Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Sinners at the Table

If I am struggling in my faith, where my love for Christ is faint, my love for other believers is hardening, and I’m having a hard time seeing the gospel should I take the Lord’s Supper when it is offered? 

Allow me to make that question concrete.  Many pastors have us “examine ourselves” before we partake of the Lord’s Supper.  Typically we are urged to look at our hearts and see if there is a breach of fellowship between ourselves and another believer.  If so, we should make that right before we partake.  We are further urged to look at our life and our heart.  Is there known sin that we are refusing to give up?  If so, we need a serious time of confession before we partake. 

But what do I do if I look into my heart and see some of those really deep and tangled sins?  What if I am struggling in a relationship with another person, but it’s not just as simple as—“make things right”?  What if I find myself much like the man in Mark 9—“Lord I believe, help my unbelief”?  Should I take the Lord’s Supper when my faith is weak, I’m struggling with bitterness, and I’m having a hard time giving myself fully to the Lord? 

Some of those reading this are perhaps by default saying that I should not take the Lord’s Supper.  Fair enough.  But I want to expose you to what John Calvin said on this particular topic—as I found it helpful. 

He is speaking against a belief that said “that those who were in a state of grace at worthily”.  And they defined this “state of grace” as those who are “pure and purged of all sin”.  Calvin responds by saying, “Such a dogma would debar all the men who ever were or are on earth from the use of this Sacrament”.

This doctrine (very similar to the scenario I mentioned above) Calvin says “deprives and despoils sinners, miserable and afflicted with trembling and grief, of the consolation of this Sacrament”. 

He then goes on to define what it really means to be “worthy” to take the Lord’s Supper. 

Therefore, this is the worthiness—the best and only kind we can bring to God—to offer vileness and (so to speak) our unworthiness to him so that his mercy may make us worthy of him; to despair in ourselves so that we may be comforted in him; to abase ourselves so that we may be comforted in him; to abase ourselves so that we may be lifted up by him; to accuse ourselves so that we may be justified by him; moreover, to aspire to that unity which he commends to us in his Supper…

Calvin continues…

How could we, needy and bare of all good, befouled with sins, half-dead, eat the Lord’s body worthily?  Rather, we shall think that we, as being poor, come to a kindly giver; as sick, to a physician; as sinners to the Author of righteousness; finally, as dead, to him who gives us life. 

Now, I do not agree with everything Calvin says on the Lord’s Supper.  But I do appreciate the pastoral sensitivity here.  For those reading this that are pastors, be careful in how you speak to these weak and feeble souls that may cut themselves off from this ordinance. 

For those that are reading this that are those weak and feeble souls, I want to encourage you that when you look into your heart and see darkness, sin, despair, bitterness, and a whole host of other things—your best response is not to run away from the table and try to go fix it.  Your best response is to run to Christ as represented in the Lord’s Supper. 


Friday, November 12, 2010

Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth?

Why do people who pile into movie theaters on a Friday evening complain that the Bible is boring on a Sunday morning?  One reason, and I stress ONE reason, is that we have not rightly been convinced that the Bible is a compelling story. 

If our view of Scripture is akin to Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth then I doubt very seriously that we will be compelled to open its pages.  At least not until something goes wrong. 

I’m one of those guys that tries to put something together without reading the instruction manual.  I only read it when I end up with an extra part or the piece of furniture I was putting together topples onto itself.  I only read instruction manuals when I’m in trouble. 

If that is your view of the Bible then you probably only read it when you have significant trouble in your life.  And even then you probably do not read it the right way.  Rather than reading it to find Christ you are reading it to find “an answer”.  Any answer will do.  Sometimes you are just looking for God’s stamp of approval on what you know you already want to do.  Then you go back to building your piece of furniture and don’t look at your “instruction manual” again until one of the wheels falls off. 

Do you realize how hard it is to convince people to find Life in the Scriptures when this is our view?  It’s like trying to convince people that if they want to really enjoy food they should become acquainted with their refrigerator’s manual of operation.  That’s just silly. 

What if instead we started viewing it as a compelling story told by the Creator of the universe or as a drama that is acted out and then explained by God about God?  (I’m indebted to Michael Lawrence for that thought). 

I’m convinced that a good number of people piling into movie theaters on a Friday night are doing so because they are looking for story.  Not everyone mind you.  But story is powerful.  And we have the most compelling story ever told—the story that all stories comes from—but we’ve decided to sell it as an instruction booklet. 

So, please…Stop It!


P.S. I have no beef with Burlap to Cashmere

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Is New Calvinism Really New Fundamentalism? Partial Response.

That is the question that David Fitch asks over at Out of Ur.  He is interacting with this video:

DeYoung, Duncan, Mohler: What's New About the New Calvinism from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

From this he argues that this “new Calvinism” is really nothing more than a resurrection of the “insularity”, “us v. them mentality”, and “distrust towards culture” that marked fundamentalism. 
Now, I really do not care to answer his titled question—but only that which he is actually asking.  In other words I do not want this to be a discussion on what is and is not “fundamentalism” and whether that is a good or bad thing.  It seems to me that what Fitch is most concerned with is that this New Calvinism is insular, narrow, arrogant, and culture-rejecting. 

Argument #1: New Calvinists Oppose the compelling Story
“These words reveal that Mohler sees ‘the structure of thought’ as the means of being able to defend the coherence of one’s own beliefs. As opposed to engaging the world with a compelling Story, and inviting the world in, this ‘structure of thought’ helps me defend why I am a Christian.”  --David Fitch
A little research—and not just a 12 minute video—would show that Mohler is not opposed to engaging the world with a compelling Story.  Consider chapter 6 of his book on preaching—He is Not Silent.  Does this sound like he is opposed to engaging the world with a compelling Story?
Many of our people are dying of spiritual starvation because they do not know the Bible’s whole story, and thus they do not find themselves in the story.  True, they know many little stories.  They have a bag of facts.  But a little bit of knowledge is not a big picture.  As we preach, we need to bring every text into accountability with the big story of Scripture.  Mohler, He is Not Silent, p102
Argument #2: They have an Us vs. Them Mentality
This one is tricky.  Do the New Calvinists believe “we are the true evangelicals”.  Or really, more importantly, do they believe “we are the ones that have Scripture right”? 

In one sense I would say you had better hope that they (or you) believe that you have Scripture right.  No serious Arminian believes that he is wrong and is just being stubborn.  No, he/she believes that he is interpreting Scripture correctly.  So, does the Calvinist.  Same way with the paedo-baptist and those that hold to believer’s baptism. 

The real question is whether they hold their position arrogantly.  And honestly, I would not be surprised if people from every theological background struggle with this.  But is Mohler’s comment (at about the 6 minute mark)  “where are they going to go” a display of his “arrogant” position that New Calvinists are the only way? 

I’ll grant Fitch that this does almost sound like Mohler is saying if you take your Bible serious then you have no option but to be a Calvinists.  And he may be saying that. 
But it’s also possible that he is responding within the grid of what DeYoung said prior—these are those “rediscovering biblical truths”.  So, I think Mohler is talking about those people that are beginning to see and wrestle with the doctrines of grace—where else are they going to go?

But is it really bad if Mohler believes this?  I would hope that any Anabaptist, Arminian, Methodist, Presbyterian, etc. would hold this same position.  Otherwise you should change your position.  It’s not arrogant, it’s just being convicted about what you believe in. 

This is getting lengthy.  I’ll just end it here, and maybe spend some more time on this later…

Review of CBC Ezra-Nehemiah, Esther

Commentaries come in all different styles.  There is the more technical variety, like the NIGTC.  Then there is also the more pastoral commentaries, like the Pillar Commentary series.  Finally, there are those that tend to be more devotional. 

Gary V. Smith’s commentary on Ezra-Nehemiah and Esther, which I received from Tyndale to review, falls into the latter.  It is based off of the New Living Translation and it’s goal is to: “…provide students, pastors, and laypeople with up-to-date, evangelical scholarship on the Old and New Testaments.”

It would have been much easier to have review this commentary if I were preaching through Ezra-Nehemiah and Esther.  That is typically when I get the most use out of a commentary.  However, I did spend some time perusing and interacting with the commentary. 

The format of this commentary is very easy to follow.  Each section provides the biblical text (NLT), a short section of notes, and then an overall commentary on the textual unit.  The notes are similar to what you would find at the bottom of a study Bible.  The commentary is typically short and succinct and provides a helpful summary and a few points of application. 

Is it helpful?

That is probably the most important question to ask of a commentary.  To answer this question of the Cornerstone Biblical Commentary series it depends on who is reading it and for what purpose. 

If a pastor is really trying to wrestle with a text and discover all the nuances, and discussion surrounding a passage this probably is not the best commentary.  However, if a pastor is looking to get a “feel” for the text then this commentary would be very helpful. 

I think this commentary would be MOST helpful to a Sunday school teacher.  It goes into just enough depth to get a good grasp on the meaning but not so much that you have to be bogged down by technical arguments.  The notes will support the teacher in writing a lesson, or adding meat to the pre-packaged variety.  The commentary will provide a few application points to really place the text into our every day lives. 

If you are looking for something technical this is not it.  But for a basic, yet deeper, understanding of the Scriptures this series (and this particular volume) will assist you in your studies.  You can buy it for only 22.79

Piper on the Danger of Disconnect

(HT: JT)

What do you think?

Personally I agree.  I’ve seen it in my own life.  And it’s telling that this is even worthy of 4 minutes of Piper’s time (as well as ours).  The fact that this will generate discussion proves Piper’s point. 

Lord, connect my wires!  Give me a vision of the beauty of Jesus and the only fitting response of worship that proves itself in personal holiness. 

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Make War!!

This is well worth your time:

And then check out this song by Tedashii, Ft. Flame:

Now, go make war!

Running from Lust

Warning!  If I am wrong on what I say in this particular post the consequences could be deadly.  So, as I hope you always do, read with discernment and test everything by Scripture. 

"Flee sexual immorality..." 1 Corinthians 6:18

It has been said, and rightly so, that sexual immorality (lust, etc.) is the only sin that we are told to run away from.  Everything else we are typically told to stand firm and fight—but sexual sin can become so ensnaring that we are told to run away from it.  I agree. 
However, I do believe there is a huge difference between law running and gospel running.  One runs out of an overflow of love and grace the other runs out of fear, guilt, and shame. 

Law Running

In Romans 7 Paul gives us an interesting picture of what happens when the law meets sin.  Verse 7-8 could just as easily have said, “For I would not have known what it is to lust if the law had not said, ‘You shall not lust.’  But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of lust.” 
Being told not to lust is almost like telling yourself not to think about penguins.  Try it.  Don’t think about penguins for the next 5 minutes.  What happens with law running is that your focus is turned away from Christ and the power of His gospel.  You start focusing on what you are NOT supposed to do and so “the very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me”.  Why is that?  The law cannot conquer your heart of lust. 

Gospel Running

Gospel running is radically different.  Gospel running is what happens when you are so blown away by what Christ has done that your affections actually begin to change.  You flee sexual immorality much the same way I run away gagging from a poopy diaper. 

Notice the motivator that Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 6.  “You were bought with a price.  Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.”  I don’t think that is only Paul saying—“how dare you defile the temple”.  Although, that is implied.  I think Paul is saying even more.  He is reminding them that Christ has purchased them and has freed them.  He has conquered the power of sin and freed them from the law’s condemnation.  They have the Holy Spirit living inside them.  They have power to run from this sin. 

Law running is simply running away from something.  Gospel running is running away because of Someone and to Someone.  One will kill you because it lacks power and only ends in fear, shame, guilt and defeat.  The other will lead to life—because the gospel actually has power. 

Practical Implications

So if you find yourself struggling with lust it’s not a methodology problem—it’s a heart problem.  You aren’t fundamentally struggling with lust because you’ve let down your guard and aren’t following your 10 steps to stay away from porn.  You are fundamentally struggling with lust because your affections for Jesus are low.  If you want to battle lust then do things to stir your affections.  Don’t focus on trying to not lust.  Focus on Christ—preach the gospel to yourself until your affections start to change and the emptiness of lust is exposed.
But you can also get arrogant with this and stop fighting sin.  If you are watching sexually charged movies, magazines, etc. and exposing yourself to temptation, then your problem is that your being stupid.  If you really are practicing gospel running then you won’t be having a deep desire for smut.  If you’re engaging in these things its not gospel freedom—it’s false freedom.  You’ve just stopped fighting sin and made it sound spiritual. 

My prayer is that we flee sexual immorality not to the glory of the law and self-effort but to the glory of Jesus who redeems hearts and transforms affections. 

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Turning Controversy into Church Ministry Review

“While some churches debate the issue of homosexuality and others completely avoid it, struggling people fall through the cracks”.  So writes, W.P. Campbell in his new book only 12.91 .  I received this book free from Zondervan to review. 

Campell’s hope is that this book will serve to help people stop debating and start ministering with compassion but without compromise.  My guess is that this book will gain many supporters but also many detractors.  Campbell is not afraid to disagree with those that have “Grace with Compromised Truth” nor those that have Truth with Compromised Grace”.  That typically doesn’t win friends. 

This book has a TON to commend it.  I love that Campbell is bold enough to be biblical and not politically correct.  He truly believes that the way to love homosexuals is through the truth of the gospel.  I also love that Campbell is not afraid to take on those that refuse to have compassion on the homosexual community.  I think both groups, and all those in between, have quite a bit they can learn from this book. 

There is a call in this book that we Southern Baptists (all Christians really) need to heed.  As we are looking at how to be a Great Commission people and reach the unreached peoples of the world, Campbell pointedly asks, “what about the unreached gay culture”?

This book is also divided in a very helpful way.  The first three chapters are an analysis of the current situation (I imagine this will have to be updated in future editions).  The second part is dedicated to dealing with the controversy around homosexual ministry.  The third part is dedicated to specific application.  Sometimes, I question the headings (i.e. The Wisdom, Insights from Psychology), but nonetheless it is a helpful outline. 

I also love the stories from real people that are engaged in real battle at the end of each chapter.  This book from beginning to end is practical and truly accomplishes what it intends—to provide a blueprint for real-life ministry to homosexuals. 

I am not sure that I agree with everything that is suggested, but it made me think about a ton of things.  One particular area that I felt was somewhat neglected is the area of church discipline.  How would a church that practices healthy church discipline interact with homosexuality.  It would be an interesting chapter to add. 

This book warmed my heart in areas and convicted me in others.  It is well written, easy to read, and full of information and practical tips.  I heartily recommend it to anyone that is struggling through this issue, or wants to know how to effectively minister to the homosexual community.  Buy it for only 12.91, or get it on Kindle for under 10 bucks

Rating 4.5 out of 5 stars

There is also a blog tour that you may find interesting, here

P.S. I think this book would be well served to have a different cover. 

Should You Use E-Mail to Correct Someone?

That is the question that is discussed by CJ Mahaney and James MacDonald.  You can watch the helpful 5 minute discussion here:

What do you think? 

I agree that it would be preferred to meet and correct somebody in person.  I also agree that it is wise to examine our hearts before correcting anyone (whether through email, letter, Facebook, or in person).  I have had numerous experiences where I have been misunderstood through written communication.  Of course, that has also happened with non-verbal communication too.  So, I agree with the heart of their answer. 

However, I do partially disagree.  I do not think that you should NEVER correct someone through email.  I think you should almost NEVER correct someone through email, Facebook, etc. if you can do it in person and then only if you have a prior established relationship. 

Two things motivate this difference of opinion.  The first is that I poured 5 years of my life into a group of students in Missouri.  I established a deep relationship with many of them.  They know that I love them.  Sometimes they continue to email me, or send me messages on Facebook with questions.  Whenever possible I try to redirect them to their local pastor.  But sometimes I need to email them—distance keeps me from being there in person. 

Another motivator for this difference of opinion is John Newton.  Of course Newton never had email.  But he was a prolific letter writer.  Sometimes they were gentle corrections.  It could be argued that a letter is more thought out (especially in Newton’s day) than an email or Facebook message.  The solution then is not to ban email but to ban senseless email.  Treat email like you would a letter. 

This is a really wise and helpful video.  Many relational difficulties brought on by quick and senseless emails would be solved if we would slow down and heed this advice. 

What do you think? 

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Jesus Sensitive Church Review

If Jesus were on earth today where would he worship?  That is the intriguing question posed by Ron Auch and Dean Niforatos in their work The Jesus Sensitive Church: Would Jesus Worship Here? .  I received this book free from New Leaf Press to review. 

I actually received this book without much knowledge of it.  The title was compelling, and the central question was one the piqued my interest.  I was further interested by the fact that these men are of the Pentecostal faith.  I am not.  It is always interesting to here ecclesiological critiques from people of different denominational backgrounds. 

It is interesting that most of what you read in the first few chapters could have easily been taken out of a book from the Reformed community critical of the “seeker-sensitive” movement.  Chapter 2’s Give Them What They Want is a familiar sounding critique that is not exclusive to Pentecostalism.

I typically feel a great disconnect between myself and many of those in Pentecostalism.  Honestly, much of that is probably my own limited exposure (ala TBN).  I was shocked to hear these guys saying much the same thing that my own communities are saying. 

Then in chapter seven the Pentecostal beliefs begin to really thunder through the pages.  The first six chapters deconstruct the seeker-sensitive church.  Essentially they are saying that Jesus would not worship in a seeker-sensitive church. 

Well then, what type of church would Jesus worship in?  What they are really asking is—what type of church gathering will have the blessing of Almighty God.  Their answer?  One that is Spirit-filled, full-gospel believing, and baptized in the Spirit manifested through the speaking of tongues. 

The last six chapter are about the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” and that this is the mark that is missing in modern churches.  If you know me, then you know that I disagree.  Debating with Pentecostals is not the point of this review.  I’ll just simply say I disagree with this major thrust of the book—and leave it at that. 

So, since I won’t be following the advice to pursue “getting filled” what can a Jesus-loving Southern Baptist take from this book?  For one, even though I disagree with their application and interpretation of passages on the Spirit, I do agree that a de-emphasis on the Holy Spirit is rampant in churches.  This book can be a wake up call to consider the Spirit in our ecclesiology. 

Also to be respected is their passion for holiness.  And I really do think that the author’s of this book have a deep love for Jesus and want to see Him glorified in churches and throughout the world.  Many of their critiques are spot on and there is much to commend here. 

However, at the end of the day I think this book falls into the same trap that many books of this type do.  That is the if you do ___ then God will do _____ formula.  They are not nearly as bad as many of the other books—because I don’t think they really are hoping to have mega-churches.  They want to be faithful to God.  But I think their underlying theological presuppositions necessitate this formulaic understanding.  In other words Pentecostalism stems from this very If I do ___, God does ____ formula. 

Would I recommend it?  Honestly, probably not.  I think if I were a Pentecostal then this book would be great and serve as a wonderful wake up call.  I hope the Lord uses it this way.  I hope God uses this book in Pentecostal churches to call the people to get back to the Scriptures, pursue holiness, embrace the gospel, and surrender to Jesus and not to methodologies. 

But I would not suggest this book to those in my congregation because I fundamentally disagree with the last six chapters.  And where this book is strong I can find other books that are also strong and do not end at the Pentecostal conclusion. 

But that’s my take, you can check it out yourself: The Jesus Sensitive Church: Would Jesus Worship Here? You can buy it used at Amazon for less than a buck.  It’s pretty well-written and is an easy read.

Rating 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Newton On the Contrite Heart

The LORD will happiness divine

On contrite hearts bestow:

Then tell me, gracious GOD, is mine

A contrite heart, or no?


I hear, but seem to hear in vain,

Insensible as steel;

If ought is felt, ’tis only pain,

To find I cannot feel.


I sometimes think myself inclined

To love thee, if I could;

But often feel another mind,

Averse to all that’s good.


My best desires are faint and few,

I fain would strive for more;

But when I cry, “My strength renew,”

Seem weaker than before.


Thy saints are comforted I know,

And love thy house of prayer;

I therefore go where others go,

But find no comfort there.


O make this heart rejoice, or ache;

Decide this doubt for me;

And if it be not broken, break,

And heal it, if it be.

--John Newton

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Take it away, Jesus

I am not certain where this little gem came from, but I have seen this “powerful prayer” pop up all over facebook, emails, and a few other places:


I understand the heart behind this.  Nobody wants worry.  Nobody wants illness.  Everybody wants their family to be healed (emotionally, physically, spiritually, etc.).  And you have to commend the underlying reliance on Jesus in this prayer.  It is assumed in this prayer that it is only Christ that can heal worry and illness. 

Yet, something about this prayer rubs me the wrong way.  It’s not that I deny the Lord can take away worry, illness, etc.  Nor is it that I think his intention is to ultimately redeem us and heal us in Jesus’ name.  What bothers me, I think, is the focus and “Americanization” of this prayer.  Compare it to this one:

And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” (Acts 4:29-30 ESV)

This prayer is on the lips of a persecuted church.  Notice that they do not pray for the Lord to take away the persecution, to cure them of illness, or anything like that.  They do pray for healing but notice its focus.  It’s missional. 

The Americanized church prays to be relieved of suffering for the sake of comfort, security, and peace.  The gospel church prays that God will use suffering and equip them with boldness and power for the advancement of God’s kingdom.  HUGE difference.  One views God as the means to an end (prosperity).  The other views God as the end, and suffering as a means to more fully enjoy Him. 

The Americanized church thinks that the best life is now—or at least that if God had his way then we’d all be healthy, wealthy, and worry free.  Our health, poverty, and pain is the result of demonic influence.  If we would only let God be the center of our lives and trust him with these prayers then we would not be in the grip of Satan and we would have prosperity. 

Small problem with that, though.  God IS on the throne and Jesus-loving Christians get cancer, have mental breakdowns, and starve.  And unless you want to embrace dualism ALL of this happens through the goodness of a God that is actively ruling the world as He sees fit. 

God will eventually heal.  There will be a day when no child of God will suffer.  Cancer will be no more.  Illness will be gone.  Death will be defeated.  And we will have wealth--real wealth--that is immeasurable. 

But that doesn’t happen in this age.  In this age suffering has a mission.  Make sure that your prayers reflect that.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Root of Church Defection

…those who more boldly than others incite defection from the church, and are like standard-bearers, have for the most part no other reason than their contempt of all to show they are better than the others. (John Calvin, Institutes, 1030)

Ripping on the church has become a national past-time.  It is not uncommon for people to get so fed up with the brokenness of the church that they decide their relationship with Jesus could be just as easily cultivated at home. 

There is also the other type of person that hops from church gathering to church gathering but never firmly plants within a body.  There is nothing wrong with trying to find a church home.  But there is something wrong with NEVER planting.  And I question someone that is just “following where the Spirit leads” but never commits himself/herself to a local manifestation of the body that Christ died for. 

I understand there is more to this than the simple John Calvin quote. I understand there is much debate about what constitutes a “church” and that many are moving away from an institutional variety and embracing a more organic house church model. 

I simply want to make one point.  Make certain that you aren’t “defecting” out of pride and a sense of having it all together.  Do you love the church?  If your heart is not beating for the church of God then I doubt it truly longs for Jesus.  You can’t love Jesus and dis’ his wife. 


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