Friday, February 29, 2008
The following is an excerpt from Iain Murray's article:
Between 1875 and 1892 George Müller travelled the world preaching with seven objectives in view. The fourth of these was, "To promote among all true believers, brotherly love; to lead them to make less of those non-essentials in which disciples differ, and to make more of those great essential truth and foundation truths in which all true believers are united."
No real Christian could discount such an aim. Yet since these words were spoken no great advances have been made toward attaining this goal. How is that to be explained? I offer some reasons:
1. Unity has too often been pursued by those who are not advocates of the "great foundation truths." "Unity"— interpreted as organisational oneness—has been treated as a good remedy to stop the decline of Christian influence, with "fellowship" given priority over "doctrine," contrary to Acts 2:41.
2. The quest for unity around personalities and preachers (the threat in the Corinthian church) is never lasting, although it may seem to have short-lived success.
3. Müller’s call "to make less of non-essentials" is not exactly straightforward, and the very phrase is liable to misinterpretation. True believers do disagree over some issues in Scripture—church government and the ordinance of baptism, for a start. Yet history has shown that all attempts to downplay these distinctives, and thus to end denominations, are going to fail. Believers are going to hold convictions on all that Scripture reveals. The policy of John Wesley and others to deem anything "not fundamental" as "mere opinion" is not good enough. Given the imperfect understanding of all Christians, and the need for corporate agreement on some secondary issues, denominations of one kind or another will remain. Better for us to accept this fact and, as J.C. Ryle says, keep the walls as low as possible and shake hands over them often. This is not to deny that the distinction between secondary and fundamental truths, while not always easy to determine, is an important one.
4. Christians agree that unity is the gift of the Holy Spirit (Eph 4:3). It follows that when believers experience more of his grace and power, the bond between them will grow. Conversely, what William Hamilton once said is true, "The more carnal a Christian is, the more sectarian he will be." An outpouring of the Spirit always brings greater unity. What Daniel Baker reported as happening in the revival at Beaufort, South Carolina, was true in many parts of the States at the time of the Second Great Awakening: "The effect no one can conceive who was not present. Politics were laid aside; business stood still ... The union of sects produced on the occasion was not the least striking feature of the event. Distinctions were laid aside. Christians of all denominations met and worshipped together; indiscriminately in either church, and the cordiality of their mutual attachment was a living commentary on the great precept of their Teacher, ‘Love one another.’"
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
"Suspense is dreadful. When we have no news from home, we are apt to grow anxious and we cannot be persuaded that 'no news is good news.' Faith is the cure for this condition of sadness: the Lord by his Spirit settles the mind in holy serenity, and all fear is gone as to the future as well as the present.
"The fixedness of heart spoken of by the Psalmist is to be diligently sought after. It is not believing this or that promise of the Lord, but the general condition of unstaggering trustfulness in our God, the confidence which we have in him that he will neither do us ill himself, nor suffer anyone else to harm us. This constant confidence meets the unknown as well as the known of life. Let the morrow be what it may, our God is the God of tomorrow. Whatever events may have happened which to us are unknown, our Jehovah is God of the unknown as well as the of the known. We are determined to trust the Lord, come what may. If the very worst should happen, our God is still the greatest and best. Therefore will we not fear though the postman's knock should startle us, or a telegram wake us at midnight. The Lord liveth, and what can his children fear?"
from the February 27th entry of "The Check Book of the Bank of Faith"
Thursday, February 28, 2008
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
"First, 'Be holy, for I am holy'. At one level, our holiness is the condition of His presence. Our unholiness repels Him. But the reasoning is probably deeper than that. To be unholy is to run the risk of causing His wrath to burn - not now from the comparative remoteness of Mt. Sinai, but from within ourselves. His anger will burn in His temple - 'which temple you are' (1 Cor. 3:16ff). But why will His anger burn so fiercely against His own people - more fiercely against them than against 'the rest'? Because their unholiness compromises Him. He is their God. They bear His name. They must therefor hallow it; and when they do not, He is jealous for the sake of His name.
"Secondly, the vision of God's holiness is the basis of Christian service. We usually find the basis of our evangelism in the perception of human need and this is not to be dismissed as altogether irrelevant. But it is not the main emphasis of Scripture. Time and again the Bible indicates that the true constraint to prophetic testimony is an overwhelming and abiding vision of the holiness of God. It was so in the case of Isaiah - he 'goes' because he has seen the Lord high and lifted up (Isaiah 6:1). Similarly, compliance with 'the great commission' springs from the vision of the Lord as the One who has all the authority in heaven and earth (Matt 28:18). In the same way, Paul preached Christ among the Gentiles because it had 'pleased God to reveal His Son in me' (Gal. 1:16) - a revelation of such overwhelming force that it had laid him prostrate and helpless on the Damascus Road.
"Finally, the holiness of God must regulate and inform our worship. We are approaching the august and majestic One. our approach cannot, therefore, be flipant or trivial. It must be tremulous and respectful, even in its moments of greatest boldness. We must come with pure hearts and sprinkled consciences (Heb. 10:22). Above all, we must realize that we approach only by invitation and that the important thing is not to come in a way that we find enjoyable or enterntaining, but to come int he spirit, attitude and posture that He commands. Our Father, indeed: but our heavenly Father."
from Behold Your God by Donald Macleod
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
“For example, the only reason it makes sense to do good to your enemies is that the One who has told us to is a God of perfect justice. The call to forgive sacrificially is rooted in God’s promise to provide for all of our needs. Every command and principle has its roots in redemptive realities – what God has done and will do for us in Christ. This is theology – but it’s certainly not abstract information. Scripture is full of theology because when you understand the truth about God, you understand why and how you are to carry out the commands of Scripture. You understand how your actions connect with what God is doing, and how you can actually bring glory to his name."
– Paul Tripp, War of Words, pp. 69-70.
On Sunday Larry Norman the "Father of Christian Rock" died. Norman's heyday was when Christian music was truly interesting and the artists were truly interested in ministry and evangelism (Keith Green, 2nd Chapter of Acts, Randy Stonehill, etc).
"And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life, says this: 'I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan." (Revelation 2:8)
... Poverty as a consequence of slander and accusations .... The source of their persecution: the Romans. Fomenting the Roman persecution was the inciting accusations of ethnic Israelites about whom Jesus here says are not worthy of that ancient and honorable name. "I know the slander [blasphemy] by those who say they are Jews and are not." My friends that is a profoundly important statement. When we watch the flow of redemptive history, the storyline of the Bible unfold and we move from the epic of promise into the epic of fulfillment, God's people are no longer defined genealogically, they are defined Christologically ... Christocentrically. You say "what do you mean?" True Jews are those who follow Jesus as their Messiah. They are characterized by a birth not of the flesh, but of the Spirit. They are marked out by a circumcision not of the flesh but of the heart. So who then are these people? These people who claim to be Jews by virtue of their bloodline, but according to Jesus himself, they are not. Jesus defines them for us: "They are a synagogue of Satan." It is like what Jesus says to the unbelieving Pharisees in John chapter 8, who claimed the paternity of Abraham. He says: "You are of your father the devil." You see beloved, this is why we need to think clearly at this point. This is what is so utterly wrong today when people refer to the Judeo-Christian God. [They say] "Christians and Jews really in the end worship the same God." NO! ...To reject Jesus Christ is to reject the full and final revelation of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The truth is there is no such thing as an orthodox Jew, beloved, unless he is a Christian because if the Jews really believed in the Old Testament they would believe in Jesus Christ. If a person does not believe in Jesus Christ then, according to John chapter 5, then he does not believe in Moses either. "Moses spoke of me," Jesus said. And so Paul says in Romans chapter 2 "A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly nor is circumcision merely outward and physical", no "a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly and circumcision is circumcision of the heart by the Spirit not the written code."
Now friends, people often ask me, "Do you believe that the church replaces Israel. The answer is "no of course not!!!" The church does not replace Israel. The fact is, Jewish people who reject Jesus Christ are apostate from Israel. Following Jesus Christ is the ultimate expression of true Judaism. Everything in the Old Testament pointed to Him. Israel and the church, then, are not in radical discontinuity, rather, the later is the consummated expression of the former. Beloved, a failure to appreciate that has profoundly determined strange things in our [own] country. By virtue of the influence of American evangelicalism we say silly things like "Always side with Israel, no matter what Israel does always side with Israel. God will take care of America if we always side with Israel. They are God's people." [But] Jesus says they are a synagogue of Satan. And is there a reason then why American evangelicals are notoriously ineffective in their evangelism of Arabs?
[Jesus is] The full, final, ultimate expression of Judaism. You are Abraham's seed. C'mon ... Tear those pages out of your study Bibles.
Excerpt from Dr. Arturo Azurdia III's 81 part series on the Book of Revelation.
Related Resources:Do Jews Have a Divine Right in the Promised Land? by John Piper
on that righteousness must he rest; on that righteousness must he live;
on that righteousness must he die; in that righteousness must he appear
before the judgment-seat;
in that righteousness must he stand for ever in the presence of a righteous God.”
- Richard Haldane, quoted by Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace
There is nothing that escapes the power of God. He commands and the rains fall. He calls and the winds obey Him. The Bible always attributes the workings of nature as the work of God. Not once does the Bible attribute even something as common as rain to any power other than God Himself. A biblical world-view does not have separate categories for what God does and what “naturally” occurs in the world. Indeed, the Bible tells us that it is God who holds all things together (Colossians ). He holds subatomic particles together. He causes rain and drought.
Now, we may distinguish between God’s ordinary works and His special works. But make no mistake. The world runs by the power of God. It is the power of God that keeps us from disintegrating. It is the power of God that brings about both blessing and calamity. All too often we like to think that God does the nice things but the unpleasant things are somehow beyond Him. But is this the testimony of God?
See now that I myself am He!
There is no god besides me.
I put to death and I bring to life,
I have wounded and I will heal,
and no one can deliver out of my hand. (Deut. 32:39)
The Lord does whatever pleases Him,
in the heavens and on the earth,
in the seas and all their depths.
He makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth;
He sends lightning with the rain
and brings out the wind from His storehouses. (Psa. 135:6-7)
He sends His command to the earth;
His word runs swiftly.
He spreads the snow like wool
and scatters the frost like ashes.
He hurls down His hail like pebbles.
Who can withstand His icy blast?
He sends His word and melts them;
He stirs up breezes and the waters flow. (Psa. 147:15-18)
The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord. (Prov. 16:33)
Who has done this [stirring up an eastern warrior to conquer nations]
and carried it through,
calling forth the generations from the beginning?
I, the Lord – with the first of them
and with the last – I am He. (Isa. 41:4)
I, even I, am the Lord,
and apart from me there is no savior.
I have revealed and saved and proclaimed –
I, and not some foreign god among you.
‘You are my witnesses,’ declares the Lord, ‘that I am God.
Yes, and from ancient days I am He.
No one can deliver out of my hand.
When I act, who can reverse it?’ (Isa. 43:11-13)
I form the light and create darkness,
I bring prosperity and create disaster;
I, the Lord, do all these things. (Isa. 45:7)
I say: My purpose will stand,
and I will do all that I please. (Isa. 46:10)
All the peoples of the earth
are regarded as nothing.
He does as He pleases
with the powers of heaven
and the peoples of the earth.
No one can hold back his hand
or say to Him: ‘What have you done?’ (Dan. 4:35)
Theologian John Frame writes in his “The Doctrine of God”:
“Jesus emphasizes that this divine control extends to the smallest details. He teaches us that our heavenly Father not only makes the sun rise and sends rain (Matt. 5:45), but also feeds the birds (6:26), clothes the lilies (6:28-30), accounts for the falling of sparrows, and numbers the hairs on our head (10:29-30; Luke 12:4-7). And he demonstrates his unity with the Father by calming the sea at his own command (Matt. 8:23-27; Mark 4:35-39; Luke 8:22-25).
“So the biblical view of the natural world is intensely personalistic. Natural events come from God, the personal Lord. He also employs angels and human beings to do His work in the world. But the idea that there is some impersonal mechanism called “nature” or “natural law” that governs the universe is absent from the Bible. So in the notion of an ultimate “randomness,” as postulated by some exponents of quantum mechanics…It is plain that in the view of the biblical writers any impersonal objects or forces [gravity, electricity] are only secondary causes of the course of nature. Behind them, as behind the rain and the hail, behind even the apparent randomness of events, stand the personal God, who controls all things by His powerful word” (pp. 52-53).
Along with His omnipotence (complete power) the Bible affirms God’s omnicompetence (complete competence). God not only has all power, He exercises His power with flawless competence. If nature runs apart from God’s control then what power does control it? Is there another power in the universe that determines the winds and rains? If so, where does that power originate? Does that power have the ability to overrule God’s plans? When there is a pleasant rain then we thank God for His provision. But when a hurricane strikes we chalk it up to “natural forces.” There is a willingness to believe that God wielded the storms to wipe people out long ago. But, we imagine, He certainly does not do such things today especially to people we know or have something in common with.
Scottish theologian Donald Macleod writes, “God can do whatever He wills, so that He Himself is the measure of all possibilities. He is not limited by any extraneous, independent or competing force, or by the data or structures of any situation…Scripture does not view nature as a closed system operating independently of God. All its operations are God’s operations…All the second causes owe their potency to Him and the whole system is effective only because of the indwelling of His power…We live not in a static universe, but in a world of awe-inspiring movement, collision and explosion. But every such change is rooted in the will of God and is an expression of His power” (from Behold Your God).
These are deep issues and it is not wrong to wrestle. We should never have an insensitive or fatalistic attitude. We should never say in the face of tragedy, “Well, it was God’s will so let’s not be grieved.” The fact is, we will rarely and perhaps never understand why God blesses one people with pleasant weather and sends a tsunami to another people. Our response ought always to be the same: reverence for God and compassion for man. In his very helpful book “Is God Really in Control” Jerry Bridges writes: “It is not wrong to wrestle with these issues, as long as we do it in a reverent and submissive attitude toward God. Indeed, to fail to wrestle with the issue of large-scale tragedy may indicate a lack of compassion toward others on our part. However, we must be careful not to, in our minds, take God off His throne of absolute sovereignty or put Him in the dock and bring Him to the bar of judgment” (p. 59)
Monday, February 25, 2008
Alister Begg spoke these words almost 10 years ago. How relevant his words continue to be.
Saturday, February 23, 2008
from "The Loveliness of Christ"
Thursday, February 21, 2008
So, you’re looking for a church home. What does First Baptist Church have to offer you? We offer you a cross to take up as Christ’s disciple. We offer you the chance to forfeit your vacation to serve a meal in a slum in Thailand, or carry gypsum wallboard up a flight of stairs to install into a Hurricane Katrina victim’s new home in Waveland, Mississippi. We offer you the chance to rush to church after a long Wednesday’s work, don an AWANA shirt, and lead a fifth-grader to a life-changing faith in Christ. We offer you a chance to lose your life, so that you might really find it.
We offer you a weekly confrontation with the Word of God. We promise that it will make us all uncomfortable sometimes. It will challenge our preconceived notions. It will make us think, and it might make us mad. It will ask us whether we’re doing the things that really matter in the long run. When the world says we’re worthless, God’s Word will pick us up and remind us what God thinks about us—God sees the value inside and loves us too much to leave us the way that we are.
We offer you the promise that you’ll have to do all of this alongside people who don’t look much like you and don’t always see the world the same way that you do. “One body...One Spirit...One hope...One Lord, One faith, One baptism, One God and Father of all.” (Ephesians 4:4-6) That’s what First Baptist Church of Farmersville is all about. Why should churches be divided along lines of age, race, wealth, musical preference, occupation, or leisure pursuit? Contemporary churches. Traditional churches. Biker churches. Surfer churches. Singles churches. Senior adult churches. Is that what Jesus intended when He founded the church? We think not, and we have determined to build a transgenerational, transpreferential church in which people find their unity around the things that really matter: Christ, our salvation in Him, all of the teachings of His Word, and the work that He has given us to do.
Is that the kind of church you’re seeking? I can’t answer for you, but maybe that’s the wrong question to begin with. The question is, what kind of church is God seeking for you? We’re betting that He’s looking for a church a lot like ours, and we welcome the chance to open a conversation with you about it.
What a refreshing change from the shameless marketing and flattery that churches so often use to get more folks to attend. In Wichita we have even had a large church advertise on Christian radio boasting in their number of choir members, orchestra members and even building square feet. Perhaps the church ought to issue warnings to potential members. This would be a great alternative to the slick marketing that has become standard business in the church today.
God save your church from foolish shepherds!
Give her shepherds who will lead her humbly.
Give her shepherds who will understand the purpose of the church.
Give her shepherds who are committed to declaring your word.
Give her shepherds who are more concerned with faithfulness than fads.
As I think back I cannot help but wonder how these ideas affected my understanding of God. Who was truly supreme in this relationship? Was there even room for supremacy? Was there room for true lordship? Or was God just one more responsibility? Was he just one more needy person demanding my time? Theologian David Wells is right when he critiques modern evangelicalism by saying that God rests far too inconsequentially upon the church. He has become “weightless.”
The church desperately needs to recapture a biblical vision for the holiness of God. We need to behold God in all of His undiluted purity and unapproachable light. I am not calling for ecstatic experiences or mystical journeys. I am calling for a fresh apprehension of what the Scriptures clearly reveal about the nature of God. The Bible holds forth a God who is far different from the greeting card deity that infects much of modern Christian spirituality.
The Hebrew word for holy is qadosh which means something like “cut off” or “separate.” One theologian has written that holy refers to “that which is marked off, separated, withdrawn from ordinary use.” God is profoundly separate from His creation. Donald MacLeod writes that “God is utterly different. He is separate from angels, separate from men and, above all, separate from sinners.” God says to His people in Leviticus 20:26, “You shall be holy unto me, for I the Lord am holy and have removed you from other people, that you should be mine.”
In one very important sense God’s holiness means that He is unapproachable. This is seen clearly in some of God’s earliest dealings with His people. When God gave the law He did so by calling Moses into His presence but keeping the people at a distance. In fact to breach the boundary would mean certain death. From that moment God established a pattern of relating to His people through the means of a mediator. The elaborate rituals of the Old Covenant religious rites communicated just how difficult it was for anyone to approach God. Only through a priest at an appointed time and place could the people relate to God.
Does the New Covenant in Christ change any of this? Certainly Christ changes the situation but He does not remove the unapproachableness of God. God’s holiness is not diminished in the New Testament. His purity is no less terrifying to sinners. Jesus has not made approaching God something we can simply assume. Coming to God is a privileged given only to those who by grace through faith are justified (Rom. 5:2). Approaching God is possible not because He has changed in character but because Jesus has made Himself our great High Priest (Heb. 4:14). As MacLeod writes, “The supreme achievement of Christ is that He is the Way – the only way – to God; and He is that only through His broken humanity – the rent veil of His own flesh (Heb. 10:20).”
This is why we preach and sing the gospel. It is why we continue to revel in the truth that Christ died for sinners. Every time we acknowledge that we now have access to God we are acknowledging Christ as our sin-bearing substitute; the One who died in our place. Jesus did not die to make salvation a mere possibility. He did not shed His blood so that God’s redemptive plan could be a potential. Jesus, slain before the foundations of the world, truly died in the place of all those who believe. For them the justice of God has been satisfied. For them God’s righteous wrath has been assuaged having been poured out on His beloved Son.
For this reason and this reason alone can we speak of approaching God. This is why we sing the words of John Newton:
Let us love and sing and wonder
Let us praise the Savior’s name
He has hushed the law’s loud thunder
He has quenched Mt. Sinai’s flame
He has washed us with His blood
He presents our souls to God
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
"Creation from nothing is a power proper to diety (John 1:3). It is the jewel in God's crown; it constitutes the divine claim to universal kingship. The creation trumpets God's imperial majesty for heaven is his throne and earth his footstool (Isa. 66:1). Creation heralds God's royal counsel for he established the world by wisdom and stretched out the heavens by understanding (Prov. 3:19). Creation presents the king with royal honor for the heavens declare his glory and the earth speaks his praise (Ps. 19:1). Creation also reveals the sovereignty of his scepter for upon earth must his will be done as in heaven (Matt. 6:10) and all things, in heaven and earth, must finally be summed up in his Son (Eph. 1:10)...
"Though the doctrine of creation is the cornerstone of biblical revelation, to unbelief it has ever been a stone of stumbling. Scripture teaches that the world was born of the womb of God's will, fashioned from the frame of nothing (Heb. 11:3). Consequently, the creation is everlastingly distinguished from its Creator and ever dependent upon him. Scripture also affirms that all men know from nature both of God's eternal power and divine person, though they suppress such natural testimony through unbelief (Rom. 1:20). Those who would follow persently popular 'scientific' alternatives to biblical creationism inevitably find themselves transferring these two universals from the Creator to the creation, for to accommodate their theories they ascribe a practical eternality to the creation and invest the impersonal universe with notions of purposive progress. Thus the creation itself is invested with the eternal power and divine person of the Creator and the glory of the incorruptible God is changed for the image of man, birds, beasts and creeping things. Professing to be wise the secularists become vain in the their reasonings and their new science merely perpetuates the ancient mysteries. The priest of nature survives in the evolutionist, the priest of mammon masquerades as the naturalist, and the priest of man has become the secularism of today and the dawn of the modern scientific age finds the sun rising upon nothing new" (p. 76).
Monday, February 18, 2008
And yet the people of Noah’s day are completely unbothered by their disobedience. Their conscience is seared. Everything is going just fine as far as they’re concerned. They are working and partying and marrying. Nothing about their sin and rebellion against God bothers them in the slightest. What is more, the furthest thing from their minds is judgment.
In the past God gave the world men like Enoch to show that there is a better way to live. God demonstrated through Enoch that there was a way to have eternal life. But God goes even further in Noah’s time by giving the world an additional 120 years to repent during which Noah diligently works at building the ark and preaching the righteousness of God. In 1 Peter 3 the apostle calls this the patience of God.
In Genesis six we are told that the whole situation of man’s sin grieved the heart of God. This is not the insecure grief of man. It is the righteous and justified grief of a holy God. He is not dispassionate. He is not aloof and detached from the condition of those He created. The increasing degradation of mankind cried out for divine judgment. Only a morally ambiguous universe would leave such depravity unanswered.
The reality that drives God’s judgment in Genesis seven is His purity. He is radically free of sin. He is 100% pure. He is undiluted holiness. He is unadulterated righteousness. Not only is it not wrong for God to judge this way but it is good and right for God to judge this way. And so in verse four God announces His intentions to Noah: “For in seven days I will send rain on the earth forty days and forty nights, and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground.”
The rain fell and the ground waters burst forth for 40 days and forty nights. For 150 days the earth would be covered with water. Every land and air animal except for what was on the ark died. Every man woman and child on earth except for Noah’s family died. This bothers many people which is appropriate. We ought to be grieved by the death of the wicked.
What is not acceptable, however, is to move from grief to disbelief or accusation. For some the solution to dealing with Divine judgment is simply to dismiss the biblical teachings of God’s wrath as relics of primitive thinking. This is certainly common in our own day. Far more people believe in heaven than hell. Some of the most influential “evangelicals” today deny the biblical teachings on judgment and hell. How foolish for frail, finite, and sinful men to sit at a distance and critique the ways of God.
Noah built and preached for 120 years and no one listened. No one except Noah’s family believed. No one believed themselves to be sinners. No one believed that judgment was coming. This is our culture, our neighbors, our friends, our co-workers, even some within our church family.
In chapter seven we are that God shuts the door on the unrepentant. “And those that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him. And the Lord shut him in.” (v. 16). This is an interesting detail. In the Gilgamesh epic (the most well known of the Mesopotamian flood myths) the hero is depicted as closing the door himself. What a seemingly small detail upon which the two accounts should differ. But the Bible does not waste our time with meaningless details. The inspired writer wants us to know that it was the Lord Himself who shut the door to the ark.
If it had been left up to Noah, that door may not have shut. He may have kept the door open too long not because he is more kind than God but because as a sinner he was less pure than God. We identify with the wicked. Noah had far more in common with the wicked facing judgment than he did with his holy God. Could you have closed the door? Would you have waited until the drowning began? Again, this is not because our kindness exceeds that of God. It surely does not. It was left for God to shut the door because His purity so exceeds ours.
Our hearts are divided. As Calvin said, our hearts are veritable idol factories. We are like what Paul describes in Romans 1. We end up worshiping what is created rather than the Creator.
In chapter eight we are told that the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat (Turkey). The people groups of that region worship Mount Ararat as a god. It is tragic irony that the people living in the shadow of one of the great reminders on the planet of God’s justice and purity worship what is created rather than the Creator. What does this say about the human heart?
Who will be able to accuse God of injustice when He once and for all judges? The purity of God ought to draw out of us a love for purity; a love for holiness. Jesus pronounces blessing upon those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. In both Old and New Testaments God calls us to “be holy for I am holy.” Just as in Noah’s day the world needs to see something of the purity of God. For some it will be a means toward their repentance and salvation. For others it will be further evidence against them as they stand before God’s bar of justice.
Sunday, February 17, 2008
Friday, February 15, 2008
At the heart of the confusion is misunderstanding of the role of the pastor and the purpose of the church’s corporate gatherings. Pastors, we are told, should not think of themselves as shepherds but as ranchers or, even better, CEOs. Andy Stanley has gone so far as to say that pastors today have to stop thinking of themselves as shepherds. Stanley reasons that shepherd was simply a metaphor that had some usefulness for Jesus’ day but now needs to be replaced with newer, better metaphors. He suggests the corporate CEO.
What is often behind the cry to stop preaching to the “already convinced” is a concern for evangelism. Fair enough. In fact, pastors need to be intensely interested in evangelism. It is part of their calling. But it is not their only calling. In fact the Bible makes it plain that the weight of the pastor’s work is to be given over to care for the people of God.
God gives evangelists to the church. True, we are all to do be involved in evangelism. We are all to be about the work of making the gospel known. But Ephesians helps us understand that God has called some to an exclusive focus on getting the gospel to those who are lost. This is NOT the work of the pastor. A pastor is a shepherd. He shepherds God’s flock. And the imagery is important. It is imagery given us in both testaments and I am pretty sure that young mega-church pastors should not so easily dismiss it as a useless metaphor.
If shepherd were merely a metaphor for the work of the pastor then succeeding metaphors would need to communicate the same purpose. The image of a corporate CEO is in no way an adequate successor to that of shepherd. They are two completely different things. The fact is, being a shepherd is hard. It is extremely costly emotionally and spiritually. So, I understand the desire to do away with shepherd in favor of a role that will make it easier to draw boundaries and be less involved in messy situations. The only thing that gets in the way is the Bible.
Please understand. I am not suggesting we spend our time entertaining goats. I am talking about feeding God’s people the Word of God. I think the reason why so many pastors tire of “feeding sheep” is because they were not doing a very good job of it to begin with. As I look at the things being preached in many church I must confess that I would tire of that sort of thing quickly. So what happens is that one form of man-centered “preaching” is jettisoned in favor of another form of the same thing.
The apostle Peter writes, “So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock” (I Peter 5:1-3).
It’s no wonder why Peter had such interest in pastors being shepherds for the people of God. When Jesus reinstituted Peter following the apostles’ miserable denials, the Lord called him to do three things: “feed my lambs,” “tend my sheep,” and “feed my sheep” (John 21:15ff). Jesus connects Peter’s willingness to do these things with the genuineness of his love for his Lord.
I believe the same call goes out today. If a man is called to be a pastor he is necessarily called to be a shepherd. His primary calling is not to be a manager, sociologist, or even an evangelist. He will certainly want to develop skills to become a better manager. He will want to understand his times and the culture in which he lives. He must also be an evangelist. But these are all a piece of his primary call to shepherd the flock of God.
"Perhaps the simplest way to say this is that evangelicalism has become worldly. This can be demonstrated by comparing it with yesterday’s liberalism. What was once said of liberal churches must now be said of evangelical churches: they seek the world’s wisdom, believe the world’s theology; follow the world’s agenda, and adopt the world’s methods. According to the standard's of worldly wisdom, the Bible is unable to meet the demands of life in these postmodern times.
"By itself, God’s Word is insufficient to win people to Christ, promote spiritual growth, provide practical guidance, or transform society. So churches supplement the plain teaching of Scripture with entertainment with entertainment, group therapy, political activism, signs and wonders—anything that promises to appeal to religious consumers. According to the theology, sin is merely a dysfunction and salvation means having better self-esteem. When this theology comes to church, it replaces difficult but essential doctrines like the propitiation of God’s wrath with practical techniques for self-improvement.
"The world’s agenda is personal happiness, so the gospel is presented as a plan for individual fulfillment rather than a pathway of costly discipleship. The world's methods for accomplishing this self-centered agenda are necessarily pragmatic, so evangelical leaders are willing to try whatever seems like it might work. This worldliness has produced the “new pragmatism” of evangelicalism."
From The Doctrines of Grace: Rediscovering The Evangelical Gospel by James M. Boice & Philip G. Ryken, pp. 20 & 21
Thursday, February 14, 2008
I was actually attempting to write some theological reflection on where I am in my sermon prep so far. But I am in a bit of a fog. And, of course, there is the possibility I won't be preaching this Sunday unless I find a miracle cure for feeling like I've been run over by a truck.
Apologies for any misspellings...
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Monday, February 11, 2008
We had a great time. The best part of the weekend was probably the time we were able to spend with our hosts Craig and Rita. It was their invitation that made it possible for us to attend. Karen and I were refreshed by the conversation and fellowship with our friends.
One remarkable feature of the NPB is the number of well-known people in attendance. If you don't mind too much I will engage in a bit of name dropping. Of course, the President and Mrs. Bush were in attendance. Among the others we saw in the hallways or seated near us were Tony Campolo, Os Guinness, Rick Warren, Sam Brownback, Michael W. Smith, Charles Colson, and Jim Caviezel (the actor). There were also a lot of "I can't place the face but I think that's a famous person" moments. Enough of that.
One of the strengths of the NPB is the opportunity it provides to meet people from across the country and around the world. For instance, Karen and I were seated at a table with a congressman from Georgia and his wife, the ambassodor to the U.S. from Cyprus and his wife, and a Russian man living in Illinois who runs a ministry to Russian churches. It was truly a pleasure to meet these people.
Tomorrow I will post on some of the theological challenges presented by the National Prayer Breakfast.
The topic that the guys are discussing ought to be a great concern to Christians. What is passed off as "gospel" in many of our churches and popular Christian books is nothing more than legalism or "law light."
You can find a link to "The White Horse Inn" under the "audio" section of this blog.
There are times when I feel cheated. For instance, I did not read Luther’s Bondage of the Will or Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion or John Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ until after I left Seminary. I was not required to read Spurgeon’s Lectures to My Students in pastoral leadership classes. Extraordinary! I was not required to read Edwards, Bavinck, Warfield, Vos, Murray, or Machen. How can it be that a Southern Baptist seminary left out of its curriculum the most important evangelical scholars of the past five hundred years?
Interestingly, I was required to read and research such liberal theologians and scholars as Bultmann, Tillich, Barth, Pannenberg, and Moltmann. Those names probably do not mean much to many of you and, believe me, that is just fine. I read Tillich’s three volume Systematic Theology, Moltmann’s The Crucified God and Bultmann’s History of the Synoptic Tradition. These are important books insofar as they were and continue to be quite influential in the academy. However, that we studied these works without equal attention given to evangelical scholars is nothing less than malpractice on the part of the faculty.
Among the tragedies of the German liberal tradition is its recasting of the very being of God. For them, God was an abstract, not a being but being itself. Paul Tillich called God “the ground of all being.” In other words, God is not personal and identifiable. It is an idea that has much more in common with Buddhism than biblical faith. Indeed, Tillich said near the end of his life that had he life to do all over again he would be a Buddhist. Rudolf Bultmann denied the resurrection of Christ and all His miracles. He reasoned that the Bible must be “demythologized” for people who now had access to the electric light bulb could not possibly be expected to believe in the supernatural. Jurgen Moltmann (now in his eighties) has written some very helpful and insightful theology but in the end his conclusions are hopelessly flawed because of his shared convictions with those who deny the veracity of the Scriptures.
In all the theorizing of liberal theology and biblical scholarship what is most disturbingly lost is God Himself. What is left is either a substance-less intelligence or a being that bears striking resemblance to man complete with flaws and unrealized potential. How can such a concept of God be assimilated into Christianity? How can such blatant repudiation of the biblical witness be considered Christian in even the most general way? Interestingly, liberal theology wants to deny that the Bible is God’s special revelation but they don’t want to jettison the idea that God is love. Liberals deny that God is wrathful. They deny the reality of hell. They deny the substitutionary nature of the atonement. They deny that on the cross, Jesus was literally our sin-bearer. They deny the coming judgment. But they boldly affirm that God is love. But how can they hold to the concept of God’s love while denying almost everything else the Bible says about God? How can they have any confidence that God is love when they deny the very foundation of “thus says the Lord”?
Scottish theologian Donald MacLeod writes, “It is wholly remarkable, given the phenomena – the facts of sin and suffering – that the one notion retained from Scripture as being in some way self-evident, is that God is love. In fact, the retention of this emphasis on the divine love renders this whole new approach absurd and self-contradictory. ‘What does it mean,’ asks Lesslie Newbigen, ‘to say that love is the ground of our being, to which we ultimately come home, if we have first denied the existence of the Lover? What is love when there is no Lover?’ We cannot reject the notion of God as transcendent-personal and yet hope to retain the idea that love is His very heart. Such a concept can only survive in the soil in which it germinated – in the Hebrew-Christian tradition, committed beyond recall to the doctrine that God is being distinct from the universe, knowing it, loving it and provoked by it. Such a God may be infinitely more than what we mean by personal. He is certainly not less” (from "Behold Your God").
Saturday, February 9, 2008
Monday, February 4, 2008
You will find a friendly story on the event here (http://www.bwanet.org/default.aspx?pid=766).
Sunday, February 3, 2008
I am struck by the description of the world in verse 11. It says that the world was full of corruption and violence. Corruption can be a pretty broad description of a culture in decay, particularly moral decay. Violence, however, is something with which we are all too familiar. We live in the most violent nation in the western world. We are the wealthiest and most powerful nation on the planet. We are also knee deep in blood. In Wichita we tolerate a notorious late term abortionist who celebrates the yearly anniversary of Roe vs. Wade by providing free abortions. This man plies his bloody trade under the protection of the same government that would close him down if he were killing kittens.
When I think about examples like the one above I cannot help but recall what Paul writes in Romans chapter one. He describes the unregenerate and their natural downward trajectory. It begins with the distortion of truth and ends with extremes of sexual degradation. These are the signs of a people that have been given over by God to their basest desires. This “giving over” is the sure sign of God’s judgment.
In his book Losing Our Virtue theologian David Wells quotes research from a fascinating study called The Day America Told the Truth. Wells writes:
“Americans stand alone in a way unknown to any previous generation. They are alone, not least because they are without any objective moral compass. ‘The religious figures and Scriptures that gave us rules for so many centuries, the political system which gave us laws, all have lost their meaning in our moral imagination.’ While the great majority of Americans believe that they actually keep the 10 Commandments, only 13% think that each of these commandments has moral validity. It is no surprise to learn that 74% said they will steal without compunction; 64% say they will lie if there is an advantage to be had in doing so; 53% say that given a chance they will commit adultery…What may be the clearest indication of the disappearance of a moral texture to society is the loss of guilt and embarrassment over moral lapses…Only 17% define sin as a violation of God’s will” (pp. 58-59).