Monday, December 28, 2009

Book Reflection

Two weeks ago I finished a 700-page book on the Association. That's right...700 pages. Hours spent reading about the career of Dolph Shayes, Elgin Baylor, Tracy McGrady and about a hundred others. Obviously, this was just reading for entertainment, but I also tried to tell myself it could have gospel impact. Perhaps the style of writing, or an anecdote or just the relaxation will enhance my ministry, I told myself. By page 35 or so, I realized that was simply entertainment, and there was no reason to attempt to whitewash it.

For a 700-page book, it read relatively easy. I finished the book thinking, Well, that was fun, but did not seek to bring any real meaning out of it. After all, it's a book about a game I love to play (but am lousy), and enjoy watching (but since we don't have cable I rarely ever see). Surprisingly though, I started mulling over various thoughts, which I think were remotely related to the book.

Foul language is overrated. One reason I am not specifically referencing the book is because I know the language would be offensive to many who read my blog (It was to me, as well). I guess offensive is not the right word, I would not expect an unbeliever to act any different. The greater issue I saw was just how completely unnecessary the language was. There is a temptation, especially around men my age, to justify crude language as authenticity. It just simply isn't the case. Foul language does not display authenticity unless you're wanting to declare to people you are authentically immature. Often times, the author conveyed his emotions far more clearly and robustly in sections where he did not see the need to swear, than in some where he did. It didn't enhance his writing, nor did it make his point. Sadly, some ministers today want to advocate coarse language as a means of engaging the just doesn't have to be.

Writing about others is tricky. It is no secret that the author of the book respects Isiah Thomas the player, but not Isiah Thomas the GM/coach/front office guy. In fact, he has spoken so critically of Thomas that at one point--while Thomas was coaching/GM of the New York Knicks--Thomas told a radio host he would physically harm the author if they ever met face tot face. Well, early in the book he recounts the time he was introduced to Thomas by another member of the media. While still holding to his opinions, he also (obviously) softened his stance somewhat, and became a bit more empathetic. Certainly a humbling and awkward situation. (You can read about my crow-eating-humbling-lesson here.) However, the author continues to write about people in such a way that I couldn't help but think of athletes and coaches who may read it. As I read, I kept thinking He could have a lot of awkward occasions in his future! The author regularly critiqued in a such a blunt form, that I am sure would have to be softened when would meet an athlete. Then I thought about myself. How often can I critique apart from considering motive? This does not mean something becomes right simply because someone had good intentions...poor theology and practice remains poor theology and practice. But, it did cause me to ask, Can I point error out in such a way that the person would be willing to converse with me without having to diffuse the situation? Sometimes, this is out of our control; a person will be offended either way. But I could do a better job of not contributing to the raised emotions.

Facts/stats do not necessarily reduce subjectivity. I enjoy this author because he is a fan of specific teams and does not try to cloak his views. He hates certain teams simply because he loves others. I enjoy this style far more than the starched collar professional journalist view who treats games with the same gravity and seriousness as terrorism. I want to read from a guy who jumps off his couch at the end of a game because he's thrilled, not a guy who simply reports the game as an event. However, this book was different for the author tried to be objective. At times, he acknowledges that he is not being objective, yet he still underestimates how often subjectivity permeates his work. He attempts to buoy his views with statistics. However, numbers may not lie but the same numbers can be used to make opposing points. It convicted me to remember that "facts" do not always get to the heart...for they can be spun however a person desires. If a person wants to toy with the facts, there is no reasoning with them. At times, this can even happen with Scripture, a person will distort and twist a Text to say the opposite of what is intended. I was reminded: a) to call out to God that He would protect me from myself and my fleshly tendency to distort Texts to my gain; and b) to not join a person in the game when they choose to defiantly distort a Text just to keep from doing what they know they need to do. Sure, an undershepherd is to teach and help show people error. However, when a person is clearly willing to sacrifice the integrity of the Scripture to defend their actions (rather than sacrificing their actions to defend the integrity of Scripture), there is no reasoning with them.

I enjoy books that feed my soul. Reading this book also made me realize how much I cherish reading books that not only feed my mind, but my soul as well. Nearly every book I read is ministry related, and some could see that as reading for work, rather than reading for pleasure. However, when you enjoy your "work reading" then it really is reading for pleasure too! Time is short. I'm not making a commitment that I'll never again read something just for the sake of entertainment (such a commitment would be a foolish endeavor), but for now I'm content to just get back to the pile of books I've been thinking I need to read. And I'll thank God for the grace that it isn't just work, but I enjoy it.

I am not advocating an "all truth is God's truth" sort of view that would claim Christian thinking is revealed in a book even when it wasn't the author's intention. No, there is no Christian agenda to this book. Sanctification does not come from reading anything, but ultimately from reading Scripture. I'm thankful to God for His Word and was also reminded that just as I had to be in the Word to truly grow while reading an NBA book, I better be in the Word to grow even while reading Christian words from a ministry-minded book. Sanctification comes from the Truth, and His Word is Truth. Whatever you may be reading, make sure it doesn't supplant your time in the Word!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

O come let us adore Him...

Not just the Jesus who is wrapped in clothes when He was born, but the Jesus who is wrapped in a cloth after His crucifixion.

Not just the Jesus who entered the world to the chorus of the angels, but the Jesus who would enter into Jerusalem to the declaration “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

Not just the Jesus who has the angel of the Lord go before Him, but Jesus who was preceded by John the Baptist, the forerunner to Christ who we were told was, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, make ready the way of the Lord!”

Not just the Jesus who was cast out into cold, with only room for Him in a manger, but the Jesus who’s very words of judgment caused the people of His own home town to try to cast him off a cliff to get rid of Him.

The Christ who did not begin in the manger and did not see the grave as His end. Adore the One who said:

I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Sad, But Ultimately Not Tragic

Yesterday, we received an email from a friend/missionary/church family member about a fellow missionary and his physical needs. Hugo Liborio had collapsed and received emergency medical treatment. The email informed us of specific diagnosis, but also that the outlook was not positive. About 24 hours later, we received another sad email, informing us that Hugo had gone home with the Lord. (Official word from SCORE can be found here.)

Hugo died at 29 years of age. He had a young bride, Sarah, and left behind two little children, Matias and Layla, a preschooler and a newborn. In fact, they were in the states for the birth of his daughter and recovery when his aneurysm ruptured. Obviously, prayers for comfort for his family and mission agency are greatly appreciated.

Death should always cause grief and remind us of the harmful, painful effects of sin. However, for the believer, it also reminds us of hope, for Christ has defeated death and will reconcile all things to Himself. The day is coming when this earth will be rid of all of the effects of sin! And currently, Hugo is enjoying glorification in ways that we still groan to experience.

It may be tempting for some to think, Wow, only 29. What a tragedy!

However, while Hugo's death certainly feels tragic, there is nothing tragic about his life. Consider the following:

      While it is sad to think of the few years of marriage he and Sarah enjoyed, what a grace from God that those few years were saturated with a devotion to Christ and His gospel. Their marriage was marked and oriented around a motivation to see Christ exalted that caused their living place and conditions to be radically changed. Their marriage started every morning with the reminder that they are His ambassadors and exist to do his work.

      It is probable that his two children will not really remember him beyond pictures, stories and history that is shared with them by others. However, consider the legacy that he did leave his children. His children will hear how their daddy loved Jesus and desired for His name to be proclaimed to all peoples. His children are far better off than others who have their fathers for most of their life, yet also observe an apathy toward Christ during those years.
I'm saddened by the pain his loss brings to family, friends and colaborers, yet rejoice in the grace God gave him not to waste his few years. I'm jealous of the time he now gets to spend with Our Master, yet refocused on considering the work He has for me to accomplish before He takes me home.

Death is sad, but the day is coming when He will throw death into the Lake of Fire. Until then, I pray by His grace, He would keep our lives from being tragic.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Counseling Training Offered

Steve Short, pastor of Beamsville Christian Church, is offering his first semester of NANC training starting in mid-January.

There are two different ways to take the class:

Every other Thursday night, 6:00-9:00pm
(1/21, 2/4, 2/25, 3/11, 3/25, 4/15, 4/29)
Beamsville Christian Church
6102 Beamsville-Union City Road
Greenville, OH 45331

Four Saturdays, 8am-Noon
(1/23, 2/20, 3/20, 4/10)
Greenville Grace
4805 St Rt 49S
Greenville, OH 45331

Steve classes are approved by NANC toward becoming a certified counselor. Steve has rearranged the first semester to fit under "Informal Counseling." This means the class is beneficial to anyone who is considering a formal role as a counselor (since the first semester is required before the second), but also to anyone who simply wants to encourage and admonish other disciples.

All three of our "staff-elders" found the classes highly beneficial. Currently, the rest of our elders are looking to pursue the training as well.

Deadline for registration is January 11. Contact either church for more information.

*Steve is also offering his second semester class on the opposite Thursdays at his church in Beamsville.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Public Service Notice

Don't celebrate Christmas like this.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Cross-Centered Christmas Gift

Looking for a great gift for your kids?

Still struggling to understand what I mean by Christ-centered or Jesus Hermeneutic?

Want to make sure Moses, Elijah and Peter don't pick on you in heaven for "missing out?"

Then get your hands on this:

Seriously, my kids love it. I've been moved to tears several times while reading it. I even encouraged a young man who is interested in the ministry to read it recently, and he found it a blessing.

Grab a copy!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Merry Crossmas

Not only can the Christmas season reveal confusion over the nature of evangelism, I believe it can also expose the confusion over what is meant by "Christ-centered." Recently, "Christ-centered" has become an adjective that can be placed before almost anything: Christ-centered music, Christ-centered preaching, Christ-centered hermeneutic, Christ-centered furniture padding. (Okay, I made one of those up.)

Though I've often called it a "Jesus hermeneutic" on my blog, I have no problem with the Christ-centered moniker. I think it aptly labels your intentions as keeping your focus on Christ. However, this term can usually bring difficulties from two directions:

    It's confusing at times to know what is meant by "Christ-centered." Do you mean it simply needs to name Jesus? Can Jesus be implied? If the focus is always Jesus, do you mean you are only appealing for people to get saved each time? Does this mean you allegorize to make obscure passages somehow about Jesus? Is it possible to mention Jesus yet not be Christ-centered? Strangely, there is a lot of confusion about the term.
    It's offensive if it seems someone is suggesting you are not Christ-centered. Who wants to be told an element of life is not centered on Christ? Let alone, what minister wants to hear that his ministry is not centered on His Savior? If emotions escalate, it can seem like someone is saying your ministry is based on secular humanism or may even seem like the person is questioning your own salvation. Once the emotions are raised, no one is listening and lines seem to get drawn.
It seems Christmas serves as a perfect illustration of what may and may not be Christ-centered. No real triumph has happened if the person says, "Merry Christmas" over "Season's Greetings." Some even act as if you defy Christ-centeredness by saying "X-mas" instead of Christmas. (Jay Adams points out that the origins of X-mas aren't as Jesus suppressive as some think.) Are these fair accusations to make? Is the name Jesus all that is necessary to be Christ-centered?

Let's just take preaching, for example (same principle could be applied to all other areas). What does it take to be a Christ-centered sermon? Is there a number of times the pastor must say Jesus? Is it the insertion of a first-time-gospel-invitation that makes it Christ-centered? Must the pastor always cross reference to the New Testament? Perhaps he must find a word directly from Jesus that is germane to the sermon theme?

While any of these elements may present themselves in a sermon, none is essential for a Christ-centered sermon. Theoretically, you could apply each of the above questions and still not be Christ-centered. Again, in theory (not like it is a goal), you could have little connection to these questions yet be Christ-centered. The best question to ask is:

Is Jesus the hero of your sermon?

Sally Lloyd-Jones loves to call Him "the Rescuer." (And I love that too!) Our attention is drawn to the fact that the Text is not about me, but its primary purpose is to reveal Him. (For even when the Text reveals my character and nature, the end result should be that it calls me to depend on Him.)

I've had the privilege of watching my wife deliver four children. Each time I witnessed the birthing event (and the 9.5 months that built up to it), I was struck by the bravery, toughness and selflessness necessary to usher in new life. However, those thoughts were never appropriated to my children. I never once looked at one of my babies as heroic in any fashion. No, I was amazed by my wife! I couldn't imagine enduring what she just did and was humbled to see the attitude by which she did it.

Christ's incarnation should humble us as well. However, if you segregate His incarnation from His crucifixion and resurrection, it really doesn't make much sense. Let the story end with Jesus in the manger and it really fails to be a heroic story. Yet this is exactly what so many do at Christmas time. (Perhaps this is why some elevate Mary to an undue nature; an understandable error if the focus is not kept on the heroic Christ.) A Christmas sermon isn't really a Christ-centered sermon unless it finds itself pointing to a Crucified, Risen and Exalted Savior! In the same way that His crucifixion would not have meant justification for us had He not become a "Second Adam" and took on flesh, the incarnation is not heroic unless He was born for the purpose dying as our sin substitute.

The Christmas season provides a great opportunity for evaluation. Pastor, do your sermons faithfully present Christ as the hero and you completely desolate without His work? Brother, do you neighbors hear not only that you believe in Jesus, but do they hear you explain the Person and Work of Jesus, chiefly directed at His work on the cross and resurrection? Friend, if your religious system makes you feel heroic by living up to the rules, no matter how much it considers those rules a reflection of "Lordship," such that you affirm Jesus as the hero, but claim some victory on your own, it simply isn't Christ-centered. Christ-centered does not mean you make Jesus a hero, it means you make Him the hero.

And in that sense, it is impossible to really be Christ-centered unless one is also Cross-centered.

So perhaps it would be better to say, "Merry Crossmas!"

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Christmas, Christendom & Evangelism

If a Christian is not vigilant, Christmas can cause him to forget this world is not his home. Songs about Jesus, nativity scenes and statements about the virgin birth abound. It could be easy for the believer to rest on his laurels, thinking these must be evidence that the gospel has reached all corners of the globe! Our society is speaking favorably of God and Jesus, that must mean we've made some headway, right?

Often, we parody the non-believer into a belligerent atheist that hates God. They want anything religious removed from every possibly arena in life. They want to take our children away from us for fear we are "brainwashing" them. However, this just isn't how most of society thinks. Derek Kidner, in his commentary on Ecclesiastes states:

The secular outlook is not necessarily theoretical atheism, but a thoughtless attitude towards a God whose existence is unquestioned but unappreciated.
The fact that the "traffic circle" in our town is adorned with a nativity scene is not a sign of the triumph of Christianity, but of Christendom. Most non-believers can drive by it without offense because they haven't thought fully about the purpose behind the incarnation. In fact, many will assume they must be a Christian because they aren't offended by the display!
She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.--Matthew 1:21
Imagine our community with a cross and empty tomb displayed on the property of a municipal building. Why doesn't that happen? Sure, Christmas gets polluted by all kinds of distractions, but we still see many symbols of the Biblical description of the incarnation. Why don't we see those things around Resurrection Sunday? Wouldn't it be easy to display the same syncretism? Couldn't the easter bunny stand at the tomb in awe? Why does our society want to distance itself form the Biblical account of the resurrection, but not the incarnation?

I think there are a couple of answers:
    1) Jesus the baby is less threatening than the resurrected Jesus who was crucified and now sits on His throne as Lord of All. Everyone loves babies. Babies are cute. Babies are manageable. Babies are under our control. The Infant Jesus doesn't scare us. He's vulnerable. He needs His mother for His survival.
    2) We've removed the blood. The birth of Jesus is filled with reminders of sin. The bloody, painful mess of childbirth serves as one great reminder. The sin offering Mary makes for herself (Luke 2) serves as another. However, look closely at a nativity scene. Mary is spotless and appears fully recovered. Joseph somehow managed to escape the whole event without a mark. Even baby Jesus is spotless; His hair is not matted nor does He show any signs of the stress of labor. And you won't find any filthy rags out back behind the manger, as if Joseph quickly cleaned up the scene. No, it was a silent night, remember?
So a man looks at a spotless, helpless baby and does not find it offensive. In some ways, this is a two-fold tragedy. First, he is often deceived that his lack of offense is evidence that he must be right with God. Second, the believer, who should know better, naively assumes this must mean the man is "on the right track." We assume that since he has not called the ACLU and filed a suit against the city, this must mean he close to conversion!

We must remember that while it is essential to believe that Jesus took on flesh (1 John 4:1-2), this is not the only doctrine a person must accept for salvation. They must see their sin, and that it deserves death. They must see the perfect Jesus Christ, both fully God and fully man, as their sin substitute. They must believe He died to pay their penalty and that He rose again to grant us life. They must believe this gift is received by grace through faith. In short, they must be driven to the cross; it's purpose, function and reception.

The timeline for conversion can be difficult to spot. We're tempted to create clear lines through altar calls, sinners' prayers and decisions. However, this is even cloudy for how many people have you seen who prayed the prayer, yet never exhibited any form of fruit? Wouldn't you say that the person who came forward to publicly declare he is a sinner in need of the shed blood of Jesus was already saved before he stepped out of the aisle? Our attempts to clarify the moment of conversion have only muddied the waters.

Strangely though, we've done the opposite with evangelism. As a young man, I remember being exhorted regularly on the virtues of "God-talk." While it was labeled "pre-evangelism" it was also consider part of the work of an evangelist. (Catch the confusion there?) So we were presented with the nebulous "1 to 10 scale." The God-hating, ACLU supporting, nativity kicking Atheist was a 1. A genuine believer was a 10. Our task was to simply try to raise every person we meet by a point. (I say it was nebulous because number 2 through 9 were never defined...wholly subjective.) Perhaps the person who agrees to come to your Christmas Eve service, brings a Bible (and their family!), cries during part of the sermon and tells the pastor "that was beautiful" on the way out is a 9? They're soooo close!

But that's not the reality of Darke County (or much of the world, I would suggest). Churches in our community (and some pulpits) are filled with people who bring their Bible, acknowledge the "real meaning of Christmas" and support the view that we were created. Yet they are no closer to the gospel than the tribesman who has never heard the name "Jesus." They're happy with what they've got of Jesus. He's not bloody. He may not be a baby any longer, but He still is not threatening. He's controllable; manageable; and best of all, that means they are still in charge.

"God-talk," like nativity scenes, do not save anyone. They may serve to open the door for us to present the gospel, but until the words of the gospel have flowed from our mouth, we have not done evangelism. Our feet are not beautiful because of "God-talk" but because of the gospel! Christmas should serve as a great reminder of this. There are wheat and there are tares. The point of the parable is that tares look like wheat. Our harvest field around us is filled with people who are saying, "Merry Christmas" rather than "Happy Holidays." Sadly, we walk by encouraged that they are so close while they walk by thinking God must be pleased with them for they are keeping "Christ in Christmas."

We should realize that our call is to take that to the gospel. Perhaps the believer should think of the holiday as "Crossmas," reminding him that the gospel must be declared for conversion to take place.

Don't look to conform people to Christendom, share the gospel, trusting that the Holy Spirit is looking to convert people to Christ!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Christian & Christmas

My attorney advised me to explain the difference between Christianity and Christendom. Since I'm not sure if he wanted this for his benefit, or to help me avoid any pending lawsuits, I'll take a stab:

For the purposes of this series, I would label Christianity as that pertaining to the genuine Biblical content of the gospel. You could call Christianity the Kingdom of believers. Though secular society prefers to basically call anything Christian that is willing to identify itself as such (evidenced by many definitions--including my dictionary--saying that Christianity is comprised of Evangelical, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox), I'm not using the definition in that sense.

Look, the Holy Roman Empire can label herself as such, but it doesn't change the fact that she was not holy, nor Roman, nor an empire. I'm not looking to identify Christian as whoever is willing to carry that label. By Christian, I am saying that which accurately presents Christ, particularly His death and resurrection.

By Christendom, I mean the culture that can be left in the wake. It may be a culture that is formed by genuine Christians, but I do not believe one has to be a genuine Christian to participate in Christendom. Christendom is removed from the doctrines of the faith and is simply an attention given to the actions of those who may/may not claim adherence to these doctrines.

Christianity: doctrine based

Christendom: culturally based

Can a genuine believer be a part of both? Sure, but his allegiance must always be to the doctrine, not the culture. Can a non-believer participate in Christendom without grasping Christianity? Unfortunately, I think this often happens. By missing the doctrines of the gospel and the necessity of faith, a person is deceived into believing they are a part of the elect simply because they "do the same things other do."

For instance, I am pro-life. I am a creationist. As a believer in Jesus Christ's death and resurrection as my only means to the Father, I believe these are faithful, Biblical perspectives to take. However, I do not believe they are essential perspectives that determine salvation. I believe someone can be born again yet support abortion and denies creation. I think they are wrong, and I think those issues are important, but the person could still be born again. I also believe someone else could be a pro-life creationist and be excluded from the Kingdom of God. Genuine Christianity should be so determined to point a person back to the gospel that we do not count it a victory when someone simply adopts the above perspectives. We want to see them won to Christ. However, Christendom is willing to stop at exterior by-products (some times Biblical by-products, sometimes culturally created ones). They are supporting the same causes, therefore they fit in our culture. I think this can have a damning effect.

I believe the following song is the product of Christian doctrine, not just Christian culture:

Monday, December 14, 2009

Merry Christendom?

About one-third of the way through our study in Ecclesiastes, I truly began to see how much "the preacher" and our community has in common. Here in the "heart of it all" our greatest threat is not mainline groups like Islam or Catholicism. It doesn't appear that well recognized cults, like Mormonism or Jehovah's Witness are gaining any steam either. And yes, you'll occasionally meet the young person who has stumbled upon Bahai or Shinto and thinks they've found something new. However, these people are few and far between, and typically don't even understand what they are endorsing. To be honest, all of the above make such ludicrous claims, and are so naturally inconsistent with Scripture that they really don't pose a threat to take over our community.

No, most people in our neck of the woods are still under the wrath of God due to another religion:

American Christendom.

Now, before you run me up the flagpole as one of those "church bashing" men, (I'd remind you that I too love the church.) notice that I used a word I don't believe has appeared on my blog before. Christendom, not Christianity.

Nothing points this out quite like Christmas. The fury that began a couple years ago to "keep Christ in Christmas" and has grown to cartoonish proportions. (Exhibit A: A site devoted to rating how "Christmas friendly" a retail establishment is.) Christendom encourages us that it is our Christian duty to wish "Merry Christmas" rather than a generic "Season's Greetings" or "Happy Holidays." Every nativity scene is a triumph for Christendom, even if Santa Clause is also looking in on the scene.

Two weeks ago, we loaded up the kids and headed to our local zoo. They have a beautiful light display, and since we have a season pass, opening night seemed a great time to go. From the moment we approached the gate, we were bombarded with rapping elves, giant gingerbread men, a giant walrus (still trying to figure out the Christmas connection there), nutcrackers, Mrs. Clause, a giant Christmas tree, rapping tigers (apparently hip-hop has made a real surge at the North Pole), "real" reindeer and Satan Clause himself. Yet, in the midst of the hustle and bustle, there was also a nativity scene in the old "petting zoo" section. As our family drove home from a very enjoyable night, one of my children said, "I didn't know the zoo was Christian." (We won't even deal with the onslaught of evolutionary theory oozing from the zoo...different post.) Her reflection, since they had a nativity, it has to be a Christian place, right?

Well, no. It meant it was part of Christendom, not Christianity. And at that point, we realized Christendom had snuck in our van and bit our family too.

Now, I'm not opposed to Christmas at all. I love this time of year. As another pastor stated: "I know the whole Christmas thing is not in the Bible, but joy is." This should be a ripe season for Christians to present the gospel and the fascination and awe of the season shouldn't come from flying reindeer, but from the fact that "the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us!"

But there is a lesson to be learned, and the lesson isn't just for how we act during this season. This season shines the light brightly on the issue of Christendom, and it is a lesson we must learn for the sake of lost souls surrounding us. This season allows us the chance to see how most people think of Jesus, and should cause us to examine how we speak of Him.

There are lessons to learn, and there are souls at stake...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Encouraging Resource

I found Dustin Neeley's blog recently and have found it to be very useful. I love how Dustin describes the purpose of his page, Church Planting for the Rest of Us.

"speaking up for the guys who may never plant mega-churches, while being thankful for those who do"

His page on preaching is only a link's page, but man is it helpful. (Over 35 hours of preaching resources linked to it!)

He has been airing some interviews conducted during Ambition, and his most recent one Bob Thune was especially encouraging. (Can't figure out how to embed it, or I would!)

I remember Daniel calling our church a plant even after we would be considered "established." I never said anything to him about it (I can tend to come across nit-picky), and just figured it was a man who was simply continuing to see our church through the lens of those first couple years. (Kind of like the parent of a graduate who still feels like the toddler years were just yesterday.) I've since come to realize, I believe his choice to call us a plant was strategic.

In most eyes, our church is not a plant. We're self sustaining. We own our own building (well, the bank does, but we're working on that). We have a fully functioning elder team and certainly appear "here to stay" to our surrounding community. However, I don't think I want to become established. We're not done! There is no reason to settle and certainly no call for us to congratulate ourselves. There is a lot of work to be done!

I pray that God would keep our church a plant forever...that we would never lose the urgency and vitality of those early years. The fields are white, there's much work to be done!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Why Church Planting?

Dave Harvey has some great posts over at the Sovereign Grace Ministries Blog in regard to church planting.

Just pulling a couple of quotes out of the articles, Harvey states:

I hope this is important to you as well. But sheer enthusiasm is not enough. We need to understand from God’s Word why we as a ministry are called to plant and build gospel-centered local churches around the world....

That’s why we can’t get all hyped up on the latest way to do missions, the latest research, the latest means and methods of doing ministry. Because nothing we can concoct will ever prepackage the power of the gospel. Church planting shouldn’t start with techniques, technology or talking to territorial spirits, often the launching point for church planting in certain parts of the world. It must begin with our confidence in the explosive message embodied in Christ and entrusted to us in Matthew 28. It’s the one message that makes all the difference. And we’re the megaphone....

I’m one of those guys who responded to an altar call at a concert. I shot to my feet so fast I got dizzy…and I was already a Christian! The altar call was for radical Christians; believers who would risk life and limb to become missionaries and take the gospel to faraway lands. Being radical for Jesus sounded like a great career move to me, way better than my minimum wage job. So I stood! I stood up to be counted, stood tall for Jesus, stood ready to leave that night for the radical life.

The tug on my pant leg came just above the knee. It was my new bride. I had, ummm, momentarily forgotten about her. She was still seated and not a little confused. Stow the passport—this needed to slow down a bit. Eventually God showed us that we should be seated in a church before we could stand for missions. So we joined a church, and it was there we discovered that God’s mission to the world—the Great Commission—doesn’t sidestep the church but actually involves the church. That’s part of what makes it a GREAT Commission....

Think about how the Great Commission was applied in the New Testament. Missions in the New Testament was about churches and church planting. It was profoundly church-centered. That’s why Paul was sent from local churches and received into churches. It’s why his labors resulted in churches and his letters were addressed to churches. It’s why the aim of missions was never to separate from the church, but to result in the church.

You can read Harvey's messages in whole:

Hi, My Name is Dave

Why Plant Churches? (1)

Why Plant Churches? (2)

Why Plant Churches? (3)

You can also listen to his excellent message, The Gospel and Ambition here.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Book Suggestion

I don't usually reference or suggest a book I haven't read myself. However, this one came across John Piper's twitter and looks like it could be quite helpful to many in our community and church:

Holy Ground: Walking with Jesus as a Former Catholic

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Theology Can Kill Your Church

Though the audio does not appear to be up (yet), Joe Thorn has posted his brief outline from his session: How Theology Can Kill Your Church.

Joe offers the following four ways:

1. Your Theology is Under-developed
Under-developed theology leaves your church defenseless against false doctrine and heresy, and corrupts the spiritual growth of the body. We need a robust theological confession and culture in our churches.

2. Your Theology is Over-valued
Theology is over-valued when we find our identity more in a system than in the Savior. The dangers here are often pride and pugnacity. Good theology will always give a clear picture of God and self, which promotes strong convictions and humble hearts.

3. Your Theology is Compartmentalized
Compartmentalized theology is a purely academic discipline removed from Christian experience. The danger here is being satisfied with knowledge over transformation. We need “experimental Calvinists” who are not content to be right, but desire to be made right by the Spirit of God in conjunction with the truth of God.

4. Your Theology is Disconnected
When our theology is disconnected from the gospel, all of the above dangers are likely, and additionally our preaching will be little more than moralism. Imperatives apart from the gospel tell people to “do this,” and doctrinal preaching divorced from the gospel tell people to “know this.” In both cases people are not led to the grace of God in Christ, but to their own attainments. We need theologians who can show the connection between doctrines like sin, creation, the Trinity, etc. and the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

UPDATE: Audio Here

Monday, November 30, 2009

Preaching so They Dance

Jared Wilson has an excellent piece called What Gospel-Centered Preaching Does

In the article, he mentions some responses of sanctification and increased love for Christ seen in his congregation as he preaches the gospel weekly. [We strive to do this weekly at Grace as well. This does not mean a quick altar call at the end, nor do we simply mean that we ask people to receive Jesus who never had. It is a devotion that the Text is only best understood when in the context of Redemptive history. Therefore, we should unpack the beauty of redemption weekly, so we all catch the context.]

Wilson states:
Talking about how the gospel and the law relate to sanctification is no mere intellectual exercise for me. It’s not just one more idea for the blog. It made the difference between the crushing weight of my own sinful failure and the freedom that comes from tasting and seeing that the Lord is good. This is a real freedom, a freedom that makes “good works” a celebratory dance, not a day-laborers’ accumulation of sanctifying sweat equity. That way leads to burn out and bitterness. “Do not again return to a yoke of slavery,” Paul practically yells at us (in Galatians 5:1) . . .
A commenter to his original post stated he agreed with that point, but the challenge is to get your people to dance. To which Wilson replied:
I think we meet this challenge, though, not by telling them to dance, but by playing the music. That's what gospel-centered preaching is. Playing the great song of salvation and trusting it has the power to make people dance, as only the greatest of songs can.

I love that answer. May we see many people at Grace dance as the gospel music plays loudly in our sermons!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Check It Out

The main sessions from Ambition are available on line. Check the messages out yourself, and be blessed:

(Click the audio from 11/10 & 11/11)

Hoping the "Breakout Sessions" appear on line soon, too!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Acts29 Reflections

As I am writing this, it has been a week since Charity and I attended Ambition. (This post is being published two weeks after attending.) Though we did not get to stay for the entire Boot Camp (Weezie got bit by the flu bug.), the experience had a high impact and has been running around in my mind sense.

Some of my reflections from the Boot Camp:

--We heard four plenary sessions, and they were outstanding. The messages were as high a caliber as any other conference/event I have attended. I am repeatedly checking the Act29 site to see if the audio will be posted on line, not just to hear the messages I missed, but to review the messages I heard.

--The workshop I attended (Pastor as Resident Theologian) was guided by Ray Ortlund and Joe Thorn. Most people at the Boot Camp are considering planting a church, whereas I was attending as an "established church" pastor. Therefore, most of the workshops were aimed at church planters (or worship pastors and executive pastors). I asked a man who helps coordinate the Boot Camps and he suggested I attend this workshop. In a way, I did not want to attend this workshop because it was the one that caught my eye first. However, I know my flesh (which is the source of the problem, certainly the problem is not theology itself) is drawn to simply study facts that can be kept from engaging my life. However, neither of these men guided the discussion in a way that would allow for this. They guided us through heart-felt discussions that were not disengaged from the sanctification of the pastor. It was worship to sit and listen...just what theological discussion should be.

--The diversity highlights the unity. To be honest, I was a bit concerned that Acts29 may not allow the diversity I need. Many of the men are around my age and share the same ministry/life experiences. Could such a network provide any diversity? Yet, as we're there, I realize there is actually quite a lot we do not have in comment. Yeah, some of it's cliche but you can see right away that I'm not quite a standard fit. My wife hates facial hair, so I'll never sport a gotee. I'm overweight, so no clothing looks cool on me. I have about as much creativity as a slice of bread. However, these differences simply amplify those issues of commonality. Here's a great example: The music at the conference was really good. The lyrics were outstanding (nearly entirely Isaac Watts hymns). Charity and I commented that we could sit and listen to the music for hours. However, we both (even Charity, an accomplished musician) found it difficult to sing along. Yet, I look around the room and see many of the people were engaged. But watch these videos and you will see that their philosophy of music is the same as Grace: the glorification of Jesus Christ from the Word. These videos just increased my appreciation for the gift we have in Jason.

--The mutual love. Acts29 exists to promote church planting. The boot camp is filled with former church planters, current church planters, men who have given their lives to equipping church planters and pastors of churches that desire to plant. While church planting is a mutual goal, it is not the greatest love. Yeah, I heard a lot about church planting, but I heard a lot more about Jesus and His gospel. I remember attending one meeting about church planting (not A29) where I was rebuked for wanting to center the discussion on Christ and His gospel. I do not doubt those men know and love the gospel, but they did not understand my heart in making it the focus. As opposed to the A29 boot camp where each speaker (I heard) centered his message on the gospel. In fact, in Joe Thorn's workshop I asked a question about application. It was a joy to hear a few men engage my question by urging me to preach Christ from all of Scripture. One guy even exclaimed, "If you preach Christ, from a historical-redemptive perspective, it can even make Leviticus interesting!" At first, I had a great impulse to make sure everyone knew I have preached Leviticus from such a perspective and that my question was misunderstood...but the Spirit quickly convicted me that such a defense would simply be for the purpose of my own reputation and encouraged me with the fact that I should just be glad to be in a room with men who would make such a challenge!

--Shepherding Shepherds. Before we left for home, we got to hear Scott Thomas share his heart about assessments and working with church planters. Only about 53% of applicants are approved, yet 95% of those approved see viable churches planted. Yet, as he kept sharing it was very obvious that they are far more interested in shepherding people than preserving their statistics. In fact, I believe I picked up that they realize the two are related. The life, home and walk of the church planter is not a sacrifice they are willing to make to see another church established. As Scott shared, you could hear a genuine pastoral heart, understanding that even if a person is turned down for planting, they see that as a shepherding activity. The compassion was very visible and gospel-centered. It was also displayed in the "wives tract" they offered, encouraging and edifying women who were present.

--More than the Big Three--While sitting at a table with Dustin Neeley, he made a comment directly relating to something I wondered. Without me prompting or prying, Neeley shared something to the effect, "Yeah, you've got Chandler, Patrick and Driscoll who everyone goes ga-ga about and knows Acts29 for. But the network is much bigger than that. The cool thing here is that every pastor and planter is respected, regardless of church size." My wife teases me that I have a "man-crush" on Chandler ("Who doesn't?" another boot camp participant quipped.), but it was very relieving to see no signs of hero worship or Christian celebrity taking place. Sure these men are respected, but it is for how they present the Word of God, not because there is some cult following.

--Some familiarity. I knew that John Piper and CJ Mahaney have been willing to lock arms with Acts29 before. I even recently saw RC Sproul doing some things with people in their network. But I still wondered about some other respected leaders I they know something I don't? Then I see that Russell Moore and Dan Dumas were serving at the boot camp. Darrin Patrick spoke favorably of Mark Dever, though he acknowledged Dever tucks his shirts in. Then I heard Chandler was speaking at SBTS. Then Mohler printed this encouraging article. (Scott Thomas provided his perspective on the same meeting. Many men I highly respect also seem to be showing respect to Acts29!

So we hoped in the car at 11:30PM Tuesday night to get back to our sick baby boy who seemed to be getting worse. It was late, we were tired, and we felt terrible for not being there for him all day while he was struggling (we also felt guilty that the family that was helping us by watching our kids had to absorb a much greater load than we anticipated). However, we were encouraged and hopeful. Our drive home seemed to go quickly as we talked about recent developments and the hope it gives us for future things.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Can You Call It a Rivalry Anymore?

A friend sent me this via email:

The last time the team up north defeated the Buckeyes in football:

--Saddam Hussein was still at large.

--Theatergoers anxiously awaited the release of "Lord of the Rings: Return of the King", one month later.

--“Elf” was the top film that weekend.

--The European Union had 15 members instead of 27.

--Barack Obama was in the Illinois state legislature, and Sarah Palin was the chairperson of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

--LeBron James had been playing pro basketball for three weeks.

--The two defending NFL conference champions were the Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

--New episodes of “Friends” were being aired.

--Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan were still alive.

--Tyrone Willingham had another year at Notre Dame.

--Urban Meyer was in his first year coaching... at Utah.

--Terrelle Pryor was in middle school.

--Rich Rodriguez would be the Big East Coach of the Year.

--Notre Dame was on a 40-year winning streak against Navy.

--Michigan had the longest active streak of bowl game appearances.

--No Michigan team had ever lost more than seven games in a season.

--No Michigan team had failed to win back-to-back games at least once in a season since 1962.

--Every fifth year senior had left Michigan with at least one win against OSU.

And finally...

--The last time Michigan beat Ohio State was November 22, 2003. Nine weeks later, Facebook was founded.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Book Review: CrossTalk

Where Life & Scripture Meet
by Michael R. Emlet
ⓒ2009, New Growth Press
179 pages

I ordered this book last week and placed it on my "to read" pile. For whatever reason, I continued to be intrigued by the book and decided to read Introduction as a preview. Two days later, I set the book down, having completed it. (If you had the time to devote to one sitting, the book could easily be read in an afternoon.)

Application has long been an issue that plagues me. In my early years of ministry, I believe I highly overemphasized application...turning the Bible into a "how to" manual. My ministry was rather pragmatic; do this and life will go better for you. Since that time, my understanding of Scripture and ministry has grown. The Bible is far less about me and much more about Christ. However, I also believe the pendulum may have swung too far the other way. If I teach or minister a text and completely avoid application am I really "equipping" the body?

In short, application is a lot like money. I wish I didn't have to think about either one and that they just naturally would appear for me and for others. Neither should be obsessed over, but it is necessary to consider both. Just as I would not be serving my family if I completely neglected issues involving our finances, I can neglect the sheep if I never consider application. (Praise God the preacher does not have to be a finished project, but is to continually progress. see: 1 Timothy 4:15. Very thankful for a church that graciously shows patience when my "progress" seems slow. )

Crossing Ditches--Emlet describes that there are times in ministry where the issue in a person's life, or the text of a passage make application rather easy. For example, if a person struggles with anxiety, there are a number of passages that appear easy to apply to the person's life. It's easier because anxiety is a life issue that is clearly addressed in Scripture. It is also easier because many of these texts give practical application within their context.

Spanning Canyons--There are also issues and passages which are not as easy to apply. Some passages seem so removed from our current context that application feels like a real reach. Furthermore, there are a complexity of issues we fact today that are not directly spoken of in Scripture. Yes, we know and trust that Scripture engages each of these issues, but at times we're not sure how.

While "ditch" passages and issues are easier to gravitate toward, we can find our ministries increasingly shallow if this is the only place we minister. First, we will be quite limited in what issues we can address. Second, our ministry may lack some of the depth to truly engage heart issues. Emlet suggests that if we simply live in the "ditch areas" our Bible becomes increasingly thin.

The Beauty--The beauty of this book, however, is that Emlet is a strong proponent of the redemptive-historical approach (what I have before called the Jesus Hermeneutic). While the purpose this book was to assist a minister in application, Emlet does not want the reader to provide application outside of the redemptive work of Christ. Emlet explains it much better than I previously have, providing a helpful list of what the Bible is primarily not before he addresses what the Bible is.

Life-to-Text and Text-to-Life--Many times, in counseling or topical preaching we are drawn to a text as we hear the person's life situation. We develop a bit of an arsenal of verses to engage life issues. While having a familiarity of Scriptural topics is essential, simply going to your "pet passages" may cause your ministry to lack some effectiveness. Sometimes, just as sequential exposition works from Text to life, a counselor can do the same with his counselee. Through digging deeply into a passage, while always keeping our eyes on the history of redemption, we may be surprised how the passage truly can speak to the issues of the heart in a person's life. We should truly be seeking to do both in the lives of our listeners.

Saint, Sufferer, & Sinner--Perhaps the most impacting portion of the book for me, Emlet explains how we can look at each passage in light of these perspectives. Since each of these words describe the status of the believer, we could ask, "What does this passage have to say to me as a saint/sufferer/sinner?" (Yes, I am aware that Scripture does not describe the believer as a sinner, however, it clear affirms that we are still "sin-committers." If you prefer, you could change "sinner" to "sin-committer," though I find that cumbersome.) Keeping our eyes fixed on our Savior as we study the Text, we can ask: How does the Text confirm the Saint? How does the Text comfort the sufferer? How does the Text convict the sinner? Clearly, every passage does not equally speak to the different statuses, just as each person may not find themselves equally expressing these truths. However, viewing the person and Text in light of these perspectives can allow the counselor to discern whether the person needs comforted, confirmed or convicted.

Conclusion--This book is not just beneficial for a pastor or counselor. If you teach, lead a LifeGroup, or even seek to give Biblical advice via the phone or in the check out aisle, you will find this book beneficial. More importantly, if you seek to be a doer of the Word and not just a hearer--without turning the Bible into a moralistic rule guide--you will find this book beneficial to your walk.

It's a quick and fairly easy read...but a really good, challenging and rewarding read as well.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Bible Helps

Last night, at Men's Training (our final meeting until the New Year), I shared a number of FREE internet resources available for Bible Study. Here are some links to those sites:

Blue Letter Bible--allows you to search by word or passage in 14 different English translations (plus the Vulgate and some Greek forms). For whatever reason, this site seems to be the most compliant for copy/paste of text into "Word". 40 different English translations, plus allows you to do a little bit of work in "Strong's." I have found this site to be "glitchy" however (sometimes Strong's pages are missing).

Bible Study Tools--just redesigned their site, which means I'm struggling while outside my comfort zone, but am learning that the new interface seems to be a bit easier. Has over 30 translations, and now allows you to reveal (or hide) Strong's links. Also offers a limited amount of commentary help.

NET Bible--pretty cool site (once you find the relatively small search box...make sure you click "Bible" not "Site" when searching). Offers quite a bit of textual criticism and lots of footnotes.

The above sites allow you to interact a little with the original languages, in a non-intimidating way, since most of the material is still in English form.

Bible Web App--allows you to place two translations side by side. Very helpful in that you can place the Greek or Hebrew in one of your settings. Even if you do not know Greek/Hebrew, this can be helpful because when you roll your mouse over the english word, it highlights the corresponding Greek/Hebrew word. Then, if you click your mouse on that word, it will parse for you! (Though the English can convey the grammar quite well most of the time, there are quite a few occasions when the reader is served by getting into the specifics...which aren't always easily conveyed in translation.)

Reader's Version of Greek and Hebrew Bible--much like above, but does not place translations side-by-side. However, if you are trying to learn the original languages (or sharpen up), this site allows you to determine how many helps it will give you...thus pushing you to do a bit of the work yourself.

Calvin's Commentaries--I don't list this in my attempt to get everyone to plant t.u.l.i.p.'s in their front yard, but simply because the man preached on almost every book in the Bible. This site gives you a translation of his works and is laid out in a fairly user-friendly format. (As with any commentary, don't cheat yourself by going to a commentary first. In fact, there should be things you disagree with Calvin about [as is ultimately true with any expositor]. Do your homework first so that those areas are easier to spot.)

ESV Study Bible--Ok, it's not actually free (you have to buy a copy of the ESV Study Bible first. I bought the cheapest form...hardback.), but it is so worth the money. Even though ESV isn't my preferred translation (note: value was simply preference, not assessing its accuracy or quality), this is the best Study Bible I've seen. Once you buy a copy of the Study Bible, it comes with a code that allows you to use their online tools. Very helpful.

We live in a marvelous age that so many study tools are just a mouse-click away. Please understand that these tools are not intended to intimidate others or create some caste form of Bible Study. Just like a magnifying glass allows you to see more of the beauty in a gem stone, these tools are intended to help you grow in your understanding and appreciation of the great treasure God has given us in His Son revealed as the Spirit illumines His words to us!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Book Review: Why We Love the Church

Why We Love the Church
In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion
by Kevin DeYoung & Ted Kluck
Ⓒ2009, Moody
229 pages

For whatever reason, How to Read a Book, nearly killed my desire to read. I can't explain why. It wasn't a bad book, and it wasn't too technical. I just found myself entirely unmotivated to read an finish it. And since I can't really read more than one book plus the Bible at a time, it sat on my end table as the list of "to be read" continued to grow. Having finally plowed through it (again, it was beneficial, dunno why it was so hard) it was fun to watch the stack slowly shrinking.

Why We Love the Church was a book I almost felt guilty picking up. I knew I would like the book for a number of reasons: 1) My wife read and enjoyed "Why We're Not Emergent," so I knew I'd like it. 2) I recently heard DeYoung being interviewed by Mark Dever, and thoroughly enjoyed it. 3) DeYoung looks like my doctor. And though my doctor is a fan of a certain team up north, I like my doctor...and he's a solid associate pastor in town, so--even though that has nothing really to do with DeYoung--it set me at a favorable disposition with him.

The guys received their fair share of flack for calling out what they didn't like in the emergent movement in their last book, and it's clear that neither guy wants to keep writing books about what they don't like. (By the way, they each have written individual books on other topics as well.) While this book does address the de-institutionalization of the church (Barna's "Revolution" is referenced a lot) it's not really a call to what they are not, but a pleading for people to give the church a chance, from two men who love the church. It's a great combination, for Kluck attends the church DeYoung pastors, so you get to hear both sides of the coin. Neither guy presents their church (or any church, for that matter) as perfect, yet they show how keeping your eyes on the gospel will increase your affection for the church.

Basic observations:

A book written by a man prominent in FGBC circles wrote a book with is footnoted quite regularly as "what not to think" about the church. This affected me in two ways: a) It reminded me of the guilt I felt for not enjoying this author's book and having serious objections to his premise. To be a "team player," I felt like it was my responsibility to not object to the book, yet just couldn't bring myself to support it. b) Because of this "team player" peer pressure, I don't see our Fellowship ever dealing with a low view of ecclesiology and for a fellowship of churches, I don't see it ending well when we're willing to undervalue the church. (Or at least are unwilling to discuss the differences.)

While there are some who are trying to arrange and justify a perspective that undervalues the collection of saints together on the Lord's Day, this is not a new problem. I mourn for the people who call our church home yet are unfaithful to assemble with us, claiming it has not effect on their walk. They're wrong. But unfortunately, their absence also means they are typically not open to being shepherded to see things another way and therefore find their walk stuck in an unhealthy rut. Breaks my heart.

DeYoung is quite funny. Kluck observes in the book how Al Mohler and Alistair Begg can be funnier than "christian stand-up comics" because their humor is spot on to issues in church life. In many ways, I feel DeYoung is the same way. I really enjoy Kluck's writing style, and he has a fun sense of humor, but DeYoung presents things (perhaps because I can relate as a pastor) in a way that simply cracks me up!

Kluck is quite theological. This was the most exciting observation to me. Kluck is evidence of what happens when a member of the church is engaged and Christ is faithfully proclaimed. I expected Kluck to simply bring some observations and humor to the table, but instead, he is competent to deconstruct the errors of "revolutionary thinking" (the mindset that you don't need the organized church). Kluck thinks at a deeper level than many pastors I know, a testimony to his church.

Our love for Jesus is directly proportional to our love for the Bride. If you know someone who professes Christ but is hindered by past hurt (perceived or real) from the church, this would be a great book to give them. If you are considering some "revolutionary" ways to grow in your walk that actually separate you from the Body, this is a book you should read, for it will remind you why you should love and need the body.

I'm certainly glad I finally got to this one on my list!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

It's a Beautiful Day

My wife and I had the privilege of attending Day One of Ambition. (Our littlest got sick shortly after we left, so we ended up coming home after day one.) It was such an encouraging day for us, and I was excited to here some other things buzzing.

According to his own Twitter updates, Al Mohler spent time last weekend at The Village.

According to his own Twitter updates, Matt Chandler was going to hang out with Mohler on Wednesday.

I noticed the day before we left for Ambition that Russell Moore was going to speak. Though we had to miss his session (he was day 2), I was excited to hear him (very faithful, passionate expositor) and also excited that he was given the opportunity by A29.

At a dinner Tuesday night, I found out Matt Chandler would be preaching at SBTS chapel on Thursday. Though I knew we would not be able to see this live, it excited me that he was given the opportunity. You can see the video from his message here: Hebrews 11. (I would embed the message, but for some reason it won't work. However, you should take the time to watch, an absolutely excellent message.)

I was struck to hear Chandler make the same observation that was running through my mind...that it is a beautiful thing that a professor at SBTS was speaking for Acts29, and that Chandler was getting to speak at SBTS. Clearly, God is healing some things.

Mohler also wrote an encouraging article that I (possibly wrongly) assume came from some time spent with SBC/A29 pastors.

In the "Pastor as Resident Theologian" seminar I sat through, Ray Ortlund postulated that these stirrings, along with T4G and The Gospel Coalition could be the beginnings of revival in our midst.

As a young (though graying) guy, it is encouraging to see established groups giving a listening ear to young, faithful expositors. It is also encouraging (and humbling/convicting/rebuking) to see these young pastors handle these opportunities with grace and humility.

Two of my kids are sick, I had to miss hearing Russell Moore and Matt Chandler in person...yet I'm smiling, because I think Ortlund may just be right. At least I pray so!

Great Price!

Grace Books International is offering a great deal on the MacArthur Study Bible (NASB).

Follow this link to get a copy for $19.99 (regular $44.99).

It's make a great Christmas present for someone, but sale ends Sunday!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Book Review: The Gospel According to Jesus

The Gospel According to Jesus
What Is Authentic Faith
by John MacArthur
Ⓒ2008, Zondervan
282 pages (inc appendices)

Perhaps the greatest compliment to The Jesus You Can't Ignore is that it made me want to read The Gospel According to Jesus (20th Anniversay, Revised and Expanded Edition). I typically don't read the same author back-to-back, but I enjoyed The Jesus You Can't Ignore and also had The Gospel According to Jesus come up in some random conversations lately.

While there is no doubt that MacArthur was popular before 1988, this book helped cement many views on MacArthur; people either loved him or hated him, but few were indifferent. I recently had an interaction with a person who claimed this book turned him off to MacArthur because he became too nit-picky. (He explained to me the nit-picky point--which to be honest, felt a little like straining a gnat anyway--yet I could not find any allusion to the issue. Perhaps it has been edited out over the years? But I couldn't even identify an area in the book where such an "offensive comment" would have been made.)

In some ways, The Gospel According to Jesus served as the field test for The Jesus You Can't Ignore. MacArthur received a lot of negative feedback for the fact that he names authors. Many people were proclaiming a decisional regeneration (often coined "free grace" by its proponents) that simply turned the faith necessary for salvation into simply knowing some historical facts about Jesus. In essence, the view eliminates the need for repentance and lays out subjection to Christ's Lordship as optional. To make his point and to provide reference, MacArthur would quote "free grace" authors (and footnote them) before showing how their perspective was not consistent with the whole of Scripture (and was not consistent with the immediate context).

Perhaps some will find this mean. They may argue that he could have avoided quotations and simply summarized the opposing view. However, this would have left him open to the critique that he "characterized" and "misrepresented" their perspective. Not only that, as one who sat under the "free grace" perspective for years, it was helpful to hear clear quotes and know where they came from. Though some of that teaching was over a decade old, reading some direct quotes took me back to conversations and helped me identify some of the influencing factors of that time.

I remember walking into a pastor's office once and asking him how Jesus' hard words about discipleship could be reckoned with grace alone through faith alone. The pastor easily brushed aside my concern and quickly explained that one is for salvation (grace alone by faith alone) whereas the other is a call to discipleship (abandoning self, repentance, sacrifice). He explained that Jesus was making disciples while the gospel is just about making believers. I then asked him which I should be seeking to make. Again, without blinking, he reminded me that the Great Commission is about making disciples. But how do I get someone to see the beauty of discipleship when "just a believer" receives all the benefits of glory, especially Jesus, as is?

Blank stare.

And though the movement has sought to present answers through the manipulation of parables and the creation of a spiritual caste system of sorts, there still is no good answer to this question. But what's most striking is to look back and realize the things that were missing in this ministry. Not only was I left without an explanation for the benefits of discipleship, I was also left without words like "sanctification," "repentance" and God's "sovereign grace" in the midst of all these things. The gospel was seen simply as a history quiz to get people to affirm and the Christian life was left largely to peer pressure from the saints to fit in as a good person. Needless to say, this view left me empty. At the time I heard it, I knew it couldn't be right, but wasn't sure exactly why.

According to God's great grace, He provided me other preachers and pastors who helped present me to the beauty of seeing Christ as Lord. By the time I finally read The Gospel According to Jesus, I really didn't encounter new information, but it was still nice to have it all in one place. To understand the "Lordship perspective" (as the biblical concept is often called) truly causes me to exult in grace; for I know my sinful, wicked, rebellious and power-hungry heart would not have bent the knee to Christ's supremacy apart from God lovingly, graciously changing my heart! It also reminded me how rich the doctrine of eternal security is when placed under the umbrella of "perseverance of the saints." When I see that God is not just keeping a place in heaven for me one day because I made a previous reservation (even if I discarded it), but that He is actually keeping my faith; keeping me in His love and keeping my heart softened toward Him, then I see His amazing grace. I rest in knowing my salvation is in His hands, not mine!

Yeah, some people will claim MacArthur strained gnats, but I would simply ask two things: 1) Isn't the gospel something we should seek to be meticulous about? 2) Why not the same ire for Hodges and Ryrie, men who wrote that a "Lordship perspective" is actually preaching another gospel? Shouldn't such a charge mean a person who believes submitting to Christ's Lordship is essential as a component of repentance and fatih is damned to hell and sending others there with their message? If you believe it is "another gospel" that is certainly the charge that is being made. At least MacArthur affirmed that these men are brothers, they are just quite mistaken and potentially confusing in their presentation.

But perhaps the most encouraging is that twenty years later, and yet the book has not aged a bit. The arguments are still quite relevant and the challenge is just as pressing. It's the gospel. Such news is timeless! Let's continue to present it as Scripture does!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Book Review: Heart of Anger

The Heart of Anger
Practical Help for the Prevention and Cure of Anger in Children
by Lou Priolo
Ⓒ1997, Calvary Press
197 pages (inc appendices)

My wife read the book first and recommended I read it too. Not just for the practical application in our home (there's plenty) but also because she saw it as an encouraging application of biblical counseling principles. We have both received a (limited) amount of nouthetic training, but at times, we are still feeling quite lacking in the "how to's." Nothing like parenting to make you feel lost in the world of "how to."

I found the book to be quite encouraging and convicting. It showed me ways that I violate Ephesians 6:4 often (provoking my children to wrath) without ever intending to. However, the text does not say I should not try to provoke them, but that I should not do things that do provoke them. I first had to learn to see my own anger issues and work through them.

Second, I was challenged about responding as a fool. It was humbling as he spelled out how a fool responds to correction, and to see yourself in those responses. Doubling humbling was when the author identifies how children respond like a fool, and to show how parents respond in like fashion. What puts this book above so many others, is not just that it instructs you to respond to a fool--but not in his foolish way--it also gives you biblical instruction for what an appropriate response would look like.

Most important, however, was the author's emphasis on the gumnazo principle. Gumnazo is a transliteration of the greek, a work from which we derive "gymnasium." I was convicted to see how often I correct our children for poor actions/attitude, but do very little to help train them toward a better response. The author does a great job of showing you how to engage situations (with real life illustrations) and seek to teach and train in the midst of the correction as well. I suddenly realized how one-sided my training had become and how ill-equipped my children are if I just keep pointing out what is wrong without pointing them toward what was right.

Amazing thing: While this method is more effort (and time), it actually helps you parent less out of anger, and more out of shepherding concern. When I parent my children more faithfully through their anger, it actually helps me not be so angry in the process!!!

Charity and I love Shepherding A Child's Heart and recommend it to many parents. I think Heart of Anger works as a great compliment to Shepherding by reinforcing those principles with more "how to" information.

I'd recommend the book to any parent, whether you think you have an angry child or not.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Book Review: The Jesus You Can't Ignore

The Jesus You Can't Ignore
What You Must Learn from the Bold Confrontations of Christ
by John MacArthur
Ⓒ2008, Thomas Nelson Publishers
208 pages

I'm always impressed by the generosity of nationally known ministries. On top of regularly offering free cd's, Grace to You also sends out free books occasionally. (They also recently opened "the vault," making all MacArthur's messages available in mp3 format for free!) I received "The Jesus You Can't Ignore" from them for free a couple months ago, and had been anticipating reading it.

MacArthur has always had a bit of a confrontational style, but it has been interesting to see how increasingly "out of style" such a form has become. In a previous book ("Truth War") he called out some people whose theology has shown them to be heretical, yet I was surprised to see the response from several. They could not refute his conclusions, and his quotations of others were in context and were not distorting their original point. Yet, the common response I got from people about the book was that MacArthur was right (in line with Scripture) and the people he discusses were wrong (clearly in conflict with Scripture), yet MacArthur was "mean" for using their names. Furthermore, since it was determined he was "mean," this next meant that his opinion was sullied, and therefore we should not really receive his correction. In fact, because he was not perceived as nice as those proclaiming errant doctrine, his opinions (though clearly in line with Scripture) were discounted.

How did we get here? I remember being told by a prominent person in a church once (in response to a message I had preached): "It's okay to say what you believe. It's okay to even say other people believe something different. It's just not okay to say those people are wrong." Is this really the way Jesus would teach?

Perhaps to diffuse this perception of himself, MacArthur spends several occasions to remind the reader that he does not think all conflict is good or necessary. He lets us know that he does not enjoy it any more than the average person and tries to avoid it, just like the rest of us. He states again and again, that the book is not intended as an excuse to be rude, argumentative or combative. He makes this point clearly and often, yet also reminds us that we must engage others when truth is at stake.

...the spiritual warfare every Christian is engaged in is first of all a conflict between truth and error, not merely a competition between good and wicked deeds.
Next, MacArthur traces you through the interactions Jesus had with the Pharisees, showing you Jesus was anything but "politically correct." His interactions were not filled with concessions, nor did he try to take the discussion into a private arena. Jesus attacked their false doctrine, publically, clearly, boldly and unabashedly.

The great heresy: self-righteousness. The book proves quite beneficial for I believe it engages the primary flaw of all false doctrines, including humanism. On one end of the spectrum, people believe we are already good and righteous, and therefore do not need anything from God. On the other end of the spectrum, people perform religiously in their system so as to prove themselves more righteous than others. This was the way of the Pharisees. Jesus did not call them to adapt, change the referent or simply come to a greater understanding of the limited truth they had. Jesus called for all out repentance. The Pharisees needed to see they had no righteousness of their own, and anything but the acknowledgement of utter spiritual bankruptcy and dependence upon Christ alone for your justification, will result in eternal torment.

Just as "Truth War" served as a narrative commentary of the Book of Jude, "The Jesus You Can't Ignore" serves as a narrative commentary of the gospels. The book brilliantly places you in the context of the day and helps you see why so many of Jesus' statements were more confrontive than we may first see. (This book greatly changed my perspective on the "Sermon on the Mount," and will effect our congregation as I preach through Matthew starting in December.) As always, MacArthur's book is well edited by Phil Johnson (who in an odd sort of way, helps MacArthur sound more like MacArthur than he would on his own). MacArthur concludes the book stating:
We don't need a return to the brand of fundamentalism whose leaders fought all the time, and fought over practically everything--often attacking one another over obscure and insignificant differences. Much less do we need to persist in the misguided course of so-called neoevangelicalism, where the overriding concern has always been academic respectability and where conflict and strong convictions are automatically regarded as uncouth and uncivil.

In fact, the very last things we can afford to do in these post-modern times, while the enemies of truth are devoted to making everything fuzzy, would be to pledge a moratorium on candor or agree to a cease-fire with people who delight in testing the limits of orthodoxy. Being friendly and affable is sometimes simply the wrong thing to do (cf. Nehemiah 6:2-4). We must remember that.

Someone who makes a loud profession of faith but constantly fails to live up to it needs to be exposed for his own soul's sake. More than that, those who set themselves up as teachers representing the Lord and influencing others while corrupting the truth need to be denounced and refuted. For their sake, for the sake of others who are victimized by errors, and especially for the glory of Christ, who is Truth incarnate.
I did not agree with the man who told me I shouldn't say others were wrong. It didn't sit right with me, and I knew it conflicted with my calling as an under-shepherd. At the time, I probably was willing to chalk up the difference as an issue of "gifting" and "personality." Now, I am much more adequately equipped to show that if I am to shepherd like the Chief Shepherd, I have a responsibility (not just choice) to state when someone is wrong.

In the end, the book served much more than just a "how to" for ministry. Seeing the self-righteousness of the Pharisees reminded me of my own deepest sin. Like the Pharisees, I for years stood before God thinking my performance (both things I did, and things I didn't do) were setting me up as better than others. It caused me to rejoice in His grace, that though I set myself up in self-righteous opposition to Him, He died for me. It also caused me to rejoice, that unlike the majority of the Pharisees, who did not respond to Jesus' loving rebuke, He caused my eyes to open and be receptive to His warnings. I'm thankful that Jesus spoke clearly and boldly against self-righteousness, for I needed to be called to repentance from such an attitude, if I was ever going to find salvation.

Yes, all our words should be seasoned with grace. The goal of our instruction should always be love. (MacArthur's book never implies anything to the contrary.) However, the book came at the perfect time in my life to remind me that backing down to error and sin is never the loving response, but if I truly care I will call a person to repentance. This is not a ministry preference or style issue. This is shepherding like Jesus does. For this is also the way I need to be shepherded.