Monday, December 29, 2008

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

"Labor of Love"

Another Christmas song from "Behold the Lamb."

Here are the lyrics:

It was not a silent night
There was blood on the ground
You could hear a woman cry
In the alleyways that night
On the streets of David's town

And the stable was not clean
And the cobblestones were cold
And little Mary full of grace
With the tears upon her face
Had no mother's hand to hold

It was a labor of pain
It was a cold sky above
But for the girl on the ground in the dark
With every beat of her beautiful heart
It was a labor of love

Noble Joseph at her side
Callused hands and weary eyes
There were no midwives to be found
In the streets of David's town
In the middle of the night

So he held her and he prayed
Shafts of moonlight on his face
But the baby in her womb
He was the maker of the moon
He was the Author of the faith
That could make the mountains move

It was a labor of pain
It was a cold sky above
But for the girl on the ground in the dark
With every beat of her beautiful heart
It was a labor of love
For little Mary full of grace
With the tears upon her face
It was a labor of love.

HT: Justin Taylor

"The Great Reversal"

A good meditation for Christmas Eve from Tullian Tchividjian.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

"The Advent of Humility" by Tim Keller

Tim Keller's shares a meditation on the place of humility in the Christian life.

Here's an excerpt:

"Christian humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less, as C. S. Lewis so memorably said. It is to be no longer always noticing yourself and how you are doing and how you are being treated. It is 'blessed self-forgetfulness.'"

You can read the whole thing here.

Monday, December 22, 2008

"A Teasing Taste of What They Miss"

I was watching/listening to the the PBS presentation of a Christmas choral concert from Luther College tonight when I heard a song I'd never heard before. Unfortunately I didn't catch the name of the song (or the composer or lyricist), but it include these compelling lines (addressed, I believe, to the angels):

Give earth a teasing taste of what they miss...
Sing of endless bliss; sing of endless bliss...
Sing 'God is love'....

That's beautiful, Biblical truth.

The Pattern of the Gospel

“Think it out! The only way for Jesus to get us out of our spiritual poverty and into spiritual riches was to get out of his spiritual riches into spiritual poverty. This should now be the pattern of your life. Give your resources away and enter into need so that those in need will be resourced.”

- Timothy Keller, The Gospel and the Poor
posted at "Of First Importance"

Sunday, December 21, 2008

"O Come, O Come Emmanuel"

Gabe Scott, Kyle Reeder, Andrew Osenga, and Marcus Myers play an instrumental version of "O Come, O Come Emannuel" from "Behold the Lamb of God" at the Ryman Auditorium.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Characteristics of the Gospel

From D.A. Carson's keynote address delivered at The Gospel Coalition's first conference in May 2007. Carson clarifies the gospel from 1 Cor 15:1–19 with eight summarizing words...

  1. Christological: The gospel centers on the person and work (the life, death, and resurrection) of Jesus Christ.
  2. theological: The gospel tells us that sin is first and foremost an offense against God and that salvation is first to last the action of God, not our own.
  3. biblical: The gospel is essentially the message of the whole Bible.
  4. apostolic: The gospel is passed on to us by Jesus' disciples as authoritative eyewitnesses.
  5. historical: The gospel is not philosophy or advice on how to find God, but rather news of what God has done in history to find and save us.
  6. personal: The gospel must be personally believed and appropriated.
  7. universal: The gospel is for every tongue, tribe, people, and individual.
  8. eschatological: The gospel includes the good news of the final transformation, not just the blessings we enjoy in this age.

Friday, December 19, 2008

"The Gospel and the Poor" by Pastor Tim Keller

Tim Keller is senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, NY and an adjunct professor of practical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.

He introduces his essay this way:

"The original question I was asked to address was "How does our commitment to the primacy of the gospel tie into our obligation to do good to all, especially those of the household of faith, to serve as salt and light in the world, to do good to the city?" I will divide this question into two parts: (1) If we are committed to the primacy of the gospel, does the gospel itself serve as the basis and motivation for ministry to the poor? (2) If so, how then does that ministry relate to the proclamation of the gospel?"

You can read the whole thing here.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

"The Devil's Latest Marketing Guise"

An essay from Mark Galli, of "Christianity Today." Here's an excerpt:

"Why would a church—a place that is supposed to be characterized by genuineness and humility—ask a group of "savvy professionals" to help it? Isn't there something in the New Testament about the gospel subverting the wisdom of the wise? Is it possible for "savvy professionals" to understand what a church is really about?

"Is worship that is practiced 'secretly,' with the goal of 'assessing' the 'experience on a very objective and non-emotional level' really worship of God Almighty, creator of heaven and earth? Can one truly enter into a worshipping community objectively, secretly, and without emotion? Worship is not about judging the 'worship experience,' but about putting oneself humbly before God to be judged and forgiven by him. "

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

John Newton On How Faith Faces Trials

Concerning a believer, Newton writes, "...his faith upholds him under all trials, by assuring him, that every painful dispensation is under the direction of his Lord; that chastisements are a token of his love; that the season, measure, and continuance of his sufferings, are appointed by Infinite Wisdom, and designed to work for his everlasting good; and that grace and strength shall be afforded him, according to his need.

"Thus, his heart being fixed, trusting in the Lord, to whom he has committed all his concerns; and knowing that his best interests are safe; he is not greatly afraid of evil tidings, but enjoys a stable peace in the midst of a changing world. For, though he cannot tell what a day may bring forth, he believes that he who has invited and enabled him to cast all his cares upon him, will allow nothing to befall him but what shall be made subservient to his chief desire—the glory of God in the sanctification and final salvation of his soul.

"And if, through the weakness of his flesh, he is liable to be startled by the first impression of a sharp and sudden trial, he quickly flees to his strong refuge, remembers it is the Lord's doing, resigns himself to his will, and patiently expects a happy outcome."

Monday, December 15, 2008

Letters of John Newton available online

I came across a website that includes, among other things, the letters of John Newton (the pastor who wrote the lyrics for "Amazing Grace"). Newton's letters are filled with Biblical wisdom applied with pastoral care and precision to real-life situations.

Here is just a brief excerpt from one of the letters:

"It is not only plain, from the general tenor of Scripture, that a covetous, a proud, or a censorious spirit, is no more consistent with the spirit of the Gospel, than drunkenness or whoredom; but there are many express texts directly pointed against the evils which too often are found among professors.

"Thus the Apostle James assures us, 'That if any man seems to be religious, and bridles not his tongue, his religion is vain;' and the Apostle John, 'That if any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him;' and he seems to apply this character to any man, whatever his profession or pretenses may be, 'who having this world's goods, and seeing his brother have need, shuts up his compassion from him.'

"Surely these texts more than intimate, that that faith which justifies the soul, does likewise receive grace from Jesus, whereby the heart is purified, and the life regulated as befits the Gospel of Christ."

"The Measure of Our Growth or Decay in Grace"

“If I have observed anything by experience, it is this: a man may take the measure of his growth and decay in grace according to his thoughts and meditations upon the person of Christ, and the glory of Christ’s Kingdom, and of His love.”

- John Owen, quoted in A Puritan Golden Treasury complied by I. D. E. Thomas (Carlisle, Pa.: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1989), 184.
posted at "Of First Importance"

Saturday, December 13, 2008

"We are not mushrooms, but oaks..."

“Remember, the growth of a believer is not like a mushroom—but like an oak, which increases slowly indeed—but surely.

"Many suns, showers, and frosts, pass upon it before it comes to perfection. And in winter, when it seems to be dead—it is gathering strength at the root.

"Be humble, watchful, and diligent in the means, and endeavor to look through all, and fix your eye upon Jesus—and all shall be well."

—John Newton, Letters of John Newton (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth: 2007)
Grace Gems)
posted at "Of First Importance"

Friday, December 12, 2008

"Why Theology Matters to Christian Musicians"

Bob Kauflin, director of worship development for Sovereign Grace Ministries, is one of the most helpful thinkers and communicators when it comes to seeing the relationship between theology, worship and music. Here's an excerpt from his recent post, "Why Theology Matters to Christian Musicians":

Three reasons why theology should matter to Christian musicians.

1. You’re already a theologian. Every Christian, musical or otherwise, is already a theologian. The question is, are you a good theologian or a bad one? We’re good theologians if what we say and think about God lines up with what Scripture says and affirms. We’re bad theologians if our view of God is vague, or if we think God doesn’t really mind sin, or is we see Jesus as a good example and not a Savior, or if we our god is too small to overcome evil or too big to care about us.

2. God reveals himself primarily through words, not music. Because we’ve encountered God profoundly during times of musical worship, we can wrongly start assuming that words restrict the Spirit, while music enables us to experience God in fresh and powerful ways. If God had wanted us to know him primarily through music, the Bible would be a soundtrack, not a book. Music affects and helps us in many ways, but it doesn’t replace truth about God. By itself, music can never help us understand the meaning of God’s self-existence, the nature of the Incarnation, or Christ’s substitutionary atonement. Simply put, truth outlasts tunes.

3. Being good theologians makes us better musicians.
Theology teaches us what music is meant to do.
Theology teaches us that worship is more than music.
Theology teaches us that Jesus is better than music.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

"Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence" -- a hymn for Christmas

"Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence"

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
Our full homage [reverent devotion] to demand.

King of kings,
yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth He stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
In the body and the blood;
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavenly food.

Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth
From the realms of endless day,
That the powers of hell may vanish
As the darkness clears away.

At His feet the six wingèd seraph,
Cherubim with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to the presence,
As with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Alleluia
Alleluia, Lord Most High!

Words: Li­tur­gy of St. James, 4th Cen­tu­ry trans­lat­ed from Greek to Eng­lish by
Gerard Moultrie, 1864.
Music: Pi­car­dy, French car­ol mel­o­dy; har­mo­ny from The Eng­lish Hymn­al, 1906, num­ber 318

The Lordship of Christ at Christmas-time

"Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord." -- Luke 2:11

Christmas is a time when Jesus will be called “Lord” again and again in songs that are sung in Christmas programs and productions. But Jesus himself said that it is pointless to keep calling him “Lord” while not doing what is pleasing to him (Lk.6:46; cp. Matt. 7:21-23).

And how do we know what is pleasing to the Lord? How do we know what he wills, including what his will is for the church at Christmas time, when it comes to the church’s worship and witness? We know the will of God through the Word that he inspired.

The Lord Jesus is clear when it comes to what his will is for the church’s mission and task in the world. We are to faithfully and accurately urgently proclaim the true Gospel message, and teach people, from the Bible, who God is, and what he requires of us.

The Church has been entrusted with the Gospel message, and commissioned with the task of proclaiming it to everyone on every occasion (2 Tim.4:1ff.).

And the Church is to be very concerned about guarding the Gospel, and getting the message right when it comes to what we proclaim to the world – and that includes what we proclaim and communicate through song. It is no better to sing a heresy than to preach one. It’s just as bad to teach a false idea about God in a song as it is in a sermon. But today many Christian musicians seem to expect quite a bit of leeway when it comes to whether or not what they say about God in song is actually true, which is to say, Scriptural.

But such an expectation is illegitimate. One of the ways that “the word of Christ” (the message from Him and about Him) is to dwell in us richly (Col.3:16) is in the church’s songs and singing. Christian music should be all about communicating the word of God, the true message about Jesus Christ.

Naturally, the Devil is totally opposed to this. We make a huge mistake if we think the Devil is going to be obvious and simple-minded in his efforts to corrupt the church and to throw it off course from its God-given mission and purposes. For in fact the Bible makes it clear that the Devil and his demons are Scripture-quoting impersonators of true angels and true prophets and faithful ministers. (Matt. 4:6; Matt. 7:15; 2 Cor. 11:3-5, 14-15).

So expect the Devil to work through people who claim to be representing and working for Jesus – he will work through those who quote the Bible, and who sound very pious and religious.
God’s people, beginning with their pastors, are supposed to be discerning about all this. And they’ve been given the Bible, God’s infallible Word, to enable them for this discernment. But we live in a time when personal preference and emotionalism and a craving to be entertained even at church trumps a careful attention to the Word of God in Scripture (2 Tim.4:1-5).

Among other things, this has led to a growing worldliness in the Church. The faithful church used to be worried about becoming worldly, but now very many in the church feel like they’re just too sophisticated to worry about that.

So again and again, especially it seems in the church’s music, we seek to have it both ways – trying to blend what is worldly and secular and sentimental and trivial, with what is godly and Spiritual and Scriptural and profound.

And so, for example, at Christmas time, you find singers singing songs that having nothing to do with Christ with what appears to be the same (manufactured?) emotion that they display when they are singing songs about the Lord in a worship service. Christian crooners sound the same, look the same, emote the same, whether they’re singing about the rugged cross, or about being home for Christmas. (Even more ironically, such emotionally agile performers are given credit for being more into their worshiping than others who may not be as good at switching their feelings on an off on musical cue.)

It appears that the Church is going to have to learn to step up again, and make the choice: Spirit or flesh, loving the world or loving the Lord.

And trying to decide by what’s right by what’s popular is a tragic, naïve mistake. Again, the standard for what ought to be done in the Lord’s name is the Word that the Lord gave to the church, not what most people (including even professedly Christian people) like and enjoy (2 Tim. 4:1-5).

Is it a good sign that the church is in good health when professing Christians find it entertaining and amusing when the sacred gospel themes and Biblical realities are trivialized through sentimentality and by being blended together in a program with the things of the world? Those who won’t go along are in the laughter are usually judged to be too severe, but maybe those doing the laughing need to be reminded that, given the urgency of the issues of the kingdom and the lostness of men, it’s possible to get the timing all wrong when it comes to laughing it up (cp. Luke 6:21,25).

Of course, the truth is, Jesus really is Lord, in ways more awesome and profound than the church today realizes. When the psalmist calls on us to ‘ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name’ he is summoning us to worship Him in a way that matches the majesty of who He is.

And so God is still seeking worshipers who will worship Him in the ways that are truly pleasing in His sight, led by the Spirit, guided by the Word (in Spirit and in truth – Jn.4:23-24). And one day we will all give an account for how we have worshiped, and led others to worship Him.

A True "Christmas Musical"

Philip Yancey provides a beautiful, comprehensive summary of Handel's classic oratorio, "Messiah."


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

"King Jesus the Disguised"

Mark Galli, of "Christianity Today," shares a thoughtful reflection on what it means to call Jesus "King."

Here's an excerpt:

"...At other times, we think of King Jesus as British royalty, something akin to Queen Elizabeth the Figurehead. Americans remain fascinated with the English royal scene, especially the pomp and circumstance that goes with it. I still recall our country's enthusiasm for the wedding of Prince Charles and soon-to-be Princess Diana. It was a magnificent ceremony in one of the world's most magnificent cathedrals, St. Paul's. Some 750 million watched on TV, and millions of those were Americans glued to their sets in the wee hours of the morning. The apparel and music and liturgy were rich with color and texture and brilliance. We ate it up. We're so fascinated with British royalty, we even think the changing of the guards is pretty cool.

"But if Queen Elizabeth were to issue a directive, ordering us to pay taxes to help with the upkeep of Windsor Castle, we'd politely, or not so politely, decline: 'Are you kidding? Who do you think you are? We learned long ago—in 1776 to be exact—how to manage our lives without you.'

"This, of course, is a continuing temptation for those of us who love the 'pomp and circumstance' of worshipping King Jesus—both high-church Anglicans who relish fine robes, classical music, and exquisite liturgy and low-church Pentecostals mesmerized by praise choruses and miraculous gifts. But on Monday morning, when the very King we've worshiped taps us on the shoulder and says, 'How about forgiving that co-worker? Or giving up that nasty habit? Or volunteering at the food closet?' we're tempted to respond, 'Are you kidding? Who do you think you are? I learned long ago how to manage my life without your continual interference.' It's hard to honor and obey Jesus if we think of him as Queen Elizabeth the Figurehead...."

This Day and "That Day"

Another quote from Francis Chan's "Crazy Love":

"[People who are obessed with Jesus] are more concerned with obeying God than doing what is expected or fulfilling the status quo. A person who is obesessed with Jesus will do things that don't always make sense in terms of success or wealth on this earth. As Martin Luther put it, 'There are two days on my calendar: this day and that day [the day of judgment].'

(Luke 14:25-35; Matt.7:13-23; 8:18-22; Rev.3:1-6)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Bible Memorization in 2009

From Justin Taylor:

Here's a handy printout with a good collection of suggested Bible passages to memorize--one a week for 2009.

Here's one of the more convicting things I've heard about the topic:

You may doubt that you can do this, especially if you are older. But ask yourself this question, If I offered you $1,000 for every verse you memorized in the next week, how many do you think you could memorize? Yet God says of his word in Psalm 19:10-11, "They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them Thy servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward." The real value of the word is far greater than $1,000 a verse. The question is, Do you believe this? Believing this will be the crucial motivation you need.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Telling God the Truth

Here’s a compelling excerpt from Francis Chan’s “Crazy Love”:

“If you merely pretend that you enjoy God or love Him, He knows. You can’t fool Him; don’t even try.

“Instead, tell Him how you feel. Tell Him that He isn’t the most important thing in this life to you, and that you’re sorry for that.

“Tell Him that you’ve been lukewarm, that you’ve chosen ______________ over Him time and again. Tell Him that you want Him to change you, that you long to genuinely enjoy Him.

“Tell Him how you want to experience true satisfaction and pleasure and joy in your relationship with Him. Tell Him that you want to love Him more than anything on earth. Thell Him you want to treasure the kingdom of heaven so much that you’d willingly sell everything in order to get it. Tell Him what you like about Him, what you appreciate, and what brings you joy.”

--Francis Chan, "Crazy for God" (David C. Cook)

More on the "True Meaning of Christmas"

Even among evangelical Christians there seems to be confusion about the true meaning of Christmas, as if our message during this season was little more than something like, "Don't be materialistic...but be nice to one another."

But that is not the Gospel (it sounds more like salvation by works). And the story and message of what was happening when Christ came is far profounder and richer. As Sinclair Ferguson writes,

"He was not conceived in the womb of Mary for those who had done their best, but for those who know that their best is "like filthy rags" (Isa. 64:6)--far from good enough--and that in their flesh dwells no good thing (Rom. 7:18). He was not sent to be the source of our good experiences, but to suffer the pangs of hell in order to be our Saviour."

-- Sinclair Ferguson, "In Christ Alone," p. 17.

This is an excerpt from the chapter "Santa Christ?" The first two chapters of "In Christ Alone" are available online here. (HT: Scott Clark; Martin Downes)

Quenching the Light of the Gospel

"It is not scientific doubt, not atheism, not pantheism, not agnosticism, that in our day and in this land is likely to quench the light of the gospel. It is a proud, sensuous, selfish, luxurious, church-going, hollow-hearted prosperity."

-- Frederic D. Huntington, Forum magazine, 1890. (cited by Francis Chan in the chapter "Profile of the Lukewarm" in "Crazy Love.")

Interview of Michael Wittmer

Justin Taylor interviews Michael Wittmer, author of Don’t Stop Believing: Why Living Like Jesus Is Not Enough.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Calvin: Respect for Scripture Shown in How We Handle It

"Such veneration we ought indeed to entertain for the Word of God, that we ought not to pervert it in the least degree by varying expositions; for its majesty is diminished, I know not how much, especially when not expounded with great discretion and with great sobriety.

"And if it be deemed a great wickedness to contaminate any thing that is dedicated to God, he surely cannot be endured, who, with impure or even unprepared hands, will handle that very thing, which of all things is the most sacred on earth.

"It is therefore an audacity, closely allied to a sacrilege, rashly to turn Scripture in any way we please, and to indulge our fancies as in sport; which has been done by many in former times."

-- John Calvin
Epistle Dedicatory to Romans

"Staying Encouraged in Ministry"

Tullian Tchividjian highlights a key excerpt from Darryl Dash's recent interview of Tim Keller. (See my previous post.)

Friday, December 5, 2008

Excerpt from "Crazy Love" by Francis Chan

A friend pointed me to this good book from Francis Chan, "Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God" (David C. Cook) --

"The core problem isn't the fact that we're lukewarm, halfhearted, or stagnant Christians. The crux of it all is why we are this way, and it is because we have an inaccurate view of God. We see Him as a benevolent Being who is satisfied when people manage to fit Him into their lives in some small way. We forget that God never had an identity crisis. He knows that He's great and deserves to be the center of our lives. Jesus came humbly as a servant, but He never begs us to give Him some small part of ourselves. He commands everything from His followers."

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Scripture Readings on “The True Meaning of Christmas”

Sadly, even in Bible-believing churches there seems to be an increasing confusion about ‘the true meaning of Christmas’ – so I thought it worthwhile to let the Scriptures speak for themselves:

Matthew 1:
18This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.

19Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

20But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."

22All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23"The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"—which means, "God with us."

Charles Spurgeon on Theological Decline

“It is a great grief to me that hitherto many of our most honoured friends in the Baptist Union have, with strong determination, closed their eyes to serious divergencies from truth. I doubt not that their motive has been in a measure laudable, for they desired to preserve peace, and hoped that errors, which they were forced to see, would be removed as their friends advanced in years and knowledge.

“But at last even these will, I trust, discover that the new views are not the old truth in a better dress, but deadly errors with which we can have no fellowship….”

– cited by Iain Murray in “The Forgotten Spurgeon” (Banner of Truth) p. 152.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

"The Charity of Clarity" by Michael Wittmer

Mike Wittmer, author of the new and important book, "Don't Stop Believing" (Zondervan) has an excellent post on his blog about the charity of clarity (when it comes to one's theological commitments). Here's an excerpt:

"Conservatives increasingly are asking key Christian leaders to clearly say what they believe: must you believe something to be saved? Is hell for real and forever? Is the Bible a revelation from God? Does Scripture teach that homosexual practice is sin?

"Many leaders duck these questions, often answering with another question, saying that these are the wrong questions to ask, or questioning the motive of the person who asked it.

"Here is my question: which person in this scenario does not love his neighbor? Many assume it is the one raising the question, for she appears to be the aggressor, putting the leader on the spot. I propose it is the obfuscating leader, for muddying the waters on purpose demonstrates disrespect for the listener. Teachers who love their students, pastors who love their people, and authors who love their readers take care to nourish their faith with truth. Those who conceal their actual beliefs (or bury them in the endnotes) likely care more about their own careers than the followers who depend on them for guidance.

"It is not unloving to ask these leaders to clearly spell out what they believe. Considering the stakes involved, it would be unloving—both to them and to their followers—not to."

OT Sermons for the Christmas Season

Justin Taylor provides a few examples from Ralph Davis.

The Real Truth of the True Christmas Story

"The Scriptures systematically strip away the veneer that covers the real truth of the Christmas story. Jesus did not come to add to our comforts. He did not come to help those who were already helping themselves or to fill life with more pleasant experiences. He came on a deliverance mission, to save sinners, and to do so He had to destroy the works of the Devil (Matt. 1:21; 1 John 3:8b).

-- Sinclair Ferguson

"Santa Christ"

Sinclair Fergsuon on the "Santa Claus Christianity" that threatens to infiltrate evangelical churches (and beyond), especially during the Christmas season:

"It is always easier to lament and critique the new paganism of secularism’s blatant idolatry than to see how easily the church—and we ourselves—twist or dilute the message of the incarnation in order to suit our own tastes. But, sadly, we have various ways of turning the Savior into a kind of Santa Claus.

"For one thing, in our worship at Christmas we may varnish the staggering truth of the incarnation with what is visually, audibly, and aesthetically pleasing. We confuse emotional pleasure—or worse, sentiment—with true adoration.

"For another thing, we may denigrate our Lord with a Santa Claus Christology. How sadly common it is for the church to manufacture a Jesus who is a mirror reflection of Santa Claus. He becomes Santa Christ.

"Santa Christ is sometimes a Pelagian Jesus. Like Santa, he simply asks us whether we have been good. More exactly, since the assumption is that we are all naturally good, Santa Christ asks us whether we have been 'good enough.' So just as Christmas dinner is simply the better dinner we really deserve, Jesus becomes a kind of added bonus who makes a good life even better. He is not seen as the Savior of helpless sinners...."

Read the whole thing, where Ferguson explains why the true Christ of Christmas "is a disturbing event of the deepest proportions."

HT: Justin Taylor

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Most Mis-represented Theologian?

To my mind, John Calvin is one of the most mis-represented and most misunderstood (usually by those who've never actually read him) theologians in church history. Here's a quote from an early chapter in his "Institutes" that gives a true sense of the thoroughly Biblical and pastoral quality of his writings (and preaching):

"For this sense of the divine perfections is the proper master to teach us piety, out of which religion springs. By piety I mean that union of reverence and love to God which the knowledge of his benefits inspires. For, until men feel that they owe everything to God, that they are cherished by his paternal care, and that he is the author of all their blessings, so that nought is to be looked for away from him, they will never submit to him in voluntary obedience; nay, unless they place their entire happiness in him, they will never yield up their whole selves to him in truth and sincerity."

("Institutes of the Christian Religion, ch.2")

"Is It Legitimate to Question God?"

A balanced reflection from Al Mohler.

Monday, December 1, 2008

"Glory to God in the highest...." (Right?)

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests.” (Lk. 2:14)

“Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God…” (1 Cor.10:31)

“Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness.” (Ps.115:1)

“We do not preach [present, promote] ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord…” (2 Cor.4:5)

“Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”

These Scriptural (or Scripture-based) statements are the essence, shape and structure of all true and God-pleasing Christianity (all Christian worship, proclamation, witness, work, ministry, mission, etc.)

And the order, the priority, is crucial: first comes the glory of God, from which flows salvation’s peace and joy for those who belong to him by faith. However, if you omit the glory of God, or even seek to reverse the order, then it all comes to nothing. Lose the priority of, and the focus on, glorifying God, and you have lost any possibility of bringing His salvation, peace and joy to men.

The glory of God is his attributes on display – to glorify him means to focus on Him (His attributes, works and ways) and then to respond in the doxology (praise) and devotion (practice of godliness) that accords with this manifested glory.

God must reveal himself and his glory if they are to be known and encountered by us. He does so in creation, and (perfectly) in His personal Word (His Son) and His inscripturated, inerrant Word (which comes by His Spirit).

To glorify God means to magnify Him, to make much of Him – always sticking to His own revelatory Word in Scripture since that is how He has chosen to now make Himself known.

Is the evangelical church truly committed to this absolutely fundamental principle – a commitment that consistently shows itself in the actual programmatic choices that are made for ministry, worship, witness and mission?

Will we make much of Christ – His glorious person and saving work – in what we do as church this Christmas? Will our events and programs and services focus on Him, tell His Story, proclaim Him and the Good News about His saving work through His incarnation, proclamation, His atoning death and victorious resurrection?

If we are not focusing on God, proclaiming Him, making much of Him to others, we are not glorifying Him. And if we are not glorifying Him – whatever else we may be doing, attaching His name to our activity – we are sinning.

World AIDS Day

For a multi-media tour of what it is like to have AIDS as a child in Africa, click here. (from WorldVision)

HT: Justin Taylor

Sunday, November 30, 2008

"Christian, what hast thou to do with sin?"

from Charles Spurgeon:

Christian, what hast thou to do with sin? Hath it not cost thee enough already? Burnt child, wilt thou play with the fire? What! when thou hast already been between the jaws of the lion, wilt thou step a second time into his den?Hast thou not had enough of the old serpent? Did he not poison all thy veins once, and wilt thou play upon the hole of the asp, and put thy hand upon the cockatrice’s den a second time? Oh, be not so mad! so foolish!

Did sin ever yield thee real pleasure? Didst thou find solid satisfaction in it? If so, go back to thine old drudgery, and wear the chain again, if it delight thee. But inasmuch as sin did never give thee what it promised to bestow, but deluded thee with lies, be not a second time snared by the old fowler— be free, and let the remembrance of thy ancient bondage forbid thee to enter the net again!

It is contrary to the designs of eternal love, which all have an eye to thy purity and holiness; therefore run not counter to the purposes of thy Lord.

Another thought should restrain thee from sin. Christians can never sin cheaply; they pay a heavy price for iniquity. Transgression destroys peace of mind, obscures fellowship with Jesus, hinders prayer, brings darkness over the soul; therefore be not the serf and bondman of sin.

There is yet a higher argument: each time you “serve sin” you have “Crucified the Lord afresh, and put him to an open shame.” Can you bear that thought? Oh! if you have fallen into any special sin during this day, it may be my Master has sent this admonition this evening, to bring you back before you have backslidden very far. Turn thee to Jesus anew; he has not forgotten his love to thee; his grace is still the same. With weeping and repentance, come thou to his footstool, and thou shalt be once more received into his heart; thou shalt be set upon a rock again, and thy goings shall be established.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Telling the Christmas Story

The Biblical message of Christmas is the wondrous truth of the Son of God becoming man to save sinners from the guilt and misery of their sin.

It is about the profound mystery of the Incarnation – the Word becoming flesh, dwelling among us, as one of us, fitting Him to be our sympathizing Savior and interceding High Priest.

It is about the fulfillment of promises and prophecies and about the inauguration of a new covenant, with the covenant gifts of forgiveness of sin and the indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit.

It is about the drawing near of the reign of God in the person of the Messiah whom God had promised to send.

It is about the glory of God in the way that he brings peace – shalom (the way things are supposed to be) – to earth.

It is about the momentous decision that his coming presents to every human being – will they receive or reject Him? Will they repent and believe the Good News?

And the Good News is that a Savior from sin has come – and this One who is Savior/Redeemer is also Messiah, King and Lord. Those who refuse Him will bring final judgment and everlasting ruin upon themselves. Those who receive Him are actually made the children of God!

The Biblical stories surrounding the birth of Christ also give us compelling examples (in the responses of Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Simeon etc.) of what it means to trust and obey God, and to submit to his will even when that submission is very difficult. And these examples teach us about what it means to care more about the interests of the kingdom of God than our own individual concerns.

These are the themes that a faithful church will proclaim in music and message at Christmas time.

They will seek to tell this Story faithfully, and not distort it. Nor will they corrupt it by adding in confusing, adulterating elements that (even allowing for the appropriate use of imagination) obscure what the Biblical story and message really is.

"I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord." (Lk.2:10-11)

Mark Dever: the Gospel and Personal Evangelism

Justin Taylor points to Mark Dever on the Gospel and Personal Evangelism.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Believers must repent for being discouraged by their sins

“Their being discouraged by their sins will cost them many a prayer, many a tear, and many a groan; and that because their discouragements under sin flow from ignorance and unbelief. It springs from their ignorance of the richness, freeness, fullness, and everlastingness of God’s love; and from their ignorance of the power, glory, sufficiency, and efficacy of the death and sufferings of the Lord Jesus Christ; and from their ignorance of the worth, glory, fullness, largeness, and completeness of the righteousness of Jesus Christ; and from their ignorance of that real, close, spiritual, glorious, and inseparable union that is between Christ and their precious souls.

"Ah! Did precious souls know and believe the truth of these things as they should, they would not sit down dejected and overwhelmed under the sense and operation of sin. God never gave a believer a new heart that it should always lie a-bleeding, and that it should always be rent and torn in pieces with discouragements.”

- Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices
(HT: Subby Szterszky)
posted at Of First Importance

Monday, November 24, 2008

"Encouragement for Procrastinators"

"No unwelcome tasks become any the less unwelcome by putting them off till tomorrow. It is only when they are behind us and done,that we begin to find that there is a sweetness to be tasted afterwards,and that the remembrance of unwelcome duties unhesitatingly done is welcome and pleasant.
"Accomplished, they are full of blessing,and there is a smile on their faces as they leave us. Undone, they stand threatening and disturbing our tranquility,and hindering our communion with God.
"If there be lying before you any bit of work from which you shrink,go straight up to it, and do it at once.The only way to get rid of it is to do it."
-Alexander MacLaren (1826–1910), Scottish preacher
CJ Mahaney; Justin Taylor

What Is Working for Us in the Pursuit of Holiness

“Mark well the great advantages you have for the attainment of holiness by seeking it in a right gospel order.

"You will have the advantage of the love God manifested towards you, in forgiving your sins, receiving you into favor, and giving you the spirit of adoption, and the hope of His glory freely through Christ, to persuade and constrain you by sweet allurements to love God again, who has so dearly loved you, and to love others for His sake, and to give up yourselves to the obedience of all His commands out of hearty love to Him.

"You will also enjoy the help of the Spirit of God to incline you powerfully to obedience, and to strengthen you for the performance of it against all your corruptions and the temptations of Satan, so that you will have both wind and tide to forward your voyage in the practice of holiness.”

—Walter Marshall, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 1999), 97
posted at "Of First Importance"

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Excerpts from "Don't Stop Believing"

Here are some excerpts from the Introduction to "Don't Stop Believing: Why Living Like Jesus Is Not Enough" by Michael Wittmer:

"This postmodern turn toward liberalism is penetrating the evangelical church. As I will explain in this book, an increasing number of postmodern Christians are practicing a liberal method: accomodating the gospel to contemporary culture and expressing greater concern for Christian ethics than its traditional doctrines....

"So I intend this book as a friendly warning. Many of the leaders whom I quote in this book are friends whom I love and respect.... I am thankful for their emphasis on authentic Christian living. Their vision for what the church can become is both exhilarating and challenging.

"My only concern, and the point I will press in this book, is that their quest to correct the abuses of previous generations must not lead them to err on the opposite extreme. Perhaps our parents emphasized right belief more than good behavior, but that must not become an excuse to teach good behavior at the expense of right belief. If we continue down this road, it may not be long until our liberal method leads to liberal conclusions.

"Authentic Christianity demands our head, heart and hands. Our labor for Christ flows from our love for him, which can arise only when we know and think rightly about him. Genuine Christians never stop serving, because they never stop loving, and they never stop loving, because they never stop believing." (pp.20-21)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

"Losses Overcome" by Charles Spurgeon

'And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten.' (Joel 2:25)

"Yes, those wasted years over which we sigh shall be restored to us. God can give us such plentiful grace that we shall crowd into the remainder of our days as much of service as will be some recompense for those years of unregeneracy over which we mourn in humble penitence. The locusts of backsliding, worldliness, lukewarmness, are now viewed by us as a terrible plague. Oh, that they had never come near us! The Lord in mercy has now taken them away, and we are full of zeal to serve Him.

"Blessed be His name, we can raise such harvests of spiritual graces as shall make our former barrenness to disappear. Through rich grace we can turn to account our bitter experience and use it to warn others. We can become the more rooted in humility, childlike dependence, and penitent spirituality by reason of our former shortcomings. If we are the more watchful, zealous, and tender, we shall gain by our lamentable losses. The wasted years, by a miracle of love, can be restored. Does it seem too great a boon? Let us believe for it and live for it, and we may yet realize it, even as Peter became all the more useful a man after his presumption was cured by his discovered weakness.

"Lord, aid us by Thy grace."

Monday, November 17, 2008

"He shall choose our inheritance for us"

A devotional meditation on Psalm 47:4 from Charles Spurgeon:

Believer, if your inheritance be a lowly one you should be satisfied with your earthly portion; for you may rest assured that it is the fittest for you. Unerring wisdom ordained your lot, and selected for you the safest and best condition. A ship of large tonnage is to be brought up the river; now, in one part of the stream there is a sandbank; should some one ask, "Why does the captain steer through the deep part of the channel and deviate so much from a straight line?" His answer would be, "Because I should not get my vessel into harbor at all if I did not keep to the deep channel."

So, it may be, you would run aground and suffer shipwreck, if your divine Captain did not steer you into the depths of affliction where waves of trouble follow each other in quick succession. Some plants die if they have too much sunshine. It may be that you are planted where you get but little, you are put there by the loving Husbandman, because only in that situation will you bring forth fruit unto perfection.

Remember this, had any other condition been better for you than the one in which you are, divine love would have put you there. You are placed by God in the most suitable circumstances, and if you had the choosing of your lot, you would soon cry, "Lord, choose my inheritance for me, for by my self-will I am pierced through with many sorrows."

Be content with such things as you have, since the Lord has ordered all things for your good. Take up your own daily cross; it is the burden best suited for your shoulder, and will prove most effective to make you perfect in every good word and work to the glory of God. Down busy self, and proud impatience, it is not for you to choose, but for the Lord of Love!

"Trials must and will befall—
But with humble faith to see
Love inscribed upon them all;
This is happiness to me."

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Evangelicalism, Pop Culture and "The Search for the Sacred"

Another excerpt from Michael Horton's "Christless Christianity."

“Citing examples from television, pop music, and best-selling books, an article in Entertainment Weekly noted,

‘Pop culture is going gaga for spirituality…. [However,] seekers of the day are apt to peel away the tough theological stuff and pluck out the most dulcet [sweet/pleasing] elements of the faith, coming up with a soothing sampler of Judeo-Christian imagery…, Eastern meditation, self-help lingo, a vaguely conservative craving for “virture,” and a loopy New Age pursuit of “peace.” This happy free-for-all, appealing to Baptists and stargazers alike, comes off more like Forrest Gump’s ubiquitous “boxa choclits” than like any real system of belief. You never know what you’re gonna get.’

“The search for the sacred has become a recurring cover story for national news magazines for some time now. Although this search is often identified as an encouraging sign of interest in God, it may be more dangerous than atheism.

“At least atheism makes arguments and shows an interest in a world external to the feelings of the inner self. Furthermore, after each round of this quest for the holy grail, evangelicalism itself looks more and more indistinguishable from the ooze of pop spirituality more generally.” (pp.159-160)

"The Stone Will Be Rolled Away for Each of Us"

“He came back.

"After that brutal Friday, and that long, quiet Saturday, he came back. And that one intake of breath in the tomb changes everything. It changes the very reason I drew breath today and the way I move about in this world because I believe he’s coming back again. The world has gone on for more than two millennia since Jesus’ feet tread the earth he made. What would they have said back then if someone had told them that some two thousand years later we’d still be waiting? They would’ve thought back to that long Saturday and said, ‘Two thousand years will seem like a breath to you when you finally lay your crown at his feet. We don’t even remember what we were doing on that Saturday, but let me tell you about Sunday morning. Now that was something.’

"These many years of waiting will only be a sentence in the story. This long day will come to an end, and I believe it will end in glory, when we will shine like suns and stride the green hills with those we love and the One who loves. We will look with our new eyes and speak with our new tongues and turn to each other and say, ‘Do you remember the waiting? The long years, the bitter pain, the gnawing doubt, the relentless ache?’ And like Mary at the tomb, we will say: ‘I remember only the light, and the voice calling my name, and the overwhelming joy that the waiting was finally over.’"

The stone will be rolled away for each of us. May we wait with faithful hearts.”
Andrew Peterson, CD liner notes for Resurrection Letters Volume II (Centricity Music: 2008)
posted at "Of First Importance"

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

"Trapped in Neverland"

Another worthwhile essay from Carl Trueman: "Trapped in Neverland." Here is an excerpt:

"The world of my grandfather was evil because it made him grow up too fast; the world of today is evil because it prevents many from ever growing up at all....

"...Pascal put his finger on the problem of human life when he saw how entertainment had come to occupy a place, not as the necessary and momentary relief from a life of work, but as an end in itself.

"When entertainment becomes more than a pleasant and occasional distraction, when time and income become devoted to entertainment and to pleasure, when sports teams become more important to us than people - even the people to whom we are close - then something has gone badly wrong.

"The frothy entertainment culture in which we live is a narcotic: not only is it addictive, so that we always want more; it also eats away at us, skewing our priorities, rotting our values as surely as too much sugar rots our teeth.

"My grandfather was lucky in this one thing: he did not have time to be immature because he did not have the surplus income that would have granted him that luxury. That is not to exalt the virtue of poverty - poverty is an evil - but it is to underscore the dangers that come with wealth in abundance."

HT: Justin Taylor

Monday, November 10, 2008


“Inasmuch as the Cross is eschatological, the world of evil forces is also judged.

"It is as if two people were playing chess. At a certain point, one of the players rises from the table, leaving his opponent to ponder his next move. The opponent struggles with all the possibilities because he is determined to win. What he has not realized is that there are only a limited number of moves that he can make, and not one of them can change the outcome of the game. No matter what he does, he will lose.

"Just so at the Cross, the outcome of the chess game between God and Satan was decided. God will certainly win. Satan, however, is presently playing out every conceivable option, imagining that somehow his rebellion will triumph. It will not.”

—David F. Wells, God the Evangelist (Carlisle, UK: World Evangelical Fellowship, 1997), 67
posted at "Of First Importance"

Saturday, November 8, 2008

"Christless Christianity" -- another excerpt

In his new book, "Christless Christianity," Michael Horton critiques the ministry and teaching of Joel Osteen as one of the most prominent contemporary examples of the 'moralistic, therapeutic deism' that is the 'alternative gospel of the American church:'

"A TIME magazine story in 2006 observed that Osteen’s success has reached even more traditional Protestant circles, citing the example of a Lutheran church that followed [Osteen’s book] ‘Your Best Life Now’ during Lent, of all times, when, as the writer notes, ‘Jesus was having his worst life then.’" (p. 71)

It is striking and sad when secular magazines like TIME are more discerning than many evangelical Christians.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Billy Graham's 90th Birthday

Tullian Tchividjian (a pastor and author himself) writes about his grandfather's 90th birthday. Tullian invited readers of his blog to share how God has used Billy Graham in their lives, and I was happy to do so, along with many others. Here is what I wrote:

First of all, years before I came to faith in Christ, it was Dr. Graham’s preaching via his televised ‘crusades’ that planted the seeds for me in terms of coming to know that I was lost and needed a Savior.

Then as the Spirit drew me to faith, it was his book, “Peace with God,” that helped me to understand how to respond to the Gospel in repentance and faith, and what it meant to follow Christ as a new believer.

Also, his own powerful preaching was an early lesson to me about the centrality and efficacy of preaching God’s Word — a lesson that has stayed with me in my own pastoral ministry.

One other thing: your grandfather’s integrity, authenticity and faithfulness (along with that of your grandmother) has always been a heartening example to me. And when there were times that non-believers would point to the failures and hypocrisies of other ‘televangelists’ in order to cast reproach on the Gospel, I could always gently remind them of Billy Graham.

And so I’m sure there are so many, many others who are like me when I say that, when it comes to your grandfather, I thank God every time I think of him.

Excerpts from "Christless Christianity"

Here are some excerpts from Michael Horton's new book, "Christless Christianity" (described in the previous post).

"I think that the church in America today is so obsessed with being
practical, relevant, helpful, successful, and perhaps even well-liked that it nearly mirrors the world itself. Aside from the packaging, there is nothing that cannot be found in most churches today that could not be satisfied by any number of secular programs and self-help groups."

"…we are getting dangerously close to the place in everyday American
church life where the Bible is mined for ‘relevant’ quotes but is largely
irrelevant on its own terms…." (pp.16-17)

"…There need not be explicit abandonment of any key Christian teaching, just a series of subtle distortions and not-so-subtle distractions. Even good things can cause us to look away from Christ and to take the gospel for granted as something we needed for conversion but which now can be safely assumed and put in the background. Center stage, however, is something or someone else." (p. 20)

"…So much of what I am calling ‘Christless Christianity’ is not profound enough to constitute heresy. Like the easy-listening Muzak that plays ubiquitously in the background in other shopping venues, the message of American Christianity has become simply trivial, sentimental, affirming, and irrelevant."
(p. 21)

Recommended Reading!

I highly recommend the new book by Michael Horton, "Christless Christianity." Horton insightfully analyzes what he calls "The Alternative Gospel of the American Church" which he describes as 'moralistic, therapeutic deism.'

I'll be posting occasional excerpts from this important book.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

"A Reasoning Trust"

“Faith is a reasoning trust, a trust which reckons thoughtfully and confidently upon the trustworthiness of God.”

- John Stott, Your Mind Matters (London, England: InterVarsity Press, 1972), 30.
posted at Of First Importance

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Christ Intercedes for Us

“If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies. Yet distance makes no difference. He is praying for me.”

—Robert Murray M’Cheyne, Robert Murray M’Cheyne, ed Andrew Bonar (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth: 1960), 179
posted at "Of First Importance"

Friday, October 31, 2008

John Piper's Perspectives on the Upcoming Election

Whether or not you always agree with Dr. Piper, I think it's clear that he strives to bring Biblical perspectives to bear on real-life, real-world issues.

HT: Justin Taylor

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

"Christless Christianity"

Tim Challies reviews Michael Horton's important new book, "Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church."

Here is an excerpt from the review: "Through all of this I'd suggest the most important statement in the book may just be this: 'It is not heresy as much as silliness that is killing us softly.'

"All of us can fall into silliness without tossing aside the gospel. We can hold fast to Christian theology, even while allowing silliness and levity to pervade the very fabric of our church. A once-serious institution can become overrun by programs and purposes that slowly erode the gravity and simplicity of the church's unique calling.

"This book is a call for the church to return to its biblical foundations and to remain true to those convictions. It is a clarion call and one that Christians would do well to heed."

HT: Justin Taylor

Friday, October 24, 2008

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Revival We Need

Pastor Tim Keller is interviewed by Darryl Dash about "Ministry in a Post-Christian Culture."

Here is an excerpt:

"When revival breaks out through a recovery of the gospel, three things happen:
1. nominal church members realize they'd never been converted;
2. sleepy, lethargic Christians are energized and renewed;
3. outsider non-Christians are attracted into the beautified worship, community and lives of the converted and renewed church members.
That's how it works. We need it."

HT: Tullian Tchividjian

Persecution in Afghanistan

Tullian Tchividjian reports on continuing persecution of Christians in Afghanistan. This was especially striking to me after our recent interaction with missionaries from there.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

A Wonderful Open Door for the Church

"What a wonderful open door God has placed before the church of today. A pagan world, weary and sick, often distrusting its own modern gods. A saving gospel strangely entrusted to us unworthy messengers. A divine Book with unused resources of glory and power. Ah, what a marvelous opportunity, my brethren!"

-- J. Gresham Machen, "God Transcendent," page 154.
posted at "Christ Is Deeper Still"

Thursday, October 16, 2008

"If you want Christ, you may have Him..."

“I do not know who was the inventor of that idea of ‘sinning away the day of grace.’ If you are willing to have Christ, you may have him. If you are as old as Methuselah—and I do not suppose that you are older than he was—if you want Christ, you may have him. As long as you are out of hell, Christ is able to save you.”

- Charles Spurgeon, Christ’s Hospital

posted at "Of First Importance"

Randy Alcorn on Abortion and the Presidential Election

Randy Alcorn presents a compelling essay regarding what is at stake in the upcoming election.

(See also this post from Denny Burk.)

HT: Justin Taylor

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Tim Keller interview at the Washington Post

Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC, is one of the most effective and gracious communicators of the Christian message that I know of -- Justin Taylor links to his interview by Sally Quinn.

I highly recommend his book, "The Reason for God."

Monday, October 13, 2008

Our Circumstances and God's Promises

“Our circumstances are all in opposition to the promises of God. He promises us immortality: yet we are surrounded by mortality and corruption. He declares that He accounts us just: yet we are covered with sins. He testifies that He is propitious and benevolent toward us: yet outward signs threaten His wrath.

"What then are we to do? We must close our eyes, disregard ourselves and all things connected to us, so that nothing may hinder or prevent us from believing that God is true.”

—John Calvin, commenting on Rom 4:20, in Thomas Schreiner and Ardel Canaday, The Race Set Before Us (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 282
posted at Of First Importance

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Conversation: Tim Keller, John Piper, & D.A. Carson

This hour-long conversation among Tim Keller, John, Piper, and D.A. Carson was filmed at the 2008 leadership meeting of The Gospel Coalition and recently posted on Facebook: Justin Taylor provides the links.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Lord trust and do good

A meditation on Psalm 37:

The Lord reigns -- he reigns today in absolute and unchallengeable sovereignty. Nothing can stay his hand; no one can threaten or thwart his will and purpose. (And that includes his purpose as it relates to my life and circumstances too.) He reigns in serenity and joy -- Father, Son and Holy Spirit -- in the glad communion of mutual honor and delight, into which communion, in Christ, I and all believers have been invited to join, although the consummation of that communion for believers awaits His glorious reappearing.

His cause will entirely triumph. His name will be universally revered. Every knee will bow in intelligent submission, every tongue will affirm unreservedly that he is and by all rights ought to be, Lord. He will recompense very person according to what they have done, and according to what they deserve. Grace intervenes for those who believe, so that, because they are in Christ, they will receive all that HE deserves. But the unbelieving and disobedient will experience the recompense that they have incurred by their own choices and they are hardly to be envied (let alone admired!), but are to be viewed with a merciful pity that seeks their repentance.

So my part is to trust and to stick to doing good, to commit my way to him, find my delight in him, to be still before him, and wait patiently for him to act according to his good and undefeatable will.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

"Worship Matters" from Bob Kauflin

From Bob Kauflin, worship director with Sovereign Grace Ministries:

A while back I recorded four brief videos (3-4 minutes each) that serve as an introduction to the four sections of my book, Worship Matters, but can also be used as stand-alones. They deal with four areas:

The Leader (what do I love the most?)
The Task (what exactly is a worship leader trying to do?)
Healthy Tensions (what false dichotomies do we create in corporate worship?)
Right Relationships (how can I worship God in my relationships with my team, church, and pastor?)

I recently was surprised to find out that the October issue of Worship Leader magazine mentioned them as a resource for worship leaders, pastors, and ministry teams. Since I’ve never posted all of them in one place, I thought I’d put them here.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Carl Trueman: "The Second Most Important Book..."

Here is an excerpt from Carl Trueman's article in the latest Themelios journal, in which he argues that J. Gresham Machen's book, "Christianity and Liberalism," might be the second most important book that pastors and theologians (and seminarians) could ever read:

"Study can be seductive. The realization that professors who spend their days undermining the faith are actually pretty decent people, interesting and delightful company, loving to their wives and children, and often more likeable than their orthodox counterparts, can produce crises of faith among students more often than many would imagine. The attractive power of real learning should never be underestimated. What Machen’s argument makes clear, however, is that truth is not personal. It is truth, and conformity with such is what is important, not whether we like the people advocating it or not. That Christ has died is fact. That he died for my sins is doctrine. That the person telling me this might be less likeable than that really decent and friendly professor who denies the resurrection is irrelevant.

"Theological students should reach for Machen’s little book every year to remind themselves that orthodoxy does not equate to obscurantism, but that there is something really at stake here in the struggle between orthodox, supernatural Christianity and everything else. Indeed, I would venture to say that this is the second most important book that theologians could ever read...."

Sunday, October 5, 2008

God's Adopted Children

“The adopted status of believers means that in and through Christ God loves them as he loves his only-begotten Son and will share with them all the glory that is Christ’s now (Rom.8:17, 32, 38-39).

“Here and now, believers are under God’s fatherly care and discipline (Matt.6:26; Heb.12:5ff.) and they are directed, especially by Jesus, to live their whole lives in light of the knowledge that God is their Father in heaven, praying to him as such (Matt.6:5-13), imitating him as such (Matt.5:44-48; 6:12, 14-15; … Eph.4:32-5:2), and trusting him as such (Matt.6:25-34).

“[In living this way they express] the filial instinct that the Holy Spirit has implanted in them (Rom.8:15-17; Gal.4:6).

“Adoption and regeneration accompany each other as two aspects of the salvation that Christ brings (John 1:12-13), but they are to be distinguished. Adoption is the bestowal of a relationship, while regeneration is the transformation of our moral nature.

“Yet the link is evident; God wants his children, whom he loves to bear his character, and takes action accordingly.”

-- J.I. Packer “Concise Theology” pp. 167-168 (Tyndale)

Friday, October 3, 2008

David Powlison on Friendship Counseling

(as introduced by Justin Taylor)...

Friendship Counseling, Part 1
We can change when the God of loving truth intersects some actual human need.

Friendship Counseling, Part 2
The heart of ministry — cooperating with God's transformational agenda — lies at the intersection of our lives and God's Word.

Friendship Counseling, Part 3
The psalmist shows us how to move from questions to answers.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Heidelberg Catechsim on "True Faith"

“True faith is not only a knowledge and conviction that everything God reveals in his Word is true; it is also a deep-rooted assurance, created in me by the Holy Spirit through the gospel, that, out of sheer grace earned for us by Christ, not only others, but I too, have had my sins forgiven, have been made forever right with God, and have been granted salvation.”

The Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 21, posted at "Of First Importance"

"The Heidelberg Catechism, one of the confessional jewels of the Protestant Reformation, presents 129 questions and answers of remarkably warm and practical Christian piety, including wonderful treatments of the Ten Commandments, of prayer, and of 'my only comfort in life and in death.'

"The two men usually thought to have authored the document, Zacharias Ursinus and Caspar Olevianus, were only a little older than college students at the time they wrote."

-- C. Plantinga, Engaging God's World, p.xviii (Eerdmans 2002)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Edifying Preaching from Sinclair Ferguson

...from his teaching on the Book of James, as part of the Desirng God Conference.

Justin Taylor links to the message...

...and to Ferguson's 20 Resolutions from the Book of James

Thursday, September 25, 2008

"The Second Most Important Book You Will Ever Read"

...that's how Carl Trueman describes the J. Gresham Machen classic, "Christianity and Liberalism." (Among other things, reading this book will show you how so many of the errors of the extremes of the emergent movement are the same errors of older liberalism.)

Christ-centered...Cross-centered Christianity

“Focus on Christ will always result in focus on the cross. You cannot be Christ-centered without becoming cross-centered. The crucified Christ is to be the center of everything I know about myself and my world. You cannot have any real hope for flawed people in a fallen world unless there is a Redeemer to rescue us from the evil that resides both inside and outside of us. Real restoration to God’s created design requires the cross. It is the cross of Christ that alone will restore my allegiance to Christ and his rightful place at the center of everything in my life.”

- Paul David Tripp, A Quest for More (Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2007), 104.
posted at Of First Importance

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Gospel Coalition

In the midst of all the signs of the decline of authentic, Biblical Christianity within "evangelicalism," The Gospel Coalition is just the reverse -- a sign of the possibility of revival, reformation and renewal.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Five Basic Truths of the Christian Religion

1. God has spoken to man, and the Bible is His Word, given to us to make us wise unto salvation.
2. God is Lord and King over His world; He rules all things for His own glory, displaying His perfections in all that He does, in order that men and angels may worship and adore Him.
3. God Saviour, active in sovereign love through the Lord Jesus Christ to rescue believers from the guilt and power of sin, to adopt them as His sons, and to bless them accordingly.
4. God is Triune; there are within the Godhead three persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; and the work of salvation is one in which all three act together, the Father purposing redemption, the Son securing it, and the Spirit applying it.
5. Godliness [Christian living] means responding to God's revelation in trust and obedience, faith and worship, prayer and praise, submission and service. Life must be seen and lived in light of God's Word.

This, and nothing else, is true religion.

-- J.I. Packer, "Knowing God" pp.15-16 (IVP 1973)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

'God has made us for himself'

"What Augustine knew is that human beings want God…God has made us for himself. Our sense of God runs in us like a stream, even though we divert it toward other objects. We human beings want God even when we think that what we really want is a green valley, or a good time from our past, or a loved one. Of course we do want these things and persons, but we also want what’s behind them. Our inconsolable secret, says C.S. Lewis, is that we are full of yearnings, sometimes shy and sometimes passionate, that point us beyond the things of earth to the ultimate reality of God."

-- an excerpt from a quote from Cornelius Plantinga, posted by Tullian Tchividjian

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Our Happiness Belongs to the Heavenly Life

“The happiness promised us in Christ does not consist in outward advantages—such as leading a joyous and peaceful life, having rich possessions, being safe from all harm, and abounding with delights such as the flesh commonly longs after. No, our happiness belongs to the heavenly life.

"Christ enriches his people with all things necessary for the eternal salvation of souls and fortifies them with courage to stand unconquerable against all the assaults of spiritual enemies. From this we infer that he rules—inwardly and outwardly—more for our own sake than his.

"Thus it is that we may patiently pass through this life with its misery, hunger, cold, contempt, reproaches, and other troubles—content with this one thing: that our King will never leave us destitute, but will provide for our needs until, our warfare ended, we are called to triumph.”

—John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.15.4
posted at Of First Importance

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Minister as a "Messenger of Grace"

Wonderful words for preachers to think on:

Would I describe a preacher...I would express him simple, grave, sincere;
In doctrine uncorrupt; in language plain,
And plain in manner; decent, solemn, chaste,
And natural in gesture; much impress'd Himself, as conscious of his awful charge,
And anxious mainly that the flock he feeds may feel it too; affectionate in look,
And tender in address, as well becomes a messenger of grace to guilty men.

--William Cowper, The Task

HT: Martin Downes

"Respect the Silences of God"

Helpful reflections on 'unanswered' prayer from Anne Graham Lotz.

(It was a little odd to me that the caption, 'Billy's Other Woman,' appears during the video. Mrs. Lotz is one of Billy Graham's daughters.)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The English Standard Version Study Bible

Here's a link to videoclips introducing and explaining the soon to be released ESV Study Bible.

The Lord Jesus loves you as you are

Classic pastoral encouragement from a pastor/preacher who has ministered to millions through his sermons and writings for over 150 years:

“There never was one who came to him with a broken heart, but he healed him. He never said to one, 'You are too bad for me to heal;' but he did say, 'Him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out.' My dear hearer, he will not cast you out. You say, 'You do not know me, Mr. Spurgeon.' No, I do not; and you have come here to-night, and you hardly know why you are here; only you are very low and very sad.

"The Lord Jesus Christ loves such as you are, you poor, desponding, doubting, desolate, disconsolate one. Daughters of sorrow, sons of grief, look ye here! Jesus Christ has gone on healing broken hearts for thousands of years, and he is well up in the business. He understands it by experience, as well as by education. He is “mighty to save.” Consider him; consider him; and the Lord grant you grace to come and trust him even now!”

- Charles Spurgeon, Christ’s Hospital
posted at Of First Importance

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

When the Consumer Is Sovereign

"...our generation is rapidly growing deaf to the summons of the external God. He has been so internalized, so tamed by the needs of religious commerce, so submerged beneath the traffic of modern psychological need that he has almost completely disappeared.

"All too offten, he now leans weakly on the church, a passive bystander, a co-conspirator in the effort to dismantle two thousand years of Christian thought about God and what he has declared himself to be. That is to say, God has become weightless.

"The church continues its business of satisfying the needs of the self -- needs defined by the individual -- and God, who is himself viewed and marketed as product, becomes powerless to change the definition of that need or to prescribe the means by which it might be satisfied.

"When the consumer is sovereign, the product (in this case God himself) must be subservient."

-- David Wells, "God in the Wasteland" p.101 (Eerdmans 1994)

Monday, September 15, 2008

David Powlison on the Therapeutic Gospel

from the Boundless Webzine (a Focus on the Family website)

Here are excerpts from part 1:
When Jesus takes us as His disciple, when our Father takes us as his children, we no longer need to be consumed by the craving to be loved, to make money, to be comfortable, to be beautiful, to find sexual ecstasy, to be successful, to control our world. We no longer need to prove that we are superior beings, righteous eagles who for too long have had to hang out with all the turkeys and other assorted idiots.

Of course, our renegade desires don't just give up on the spot and quit causing mischief. An inner battle ensues (Galatians 5:16-17). But by God's mercy, we deeply long for the kinds of things that wise men and women long for in the psalms and prayers of the Bible. The dictatorship of previous longings for love, achievement, self preoccupation and other garden-variety human wants is overthrown by grace.

God doesn't gratify our instinctive longings. He forgives them, and then changes what we most want. This is one facet of the gospel taught in the Bible....
...The most obvious, instinctual felt needs of 21st century, middle-class Americans ... express a more luxurious, more refined sense of self interest:
  • I want to feel loved for who I am, to be pitied for what I've gone through, to feel intimately understood, to be accepted unconditionally no matter what I do.
  • I want to experience a sense of personal significance and meaningfulness, to be successful in my career, to know my life matters, to have an impact.
  • I want to affirm that I am OK, to feel good about myself, to have a sense of self-confidence, to assert my opinions and desires no matter how I may be living my life.
  • I want to be entertained, to feel pleasure in the endless stream of performances that delight my eyes and tickle my ears and warm my belly.
  • I want a sense of adventure, excitement, action, and passion so that I experience life as thrilling and moving.

In this new gospel, the great evils to be redressed do not call for any fundamental change of direction in the human heart. Instead, my deepest problems are merely limited to what has happened to me. It's not something about me that has also gone woefully astray.

It's only about my sense of rejection because others have not loved me thoughtfully and well. It's my corrosive experience of life's vanity, because I haven't been able to have the impact I want, to be recognized as Somebody Who Matters. It's my nervous sense of self-condemnation and diffidence, because my self-esteem is wobbly. It's the imminent threat of boredom if my music is turned off. It's how so much of life is routine; I love the adrenaline rush, and I don't like it when a long, slow road lies ahead.

The gospel is enlisted to serve these particular cravings; Jesus and the church exist to make you feel loved, significant, validated, entertained and charged up. This gospel ameliorates distressing symptoms. It makes you feel better. The logic of this therapeutic gospel is a jesus-for-Me who meets individual desires and assuages psychic aches.

HT: Justin Taylor

Friday, September 12, 2008

"The Sinner's Prayer"

Here is how the Puritans (who are routinely misunderstood and caricatured) framed a ''Convert's First Prayer":

"My Father, I could never have sought my happiness in your love, unless you had first loved me. Your Spirit has encouraged me by grace to see you, has made known to me the reconciliation in Jesus, has taught me to believe it, has helped me to take you for my God and portion. May he grant me to grow in the knowledge and experience of your love, and walk in it all the way to glory.

"Blessed forever be your fatherly affection, which chose me to be one of your children by faith in Jesus: I thank you for giving me the desire to live as such. In Jesus, my brother, I have my new birth, every restraining power, every renewing grace.

"It is by the Spirit I call you Father, believe in you, love you. Strengthen me inwardly for every purpose of my Christian life; let the Spirit continually reveal to me my interest [share] in Christ, and open to me the riches of your love in him.

"May he abide in me that I may know my union with Jesus, and enter into constant fellowship with him. By the Spirit may I daily live to you, rejoice in your love, find it the same to me as to your Son, and become rooted and grounded in it as a house on rock.

"I know but little -- increase my knowledge of your love in Jesus, keep me pressing forward for clearer discoveries of it, so that I may find its essential fullness. Magnify your love to me according to its greatness, and not according to my deserts [what I deserve] or prayers, and whatever increase you give, let it draw out greater love to you."

-- Arthur Bennet, ed., "The Valley of Vision" (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust 1975), p. 53. [language and punctuation lightly modernized]

David Wells adds the comment: "This convert imagined that he knew little, but by today's standards he would stand among the theological giants."

("Losing Our Virtue" p. 42 [Eerdmans 1998]).