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Posts Tagged ‘sovereignty’


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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Envy is a problem for everyone. The 10th Commandment is essentially about envy- wanting what someone else has. It is a cancer to the soul, breeding complaints against God like a whiny teenager. “If you loved me …”

Ministers are not immune. We can be tempted to envy how God is at work in other churches. At least in how we perceive it.

I had one of those experiences recently as a few fellow pastors gathered to discuss a common project. One, a church planter, noted upon being asked how their new facility is already packed. The attendance is about 50% higher than ours.

For me it turns into self-condemnation of a sort. “You stink. If you were a good pastor/preacher/leader you’d see that and more.”

Envy destroys contentment. And that is the 2nd mistake that Dave Kraft addresses in Mistakes Leaders Make.

It isn’t limited to ministry success. You can envy how much other pastors make. As a Presbyterian, I know how much new pastors in the Presbytery make. When you pastor a smaller church, that is tough. Suddenly you think about your retirement, that cruise you wish you could take and a host of other things. It can easily distract you from the task at hand.

“I think it is good to compare what is happening through me (and in me) with what could potentially happen. It is good to compare where I am with my growth and ministry effectiveness with where it is possible to be, with God’s grace. Where I get into trouble is when I compare with others who have different gifts, callings, capacities, and personalities.”

There are several important things there. First, comparing is okay if I’m wondering what God could do with me (keeping my gifts and limitations in mind). It becomes a question of faithfulness, am I being faithful? How can I be more faithful? That is a far better standard than success.

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We’ve had a number of events recently that have shaken many Americans to the core. The reality of evil was pressed home in painful fashion. Sadly, most Americans aren’t prepared to face the reality of evil. If people are considered basically good, then we essentially think such things should not happen here where we are educated and prosperous. Those things only happen there, wherever there may be. But not to us, not on our shores.

There are a number of books that have tried to tackle this problem. Some good. Some bland. And some quite horrible, like the sadly popular book by Rabbi Kushner about the God who wants to help but really can’t. He also assumes there are good people.

“To come to grips with the problem of evil and suffering, you must do more than hear heart-wrenching stories about suffering people. You must hear God’s truth to help you interpret those stories.”

Randy Alcorn has released The Goodness of God: Assurance of Purpose in the Midst of Suffering for this reason. It is a shorter version (120 pages) of his book If God is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering. It makes a readable, meaningful book that you can hand out to people who are suffering, or struggling with the suffering of others. He covers lots of ground in succinct fashion, including illustrations and examples to help people understand his point. It is not dry and academic. He writes of his own suffering and how he had to make sense of it. He believes any faith that doesn’t prepare you for suffering is not a biblical faith, and our churches must do a better job teaching biblical theology to prepare people for suffering.

“The pain of suffering points to something deeply and unacceptably flawed about this world we inhabit.”

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The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has a strange history. Many, not all, of the Founders of the SBC would have self-identified as Calvinists, or Particular Baptists. J.L. Dagg’s Systematic Theology is one example. Tom Nettles traces the history in By His Grace and For His Glory. Over the years, Arminianism took root in the SBC. There has been a resurgence of Calvinism that parallels the resurgence of Calvinism prompted, in large part, by the ministries of men like J.I. Packer and R.C. Sproul. Men like Tom Nettles and Tom Ascol formed the Founders’ Conference. Let’s just say there has been some push back from the SBC at large.

The latest has emerged in a series of Affirmations and Denials in A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation. As I read the document, my thought was that they gutted the gospel in an attempt, in their minds, to save the gospel from those pernicious Calvinists. The affirmations and denials, in their own words, ultimately cause problems in understanding the gospel. This is an exercise in theological over-reaction. They fulfilled one of the CavCorollaries: in theological disputation we tend to move to greater extremes.

We deny that only a select few are capable of responding to the Gospel while the rest are predestined to an eternity in hell.

I would take issue with the phrase “select few”. I believe there will be a numberless multitude according to Revelation. They don’t affirm what Scripture means when it talks about election, chosen in Christ before the creation of the world (Eph. 1). But early on, you can see they are asserting a particular view of free will. They don’t seem to realize that Calvinists hold to free will (there is a whole chapter on it in the Westminster Confession of Faith). The difference is that they don’t really see much of an effect from Adam’s sin to the will of man.

We deny that Adam’s sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person’s free will or rendered any person guilty before he has personally sinned. While no sinner is remotely capable of achieving salvation through his own effort, we deny that any sinner is saved apart from a free response to the Holy Spirit’s drawing through the Gospel.

Here is a denial of what we find in Romans 5- the imputation of Adam’s sin to all. Paul teaches that all sinned in Adam. He stresses the “one man’s trespass” in contrast to the “one man’s obedience”. You see, if you deny the imputation of Adam’s sin, you lose the basis for the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. You … gut the gospel. Paul is teaching covenant theology here as the basis for the fall of humanity and salvation in Christ.

We deny that grace negates the necessity of a free response of faith or that it cannot be resisted. We deny that the response of faith is in any way a meritorious work that earns salvation.

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Some time back I did a rather brief review of Paul Tripp’s new book on marriage, What Did You Expect?”  As I mentioned there, I think this is one of the best books on marriage.  Tripp goes beneath the surface of marriage (and this is applicable to ANY relationship).

In the DVD, taken from a conference, is similar but not identical to the book.  In the DVD, he focuses on the big picture of marriage.  And that heart of a marriage is determined by worship.  What you worship will determine the quality of your marriage, and other relationships.  The more you worship someone or something instead of God, you will be in conflict because you don’t have the same desires and priorities.

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A few years ago I came across The Great Work of the Gospel: How We Experience God’s Grace by John Ensor.  It intrigued me.  John works in establishing pregnancy centers worldwide.  He lives in Boston as well.  So for years I’ve been meaning to buy and read this book.  Something always seemed to be more important at the time.  Until recently.  I picked up a copy about 2 months ago and decided to read it since I was beginning a series on the atonement for Lent.

I’m sorry I waited, but the book was timely in light of the whole Rob Bell thing.  The Christian should treat grace like a scientist treats gravity: not merely accepting its reality, but want to understand its totality.  As recipients of grace, we explore grace that our hearts might be more captured by it and more grateful for it.  To adapt an old saying, unexamined grace isn’t worth having.  This is because to understand grace is to understand Christianity.  How can you be a Christian without wanting to understand it?

“The grace of God that forgives us changes us. … The grace of God wounds our pride but then increases our confidence.  When God forgives, he exposes the most shameful things only to then cleanse them all from our conscience.”

Let’s stop for a moment.  Some personal context to lay my cards on the table.  I grew up Catholic.  I have a Ph.D. in guilt: true and false.  I am a recovering Pharisee who couldn’t keep his own high standards, much less God’s.  There are MANY things I don’t want you to know about me.  There are things only a privileged (and I use that term loosely) know about me.

But I have no interest in cheap grace, or cheap forgiveness.  I’m not trying to ignore God’s standards.  Neither is Ensor following the fashion of the day.  He structures the book on the topic of the Great Work.  When we own up to our guilt, we desire forgiveness and grace.  But if we never own up to guilt, then grace seems pretty much irrelevant.  In all of the chapters, Ensor examines a variety of biblical texts and addresses numerous misconceptions.  In the chapter on desiring grace, for instance, he tackles self-esteem and the reality of the conscience.

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For Biblical Lay Ministry

One (all?) of the community groups here at Desert Springs is going through Paul Tripp’s Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change.  I guess that is one of the reasons I see this congregation as a great fit for me.  I’d have recommended this material, and they are already studying it.

It is a book I read during my transition period.  I posted some thoughts on it.  I decided to bring it home with me last night to review.  Yes, most of my books are now out of boxes.  When you go back to something you can often wonder why you liked it in the first place.  But this is one of those times you are reminded just how thoughtful and profound a book is.  Paul Tripp is one of those guys more Christians need to read.  That he has been a serious student of Scripture for a long time is evident as you read his books.  In the opening chapters I (re)discovered material suitable for my sermon Sunday and my upcoming series on Genesis.  You can read the first chapter here.

Here are some thoughts from the first few chapters, and the preface.

“For most of us, church is merely an event we attend or an organization we belong to.  We do not see it as a calling that shapes our entire lives.”

This is a great summary of what good pastors want to tell their people, often.  We are shaped by the ministry of the Word, both public and private or personal.  It is not enough to show up- but to engage with the Word by believing it and acting upon it.  One of the things I appreciate the most about this book is its call to do just that.  He has a very Word-centered view of ministry, for it is there that we meet with the Living Word- Jesus Himself.

“The King came not to make our agenda possible, but to draw us into something more amazing, glorious, and wonderful than we could ever imagine. “

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