Saturday, February 27, 2010

Staying the Course

1 Kings 3:3-14

In 1 Kings 3:5, God made Solomon an offer he couldn’t refuse, Ask what I shall give you. This was an open ended offer – a blank check – and opportunity for wealth, power, long life, anything he wanted. Solomon responded by asking God for wisdom – for wisdom so that he could discern between good & evil as he led the people of Israel. God gave him his request. And it was the best thing Solomon could have asked for.

Solomon started out well, but in time, he did not ‘choose wisely.’ He began to follow the morality and customs of the unbelieving world around him. He traveled a path which eventually led him to the place where he regularly worshiped many gods and turned his back on the One, True God. The people followed his example and the nation was fractured when Solomon died.

God warned him that this would happen when He said, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you have been before and none like you shall arise after you.....IF you walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days (1 Kings 3:12, 14).

We sometimes forget that being a child of God entails a journey, not an event. We are called to be faithful throughout our days. God gives us His Word, His church, His Spirit, and our fellow believers to encourage us along the way. Just because you/I were faithful to God at one time does not guarantee that we are traveling on the right and proper road. As I said, the life of a believer is a Journey, not an Event. My baptism, my knowledge of God & His Bible, my intentions are of little value if I do not put them into practice.

May you & I stay the course and do what we know to do when it comes to God’s plan for our lives.........and keep on doing it.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Why Christian Unity is Not as Simple as White People Loving Michael Bolton

Yesterday I posted a book review of The Cross.  Before posting these reviews I typically check out reviews to see whether I am totally off base in my opinion.  This is one instance were I would be the only one giving the book a 1 out of 5 stars.  If certain people read the review I will probably get much criticism for my review.  I will probably be labeled as unspiritual, hindering the Spirit, and criticizing “God’s man”. 

Apart from the shock of no other person agreeing with me on Amazon, something else caught my eye.  The only other person to give the book a 3 out of 5 is an unbeliever.  This person noted that all of the unbelievers she asked actually liked the book.  The only ones that offered criticism were those that were believers.  This of course is by unbelievers as a reason to not believe.  “You think you have the truth market cornered and yet you cannot agree with one another about simple things”.

This argument is appealing.  Partly because it has some truth.  Our love and unity is perhaps our most powerful apologetic (John 13:35).  But unity is not as simple as everyone with the name Christian gets along and loves one another.  To me this would be like saying Michael Bolton is a white guy, therefore all white guys have to like Michael Bolton.  Or better yet, Hitler was German, therefore, all German’s should get along with Hitler.  That is appalling, especially that part about Michael Bolton. 

Christianity unity is found in our union with Christ.  Christian unity is centered upon the truth in Christ.  Whenever you stray from truth you stray from Christ.  Whenever you stray from Christ you stray from unity with one another as well. 

Christians are in union with one another.  This unity means covering over a ton of junk with love.  But Christians are not in union with unbelievers or those merely professing Christ.  Furthermore, unity does not demand absolute conformity.  I can be in unity with Arthur Blessitt in as much as he loves Jesus and is centered on the Cross.  In every way in which he (or I for that matter) strays from the faith delivered we cannot be in unity. 

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Review of The Cross by Arthur Blessit

Author: Arthur Blessitt

Pages: 221 pages

Publisher: Authentic Publishing

Price: 12.23

Genre: Biography

Quick Summary:

You may have heard of Arthur Blessitt before. He is the man that has devoted his life to carrying the cross in every nation. If you watch TBN you have probably heard him speak. This book is all about Blessitt’s journey throughout the world telling people of Jesus and carrying a big wooden cross.

What I Liked:

This book is interesting. Blessitt had the opportunity to pray with Pope John Paul II, George W. Bush, and a score of other world leaders as well. But it is not only the world leaders that he ministered to, he truly does seem like a man that loves all people and wants them to come to Jesus. That is why it pains me to write the next section.

What I Disliked:

Blessitt’s theology is the typical theology found on the Trinity Broadcast Network. There are several problems that I see with this book. Perhaps, the greatest is that it encourages a believer to follow the voice of Jesus (and sometimes the leading of the Holy Spirit). That all sounds well and good, and I feel like a jerk saying this, but I just don’t buy it. Do I believe that God still speaks today? Absolutely. But I believe that God speaks through His Word. There is nothing in Scripture that leads me to believe that Jesus still speaks to us audibly today.

Not only is the typical TBN, word of faith theology rampant, but also the decision theology that is ever present in these circles. Let me just sum it up. If you like TBN, Paul Crouch, and the like then you will love this book and find it to be a wonderful testimony to the power of God. If you do not agree with the TBN folks then this book will make you cringe. It is dangerous at best.

Something tells me that Jesus meant something very different when he tells us to take up our cross and follow him.

Should You Buy This Book?

I cannot recommend this book. If you want advice on following Jesus, I’d strongly suggest reading Kevin DeYoung’s book Just Do Something. If you want a story of men that took up the cross and followed Jesus, then read the biography of David Brainerd, Robert Murray McCheyne, Charles Spurgeon, etc.  Or perhaps this excellent work by Piper: The Hidden Smile of God.

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Hungry at the Lord’s Table

Do you ever get really hungry during the Sunday morning worship service?  I know I do.  I typically am running late and unable to eat much for breakfast beforehand.  By the time noon rolls around I am getting pretty hungry.  So, when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper I often wish that we had entire meals instead of only a little wafer.  I am hungry and I want filled. 

Before you dismiss me as a heretic that is trampling the Lord’s table, hear me out, I’m making a point.  There is actually some *unintentional symbolism between my hunger and the unfulfilling wafer.  The wafer is not meant to quench my hunger, but it is meant to point me to He who will will ultimately quench my hunger. 

The Holy Spirit is given to us (believers) as a deposit.  Not only does the Spirit seal us but His indwelling presence is also somewhat of a “preview of things to come”.  Our experience of the Spirit now is life the wafer that only really makes me hungry for more.  This is not a perfect analogy because the Spirit does indeed fill us and satisfy us far more than a wafer satisfies my desire for lunch.  But, what the little cracker does for my stomach is what the Spirit does for my soul: He makes me that much more hungry for Jesus.  He makes me think about the meal to come.  As I “do this in remembrance of Jesus” I also remember that His death is not the end of the story.  

So, the next time you are participating in the Lord’s table, and you are hungry, remember that your experience of Christ now is but a taste.


*I said unintentional symbolism because the smaller “communion crackers” have more to do with making sure the body of Jesus is not eaten by a mouse, or that burly gents do not take the body of Christ home in their beard. 

Monday, February 22, 2010

Monday’s Ministry Musing: Should We Drop it all at the Door?

I’ve said it, and prayed it, quite a few times.  Yesterday, I caught myself.  “Lord, please allow us to drop all of our burdens at the door and come and freely worship you.”  I know what we mean when we pray that.  We want to come to the Lord empty handed and not be distracted by a bunch of junk.  We do not want to be thinking about meatloaf instead of meditating on our marvelous Maker.  But do we really want to lay all of our burdens at the door? 

This way of thinking tends to contradict what Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30: 

28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Perhaps Jesus does not want us to “drop all of our burdens at the door”.  Perhaps our act of worship is to come heavy but to leave light.  Jesus does not want you to drop reality and real life at the door, sing a few songs, hear a sermon, and then pick all of your baggage up on your way out.  Jesus wants you to “cast all your anxiety upon him.” 

I am becoming convinced that Jesus really did come to call sinners.  Powerful worship does not happen when clean, put-together people, offer “service” to the Lord.  Powerful worship happens when dirty, broken, sinners find the answer to their brokenness.  Or perhaps we could say that powerful worship happens when clean, put-together people, praise the Lord that brought them out of the miry clay.  Whether you are broken or healed the Lord desires a heart that does not pretend it’s living in Eden; but rather a heart that knows it is not where it is meant to be and is found longing for rescue. 

So, next time you come to worship bring all of your baggage…but don’t leave with it. 

Knowing Men and Knowing God

This quote is from JI Packer in his book The Quest for Godliness.  It is a summary of the Puritan Interpretation of Scripture.

To apply Scripture realistically, one must know what is in men’s heads as well as in their hearts, and the Puritans insisted that the would-be expositor needs to study people as well as the Bible.

Do you agree that those who teach the bible need to know their hearers as well as they know the Bible? 

Saturday, February 20, 2010

What I want.........What God wants.

Its always amazing to see the various ways God revealed himself in the Bible. While at worship, Isaiah catches a vision of the wonder of God (Isaiah 6).....At the end of a season of suffering, Job sees God's majesty (Job 42:5-6)... Peter is astonished through a great catch of fish (Luke 5:6).

There are those today who think God wants to 'invade' our times of worship and reveal himself merely to give us some sort of spiritual adrenaline rush. I don't see this happening in the Bible, do you? God reveals himself for a purpose......his purpose, not ours. Certainly he wants our praise. But if our praise is genuine will it not include our confession, our repentance, and our surrender to service?

Read the story of the miraculous catch in Luke 5:1-11. The flow of events is fairly simple to see, isn't it? The word of God is taught.....Apparently the seeds of faith are sown because obedience was rendered.....Christ revealed himself......Confession was offered......Call was given....Commitment was made.

The commitment to leave all behind and follow Jesus was a costly one. "True discipleship is always costly because it means giving up what we want for us so that we can have what Jesus wants for us" (Philip Ryken). Ryken's comment drives deep into my heart. I know I'm supposed to want what Jesus wants for me......but am I willing both to count the cost and consider it worth surrendering all to Jesus?

I fear that far too many of Christian Americans (myself included) are unwilling to want what Jesus wants for us. If this is true, it is small wonder that the church of our culture is weak and anemic.

Plant in me a desire to want what you want for me. Help me to be willing to surrender all I want so that I might have what you want. Give the heart-felt passion for your will and way in my life.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Thomas Goodwin on the Necessity of Illumination

“…no man’s or men’s private understandings, without the aid of that public secretary of heaven, can understand them…he only hid the treasures of knowledge in that field, and he only knows where they lie; what an advantage is it then by prayer to unlock God’s breast, obtain the key of knowledge that unlocks God’s study, and can direct to all his notes and his paper.” 

-Quoted from JI Packer, The Quest for Godliness

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Review of The Story of Christianity by Justo L. Gonzalez

Author: Justo Gonzalez
Pages: 880
Publisher: Prince Press
Price: 15.99
Genre: History

Quick Summary:
Originally 2 volumes, this highly readable church history is now available in one volume. This book is an often required text book for church history classes at both the seminary and college level. Volume 1 covers from the churches beginnings up to the Protestant Reformation. Volume 2 covers from the Protestant Reformation up to modern times. Gonzalez also gives much needed attention to the expansion of Christianity into Central and South America.
What I Liked:
Many consider church history to be boring. Sadly, there are many “boring” church history books; the Story of Christianity is not one of them. Gonzalez writes in such a way to not only inform but make the stories come alive. He allows the reader to consider the difficulties and opportunities that the church had to reckon with at each stage of history. The reader is introduced to key historical figures within the church and in secular society. As you read through each section of church history you really have a feel for the social climate. Gonzalez is an excellent writer and a credible historian.
What I Disliked:
There are two minor things that keep this from being a 5 star book. The first is that Gonzalez at times will interject opinion. Of course every historian must make opinions at various points. The historian is often making an interpretive decision by including one story and not another. However, at times Gonzalez will raise issues or put forth an opinion that does not flow smoothly into the narrative. Secondly, the book does a great job of telling a story but often lacks chronology. Within each section Gonzalez is concerned with telling the story but sometimes as he looks at the story from various angles the chronology is lost.
Should You Buy It:
Even if this is not required for a class this would be a welcome addition to any home library. Studying church history is an important and much needed discipline. If you need a church history survey book there are few better than Gonzalez.  Buy it for only 15.99.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

“Gospel-Sounding” Legalism

Do you ever hear something that you know is wrong but you cannot quite put your finger on it?  Have you ever had a conversation with someone where you knew you disagreed but you could not put your finger on what exactly the difference was?  I think I may have figured out what rubs me the wrong way so often in Christian circles.  We have a way of sounding biblical, looking Christian, speaking of Jesus while somehow subverting the gospel. 

Take for instance notes I found from a conference on tackling fear, worry, and anxiety.  It starts with the basics.  It is theologically sound on who God is.  It continues with a sound view of the importance of Scripture.  If we are going to tackle fear, worry, and anxiety we need to know who God is.  So, get in the Word. The entire speech (sermon) centers around this premise—know God.  Then it closes by saying if we know Christ, if we stay in His Word, then we will know the truth.  If we know the truth then we will be free from worry, anxiety, stress, etc. 

So, what’s the problem? 

All of the things that were stated are true.  At least they are true in a sense.  The problem with such teaching/preaching is that it starts in the wrong spot.  It is a misdiagnosis and a foundational misunderstanding of who Jesus is and what exactly He has already accomplished and intends to fully accomplish in redemption. 

The problem with such teaching is that it does not go far enough.  It applies cold medicine to cure cancer.  Better yet, it puts cancer into remission but you still die from it years later.  The problem is that many people that would disagree with Joel Osteen actually live based on the same smiley premise: your best life is now.  

God does indeed intend to conquer your fear, worry, and anxiety.  But He does not conquer your fear, worry, and anxiety by leaving you an owner’s manual, providing you the resources, setting an example, and then saying "get it done”.  He conquers your fear, worry, and anxiety by ACTUALLY conquering your fear, worry, and anxiety. 

There are principally two ways to encourage others in casting out fear, worry, and anxiety (or any other vice) and replacing it with assurance, trust, and rest.  I adapt this from Tim Keller.  The first one says I obey, therefore I conquer fear, worry, and anxiety.  (Or you can even make it sound gospel centered—“I obey the principles God graciously set forth, therefore God conquers fear, worry, and anxiety”).  The second one says Christ has conquered fear, worry, and anxiety, therefore I live in rest (therefore, I obey). 

Some day you will no longer fear.  Your best life is not now—no matter how many “biblical principles” you apply.  You will struggle with fear, anxiety, and worry this side of our complete redemption.  But that does not mean that you sit passively by and just wait until Jesus comes down on a cloud, blows a trumpet, and calls you home.  You respond to His work and you live in it. 

Whether you follow these principles or not really has nothing to do with whether you will ultimately be without fear, worry, and anxiety.  Those are conquered—eventually because of the work of Christ you will not have them.  Following these “biblical principles” are ways that you live in what Christ has already purchased.  It is a subtle difference but it is a difference between defeated, dead, and devilish faith and victorious, lively, and biblical faith. 

So, how do you preach/teach to conquer fear and worry?  You start with the work of Christ.  And every “biblical principle” that you give explodes out of this one glorious truth. 

Monday, February 8, 2010

Monday’s Ministry Musing: Why Weighty Preaching is Not Bad but Actually Necessary

I am reading through T. David Gordon’s critique of today’s preaching: Why Johnny Can’t Preach.  This quote may in fact be used by the Lord to rescue me from trite “current” preaching.  Speaking of what type of minister our media saturated culture produces, Gordon writes:
Ministers who are not at home with what is significant; ministers whose attention span is less than that of a four-year old in the 1940’s, who race around like the rest of us, constantly distracted by sounds and images of inconsequential trivialities, and out of touch with what is weighty.  It is not surprising that their sermons, and the alleged worship that surrounds them, are often trifling, thoughtless, uninspiring, and mundane.  It is not surprising that their sermons are mindlessly practical, in the “how-to” sense.  It is also not surprising that their sermons tend to be moralistic, sentimentalistic, or slavishly drafted into the so-called culture wars.  The great seriousness of the reality of being human, the dreadful seriousness of the coming judgment of God, the sheer insignificance of the present in light of eternity—realities that once were the subtext of virtually every sermon—have now disappeared, and have been replaced by one triviality after another.
I hope you read that.  Especially if you are a preacher of the gospel. 
Any person that knows me has come to understand that I greatly appreciate men like Jonathan Edwards, John Piper, the Puritans, and John Newton.  These men were/are weighty in their preaching.  I have been greatly influence by what Thomas Boston communicated in The Art of Manfishing, “If you believe that the wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God, you can not speak to them as if you were telling a story.”  And so my preaching has taken upon a certain gravity. 
Weighty preaching leads to a problem, though; especially, if you struggle with a desire to be a people pleaser.  The problem with weighty preaching is that the congregation lives in the same world that Gordon describes for the preacher: preoccupied with the insignificant and unimportant.  Neither the preacher nor the congregation really wants to come face to face with the significant and important.  
To buck this trend might mean to be thought of as, “too deep”.  Weighty preaching will cause people to have to chew and digest so you may not see instant results.  In order to really preach a text with weight you will have to feel that text—and that often hurts.  Not to mention to really feel a text means to know it, so this means more time.  There really is no “big secret” to preaching weighty, so you may not be seen as cutting edge.  Creation, fall, and redemption might get a little old.  People may get sick of hearing that the only remedy is the gospel.  It will be tempting to offer other solutions, to not beat the same drum.  You might lose a few people. 
People will flock to flashy; but what they really need is weighty.  We cannot afford to entertain, merely inform, and make certain that the people enjoy our sermons.  I am not calling for boring sermons where lazy or unbroken and untouched men “preach the text” but refuse to let themselves be broken under it.  I hunger to be broken by the sermons that I preach, to preach them passionately, and to preach as a dying man to dying men and women. 
Lord rescue us from the trivial and enthrall our hearts with that which is weighty! 

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Reason #376 Why You Need the Puritans

Because they write amazing stuff like this:

I would not [lack] the sweet experience of the consolations of God for all the bitterness of affliction; nay, whether God come to his children with a rod or a crown, if he come himself with it, it is well.  Welcome, welcome Jesus, what way soever thou come, if we can get a sight of thee.  And sure I am, it is better to be sick, providing Christ come to the bed-side, and draw aside the curtains, and say, ‘Courage, I am they salvation’, than to enjoy health, being lusty and strong, and never to be visited of God.  -Samuel Rutherford.


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