Friday, December 27, 2013

The Centrality of the Cross

Tom Nettles, professor of historical theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, just published a new book on Charles Spurgeon. For Spurgeon the cross of Christ was central to the Bible. Here is a quote from Nettles describing Mr. Spurgeon's cross centered view of life.

"'All good things lie within the compass of the cross' Spurgeon would say. It is in the cross that one can begin to grasp the whole of reality because 'Its outstretched arms overshadow the whole world of thought' and indeed the death of Christ was the 'hinge of the world's history. Its foot is planted deep in eternal mysteries and its top pierces all earth born clouds, and rises to the throne of the most high.'" (Thomas Nettles, Living By Revealed Truth, (Geanies House, Scotland: Mentor, 2013) pg 228) 

Friday, November 22, 2013

How Not To Grow in Holiness

IN HIS NEW BOOK on Jonathan Edwards, Formed For The Glory of God, Kyle Strobel states an important principle.  

“Holiness is not something you can develop an action plan for. Holiness is not in your power. The means of grace are actions that help us focus more fully on God, recognizing that God is the fountain from which all grace flows. If you want to bear good fruit you don’t simply try hard, as if fruit-bearing is an issue of sheer force. Instead, you establish a healthy connection with the tree (Jn 15:4-5). This is more deeply relational than self-willing your life into order. Therefore, while the goal of spiritual disciplines can digress into fixing or growing oneself, the goal of means of grace is abiding in God through Christ.”[1]

How do we abide? We keep focused on the cross of Christ where all of God's attributes are gloriously displayed. 

[1] Strobel, Kyle (2013-03-07). Formed for the Glory of God: Learning from the Spiritual Practices of Jonathan Edwards (pp. 71-72). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Why Is The Most Important Virtue the one we least Pursue?

WILLIAM LAW, AN 18th century Anglican pastor, wrote the powerful words below. The truths
William Law 1686-1761
expressed are universal, and they are an especially important corrective to our age of self-esteem. Meditate and rejoice.

“Because an humble state of soul is the very state of religion, because humility is the life and soul of piety, the foundation and support of every virtue and good work, the best guard and security of all holy affections; I shall recommend humility to you, as highly proper to be made the constant subject of your devotions, at this third hour of the day; earnestly desiring you to think no day safe, or likely to end well, in which you have not thus early put yourself in this posture of humility, and called upon God to carry you through the day, in the exercise of a meek and lowly spirit."

"This virtue is so essential to the right state of our souls, that there is no pretending to a reasonable or pious life without it. We may as well think to see without eyes, or live without breath, as to live in the spirit of religion without the spirit of humility. And although it is thus the soul and essence of all religious duties, yet is it, generally speaking, the least understood, the least regarded, the least intended, the least desired and sought after, of all other virtues, amongst all sorts of Christians."
"No people have more occasion to be afraid of the approaches of pride, than those, who have made some advances in a pious life: for pride can grow as well upon our virtues as our vices, and steals upon us on all occasions. Every good thought that we have, every good action that we do, lays us open to pride, and exposes us to the assaults of vanity and self-satisfaction. It is not only the beauty of our persons, the gifts of fortune, our natural talents, and the distinctions of life; but even our devotions and alms, our fastings and humiliations expose us to fresh and strong temptations of this evil spirit. And it is for this reason that I so earnestly advise every devout person to begin every day in this exercise of humility, that he may go on in safety under the protection of this good guide, and not fall a sacrifice to his own progress in those virtues which are to save mankind from destruction."

"Humility does not consist in having a worse opinion of ourselves than we deserve, or in abasing ourselves lower than we really are; but as all virtue is founded in truth, so humility is founded in a true and just sense of our weakness, misery, and sin. He that rightly feels and lives in this sense of his condition, lives in humility."

"The weakness of our state appears from our inability to do anything as of ourselves. In our natural state we are entirely without any power; we are indeed active beings, but can only act by a power that is every moment lent us from God. We have no more power of our own to move a hand, or stir a foot, than to move the sun, or stop the clouds. When we speak a word, we feel no more power in ourselves to do it, than we feel ourselves able to raise the dead. For we act no more within our own power, or by our own strength, when we speak a word, or make a sound, than the Apostles acted within their own power, or by their own strength, when a word from their mouth cast out devils, and cured diseases. As it was solely the power of God that enabled them to speak to such purposes, so it is solely the power of God that enables us to speak at all. We indeed find that we can speak, as we find that we are alive; but the actual exercise of speaking is no more in our own power, than the actual enjoyment of life."

"This is the dependent, helpless poverty of our state; which is a great reason for humility. For, since we neither are, nor can do anything of ourselves, to be proud of anything that we are, or of anything that we can do, and to ascribe glory to ourselves for these things, as our own ornaments, has the guilt both of stealing and lying. It has the guilt of stealing, as it gives to ourselves those things which only belong to God; it has the guilt of lying, as it is the denying the truth of our state, and pretending to be something that we are not."

"Secondly, Another argument for humility is founded in the misery of our condition. Now the misery of our condition appears in this, that we use these borrowed powers of our nature to the torment and vexation of ourselves, and our fellow creatures. God Almighty has entrusted us with the use of reason, and we use it to the disorder and corruption of our nature. We reason ourselves into all kinds of folly and misery, and make our lives the sport of foolish and extravagant passions; seeking after imaginary happiness in all kinds of shapes, creating to ourselves a thousand wants, amusing our hearts with false hopes and fears, using the world worse than irrational animals, envying, vexing, and tormenting one another with restless passions, and unreasonable contentions.”[1] 

[1] William Law, A Devout Call, (Ages Software) pg 192,93

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Eschatalogical Effervesence!

ESCHATOLOGY IS JUST  A big word for the study of what the Bible says about the future. Sam Storm's, Kingdom Come, The Amillennial Alternative is a helpful study of this subject.  I think it will prove to be a classic.

The Bible says much about the future. And, in the last century Evangelicals have given an inordinate amount of mental energy to this subject, and for some, it has become a fighting matter. At the heart of the issue is the millennium, a subject directly discussed only once in Revelation 20. Despite this one oblique reference, Christians have taken a strong, and often unyielding stand, on their interpretation of the future. The church has divided into three interpretations.

The first is Postmillennial, meaning Jesus will return after a millennium (thousand years) of church prosperity. For some the millennium is literal. To others it is a long period of time. Up until the last 100 years, most of the Reformers, in fact most Christians, were Postmillennial.

The second approach is Premillennial, meaning Jesus will return to reign on earth for a literal thousand years. Premillenials have been around since the early church, but were always a small minority until the rise of Dispensational Premillennialism after WWII. Premillenialism is the most common position in today's evangelical world.

The third is Amillennialism, meaning the millennium is a symbol for a long period of time, i.e. the period between Christ's first coming and his second coming.  There is no physical 1,000 year reign of Christ on earth. Amillennialism is a variant on Postmillennialism and has also grown popularity since WWII. The difference is that the spiritual prosperity for which Postmillennials hope in this world, Amillennials hope for in the New Creation.

Storm's book is an argument for Amillennialism.

Dr. Storms came to Christ in a Dispensational, Premillennial environment. He attended Dallas Theological Seminary, the bastion of Dispensational Premillennial thought. He even taught theology there. However, as he examined the scripture he began to encounter problems with Dispensational Premillennial teaching. This book is the fruit of these concerns marinated in years of careful thought.

Storms writes clearly and convincingly. Kingdom Come contains excellent chapters on the hermeneutics of Eschatology, the history of Premillennialism, the current popularity of Premillennialism, and chapters on all the controversial chapters that deal with eschatology in the Bible. Storms is gracious with his opponents, and in my view his argument is convincing.

This is a book that I heartily recommend. To those curios to know more about eschatology this volume will be helpful. For those curios to know more about the view of those with whom they disagree, hopefully many, this volume will also be greatly helpful.

Monday, September 9, 2013

What It Means To Be Saved!

G. E. Ladd
GEORGE ELDON LADD, late professor of theology at Fuller Seminary, in his important book, The Gospel of the Kingdom, defined salvation this way.

“This is what it means to be saved. It means to go about every day in the present evil Age living the life of heaven. It means that every local fellowship of God’s people who have shared this life should live together and worship and serve together as those who enjoy a foretaste of heaven here on earth. This is what the fellowship of a Christian Church ought to be.”[1]
For Ladd salvation was not just theoretical. It was experiential, and it was social. It was collective. It meant joining the fellowship of those who will someday populate Heaven.
May we all share Ladd's optimism as well as his present experience?

[1] Ladd, G.E., the Gospel of the Kingdom, pg 787 (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1959)

Saturday, September 7, 2013

How To Conquer Anxiety!

NO ONE WANTS to be anxious. Nevertheless, many of  us wrestle with anxiety. It is an unpleasant experience. You can't be happy and anxious at the same time. So, conquering anxiety is something everyone wants to do.

I have learned that it helps to identify the root of anxiety. To do that we need to throw out the word "anxiety" and replace it with a word that accurately describes the problem––fear. Anxiety is merely a symptom of fear. Beneath anxiety is greater problem, fear, and when I see the real issue I can begin to control anxiety with the question, "what do I fear?"

I remember learning years ago in my Psych 101 class that anxiety is always a symptom of goal blocked behavior. In other words, I am afraid that something is going to happen that I don't want to happen. Or, I am afraid that I am going to lose something that I badly want to keep. I am afraid that I am going to receive something I don't want. I am afraid that someone is going to reject me, or I am afraid that I am going to have to relate to someone unpleasant. The objects of our fear have many expressions. 

In other words, something is too important to me. In biblical terms, I have an idol. Something is more important to me than God. Here is the root of anxiety...Idolatry. And identifying the idol is the key to the cure.

This is where the label "fear" helps. As long as I call it anxiety it is difficult to get to the root. But when I say, "my real problem is that I am afraid," than I can answer the next question. What am I afraid of ? When I answer that question I have identified the idol. The next step is repentance.

Those willing to replace the word "anxiety" with the word "fear" are on theway to freedom from anxiety.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Behold the Love of God!

MANY CHRISTIANS have a hard time personalizing God's love. For those in this condition
meditation on God's love is helpful. The Bible gives us good material. One example occurred the night before Jesus' death.

After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you too are one of them [a follower of Jesus],  for your accent betrays you.” Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man.” And immediately the rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly" (Matthew 26:73–75).

 The gravity of betrayal is according to the dignity and worth of the one betrayed. If you betray your pet it is not even a sin. If you betray your spouse it is sinful, but if you betray God himself it is mega-sinful. Peter committed a greats sin. He betrayed Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Savior of the world..

Peter failed  his Friend in his hour of greatest need. Instead, he yielded to craven fear. He was not loyal. Then to cover it up he called down a curse upon himself. In essence he told the bystanders, "I do not know the man. If I am lying may God's cursing come crashing down upon me." Ironically, what Peter asked for happened, but the curse didn't land on him.

It landed on the One he betrayed, Jesus.

To an ancient Jew to be cursed by God was life's greatest calamity. On the other hand, God's blessing was life's greatest good. Here is the measure of Christ's love for Peter, and by extension, you and me. Although Peter had alienated himself from Jesus and sinned greatly, Jesus took the curse that Peter called down upon himself. He went to the cross to obtain his Father's forgiveness for Peter's sin against himself. He did this so that Peter, the one who betrayed him, could receive the blessing that Jesus deserved.

Jesus did the same for each Christian reading these words.  "Christ  redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” (Galatians 3:13). What is most striking is that Jesus did this for someone who had deeply hurt and disappointed him.

I recently spent a couple of days with an individual who talked non stop about himself. He wasn't interested in anyone else. I felt snubbed and ignored. My feelings were hurt.  I was irritated and didn't want to be around him. My gut reaction was to walk away from the relationship.

Thank goodness God is not like us. His gut-reaction was not to walk away from Peter, it was to die for him.

This is what God's is like. That is how God has loved each Christian reading these words.

If you are struggling to feel God's personal love for you, meditate on this today.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

God is our Happiness!

IN HIS CLASSIC WORK, Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis wrote “If you want to get wet you must get into the water. If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them. They are not a sort of prize which God could, if He chose, just hand out to anyone. They are a great fountain of energy and beauty spurting up at the very center of reality. If you are close to it, the spray will wet you: if you are not, you will remain dry. Once a man is united to God, how could he not live forever? Once a man is separated from God, what can he do but wither and die?”[1]

[1] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, (New York: MacMillan, 1975), pg 153

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Loving the Real God!

EACH OF US come to our Christian faith with a preconceived view of who God is. He is kind, generous, in love with us, dotes over us, lavishes us with mercy and grace, is fair with everyone, and would never do anything to pain another.
It's All About the Glory of God!

This is not the biblical view of God. The reality is much richer and more complex. And until we are willing to move from this preconceived view of God to loving the real God, the God of the Bible, God as he really is, we will not grow, mature, or do much to glorify God.

Romans 9:22-23 is a good example of the richer, more complex God. Concluding a long discussion about God's sovereignty, Paul asks, "What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory---even us whom he has called not from the Jews only, but also from the Gentiles?"

This text is very clear. God has prepared some beforehand to be vessels of destruction. They will display the glory of his justice and his wrath. God has also prepared beforehand vessels of mercy. They will likewise display the glory of God's mercy, grace, and love. In both cases God acts sovereignly, but he does so without violating human freedom. In both cases God is interested is something greater than human happiness. In both cases God is interested in manifesting something other than love, grace, and mercy. In both cases this is the not the God we expect when we come to Christianity.

I trust you are willing to "give up childish ways" and put on the "mind of Christ." He is light years beyond us. In the words of the doxology, "Oh the depths of the wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable are his judgments. How inscrutable his ways!" (Rom. 11:33).

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Seduced by The World

IN HIS IMPORTANT essay The Pelagian Captivity of the Church R.C. Sproul notes that almost all of our thinking about theology rises or falls on our understanding of human nature. Pelagianism is a term for the belief that people are born basically good and possess the capacity to earn God's favor. Since the fifth century, the church has condemned Pelagianism. 

Despite this fact, R. C. Sproul notes that most contemporary Evangelicals are thoroughly Pelagian. He writes, “In a George Bama poll, more than seventy percent of "professing evangelical Christians in America expressed the belief that man is basically good. And more than eighty percent articulated the view that God helps those who help themselves. These positions-or let me say it negatively-neither of these positions is semi-Pelagian. They're both Pelagian. To say that we're basically good is the Pelagian view. I would be willing to assume that in at least thirty percent of the people who are reading this issue, and probably more, if we really examine their thinking in depth, we would find hearts that are beating Pelagianism. We're overwhelmed with it. We're surrounded by it. We're immersed in it. We hear it every day. We hear it every day in the secular culture. And not only do we hear it every day in the secular culture, we hear it every day on Christian television and on Christian radio.”[1]

Brothers let us pray for one another, and let us be very clear on the consequences and affects of sin. Great issues ride upon our willingness to clear here. 

[1] R. C. Sproul, The Pelagian Captivity of the Church, pg 5, PDF version online. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Christ Pre-Eminent!

COLOSSIANS IS ALL ABOUT the pre-eminence of Christ. Here are some key verses.  

Have you ever wondered what life is all about? Col. 1:18 tells us “that in everything [Christ] might be pre-eminent.” 

If its all about Christ then obviously ministry can be summed up with 1:26 “Him we proclaim.” 

And, if its all about Christ then our future is 1:27 “Christ in you the hope of glory.” 

This also means that Christ must be life's greatest Treasure. So 2:3 reads “Christ in whom are hidden all the Treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” 

If you don't understand the Old Testament, that's OK because Christ is its sum and substance. 2:17 "The substance [of the OT] belongs to Christ."  

Do you want to grow in godliness? Sanctification occurs by 2:19 "Holding fast to the Head.” Then Paul gives us a good example of what "holding fast" looks like It means 3:1-2 "Seeking" Christ. It means "Setting your mind on the things that are above, where Christ is.”     

Blessed are those who do this. Blessed is the Christ-centered Christian obsessed with the glory of Christ.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Jonathan Edwards on Beauty

OUR WORLD and all of life, despite its besmirching by sin, is a world of great beauty. In Jonathan Edwards on 
Edwards on Beauty
Owen Strachan and Douglas Sweeney have provided a wonderful resource for the non-technical reader, one not familiar with Edwards or technical theology.

Each chapter  quotes Edwards sermons or theological treatises on various subjects. They are "The Beauty of God," "The Beauty of Creation," the "Beauty of Christ," the "Beauty of the Church," and the "Beauty of the Trintarian Afterlife." Then the authors provide connecting paragraphs explaining Edwards' approach to these subject and how he saw the beauty of God reflected through them in all of life. The end point is that all of life is about God and his beauty.

This would be a great study for small groups in our church. The chapters are short, but bristle with God-glorifying content. This book will equip you to see the beauty of God in all of life 24X7.

I recommend highly.

The Importance of Gratitude or Thanksgiving

PAUL WROTE PHILIPPIANS from prison. Most of us would grumble and complain. A Roman Prison was not a pleasant place. Bad food, surly companions, filth, rats, vermin, stench, poor lighting, beatings, torture, etc ...

Yet, in these circumstances, Paul writes the most amazing letter. It is a letter of joy. It is filled with exhortations to thanksgiving and gratitude. It contains commandments to not yield grumbling or complaining. Why? God is sovereign and God is good. Read the following texts and be amazed.

(Philippians 1:3–4) "3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy,"

(Philippians 1:18) "18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice,"

(Philippians 2:14) "14 Do all things without grumbling."

(Philippians 2:17–18) "17 Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me."

(Philippians 2:28–29) "28 I am the more eager to send [Timothy], therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. 29 So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men,"

(Philippians 3:1) "1 Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord."

(Philippians 4:4–6) "4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God."

(Philippians 4:10-11) "10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me....I have learned whatever situation I am in to be content." 

God gave Paul grace to rejoice and be thankful in horrendous circumstances. This should encourage us to hope that he will do the same for us in our time of need.

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Man Christ Jesus

The Man Christ Jesus, Dr. Bruce Ware.

If you are like me you have noticed the exhortations in scripture to be led by the Holy Spirit. For example, “Those
who are led by the Spirit of God are Sons of God” (Rom. 8:14). But, the big question is this: what does it mean to be led by the Spirit of God? What does being “led by the Spirit” look like when the shoe leather of Christian experience contacts the pavement of life?

The Man Christ Jesus answer this question by helping us look at the humanity of Jesus Christ. Dr. Ware argues that Jesus did not live a sinless life and do mighty miracles because he was God, although he was. All of this he accomplished in the power of the Spirit. As the ideal man and the Second Adam he was the only man who has ever lived who was perfectly led by God’s Spirit, and Christ is our model. Ware devotes chapters to Christ’s wisdom, his temptations, his suffering, his death and his coming reign in glory. In each case Dr. Ware shows us how Jesus needed to be led by the Holy Spirit to fulfill God’s plan for his life.

In the same way we need to be led, empowered, and protected by God’s Spirit. Watching Christ is instructive, and this book will help you do that. It is short, only 150 pages, and the prose is readable. I recommend. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

How The West Really Lost God

Mary Eberstadt
MARY EBERSTADT JUST penned a new volume, How The West Really Lost God. Eberstadt is a conservative scholar working for Stanford's Hoover Institution. I have read several of her other books. Eberstadt begins by noting that Christianity is on a precipitous decline, and secularism is on the rise in the West.

This book is an attempt to answer the question, which comes first, Christianity or the family? Is Christianity declining because the family is declining or is the family declining because Christianity is declining? Most suppose that Christianity is the horse that pulls the family's cart. The family collapses because religion collapses, or the family rises with the growth of religious belief.

Eberstadt turns all this upside down. She theorizes that religion follows the family. As the family declines religion declines. As the family rises, religious belief follows.  I did not find her argument conclusive. Yes, there is some truth that strong families strengthen religious conviction. The disconnect from extended family is one rational explanation for the secularism of the United States northwest.

But Eberstadt failed to convince me that fundamentally our world view (i.e. or religious convictions) don't ultimately govern everything about our real lives. This includes the family.

I finished the book wondering if Eberstadt really understands the power of religion when it reigns in the human heart.

It's Not About Us!

IF YOU HAVE EVER thought you were big and God was small, if you have ever been tempted to think life was all about us, here are some important scriptures to ponder. They make one pregnant point. It is not about us. Life and reality is about a big and glorious God.
A Cloud of Galaxies 

(Romans 11:36) "36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen."

(1 Corinthians 8:6) "Yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist."

(Colossians 1:18) "And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent."

(Ephesians 4:6) "One God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all."

(Hebrews 1:3) "He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power."

(Hebrews 2:10) "For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory..."

This is comprehensive language. Everything is from God. Everything is being upheld by God's sovereign power, and ultimately everything will be returned to God for his awesome Glory!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Principle of Ministry: Life From Death!

HERE ARE SOME quotes from men of God that have served the church. They distill down the basic secret of Christian ministry. They begin with a first century apostle, move to a 17th century Puritan, and to present day leaders. Enjoy!

2 Corinthians 4:11-12. "For we who live are always being give over to death for Jesus' sake; so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us but life in you."

John Flavel (17th Century Puritan): “I may say to him that snatched at the ministry, as Henry IV did to his son, that hastily snatched at the crown, He little knows what a heap of cares and toils he snatcheth at. The labors of ministry will exhaust the very marrow from your bones, hasten old age and death.’ They are fitly compared to the toil of men in harvest, to the labours of a woman in travail, and to the agonies of soldier in the extremity of battle. We must watch when others sleep.”[1]

Dave Harvey: “No man achieves ministry by pursuing his ambition. He achieves it by pursuing God’s glory…The ultimate test of a called man is whether he desires the advancement of the gospel more than the advancement of his own ministry. This is the constant daily test  for the called man.”[2]

Darrin Patrick: “Jeremiah is a picture of what it is like to be called into pastoral ministry. Ministry is more than hard. Ministry is impossible (Jer. 20:29). And unless we have a fire inside our bones compelling us, we simply will not survive. Pastoral ministry is a calling, not a career.”[3]
Dr. Thomas Schreiner: “[Paul’s] opponents insisted that signs and wonders were indications that God's Spirit was working, but Paul maintains that one must suffer for the life of Jesus to be revealed. Signs and wonders are not evil, but in themselves they do not provide a basis for legitimacy since those who are evil can also perform the miraculous (2 Thess 2:9).”[5]
Dr. Don Carson: “The leaders death means the church’s life. This is why the best Christian leadership cannot simply be appointed. It is forged by God himself in the fires of , taught in the school of tears. There are no shortcuts.”[1]

[1] John Flavel, The Works of John Flavel, Vol. 6,(Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1820, reprint 1968)  pg 568
[2] Dave Harvey, Are You Called?  Pg 45,46 (Sovereign Grace Perspectives Series)
[3] Darrin Patrick, Church Planter (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010) pg 30
[5] Thomas R. Schreiner. Paul, Apostle of God's Glory in Christ: A Pauline Theology (Kindle Locations 1148-1150). Kindle Edition. 
[1] Carson, D.A., How Long Oh Lord, pg 90 (Grand Rapids, Baker, 1990) 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

God's Forever Family

JUST FINISHED THE kindle edition of God's Forever Family by Larry Eskridge. Published by Oxford University
Press this book chronicles the revival that started with the Jesus People in 1967 and spread to the larger culture after 1976.

The story begins in the Haight-Asbury district of San Francisco where four drug popping couples came to Christ. Seventy thousand hippies had descended upon Haight-Ashbury for the 1967 Summer of Love. Into this environment these couples moved with the gospel. God's presence and power went with them. Soon the move of God spread to southern California, Seattle, and other parts of country. By June of 1971 it had become so prominent that it graced the cover of Time Magazine. By 1976 the movement was dead, having been absorbed into the larger Evangelical Church.

Cover of Time, June 71
Having lived through this period I found this book fascinating. I was converted three months after the attached Time Magazine cover story appeared. Christ and Christianity were cool. I started a Bible study and within a few weeks sixty kids were coming. I had no idea that this was unusual. We were experiencing miracles, healings, answered prayer, etc. It was a time of intense supernatural activity.

What I didn't know, and what Eskridge chronicles in great detail, is that my experience was replicated thousands of times over throughout North America. We were theologically ignorant, but we understood the basic gospel. We enthusiastically and joyfully proclaimed it, and God used us anyway.

The Jesus Revolution was an example of bona fide revival. As in all revivals their was more smoke than fire. Many counterfeits muddied the waters. For example, Eskridge spends a chapter on the Children of God which ultimately became a dangerous cult. In addition, some of the leaders went through moral failings. But thousands also experienced solid conversions, and are still serving God today.

What happened to the Jesus People? Because it was a  movement of  singles it was destined to expire. Soon the Jesus People began to marry. Children came. They cut their hair, got jobs, and became responsible members of society. By 1976 the Jesus Revolution was dead having been absorbed into North American evangelical church culture.

Eskridge closes by giving considerable attention to the lasting legacy of the Jesus People. It came through their music (Petra, Second Chapter of Acts, Larry Norman, Phil Keaggy, Maranatha Singers, etc.). we owe the origins of Contemporary Christian Music to the Jesus People. The Jesus People also spun off two denominations; Calvary Chapels, and the Vineyard. In addition, the movement had a term affect on worship patterns and church attendance.

Many thanks to Eskridge for his voluminous research. He has recorded the history of a movement that should not be forgotten. In doing so he has served both the church and future historians.

Monday, May 20, 2013

God, Marriage, and Family Reviewed

AFTER MY RECENT REVIEW of Tim Keller's book on marriage some of you asked me to suggest books on marriage that fill in the gaps left by Keller. I recently finished God, Marriage, and Family, rebuilding the biblical foundation" by Andreas Kostenberger, and I heartily recommend it.

The subject of book is broader than marriage. It is a virtual compendium of biblical information on a wide range of subjects that touch on the family. It contains chapters on marriage, parenting, fertility issues, the place and purpose of the single life, abortion, adoption, and divorce, etc.. It is a useful reference for the family bookshelf.

The author approaches most subjects from the perspective of Biblical Theology. In other words, he traces the progression of that chapters subject matter from Genesis to Revelation. The first four chapters discuss marriage. Chapters 5-8 discuss the family.

Kostenberger is careful to stay within biblical limits. He does not add rules, but he is also loathe to skip over controversial issues. Put this book in your family library and reference it often.

Another helpful book on marriage is Christopher Ash' Married For God, making your marriage the best it can be."  Ash labors to unravel modern idolatrous attitudes toward marriage. In his view marriage is the joining of husband and wife to accomplish a mission for the glory of God.

Ash asks why God created us in two sexes and joined us in marriage? He gives three answers. 1st Children, God wants us to be fruitful and fill the earth with progeny for his glory. This means that children are not optional.  2nd Faithfulness. God wants us to display his faithfulness through adherence to our covenant vows. This is especially important in the sexual area. We should neither expect too much or too little from marital sex. And 3rd, Order. God wants us to imitate and glorify the headship submission patterns inherent in the Trinity. By doing so, husband and wife also display the fruit of the gospel, the marriage of Christ to his bride, the church.

Married For God will be especially helpful for those preparing for marriage.

I recommend both books. They will help you navigate the shoals of the married life.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Wrath of the Lamb and the Love of the Lamb?

JESUS SPOKE MORE about hell than anyone in the Bible. His comments, thoughtfully considered, challenge thoughtful Believers. They also challenge the prevailing view of God on the street. 

The Bible tells us that “God is love” (1 Jn. 4:16). In fact, this is an understatement. He is much more loving than any of us can comprehend. His love in the apostle Paul's words,  “surpasses knowledge” (Eph. 3:19). But,  the Bible also speaks of “The wrath of the Lamb” (Rev. 6:16), and it reminds us that the Lamb and the saints (you and I) will watch the torment of the wicked in hell (Rev 14:10). The Bible also suggests that we will rejoice over the torment and destruction of unbelievers (Rev 18:20). It is important to note that we will not rejoice in the suffering of the lost, but in the perfections of God’s justice. At that time our life will revolve around God, not people.

No wonder D. A. Carson entitled his book, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God. God’s love is a difficult doctrine.

How can we reconcile the love of the Lamb and the wrath of the Lamb? First, we must always remember that, although God is love, love is never God. In other words, God is bigger than love. He is also justice and holiness. He hates evil with a holy hatred. Sin must be judged. His holy opposition towards it must be exercised. Just as the redemption of the Saints will glorify God’s grace, mercy, and love, so the judgment of sinners will also glorify his justice, wrath, and holiness. In the end, all of God’s virtues will be glorified. They will be glorified through the salvation of believing sinners or through the judgment of unbelieving sinners.

How should we respond? With awe and worship. Our God is an awesome God. His holiness is infinite. We are finite. His understanding is unsearchable. With the angels we should sing, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God almighty. The whole earth is full of his glory” (Isa. 6:3).

For those who would like to pursue this subject further,  here is an eye-opening biblical defense by Jonathan Edwards. 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Book Review: The Meaning of Marriage!

JUST FINISHED TIM KELLER'S new book, The Meaning of Marriage, "Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God."

Having enjoyed Keller's previous books I opened this volume expectantly. The first chapter covered   the state of marriage in the Western world, and was helpful. Keller described and analyzed the "Me-Marriage" syndrome and its damaging impact on people's willingness to marry. He suggested the gospel as the solution.

Another plus was Keller's emphasis on the need to build marriage around friendship. Following up on this idea was a chapter on singleness with unusually
 helpful tips on what to look for in a mate.

However, the book fell short in a couple of key areas. I had no problems with anything that Keller said. It was all useful and helpful. It was what he didn't emphasized that bothered me. In my view he did not place enough emphasis on Ephesians 5:22-34.

The New Testament only has two passages on marriage––Ephesians five and 1 Peter 3. Ephesians five is the most important. Keller emphasized companionship as the purpose of marriage. But Ephesians five is very clear. The purpose of marriage is to glorify the relationship between Christ and his church through the love of the husband and the submission/respect of his wife. Although Keller mentioned this in the first chapter, he did not emphasize it.

This book also contained an excellent chapter on wifely submission. In  light of our contemporary climate, I appreciated the courage required to discuss this. However, a disturbing weakness was a lack of corresponding emphasis on Eph. 5:25. "Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her." Although Keller briefly mentions it in chapter one, he does not camp out on this crucial subject or emphasize it. I found this tragic. The husband's love is the engine that powers the Christian marriage. I would have liked one or two chapters applying this to daily experience. For me this was a gaping omission.

For someone looking for great pointers on how to overcome selfishness, etc. I recommend this book. But for someone eager to dig deeply into the theological mystery of marriage, there are better books on the market.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Providential Encouragement In the Atonement

THERE ARE MANY fulfillments of prophecy and Old Testament types imbedded in Christ's passion.
Our Substitute
They are remarkable, and they are designed to encourage us, to convince us that  Golgotha was an event orchestrated and planned by divine providence. Let me explain.

First, Jesus died on the Passover. Jesus died on Friday, the sixth day of the Jewish week. This was no accident, and it was important. The Passover received its name from the fact that the Angel of Death "passed over" all the Jewish families that put their trust in God their Savior. Waiting for liberation from Egyptian bondage, God informed the Jewish slaves that he was going to kill the firstborn of every family. He would make one exception. Every family that slaughtered a lamb, smeared its blood over their door post, roasted it, and ate it communally would be spared. The death of the Lamb, symbolized by the blood, would substitute for the firstborn, and the Angel of Death would "passover" their house. God saved the firstborn of every Jewish family that obeyed this instruction. Those who didn't experienced the death of their firstborn.

All of this foreshadowed the true Lamb of God (Jn. 1:29) who would also shed his blood on the Passover. He is the true Lamb that saves all who put their trust in Him. When someone believes the gospel they figuratively apply Christ's blood to their heart by faith. The Angel of Death also passes over them, the death of God's Lamb being their substitute.

That is why Jesus died on the Jewish feast of Passover. He wanted us to make this connection. He is the true Lamb to which the Passover points.

In addition Jesus died on the Friday, the sixth day of the week. This was another important pointer. Their were six days of creation. On the sixth day God finished his work of creation. "God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good" (Gen. 1:31). On the seventh day he rested.

In the same way, God finished the work of Redemption on the Friday, the sixth day of the week. You can almost hear him whispering in the background, "And behold it was VERY good." As at Creation, on the seventh day (Saturday) God rested. God redeemed us this way to impress us with the exquisite perfections of his providence. Everything is and was under his control. Every detail of Christ's atonement speaks this message to us.

Third, Jesus hung on the cross exactly six hours. Six is the number for man. God created man on the sixth day. God labored for six days to create. In the same way, his Son labored on the cross for six hours to make atonement.

Last, Jesus arose on the first day of the week. In modernity Sunday is the last day of the week. But in the Jewish calendar it was and is the first day of the week. Jesus resurrection on the first day proclaims this message: Just as God began creation on the first day of the week, so Christ has risen to begin the New Creation on the first day.

Why does this matter? The odds of Jesus dying on the Passover were 1 out of 365. The odds of him dying on the sixth day of the week and rising on the first are very small. The odds of him hanging on the cross for exactly six hours is even smaller.

What should we conclude? God has everything under control. There are no accidents. God wants us to read these signs, believe the gospel, and live by faith. So, as we experience Holy Week be encouraged by the details of Christ's Passion and what it says to us.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Power of A Fresh Perspective!

The Universe Gives us Persepctive
A FRESH PERSPECTIVE is a powerful remedy for the blues. This is often why people leave town when they are depressed. They need to see their circumstances from a new viewpoint. It is why people love to look at the stars on a summer's night. Big things shrink our problems down to their appropriate size.

The Bible constantly invites us to take a fresh perspective. One of the most powerful invitations occurs in Isaiah 51.

Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and they who dwell in it will die in like manner. But my salvation will be forever, and my righteousness will never be dismayed. Listen to me, you who know righteousness, the people in whose heart is my law; fear not the reproach of man, nor be dismayed at their revilings. For the moth will eat them up like a garment, and the worm will eat them like wool; but my righteousness will be forever, and my salvation to all generations” (Isaiah 51:6–8, italics mine).

This passage reminds us of several important truths. First the heavens and earth are temporal. They will wear out. In fact, in light of the big picture, they are like smoke that quickly vanishes.

By contrast, God's salvation in a reconfigured universe is eternal and substantial. Someday all of us will look back on this life. We will see it as the tiny blip in God's cosmic purpose that it is.

Second, this passage urges us to fear God not man. In light of eternity our enemies and detractors are about as substantial as a garment. We store them for the winter and remove them in the Spring only to find that the moths have made a mess of them.

The bottom line is this. God's righteousness and his salvation are forever. They are built on the power of resurrection life. By comparison, everything else is vapid, ethereal, and unsubstantial.

That is God entranced perspective, and it is one that magnifies joy.

Good News!

RECENT MONTHS HAVE BROUGHT Evangelicals a tidal wave of bad news. From the presidential election results to the legalization of Marijuana and same sex marriage, the cause of biblical morality has been on the defensive.

However, good news just arrived on the abortion front. For those in the know it has been apparent for several years that public opinion is slowly moving into the pro-life camp. Two events in recent days confirm this change.

First, the State of Arkansas passed legislation that made abortion beyond the twelfth week of pregnancy illegal. Second, the State of North Dakota, just passed legislation making it illegal to abort a fetus on the basis of downs syndrome or fetal deformity.

These are the most far-reaching attempts to restrict abortion in recent years. They will probably be challenged in courts higher up the food chain, but in the meantime, we should rejoice.

Friday, March 15, 2013

"Fear Not!" God is With You.

OUR CULTURE IS deteriorating, and it is happening with great speed. The rapid advance of the homosexual agenda and its hostility to Evangelicals, the repetitive public mass shootings, the rapidly escalating Federal debt, the growing political oppression of Evangelicals, the falling fertility rates, the growing pressure to be "politically correct,"and the aggressive onslaught of feminism are major cultural shifts. Where is it all going? No one knows for sure, but it doesn't look promising.

Western culture has a bad case of "truth decay."

For most of us, the natural reaction to instability and change is fear. Uncertainty motivates anxiety, and there is much uncertainty about the future.

This is nothing new. God's people have repeatedly faced the temptation to fear. In bondage to the Babylonians, and their homeland destroyed, the ancient Jews had every rational reason to fear, yet through the prophet, Isaiah, God repeatedly told them "fear not." Here are some of the verses. In each case God commands his people to "fear not," then gives them a solid reason to reject fear and anxiety.

35:4  "Fear not...your God will come and save you."
40:9  "Fear not...behold your God."
41:10 "Fear not, for I am with you."
41:13 "Fear not, I am the One who helps you."
41:14 "Fear not...your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel."
43:1  "Fear not, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name. You are mine."
43:5  "Fear not, for I am with you"
44:2  "Fear not..." I have chosen you.
44:8  "Fear not..." There is no god besides me.
51:7  "Fear not the reproach of man...for the moth will eat them up like a garment."
54:4  "Fear not, for you will not be ashamed."

Here is a summary of why God commanded the Israelites to "fear not." He will come to save us, he is with us, and he helps us. He is the Holy One of Israel, besides whom there is no other. He has redeemed us. He has called us by name. We belong to him. He has chosen us. He has no god beside him. Those who oppose us are irrelevant, like moth-eaten garments. We could go on and on.

The question is this: Do we really believe all of this? We should because ultimately, God's peace will swallow up all strife. "Of the increase of his government, and of peace, there will be no end" (Isa. 9:7).

In the meantime, the road might be bumpy. What to do? Here is Isaiah's counsel. "You keep him in perfect peace because his mind is stayed on you because he trusts in you" (Isa 26:3). Rivet your eyes on Christ, not our rapidly changing cultural circumstances.

For those who do this God will give "the peace of God that passes all understanding" (Phil. 4:7), and "joy inexpressible and full of glory" (1 Pet. 1:8).

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Real Saint Patrick

THE LEGEND OF SAINT PATRICK is just that––a legend. The name St. Patrick conjures up visions of elves, frisky leprechauns, banshees, three leaved clovers, and Guinness Beer. We start humming Celtic music, we remember the "Fighting Irish" of Notre Dame, and little old nuns with names like "Sister Veronica" come to mind.

But the real Saint Patrick is another story.

Saint Patty's Day is fast approaching. Christian History Magazine has done us the favor of reproducing one of their archived articles. It  tells the real story of Saint Patrick, missionary to the Irish people, and preacher of the gospel. Read this and discuss with your family around the dinner table.

You won't be sorry, and neither will your children.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Has Sports Illustrated Lost It?

Mrs Fallon Fox
THE DEPTH OF THE CONFUSION in our culture is truly shocking. Sports Illustrated just ran an article  on a "transgendered" professional Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) athlete. Fallon Fox was once a male. After sex change surgery in Thailand, she is now  a female. There is one problem. She has a male body, a male skeleton, and a man's muscle mass, but she is competing with females. 

You would expect Sports Illustrated to object this to competitive advantage. You would also expect Sports Illustrated to highlight the ludicrousness of this situation. Guess again. The author, Loretta Hunt, actually praises Mrs Fallon for her moral courage. "Like many of her fighting peers, Fallon was not without her own set of challenges growing up the middle child of a conservatively Christian, ethnically-mixed family in Toledo, Ohio. The ability to overcome great obstacles is one of the key characteristics that all fighters share. It's what gives them their backbone and the courage to pursue a dream that offers no guarantees. Fallon Fox has courage to spare."

Her's was the courage to admit that she was a female trapped in a male body. 

Have we lost our minds? Is there any limit to the insanity of political correctness? Has any culture ever descended this far? The moral confusion is leaping from one degree of absurdity to another. Our moral confusion is a symptom of God's judgment.  "God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies amongst themselves...for their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women..." (Rom. 1:25-27). 

How should we respond? First, with the deepest compassion for those snared by this confusion. Second, resolved to never let ourselves succumb to the pressure of political correctness. Third, with renewed efforts to evangelize our neighbors. Fourth, with hearts broken for the desperate condition of our culture. "O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people" (Jeremiah 9:1). 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Is The Family Dead?

     IT IS NORMAL for trivial subjects to make the headlines, whereas important subjects, ideas that shake cultures to their foundations, are often on the last page of the newspaper where they are ignored by most. One such subject is "Post Familialism," the idea that our society is moving into a post family phase. Two recent scholarly articles in New Geography Magazine are making precisely this point. The first, published last Fall, can be found here. The second, published a few weeks ago, can be found here.  

     This is no small finding. The authors sum it up this way. "For most of human history, the family — defined by parents, children and extended kin — has stood as the central unit of society. In Europe, Asia, Africa and, later, the Americas and Oceania, people lived, and frequently worked, as family units.
     Today, in the high-income world and even in some developing countries, we are witnessing a shift to a new social model. Increasingly, family no longer serves as the central organizing feature of society. An unprecedented number of individuals — approaching upwards of 30% in some Asian countries — are choosing to eschew child bearing altogether and, often, marriage as well." 
     The authors note the only exception to this trend are families that are organized around deep religious commitments. In other words, to the degree that people succumb to secularism the traditional family is in danger of disappearance. 
     The symptoms of Post-Familialism are reluctance to marry, and a reluctance to have children. If this trend proves to be a long term, it will be a disaster. 


Monday, February 25, 2013

Counting the Cost!

     TO BE A CHRISTIAN means citizenship in God’s Kingdom. It means a transfer of authority from self to Christ. It means a clear decision to obey Christ no matter the cost. It means no compromise on essential issues. Because the cost to follow Jesus can be very great, Jesus told us to count the cost before deciding to follow him.

(Luke 14:27–30) "27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’"

     Although we need to count the cost in every area, the issue that we need to think hardest about today is the willingness to take a stand on the sinfulness of homosexual behavior.

     The pressure is ramping up. Our opponents are aggressively and publicly bullying anyone willing to take a stand on biblical morality. In recent weeks we have watched Louie Giglio step down from the president’s request to pray at the Presidential Inauguration.

     When Chick-Fil-A announced that they were going to open a restaurant in Philadelphia the media erupted into a feeding frenzy because the CEO, Mr. Cathy, publicly stated that homosexual behavior was wrong.

     This week Tim Tebow was publicly and brutally bullied into not giving the Easter sermon at the First Baptist Church in Dallas, TX. Why? The pastor, an evangelical, has stated that homosexual practice is sinful. Al Mohler's comments on this event in Christianity Today are insightful.

     As I look to the short-term future, I don’t expect our culture to change. In fact, I expect it to get progressively worse, but I also joyfully expect God to use that for the good of the church.

    So, where are you today? Have you counted the cost? What if a stand on this issue should mean the loss of your job, the destruction of your property, the loss of your tax deduction for giving to the church, being cut out of Medicare or the Social Security system, ridicule from friends and neighbors, being labeled a bigot, or a hate-monger?

     We are not saved until we persevere to the end. We need to persevere in the truth until the Lord calls us home. Jesus told his disciples, “You will be hated by all men for my name’s sake.”  But then he also promised, “he that endures to the end will be saved” (Matt. 10:22). In the parable of the sower Jesus grieved over the seed that fell on rocky soil. It endured for a while, but when persecution came it immediately fell away (Matt 13:20). We don't want to end up in this category. 

     I am not writing this not to frighten you. I am writing this to fortify you. I want us to endure to the end together. I have written this blog because it is unlikely that you will do this unless you carefully, soberly, and prudently count the cost.