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Archive for January, 2012


The other day I was reading John 6 for my personal devotions. I’ve had quite a few conversations about the free offer of the gospel. Often, I find people putting logic over revelation in the discussion. They think the logical conclusion of what is commonly called Calvinism is that the gospel is not offered freely to all. I’m not interested in recapping the arguments. Sometimes people mean something different from what has commonly and historically been meant. They apply that “devilish reason” (as Luther called it) to it and come away thinking it means God is confused and willing the salvation of reprobate.

Back to John 6. Beginning in verse 22 Jesus is addressing the crowd that has found him in a synagogue. So, we have the same discourse and the same audience for the comments we find that some would find in direct conflict.

28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

He’s been encouraging them to seek the bread that leads to eternal life. He is saying these things precisely because they are seeking him for another miracle like the feeding of the 5,000. They want food, not life. They ask what work they should be doing. He tells them to believe in him, the one God has sent. Jesus tells an audience, that is not seeking eternal life, that has no interest in the gospel, to believe in him.

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Last night CavWife and I went to the screening of a new movie called October Baby. It was made by some old friends of hers, the Erwin brothers (not to be confused with the Coen brothers). Andy made our wedding video for us. They have done contract work for ESPN and have made a number of Dove Award winning music videos. This is their first full length movie.

This is a pretty good movie. The subject matter is pretty serious, but they have enough comic relief to not overwhelm you. When the movie gets the most serious, the comic relief is nowhere to be found so you aren’t too distracted. At times it moves a little slow. But what do you want for the first time out?

The movie begins something like Sweet Home Alabama, 2 childhood friends running toward the water hand in hand. The boy and girl are close friends. It fast forwards to their college years. Someone has come between them creating a discomfort. This is her big night as the lead actress in a play. After she collapses we learn that life has not been easy for her. She’s had a number of physical ailments, and some emotional ones too.

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I’ve written a book on marriage. I can’t seem to get it published, but I wrote one. The last few years have seen some excellent books on marriage published. I currently have a “trinity” of marriage books. My “go to” books are Intimate Allies, When Sinners Say “I Do” and What Did You Expect?. They all focus on different things and do that very well. Recently a church planter asked me what I used. I try to draw from all of these depending on the needs of the couple.

But I may need to employ the new math if I want to keep a trinity of marriage books. You know, the kind where Winston had to say, believably, that 2+2=5 or have a rat chew off his nose (this trick was used in The Salton Sea except it wasn’t a rat, and it wasn’t his nose).

Or I can shift from a “trinity” to a pantheon of marriage books. That is because I am reading Tim and Kathy Keller’s new book, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God.  I’m only one and half chapters into it, but what I’ve read thus far is so good that my “trinity” is obliterated.

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Since my current sermon series from Genesis includes the idea of relationships, I decided it would be a good time to read Relationships: A Mess Worth Making by Tim Lane and Paul Tripp. Of course, when you take a few months to read a book it is not as fresh in your mind when you come to review it.

The book is not long (under 200 pages), but it does cover quite a bit of territory. The chapters include ones on sin, agendas, worship, obstacles, mercy, time and money and more. They cover that ground, as usual, with lots of Scripture and many examples compiled from years of experience in ministry as well as their personal lives. Thankfully, it does have a Scripture Index (one of my pet peeves is to not have one).

The first chapter talks about their relationship with one another. There have been times when they haven’t got along well. They have struggled through many of these things.  So, they speak from personal experience, not as merely teaching theory.

They begin with the reasons why to invest in relationships. The most important, in my opinion, is that since we are made in God’s image we are made to be in relationship. God Himself has eternally existed in relationship with Himself. The Trinity is a community of love. He made us to bring us into that loving community. But since we rejected the spring of living water, we make our relationships into broken cisterns from which we expect to receive life. Sin, including idolatry, have messed things up.

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Sinclair Ferguson has a booklet called The Grace of Repentance.  Since I read just about everything he writes, I was compelled to buy and read it. It is an interesting booklet. In some ways it was not what I expected.

The first (very short) chapter is called A Monk’s Tale which focuses on Luther and the first of his 95 Theses which triggered the Reformation. The church was in dire shape as Rome relied on indulgences for the latest building project. It was not hard for the average person in the pew to be confused about the gospel. It was obscured by the use of indulgences and the sacramental theology of the church. That theology taught penance as an act to provide satisfaction for our sins. This was different from repentance. Luther recaptured the notion that Jesus was calling us to a lifetime of repentance.

Ferguson then has a chapter explaining Biblical Repentance. Some of the phrases the Old Testament uses are “circumcision of the heart” and “breaking up fallow ground”.  The most commonly used Hebrew word simply means “return” and conveys the idea of turning around and returning to the Lord. When we sin, we stray from His side to pursue our own pleasure. Repentance is the return to God. We turn, not primarily due to fear of consequences, but due to the promise of grace offered to us in the gospel. We do recognize that sin is a violation of the covenant and places us under God’s just condemnation as non-Christians and His just discipline as Christians.

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The book What is the Mission of the Church?: Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom and the Great Commission by DeYoung and Gilbert has been on my list of books to read since it came out. The recent “controversy” regarding the book moved it up the list faster. It is really difficult to talk about this book without referencing at least some of what has gone on.

In the book, they noted that some people received early copies of the manuscript to elicit feedback. They were thankful for that, and included some people who would “push back”. In other words, they didn’t send it to people who would love all over it. This book is a contribution to a larger discussion on the topic of the mission of the church. So they read a number of books on the subject, drew upon their own experiences as pastors and studied the Scriptures (not necessarily in that order). They tried to do their homework. But no book is met with unanimous affirmation.

Ed Stetzer’s review, in particular, has received a great deal of attention. He affirms them in many ways, but also criticizes their views for being too narrow. As I read his review, I get the impression he wasn’t really listening.

“The mission of the church always must include making disciples, but the life of disciples will always produce work unique to its time and place, relating to the various needs and corruptions in the world around us. And such work is not only the fruit of discipleship, but is also, through modeling, part of the process of making disciples.” Ed Stetzer

I didn’t get the impression they would disagree with what he said. But he misses the point. That is the life of disciples, which they distinguish from the mission of the church. As disciples, we act justly and defend the rights of others. But he’s saying this to criticize their view of the mission of the church. The book is about what the Church is to invest it’s limited resources doing. And that, in their view, is to make disciples. Those disciples will do many things that they institutional church does not, and should not do. Let’s put it this way: John Newton was right to encourage Wilberforce to remain in politics and work for the abolition of slavery. And John Newton, who aided that cause with his personal testimony and records, was right not to establish a program of the church designed to work for the abolition of slavery. At least this is how I understand both the Scriptural testimony and the Westminster Confession of the topic of Civil Magistrate.

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Uneven.

If I were given one word to describe Disciple: Getting Your Identity From Jesus by Bill Clem, that is the word I would use. It is published as part of the RE:Lit line and has a forward by Mark Driscoll. It comes with blubs by people like Paul Tripp. In other words, it intrigued me.

Bill is trying to create a paradigm shift in how we think about discipleship. Someone in the church I pastor has been asking me questions about discipleship recently. My answers were in many ways close to what Bill is shooting for. But this runs against the grain of a church shaped by life in America which is filled with standardized tests and a concept of time consumed by efficiency. Programs aren’t discipleship. They can be a means of discipleship, but aren’t necessarily discipleship. Communicating theological knowledge and understanding isn’t either (though people need to grow in their biblical and theological knowledge to grow as disciples).

Bill Clem’s premise is that disciples primarily image God to the watching world (and unseen world). We were created in God’s image. As image bearers, Adam and Eve were to reflect God’s glory, and represent Him to the rest of creation. In their sin, the image was marred.  In redemption, Christ’s work in us (sanctification) is to restore that image in us. We reveal God’s character and represent Him more clearly over time. This premise is a giant step in the right direction. It is a necessary corrective to our thinking about discipleship.

Back to my one word assessment of the book. There are some very good chapters in this book. They are filled with red ink from my pen. And there are some chapters that have little additional ink, or the red ink is expressing my confusion. There were times when I was really tracking with Bill Clem, and there were times when I was under-whelmed or just plain frustrated.

“To disciple people is not to make them like everybody else; it is to shape them into the image of Jesus.”

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