Thursday, December 19, 2013

the charge to pastors

I've been reminded how the ministry of the Word is the foremost activity that Christian leaders must be devoted to.  Reading, studying, understanding, applying, believing, obeying and teaching the Scriptures is the prime directive for pastors.

Note just the following passages in Paul's two letters to Timothy...

1 Timothy 4:6  If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed.

1 Timothy 4:13  Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.

2 Timothy 1:13-14  Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.  By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.

2 Timothy 2:15  Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

2 Timothy 2:24-26  And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 4:1-5  I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

boundaries for leaders

Notes from Henry Cloud lecture taken by William Warren...

Click on image to enlarge.


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

like the lightning

"For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day." (Luke 17:24 ESV)

How much is packed into this one statement by Jesus about his return, his second coming!  How many errors could be avoided by paying close attention to this passage.

  • His return will be like lightning (sudden, unexpected, powerful)
  • It will light up the sky (visible, glorious)
  • From one side to the other (universal, global*)
  • the Son of Man in his day (personal, bodily)

Jesus' second coming will be personal, visible, sudden, worldwide, and glorious! 

*Jesus notes that at his return some will be sleeping, some will be working (17:34, 35). This is probably not a reference to shift work, but to the fact that for some it will be day and for others night.  Hint: Jesus knew the world was round.

He goes on to say that his return will be preceded by a period of normalcy.  Normal human activities -- eating, working, attending weddings. (This one reason why I believe the rapture will precede the great tribulation, which will be a period of non-normalcy.)

The big warning: "remember Lot's wife" (17:32).  Don't be attached to the world that is going to be destroyed. Be ready to leave.  "I wish we'd all been ready." (Larry Norman)

Lightning photo from Wikimedia Commons. 

loving the image of God in all

"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." (Genesis 1:27 ESV)

"Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?"  (Isaiah 58:7 ESV)

"But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. "  (Matthew 5:44-45 ESV)

"Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them."  (Romans 12:14 ESV)

"So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith."  (Galatians 6:10 ESV)


Christians are commanded to love all humanity.  One reason for this is that there is one human nature, since all are descended from the first human pair (Adam and Eve).  The image of God was impressed upon that nature and exists there now, however marred it may be by depravity and sin.  The image of God upon all people becomes the basis of our love for all people, no matter how pleasant or unpleasant these people seem to us.  

This is a very practical doctrine, as Calvin writes... 

"The Lord enjoins us to do good to all without exception, though the greater part, if estimated by their own merit, are most unworthy of it. But Scripture subjoins a most excellent reason, when it tells us that we are not to look to what men in themselves deserve, but to attend to the image of God, which exists in all, and to which we owe all honor and love. But in those who are of the household of faith, the same rule is to be more carefully observed, inasmuch as that image is renewed and restored in them by the Spirit of Christ. Therefore, whoever be the man that is presented to you as needing your assistance, you have no ground for declining to give it to him. Say he is a stranger. The Lord has given him a mark which ought to be familiar to you: for which reason he forbids you to despise your own flesh (Gal. 6:10). Say he is mean and of no consideration. The Lord points him out as one whom he has distinguished by the luster of his own image (Isaiah 58:7). Say that you are bound to him by no ties of duty. The Lord has substituted him as it were into his own place, that in him you may recognize the many great obligations under which the Lord has laid you to himself. Say that he is unworthy of your least exertion on his account; but the image of God, by which he is recommended to you, is worthy of yourself and all your exertions. But if he not only merits no good, but has provoked you by injury and mischief, still this is no good reason why you should not embrace him in love, and visit him with offices of love. He has deserved very differently from me, you will say. But what has the Lord deserved?  Whatever injury he has done you, when he enjoins you to forgive him, he certainly means that it should be imputed to himself. In this way only we attain to what is not to say difficult but altogether against nature, to love those that hate us, render good for evil, and blessing for cursing, remembering that we are not to reflect on the wickedness of men, but look to the image of God in them, an image which, covering and obliterating their faults, should by its beauty and dignity allure us to love and embrace them."  (John Calvin, Institutes, III:7:6)

Saturday, November 23, 2013

canon is self-authenticating

In giving verbal revelation about himself, to whom can God appeal for authentication?  Reason, evidence, church councils?  He uses these as confirming witnesses, but not as the grounds for the authority of his Word, nor as the basis of our acceptance of his Word.  

"For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, 'Surely I will bless you and multiply you.'  And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise.  For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation.  So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us."  (Hebrews 6:13-18 ESV)

There is some broad circular reasoning in this, which is acceptable when it comes to foundational principles.  We can't make a case for reason without using reason.  We can't authenticate empirical evidence apart from presuming the validity of such empirical evidence.  In giving revelation God does not appeal to some higher standard, or an outside authority.  He himself gives the standards for his own revelation.  He does not have to make his revelation acceptable to all demands of human reason (though it is reasonable), nor with all standards for empirical evidence (though there is evidence).  Nor is it his Word because a council or group declare it so (though many have).  It is his Word because it is his Word, and he validates it.  Or we might say, Scripture validates itself, no matter how many other witnesses and proofs we add to it, or arguments against it. John Calvin wrote, "God alone is a fit witness of himself in his Word… Scripture is indeed self-authenticated.” (Institutes 1.7.4-5)

Hence the books given by God will be spiritually discerned by the very people the books affect.  At the core of the NT revelation is the gospel, which is "the power of God for salvation." (Romans 1:16) It is not the church that has given birth to the Scriptures, but the Scriptures have given birth to the church which will, in turn, recognize the voice of God.  Jesus said, "My sheep hear my voice, ...and they follow me." (John 10:27)

Michael Kruger comments on this self-authenticating nature of God's special revelation, here in consideration of the NT canon:

"Central to the self-authenticating model of canon is the conviction that canonical books are recognized not only by their historical authenticity (apostolic origins) or their ecclesiastical acceptance (corporate reception), but fundamentally by the nature of their content (divine qualities). If these books are constituted by the work of the Holy Spirit, then Christians, who are filled with the Holy Spirit, should be able to recognize that fact." (Michael J. Kruger, Canon Revisited)  

tolerance and despair

...what do these have in common?  British author Dorothy Sayers gives insight:

“In the world it is called Tolerance, but in hell it is called Despair, the sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and remains alive because there is nothing for which it will die.” 

 Here is Sayer's quote in context, on the topic of sloth (or acedia) as one of the deadly sins.

Monday, November 18, 2013

should the church be non-judgmental?

People will say that one of the main things they are looking for in a church, or in a group of  Christians, is that they are not judgmental.  Occasionally, people will say that they appreciate that our church is not judgmental.  It's meant as a compliment, I know, but I'm a little unsure how to respond to that.

Most people usually mean that a person or group of people don't pass judgment upon others in the sense of heaping condemnation upon them.  Fair enough.  But it may mean, you don't come down on sin (or a particular sin) so hard, or you're not negative about anything. 

But, can we ever really be non-judgmental?  Even the statement, "you are too judgmental" or "you should be more non-judgmental" is a judgment in itself.  The speaker is making the judgment that this other kind of judgment is wrong.  There's a disapproval of that other kind of disapproval.  "You shouldn't be so negative" is a negative statement. 

Should Christians strive to be non-judgmental?  Is this something we really want in our churches?  Do we want to be at the place where we don't have values, or make judgments as to what's right and what's wrong, what's true and what's a lie? 

Here's a key passage, from Jesus' sermon on the mount:  "Judge not, that you be not judged.  For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.  Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.  Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you."  (Matthew 7:1-6)

What Jesus meant by "judging not" has less to do with discernment and distinguishing right and wrong, and more to do with hypocrisy and self-righteousness.  He assumes we will know who the "dogs" and "pigs" are (7:6).  And elsewhere the Bible tells us to grow in moral discernment:  "But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil."  (Hebrews 5:14)

What Jesus is speaking about is passing judgment by inflating the fault of another while at the same time downsizing our own sin.  In this way we fool ourselves into thinking we have a clear and balanced perspective on another's problem, and yet be blind to our own flaws, which are usually bigger than we think.  There are many of us religious people who would be happy to "help" you with your problems, while being blind to the help we ourselves desperately need. 

But this does not call for non-judgment.  It calls for a healthy self-judgment in the light of truth.  And the gospel actually liberates us to be able to see the worst in ourselves.  We can face our problems with realism because we are under a grace infinitely greater than our problems. 

So, the condition of being non-judgmental is not really a good goal.  We are a new creation and are called to leave certain thoughts and behaviors behind.  The Apostle Paul says, "Put to death… put off…" certain attitudes and actions (Colossians 3:5-11, which is pretty negative), and then to "put on…" other attitudes and actions (Colossians 3:12-17), which is the positive flip-side.  We are certainly to make judgments, test our motives, confess sin, repent, be accountable, be humble, and be vigilant. 

But this is primarily toward ourselves.  The church as a whole should be such an environment that allows all of us to share in this mindset.  Occasionally there are situations where someone does need to be removed from fellowship (1 Corinthians 5, for example.)  And if we have been sinned against we are to follow Jesus' plan for reconciliation (Matthew 18:15ff).  But ongoing and healthy judgment means that the church -- by regular application of the Word and the ministry of the Holy Spirit -- sees truth ever more clearly, exposing the lies we believe, walking in the light rather than darkness, and pursuing goodness rather than evil.   

The term "non-judgmental" is really not very useful.  It may lead to the conclusion that sin is no big deal.  

Saturday, November 9, 2013

1 Peter series

Listening to the three-part series on 1 Peter by Vaughan Roberts in this year's EMA conference in England.  Very encouraging and challenging.  Roberts applies Peter's letter to the increasing marginalization of evangelicals today in the west. 

Here are a few quotes from the second message...

"Do we add value to the culture and community in which we live?"

"We may not get justice in this life, but judgment is coming."

"God did not choose to save us through political power, but through the cross."

the anointed one

Here's a graphic I used in the History of Redemption walk-through.  In the Old Testament God raised up special individuals to mediate Israel's relationship with God. The prophet spoke to the people on behalf of God.  The priest represented the people before God.  And the king ruled the people for God.  These individuals were anointed with oil, and often with the Spirit.  

The OT looked forward to One who would combine all the special, anointed offices.  Ezekiel was both priest and prophet.  David was prophet and king.  But no one could combine all these offices except The Anointed One (Messiah).  This was the Messianic expectation.  See Deuteronomy 18, Isaiah 9, Daniel 7, and Psalm 2 and 110.  Jesus perfectly reveals the Father to us, represents us before the Father, and rules us in God's righteousness. 


Friday, November 8, 2013

calvary love

Amy Carmichael wrote convicting prose in her classic "If..." Much to reflect on from her life of service among the orphans of India.  Selections below, and the complete work is found here. 

If I belittle those whom I am called to serve, talk of their weak points in contrast perhaps with what I think of as my strong points; if I adopt a superior attitude, forgetting "Who made thee to differ? And what hast thou that thou hast not received?" then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I can enjoy a joke at the expense of another; if I can in any way slight
another in conversation, or even in thought, then I know nothing of Calvary

If I do not feel far more for the grieved Savior than for my worried self when
troublesome things occur, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I feel bitter toward those who condemn me, as it seems to me, unjustly,
forgetting that if they knew me as I know myself they would condemn me much
more, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If souls can suffer alongside, and I hardly know it, because the spirit of
discernment is not in me, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If the praise of others elates me and their blame depresses me; if I cannot rest
under misunderstanding without defending myself; if I love to be loved more
than to love, to be served more than to serve, then I know nothing of Calvary

If I have not compassion on my fellow-servant even as my Lord had pity on me, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

(Amy Carmichael)

on calling

"We are not wise enough, pure enough, or strong enough to aim and sustain such a single motive over a lifetime. That way lies fanaticism or failure. But if the single motive is the master motivation of God's calling, the answer is yes. In any and all situations, both today and tomorrow's tomorrow, God's call to us is the unchanging and ultimate whence, what, why, and whither of our lives.  Calling is a 'yes' to God that carries a 'no' to the chaos of modern demands. Calling is the key to tracing the story line of our lives and unriddling the meaning of our existence in a chaotic world.”

(Os Guinness, The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life)

Thursday, November 7, 2013

on leaving home

Ann Voskamp to her son, as he prepares to leave home...

The Bible’s true, son. Every infallible, sword-sharp, breathing word of it. Don’t let anyone ever rationalize one beautiful iota of it away. Love it because it’s your Life.

The only life worth living is the one lost.

Do it often: grab a lifeline by stepping offline. You’ll see your true self when you look for your reflection in the eyes of souls not the glare of screens.

This is what you always need to know: You have nothing to prove to anyone – if you’re in Him, you are already approved.

Be okay with not being liked: life’s about altars not applause. And be okay with not being seen or heard. It’ll let you hear and see better.

And it’s the work of every child to fully forgive the parents. This is how it turns, the torch passing from one to the next.

Read the complete post here.   

Saturday, October 26, 2013

why christianity?

Kenneth Scott LaTourette, church historian, writes about the success of Christians in the early centuries...

Inevitably the question arises: Why, from being the faith of a small, persecuted minority in competition with other religions which appeared to have better prospects of success, did Christianity eventually enroll the large majority of the population of the Roman Empire? To that outcome several factors contributed. In the disintegration of the existing order which by the end of the second century was becoming obvious many individuals were seeking spiritual and material security and believed that they could find it in the Christian faith. 

By the end of the third century, while enlisting only a minority, the Church was Empire-wide, was more comprehensive than any institution except the state, and gave to its members a sense of brotherhood and solidarity. Christianity assured its adherents what many in the ancient world were craving -- high ethical standards, a spiritual dynamic in which was power to approximate to those standards, and immortality. The Church was inclusive: its brotherhood included both sexes, rich and poor, intelligentsia and men and women of no intellectual attainments. Many intellectuals, including Augustine, found in the faith not only moral power but also, in the incarnation, the Word become flesh, what was absent in the highest philosophies of the time. The constancy of the martyrs awakened the admiration of thousands. So did the fact that Christianity was uncompromising in its demands. One modern scholar, T. R. Glover of Cambridge University declared that the Christians out-thought, out-lived, and out-died the adherents of the non-Christian religions.

The primary source of the appeal of Christianity was Jesus -- His incarnation, His life, His crucifixion, and His resurrection. Here was the sense of security and of meaning in a perplexing universe and in a society whose foundations were crumbling. Here were the command for and, although imperfect, the realization of a comprehensive fellowship. Here were high and exacting ethical commands and the proved power to approximate to them. Here was victory through apparent defeat. Here was the certainty of immortality in ever-growing and never-ending fellowship with the eternal God Who so loved that He had given Himself in His Son.

From Chapter 4: "The Initial Five Centuries of Christianity" in Christianity Through the Ages by Kenneth Scott Latourette.  The wall painting of the Lord Jesus, Alpha (A) and Omega (W), above is from the 4th century tomb of Commodilla, south of Rome.

the conversion of Saul

“That the tide of sin, which before did run so strong — should be so easily turned; that the sinner who, a little before was sailing hellward, and lacked neither wind nor tide to carry him there—should now suddenly alter his course, and tack about for heaven—what a miracle is this! To see an earthly man become heavenly, a carnal man become spiritual, a loose man become precise, a proud man become humble, a covetous man become liberal, and a harsh man become meek, is to behold the greatest of miracles!”  (Thomas Brooks, The Crown and Glory of Christianity)

“We thank you for the witness of the apostle Paul, who was your chosen messenger.  We rejoice in the glory of these matchless books which have enable men [and women] to live lives of victory over sin and have stayed their souls.  And we pray that this great apostle may again be heard, that the darkness may be dispelled, and that men may find here the great charter of Christian liberty, that without the merit of their own, but through the blood of Christ, they may be free forevermore. Amen.”  (J. Gresham Machen, 1927)

The painting above is by Gustav Dore.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Christ and the Ten Commandments

Have profited from this section of John Frame's The Doctrine of the Christian Life (P&R Publishing, 2008), pp 400-401...


By John M. Frame

If all Scripture testifies of Christ, the law of God surely cannot be an exception. As we study the law in a seminary context, then, nothing can be more important than to study its witness to Christ. Ministers of the gospel need to learn how to preach Christ from the law.

In fact, the law bears witness to Christ in a number of ways, some of which I shall discuss in the following points.

1. The Decalogue presents the righteousness of Christ. When we say that Christ was the perfect lamb of God and the perfect example for the Christian life, we are saying that he perfectly obeyed God’s law. He never put any god before his Father. He never worshiped idols or took God’s name in vain. The Pharisees arguments to the contrary notwithstanding, he never violated the Sabbath command. So, the Decalogue tells us what Jesus was like. It shows us his perfect character.

2. The Decalogue shows our need of Christ. God’s law convicts us of sin and drives us to Jesus. It shows us who we are apart from Christ. We are idolaters, blasphemers, Sabbath-breakers, and so on.

3. The Decalogue shows the righteousness of Christ imputed to us. In him we are holy. God sees us, in Christ, as law-keepers.

4. The Decalogue shows us how God wants us to give thanks for Christ. In the Decalogue, obedience follows redemption. God tells his people that he has brought them out of Egypt. The law is not something they must keep to merit redemption. God has redeemed them. Keeping the law is the way they thank God for salvation freely given. So the Heidelberg Confession expounds the law under the category of gratefulness.

5. Christ is the substance of the law. This point is related to the first, but it is not quite the same. Here I wish to say that Jesus is not only a perfect law-keeper (according to his humanity), but that according to his deity he is the one we honor and worship when we keep the law:

(a) The first commandment teaches us to worship Jesus as the one and only Lord, Savior, and mediator (Acts 4:12; 1 Tim. 2:5).

(b) In the second commandment, Jesus is the one perfect image of God (Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3). Our devotion to him precludes worship of any other image.

(c) In the third commandment, Jesus is the name of God, that name to which every knee shall bow (Phil. 2:10-11; cf. Is. 45:23).

(d) In the fourth commandment, Jesus is our Sabbath rest. In his presence, we cease our daily duties and hear his voice (Luke 10:38-42).

(e) In the fifth commandment, we honor Jesus who has brought us as his “sons” (Heb. 2:10) to glory.

(f) In the sixth commandment, we honor him as the life (John 10:10; 14:6; Gal. 2:20; Col. 3:4), Lord of life (Acts 3:15), the one who gave his life that we might live (Mk. 10:45).

(g) In the seventh commandment, we honor him as our bridegroom who gave himself to cleanse us, to make us his pure, spotless bride (Eph. 5:22-33). We love him as no other.

(h) In the eighth commandment, we honor Jesus as our inheritance (Eph. 1:11) and as the one who provides all the needs for his people in this world and beyond.

(i) In the ninth commandment, we honor him as God’s truth (John 1:17; 14:6), in whom all the promises of God are Yea and Amen (2 Cor. 1:20).

(j) In the tenth commandment, we honor him as our complete sufficiency (2 Cor. 3:5; 12:9) to meet both our external needs and the renewed desires of our hearts.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

the bible’s really not about you

Jesus is the true and better Adam who passed the test in the garden and whose obedience is imputed to us.

Jesus is the true and better Abel who, though innocently slain, has blood now that cries out, not for our condemnation, but for acquittal.

Jesus is the true and better Abraham who answered the call of God to leave all the comfortable and familiar and go out into the void not knowing wither he went to create a new people of God.

Jesus is the true and better Isaac who was not just offered up by his father on the mount but was truly sacrificed for us. And when God said to Abraham, “Now I know you love me because you did not withhold your son, your only son whom you love from me,” now we can look at God taking his son up the mountain and sacrificing him and say, “Now we know that you love us because you did not withhold your son, your only son, whom you love from us.”

Jesus is the true and better Jacob who wrestled and took the blow of justice we deserved, so we, like Jacob, only receive the wounds of grace to wake us up and discipline us.

Jesus is the true and better Joseph who, at the right hand of the king, forgives those who betrayed and sold him and uses his new power to save them.

Jesus is the true and better Moses who stands in the gap between the people and the Lord and who mediates a new covenant.

Jesus is the true and better Rock of Moses who, struck with the rod of God’s justice, now gives us water in the desert.

Jesus is the true and better Job, the truly innocent sufferer, who then intercedes for and saves his stupid friends.

Jesus is the true and better David whose victory becomes his people’s victory, though they never lifted a stone to accomplish it themselves.

Jesus is the true and better Esther who didn’t just risk leaving an earthly palace but lost the ultimate and heavenly one, who didn’t just risk his life, but gave his life to save his people.

Jesus is the true and better Jonah who was cast out into the storm so that we could be brought in.

Jesus is the real Rock of Moses, the real Passover Lamb, innocent, perfect, helpless, slain so the angel of death will pass over us. He’s the true temple, the true prophet, the true priest, the true king, the true sacrifice, the true lamb, the true light, the true bread.

The Bible’s really not about you – it’s about him.

-- Tim Keller, The Gospel Coalition Conference, 2007

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

loving God with our mind

"Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" And [Jesus] said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment." (Matthew 22:36-38 ESV)

"I will suggest that loving God with the mind means that our thinking is wholly engaged to do all it can to awaken and express the heartfelt fullness of treasuring God above all things. Treasuring God is the essence of loving him, and the mind serves this love by comprehending (imperfectly and partially, but truly) the truth and beauty and worth of the Treasure."  

(John Piper, Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God.)

Thursday, September 26, 2013

become a fool, own the cosmos

"For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.  For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men... So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future--all are yours, and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's."  (1 Corinthians 1:21-25; 3:21-23 ESV)

"You are either glorying in men, or else you are glorying in the Lord Jesus Christ. Glory in men and you will continue a slave and the slavery will increase!  Glory in the Lord Jesus Christ and he will set you free, and make you willing servants, the owner, the heir of the whole cosmos, children of God, and if children, then heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ... See that the essence of wisdom is to become a fool, to become a Christian, to be laughed at by the world, but in reality to be made wise with the wisdom of God himself!" (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones*)

*Martyn Lloyd-Jones' sermon, "Full Salvation" is here to stream or download
All sermons in the MLJ library are now free for download. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

for all peoples

And [Simeon] came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,  "Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel."  (Luke 2:27-32 ESV)
To see Jesus is to see the salvation God has prepared for all peoples. 

Earlier the angel who spoke to the shepherds said, "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord."  (Luke 2:11)  But Simeon, holding and gazing upon the baby Jesus, prays, "my eyes have seen your salvation."   The Savior is the Salvation.  Salvation is a Person.  Jesus did not come just to show a way, or the best way, but to be The Way. 

And this Person is himself the salvation prepared for all people groups, whether Jew or non-Jew.  Light for the Gentiles, glory for Israel.  Abraham's blessing has come to all families (Gen. 12:3)

To see Jesus rightly, then, is to see that he has come to accomplish salvation in the presence of, and available to, all nationalities and ethnic groups.  This salvation is trans-cultural.  If I see or believe that Jesus is my Savior, my salvation, but believe that other ways may work for other people, then I do not see Jesus clearly. 

To see Jesus is to see the salvation prepared for all peoples.  

Monday, September 16, 2013

it all depends

Here's a little poem by Abraham Ebel on relativism.  It's been around awhile, but this is a clever way of putting it...

It all depends on where you are 
and it all depends on who you are.
It all depends on what you feel, 
and it all depends on how you feel.
It all depends on how you’re raised, 
and it all depends on what is praised.
What’s right today is wrong tomorrow. 
Joy in France and England’s sorrow.
It all depends on point of view, 
Australia or Timbuktu.
In Rome do as the Romans do.
If tastes just happen to agree,
then you have morality.
But where there are conflicting trends
it all depends;
it all depends.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Getz on leadership unity

Quotes taken from interview of Gene Getz by Howard Hendricks (from DTS class on Leadership)...

“As the biblical story unfolds in the New Testament, it becomes increasingly clear that each local church was to be managed and shepherded by a unified team of godly men...

"As they [the disciples] left the upper room and headed towards the Kidron Valley and they were following along, still not understanding everything that’s going on here, Jesus lifted His eyes and He prayed and He said, 'Father' –part of that prayer, 'Father, I pray for them, these men. But not just for them, but for all those who will believe on Me through them,' which is us, by the way, 'that they’ll be one as We are one. I in You, You in Me' –for what reason? '–so the world will believe that You have sent Me.' Inherent in the unity in that leadership team is a reflection of the Trinity... 

"All the way through the Scriptures, that concept of oneness is there. Now, that oneness is not going to be in the church, unless it’s modeled at the leadership level. So, that is so critical and that’s why the qualifications are so important because you're not going to have unity if you have arrogance, if you have ego, if you have selfish ambitions, if you have agendas for power, position.  And if you take those qualifications seriously, it wipes that out.  We’re all in process, obviously, but that, to me, is so critical. And then, as you have this unity, this oneness, it doesn’t mean you always agree on everything, but if guys really love Christ, love that church, want to serve that church and not themselves, they will lay aside their agendas. They’ll speak their peace, but when the end of the day comes, they’re going to  be one, and does the church ever sense that!  And, to me, that is the very thing Jesus prayed for and wants, and that’s why Satan, who knows more about that then we do, has attacked the church and the leadership at that level, and unfortunately has been victorious in a lot of situations.  But he doesn’t have to be, if we follow the Scriptures."

Friday, September 6, 2013

new song

"Spirit Of The Living God", by Audrey Assad

O Spirit of the living God, thou Light and Fire Divine
Descend upon Thy Church once more and make it truly Thine
Fill it with love and joy and power, with righteousness and peace
Till Christ shall dwell in human hearts, and sin and sorrow cease.

Blow, wind of God, with wisdom blow until our minds are free
from mists of error, clouds of doubt, which blind our eyes to Thee
Burn, winged fire, inspire our lips with flaming love and zeal
To preach to all Thy great good news, God's glorious commonweal.

So shall we know the power of Christ, who came this world to save
So shall we rise with Him to life which soars beyond the grave
And earth shall win true holiness which makes Thy children whole
Till, perfected by Thee, we reach creation's glorious goal.

Listen to it here.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

grace for the entire journey

"The Christian ought to rely on divine strength because this plan results in the greatest of advancement of God's own glory (Eph. 1:4, 12).  If God had given you a lifetime supply of his grace to begin with and left you to handle your own account, you would have thought him generous indeed.  But he is magnified even more by the open account He sets up in your name.   Now you must acknowledge not only that your strength comes from God in the first place, but that you are continually in debt for every withdrawal of strength you make throughout your Christian course.

"When a child travels with his parents, all his expenses are covered by his father-- not by himself.  Likewise, no saint shall say of heaven when he arrives there, 'This is heaven, which I have built by the power of my own might.'  No, the heavenly Jerusalem is a city 'whose builder and maker is God' (Heb. 11:10).  Every grace is a stone in that building, the topstone of which is laid in glory.  Some day the saints shall plainly see how God was not only the founder to begin, but benefactor also to finish the same.  The glory of the work will not be crumbled out piecemeal, some to God and some to the creature.  All will be entirely credited to God."   

 (William Gurnall, The Christian In Complete Armour)

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

today's quotes

Niebuhr's definition of liberal Protestantism may be applied to today's revisionist Christianity: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.”  (Richard Niebuhr, The Kingdom of God in America, 1937)

The "love of God" can be used in the Bible in different ways: "God loves with a love of benevolence (John 3:16) and with a love of delight (Zeph 3:17)." (Thomas Manton)

C. S. Lewis on applied science, which we could call "technology": "There is something which unites magic and applied science [=technology] while separating both from the 'wisdom' of earlier ages.  For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue.  For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men; the solution is a technique."  (C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man)

We must begin with the nature of truth"Without a thorough and deeply rooted understanding of the biblical view of truth as revealed, objective, absolute, universal, eternally engaging, antithetical and exclusive, unified and systematic, and as an end in itself, the Christian response to postmodernism will be muted by the surrounding culture or will make illicit compromises with the truth-impoverished spirit of the age. The good news is that truth is still truth, that it provides a backbone for witness and ministry in postmodern times, and that God's truth will never fail." (Douglas Groothuis)

Monday, August 5, 2013

why a narrow gate?

"Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few."  (Matthew 7:13-14 ESV)

Why does Jesus say that the gate to life is narrow?  Which leads to some related questions: why is Christianity so exclusive?  Will only a few ultimately be saved?  Doesn't God want all, or at least lots of people, to be saved?   Is he making the way more difficult than it needs to be?

First of all, we should underscore the truth that God does not delight in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:23; 33:11).  It is not that God intends to make the way of life difficult for difficulty's sake.  He's not being cruel, or miserly, or hard to please. The way and the welcome is open to all.  However, then as now, many people find the exclusive claims of Christ, and of Christianity, to be deeply offensive.  I believe the narrowness of Christianity comes from the extreme condition in which we exist as fallen, sinful creatures, and from the only solution that can truly help us.

Jesus' ministry was rejected by many in Israel (John 1:11).  Much of his popularity stemmed from the miraculous blessings he gave, whether healing, deliverance or food.  His teaching was enjoyed by many until it became difficult to understand (John 6:60-66).  The leadership of the nation, by a great majority, would finally condemn him to death for blasphemy. 

So, why is the gate narrow?  Here are a few reasons, I think…

First, the gate is narrow because truth is narrow -- or at least, truth is narrow when placed against the backdrop of widespread deceit.  Jesus described Satan as the father of lies (John 8:44).  All roads do not in fact lead to the top of the mountain (John 14:6; Acts 4:12), but "lead to destruction", according to Jesus.  He comes as the true Light into a very dark world.

The gate is narrow because a person must come to understand his desperate condition before God.  We come to Christ as a terminally ill person comes to a physician (Luke 5:31-32).  There's a humbling that takes place in salvation. This is very difficult for people who believe the widespread lie that they are basically good (or that they're "not all that bad.")  

The gate is narrow because one must understand that it is not by works, or by self-generated effort or sincerity or good intentions that we enter God's kingdom.  Again, most religions and worldviews hold that we can be good enough to attain life.  We are given a list (which may be short or long) as to how we might achieve this.  We are like the rich young ruler who asks "what good thing" he might do to merit eternal life (Luke 18:18ff).

The gate is narrow because only Jesus can do what needs to be done to give us eternal life.  His life is the only one that pleases God with its perfection.  Multitudes find this hard to swallow.  And his death is the only work that can restore us to friendship with God.  Many people, then and now, find this offensive.  (1 Corinthians 1:22-25).

The gate is narrow because it does not appeal to our ethnic pride, that each of us should have a way of salvation that is amenable to our culture.   But God has given one Mediator for all cultures, because humanity is one. (1 Timothy 2:5-6; Romans 5:12ff) 

The gate is narrow because the Christian life -- though involving great freedom and joy -- does bring restrictions in the way we live in this current world.  Given the prevailing flow of sinful humanity, the Christian life is hard.  It involves being shaped into the image of Jesus and being prepared for a new creation while living in the old (Luke 14:27-28).  It means bearing with persecution and hostility.  It means making choices that many would find strange.  Most people do not want to sign up for that.

So, does this mean that ultimately only a few will be saved?  Jesus does not quite say that.  He says those who are finding it are few.  "The ones finding it" is a present participle, which may refer to a timeless principle or it may refer to the current situation as Jesus is speaking.  One thing we know… multitudes will be saved (see Rev 7:9; 19:6). The size of the New Jerusalem is mind-boggling (Rev 21:15ff). 

It may be that what Jesus is saying is similar to what he said here:

And Jesus said to his disciples, "Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven.  Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God."  When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, "Who then can be saved?"  But Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."  (Matthew 19:23-26 ESV)

Jesus is speaking these words before his death, resurrection and ascension; before the Holy Spirit is poured out upon the church.  I think the sense is this: given the utter estrangement of humanity from God, we would never find the door to life due to our blindness and hardened hearts.  But through God's grace and through the ministry of the Spirit out-poured, a few can become a multitude, a trickle can become a flood, and a tiny remnant can become a great nation:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands,  and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!"  (Revelation 7:9-10 ESV)

The engraving above is of the wicket gate from The Pilgrim's Progress, London, 1778.