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.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Got Me Stumped...

Ok, that's not exactly a difficult thing to do.

Yet, I can't figure out how this picture wasn't "photoshopped" in some way, but is simply an issue of perspective: