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Posts Tagged ‘idolatry’


Image result for pandemic gameA few years ago at a game night in my house we played Pandemic. We successfully squashed the pandemic. Today we have a pandemic ravaging parts of the U.S. and Europe. There are still cases in Asia but the hot zones are currently in the “Western world”.

Earlier in the year my greatest fear was the political season. A group of pastors gathered to talk about ministry in a season of great political division. It was very helpful in understanding why people are so polarized.

I think this helps understand the different perspective on the “data” of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Imagine a graph (because I lack the skills to put one together. On the horizontal axis we see the tension between Left <=> Right. Down the center of that on the vertical axis we see the tension between Modern and Postmodern (top to bottom).

Image result for political graph

It is like this, but not this one I’m using for illustrative purposes.

Upper Left Quadrant (Left & Institutional/Modern): Progressives. They represent a creational mandate concern for improvement or change. Change can be an idol when you pursue it at the expense of the other 3 aspects of the creation mandate. The poster child for political progressives are the Clintons.

Upper Right Quadrant (Right & Modern): This focuses on personal responsibility and freedom. Liberty is a biblical good. When isolated it can be idolatrous. These calls people to put themselves up by their bootstraps (forgetting that some people don’t have bootstraps to pull). The poster children are Ronald Reagan and Captain America.

Lower Left Quadrant (Liberal & Postmodern/individualists): This is the focus on equality reflecting the fact we are all made in the image of God. The farther you get from center the farther you likely get from biblical equality with a focus on equal outcomes rather than opportunity, and equality for various non-traditional minority groups. The poster child is AOC with the Berne lurking around there somewhere.

Lower Right Quadrant (Right & Postmodern/individualists): They prize security. Part of the creation mandate was to subdue and rule, keeping the Garden. Again, this is a good thing but the more you pull away from the other biblical values the more dangerous it can become and more ideological. This seems to be what MAGA is about with Iron Man and Steve Bannon as recognizable representatives.

Personally, I’m not sure if the ones on the right should be swamped. Reagan was not about institutional power but the security people need institutional power to have … security.

You can probably see some of your idolatry as a reflection of your voting patterns. I value liberty. I am a Reagan and Captain America guy. Freedom comes with risk.

Into these polarizing ideologies and idolatries comes Covid-19. Responses to this crisis reflect your idols.

Progressives see this as an opportunity for change. This change is instituted by the government. Greater government power seems to be the solution to this and we see the Progressives in Congress pushing for plenty of change in the economic stimulus package.

The representatives of equality are largely critical of those who differ. They see this as an opportunity to being Green New Deal stuff.

Image result for captain america fighting iron manThose are more political and not really the person on the street at the moment. Most people are torn between liberty and security, and unlike Captain America and Iron Man, this fight is taking place largely in social media instead of an airport in Europe or Siberia.

Some, valuing liberty see the economic destruction our response is causing as worse than the disease we are fighting due to the length of recovery, the increase in income inequality, long term changes to the standard of living, and equally shared by the whole nation instead of just in hot zones.

Others, valuing security want the world to shut down because people will die. Stopping the spread of the virus is most important.

Own your idolatry! Admit that you are not balancing out change, liberty, equality and security but that you are putting one above the others. It’s okay, the vast majority of us are doing it.

In other words, get the log out of your eye before you deal with their speck. The reality of the matter is that no one knows what the right course of action is at this point. None of us have time machines or perfect predicatability. Honest scientists will admit that computer models aren’t perfect, and can’t account for unforeseen factors. There is that struggle between personal responsibility and government responsibility, between liberty and security.

You love one of those more than the other. You are willing to sacrifice on at the expense of the other. We’ve been here before. We were here after 9/11. The Patriot Act sacrifices liberty on the altar of security. At the time I was “okay, I’ve got nothing to hide.” I was wrong in that opinion. Whether I have anything to hide is irrelevant. It is also about how the government uses it, manipulates it or sees it in line with its own bias.

We have these differences about how best to address the pandemic because we have different idols. It is not because the other person is stupid, they just value things differently than you do. And the sooner we all see that the sooner we’ll stop throttling each other on the internet.

 

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2The Works of John Newton (4 Volume Set) Newton, John cover image019 was the Year of John Newton. This means I read his works throughout the year. In the 4th quarter I read the 4th volume of the new edition. Due to the length of the volume and Christmas vacation, it took me a little longer to finish the volume.

As a side note, I found the editing in this volume to be much better than the 3rd volume. Maybe someone had a really bad stretch of time (crisis) when editing the 3rd volume. Maybe it was a new editor who needed experience. I don’t know, but I was glad I wasn’t stumbling on mistakes every time I opened the book.

“Keep always in mind that you are a sinner, and Jesus is a Savior of sinners.”

This final volume begins with letters to his wife. There are two main groups of letters to her. The first is during three voyages to Africa. He provides some glimpses into life as a 19th century sailor. You see a progression in these letters. They begin focused on the various events of the trips. Over time he begins to apply his growing theological convictions to the matters at hand, including some problems she was experiencing. A common theme or frustration he expressed was the fact that our hearts are idol factories, and he feared making her his idol.

‘I leave you in the hands of him who is able, and I trust willing, to preserve you from all evil, and to make everything easy to you. … a protecting Providence will surround me, and is no less to be depended on in the most apparent dangers, than in the greatest seeming security.”

These were trips furthering the slave trade. He seems not to grapple with the reality of that trade, yet. In a note on page 81, while in the section of his 2nd voyage, he explains why it didn’t bother him yet. He confesses that “custom, example, and interest, had blinded my eyes.” He, at the time, saw his trade as part of God’s providence. It was, but not for the reasons he imagined at the time. He would regret his part in the slave trade and work to end it. Had he never been in the trade, his attempts would have less passion, urgency and weight. We should struggle with God’s providence at times because His paths are beyond tracing out. It was also God’s providence that he was struck ill prior to a 4th journey, ending his career on the sea and in the slave trade.

“That powerful love, which brought down the Most High to assume our nature, to suffer, and to die for us, will not permit those who depend on him to want what is really good for them.”

This continues in the second main group of letters to his wife after ending his days upon the sea. There were periods when they were separated due to health or travel. His penchant for pastoral theology is evident, and his fear of idolizing his wife. We also see Newton’s affinity and admiration for George Whitfield which would eventually cause him problems as he sought a pastoral call in the Church of England. If you could put a label on a man who eschewed labels, it would likely be a Calvinistic Methodist like Whitfield.

“I still feel that you are my idol, and though the Lord has lately afflicted you for my sake, and is now raising you up for me again, as it were from the grace, I am not yet instructed.”

He also gives some insight to the deepest recesses of the soul. He speaks of “wild, foolish, and dreadful thoughts which often pester my mind.” Mr. Self is utterly corrupt, and people rarely see the depth of that corruption. We hide the worst parts of ourselves.

The next section of the book is a collection of previously unpublished (before the Works) that was intended to be a sequel to Cardiphonia. These letters cover a variety of subjects to a number of people: pastors, laymen and women he knew.

These are generally more theological than the letters to his wife since he is often responding to specific questions or debates he and the recipient engaged in. There is much about the providence of God regarding marriage, illness and other circumstances. He explores the reality of our sinfulness, that we are prone to wander. But he repeatedly reminds us that God is faithful. He struggles with people who have left the faith. Marriage, as he tells one woman, produces new temptations.

In one section he counsels a man considering ministry. He was a lay preacher in the military until forced out. Newton shares his own struggle with an internal call complicated by his associations as a lay preacher seeking ordination in a state church opposed to them.

“And the more simply we can reduce all our efforts to this one point, “Looking unto Jesus,” the more peace, fervor, and liveliness shall we find in our hearts, and the more success we shall feel in striving against sin in all its branches.”

We see Newton interacting with earlier theologians. For instance, he mentions disagreeing with Herman Witsius about degrees of glory. There is also a series of letters to a pastor struggling with assurance (I’ll post on this separately). He also “debates” Calvinism with another pastor. In this exchange they differ in their assessment of William Law and his book on a  Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life. He finds Law to have fallen into the trap of legalism through a denial of double imputation.

JohnNewtonColour.jpgLet us not forget that Newton keeps bringing us back to Jesus, a Jesus he keeps exalting in a variety of ways. He wants us to look unto Jesus, not simply doctrinal positions.

Periodically we see references to world affairs connected with the Empire. He refers to the American Revolution (or Rebellion from his perspective). The French Revolution and expansion shows up periodically. He dreaded, it seemed, all things French due to their collapse into atheism.

The next main section was a series of theological miscellanies. He speaks about the government of the tongue, Pliny’s letter to Trajan, preaching with power to a young minister, the causes and symptoms of spiritual decline, reading the Bible and the tests of true doctrine.

Then there are a series of articles extracted from an evangelical magazine. This section begins with thoughts on the Trinity, recollections of a deceased pastor and author, modesty among women (largely focused on the financial cost of following current fashion), faith and the assurance of faith, and covetousness.

The volume continues with a sermon about the constraining influence of the love of Christ. This is followed by the long awaited Thoughts upon the African Slave Trade. His focus is mostly on how individuals became slaves, and not how they were treated. He’s speaking from experience which was then decades in the past. He saw the Trade as “a stain upon our national character.” England paid a price for engaging in the slave trade too. Nearly 1/5 of the sailors, but his estimate, died on these voyages. This is on top of the moral corruption and greed.

“I have seen them sentenced to unmerciful whippings, continued till the poor creatures have not had power to groan under their misery, and hardly a sign of life remained. I have seen them agonizing for hours, I believe for days together, under the torture of the thumb-screws; …”

Some slaves were captured in wars between tribes, similar to what we see in earlier times. Others were convicts, sentenced to slavery. At times, tribes wanting to get slaves started wars. This would be “man-stealing”.

“I verily believe, that the far greater part of the wars in Africa would cease, if the Europeans would cease to tempt them, by offering goods for slaves.”

The volume greatly shifts gears to an address to the inhabitants of Olney. This is one of the congregations he served, and it is followed by a “token of affection and respect” to the yoked congregations he served in London. The latter in particular laments those members of the congregation who resisted his ministry.

The volume ends with a letter on political debate to another pastor. A pastor wanted some changes to the political system forgetting that sin is behind the abuses of any political system. God chastens nations for sin, but nations often refuse to repent but rather seek to make “fundamental change” that never addresses the sins of the culture. It finds scapegoats, like the rich, forgetting you don’t need to be rich to be greedy and covetous.

Newton was not known for his great theological mind. He was known for his great pastoral theology. As Josiah Bull noted, it is about Newton’s goodness of heart produced by grace. These volumes, this one included, are all about pastoral theology. Newton applies theology to particular problems, and consistently points people to Jesus. It can greatly shift how you go about pastoral ministry. I owe John Newton a great debt.

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Recently, two of our members decided to join the core group of a church plant in another part of town. I hated to see them go, but we want to support church plants and see our people engaging in mission. As we commissioned them to this task (I didn’t want them to simply change churches but be actively engaged helping grow that plant) I gave them two books. One was a little book by Rico Tice (with Carl Lafterton) called Honest Evangelism: How to Talk About Jesus Even When It’s Tough.

Rico is now Senior Minister at All Souls Langham Place, and founded Christianity Explored Ministries. He used to be the Minister of Evangelism at All Souls when John Stott was alive. He relates some of his experiences as a new Christian sharing his faith while in high school as well. He has decades of experience sharing his faith and helping other share their faith that he brings to the table in this books.

He is honest; about evangelism and himself. For instance, he begins the book this way:

“I find evangelism hard. The problem with being an evangelist is that people assume that you find evangelism effortless; but I don’t find it easy, and never have.”

We see something of his conception of God on the opening page: “God is the great evangelist, the great seeker and finder of people…”. Made in His image, and restored in that image by the work of Christ, we are to be seekers and finders of people too.

In the first chapter he discusses what he calls the painline. To share the gospel we must be willing to cross the painline, willing to risk discomfort and the loss of relationship. Being an evangelist involves grief and loss (as well as gain and joy!). His belief is that this unwillingness to cross the painline is what keeps so many of us from doing evangelism. We don’t like pain. We don’t want to lose friendships. We want to see all of our family and friends slid into the kingdom without us having to risk anything, without us having to enter uncomfortable space with them.

He refers to the parable of the Tenants (Mark 12) in making his case. He moves this from Jesus’ original meaning of Israel to the world. He explains that shift by noting that we share the same DNA as they do. It isn’t as if the scribes and Pharisees had different spiritual conditions from the average unbeliever. Those who threaten the spiritual status quo of rebellion risk being attacked. He notes the context of 1 Peter 3:15 as one of a persecuted church. The church is to be ready to give an answer for hope in the midst of being attacked for its faith in Jesus Christ. Rice is being honest about the hostility we can expect to experience.

Image result for asking a girl outThere are also people who are hungry for truth, love and salvation. He’s honest about that too. There will be gain and joy when we evangelize. When we shrink back we’ll get neither. “Until you cross the painline, you don’t know what response you will meet with.” I thought of my years dating. Or trying to. To ask a girl out you have to cross a similar painline. In many ways it is easier to ask out a girl you just met than risk ending a friendship by asking out one you’ve known for some time. You have to ask, is there more to be gained than lost. Will it be worth it?

And that is the topic of the second chapter. He spends some time pondering the glory of Jesus. The other side of that is grieving over the rejection or denigration of Jesus. Our union with Christ means that when Jesus approached Saul on the road to Damascus, He asks Saul “Why are you persecuting Me?” Conversely when people attack Jesus they are also attacking us (even if they don’t realize it).

“It is because I am one with Christ that I am thus dreadfully wounded.” quoting Henry Martyn

It was this grief over seeing Jesus robbed of glory, not being adored, that caused Paul to cross the painline. This is reflected in the Lord’s Prayer- our desire for God’s name to be hallowed should result in crossing the painline. Here he also discusses the reality of hell, and the motive of love in warning people on the highway there.

The painline is not the only reason we don’t evangelize. He discusses some others too. He talks about idolatry. The fact that we don’t talk about Jesus more than we talk about x, y or z means that we may love those things more than Jesus. Another reason we don’t evangelize is our lack of love for Jesus.

He is honest with us, and that honesty can hurt at times. Most of us should feel some conviction as we read the early portions of the book. May God grant repentance to us.

The second part of the book moves into how to evangelize (I keep wanting to type ‘evangelise’ since he uses the British spelling throughout the book).

“Part of any pastor’s job is to help people proclaim Christ in whatever circumstances God has placed them.”

Image result for evangelismHere he brings in God’s sovereignty. I’ve been pushing this in my preaching over the last few years with respect to evangelism. God has placed us in homes/families, neighborhoods and work places for particular reasons. We don’t have to go looking for people to evangelize, He’s already put us in contexts with plenty of people to evangelize. We are also greatly loved. We don’t earn God’s love by evangelism but evangelize because we are greatly loved. Though people’s fleeting affections may fail us, God’s never will. He is with us for the long run. He also reminds us that our job is bearing witness. The hard work, conversion, is God’s work. Success for us is speaking the truth about Jesus, saying enough that they can know who He is, what He’s done and how they can be saved. That might not be a single conversation, but many. And that is the subject to which Rice turns.

But we need to be honest too. People are not to be evangelism projects. We are to enjoy them for who they are, genuinely care about their interests (see Philippians 2). That is revealed in asking more questions of them- listening to them more than speaking to them. We also “chat our faith”, bringing it up in normal conversation when appropriate. That can be discussing what you did on the weekend, why you made particular decisions, address ethical questions at work etc.

In what we say, Rice talks about it in terms of Jesus’ identity (who He is), mission (why He came & what He did) and call (what he wants from us). This could have made for its own book, but he handles them briefly. That is the way we’ll likely have to handle them in our conversations. We need to be focused, and he is in this chapter. Jesus is the Messiah who came to save sinners and calls us to faith and repentance.

Image result for paul on mars hillHe then asks us to be honest about who we are. He identifies four main styles of evangelism personified by Peter, Paul, the formerly blind man and the woman at the well. Some of us confront others, some are more intellectual, some focus on our testimony and others invite people to come and see. One of these likely comes more naturally to you. This doesn’t mean you can’t utilize the other styles. God has made you in particular ways to reach particular people. Others in your life will be reached using other styles or introducing them to people at church who share in that style. We need each other for a church to faithfully evangelize.

Rice then addresses the cultural changes that have taken place in the last few decades that create addition obstacles to evangelism. People are generally ignorant of Scripture now. They don’t have a basic background that includes the Bible. Many have shifted from having objections to faith to thinking faith irrelevant. Current research notes that the average people will hear the gospel for 2 years before coming to faith. That time frame is increasing. Evangelism is a long term commitment to love a person and speak truth to them. They are less likely to visit church or a Bible study now. We need to be willing to bring the gospel, and the Bible to them.

He concludes with two things to do: pray and go.

This book is quite short. That could be a disadvantage if you are looking for an exhaustive volume on evangelism. This is not the book for you. But it is a focused book for people needing motivation and some direction. It is quite helpful in that regard. He accomplishes his goals. He includes enough personal stories to illustrate his points and help you realize this is an ordinary guy wanting to be faithful, like you.

 

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I was so excited about the 500th anniversary of the Reformation I was laying awake for hours in the middle of the night.

Not really. Just some insomnia as I pondered my next sermon, my sermon series that begins in January and a host of other things. One of them was the Reformers.

Some people are very critical of the Reformation. There is indeed cause for lament over another divorce in the body of Christ (as a friend’s sermon put it). Some people are really bothered by the sins of the Reformers and subsequent leaders. Sins they are.

Many happen to be sins that our age looks down upon most severely. Sins that were not necessarily understood to be sins in their day. Luther’s anti-Semitism late in life. Calvin’s involvement in Servetus’ trial as a heretic resulting in the death penalty (this would be scandalous today, not necessarily sinful, though many misunderstand the circumstances and act like Calvin lit the fire). Edwards, Whitefield and others owned slaves. I could go on.

Some try to discredit the Reformation, or other movements within Protestantism, based on the sins of such leaders. How could God use such stubbornly sinful men?

Perhaps their sinfulness is the precise reason God used them.

God magnifies His grace by using Moses the murderer, David the adulterer & murderer, Jacob the con man, Abram the liar, Peter the impetuous, Paul the blasphemer etc. And the Reformers.

Ah, but those men repented. Luther, Edwards and others didn’t. Hmm, what about the sins you fail to repent of? Shall they overcome union with Christ too? Do they mean you were never united to Christ? We have to be careful for the measure we use will be how we are measured.

I’m not saying that these things weren’t sins. I am saying that His grace is greater than their sin (and mine).

By their sinfulness He is also saving us from our sinfulness. As Calvin noted, the human heart is “a factory of idols.” We would turn these men into saints, like Rome and the Orthodox so. Rather than leaders, we’d make them super-saints who were better than us. Even now many of us still struggle with this. Some try to down play, ignore and outright reject the idea that they were sinner like us.

God is patient and long-suffering with sinners. His active and passive obedience are sufficient for our salvation. As Steve Brown so “scandalously” said at the Ligonier National Conference in ’91, “there is nothing you can do to add to, or take away, from the work of Christ.” We are justified by Christ’s righteousness, not our own. This is the whole point of the Reformation’s re-discovery of the gospel. This is revealed clearly in the lives of these men (and women). Their faith was imperfect, just like ours is.

We quickly forget that we have our own cultural blindspots. We stand firm against many forms of addiction/idolatry. But not gluttony or shopping. Not our idolatrous pursuit of external beauty and “fitness”. Our “American Dream” driven greed would be called idolatry by Paul. Our exaltation of our culture as a norm (particularly by majority cultures) would receive a Galatians-like lashing from Paul. We’d better take the log out of our own eyes lest we somehow think we are better than these saved by grace alone saints of days gone by.

Reformation Day should really be humbling. We are truly saved by grace alone, always. Salvation is thru faith alone in Christ alone. It is for God’s glory alone. Reformation Day is the great day to remember that “Salvation Belongs to the Lord”, the focus of my sermon from Jonah 2:8-10.

The Reformation, and the Reformers, need not be perfect for us to express gratitude. It isn’t about big parties and celebrations (though those aren’t wrong) but about the grateful disposition of the heart.

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Christians often have a very confused relationship with money. Many seek financial help due to indebtedness. Many more should.

All Christians, however, should clarify their relationship with money in a proactive rather than reactive way. PCA elder and community bank CEO Joe Kesler has given us a book for that very purpose in Smart Money with Purpose: Liberating the Goodness of Money in Your Life. His book is for a broader audience instead of positioned for those struggling with debt. As a result, he helps all of us think through the many issues surrounding our relationship with money. It is set up with discussion questions at the end of each chapter  to help you process not just the information but also your life.

Kesler starts with the goodness of wealth, from God’s perspective. It is common for Christians to focus on the negative side of money. The Scriptures don’t condemn money, or wealth, but the love of money. Many of the significant figures of the Bible were rich, and enriched by God. It is God who gives us the power to create wealth (Deut. 8). One iof the benefits of the Reformation was setting the church free from the idolatry of poverty, calling people to spend and create wealth which helped spawn the industrial revolution which significantly increased the standard of living for the western world.

“The human heart without grace will create havoc in any environment. The heart transformed by grace can, on the other hand, bring healing to either type of institution.”

In his second chapter he addresses the Deceitfulness of Money. It makes a good tool, but not a good master. Money as a source of security is a deceitful idol. Our greed and envy of others’ wealth is common fodder for politicians. Wealth is a product of many possibly factors. Not all who have accumulated wealth did it by exploitation or cheating. Acting like it can get you votes though. The answer the Kesler offers is that of stewardship- recognizing that God is in charge and gives us resources to take care of to accomplish His purposes and not just our own.

“Personally, I would much rather have some income inequality, but access to all the services that have been created by tremendous wealth creation, than a situation where we are all equally in misery. But the real point is not political, but spiritual. Envy of others’ wealth may feel good for a time, but in the end it rots the bones.”

The third chapter is pivotal: Putting the Power of Purpose in Your Financial Plan. He argues for gaining an understanding of God’s purpose for your life to drive your financial decisions. What you think you should be doing now and in the future should determine what you do with your money in the present. There is no one answer for this question. It is a question that many financial advisers ignore, or twist into a selfish purpose. As I read this I realized that most of a married couple’s fights about money and time are really a fight about mission. They either have no sense of mission to guide them, or they have conflicting missions that have not been reconciled or aligned. He provides some practical advice for career change and transitions.

He then moves toward the heart in focusing on your history with money. We all have a standard operating procedure with regard to money that has been shaped by our personal histories. He references Brent Kessel’s 8 financial archetypes, and sends you to take a quiz to identify which fits you. This does not mean you are stuck there. He provides the positives of most archetypes, as well as the weaknesses that should be addressed.

He then seeks to increase our money awareness: how much money flows through our lives and how to utilize that knowledge to make better financial decisions. From there he moves to the BIG financial decisions that take up most of the money that flows through our lives: homes, children, cars. Many couples don’t think about these decisions in light of God’s mission for them and the flow of money in their lives. They often receive counsel from those who benefit from their decisions: real estate agents, financial advisers etc.

He then talks about building wealth which starts with debt. Some debt is good, or productive, because it is an investment in the future and our mission. Some debt is regrettable or unwise. This is largely, but not exclusively, consumer debt. It may make us feel better, in the short run, but eventually we see that we have squandered money we could have used better because it is not productive. Some debt is immoral. Borrowing from the Old Testament he notes that we should not charge the poor interest so they can survive. Interest free loans to have a business is a good thing for the poor. Loans for rent don’t really help anyone get ahead. He helps us to understand the types of debt so we can evaluate past decisions, make changes and make better future decisions.

He then moves into investing, providing 9 habits for successful investing. What makes for successful investing for you may not make for successful investing for me. This is because our goals, experience, strengths etc are different. There is therefore, not one investment plan but these “habits” help us build a plan to invest.

It is not about just debt and investing. Giving matters in the present and the future. He notes the three kinds of tithes from the Old Testament which should guide how we think about giving. One of them is for celebrating God’s goodness to us. Some of their giving was spent on a party- think Thanksgiving on steroids. We should celebrate God’s goodness to us. This “tithe” can be used for parties, vacations, treating others etc. The second was the tithe for the poor. It was 10% every 3rd year. God gives us money that should be used to care for the poor. We should give to our deacons’ funds at church, local ministries to the poor, sponsoring orphanages or children in under-developed countries etc. There is also the Levitical tithe which provided for the Levites, priests and the worship of the people. The OT instructs us on the type of giving that should find a place in our lives.

The last chapter is on passing on an inheritance. He expands that to a spiritual inheritance. But he provides some helpful advice in thinking through the questions surrounding this issue.

Kesler’s book is a very helpful book filled with wisdom for a variety of people. It would be a valuable tool for any deacon’s toolbox as he comes alongside members with financial issues. It would be helpful for financial advisers to provide a more holistic approach to helping customers. I think it is good enough to get copies for all our church officers.

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I don’t think I’ve read anything by J.V. Fesko before. I thought I’d start with a book carrying a lighter price tag before I started investing lots of money. As a result, The Rule of Love: Broken, Fulfilled and Applied has been sitting in my ‘to read” pile for some time. After reading a number of larger volumes I thought I’d go with a shorter book like this.

For those not familiar with Fesko, he is an OPC pastor and associate professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Seminary California.

It is common for people who deny the on-going authority of the moral law to use terms like the rule of love to describe how God reveals His moral will to us. Fesko is not one of those people. This book is an exposition, however brief, on the Ten Commandments. He does treat them within their historical, covenantal and redemptive contexts. Too often people look at them in abstraction. We must remember they were given to the people of Israel, but YHWH who is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob after He delivered them from Egypt and slavery. We must understand this original historical and covenantal context to properly understand them. But as Christians we also view them through Christ’s redemptive work in which He fulfilled them for us, and by virtue of our union with Him works in us so we keep them in increasing measure. As a result, the Ten Commandments are not some religious artifact from some bygone era. Neither is our obedience to them the ground of our justification. Christ’s obedience is the ground of our justification. We also remember that while they provide the direction of our sanctification (the 3rd use of the law) they do not provide the power for it. That comes from the Spirit by virtue of our union with Christ (which he mentions quite often).

“The Law is not merely a legal bond; it is also a rule of love between God and His people.”

It would be easy to see the book are formulaic because he works through these three categories for each of the ten. But you should see this as good pedagogue. Being obvious is not a problem particularly when the lack of obviousness creates great misunderstanding.

The chapters are not very long, and he provides some study questions to help you think through and apply the material. Fesko begins with the prologue which stresses the covenantal and historical context for the rest. The Law was given to them, not to save them, but to know how to live together with God and one another. They were never to forget that He rescued them from slavery. As we read them we remember the greater redemption to which this great redemption pointed to. As Christians we hear them as people who have been justified, not those seeking justification. It is precisely when we ignore this, including when we put them up on courthouse lawns or walls, that we begin to turn it into a ladder.

“We cannot manufacture images of God because Jesus Christ has already taken that role. Only Christ can do what no man-made image can, namely, perfectly reflect the image of God. …. We do not make images of God, for He is making images of Himself in us!”

(more…)

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The first part of Tim Keller’s book, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, is focused on apologetics: showing how Christianity has better and more complete answers regarding pain and suffering than any other way of looking at the world. The 2nd part of the book is called Facing the Furnace. It is about how Christianity looks at suffering, preparing us to enter the furnace. What does our theology say about suffering? That is an important thing.

“The world is too fallen and deeply broken to divide into a neat pattern of good people having good lives and bad people having bad lives.”

He begins with the challenge to faith. Christianity does not look at suffering simplistically like Job’s counselors. There must be answers that satisfy the heart and not just the mind.

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It is that time of year to consider all the “best of lists.”

While it has been a great year for Boston sports (the Patriots nearly made the Super Bowl again to gain revenge on the 49ers, and the Bruins lost in the Stanley Cup Finals, but the Red Sox won their 3rd World Series championship of this young century) I’m thinking of the best books I’ve read this year. This is not necessarily books that came out in 2013, but what I read this year.

I’ll take them in the order in which I read them. What you will notice is that I’ve probably read less this year, and clearly blogged less. Having 4 kids will do that. As will being pastor of a church that has grown enough to have to expand it facilities to expand ministry capacity. I also read some enormous books, and that takes time.

Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry by Paul Tripp. I couldn’t identify with all the problems he talks about, and that is a good thing. Some issues are connected to how we “do” seminary and preparation for pastoral ministry. Others have to do with the manifestations of pride and sloth.

Resurrection and Redemption: A Study of Paul’s Soteriology by Richard Gaffin. This is not an easy book to read, but it is a significant book to read. As I noted in the review, for Gaffin soteriology is eschatology. This book explores the significance of the resurrection for our redemption which is a neglected area of thought.

Bloodlines: Race, Cross and Christian by John Piper. John Piper looks at his own history with questions of race and brings the gospel to bear on the question. I wish he would have co-authored it with a person of color to balance the perspective. But much of what he says is excellent

The Book of Revelation by G.K. Beale. This is a humongous commentary on Revelation but is well worth the time needed to read it. This is the one to read to understand its connection with the Old Testament. While I don’t agree with all he says (like I prefer an early date) this is excellent.

Freedom & Boundaries: A Pastoral Primer on the Role of Women in the Church by Kevin DeYoung. He is correct, it is a primer. He concisely addresses the most important texts and questions that arise. He presents a complementarian position but not an extreme one. I highly recommend it.

Mistakes Leaders Make by Dave Kraft. This little book was an excellent treatment of common mistakes church leaders make. Some I’ve made and I don’t want to make the others.

Sex & Money by Paul Tripp. He talks about the 2 things that occupy most of our time, energy and thoughts. He focuses on the tendency toward idolatry and the healing power of the gospel. Great stuff.

The Truth of the Cross by R.C. Sproul. Typical Sproul. He explains sound theology so the average person can understand. Here he’s explaining the atonement, which every Christian should understand.

Delighting in the Trinity by Tim Chester. Books on the Trinity are pretty rare these days. Helpful, interesting and accessible books on the subject are even more rare. This is a book that is all three. It isn’t very big, but it is worth reading.

Gospel Centered Leadership by Steve Timmis. This is a very helpful little book that helps us understand how the gospel should shape our leadership in the church. I gave this one to my elders and we’ll study it soon.

Modest: Men & Women Clothed in the Gospel by Tim Challies & R.W. Glenn. I haven’t read any books on the subject before. What was good about this one is that it is about both men & women, and it is about how the gospel changes the equation. It is not about rules and a moralistic spirit.

Love into Light: The Gospel, the Homosexual and the Church by Peter Hubbard. This was an excellent and challenging book. He tries to balance truth and love (I think Paul said something like that) when we speak to homosexuals. We should not back off biblical teaching, which he explains by looking at key texts. We should not treat people as lepers either and he talks about how we can love them as we communicate the gospel to them as sinners, not just homosexuals.

The Doctrine of the Christian Life by John Frame. This is another enormous book. I have not quite finished the appendices since I’ve been focusing on other projects. This book examines ethical systems and then moves into understanding and applying the ten commandments before briefly discussing sanctification. This is an excellent book even if you agree with his particular end points.

The Pastor’s Justification: Applying the Work of Christ in Your Life and Ministry by Jared Wilson. This is another very good book on ministry. His focus is the importance of the doctrine of justification on who we are and how we go about ministry. Theology applied!

Crazy Busy: A Mercifully Short Book about a (Really) Big Problem by Kevin DeYoung. It is very short. I read this during a crazy busy time that mercifully should be coming to an end. I gave this to my elders and those who have gotten to it have appreciated its message. It is not just about techniques but the heart.

Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith by Michael Reeves. I’m not quite done with this book yet so it might end up on next year’s list too! As I preach thru the prologue of John’s Gospel this has been a great help. He really pushes the point of “God is love” as we think about the Trinity and Christianity. This is definitely a must read in that rare category of books on the Trinity. Like Chester’s of the same name this is relatively short.

Interesting-

  • 2 books by Paul Tripp and Kevin DeYoung
  • 2 books on the Trinity
  • 5 books on ministry
  • 2 books on salvation
  • 2 books of over 1,000 pages

Not one book by Tim Keller (I left off the Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness). Don’t worry, I’m sure there will be at least 1 next year.

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Recently there have been books released that deal with the heart of the pastor. They aren’t books about how to do ministry but how a minister should be. Jared Wilson’s The Pastor’s Justification is the second of these books I have read. Earlier I had read Paul Tripp’s Dangerous Calling.

Both books are very good but quite different from one another. They form a good “Good Cop, Bad Cop Routine” when read in tandem. Tripp’s book is a dangerous read. Perhaps I should say a hard read because he is ruthless. This doesn’t mean he’s legalistic or avoids the gospel. In addressing our sin he does bring us back to the gospel regularly. His concerns, reaped from talking the numerous pastors, center on the gaps in their preparation and a sense of having arrived that cripples men spiritually. He puts his finger on many common struggles for pastors.

“The primary problem in pastoral ministry, brother pastor, is not them. It’s you. You are your biggest problem.”

Jared’s book is kinder and gentler. This doesn’t mean he ignores sin because he doesn’t (see the above quote). You will feel the sting of conviction here as well. He also keeps bringing us back to the gospel regularly. The point of Jared’s book is one that I got from Tim Keller a few years ago: preach as a justified man. Of course it is about more than preaching.

[This book is not just for pastors though. Missionaries would likely benefit and see a great deal of overlap. It would be a helpful read for elders and ministry leaders as well. They will experience many of the same temptations and need to find the same freedom in Christ pastors need.]

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In the 5th section of The Doctrine of the Christian Life, John Frame touches on the question of culture. This is an important question regarding the Christian life. No one lives it in a vacuum. We each live it in a particular culture, and that raises issues and questions. It is a big part of the circumstances making up the situational component of triperspectival ethics.

“So culture is not only what we grow, but also what we make, both with our hands and with our minds.”

He begins the section with a chapter on the question, what is culture? In terms of Scripture, this is a word not found there, but one that must be derived from good and necessary consequence. He starts with some basic facts about the origin of the word, and some definitions posited by others, like the Lausanne Committee on World Evangelism. He then distinguishes between creation (what God has made) and culture (what we make with creation). This, of course, leads us back to the Creation Mandate. Adam and Eve (and their children) were to fill the earth, subdue the earth and rule the earth. They were to utilize it, not preserve it (or exploit it). As a result, culture for Frame is what we make of God’s creation.

“God creates the world, but he does not depend on the world at all. The world depends entirely on him. But in human life, there is a mutual dependence between ourselves and the world. The world depends on us to fill and rule it, but we depend on the world for our very existence.”

As made in God’s image, the various cultures we create and maintain reflect something of the goodness of God. But as sinners marred by the Fall, our cultures also reflect that descent and distortion of God’s glory. No one culture, this side of Eden, is either all good or all bad but a rather tar babyish mix of the two.

Into this, Frame develops a view of Common Grace. This is another word not found in Scripture, but a concept taught in Scripture. It is gracious because it is undeserved. It is common because it does not lead to salvation. It does maintain the stage for salvation, like what we see in the Noahic Covenant.

By common grace we mean that God restrains sin. He actively keeps people from being as bad as they could be. An example Frame provides is the Tower of Babel, scattering the nations so they won’t accomplish their evil intent. Satan is on a short leash, as we see in Job; and even shorter as we see in Revelation 20.

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I was bored.

CavMom keeps renewing a subscription to Family Circle for CavWife. Sometimes I flip thru it to look for good recipes.

I stopped when it talked about the Secret Life of Boys. It was an interesting article on the dynamics of relationships among boys summarized from her book . Each boy in a circle of 3-5 friends seems to fit into an established role. Those roles are identified as:

Mastermind: He’s the ringleader, charismatic and good at identifying people’s weaknesses. He gains power and control over the group (think Alex in A Clockwork Orange). He fears losing his status and can’t admit when he’s in over his head.

Associate: He’s the right-hand man. He’s essentially the “best friend” who can be honest with the mastermind. He gains power by association. He has power and status he would never have apart from the mastermind. But often they lose their sense of identity apart from the mastermind.

Bouncer: or enforcer. It would be Dim in A Clockwork Orange. People skills are not his forte. He’s the one who can enforce the will of the mastermind. He often forfeits the ability to have healthy relationships.

Entertainer: he’s the village idiot who make people laugh. That is his identity: comic relief. He has to keep cutting up to feel valuable.

Conscience: here is the guy who tells the truth, and is often trusted by adults. He will be left out when the others want to cross some lines. He is often used as the smokescreen with parents.

Punching Bag: he’s like the little brother everyone loves by picks on mercilessly. He pays a high price for friendship, but feels it is necessary.

Fly: he hovers around the group, desperately wanting to get in. They often try to earn the acceptance of the rest with gifts and favors.

Champion: he doesn’t play by these rules. He makes his own friends and is genuinely liked by people in many groups. But people will turn on him when he tries to do the right thing instead of playing alone. Most parents think their kid is a champion, but they aren’t. They are rare.

The main point is that these are boys trying to act like men. They are trying to figure it out, but they have not figured it out. It is a sad parody of adult male relationships.

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There are few subjects guaranteed to raise a ruckus like that of modesty. This subject tends to bring out the worst in us. We often act immodestly when discussing modesty.

There have apparently been many books written on this subject. Many of them very bad. Or so I hear since I’ve only read one other book on the subject, Wendy Shalit’s A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue. As a result, I am no expert on such books. I decided to read Tim Challies and R.W. Glenn’s book Modest: Men and Women Clothed in the Gospel precisely because it seemed to take a gospel-centered approach (which it does).

What they have done is write short, but important, book on the subject at hand. They begin with the obvious, and the most common objection to such a book.

“Discussing modesty among Christians is challenging because the subject typically has not been handled well. … And when a man is the speaker or the author or the discussion leader, women brace themselves, fearing an assault on their fashion sense and wondering if they are about to be blamed for all male struggles with sexual lust. Does he think I have to be ugly to be godly?

This is not like many of the books I’ve heard about: there are no lists, calls for the ruler, blaming of women etc. They recognize that many calls for modesty are not motivated by the gospel, but legalism. This has led to, in many circles, a neglect of the subject. Or a very narrow view of the subject, making it all about women’s clothing when it encompasses far more than that.

“When we build theology without clear reference to the gospel, we begin to take refuge in rules. … Indeed, in this particular area, the regulations become our gospel- a gospel of bondage rather than freedom. … Modesty without the gospel is prudishness.”

They then begin the hard task of defining modesty. They note the dictionary definitions. But they then do something that may surprise some people, they talk about one’s situational context. Modesty is partially a function of your circumstances. They give the illustration of a bathing suit. Appropriate by the pool or beach, but not appropriate for a worship service or funeral (and maybe even Wal-Mart). It would be modest in one context, but immodest in another. Your situation matters.

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There are times when an author or screenwriter says more than they intend to say. I wonder if Flight is one of those times. I don’t know the screenwriter (John Gatins) and his worldview. But it closely approximates a biblical worldview, and there are a number of characters who are Christians.

Flight is not an enjoyable movie to watch, unless you enjoy watching a man destroy his life. Flight is mostly about the destructive power of sin, though there is a strong theme of common grace and, at the end, a taste of redemption. As a result, it is not as depressing and nihilistic as Leaving Las Vegas. While it depicts lots of sin, it is not trying to justify or glorify it. It shows the hell of it.

The first few minutes of the movie are tough to watch if you have a sensitive conscience. Our introduction to the main character, Captain “Whip” Whitaker (Denzel Washington) is in a hotel room after a night of excess that included sex, booze and drugs. While his partner for the night wanders around the room naked (eventually, and mercifully, she gets dressed) he argues on the phone with his ex-wife and then prepares for work by snorting some coke. What we see is not a “nice” guy.

But Whip is an excellent pilot. When the flight from Orlando to Atlanta goes terribly wrong he is able to pull the plane out of an uncontrolled dive (in a very harrowing scene), and land it in a large field. He awakens in a hospital to discover that 4 passengers and 2 crew (including the woman with whom he was partying) have died. We later learn that in the simulator, no one could land the plan safely. This incredibly flawed man does something heroic.

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Reading a book on theology by a woman for women? Cavman, are you getting in touch with your feminine side? Well, the last time I tried that, it slapped me.

More seriously, our women’s ministry is considering The Gospel Centered Woman: Understanding Biblical Womanhood through the Lens of the Gospel by Wendy Alsup for the summer and asked me to take a look at it. Wanting the women to get a healthy diet, I read the book. (It looks like this was self-published, but you can find her book Practical Theology for Woman: How Knowing God Makes a Difference in Our Daily Lives at WTS Books).

I’ve generally found that books written by women, particularly theology books, have a very different feel than those written by men. That is not good or bad, just different. I guess if you are a woman reading it, it is good. That is to say that I’m trying to evaluate it on its own merit, recognizing she won’t write like Sinclair Ferguson (for instance).

The subtitle is important here. She is writing about biblical womanhood, and is a complementarian. Some people miss the main point about complementarianism- it is not about who cooks, cleans or mows the lawn. It is not about who is smarter or wiser.

This is not a defense of complementarianism. It is rather assumed. He goal, the subtitle again, it to view this through the lens of the gospel. She wants women to understand who they are on account of the gospel, and how that fleshes itself out in daily life.

“It is the gospel alone that equips us to bridge the gap between God’s good plan for His daughters and the fallen reality in which we all live.”

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Last night we had “Guy Movie Night”. I thought the recent release, Machine Gun Preacher, would be an interesting movie to watch and talk about. It would certainly get us outside of our comfort zone and think about how to live out our faith in circumstances very different than our own.

It has a provocative title, drawing attention to the seeming contradiction at play. It is based on the life of Sam Childers, who runs an orphanage in southern Sudan. This is the Hollywood treatment, so we can’t be too sure about how accurate the story is. Often multiple events can be synthesized into one for the purpose of movie-making. So … I am not speaking about the real Sam Childers, but the Sam Childers of film, played by The 300′s Gerard Butler.

The beginning of the movie is a large part of why it has an R rating. Sam is released from prison. He’s something of a bad boy biker, and speaks like it. There are quite a few F-bombs and c-suckers in the first 20-30 minutes. After his wife picks him up at the prison the next scene is them in the car on the side of road getting reacquainted, so to speak. There is no nudity and it is shot from a distance, but it certainly made me feel uncomfortable.

This was a man who lived according to his most pressing desires. Yet he returns to a wife who is different from the one he left. She no longer strips. I could not conceive of having the mother of my child, even if we weren’t married, strip for men. He was angry upon this discovery. “What, did you find God?” he asked derisively. Like a good Calvinist, she responded “God found me.” And so the battle begins. She continues to work at a respectable, low-paying job and bringing their daughter to church. He returns to his life of crime, drugs and drinking.

That is until one night, after robbing a dealer he thinks he kills a hitchhiker in a brutal attack in the back seat of the car. His wife awakens to find him trying to wash blood out of his shirt. “Help me,” he cries. And so he awkwardly attends church and responds to a vague invitation and is baptized.

What he believes is never really spelled out. His faith is more a necessary plot device that motivates some action and creates the cognitive dissonance. There are no clear articulations of any Christian doctrine, and he is baptized upon a confession of faith we never hear.

But what is clear is that he changes. Though he struggles to provide for his family, he sticks to respectable work. Eventually he applies himself and builds a business. His family is able to move out of the dumpy, tornado ravaged mobile home they share with his mother. He is engaged in family life.

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In preparing for my sermon on Sunday I re-read Jonathan Edwards’ discourse “Men are Naturally God’s Enemy”. Nestled in there was the following:

“All the sin that men commit, is what they do in the service of their idols: there is no one act of sin, but what is an act of service to some false god. And therefore wherein soever God opposes sin in them, his is opposite to their worship of idols: on which account they are his enemies. God opposes them in their service of their idols.”

Idols are our functional saviors, what we use to supplement (or replace) the living and true God. We use them to “save” us from the realities of life in a fallen world. They offer pleasure, distraction, hope and other benefits. Not that they can deliver. But we rely on them, and their false promises, anyway.

As Tim Keller notes, these idols are often good things. We aren’t talking about little statues we bow down to each morning. But they function as gods in our lives. They have our allegiance. We rest our sense of security on them. This we do because, as John Calvin noted, our hearts are factories of idols. Not that we create idols, but turn good things into idols. The problem is not “out there”, but “in here”.

As I lay in bed, wishing I was asleep, I was struck by the fact that our most common idols are found in the first few chapters of Genesis. Sure, there are modern ones like fancy sports cars (or luxury sedans or…), all things Apple, and other inventions. Or science, many bow down there accepting whatever science says (this week) without recognizing that scientists are finite, sinners with (often ungodly) presuppositions instead of purely objective thinkers and observers. But most of our idols have been there from the beginning. As a result, they go unnoticed by most people.

In one of the books I’ve read (it’s been a few years and my aging mind can’t remember which one and I don’t have the free time to chase it down), the author tells of a person from India coming to the States. Now, when people from the States go to India they are struck by the sheer number of little idols, statues to gods, that are seemingly everywhere. Yet, this person arrived on our shores aghast at all of our idols! It is always easier to see other people’s idols. Just like it is easier to see their splinter while not noticing the log in your eye.

28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Genesis 1 (ESV)

We see here a number of idols, or functional saviors, that enslave people. I guess I could start with religion. I’m not talking faith in the God of the Bible, but that tendency toward ritual and legalism that provide us with a false sense of assurance. But I won’t.

Marriage is a frequent idol for people. They think it a refuge from loneliness, economic insecurity and hopelessness. Many single people think life would be tolerable if only they were married. Many married people live in fear of their marriage ending and don’t take the necessary steps to make that relationship healthier and godly. They so need the approval of their spouse they never say ‘no’ and live in misery because they fear a greater misery.

Connected to marriage by God, but disconnected by humanity, is sex. We live in a society of sex addicts, or idolators. Sex offers them, they think, enough pleasure to overcome the pain and boredom of life that they become enslaved. They think it offers intimacy, but forsake its intended intimacy through objectification of various kinds. It often destroys the relationships we so desperately want.

Also connect to marriage by God, and increasingly disconnected by people, is children. Many seek love from (rather than giving love to) children. They seek immortality through their children. They seek to fulfill their own failed goals through their children. Many people place intolerable burdens on their children, destroying them as a result.

We also find control. We are to subdue and rule creation- under God’s authority. But we try to play God and make everything bend to our authority. We crave control, fearing we are not sufficient to meet the challenges of unexpected events or circumstances. It destroys relationships like acid (then we wonder why the person left even as we try to manipulate them back into the relationship).

We also make a god of creation. Our idol factory hearts twist stewardship of creation into environmentalism so that the environment and/or animals become more important than people made in God’s image. People begin to sacrifice real and potential relationships on the altar of being green. They look to their pets to fill the black hole in their hearts that crave unconditional love. We should care for the environment and animals, including pets, but many give them ultimate status in their universe.

Work is another functional savior for people. (For others the avoidance of work is their idol). They seek to be utterly independent, secure and safe thru their work. It provides an ultimate meaning for them that only God is intended to have. They turn the image of God in on itself. God works, and calls us to work. It is the ordinary means of providing our needs. But in God’s providence, at times we endure hardship that we might be humble and experience grace and compassion so we will be ready to extend grace and compassion.

“A true hope looks forward to the obtaining of happiness in no other way but the way of the gospel, which is by a holy Savior, and in a way of cleaving to and following him.” Jonathan Edwards in Charity and Its Fruits

All of these things, as God gave them to us, is good! But we ceaselessly give them more importance than intended. We use them in the place of God to provide us with satisfaction, security, pleasure and even salvation. All that we have turned into functional saviors can only be returned to their rightful place as we seek all our significance, meaning, security and satisfaction from Christ. This only happens as we see the the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ as Creator and Redeemer. As Jonathan Edwards argues, only when we see Christ as sufficient to bestow all the happiness we need, will we forsake other means to secure earthly happiness.

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The final section of The Explicit Gospel has to do with implications and applications. The majority of the section has to do with what happens if you stay on the ground or in the air too long.

“The explicit gospel holds the gospel on the ground and the gospel in the air as complementary, two views of the same redemptive plan God has for the world in the work of his Son.”

Think of it as a cross country trip. If you drive it you easily get lost in the details. Especially in west Texas. Monotony can set in. The hours grind by and you lose sight of the big picture- why you are going there. You just want to get there.

If you fly, let’s say a small private plan like my friend Steve, you can’t stay in the air too long or you’ll run out of fuel. You see the big picture, but you miss out on the details. You see the expanse of canyons and mountains. But you miss the nuances of those same places.

Not the best illustration, but hopefully it helps. Unfortunately it does break down because the two modes of transportation are not as obviously complementary. They are often mutually exclusive. Too often people treat the gospel on the ground and the air as mutually exclusive instead of complementary. These are the dangers that Chandler wants to make explicit.

He begins with a discussion of slippery slopes. Most theological errors are the result of over-emphasizing something that is true at the expense of something else that is true. In trying to protect one thing, we go too far and deny something else. His goal is to encourage us to avoid this by holding both together.

“So it is not usually in the affirmation of a truth that someone goes down the slippery slope, but in the denial of corresponding truths.”

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I really like Matt Chandler’s preaching. He’s a little edgy, and has that Baptist almost screaming things at times. But I benefit from much of what he says. He also experiences similar reactions to the gospel as I did in small city Florida. He just experiences it on a much larger scale in the Big D. His frustrations with people being inoculated for the gospel ring true in my time in Florida.

I’ve read Jared Wilson’s blog for some time now. I like how he tries to keep the gospel central. You have to like a guy who moves to Vermont to pastor a church, especially when he adopts the local sports teams. That’s good missional thinking, right?

Well, they wrote a book together. Matt was the primary author, and Jared helped him out. The book is The Explicit Gospel, and it has blurbs filled with praise from the likes of Rick Warren, D.A. Carson, Mark Driscoll, David Platt, Ed Stetzer and more. A literal hodge-podge of famous (and some might say infamous) pastors. Incidentally, CavCorollary #167 is don’t believe the blurbs.

I am half way through the book, and thought this would be a good time to process it. The first half focuses on “the gospel on the ground.” The second focuses on the “gospel in the air”.  Think trees versus forest. It is the same gospel, but from different perspectives, or angles.

“If the gospel on the ground is the gospel at the micro level, the gospel in the air is the story at the macro level. … One crucial thing that viewing the gospel on the ground helps us do is distinguish between the gospel’s content and the gospel’s implications. … On the ground, the gospel comes to us as individuals.”

The gospel on the ground, according to Chandler, distinguishes between the gospel and its implications. It focuses on the personal aspects of the gospel instead of the cosmic aspects of the gospel. We need both. But we need to distinguish them or we get all messed up. This is one of the problems that he mentions in some “gospel” preaching- they talk as if the implications of the gospel (social justice, good works, community etc.) were the gospel itself. So they distort and obscure the gospel as a result.

But let’s get back to the beginning.

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One of the phrases that sticks with me from The Meaning of Marriage is that of future glory. Keller points to places like Ephesians 5 to contemplate this idea of our future glory.

25  Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

Jesus gave himself up for the church for a few reasons mentioned here (and others elsewhere). He sets her apart. He has cleansed her in order to present her to himself. Her new condition is one of splendor, without blemish. Paul is mentioning the future glory of the church. And this is to be the model for the husband, to consider the future glory of his own wife.

I’m currently editing my own book on marriage, and grappling with this passage. We tend to get stuck in the tension between their dignity as image bearers and their depravity as sinners. Each of us tends to err in one or the other extreme. We can focus on their dignity so much that we idealize them, worship them and don’t address the sin they do commit. It is almost like you remain forever in that infatuation phase when all you see is what is good about a person and not their faults and failings.

But most people who are married for any length of time tend to slowly drift toward the other extreme. Their failures and faults loom large since we see them on display regularly. We grow weary of these things, apart from grace.

This grace is two-fold. First, there is forgiveness. No marriage, or any relationship, can survive without forgiveness. It is like grace’s in-door plumbing system. It refreshes those how are guilty, and removes our “waste” from the relationship. Without it the relationship begins to look like one of those houses in Hoarders, filled with animal excrement, mold and filth. It is an assault on one’s senses. Forgiving one another is rooted in Christ’s atonement. Paul goes there at the end of Ephesians 4. Since we have received grace from God, we are to grace one another. We forgive because we have been forgiven!

Second, there is contemplating their future glory. Your spouse will not always remain as they are now. In our saner moments we notice how much God has changed them already. My wife sees this most clearly whenever we spend time with my family. I am increasingly less like them.

But we also need hope, and God provides that in passages like this. All of the members of Christ’s bride will appear before him in splendor, without blemish. We need to keep this thought before us. He or she will one day be just like Jesus in their character. Their personality will remain, in purified form, but they will no longer have their faults and failings. Their blemishes will be gone.

And one of the means that God uses to accomplish this, one set of circumstances in which he applies the work of Christ, is marriage. If you are married, this is probably the primary place. He has others, so if you are single don’t worry, he’ll apply them to you as well. You are one of the means as you increasingly treat their sin as Jesus does. Yes, you become a living representative of Jesus to them as one in whom the image of God is being restored. You are patient, merciful and yet firm with their sin. You call them out, AND to repentance on the basis of God’s mercy in Christ. You aren’t doing it to win an argument or keep them in their place so you can feel superior. You are pursuing their sanctification with humility and love.

In our community group recently I also applied this to our experience with the church. We often begin our time at a church in an infatuation phase. The pastor’s sermons are awesome, people friendly etc. Eventually we being to see their sin. We begin to be sinned against. What do we do? Depends. If we are not actively impacted by grace, we get angry and leave. But grace enables us to forgive the sins of the local church and contemplate (as well as pursue) her future glory.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1

Paul here contemplates that future glory with regard to the Philippian church. God is the one who began this, and will finish it. Paul rested in that. We need to as well. If we are sure of this, like Paul was, we can be patient and merciful with our fellow church members- forgiving them, correcting them, offering them mercy in the midst of their sin.

If we don’t, our church life will become like so many marriages: cold, distant, lifeless and ending in divorce.

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In his first letter to the Thessalonian church, Paul mentions how the gospel came with power. This power was seen in that they turned away from idols to serve the living God. They were converted. Conversion involves a putting away of idols. There just seems to be no way of avoiding this reality. All of us depended on something to save us: our goodness, our IQ, our race or background, some ritual (circumcision, baptism, walking the aisle …). Finally we turned from them to a God who can really save us- Jesus!

But our hearts didn’t stop their nefarious work of producing idols to either supplant or supplement Jesus. Nothing ultimately can, because He is all-sufficient. But we are foolish and sinful. We are prone to wander, distracted like a kid in a toy store.

This is the season to contemplate the death and resurrection of Christ as our Substitute. Too often we are prone to focus on our justification. But we can’t stop there. We have to move into our sanctification. Why? Because Jesus did. And Paul did.

I’m preaching out of Luke 9 this week. It is the passage where Peter makes his profound confession that Jesus was the Messiah. Not that he understood all that it means. Jesus proceeds to tell the disciples just what it means. He moves to his death and resurrection. This is the means by which we are delivered from the wrath of God that is justly due our sin.

But Jesus doesn’t stop there. He moves into discipleship. If we are united to Christ and he is the suffering Messiah, we too must lay down our lives and suffer as we follow him. There are the three commands: deny yourself, pick up the cross and follow me.  In other words, this is the path of sanctification. There is no coming back- we are on a death march. We do this in the hope of life everlasting, that Jesus is true to his word and his work is sufficient.

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