hit "Tropic Thunder." The audience chuckled at his grizzly soldier act, and gave him some loud "Amens!"

If there were an Oscar for sermons, Seagears would be a contender. There's his "Dark Knight" performance, when he roared up to the pulpit astride a Suzuki motorcycle, dressed like Batman. And his whip-cracking Indiana Jones, and his green-suited Hulk.

Perhaps most memorable was when he bumbled out wearing a ratty wig and a blood-red smile across his face, ranting like a maniac. "When I went into the church as the Joker, there was complete silence," Seagears recalled fondly. "People were stunned because I was acting as if I was evil."

Seagears bases each week's message on the highest-grossing movie the previous weekend. He sees the movie, then prays about how to extract a biblical message.

He has had to see movies with violence and language he would otherwise avoid. Last month he saw "Hellboy II: the Golden Army," in which an evil prince seeks to resurrect an indestructible army to take over the Earth by assembling pieces of a magical crown.

We, too, have invaluable crowns, Seagears preached, rewards God has prepared for those who love and serve him faithfully.

Is this what must be done in order to be relevant? Is the pastor's job to disguise truth in a "fun" wrapper? What does this sort of thing communicate about the gravity of truth and the Gospel?

Any thoughts?

I am reminded of Charles Spurgeon's Feeding Sheep or Amusing Goats.