Saturday, September 29, 2012

How I Explained the God-centeredness of God to a Group of Teenagers

All of the Sunday school classes in our church are going through The Gospel Project.  Last week we reflected on the statement, “In all God does, His first aim is to glorify himself”.  I asked the students whether they agreed with that or not. 

Some of them dutifully nodded their heads.  A few expressed consternation.  Something didn’t seem quite right about that statement.  So in an attempt to get everyone a little uncomfortable with this truth I shared with them a bogus reason for preaching the gospel. (Part of the illustration I tweaked from this Piper sermon)

I told them that my hopes in preaching that morning was that whenever I was finished everybody would give me a standing ovation and bask in my awesomeness.  I told them that every point that I made I expect worship for my artistry.  Whenever I make a point that is helpful to them it is my hope that they will continue to realize that I am a storehouse of helpfulness and that they will continue to come back to me for all their information.  My goal that morning in preaching is simply for their praise. 

They were, rightly, appalled. 

Then I shared with them a little from Ephesians 1.  I had them note that according to this text the fundamental reason why God does what He does in our redemption is “to the praise of his glorious grace”.  That means that God saves us and does us good ultimately so that we might give him a standing ovation when he is finished. 

Is that appalling? 

It seems that way at first doesn’t it?  Because when humans do things like that it seems off putting.  But it’s off-putting simply because we are not the most wonderful and precious being in the universe.  God is.  And to make anything else our hearts treasure and joy is fundamentally ripping ourselves off.  So, God is deeply loving to be God-centered and to transform our hearts in such a way that we are too. 

The Loveliness of the God-centeredness of God Illustrated

I feared they were a little confused still, so I tried sharing an illustration. 

Imagine that you and your family were going on a trip.  You pick the destination.  Pick something beautiful.  Something that would be breathtaking.  You can go to see the Grand Canyon.  Or a beautiful national park.  Or travelling in space.  Or seeing Niagra Falls.  Or the Rocky Mountains.  Or travelling overseas to see all of the awesome history, architecture, and things that you cannot see here in America.  Now imagine—which ever of these amazing places that you want to vacation--that your parents have one stipulation…

The entire time you have to stare at a mirror.  Everyone else in the family enjoys the beautiful sunset.  The glaciers.  The caves.  The mountain peaks.  But for the entire trip, except for driving through Kansas, you have to look at this mirror. 

You know that is a rip off because even though you are “the crown of creation” and uniquely made in the image of God it’s not your physical being that’s so awesome.  It’s that you are part of something bigger.  You weren’t made to spend your life looking in a mirror.  You were made to worship.  You were made to see these great and grand things, to marvel, and to see the beauty of the Creator.  It’s loving to let you enjoy the Grand Canyon and to be swept up by it’s magnificence. 

How much more, then, the Lord of glory who created the Grand Canyon? 

Friday, September 28, 2012

When We Need to Proclaim Instead of Plead

There are some questions that I cannot imagine my son or daughter ever asking. 

“Daddy, will you please love me today?” 

“Daddy, can I be your son/daughter today?” 

There are days when they might think they need to ask questions like, “Daddy, will you protect me?  Daddy will you provide for me?”  But those are just as ludicrous as the first ones.  And I’m fallen.  I’m a pale reflection of our heavenly Father. 

Yet, why are our prayers sometimes consumed by pleading for things that we already have? 

“Jesus, be my hope”

“Jesus. be my guide”

“Jesus, be my strength”

“Jesus, be my comfort”

Those aren’t things that we need to plead for.  Those are things that we need to proclaim.  “Jesus, you ARE my hope”.  “Jesus you ARE my guide”.  “Jesus, you ARE my strength.”  “Jesus, you ARE my comfort”.  Perhaps, what needs to be pleaded is what Paul pleaded for in his letter to the Ephesians; namely, that the Lord would open our eyes to see His already given provision. 

My point is not to rebuke people for praying the wrong way.  That’d be silly.  My point is to encourage you to pray more boldly.  It effects my prayers if I think I have to plead for an audience when Christ has already secured my entrance.  This really is another form of proclaiming the gospel to yourself. 

Consider both of these prayers.  What do each of them do to your heart?

First: Lord, be my strength today.  I am so weak and frail.  I really need you to make me strong today.  Things seem so out of control and I’m not sure that I can handle it. So, I’m pleading with you for strength.  I need your strength and not my own.  I cannot do it without you Jesus. So I’m humbly asking Lord if you would be my strength in this day.

Second: Jesus, I know that you are my strength.  Yet, I feel so frail this morning.  Indeed I am frail.  But you are not.  And in you I have everything that I need for life and godliness.  I pray that you might open my eyes to your strength and your power and your provision for me.  You are mighty and you redeem your people with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.  You have shown me your power and your strength in the past. You have created the heavens and you hold them in the palm of your hand.  Before you the nations and all their idols will melt like wax before the splendor of your glory.  You are very strong and none can pluck me from your powerful hand.

See the difference?

Today in Blogworld 9.28.12

Does Your Church Have Policies and Practices to Protect Against Pastoral Failures?

This is a particularly relevant question for our church.  Not because of moral failure but because we are working on rewriting our church’s constitution and bylaws.  This is a great reminder to make sure to have things in place for such tragic actions.  These scandals are becoming increasingly more common (or more likely only increasingly more public) and the church needs to be prepared to respond as well as to take preventative measures.  This piece by Thabiti is very helpful in doing such a thing.

Leadership:Why Choosing Your Favorite Team Should Be Nothing Like Choosing a Church

I appreciated this article from Timothy Paul Jones.  Not only because he too is a Royals fan but because he makes a really solid point concerning how some choose a church. 

6 Practical Reasons to Study Eschatology

That doesn’t mean study rapture charts, but it does mean looking seriously at the end times.  (I think 1 Peter shows us the benefit of eschatology in the face of present suffering). 

Are You a Hypocritical Preacher?

I am.  If I wasn’t I’d probably have little to say.  Eric McKiddie helps us hypocritical preachers to be hypocrites in the right way. 

This inspires me to take up acting:

Twelve Things I Doubt Pastors Will Hear in Heaven

I’d really hate to waste my life on things that aren’t significant.  Occasionally it is good to step back and wonder about the types of the things you probably will not hear in heaven.  So I imagine a scenario where someone that the Lord has called me to shepherd walks up to me in heaven and says, I sure wish that you’d have…

Here are 12 things I doubt would fill in that blank. 

  1. I wish you’d have shown me more rapture charts
  2. I wish you’d have told me steps to making more money
  3. I wish you’d have prepared me for what heaven looks like
  4. I wish you’d have settled those theological debates
  5. I wish you’d have done funnier skits in our worship service
  6. I wish you’d have pushed for a bigger building
  7. I wish you’d have talked more about politics
  8. I wish you’d have preached much shorter sermons
  9. I wish you’d have worn ties (or cooler jeans for our postmodern crowd)
  10. I wish you’d have given us better pop-culture references
  11. I wish you’d have made our worship ambiance better and the transitions smoother
  12. I wish you’d have spent the money to fix that pot-hole in the church parking lot

I could probably keep going.  Some of these things might be important and they might even be a means to serve and assist people in worship.  But they are not ultimate.  What I don’t want to fill that blank would be, “I wish you’d have pointed us to Jesus more.  I wish you’d have prepared us for heaven better.  I wish you’d have preached more to root out sin and unbelief.  I wish you’d have encouraged us to lay down our idols more.”  Those are the things I don’t want to hear. 

What I do want to hear is the sweet and grace filled words of the Chief Shepherd, “well done good and faithful servant”. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

An Idiots Guide to Week 4 NFL Predictions

Last week I only mustered 7 correct picks.  I did pick the Raiders over the Steelers.  Should have went all the way with my gut and picked the Vikings over the 49ers.  I was correct about MJD’s big week, got the Giants blowing out the Panthers as well as the Seahawks and Packers being close.  But other than I once again proved that these are an idiots guide to NFL predictions. 

Browns over Ravens (upset of the week)
Falcons over Panthers
Patriots over Bills
Lions over Vikings
Chiefs over Chargers (Chiefs D finally shows up)
Rams over Seahawks (MNF letdown)
49ers over Jets
Titans over Texans
Broncos over Raiders
Dolphins over Cardinals
Bengals over Jaguars
Saints over Packers (shocking blowout)
Redskins over Bucs
Giants over Eagles
Cowboys over Bears (blowout)

Fantasy Stud of the Week: Darren Sproles
Fantasy Sleepers of the Week: Josh Gordon

Other crazy picks:

Joe Flacco with 2 really bad fumbles
After Sanchez’s atrocious performance the Tebow chants will begin
Titans upset turnover prone Texans
More points for Defense and ST’s than for the offenses in ‘Fins/Cards game
The Jaguars only score 3 more points than the Colts and Steelers
Peyton Manning throws for 400 yards but only 2 TDs
Jacquizz Rodgers doubles the rushing yards of Michael Turner
4 Monday Night INT’s for Jay Cutler and a bucket full of tears

5 Reasons “I Declare” @JoelOsteen Deadly

Earlier today I looked at Joel Osteen’s new book “I Declare”.  I closed by saying that I would give at least 5 reasons why Osteen’s teaching isn’t just smiley ignorance but is damnable serpent talk.  That might seem strong.  Other might wonder why I’m even bothering with an article like this.  I hope you see why by the end of the article. 

  1. It tarnishes an actually good practice.  This is actually the main reason that I decided to tackle this particular Osteen book.  I speak frequently about the benefit of preaching the gospel to ourselves.  Though it’s as different as night and day Osteen’s practice could easily be confused with preaching the gospel to yourself.  I don’t want people to read Osteen’s book and think, “oh, this is what Pastor Mike is talking about”.  No, it’s not.  I’m talking about preaching the bloody-Cross gospel and not the smiley-prosperity non-gospel. 
  2. It leads to a wrong focus.  Go here.  Look at all of the declarations.  Now match that up with biblical ambitions.  Jesus said, “you’ll know them by their fruits”.  It looks to me that for the most part the fruit of “I Declare” is turning God into a big magical genie that grants our wish in 5 years time.  I’ve yet to determine what would be worse, if these people actually get their wish or if their hopes are dashed.  Either way I hope that each of them are thrown to the merciful feet of the Savior. 
  3. It kills missions and feeds American consumerism instead of crucifying it.  Jesus talked about the dangers of barn building.  Looking at all of the “I declares” it seems to me that these people will have really nice barns but very little eternal treasure.  The big “dreams” in the Scriptures dealt with extending the glory of God to the ends of the earth and often through suffering saints.  It had little to do with spreading American prosperity and extending our feeble man-centered individualistic dreams.
  4. It’s idolatry.  The idolatry is so vast in this that it’s hard to really pinpoint the idol.  Honestly, I think the “idol” might be a jacked up view of faith and the bowing down is to a Santa Claus Jesus.  Just think about what the “glory” goes to in the midst of success.  Joel’s principles?  My faith?  These declarations?  It’s disgusting and robs the Lord of His glory. 
  5. It mocks the suffering.  Awhile back Joel Osteen tweeted, “Your life will always follow your thoughts. If you always think positive, you'll be positive”.  Jared Wilson aptly responded “So suck it up, AIDS orphans”.  Jared’s tongue in cheek exposes the problem with Osteen’s serpent philosophy.  This junk doesn’t work in a land ravaged by AIDS and filled with orphans.  In fact it mocks them.  If only they would put these declarations in place then they could have American prosperity.

I know that Joel Osteen can make you feel really good about yourself.  He seems like such a nice and innocent guy.  But he’s not.  He’s an idolater and a false teacher.  I’ll close with a response that I offered to someone accusing me of throwing stones at prosperity teachers. 

…my intention is not to throw stones for the sake of throwing stones. But to throw stones at a wolf that is trying to convince the sheep to drink poison.

Today in Blogworld 9.27.12

The Excitement and Anticipation

Tim Challies looks at the difference between a conference sermon and a Sunday morning sermon. He says, “I’m convinced that the primary distinguishing mark is the preparation and the anticipation.”  We are more prepared to receive the Word at a conference than we are on Sunday morning.  I think he has a great point.  Also consider this from Piper on preparing for hearing a sermon. 

The Psychology of Resentment

Dane Ortlund with a piece I needed to hear today.  Resentment can be so easy to have.  I appreciate his advice for conquering it.

What Makes a Good Book Review

Barnabas Piper says, “The best book reviews are the ones that avoid the pitfall of objectivity because in reviewing books there no such thing.” As one that reviews books I appreciate his work here.

A Few Sweet Kindle Deals:

Spurgeon’s Autobiography is only $2.99
Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites…and Other Lies You’ve Been Told FREE TODAY ONLY.  (I’ve plugged this book in the past.  You can’t get any better than free).
same kind of different As me only $3.99

Funny spoof of the NFL Replacement Refs:

I Declare… “This is Whack”

One of my favorite moments from the Office is when a flat broke Michael Scott learns about the option of declaring bankruptcy.  If he only declares bankruptcy then all of his bills are gone.  So he does just that:

We laugh at this because it is ludicrous to think that just because we declare something that it will somehow be spoken into existence.  I love when Michael says, “I didn’t say it, I declared it”.  It’s silly to think that you can declare something and it will inevitably happen.  Right?

According to Joel Osteen, Michael Scott is on to something.  His latest book “I Declare” is a collection of the most powerful blessings in Scriptures.  According to Proverbs 18:21 “Death and life are in the power of the tongue”.  Osteen wants people to speak blessings into their future rather than curses.  If you want to know who you’ll be in five years just look at the words you say about yourself today.  If you buy this book you can “take charge of your future”.  For 31 days you can declare what God says about you instead of those negative words.  Your world will be changed.

Where He Is Right

What Osteen is really encouraging people to do is to preach to themselves.  And there really is value in preaching to ourselves (provided the content is correct).  Furthermore, we really ought to be certain that our identity is founded upon God’s view of us rather than a fallen view of ourselves.  The words we say really do matter.  They don’t have the same amount of power that Osteen wants them to have—but the Bible is clear that the tongue is a powerful instrument for good and for evil.  He gets that much correct.  But then…

He Totally Shanks It

While there is benefit in proclaiming the gospel to yourself and there is a benefit in seeing yourself the way that God does, Osteen’s muddy non-gospel taints every single one of these declarations.  His theology has no room for a blood-soaked Cross or disciples following the dangerous path of the Suffering Servant.  Woodbridge and Jones summarize Osteen’s “non-gospel” well when they state:

Osteen’s gospel, then, is that Jesus died in order to save man from a less than ideal life.  Absent from his preaching is a well-defined concept of original sin, as well as a biblical explanation of the death of Jesus Christ on the cross.  Of course, within prosperity theology these omissions make sense, for negative thoughts impact your ability to gain God’s favor; thus, sin and the cross are omitted.  (Health, Wealth & Happiness, 77)

Consider Osteen’s version of preaching the prosperity gospel to yourself.  Here he encourages us to wake up and proclaim these words to ourselves:

“Good morning, you beautiful thing.  Good morning, you handsome thing.  Good morning, you blessed, prosperous, successful, strong, talented, creative, confident, secure, disciplined, focused, highly favored child of the Most High God.”  (emphasis mine)

Now let’s see how that gels with the Apostle Paul who declared himself to be the chief of sinners:

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
(Ephesians 1:16-23 ESV, emphasis mine)

See the difference?  Osteen has us looking within ourselves and calling ourselves amazing.  Paul (and I could have pulled in a host of other verses) has us looking outward.  Looks within always are met with declarations similar to “I’m the chief of sinners” but quickly followed by a “BUT, in Christ…”  And it’s not declarations of “since I’m in Christ I’m now promised prosperity”.  No it’s quite often “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…” 

The last time I checked the only One with the power to speak things into existence is the Almighty.  Our faith in Him doesn’t somehow give us the power to then look outside of Him and “change our futures”.  No, our faith calls us to look solely to Him and to trust the work of His hands, not conjure up a world of our own making. 

Why This Matters

Inevitably somebody will respond that I am being too harsh on Joel.  After all isn’t he a nice chap that is just trying to help people?  It’s not like he’s telling people to go out and throw kittens in wood-chippers.  He’s simply telling people to think more positively about themselves and consider themselves the way that God does.  What is so wrong about that? 

Quite a bit, actually.

Later today I’ll give you at least 5 reasons why this teaching of Joel Osteen isn’t just smiley ignorance but it’s damnable serpent talk. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Replacement Refs and Pastoral Authority

There was something really painful about watching the Monday Night Football debacle.  As I watched the final play and what appeared to be two woefully insecure refs make two different signals, I couldn’t help but think about pastoral ministry and loss of authority and respect. 

They kept showing the highlights where the back judge came running in, clearly seeing that Jennings had secured possession, then offering a quick glance to the other ref, who seemed like a little boy at his first day of Kindergarten, begin raising his hands.  So the back judge does the same—all the while thinking his in unison with the other dude—and raises his hands to signal touchback.  But the other dude wasn’t saying touchback he was saying touchdown. 

I do not envy these replacement refs.  Only three weeks of a young NFL season have passed and these cats have already lost every ounce of respect and authority that they had.  And respect and authority is huge when you are trying to pretend like you have control over an NFL game.  When authority is lost what you see is what happened on Monday Night Football.  And that’s what got me thinking about pastoral ministry.

My Story

My first ministry position was a disaster.  I was a young punk kid still in college that barely new Jesus much less how to do ministry.  I had good teachers but I was learning on my feet.  Add to this that I was somehow tricked into being a Baptist youth pastor (beginning to struggle with the issue of Calvinism) thrown into a pretty liberal Methodist church. 

I had a much different philosophy of ministry (and a pretty different theology) than the church that I was serving.  It was difficult.  Please do not misunderstand, there were some really great people there putting up with a really young and self-sure youth pastor.  I made things more difficult for myself than probably need be, but it was very painful. 

It did not take long for me to have less authority and respect than these NFL replacement refs.  So, I knew that feeling of insecurity and fear as these two guys ran up to the play to try to make a call.  “Oh, please Jesus let me get this right”. 

That’s no way to live and it’s no way to minister.  When you are questioning every decision you make every word you proclaim your heart is in the wrong place.  You feel the red-hot glares of a host of people that probably will not give you the benefit of the doubt.  You start trying to please them.  Or you go the other route, buck up, and do everything you can to show them that you are right and they are idiots.  Either way you aren’t doing ministry anymore.  That’s the problem with ministering with vested authority instead of borrowed ambassador-type authority.

Vested Authority vs. Borrowed Ambassador-Type Authority

If, as a pastor, my authority is pending on that which is vested to me then it is going to be shifty.  With every decision that goes against the status quo, with every word that cuts across the grain of the norm, I’ll be taking chunks out of my authority.  I’ll have to constantly monitor where I stand with the people.  Because if I don’t one of these business meetings we’re going to have a Monday Night Football debacle that makes those replacement refs feel pretty good. 

Borrowed Ambassador-Type Authority is different.  It’s an authority that is given not because I could park in a place that says “pastor” but because I am standing behind the unchanging word of God.  In as much as I am able to rightly say, “thus saith the Lord” I have all of the authority of the One that makes mountains move.  It may not be received, it may be rebelled against, and it might be rejoiced in.  But it’s a borrowed authority that nobody can take away and really one that I can’t even conjure up on my own.  Pastors need this type of authority. 

Stand behind the Word and that authority will always be yours.  People may gripe and complain (just as they did with the regular refs) but you’ll at least know that you made the right call and their chaffing is against the Book and they need to take it up with the author.  But when I move away from the Book and try to have authority on my own it’s deadly.  I might make a few calls here and there and make people happy.  But inevitably I will be exposed and on that day I’ll have nothing to stand on but my own blown call. 

Be the type of pastor whose authority comes from the risen Savior and not from a vest of merits. 

Today in Blogworld 9.26.12

A baby blogger salutes the daddy of all bloggers

In honor of Tim Challies 10 year blogging anniversary David Murray shares 10 things he has learned from the blogging practices of Challies.

John Wesley’s Twelve Rules for Preachers

Nathan Finn shares twelve rules that John Wesley had for his Methodist preachers.  What do you think of these?

Is the gospel enough?

Tom Ascol reflects on the gospel-centered movement.  Are we gospeling ourselves to death?  Ascol says that we are never in danger of obsessing over the gospel.  Wise words from a seasoned pastor.

Preachers and Their Critics

Brian Hedges talks about the criticism (often unfair) that is lobbed against preachers.  He then gives a few points of advise for hearers and for preachers.  Solid and helpful article for pastors and listeners alike. 

This is brilliant:


Joy Robbers and Shallow Presidential Standards

President Obama is a fan of the NFL and is a very passionate fan of college basketball.  During these seasons he (or at least the autobot that puts together his tweets) has been known to throw out a few tweets about the NFL.  Here recently he tweeted about the MNF debacle and the replacement refs. 

To this I saw several snarky responses that implied the President’s priorities are all jacked up.  How is he worrying about football when we have a 16 trillion dollar debt?  How can he fill out a college basketball bracket when we are fighting for peace in foreign countries?  Bring the troops home and then tell us how you picked North Carolina. 

Now I do not care to comment on the President’s policies or his priorities in specific.  You can find a political blog to talk those points to death.  Here I want to reflect on how such an attitude can rob us of joy.  Furthermore, I want to see how such a joy is really detrimental to the life of a leader. 

The assumption behind those snarky responses is that caring about the poor, our debt, and world peace is somehow mutually exclusive to watching and commenting on a blown call on Monday Night Football.  It’s also a ridiculous double standard that these peeps would find the time to a comment on Twitter while people are starving to death around the world.  Why, dear sir, are you not turning off your computer and grilling some burgers for the homeless in your neck of the woods?  Your priorities are all jacked up.

The Jesus Way

It seems to me that Jesus was on occasion a befuddlement to people in his day because of this very issue.  If He is who He says He is, then why in the world is he having a party at a tax collectors house?  Why is he allowing expensive nard to be poured out upon him when that could have been spent on the poor?  Your priorities are messed up, Jesus. 

In Jared Wilson’s new book, Gospel Deeps, he says, “if holiness makes you a sourpuss, you’re doing it wrong.”  Reflecting on the power of the gospel to transform our joy and C.S. Lewis’ use of the term quiddity Wilson says,

If steak or wine or coffee or chocolate or anything else other than God is the highlight of my day or the ultimate joy of my heart, my joy is temporary, hollow, thin.  But if I believe in the gospel, I can finally enjoy the chocolate-ness of chocolate and the coffee-ness of coffee.  Only the gospel frees me to enjoy things as they truly now are and as they someday will be.  (Gospel Deeps, 91)

Yes, we continue to mourn the fact that we are under the weight of 16 trilion in debt, that wars happen, that people starve, etc.  The Lord is grieved by these things just as He was grieved by many things when he walked on the sands of this broken earth.  Yet, there was something about Jesus that was able to enjoy nard-soaked worship even while people were hungry.  I don’t know how that’s possible at times but I do know that it’s commanded.  And I know that an inability to enjoy a sunset is probably a reflection of a deeper-seated inability to dance in the accomplishments of the gospel.

Now please don’t hear me say that I believe President Obama is somehow following the Jesus Way and that he is able to watch college basketball because He has greater joy in Jesus.  That’s not my point.  My point isn’t to say that President Obama is correct—after all he may very well be fiddling while Rome burns—but my point is to say that the snarky rebukes aren’t necessarily correct either, in fact they are deadly to leaders.

For Leaders

If you are a leader that cannot find yourself commenting on a blown call on Monday Night Football because the world’s problems are too pressing it might be possible that you aren’t more holy but less holy.  It might be that you are convinced that you are the solution to the 16 trillion dollar debt and therefore how can you sleep.  Pastors can be tempted into thinking that they are the solution to the marital problems within their church, the financial troubles, the numbers issues, the lack of discipleship, etc.  But you aren’t.  Jesus is. 

To think that you are too important to enjoy a Monday Night Football game is arrogant.  And to imply that a world leader is flitting away his time because at 11:30 at night he turned on the television and ponders a blown call probably reveals either a subtle idolatry or a deep seated bitterness. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Mediums, Ghosts, and Other Freaky Stuff

Yesterday after my post on 3 reasons I’m not a fan of the “I went to heaven” books one of our readers asked my opinion on mediums, particularly the reality show Long Island Medium.  I thought it beneficial to answer this question about mediums and include ghost and other such paranormal stuff simply because it is a question that I am actually frequently asked. 

The Bible is Clear Not to Consult Mediums

Consulting mediums in the Bible is oft equated with witchcraft.  Just a cursory reading of the Bible will show you that those who practice witchcraft will fair worse in the eschaton than they did in Salem in the 1600’s.   In the Israelite community the position on mediums and witchcraft was pretty obvious:

“A man or a woman who is a medium or a necromancer shall surely be put to death. They shall be stoned with stones; their blood shall be upon them.” (Leviticus 20:27 ESV)

It’s clear that the Lord does not view the work of mediums as something innocent—even if is for a seemingly good intention of providing peace for the living.  But why?  Why does God speak so strongly against such a practice?  Is it because it is a sham and there really is no such a thing as communicating with the dead, ghosts, etc.? 

Is it Real?

That seems to be one of the major draws of the thriving necromancy industry.  We are shocked that some dude or lady is able to conjure up some ghost or something that sure sounds like my dear departed granny.  The effect that it has on the audience is an, “oh my goodness it’s real, there really is life after death, oh my we really are somehow connected to this other world”.  Honestly, it’s the same draw that has Christians digging on the “I told you there was a heaven” books. 

I am not for a moment doubting that this Long Island Medium is able to consult with the “dead”.  Nor am I shocked that people are able to go into a haunted building and see some glowing orbs or other weird junk.  The Bible doesn’t seem shocked by this either.  In fact that is one of the reasons why we are told not to consult the dead.  Not because it’s a waste of time or that it’s entirely fake.  But because it’s ill-focused. 

Saul and the Medium of Endor

The story of Saul and the medium of Endor is very helpful in answering questions about mediums, ghosts, and other freaky stuff.  You can read the story yourself here. Basically, what happens is that Samuel the prophet has died.  He had always been the advisor for Saul.  He was the go-between for Saul and the Lord.  If he needed to know what to do in battle he would consult Samuel.  Now he’s dead and Saul freaks out.  He tried praying himself and consulting other prophets but when those came up empty he decided to consult a medium to ask Samuel’s advice. 

Notice in verse 12 that the medium cried out with a loud voice.  We don’t know specifically why but it is apparent that seeing Samuel shocked her.  It implies that previously she knew that she was consulting with demons or at least it was something that she felt that she could control.  But this was different. 

Samuel is ticked off at Saul for “bringing him up”.  And then he rebukes Saul and basically says, “it’s just like I told you through the Lord when I was alive.  I’ve got no new information since I’m now living in another world.  Your kingdom is going to be taken from you just like the Lord says.”  Saul hears from Samuel and it isn’t pretty. 

So it is clear that necromancy can “work”.  But it’s wrong.  Notice what the Lord in 1 Chronicles 10:13-14 says of Saul’s consulting the medium:

So Saul died for his breach of faith. He broke faith with the LORD in that he did not keep the command of the LORD, and also consulted a medium, seeking guidance. He did not seek guidance from the LORD. Therefore the LORD put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David the son of Jesse. (1 Chronicles 10:13-14 ESV)

Seeking guidance from a medium is a form of idolatry.  It is pursuing answers outside of that which the Lord has given.  That is the chief reason why even though it is possible that mediums are really talking to the dead, and there may really be ghosts in your attic, etc. that we aren’t to trifle with them.  There are other reasons too…

4 Additional Reasons Not to Engage the Paranormal

  1. It might be granny and it might be Beelzebul.  1 Timothy 4:1 seems to imply that as we near the eschaton there will be an influx of people running after the teachings of deceiving spirits that are actually demons.  More than likely it isn’t granny that you are talking to it’s probably a toothless demon.
  2. It’s a slap in the face of the Spirit.  It is clear that God has given us everything in the Scriptures that we need for life and godliness.  And Christ Himself has left for us His Holy Spirit.  To consult a medium or play around with ghosts is a slap in the face to the sufficiency of the Spirit. 
  3. You don’t need it.  Going along with the sufficiency of the Word, you don’t need a medium to tell you if grandma is okay in heaven.  The Bible clearly outlines how to be a believer.  If granny trusted in Christ she is okay.  If not, it seems that the biblical response is to trust in Christ and repent or you too will likewise perish.  You won’t get that message from a medium.
  4. We are fascinated by the wrong thing.  It’s amazing that we are fascinated by angels and the paranormal and all of that when it’s clear from Scripture that what demons and angels and the departed seem to be focused on is the gospel.  We are discard the gospel and are fascinated by the paranormal.  If you’ve somehow exhausted the excellencies of the Savior and you come up empty then by all means go consult a medium.  But you will never exhaust Christ.  Spend your time basking in His radiance. 

Today in Blogworld 9.25.12

The best and bushiest at the European Beard and Mustache Championships

Abraham Piper has compiled photos from the 2012 EBMC.  Gives us something to shoot for. 

10 Years Ago Today

I really appreciated this article.  Tim Challies reflects upon his 10 year blogiversary.  It’s amazing to think that his blog began with an idea of sharing photos amidst his family.  Not that my blog is anywhere near the influence of Challies but I know that I started blogging to share news, sermons, devotionals, etc. to our 30 something students at FBC New London.  Amazing how little ideas like that grow into something much bigger. 

Precious Puritans (Part 2)

Joe Thorn continues his reflection on Propaganda’s new song on the puritans.  It’s worthy of a read.  Also Propaganda’s new album released today.  (As a side note, so did the new Mumford & Sons album). 

Victorious Christian Sobbing

Tim Kimberley shares the story of his sobbing wife and how his embarrassment turned into realizing that such is the Christian life. 

Funny commercial.  Also makes me want to adopt a little British kid:

Blogging and Water Torture

…a wife’s quarreling is a continual dripping of rain

I’ve never had to endure water torture, nor have I had to experience life with a quarreling wife.  I am blessed to have a tremendous and godly woman for a wife.  I’ve found something far more valuable than a mine of rubies.  But I have vaguely experienced the annoyance of a steady drip of water, or a rebellious and seemingly invisible cricket in the basement. 

Those might seem like minor annoyances but they are really symptoms of a much greater problem.  A steady dripping of water through your roof means that your going to be replacing your roof eventually.  Such a thing could even destroy the entire household.  Not to mention drive everyone completely insane with the noise of a constant drip. 

I well remember an episode of Mythbusters were they tested whether or not it really was torturous to endure the constant dripping of water:

Sometimes scrolling through my Google Reader and the SBC Voices aggregator feels like that.  Quarrels and contentions about some of the dumbest and most asinine things. 

Actually I should say that it used to feel like that.  I seldom check the aggregator (only occasionally am I drawn into a train wreck) and I’ve unsubscribed to almost all of the blogs that deal with negatives, controversies, and other articles that feel more like the constant drip of water torture than a steady stream from the fountain of grace.  I’d suggest you do the same.

The husband of a contentious wife is called to endure the quarreling.  To love her.  To nurture her.  To pray for her.  To find refuge in Christ alone.  And to hope for her finding abiding joy in Christ.  (As the same would be of a wife with a goober of a husband). 

But you don’t have to endure the constant dripping of annoying blogs.  Just unsubscribe.  Don’t concern yourself with holding a bucket under their spew or trying to fix the leak.  Eventually the house will flood itself.  No sense in standing by to watch.   

You probably know what blogs I’m talking about.  Just walk away.  “But they have influence and I want to help those that are being influenced”.  Fair enough.  But the people that enjoy the constant dripping of rain are pretty much insane anyways.  I’m not saying give up on them but they’ll only come out of such insanity through prayers and fasting not through your awesomely true and witty arguments.  Just let them live in the deluge and pray that they wake up to rescue. 

Meanwhile build up your own house and make sure it nurtured in such a way with the precious gospel that it doesn’t develop leaks.  Just as a husband wants to soak his wife in the water of the Word so a blog author needs to continually bathe his/her writing with the gospel. 

Blogging doesn’t have to be like water torture. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Did You Get This?

I need your help. 

It looks as if something has went really wacky with Feedburner.  I don’t know what this means for those that subscribe to this blog.  As near as I can tell it is still updating and the folks that subscribe via Google Reader are still getting posts.  But I would like to make sure that all other means of subscribing is in working order. 

I would greatly appreciate it if you could leave a comment and tell me how you came about reading this post.  Do you subscribe?  If so, how? 

Thanks a ton! 

P.S. I’m especially concerned about email subscribers.  So if that’s you I’d really appreciate the feedback.  Perhaps someone could even subscribe via email and let me know if you receive the updates.  Thanks.

3 Reasons I’m Not a Fan of the “I Went to Heaven” Books

Within the last couple of years I have had an influx of requests from publishers to read and review a host of “I went to heaven” books.  The more popular varieties of these books have often led many within our congregation to ask whether or not I’ve read these books and what I thought. 

I’ll start out by saying that more than likely I have not read the books.  I’ve maybe skimmed a couple of them.  Before you criticize me, though, for dogging books that I haven’t read please hear me say that you don’t need to read the books to make these statements.  The very presence of the books is the problem not even necessarily what they contain.  Here are my 3 reasons:

  1. We don’t need them.  To believe that we do and that somehow they help exposes our lack of confidence in the Scriptures.  I really appreciate that The Gospel Project called out these books by saying, “The Bible doesn’t need our fantastic experiences to verify it.  It is the very Word of God from the very breath of God”.  Amen. 
  2. They misplace our focus.  The point of heaven isn’t the streets of gold.  These books often are attempts at helping satisfy our curiosity about what heaven is going to be like.  The Bible doesn’t seem to care.  Notice that when Paul was contemplating death in his letter to the Philippians he only said, “To depart is to be with Christ and that is far better”.  He didn’t say, “To depart is to get a sweet mansion, gold teeth, and endless rides down the neck of winged-purple dinosaurs.”  The point of heaven is unhindered relationship with Christ.  Anything else only reveals our earthly idols. 
  3. Paul couldn’t write about his experience.  In 2 Corinthians Paul mentions that he had a rockin’ heavenly vision.  It would have been a certain best-seller if he could have figured out a way to churn out a bunch of papyrus copies.  But the Scriptures say that rather than a multi-million dollar book deal the Lord gave Paul a thorn in his flesh to keep him humble.  If the apostle Paul couldn’t speak of his heavenly vision what makes these authors believe that they have the green light? 

If you are dying to know about heaven I’d suggest reading the Scriptures, spending time with believers, enjoying sunsets, and wage war against idolatry and other God-belittling sins.  Slowly but surely our vision of Christ will expand and we’ll catch a glimpse of what it will be like, though we still look as through a glass dimly, to know Him as He truly is.  That will give you a taste.  You don’t need these stories to distract you from what really matters. 


If you are just dying for a book on heaven the best one I’ve read is Randy Alcorn’s book Heaven

Today in Blogworld 9.24.12

Precious Puritans (Part 1)

Joe Thorn interacts with a track from Propaganda’s new album (releasing tomorrow) dealing with slavery and the Puritans.  It is very insightful as is the interview he conducts with Richard Bailey.  As far as the Propaganda album goes Justin Taylor calls it an album you can argue with.  You can Pre-order it for tomorrow by clicking here.

Closing the Back Door in Churches

Churches often have a hard time keeping people.  Drawing people for some churches isn’t a problem.  Thom Rainer gives four keys to assimilate people into the church and thereby closing the back door. 

Is Tim Tebow a Chauvinist?

Russell Moore says No.  But in the midst of answering that question he also paints for us an excellent picture of standing firm on biblical truth and how to engage those outside the church. 

Pride in the Pulpit

I wonder if a good number of these pieces from Paul Tripp will end up in his forthcoming book on pastoral ministry.  Either way this is a phenomenal piece on pride in the pulpit. 

Here is a piece that Propaganda did awhile back on G.O.S.P.E.L

“I’m Happy With Small Numbers”

Here is an imagined response that sounds very similar to answers that I’ve heard when a pastor/church is asked about their lack of growth. 

“We’ve had 14 people in our church since 1993.  You know some people think that we aren’t faithfully proclaiming the gospel because we have not had a single convert since 1993.  But you know that isn’t true.  You should talk to any of our 14 members.  They’ve got some serious bible knowledge.  They are solid.  And that’s cool with us man because we aren’t about numbers, we want faithful disciples.  We do share the gospel with people but we’ve yet to see results.  Again, we’re okay with that because we aren’t the Lord of the harvest.  When God wants us to have more members He’ll get it done.  Until then we keep doing discipleship and preaching the gospel.” 

I Agree…

I agree with a good amount of what is said in that paragraph.  I agree that faithfulness is not marked by an ACP report.  You can have 4,000 people and be denying the gospel and have 7 people and be faithfully plodding along.  If I look at the ministry of Jesus from a numerical perspective he probably wouldn’t have gotten a plaque for his church office for being one of the top 50 churches in his state. 

I also believe that the Lord of the harvest determines the amount of fruit that we reap in our ministries.  It’s not because of our successful preaching, or witty plans, or even our uber-doctrinally faithful expositions of Scripture and gospel presentations that men and women come to Christ.  It’s because the Spirit infuses a Jesus-drenched gospel proclamation with resurrection power. 

However, I also believe with this imagined response that the Spirit doesn’t always attend gospel preaching with converts.  He might attend it with powerfully hardening sinners a la Isaiah the prophet. 

Furthermore, I agree that the work of ministry is also very much about discipleship.  I do not mock those 14 “really solid” believers.  In fact if these were found in a country in the 10/40 window they’d probably be more celebrated than if they were present in a small town in Georgia.  Wherever faithful disciples are found I rejoice.  Even if their evangelistic efforts are not met with an influx of new disciples. 


Theologically I’m in the same camp as the imaginary dude I quoted above.  But…

I think he’s missing something.  A lack of growth isn’t a badge to be worn around.  His “that’s cool with us” attitude seems to fly in the face of Jesus and the little-followed but very faithful prophets that he likes to quote.  I believe that theologically Jesus would agree with everything this chap is saying.  But his response wouldn’t be to say, “that’s cool with me”.  No, his response is different:

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you desolate. (Matthew 23:37-38 ESV)

That’s lament. 

The same thing goes with Isaiah as well as Jeremiah the weeping prophet.  They, as did Jesus, knew that they would often not be received.  And they mourned. 

So enough of this happily patting ourselves on the back because we aren’t like those churches that are all focused on numbers.  Yeah it’s great that we can sleep at night and rest in the sovereignty of God.  It’s wonderful that we know that the results aren’t up to us and that we can measure ourselves by biblical fidelity instead of numbers.  That’s wonderful.  Seriously, it is.  I don’t know how I could do ministry if I didn’t believe that.  But let’s believe these things with tears in our eyes and with a longing that we might be faithful to the gospel AND see a myriad of sinners bow a knee to the beautiful Christ. 

A lack of people coming to Christ is a reason to lament.  And that’s the case even if you are being totally faithful and God in His sovereignty isn’t blessing you with fruit. 

Saturday, September 22, 2012

5 Books I’m Digging Right Now

It seems like really good books are just rolling into my office right now.  I noted a few weeks ago 5 books that I was really enjoying.  I’ve since finished 3 of those 5.  I now have five new books that I’m reading that I’m really digging:

  1. Gospel Deeps by Jared Wilson is a book about reveling in the excellencies of Jesus.  The gospel is bigger than you think.  Jared hopes to begin plumbing the depths.
  2. Center Church by Tim Keller looks like a text book but reads like a passionate plea to do balanced gospel-centered ministry in the place the Lord has placed you.
  3. Christless Christianity by Michael Horton is a sickening look at the alternative gospel of the American Church coupled with a plea to repent and again believe and proclaim the biblical gospel
  4. Dynamics of Spiritual Life by Richard Lovelace is a classic.  Written in the 70’s Lovelace looks at the history of revival movements and throws in various insights throughout on biblical spirituality.
  5. David Brainerd by Vance Christie tells the story of the man that captivated the heart of Jonathan Edwards’ daughter, a missionary to the native Americans who died at the age of 29. 

If you could only get one of the above books I’d probably suggest Jared Wilson’s Gospel Deeps.  I’m only about a quarter of the way through it but like it so far.  Center Church probably isn’t for everyone but it’s going to prove really helpful for pastors and church planters.  Horton’s book is a tremendous call to the church to get back to following Christ.  He doesn’t mince words.  I just started the biography of Brainerd but his story is tremendous and Christie seems to be apt biographer. 

Click on the links above if you want to check them out. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

What Destruction from the Almighty Looks Like

During the days of the prophet Joel the people of Judah and Jerusalem are being overtaken by a horrendous locusts plague.  It is as the Garden of Eden before them and “behind them a desolate wilderness”.  The prophet, through the inspiration of YHWH, uses this plight to ask a very probing question to the people of Judah.

If we can’t endure a plague of locusts what would happen if the Almighty was bent on destroying us?  Could we endure?  Who could stand under his fierce wrath?  As Joel says in 1:15, “and as destruction from the Almighty it comes”. 

The Hebrew word for destruction is shadad whereas the Hebrew word for the Almighty is El Shaddai.  When Shaddai become bent on shadad what will happen?  How destructive can El Shaddai be? 

Here is a faint picture of an answer to that question (Someone said there is some language in the film, I can’t hear it, but be cautious):

(HT: Challies)

In response to that video Tony Reinke shared this quote from Jonathan Edwards, “"The torrents of liquid fire that are vomited from the belly of hell, by the mouths of volcanoes, shadow forth what is in hell."

I imagine that if I saw a family member, a friend, a neighbor, or even some random dude on the street plummeting into that abyss I’d do everything in my power to stop him.  I’d beg and plead with him and as it were make sure that he had to trample me in order to throw himself in.  I doubt I’d unmovingly tell him cute stories and anecdotes.  And I’d like to think I wouldn’t stay silent.  Might I remember that very real sinners are plunging themselves into a very real hell that is more fierce than this.

If the Almighty can create something this fierce who can stand when he is bent on destruction? 

Only those who find refuge in the strong tower that El Shaddai has hoisted, namely the all-powerful Jesus, will find safety on that day. 

Today in Blogworld 9.21.12

7 (Possibly 8) Things Every Writer Needs to Know

I’m appreciating these posts from Aaron Armstrong on writing.  These are 7 (maybe 8) things that Douglas Wilson says every writer needs to know.  From his excellent book Wordsmithy

Three Critical Truths on the Problem of Suffering

J.D. Greear I believe is preaching a series on suffering.  (I say that simply because he’s been posting quite a bit about it lately).  Here are 3 biblical truths about suffering.

7 Ways Twitters Sharpens Your Writing

“Twitter is a writer’s sandbox”.  I like that statement.  And it would tweet well too.  Find out 7 ways that Twitter helps you become a better writer.

How to Write a Theology Essay

In case you were wondering.  I find it hilarious that there are 20 points.  Kind of lets you know the daunting task of a theology essay.  These are helpful though.

Haven’t had a chance to watch the Season 9 premier of The Office yet.  But if you have a spare 18 minutes here is a good way to reminisce:

Thursday, September 20, 2012

An Idiot’s Guide to Week 3 NFL Predictions

Last week I showed myself a little better than an idiot at 10-6.  If that were an NFL season I would have made the playoffs.  Not too shabby.  A.J. Green didn’t do too bad.  Lester Jean was the fantasy sleeper of the week…and by that of course I mean he slept his way to 0 points.  I was right in picking the Seahawks.  I was right that the Pats and Cards were close (but got the winner wrong).  Correct about Eli’s 4th quarter comeback, I was right about Trent Richardson and almost correct with Romo and Andrew Luck.  So without further bragging here are your week 3 picks:

Giants over Panthers (they win big too)
Bears over Rams (I’m really feeling a Rams upset but don’t have the guts to do it)
Browns over Bills
Cowboys over Bucs
Lions over Titans
Jaguars over Colts
Jets over Dolphins
49ers over Vikings (its going to be close though, Akers game winning FG)
Saints over Chiefs
Redskins over Bengals
Eagles over Cardinals
Falcons over Chargers
Broncos over Texans
Raiders over Steelers (upset of the week)
Patriots over Ravens
Packers over Seahawks (but closer than many are picking)

Fantasy Stud of the Week: Maurice Jones-Drew
Fantasy Sleeper of the Week: Michael Bush

Other crazy picks:

MJD rushes for over 150 yards and 2 TD’s
50 yards but 3 TD’s for Michael Bush
Tebow finds the end zone
Alex Smith looks shaky with Jared Allen in his face all day
Andy Dalton throws 4 INT’s
Raiders win in a very sloppy turnover filled game
Josh Cribbs returns a KO for a TD and almost get a PR TD

Don’t Proxy Counsel

The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.  -Proverbs 18:17

I’m not an expert counselor.  But I hope I am growing.  Early on in my ministry I dealt almost exclusively with counseling teenagers.  As one in my early twenties and still  with plenty of youthful vigor (or perhaps rebellion) in my heart I listened intently as teenagers would tell me about how much they were victimized by their teenagers.

It is much to my chagrin that I confess that for the first year or two I really thought that these kids had horrible parents that simply did not understand their teenagers.  I spent a good amount of my counseling trying to help these teens cope with crappy parents. 

Things really came to a head when a particularly difficult and troubled teen came in tears and fearfully did not want to go home.  An elaborate story was told and charges were brought up.  I informed this person before hand that I would have to report this to the police as a mandatory reporter if she was going to continue on.  She remained undeterred.  So we went over to the police station and filed a report. 

Her parents grievous offense? 

They were making her do laundry.  Of course that is not what she told me.  It was a much different story.  But it was believable and I didn’t want to take the chance of it actually being true.  Something happened, though, after that encounter.  I began taking Proverbs 18:17 more seriously.

There is always two sides to every story. 

What I have noticed over the years is that a good number of people coming for counseling actually want you to do proxy counseling.  They don’t actually want counsel for themselves but frequently they want ammunition for another person that they want to counsel.  And it can be tempting in the beginning stages to dog on that other person to try to build report with the person in your office. 

The wise counselor realizes that he/she is not called by God to do proxy counseling.  God has placed the person sitting in your office, or across from you at the coffee house, into your life.  Knowing that there are always two sides to every story the person that you are talking with is never only a victim.  God has placed this person in your life to help him/her expose heart idols and find redemption in Christ. 

Yes, you may on occasion have to defuse or speak truth into a statement that a wounding spouse lobbed at the person in your office.  “Sally, it is not true that you are worthless.  Let me tell you what God says about you”.  But even while you do that you need to remember that you aren’t to engage in proxy counseling and give her advice about what to say to her potential loser of a husband. 

Our goal must be for the person we are counseling to be helped by the gospel and motivated by the gospel to make his/her soul aim to please the Lord regardless of the response of the offending husband, wife, parent, child, or friend. 

Today in Blogworld 9.20.12

The Unglamorous Life of a Writer

I’m not even a published author, as of yet, and I can still somewhat relate to this.  Articles like this ought to make writers and prospective writers decide whethe0r it’s worth pursuing.  Better yet, whether or not it’s God’s call on your life. 

Feed Your Mind a Balanced Diet

Great words here from Barnabas Piper on the necessity of not giving your mind a Krispy Kreme and Coke type of diet. 

The Far Less Sensational Truth About Jesus’ Wife

You’ve probably heard the news about “scholars” discovering the “wife” of Jesus.  Michael Kruger shines a little light on that claim.  Also read Dr. Mohler’s article on the same.

Oh, Behave!  Conduct Worthy of the Gospel in Corporate Worship

David Mathis gives us six ways that we can check our hearts and really engage in corporate worship and not just a selfish “come get something” and then leave type of experience on Sunday morning. 

I’m really looking forward to this movie:

Rend Your Hearts Not Your Facebook Status

“Yet even now,” declares the LORD,
        “return to me with all your heart,
    with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
        and rend your hearts and not your garments.”
    Return to the LORD your God,
        for he is gracious and merciful,
    slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;
        and he relents over disaster.

In Joel’s day (and even still today) a sign of great mourning and grief was to tear your garments.  It wasn’t that they’d bust out into Hulk Hogan’s “I’m a Real American Hero” and rip up their camel-haired cloaks to shreds.  It was usually a slit from bottom to top that indicated deep grief. 

Over the years, however, the practice itself became more cathartic than symbolic.  In other words whenever they would begin feeling guilt or grief they wouldn’t actually experience deep heart anguish.  Instead they’d very quickly go to their garments and start tearing.  They had developed what Michael Horton rightly calls a therapeutic worldview, where:

there is no sin and guilt to be forgiven by God but only burdens and feelings of guilt for failing to live up to the expectations of oneself or other human being.  (Horton, Christless Christianity, 43)

I often wonder if things like Facebook and blogging aren’t similar to rending our garments instead of our hearts.  How often do we see Facebook statuses that are merely a means to “get something off my chest”?  It’s the modern day rending of the garment. 

And just as it was in the day of the Joel rending a garment is a way to communicate to others that junk is going on in your life.  Usually a good number of people will leave comments and condolences.  And if you aren’t susceptible of your own heart you can become a pity junkie.  You can find solace and camaraderie around elements of the Fall instead of finding hope and joy in light of our ever increasing Redemption. 

If there is real sin and guilt in your life then you need to deal with by taking it to the Cross and not to your Facebook or Twitter account.  No matter if it’s real or false guilt you need to know that a pity party and encouragement from all of your Facebook peeps isn’t going to help you in the end.  The shame you feel is too deep of a wound to be healed by a “like” button, a pithy statement, or a couple of shares.  You need real redemption from a real God that is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and saves you from a very real hell. 

Therefore, rend your hearts and not your Facebook status.  The temporary catharsis of getting something of your chest won’t cut it.  The Lord is actively engaged in rescuing your entire heart and not just those little follies and foibles that you are comfortable enough to make public.  Jesus intends to conquer every sin that He died for.  Now, that is something worth blogging and tweeting about. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

How a Subtle Dualism Robs the Church of Missionaries

D.A. Carson explains a dualistic view of suffering well when he says:

If evil and suffering take place, it is because someone or something else did it.  God not only did not do it, he could not stop it; for if he could have stopped it, and did not, then he is still party to it.

Most Christians would not outright deny God’s omnipotence and theologically resort to dualism.  Yet in the throes of suffering and evil many succumb to a subtle and comfortable dualism.  Every bad thing in your life and every ounce of suffering is attributed to Satan.  And if it’s his fault and his “plan” then the believer is not only correct in resisting but he is commanded to do so.

Therefore, suffering is never part of God’s will.  If given the choice between suffering and peace it becomes a no-brainer that God’s will is the path that is marked by peace and comfort.  Of course it is not quite that black and white.  For many at first we’ll say things like, “Satan’s trying to stop us from following the Lord’s will”, and so we’ll press on for awhile.  But when the suffering plods on and our hearts become ravaged by pain and we begin to give up hope, we begin to wonder if maybe all of this suffering is a sign that we ought to go a different direction.

Such a view will never stare the darkness of a lost world straight in the face and say, “I’ll go” even if the only means of taking the gospel to them is profound suffering.  This subtle dualism that seems to be pervasive here in America is robbing the Church of many missionaries.  May pastors prepare their people and new disciples to expect suffering.  Even to, at times, choose suffering for the cause of Christ.  And may we pastors also be people that will choose suffering instead of resorting to a comfortable dualism.

Here’s a powerful 10 minute message from John Piper:

Today in Blogworld 9.19.12

The Christian Celebrity

Tim Challies reflects on the nature of Christian celebrities and a couple of things he places in his life to keep him from speaking on things he knows little about but has been asked to speak on just because he’s an awesome blogger (my words not his).  I guess that means that I can cancel Challies coming to our church to speak about life in the Southern US. 

Dear Pastors, Please Quit Picking on Video Games

Good words here for Stephen Altrogge.  I do have to say though that we might not want to completely abandon picking on video games.  Perhaps the wise thing to do would be to point out the symptom but then use Stephen’s points to really address the heart. 

Small Groups That Attract Catholics

I found this really interesting.  There are not many small groups for Catholics.  Yet they are often attracted to small groups.  In a Catholic community like ours this might be a good thing to consider. 

Sweet or Sour Holiness

It looks like Tony Reinke has got his hands on a copy of Jared Wilson’s new book Gospel Deeps.  Here he reflects on one of Jared’s quotes and shows us the relationship between holiness and joy. 

We need the local church.  David Powlison explains why:

Joy in the Midst of Hope Deferred

Have you ever had a really brilliant idea that was followed with enthusiasm and passion and almost overwhelming hope at the prospect of how much this new idea would further kingdom of Christ?  You absolutely knew that this was God’s will for your life.  He had given you this vision.  He has called and equipped you to accomplish this task. 

And then.

You fell flat on your face with your dream crashing on top of you. 

I imagine that is a little what Samuel Rutherford must have felt like.  In 1627 at the ripe old age of 27 Rutherford saw his dreams come true as he found a place for that fire within his bones to expend itself.  He had become the pastor at Anwoth, which was a rural parish where this new minister could give his heart to. 

Shortly after his arrival to Anwoth, though, the Rutherford family was hit by sadness.  His wife fell ill, suffered for a year, and then died in their new home.  This was followed up by the untimely death of two of his children as well.  To top it all off in 1636 Rutherford found himself in prison.  He wrote a book defending Calvinism against the Arminian church authorities.  They 1-starred his book on Amazon and sent him off to exile where he found himself in prison for nonconformity. 

It’s not difficult to understand how Rutherford could say:

At my first coming here [to prison] I sulked at Christ and would, indeed, summon him for unkindness.  I sought a plea of my Lord and was tossed with challenges whether he loved me or not, and disputed over again all that he had done to me, because his word was a fire shut up in my bowels, and I was weary with forbearing, because I said I was cast out of the Lord’s inheritance. 

With everything that he was going through Rutherford, as we too would be tempted towards, began questioning the Lord’s love for him.  He even wondered if this imprisonment was a sign to him that he was no longer useful in ministry and worse yet if he was shut out of the Lord’s inheritance. 

Then time passed.

Nothing changed in his circumstances.  Only his heart and his experience of Christ.  Rutherford would say of his questioning the Lord’s goodness, “I know see that I was a fool.  My Lord overlooked all and did bear with my foolish jealousies, and overlooked that ever I wronged his love”.  He would even, later, refer to his prison as “a palace”.  Through this suffering time Rutherford was met with great comfort from Christ. He even wished that all of Scotland and Ireland could have his experience:

O if Scotland and Ireland had part of my feast!  And yet I get not my meat but with many strokes.

May we come to find, with Rutherford, that the sweetest experiences of the Lord’s grace is seldom on the mountain top while we are living out our dreams.  Instead it is often when our face is flat on the ground and our hopes feel as a burden on our back mocking our demise that we come to see that Christ is more precious than anything else.  We would rather have Jesus than even living out the dreams of serving the kingdom. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Good Way to Tell My Heart in Preaching and Writing

Simply ask, which compliments stir me up the most?

If I swell with pride because someone compliments the form of the sermon or my delivery of the sermon or my writing skills then I’m probably on the wrong track.  As James Denney has aptly put:

No man can bear witness to Christ and to himself at the same time. No man can give the impression that he himself is clever and that Christ is might to save.

If on the other hand I’m encouraged because someone says, “that sermon was really helpful” or “I’m encouraged by your work” or something similar then I’m probably on the right track.  My chief aim in preaching and writing must be to feed Christ’s sheep (be helpful) by holding their hand to feast on the Bread of Life. 


As a side note if you want to encourage a preacher or a writer rather than telling him that he’s awesome let him know that he was the means God used to help you see that Jesus is awesome! 

The ABC’s Need a Story

If you have spent any time in Southern Baptist churches (and probably those of other denominations from our shared family tree) and especially VBS, you have undoubtedly heard the ABC’s of salvation.  With every VBS there is usually a little ditty that tells children how they can become followers of Jesus. 

Part of me deeply rejoices in the simplicity of this gospel presentation.  It can be very helpful when the Lord is working on the heart of someone, they understand the gospel for the most part, but they are kind of tripping up on the “what must I do to be saved” part. 

The ABC’s are a fair and biblical response to the question, “Brothers, what must I do to be saved”.  But, in my opinion, it is inadequate as a whole gospel presentation.  It attempts to explain through each of the letters why “admitting” is necessary and who we are “believing” in, which is good, but it seems really forced and minimalistic. 

When I share the gospel with people I try to front load it with the gospel proclamation (i.e. God-Man-Christ or Creation-Fall-Redemption).  In fact the gospel is not our response to the gospel.  Admit, believe, and confess is not the gospel.  It is the only fitting response to the gospel but is not the gospel itself.  When people understand the gospel and are then asking “what do I do to be saved” that is when I would share with them something like the ABC’s. 

I think it is assumed in much of this material that the gospel story will be presented in full throughout the week in the teaching segments.  And that is true.  However, what is emphasized is the response.  The ABC’s is what stands out as the gospel presentation in much of the VBS material. 

That’s backwards. 

Explaining to people the necessary response to the gospel isn’t the gospel and doesn’t have the promises of gospel power attached to it.  So instead of emphasizing the ABC’s as presentation emphasize the gospel story and train the leaders how to use the ABC’s to answer the response question. 

The ABC’s need the gospel story.

Today in Blogworld 9.18.12

Too Tough On Guys Who Are Trying

Not only is this a great discussion but it is also an excellent picture of how the church is supposed to work.  If you need to give some critical feedback to your pastor take the example of this young man.  If you need to see how to receive such feedback consider Josh’s example.  This is beautiful.

10 Lessons from Faithful Ministry Without Revival

Robert Strivens reflects on the life and ministry of Philip Doddridge. 

Compromising God’s Standards for Sexuality

Tim Challies gives us five ways that the church might drift into compromising God’s standards for sexuality.  Tim has a ton of balance when writing in this area.  As I’ve mentioned previously one of the best books for guys struggling with pornography is Tim’s book Sexual Detox. 

Preaching Morality v. Preaching Christ

Tim Kimberley has pastors and congregants try to remember the last sermon they heard/preached.  He then attempts to help you decide if it was centered on Christ or morality.  Then he makes a very interesting historical turn. 

3-2-1 Gospel explained

Monday, September 17, 2012

Churches Can’t Afford to Think It Is 1600’s England

I had an experience awhile back that was really uncomfortable.  This, I presume good-hearted, chap decided that I needed to accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior.  At this point I had been a believer in Christ for a good 5-6 years and was at this point a youth pastor.  That did not phase him.  He was convinced, through no words or actions of my own, that I must simply be one of those that professed Christ but did not really know him.

Have you ever tried to convince an “evangelist” that you really do know Jesus? 

It was tough.  And in fact a little frustrating.  I appreciate hearing the gospel and I wasn’t offended by him proclaiming it to me.  But what was disconcerting was when he remained undeterred and spent his evangelistic zeal on somebody (me) that really does know Jesus. 

This passionate man comes from an era much different than mine.  In the 50’s and 60’s in the Midwest and Southern US it was almost assumed that everybody went to church.  If you didn’t attend church you must massacre innocent kitties (if they exists) and sacrifice them at your Thursday evening bloodlettings and witch parties.  What kind of person must you be if you don’t attend church?  You must be the most vile, wicked, scum of the earth.  Good decent folk attend church even if they sleep through it. 

The same could be said of England throughout the Puritan era and for years after.  During one stretch of her history you could be fined and even imprisoned for not attending a Church of England service.  Though the laws were more lax by then, in 1782 John Newton would say of his parishioners:

I could wish to be useful to the people who by law are obliged to contribute to my support.  And I have still hopes that some of them will one day know what pertains to their peace.  But if they absent themselves from the church, their places are filled up by others.

Churches in this era were filled with lost people and people that were “mere professors”, just as in our day there are nominal Christians filling the rolls of many churches.  In such a context such sermons as An Alarm to the Unconverted would be expected.  In fact you wouldn’t be a faithful minister to have a host of unbelievers hearing your sermon and you never get around to passionately, faithfully, and evangelistically sharing the gospel with them.

When Church Isn’t Mandatory

Yet what does a church do whenever attendance is not mandatory?  Do you keep preaching evangelistically? 

One strategy is to continue preaching evangelistic messages while you encourage those within your church to bring their lost friends to hear the message.  Such a strategy, often called the attractional model, would require the church to be attractive to the lost world to draw them in to hear the gospel message.

That certainly is a strategy.  And in as much as these churches are faithful to the gospel message and sinners are saved I rejoice.  I’m thankfully that God uses humble servants to invite friends to church where faithful preachers explain the gospel clearly, the Spirit moves and works, and people are converted. 

Personally, I think there is a better option.  Use Sunday mornings to disciple members to “go get ‘em”.  Encourage, edify, and exhort those that are attending by choice to go and tell.  Then have them bring back more believers that can be equipped to live out the gospel and reach the lost. 

I am not in any way saying that a faithful pastor will not consider lost people on a Sunday morning.  You had better preach the gospel every Sunday.  One, because believers need to hear it every day.  Secondly, because God through his grace does bring people into a church building to hear a word from Him.  If they don’t know Christ that word from them is repent and believe in Christ.  The gospel had better be presented every time the church gathers.

Living like it’s 1642

Yet it seems that some ministers might be trying to preach sermons for a Christianized 1612 rather than a postmodern and unChristian 2012.  If you live in such a context a large portion of the people in your church are probably there because they are believers.  Yet, if you continue to pretend that it’s 1612 and the people are there because it is mandatory and they are just mere professors you will be starving sheep and not equipping them to reach the lost. 

In other words, we had better be discipling our people and not have a ministry of telling our choir they need to get saved every Sunday.  Tell them how the gospel rocks their life and empowers them to proclaim the gospel to those that need to come to Christ.  And I would just about bet that if the gospel truly informed our communities and people were faithfully discipled some of those mere professors would be so weirded-out by authentic Christianity that they’d either leave altogether or be jolted into knowing a real relationship with Jesus.

Preach to your congregation.

Today in Blogworld 9.17.12

Q & A with Mike Wilkerson on Addiction and Counseling

If you have any involvement with counseling and/or addiction this by Mike Wilkerson is well worth your time.  I have benefited greatly from Wilkerson’s book Redemption and would love to begin redemption groups in our community.

It’s Time to Stop Being Authentic Christians

This might seem like a ridiculous statement but Stephen Altrogge makes a really good point.  His point is that “we need to identify more with who we are in Christ than our current struggles”.  Helpful points here.

Pastoral Care: Exegeting and Eisegeting Human Beings

Zac Eswine reminds us that good pastors exegete humans as well as they exegete the biblical texts.  Eswine has written a couple of helpful books on pastoral ministry that I have always proven beneficial to me.  Preaching to a Post-Everything World and Kindled Fire (help from the ministry of C.H. Spurgeon).

When Comparison Replaces Contentment

Man I wish I had written this article.  Seriously though, Dave Kraft makes excellent points.  Great reminders for those like myself that are associate pastors. 

This is pretty funny:

When God Is Your Problem

Yesterday I preached on our need to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God instead of resorting to a comfortable dualism in the midst of profound brokenness.  If I had rap skills like the Ambassador or mad preaching skills like Pastor Eric Mason I would have done this:

That is rich.  Here are the full lyrics:

...A lot people blame a lot of things on Satan.
It's easy to deal with the reality of the fact that Satan is against you and all that stuff, and he's your problem. But there's a whole other category and issue to let sink into you, when it's not Satan who's your problem, but God who's your problem. Listen, if you're going to walk in the implications of the gospel then you're going to have to be married to the principle of brokenness.
Brokenness is the mark of a person that is qualified to be used by God. At the end of the day people that are actually being used by God in a crazy way- in an off the meter way, are people that have been cracked up, who have been lunged at by God, and God has done something to them. Broken can mean:
Devoid of arrogance,
Brokenness, based on the scriptures: The spiritual state by which one is disarmed of one's self-dependence and pride, therefore leaving one disabled and in desperate need of help, thereby making one a viable conduit for the glory of Christ.


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