Friday, February 29, 2008

9Marks Journal Online

9Marks is the ministry of Pastor Mark Dever and the Capitol Hill Baptist Church. Justin Taylor's blog has a link to the latest issue of their online journal. I also highly recommend Dever's book, "Nine Marks of a Healthy Church" (published by Crossway).

Christian Reflections on Black History Month

Here's a link to a good post from John Piper's "Desiring God" ministry regarding Black History Month.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Parable of the Lost Son(s)

Here's a link to Pastor Tim Keller's remarkably wise and perceptive sermon on what is normally called the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:1-2, 11-32). Part of Keller's distinctive insight in this sermon is his treatment of both 'younger brother lostness' and 'elder brother lostness.'

Evangelism and the Clash of Worldviews

Here is an excellent essay from Don Carson (based on Acts 17) regarding the necessity of taking the clash of worldviews seriously as we seek to present the Gospel.

Connecting Education and Culture

Tullian Tchividjian's blog provides a link to a thoughtful discussion regarding connecting (Christian) education and culture.

Do People of Different Religions Worship the Same God?

Justin Taylor has a new post on his blog that deals with this question, including a summary of significant discussion that has been going on among Christian leaders.

I added some thoughts of my own ("DP") in the comment section.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Kingdom of God

from the Gospel Coalition statement:

We believe that those who have been saved by the grace of God through union with Christ by faith and through regeneration by the Holy Spirit enter the kingdom of God and delight in the blessings of the new covenant: the forgiveness of sins, the inward transformation that awakens a desire to glorify, trust, and obey God, and the prospect of the glory yet to be revealed. Good works constitute indispensable evidence of saving grace.

Living as salt in a world that is decaying and light in a world that is dark, believers should neither withdraw into seclusion from the world, nor become indistinguishable from it: rather, we are to do good to the city, for all the glory and honor of the nations is to be offered up to the living God.

Recognizing whose created order this is, and because we are citizens of God’s kingdom, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, doing good to all, especially to those who belong to the household of God.

The kingdom of God, already present but not fully realized, is the exercise of God’s sovereignty in the world toward the eventual redemption of all creation. The kingdom of God is an invasive power that plunders Satan’s dark kingdom and regenerates and renovates through repentance and faith the lives of individuals rescued from that kingdom. It therefore inevitably establishes a new community of human life together under God.

Critique of Willow Creek...

This Christianity Today editorial critiques Willow Creek Church for its "disturbingly low view of the church" and the flawed methodologies that arise from this.

Here are some excerpts:

Our ongoing concern about seeker-sensitive churches is not their willingness to change church culture so that it is not a needless stumbling block to the unchurched. We're only troubled when such churches uncritically accept the metrics of marketing culture, and let consumer capitalism shape the church's theology.

The study's answer suggests a disturbingly low view of the church: It concludes that the dissatisfied need to realize that "much of the responsibility for their spiritual growth belongs to them" (emphasis in the original). And "We [at Willow] have to let people know early on in their journey that they need to look beyond the church to grow" (emphasis added).

But according to the apostle Paul, the church is where each one is given a gift "so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4:12–13).

For Paul, solid spiritual growth cannot be found "beyond the church," but only in its midst. The study rightly says, "Our people need to learn to feed themselves through personal spiritual practices." Unfortunately, the study fails to hint that these spiritual disciplines are intrinsically grounded in the ongoing life of the church. This implicit dualism (between private and corporate spiritual growth) suggests something different from Paul's view that it is in the body of Christ that we are joined together to "grow up into him who is the Head" (Eph. 4:15).

"The Case for Civility"

Here's an interview of Os Guinness about his new book, "The Case for Civility: And Why Our Future Depends on It"

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Tim Keller Interviewed

Tim Keller is interviewed in "First Things" (a journal of religion, culture and public life). I found the article edifying and interesting for all kinds of reasons, as Keller talks about his new book, his ministry, and the church that he pastors.

Evidences of Authentic Salvation

In this sermon John Piper teaches from 1 John about the characteristics of people who have truly been born again.

"Buried Hope or Risen Savior?"

Another very helpful post by Justin Taylor, related to recent claims of 'discoveries' of the bones of Jesus (and his 'family'), etc., and to the larger issue of "popularly driven archaeology."

Monday, February 25, 2008

Hymns of Isaac Watts

Here's a sample from The Christian Classics Ethereal Library -- the hymns of Isaac Watts

Notice the Scripture references at the heading of each of these hymns. And then notice how faithfully Watts presents the truths of the Scripture passage in the lyrics of the song. (We need more contemporary composers today who share this same commitment and adopt this same wise and faithful approach!)

C. M.
Strength from heaven. Isa. 40:27-30.

Whence do our mournful thoughts arise?
And where's our courage fled?
Have restless sin and raging hell
Struck all our comforts dead?

Have we forgot th' almighty name
That formed the earth and sea?
And can an all-creating arm
Grow weary or decay?

Treasures of everlasting might
In our Jehovah dwell;
He gives the conquest to the weak
And treads their foes to hell.

Mere mortal power shall fade and die,
And youthful vigor cease:
But we that wait upon the Lord
Shall feel our strength increase.

The saints shall mount on eagles' wings,
And taste the promised bliss,
Till their unwearied feet arrive
Where perfect pleasure is.

Christian Classics Ethereal Library

Here is a link to an exceptional resource, the Christian Classics Ethereal Library (from Calvin College).

"The mission of the CCEL is to build up the church by making classic Christian writings available and promoting their use."

The Gospel and Sanctification

"By his sanctifying grace, Christ works within us through faith, renewing our fallen nature and leading us to real maturity, that measure of development which is meant by "the fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13). The Gospel calls us to live as obedient servants of Christ and as his emissaries in the world, doing justice, loving mercy, and helping all in need, thus seeking to bear witness to the kingdom of Christ. At death, Christ takes the believer to himself (Phil. 1:21) for unimaginable joy in the ceaseless worship of God (Rev. 22:1-5)."


Sunday, February 24, 2008

Hearing God's Voice

"The Morning I Heard the Voice of God" by Pastor John Piper

The Gospel and Justification

From "The Gospel of Jesus Christ: An Evangelical Celebration"

God's justification of those who trust him, according to the Gospel, is a decisive transition, here and now, from a state of condemnation and wrath because of their sins to one of acceptance and favor by virtue of Jesus' flawless obedience culminating in his voluntary sin-bearing death. God "justifies the wicked" (ungodly: Rom. 4:5) by imputing (reckoning, crediting, counting, accounting) righteousness to them and ceasing to count their sins against them (Rom. 4:1-8). Sinners receive through faith in Christ alone "the gift of righteousness" (Rom. 1:17, 5:17; Phil. 3:9) and thus become "the righteousness of God" in him who was "made sin" for them (2 Cor. 5:21).

As our sins were reckoned to Christ, so Christ's righteousness is reckoned to us. This is justification by the imputation of Christ's righteousness. All we bring to the transaction is our need of it. Our faith in the God who bestows it, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, is itself the fruit of God's grace. Faith links us savingly to Jesus, but inasmuch as it involves an acknowledgment that we have no merit of our own, it is confessedly not a meritorious work.

The Gospel assures us that all who have entrusted their lives to Jesus Christ are born-again children of God (John 1:12), indwelt, empowered, and assured of their status and hope by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 7:6, 8:9-17). The moment we truly believe in Christ, the Father declares us righteous in him and begins conforming us to his likeness. Genuine faith acknowledges and depends upon Jesus as Lord and shows itself in growing obedience to the divine commands, though this contributes nothing to the ground of our justification (James 2:14-26; Heb. 6:1-12).


What did the Cross accomplish?

The question of what Christ accomplished for us on the cross has to do with the heart of the gospel message and the salvation that the gospel offers. And at the core of the Bible's teaching about Christ's saving work is what is known as the 'penal substitutionary' view of the atonement -- that Christ was my substitute who bore on the cross the penalty for sin that I deserved.

Recently some who would consider themselves evangelical (especially some associated with the emerging church) have questioned or criticized or diminished this understanding of the atonement. But now, in response, a growing number of evangelical theologians and Christian leaders are re-affirming the fact that this understanding of what Christ accomplished on the cross is truly essential to the authentic Gospel.

In this crucial essay, J.I. Packer re-asserts the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement that he has explained and defended for decades.

I'm thankful for Biblical scholars like Packer who serve the Church by defining, describing and defending the fundamentals of authentic, Biblical Christianity.

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned he stood,
Sealed my pardon with his blood,
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Partial Conversions

Here's an excerpt from a D.A Carson devotional from Luke 11:24-26:

"Apparently the man who has been exorcised of the evil spirit never replaced that spirit with anything else. The Holy Spirit did not take up residence in his life; the man simply remained vacant....

"There are three lessons to learn.

"...First, partial conversions are all too common. A person gets partially cleaned up. He or she is drawn close enought to the Gospel and to the people of God that there is some sort of turning away from godlessness, a preliminary infatuation with holiness, an attraction toward righteousness. But like the person represented by rocky soil in the parable of the sower and the soils (8:14-15), this person may initially seem to be the best of the crop, and yet not endure. There has never been the kind of conversion that spells the takeover of an individual by the living God, a reorientation tied to genuine repentance and enduring faith.

"The second lesson follows: a little Gospel is a dangerous thing. It gets people to think well of themselves, to sigh with relief that the worst evils have been dissipated, to enjoy a nice sense of belonging. But if a person is not truly justified, regenerated and transferred from the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of God's dear Son, the dollop of religion may serve as little more than an inoculation against the real thing.

"The third lesson is inferential.... Evil cannot simply be opposed -- that is, it is never enough simply to fight evil, to cast out a demon. Evil must be replaced by good, the evil spirit by the Holy Spirit. We must 'overcome evil with good' (Rom.12:21). For instance it is difficult to overcome bitterness against someone by simply resolving to stop being bitter; one must replace bitterness by genuine forgiveness and love for that person. It is difficult to overcome greed by simply resloving not to be quite so materialistic; one must fasten one's affections on better treasure (cf. Luke 12:13-21) and learn to be wonderfully and self-sacrificially generous. Overcome evil with good." [Eph.4:22-32]

--D.A. Carson "For the Love of God" for Feb.25 (Crossway 1998)

Christ-centered Cultural Leadership

Tullian follows up with another excellent post, regarding 'Christ-centered cultural leadership.' The entire post, from the perspectives of John Seel, is thought-provoking and important -- here's just an excerpt:

"There are requirements for effective Christ-centered cultural leadership.

"First, individuals must be appropriately transformed and trained: theologically grounded, spiritually empowered, and culturally discerning. Second, individuals must be members of local churches that assist them in maintaining a kingdom perspective and hold them personally accountable in their public and private callings. Third, individuals must be strategically located within the reality-defining institutions of society — the academy, art, media, advertising, and entertainment. And finally, individuals must seek to winsomely mobilize their professional strategic institutional networks for kingdom purposes — serving human flourishing more than sectarian interests....."

"Dallas Willard warns, 'The real presence of Christ as a world-governing force will come solely as his called out people occupy their stations in the holiness and power characteristic of him, as they demonstrate to the world the way to live that is best in every respect.'"

"The Quest for More"

Tullian Tchividjian's blog pointed me to this good post with a video clip introducing Paul Tripp's new book "The Quest for More."

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Proper Relation of People to God

"Human beings ought to love and obey God as children properly love and obey their parents. Human beings ought to be in awe of God at least as much as, say, a first-year violin student is in awe of Itzhak Perlman. They ought to marvel at God's greatness and praise God's goodness.

"Failure to do these things -- let alone indulgence in outright scorn of God -- is sin because it runs counter to the way things are supposed to go. Godlessness is anti-shalom. Godlessness spoils the proper relation between human beings and their maker and savior."

-- Cornelius Plantinga, "Not the Way It's Supposed to Be" p.16 (Eerdmans 1995)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The True Source of Comfort, Strength and Purpose

1. What is your only comfort in life and in death?

That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, who with His precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins, and redeemed me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, that all things must work together for my salvation.
Wherefore, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live unto Him.

Rom 14:7-9; 1 Cor 6:19-20; 1 Cor 3:23; Tit 2:14; 1 Pt 1:18-19; 1 Jn 1:7; 2:2; Jn 8:34-36; Heb 2:14-15; 1 Jn 3:8; Jn 6:39-40, 10:27-30; 2 Thes 3:3; 1 Pt 1:5; Mt 10:29-31; Lk 21:16-18; Rom 8:28; Rom 8:15-16; 2 Cor 1:21-22, 5:5; Eph 1:13-14; Rom 8:14

Heidelberg Catechism, question 1

More regarding Tim Keller's book and ministry

Friends and readers of this blog will know how highly I think of Tim Keller's ministry. He is pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, and from everything I read and hear, his ministry is a model for combining theological faithfulness, authentic spirituality and uniquely fruitful, culturally-sensitive evangelistic ministry.

So I was glad to see this interview of Keller (watching the video here is better than the printed story), related to his new book but also to his wider ministry at Redeemer Church.

The Good News

"One way to put the Gospel in a nutshell is this: You are more wicked than you ever dared to believe and yet, you are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than you ever dared hope."

-- Tim Keller

What is "sin" and what does it do?

From Cornelius Plantinga's classic contemporary treatment of the Biblical doctrine of sin:

"The Bible presents sin by way of major concepts, principally lawlessness and faithlessness, expressed in an array of images: sin is missing the target, a wandering from the path, a straying from the fold. Sin is a hard heart and a stiff neck. Sin is blindness and deafness. It is both the overstepping of a line and the failure to reach it -- both transgression and shortcoming. Sin is a beast crouching at the door.

"In sin, people attack or evade or neglect their divine calling. These and other images suggest deviance: even when it is familiar, sin is never normal. Sin is disruption of created harmony and then resistance to divine restoration of that harmony.

"Above all, sin disrupts and resists the vital human relation to God, and it does all this disrupting and resisting in a number of intertwined ways. Sinful life, as Geoffrey Bromiley observes, is a partly depressing, partly ludicrous caricature of genuine human life."

-- "Not the Way It's Supposed to Be" p. 5 (Eerdmans 1995)

Perfect in Christ Jesus

“There are some who are always talking about corruption, and the depravity of the heart, and the innate evil of the soul. This is quite true, but why not go a little further, and remember that we are ‘perfect in Christ Jesus.’ It is no wonder that those who are dwelling upon their own corruption should wear such downcast looks; but surely if we call to mind that ‘Christ is made unto us righteousness,’ we shall be of good cheer.

"There is nothing wanting [lacking] in my Lord; Christ hath done it all. On the cross he said, ‘It is finished!’ and if it be finished, then am I complete in him, and can rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory, ‘Not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.’ ”

- Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, Jan 31
(posted on "Of First Importance")

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Singable Doctrine

There's much that's regrettable about a lot of 'contemporary Christian music' and many of the 'worship songs' that are popular today -- but the music and ministry of Keith and Kristyn Getty are a notable exception we can be grateful for.

Good books for kids

Justin Taylor has this helpful post regarding good books for children.

An All-Sufficient Savior

"The conviction which enters into faith is not only an assent to the truth respecting Christ but also a recognition of the exact correspondence that there is between the truth of Christ and our needs as lost sinners.

"What Christ is as Savior perfectly dovetails [with] our deepest and most ultimate need. This is just saying that Christ's sufficiency as Savior meets the desperateness and hopelessness of our sin and misery....

"....Christ is exactly suited to all that I am in my sin and misery and to all that I should aspire to be by God's grace. Christ fits in perfectly to the totality of our situation in its sin, guilt, misery, and ill-desert."

-- John Murray, "Redemption Accomplished and Applied" p.111 (Eerdmans)
[This is an excellent, comprehensive book on the 'plan of salvation.']

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Knowing God

"How can we turn our knowledge about God into knowledge of God? The rule for doing this is demanding, but simple. It is that we turn each truth that we learn about God into matter for meditation before God, leading to prayer and praise to God."

-- J.I. Packer, "Knowing God" p.18 (IVP)

What Does a "Worship Leader" Do?

Here is the first in a series by Bob Kauflin (Director of Worship Development for Sovereign Grace Ministries), providing Biblically-based insight and guidance for worship/music leaders.

(At the bottom of each of Kauflin's posts, there's a link to the next one in this series.)

Good resource for small group study (including Sunday school/Adult Bible Fellowship)

At website they are providing a good study guide/discussion questions that you can download. This makes the book, "The Reason for God," an even more useable resource for small groups, etc.

A Challenge to Seminary Students (but to pastors and others involved in ministry too)

Here is a classic article from one of the foremost theologians and Christian educators of the 1800's.

A summary (and sample quote) is provided below:

Benjamin B. Warfield

A minister must be both learned and religious. It is not a matter of choosing between the two. He must study, but he must study as in the presence of God and not in a secular spirit.

He must recognize the privilege of pursuing his studies in the environment where God and salvation from sin are the air he breathes.

He must also take advantage of every opportunity for corporate worship, particularly while he trains in the Theological Seminary.

Christ Himself leads in setting the example of the importance of participating in corporate expressions of the religious life of the community.

Ministerial work without taking time to pray is a tragic mistake. The two must combine if the servant of God is to give a pure, clear, and strong message.

“There is no mistake more terrible than to suppose that activity in
Christian work can take the place of depth of Christian affections.”

Re-printed in The Master’s Seminary Journal 6/2 (Fall 1995) pp. 181-95

Monday, February 18, 2008

Future Glory Outweighs Present Trouble

“When we shall come home and enter to the possession of our Brother’s fair kingdom, and when our heads shall find the weight of the eternal crown of glory, and when we shall look back to pains and sufferings; then shall we see life and sorrow to be less than one step or stride from a prison to glory; and that our little inch of time suffering is not worthy of our first night’s welcome home to heaven.”

- Samuel Rutherford, The Loveliness of Christ (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2007) 19.
[posted at]

Good books and 'The Good Book'

Lately I’ve been strongly encouraging people to read Tim Keller’s new book, “The Reason for God.” Reading it, for me, has been a heartening, mentally invigorating and spiritually energizing experience. In many ways this book reminds me of C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity,” including when it comes to the helpful effects it had on me.

But it occurred to me in a fresh way today that, however good and helpful a book like Keller’s is, the Bible is still in a category all its own. Maybe that’s so obvious to most that it doesn’t need saying. But for me it’s worth remembering that the Bible does not rely on any other book or any other author to establish its authority or worth. As Dr. Grier used to teach us in theology/philosophy classes, the Bible (as the Word of God) is ‘self-authenticating’ – it comes with its own authority precisely because it is God’s own speech.

So again, we’re not dependent on other books, even very good ones, to establish or certify to us the authority or value of Scripture. Still, I think Keller’s new book (and Lewis’ older ones) help me in this very specific and important way: it re-assured me that the powerful intellectual myths that are out there, that seem to make Christianity implausible are in fact implausible themselves. (As Keller says, skeptics have good reason to doubt their doubts.)

So, again, authors like Lewis and Keller help me to recover a full confidence in Scripture that should have been there all along. As Heb. 6:13 says, God can’t swear by anyone higher than himself, for there is no one higher. That means no human words can add to the authority of the words of God in Scripture. But human authors and good books can help clear away the cognitive cultural clutter that attacks and erodes our confidence in the Bible’s truthfulness, usefulness and authority. In other words, a book like “The Reason for God” serves a very good purpose when it helps us to believe, or believe again, that (as Augustine said) “what Scripture says, God says.”

-- Psalm 19:7-11; John 5:35; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 4:12; 2 Peter 1:21

How God Uses Trials

I asked the Lord, that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek more earnestly His face.

I hoped that in some favoured hour
At once He'd answer my request,
And by His love's constraining power
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.

Instead of this, He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry powers of hell
Assault my soul in every part.

Yea more, with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds,* and laid me low.

"Lord, why is this?" I trembling cried,
"Wilt thou pursue Thy worm to death?"
"'Tis in this way," the Lord replied,
"I answer prayer for grace and faith.

"These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may'st seek thy all in me."

-- John Newton
*see Jonah 4:6-10 in KJV

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Real Christianity, Real Forgiveness

Justin Taylor's blog links to a compelling scene from the popular TV show, "ER." The episode is on atonement, and a dying man confronts the platitudes of a liberal chaplain. At one point he says, "I want a real chaplain who believes in a real God and a real hell!"

"Spiritual Mapping" questions for evangelism

Here are the questions we referred to in the teaching time Sunday evening. These questions are designed to help in conversations we have with people as we seek to share the Gospel with them.

Where you’ve been:
What was your religious background as a child?
Was it positive, negative, or neutral? Why?
What was the most valuable thing your background
gave you?
Who has had the most profound influence on you
spiritually? Why?
Have you ever experienced God? If so, how?

Where you are:
What words would you use to describe your
spiritual life right now?
Do you have a spiritual belief of any kind?
Who is Jesus to you?
On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your
desire to know God personally?

Where you are going:
At this stage of life, would you say you
are moving toward God, away from
God or staying about the same?
What happens after death?
If you were to die tonight, how sure are
you that you would have eternal life?

©2002, WSN Press; 100 Lake Hart Dr.—2500; Orlando, FL 32832

The Right Attitude for Doing God's Will

The task Thy wisdom hath assigned
O let me cheerfully fulfil,
In all my works Thy presence find,
And prove Thy good and perfect will.

Thee may I set at my right hand,
Whose eyes my inmost substance see,
And labour on at Thy command,
And offer all my works to Thee.

Give me to bear Thy easy yoke,
And every moment watch and pray,
And still to things eternal look,
And hasten to Thy glorious day

--Charles Wesley

Decision-making and the Will of God, conclusion

Here's the sixth (and final) question (see previous posts) that Sinclair Ferguson encourages Christians to ask as they are seeking to please God in their decision-making:

6. Is it Consistent with Biblical Example?

Do not be surprised that Paul's discussion reaches its conclusion with these words: "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ" [1Cor 11:1]. "What would Paul have done?" "What would Christ Himself have done?" these are the questions we can now ask. Are there incidents, or is there teaching in Scripture, which can be applied to the situation in which I find myself? Will it give me a clue to the will of God for my life now? [Cf. Phil 3:17; 2 Thess 3:7; 2 Tim 3:10; Heb 6:12; 13:7].

We are not left to our own imagination in dealing with this question. The only Christ we know - for that matter the only Paul we know - is to be found in the pages of Scripture. Here again we are driven back to our great principle: we discover the will of God by a sensitive application of Scripture to our own lives.

The apostle Peter speaks in similar vein. Christ suffered for us, and in doing so He left us an example that we should follow in His footsteps [1 Peter 2:21]. He uses a very picturesque word, which means a model of pattern to be copied. It is the kind of expression we would use of a teacher's light pencil outline which a child would fill in with a heavier hand, and fill out in his own unique way. What a picture of the Christian life! Christ teaches us to live by faith by walking His life before us, and then saying: "Now, put your feet into these footprints of mine, and you will soon learn".

This is exactly what we are to do. We are to go over the lines which Christ has drawn in, lines which we find in the Scriptures We are to take His hand, and find His footprints in Scripture, and then to follow them. Because of his apostolic ministry Paul was able to encourage his contemporaries to follow him because he followed Christ. There is still an application of that which will benefit us in our thinking.

Yet, even here, Paul cannot escape from the ultimate challenge, "whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God" [1 Cor 10:31]. We cannot escape this challenge either. It is the non-negotiable norm of Christian living. If my heart goes out for His glory, then I will find the yoke of these questions easy, and the burden of gospel holiness to which they urge me is light indeed:

Is it lawful? Is it beneficial? Is it enslaving? Is it consistent with the Lordship of Christ? Is it beneficial to others? Is it consistent with the example of Christ and the apostles? Is it for the glory of God? For that matter, am I living for the glory of God?

(This material is an adaptation of content from the book, "Discovering God's Will" by Sinclair Ferguson, published by Banner of Truth)

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Decision-making and the Will of God, pt. 5

Here's the fifth question (see previous posts) that Sinclair Ferguson encourages Christians to ask as they are seeking to please God in their decision-making:

5. Is it Helpful to Others?

When we move further on in the First Letter to Corinth, we find Paul asks similar questions of a different situation - an indication that we are on the right track when we assume that these questions have a wide and valuable application to many areas of our thinking. But he added others.

I must not rest content with asking whether a course of action will be personally helpful. Will it have a like beneficial effect on others? Indeed, do I engage in it with a view to serving and helping them? Or, am I in danger of "destroying the work of God"? [Rom 14:20] When speaking of the Christian's personal freedom, and the way it must be balanced over against the weakness and strengths of others, Paul confesses: "I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good, but the good of many, so that they may be saved. Follow my example . . ." [1 Cor 10:33].

Jesus lived by this principle. When he summarized his commitment in his great prayer to the Father, he said: "I am sanctifying myself for their sakes" [John 17:19]. We should be concerned to help and please others. Paul affirms, "For even Christ did not please himself" [Rom 15:3]. Does this not drive home to us the fact that the will of God (and therefore his guidance) is the most demanding thing in the world? does it not pierce to the dividing place in our lives between soul and spirit? [Heb 4:12] For we are often concerned with guidance in order that our lives may be freed from anxiety and uncertainty - so that we may have a measure of personal comfort and security. God, on the other hand, is concerned that we should be cast upon Him to do His will, whatever the enduring cost. The will of God is shaped in the image of His Son's Cross. The will of God means death to our own will, and resurrection only when we have died to all our own plans.

Did we really appreciate that this was what we were letting ourselves in for when we said that we wanted guidance?

(This material is an adaptation of content from the book, "Discovering God's Will" by Sinclair Ferguson, published by Banner of Truth)

Everything Sad Will Come Untrue

"I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne." (Jesus, Matthew 19:28)

"Jesus insisted that his return will be with such power that the very material world and universe will be purged of all decay and brokenness. All will be healed and all might-have-beens will be.

"Just after the climax of the trilogy The Lord of the Rings, Sam Gamgee discovers that his friend Gandalf was not dead (as he thought) but alive. He cries, 'I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself! Is everything sad going to come untrue?'

"The answer of Christianity to that questions is--yes. Everything sad is going to come untrue and it will somehow be greater for having once been broken and lost."

-- Tim Keller, "The Reason for God" p.33 (Dutton, 2008)

A Challenge for Those Skeptical Towards Christianity

"The only way to doubt Christianity rightly and fairly is to discern the alternate belief under each of your doubts and then to ask yourself what reasons you have for believing it. How do you know your belief is true?

"It would be inconsistent to require more justification for Christian belief than you do for your own, but that is what frequently happens. In fairness you must doubt your doubts.

"My thesis is that if you come to recognize the beliefs on which your doubts about Christianity are based, and if you seek as much proof for these beliefs as you seek from Christians for theirs -- you will discover that your doubts are not as solid as they first appeared."

-- Tim Keller, "The Reason for God" p. xviii (Dutton, 2008)

Friday, February 15, 2008

Tim Keller's new book: "The Reason for God"

I highly recommend Keller's new book, "The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism." To find out more about it visit the website:

I think this book can help many come to Christian faith in the way that C.S. Lewis' classic "Mere Christianity" did (and still does).

This is a book that will help to strengthen the faith of those who are already believers, and give crucial answers and insights to those who are seeking.

Let the Church Be the Church

Here's an excellent post (The Devil's Gauntlet) from Tullian Tchividjian's blog (I added my comment there). It's all about the church being what God calls us to be, and therefore what the world needs us to be (but not what the world wants us to be).

Decision-making and the will of God, pt. 4

Here's the fourth question (see previous posts) that Sinclair Ferguson encourages Christians to ask as they are seeking to please God in their decision-making:

4. Is it consistent with Christ's Lordship?

Sin of tragic proportions had erupted in the congregation at Corinth. Consequently Paul asks whether they rightly understood their relationship to the Lord. The only chapter in which he does not use this title for Jesus is chapter 13! It deeply troubled him that the Corinthians failed to realize that they were not their own; they had been bought at the great price of their Master's life blood [1 Cor 6:19,20; 7:23].

What is Paul's concern? It is that whenever a Christian engages in a course of action he does so in union with Christ. Nothing severs that relationship. Not even sin can annul it. That is the horrific truth. Whenever the Corinthians gave themselves to gross and indecent sin, they were dragging Christ into it.

Sometimes we say that the principle by which any action may be judged is: Can I take Christ there? There is truth in that. But it is not the whole truth. For, Paul emphasizes, we have no choice in the matter. We do take Christ there. As those who are united to him we cannot leave him behind. So the real question is: Can I take Christ there and look him in the face without shame? Is this course of action, this decision I am taking, totally consistent with my personal confession that "Jesus Christ is my Lord"?

Again it should be emphasized that on its own this question is of limited help. It may answer my questions about the Lord's will immediately (particularly if the answer is 'No'). but it is not in itself an all-sufficient test. It is not the final litmus paper by which we can judge the Lord's will. We need to take all these questions into consideration. We may find, having sought to answer them all, that there is still a momentous decision which God expects us to make. But it can hardly be doubted that much confused thinking began to be cleared away from the church at Corinth as these penetrating questions were set before them. We too will find the same.

(This material is an adaptation of content from the book, "Discovering God's Will" by Sinclair Ferguson, published by Banner of Truth)

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Tim Keller on Spectacle and Sentimentality in Worship

“Medieval worship worked directly on people’s emotions through pomp, ceremony, and spectacular architecture and performances. But Calvin wrote that corporate worship must ‘omit…all theatrical pomp, which dazzles the eyes [and ears]…but deadens their minds.

“…The Reformers saw how the medieval spectacle tended to make worshipers passive observers and to stir the emotions without changing the understanding and the life. Most of all, the ‘spectacle’ represented a lack of confidence in God’s gracious action. Does God need a great performance before he will give us his favor?....”

Keller next discusses Calvin’s opposition to sentimentality (or what we might call ‘folksiness’) in worship. “’Worship leaders’ speak completely ‘off the cuff,’ sharing spontaneous thoughts. As a result of the mediocrity and informality, there is no sense of awe, no sense of being in the presence of the Holy. Calvin knew the difference between simplicity [which is a good thing in worship] and sentimentality.

In sentimental worship, the ‘worship leader’ typically uses comments like, ‘Isn’t he just wonderful?’ ‘Isn’t it such a blessing?’ – “the leader tells people how they ought to feel about God instead of telling them about God.”

“Both spectacle and sentimentality work directly on people’s emotions rather than trusting God’s Spirit to bring truth ‘home.’”

-- Tim Keller, in "Worship by the Book" (edited by D.A. Carson) p. 210 (Zondervan: 2002)

Living by Faith

The older I get, and the more I think about it, the more it seems to me that what is really important is to get it right when it comes to the core realities of the Christian faith. And that includes understanding what faith is, and what it means to live and walk by faith.

Words like ‘faith’ and ‘believe’ can inadvertently become for us just jargon words – we get so used to hearing them that we don’t think very deeply about what they really mean. So, for me, it’s often helpful to come up with synonyms or other words that can re-focus or enrich my understanding of some of the key words of Christianity.

When it comes to faith, Dr. James Grier often uses the words ‘confidence’ and ‘allegiance.’ Faith, then, is understood as confidence in God – a confident trust that he will do me all the good that is offered in the Gospel and promised in the Word. It’s a deep confidence and conviction that God will always be a loving, wise and holy Father to me, and that he will always love and care for me as his dear child. Faith is confidence in God.

But that confidence produces allegiance towards God too. (Confidence is trusting Jesus as Savior; allegiance is submitting to him as Lord.) Allegiance has to do with living under the lordship of Christ, ‘obeying all things, whatsoever he has commanded.’ (Matt.28:20). Allegiance has to do with seeking first his kingdom and righteousness and about not trying to serve two masters (which Jesus says it’s impossible to do – Matt.6:24, 33). Allegiance also means we won’t love the world or the things in the world, because we love the Father too much instead (1 John 2:15-17).

And allegiance shows itself in the attitude of Paul, when he wrote, “…I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Phil.3:12ff.)

So, what does it mean to live by faith? It means that, by God’s grace, and nurtured by his Spirit-illuminated Word, I will daily (hourly) live out of a confidence in God and an allegiance toward God – I’ll keep trusting Jesus as my Savior, and submitting to him as my Lord.

Decision-making and the Will of God, pt. 3

Here's the third question (see previous posts) that Sinclair Ferguson encourages Christians to ask as they are seeking to please God in their decision-making:

3. Is it Enslaving?

"Everything is permissible to me": - but I will not be mastered by anything [1 Cor 6;12]. There is a play on words in what Paul says: These things are all within my power - but will I end up in their power? Again, assuming that what is being considered falls into the category of things legitimate, this question can only ultimately be answered in personal terms.

What is the principle? It is that the Christian must always, through the grace of the Spirit, be master of himself. Paul illustrates this later in 1 Corinthians. In the race all who compete have already gone into strict training. They have sought to master and subdue all their natural appetites so that, instead of being mastered by them, they will master their bodies and make them their slaves [1 Cor 9:27].

What happens to the athlete who nibbles at cream cakes and tucks away too many calories? A moment comes in the race when he ceases to be the master, and the appetites to which he has yielded strangle every last ounce of energy out of him. They have him at their mercy and all hope of winning a prize must be abandoned. Is there not a clear parallel in the Christian life? It is possible to make choices which, eventually, will tend to squeeze out our spiritual energies; to commit ourselves to things which, however legitimate in general terms, will eventually become the dominating and driving force in our lives.

Of course we have our spiritual liberties. But when we find ourselves unable to enjoy the Christian life without our liberties, then we have become enslaved to the,. There is, for example, presumably no built-in evil about owning a new car, or living in pleasant house, or enjoying various foods, spending time in various pursuits, or with certain kinds of people. But when we cannot be content without them; when we simply must have them - they are no longer our liberties, but our chains. The Christian should develop in Christ a sensitivity to those things to which he will most readily allow himself to be brought into bondage. "Will this enslave me?" will be a question never far from his thinking. "I will not be mastered by anything" is a good motto text for the man who has received a spirit of self-discipline [2 Tim 1:7].

(This material is an adaptation of content from the book, "Discovering God's Will" by Sinclair Ferguson, published by Banner of Truth)


"In whatever man does without God he must fail miserably -- or succeed more miserably."
-- George MacDonald

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

What Evangelism Isn't

In this essay, Pastor Mark Dever exhorts us to stop mistaking other Christian activities for the spreading of the gospel.

I remember as a little child hugging my father's leg at a gas station only to realize it wasn't his leg I was hugging. I was embarrassed! It was a case of mistaken identity. In the matter of evangelism, I'm concerned about a number of things that people take to be evangelism that aren't. And this case of mistaken identity can have consequences more serious than mere embarrassment. Let me mention five things mistaken for evangelism.

Probably the most common objection to evangelism today is, "Isn't it wrong to impose our beliefs on others?" Some people don't practice evangelism because they feel they are imposing on others. And the way evangelism is often done, I can understand the confusion! But when you understand what the Bible presents as evangelism, it's really not a matter of imposing your beliefs.

It's important to understand that the message you are sharing is not merely an opinion but a fact. That's why sharing the gospel can't be called an imposition, any more than a pilot can impose his belief on all his passengers that the runway is here and not there.

Additionally, the truths of the gospel are not yours, in the sense that they uniquely pertain to you or your perspective or experience, or in the sense that you came up with them. When you evangelize, you are not merely saying, "This is how I like to think of God," or "This is how I see it." You're presenting the Christian gospel. You didn't invent it, and you have no authority to alter it.

Personal Testimony
One of the classic testimonies was given by a blind man Jesus healed. When he was questioned after Jesus healed him, he responded, "Whether he [Jesus] is a sinner or not, I don't know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!" (John 9:25). The man disregarded the menacing threats of those more honored and respected than he in order to give this verbal witness to the power of God. It's a wonderful, powerful testimony, but it's not evangelism. There is no gospel in it. The man didn't even know who Jesus was.

An account of a changed life is wonderful and inspiring thing, but it's the gospel of Jesus Christ that explains what it's all about and how it happened.

Social Action and Public Involvement
Being involved in mercy ministries may help to commend the gospel, which is why Jesus taught, "Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven" (Matt. 5:16). Displaying God's compassion and kindness by our actions is a good and appropriate thing for Christians to do. But such actions are not evangelism. They commend the gospel, but they share it with no one. To be evangelism, the gospel must be clearly communicated, whether in written or oral form.

When our eyes fall from God to humanity, social ills replace sin, horizontal problems replace the fundamental vertical problem between us and God, winning elections eclipses winning souls.

Other people mistake apologetics for evangelism. Like the activities we've considered above, apologetics itself is a good thing. We are instructed by Peter to be ready to give a reason for the hope that we have (1 Pet. 3:15). And apologetics is doing exactly that. Apologetics is answering questions and objections people may have about God or Christ, or about the Bible or the message of the gospel.

Answering questions and defending parts of the good news may often be a part of conversations Christians have with non-Christians, and while that may have been a part of our own reading or thinking or talking as we came to Christ, such activity is not evangelism.

Apologetics can present wonderful opportunities for evangelism. Being willing to engage in conversations about where we came from or what's wrong with this world can be a significant way to introduce honest discussions about the gospel.

By far the greatest danger in apologetics is being distracted from the main message. Evangelism is not defending the virgin birth or defending the historicity of the resurrection. Apologetics is defending the faith, answering the questions others have about Christianity. It is responding to the agenda that others set. Evangelism, however, is following Christ's agenda, the news about him. Evangelism is the positive act of telling the good news about Jesus Christ and the way of salvation through him.

The Results of Evangelism
Finally, one of the most common and dangerous mistakes in evangelism is to misinterpret the results of evangelism—the conversion of unbelievers—for evangelism itself, which is the simple telling of the gospel message. Who can deny that much modern evangelism has become emotionally manipulative, seeking simply to cause a momentary decision of the sinner's will, yet neglecting the biblical idea that conversion is the result of the supernatural, gracious act of God toward the sinner?

When we are involved in a program in which converts are quickly counted, decisions are more likely pressed, and evangelism is gauged by its immediately obvious effect, we are involved in undermining real evangelism and real churches.

The Christian call to evangelism is a call not simply to persuade people to make decisions but rather to proclaim to them the good news of salvation in Christ, to call them to repentance, and to give God the glory for regeneration and conversion. We don't fail in our evangelism if we faithfully tell the gospel to someone who is not converted; we fail only if we don't faithfully tell the gospel at all. Evangelism itself isn't converting people; it's telling them that they need to be converted and telling them how they can be.

From "The Gospel and Personal Evangelism" by Mark Dever copyright © 2007, adapted from pages 69-82. Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187,

Thought-provoking interaction regarding Rob Bell

Justin Taylor's blog brings together the perspectives of C.J. Mahaney, Greg Gilbert (and others) on Rob Bell (and the NOOMA videos).

Decison-making and the Will of God, pt. 2

Here's the second question (see previous post) that Sinclair Ferguson encourages Christians to ask as they are seeking to please God in their decision-making:

2. Is it Beneficial to Me?

If our first question is concerned with the nature of the action itself, our second one must be concerned with its consequences. It may be true (in a sense) says Paul, that "all things are permissible" [cf. 1 Tim 4:4; Rom 14:14, etc.]. "But not everything is beneficial" [1 Cor 6:12].

Do you every find yourself challenged on a course of action by a fellow-Christian, and automatically respond: "What's wrong with it?" It is the most natural form of self-defense. But it may well hide a guilty conscience. For, in our hearts of hearts we know, as Paul so incisively teaches, that this is not the really important question. There may be "nothing wrong with it"; but there may be nothing right with it; it may not prove to be beneficial to me.

The question I must learn to ask is: Will it bring benefits, as far as I am able to judge, so that my relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ is strengthened? Will it draw me nearer to Him?

There are so many areas in which this applies. When I am faced with a choice of occupation, or a sphere of work, or a move to another part of the country, with all that it involves in terms of fellowship, ministry and spiritual influence, I am surely obliged to ask this question. Of course it is not the all-determining factor in each instance. But it is an important factor in many cases.

I may find myself with the opportunity to spend a sum of money on something on which I have set my heart. But is it God's will? Well, let the question be introduced into my thinking: Will it benefit? Or, will it have the tendency to consume my time, energy and interests in such a way that I will be spiritually the poorer? Will it complicate, rather than simplify my life?

Of course, no two people will give exactly the same answer in every situation. We are no longer speaking about whether a course of action is lawful for the Christian. we are considering only actions which are. But something which has a neutral influence on one person may be detrimental to another. We are not called to judge other men's consciences [1 Cor 2:15; 4:3-5]. But "the spiritual man makes judgments about all things", and this is what we are enabled to do when we ask: "Is it beneficial to me?" It may or may not be in others' experience. That is not my concern. I am responsible to Christ for my own stewardship. Is this beneficial to me?

(This material is an adaptation of content from the book, "Discovering God's Will" by Sinclair Ferguson, published by Banner of Truth)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Another Description of Worship

"...Worship is the submission of all our nature to God. It is the quickening of conscience by His holiness; the nourishment of mind with His truth; the purifying of imagination by His beauty; the opening of the heart to His love; the surrender of will to His purpose -- and all of this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable and therefore the chief remedy for that self-centeredness which is our original sin and the source of all actual sin. Yes -- worship in spirit and truth is the way to the solution of perplexity and to the liberation from sin."

-- William Temple, "Readings in St. John's Gospel" first series (London: Macmillan, 1939), p. 68

Preaching on Hell

This essay by Dan Kimball from Christianity Today online echoes what we discussed in the "Two Ways to Live" teaching time last Sunday evening.

The essay ends with a quote from Charles Spurgeon (about our being concerned enough to warn people): "If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our bodies. If they will perish, let them perish with our arms around their knees. Let no one go there unwarned and unprayed for."

Decision-making and the Will of God

One of the questions I get most is, "How can I discern God's will for a decision I'm facing?" There is a lot of misunderstanding and unhelpful thinking when it comes to this question, but Sinclair Ferguson has a list of key questions that we should ask as we try to make wise, God-honoring decisions.

Here is his introduction, and the first question (with more questions to come in the next few days):

Walking in the will of God produces a distinctive life-style. There will be certain characteristics which will be true of all Christians in all places and in every age. There are abiding qualities about true Christians which would make them recognizable by their fellow believers in very different epochs of church history.

But for every Christian the question arises, not, What is true of all Christians always? but, What is the will of God in this particular, unique situation in which I find myself? We have to face the issue of the nature of the principles which govern Christian conduct. How do we discover the will of God when we are faced with a possibly bewildering array of choices?

The exposition of the Christian walk is a major theme in one of Paul's letters and this further question is also a theme with which Paul dealt at some length. We find him discussing it in his First Letter to the Corinthians. . .

Paul's principles remain valid. Not only so; they are of great practical usefulness to us in discerning what the will of the Lord is in our lives. A careful study of them gives rise to a series of questions which will help to unfold what God's guidance might be in any given situation.

1. Is it Lawful?

The Corinthians emphasized the (biblical) principle that Christ has set them free. Paul retorted that freedom is not the only principle in the Christian life. Freedom is for something. God has set us free for holiness. He has blessed us with freedom from the guilt and bondage of sin - but not in order that we might become enslaved to the very sins for [from] which Christ died to redeem us!

This is powerfully reinforced by the apostle [in 1 Cor 6:9-11]. Paul provides a long list of the kinds of sinful conduct which are contrary to membership of the kingdom of God. He does not mean that these heinous sins are the unforgivable sin. Some of the Corinthians had indulged in these very sins before they were converted. Yet they had been washed, sanctified and justified through Christ! But they had to be radically converted in order to be fitted for the kingdom of God. No anarchy is present there - it is a kingdom, a monarchy, and is governed by the great and holy commandments of God.

What is Paul's point? It is that no action which is contrary to the plain word of God can ever be legitimate for the Christian. No appeal to spiritual freedom or to providential circumstances can ever make what is ethically wrong anything else but sinful. For the Christian is free only to love and obey the law of God. Therein lies his true freedom.

We can often reduce the possible choices that face us at different times in our lives by this very simple question: Is it lawful [that is, does Scripture even allow it as an option]? How readily Satan seems to be able to blind us just here - and we lose sight of the fact that we have been saved in order to be made holy.

(This material is an adaptation of content from the book, "Discovering God's Will" by Sinclair Ferguson, published by Banner of Truth)

Monday, February 11, 2008

Spiritual Friendship

In our New Horizons adult Bible community on Sunday mornings we've been thinking together about Christian 'fellowship.' Pastor Tim Keller has preached a very helpful, insightful message on this theme, entitled "Spiritual Friendship." Here's the outline:

1. Spiritual friendships are needed.
2. Spiritual friendships are discovered, not just made.
3. Spiritual friendships are made, not just discovered.
4. Spiritual friendships are forever.

I encourage you to listen to the entire message.

Substitutionary Atonement

Justin Taylor, who has one of the most helpful Christian blogs I know of, pointed me to this important, comprehensive essay on "The Atoning Death of Christ on the Cross."

This essay, written by Dr. Seyoon Kim of Fuller Seminary, isn't easy reading, but it's one of the best recent defenses of the centrality of the penal subsitutionary doctrine of the atonement.

Here's the conclusion:

"Thus, when the doctrine of Christ’s penal substitutionary atonement on the cross—and the doctrine of justification that issues from it—is properly expounded, it can integrate the Christus victor motif in itself and provide the adequate basis for sanctification or imitatio Christi. Hence Paul uses penal substitutionary atonement for his moral exhortation not to sin against brethren, especially the “weak” ones (“the brother for whom Christ died,” Rom 14:15; 1 Cor 8:11), and not to sell one’s body into slavery either of sexual lust or of a human master (“You were bought with a price,” 1 Cor 6:20; 7:23). Above all, in expounding the missionary and social implications of the doctrine of justification, Paul makes the most revolutionary declaration: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28; cf. also Rom 3:30; Eph 2:11-22; Col 3:11). Since justification does not depend on any innate quality or merit of human beings, but it is only by God’s grace manifested in Christ’s substitutionary atonement, and solely through our faith-appropriation of it, racial, gender, or social differences do not count any more. There is no doubt that this gospel has exerted its liberating force over against the still mightily raging diabolic force of discrimination and oppression in the dialectical history of the Christian world. What an irony it is then that the basis of such a liberating doctrine is now made the target of abuses by some “postcolonial” and “feminist” theologians! Evangelicals, if they are to be true to their historic identity, should not succumb to any polemics based on distorted versions of the Biblical doctrine of Christ’s penal substitutionary atonement, nor yield to the attempts to marginalize it for the sake of the (independent) Christus victor theory or the (biblically questionable) moral influence/example theory. Rather, they must uphold the doctrine, expounding it fully and celebrating the grace of God that it highlights."

Faith and Its Fruits

'We are saved by faith, not by fruit (love, joy, peace, patience...), but we will never be saved by a fruitless faith.'

-- Tim Keller, from his sermon "How to Change"

"The Power of the Cross"

Here's the hymn Pastor Denyes referred to during the "Two Ways to Live" equipping seminar on Sunday evening:

"The Power of the Cross"
Words and Music by Keith Getty & Stuart Townend Copyright © 2005 Thankyou Music

Oh, to see the dawn
Of the darkest day:
Christ on the road to Calvary.
Tried by sinful men,
Torn and beaten, then
Nailed to a cross of wood.

This, the pow'r of the cross:
Christ became sin for us;
Took the blame, bore the wrath—
We stand forgiven at the cross.

Oh, to see the pain
Written on Your face,
Bearing the awesome weight of sin.
Ev'ry bitter thought,
Ev'ry evil deed
Crowning Your bloodstained brow.

Now the daylight flees;
Now the ground beneath
Quakes as its Maker bows His head.
Curtain torn in two,
Dead are raised to life;
"Finished!" the vict'ry cry.

Oh, to see my name
Written in the wounds,
For through Your suffering I am free.
Death is crushed to death;
Life is mine to live,
Won through Your selfless love.

This, the pow'r of the cross:
Son of God—slain for us.
What a love! What a cost!
We stand forgiven at the cross.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Keller Sermon on Judgment/Hell

Here is the link to the sermon by Pastor Tim Keller on the (difficult) theme of God's judgment. This is a follow-up to the teaching time in the Two Ways to Live seminar presented in our evening service today.

Hymn lyric from John Newton

Our pleasure and our duty,
Though opposite before,
Since we have seen His beauty
Are joined to part no more.

To see the law by Christ fulfilled
And hear His pard’ning voice,
Transforms a slave into a child,
And duty into choice.

-- from a hymn by John Newton (who also wrote the lyrics to “Amazing Grace”)

Saturday, February 9, 2008

A Worship Service Isn't a Rock Concert

Bob Kauflin responds to the ideas that Greg Gilbert presented (see previous post on this blog). Kauflin is the director of worship development for Sovereign Grace Ministries and the author of the soon-to-be released "Worship Matters" (Crossway). Visit his blog at Here's his perspective:

Let me begin by expressing a hearty “amen!” to Greg’s comments about the place of music in the church today. Insightful thoughts. Greg mentions the “pursuit of excellence in praise and worship music,” as a major contributor to the problem. A few other factors come to my mind.

The commercialization of worship music. I thank God for the proliferation of worship music over the past 20 years, otherwise known as the “modern worship movement.” Sovereign Grace Ministries, of which I’m a part, has played a small role in that development. On the bright side, we’ve seen a fresh influx of new songs to the church, people young and old are singing more passionately, we’re more aware that what we sing matters, and more young people are using their musical gifts to serve their congregations. On the negative side, worship music is now a product to promote, songs are often chosen more for their identification with an artist than their theology, and songs that were written more than five years ago can be viewed as irrelevant and not worth singing.

Influence of the rock concert culture in the church. Passion conferences and Jesus festivals have both had positive effects on the church. Neither one of them, though, is the same thing as the church. The first two are events meant to draw a large crowd, hopefully to encourage people to live worthy of the Gospel. The church is an ongoing assembly of the worshipping community, being built into the Gospel, God’s Word, and each other. Technology plays a secondary and serving role.

I once heard a woman describe how Bono and U2 taught her more about worship than any Sunday worship leader. That’s alarming. Our goal on a Sunday morning is unlike any concert and far more significant. We’re seeking to build a worshipping community whose lives demonstrate they are more impressed with the greatness of the Savior than their surroundings and modern technology. It doesn’t mean we can’t use electric guitars, drums, creative arrangements, and effective lighting on a Sunday morning. We just have to view them as potentially helpful rather than unequivocally essential.

Lack of teaching on worship in the church. The effect of the first two points has been increased because pastors don’t always teach the church how music “works” in worship. Too many pastors and church members can assume that everyone understands what’s happening when we sing songs of praise together on a Sunday morning. Greg’s observations and my own experience show that’s not the case. Congregations need to be taught that being emotionally moved by music is not the same as being morally changed by the Spirit. That misunderstanding can occur both in both modern and traditional contexts.

Churches must be taught that worship is not the same as music and extends far beyond it, and that Christ’s accomplishments matter more than ours when it comes to worshipping God. They need to learn that it’s the Gospel that unites us, not a musical style, and that truth outlasts tunes.

Lack of musical variety in the church. God’s glory is too great to be contained in one style, whether that’s pop-rock, folk, classical, traditional, or praise choruses. Also, the range of appropriate responses to God’s greatness can’t be expressed in one style of music. We need many styles, many genres. We need to have the heart of Charles Wesley who longed for a thousand tongues to sing our great Redeemer’s praise. Obviously, the ability of a church to use different styles and kinds of music is limited by the gifts of the musicians in the church, among other things. But at the very least, we can vary the instrumentation, drop out a guitar for a verse, and even try singing a verse or chorus a cappella.

When it comes to worshipping God, no Bible believing Christian should really be “against music.” Music is a wonderful gift from God, enabling us to combine doctrine and devotion as we praise God. But as Greg makes clear, it’s possible to be too much “FOR music.” And when that happens, music turns from a tool into a god. It’s my prayer that more churches will help their people use music in a way that draws attention to the matchless beauty of the Savior, not simply the moving accompaniment of a song.

This post originally appeared at

Friday, February 8, 2008

Another Insightful Article on the Role of Music in Worship

This comes from Greg Gilbert, on the 9Marks ministry's blog:

February 07, 2008
Against Music*
by Greg Gilbert

I think the entire evangelical world ought to put a moratorium on any kind of instrumental music, and just chant psalms in their worship services—for the next ten years.*

I’ve been amazed since becoming an elder in a local church just how dependent many Christians are on a certain style of music, or certain level of excellence in music. How many times have you heard someone say, for example, “I just can’t worship in that church.”? Or “I just don’t feel like I’m connecting with God there.”

Of course there can be a lot going on there, but I think that many times if you press in on statements like that, what you find behind it all is not very far removed from “I don’t like the music there.” People don’t put it that starkly, mainly because if you do it sounds silly. But I think that’s a lot of what people mean when they say, “I can’t worship there.” The reality is that a single flat-back piano just doesn’t gig their emotions as much as a full electric band does. They don’t get that “transcendent feeling,” so they get discouraged and end up saying they “can’t worship.”

I wonder if the whole “excellence in praise and worship music” phenomenon we’ve seen over the past few years—for all the good it’s done—hasn’t also had some less-than-desirable effects on young Christians. I wonder if it hasn’t created a generation of functional mystics who gauge their relationship with God by emotional experience rather than the objective reality of redemption.

When I was a sophomore and junior in college, I went to a few of the Passion conferences when they were held in Texas. Those were formative and amazing experiences for me. John Piper “Reformed” me in one earth-shaking sermon from Romans 3, and that has—in one way or another—shaped the trajectory of my life ever since. And the music was excellent—truly wonderful in every way. We sang loud, hands in the air, eyes closed and full of tears sometimes, and I believe I worshipped God through it all.

But then I went back to New Haven, Connecticut. The praise bands were gone, I didn’t have a group of people who’d gone with me and shared that experience, and the churches had a piano and thirty people singing Isaac Watts hymns. That forced me to learn how to stoke the fires of worship with truths and words, and not just with excellent music. I’ve learned how to be emotionally affected by the excellent words of hymns whether they’re played and sung “excellently” or not.

There’s a whole generation of young people out there now, though, who aren’t emotionally affected by words, whose fires are only stoked when those words are accompanied by great rhythms, skilled instrumentation, and a certain well-recognizable mood that typically accompanies Christian “praise-and-worship.” And the result is that you have young people church-hopping around town, and one of the main criteria of their shopping is “the worship,” by which more often than not they mean “the music.” You have young Christians feeling discouraged because—despite the fact that they sit under faithful preaching of the word Sunday after Sunday—they say they haven’t “felt close to God” in so long. Maybe there’s something important going on there. But there’s also a good chance, I’d argue, that they just haven’t had a good endorphin rush since the last conference they attended.

I am really afraid that we’ve managed to create a generation of anemic Christians who are spiritually dependent on excellent music. Their sense of spiritual well-being is based on feeling “close to God,” their feeling close to God is based on their “ability to worship,” and being able to worship depends on big crowds singing great music.

Just as bad, think about how many church fights and divisions are rooted in disagreements about music. People leave churches because they don’t like the music. Christians who believe exactly the same things about Jesus worship in different buildings next door to each other because they can’t countenance one another’s musical style. Churches split because one faction wants “contemporary” music and another wants “traditional” music. It’s not the words that are at issue; it’s how the words are sung, and to what instrumentation. The thing even has its own name—the “Worship Wars,” which when translated with a little honesty is really “the Music Wars.”

The bottom line, I suppose, is that it would do every Christian well to do some honest heart-searching about what makes them feel “close to God.” Can you feel close to God just by reading or saying the words, “In Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”? Would you be able to function in a church that’s great in every way except the music? If not, you probably need to give some thought to whether your spiritual life is dependent on something it should not be dependent on.

*I'm being facetious with the title of this post and the call for a moratorium on music,
of course. The Bible tells us to sing. God gave us music precisely because it affects our hearts and emotion, and that is a good thing. But every good thing can be and will be misused by sinful humans. My sense is that "excellent music" has become something of an idol. No, we don't worship it. But alot of people need it to worship, and that may be just as bad. Music is a part of our lives as humans; in a certain way we'll always depend on it. But as I see it, there's ample anecdotal evidence out there to suggest that for many Christians, the dependence has become unhealthy.

(Greg Gilbert adds a clarifying comment in the Comments section of his post.)

Very Helpful Sermons from Tim Keller

From an email from my friend, Godwin:

"Here's a link to a series of very helpful sermons. the series is called 'The Trouble with Christianity: Why it's so Hard to Believe it' and the preacher is Tim Keller. the content is related to his new book 'The Reason for God.' the material is GREAT for nonbelievers and seekers, and will also strengthen the believer's faith. Keller has a winsome and profound way of explaining difficult Biblical truth."

I agree with Godwin...Pastor Keller is one of the clearest communicators of Biblical Christianity I know of -- and he connects well with the 'postmodern' mindset too.

(Note: even though the top of the webpage I've linked to says 'store,' these messages can be downloaded for free.)

Thursday, February 7, 2008

An Evangelical Celebration

"The Gospel of Jesus Christ: An Evangelical Celebration" is an excellent contemporary statement of the gospel, prepared and endorsed by a wide range of evangelical theologians and leaders.

A great book from an excellent author

One of the best books I know of dealing with what means to be a Christian is Sinclair Ferguson's "The Christian Life" (published by Banner of Truth). Dr. Ferguson, who is currently the senior pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Columbia, SC, covers the whole range of the plan of salvation and what it means to be follower of Jesus Christ.

Chapter titles include: Called by God, Conviction of Sin, Born Again, Faith in Christ, True Repentance, Justification, Sin's Dominion Ended, Perseverance, etc.

This is an excellent book for an individual Christian, or a small group, or a Sunday school class to study together.

Jesus taught us that we are sanctified through Biblical truth (John 17:17), and a Bible-based book like this is an excellent resource for knowing God, and for knowing what it means to live for him.

Recommended Reading

One of the best books I know of, dealing with church life is "Nine Marks of a Healthy Church" by Mark Dever (published by Crossway Books). Dr. Dever is pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.

Based on the Bible, Pastor Dever focuses on these crucial characteristics of healthy church life:
1. Expositional preachng
2. Biblical Theology
3. The Gospel
4. A Biblical Understanding of Conversion
5. A Biblical Understanding of Evangelism
6. A Biblical Understanding of Church Membership
7. Biblical Church Discipline
8. A Concern for Discipleship and Growth
9. Biblical Church Leadership

[I would add: Biblical Worship]

You can also visit his ministry's website at

Assurance of Salvation

"...if you're a Christian, God wants you to experience -- deep inside -- the reality that you are no longer a slave to sin but are now his adopted child. He wants you to know that he loves you!

"He wants you to know that he has saved you from the penalty of sin, that he is now saving you from the power of sin, and that one day he will save you from the presence of sin altogether.

"He doesn't just want you to be forgiven; he also wants you to feel forgiven. He wants you to enjoy the still waters and green pastures that friendship with God offers. He wants you to go through life confidently knowing that you are his forever and that there is no need to fear ultimate judgment."

-- Tullian Tchividjian, "Do I Know God?" pp. 28-29 (Multnomah 2007)

True Conversion

"True conversion is not an isolated experience but one that is related to a life of discipleship. It is the point in time and experience at which we enter into such a life. Discipleship belongs to and should follow from conversion the way that natural life belongs to and should follow from live birth.

"Just as there is no life without birth, so there is no birth without an ensuing life, however long or short that life may be. And just as there is not discipleship without conversion, so there is no conversion without an ensuing life of discipleship that involves growth in moral maturity, a deepening faith, and loving service."

-- David Wells, "Turning to God" p.25 (Baker 1989)

What is Ash Wednesday?

Even though our church does not formally observe Ash Wednesday (and Lent), I get questions about such things from time to time, so....

Here is a brief excerpt regarding Ash Wednesday from the weblog of a Presbyertian pastor and author, Mark D. Roberts:

Like Christmas, Ash Wednesday is a Christian holiday (holy day) that is not required in Scripture. So it’s nothing that all Christians must recognize. However, the day has been set apart by Christians for over a thousand years. It is the first day of Lent, a forty-day season of preparation for Holy Week and Easter.... For centuries Christians have had ashes placed on their foreheads in the shape of a cross. The ashes remind us of our mortality. As they are being “imposed” on our foreheads we hear the bad news from Ecclesiastes 3: “You’ve come from dust, and to dust you will return.” Yet, because the ashes are imposed in the shape of the cross, they also suggest the good news that is yet to come, that which will deliver us from eternal death.

Throughout my pastoral tenure...I’ve put ashes on hundreds of foreheads. It’s both a strange and a wonderful thing to do. It’s strange to tell people, in so many words, “You’re mortal and you’re going to die.” Yet it’s wonderful to remind people of why they need a Savior, and to invite them to begin getting ready for a deeper experience of God’s grace on Good Friday and Easter – even seven weeks before Holy Week begins.

I remember distinctly times when I have put ashes on the forehead of a dear member of my church who was nearing death.... The point is that, whether old or young, we are all mortal. We are all caught in the death grip of sin. And we all need a Savior.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Classic Wisdom from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

"The main trouble in this whole matter of spiritual depression in a sense is this, that we allow our self to talk to us instead of talking to our self. Am I just trying to be deliberately paradoxical? Far from it. This is the very essence of wisdom in this matter. Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?

"Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them, but they start talking to you, they bring back the problem of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you. Now this man's treatment [in Psalm 42] was this; instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself, 'Why art thou cast down, O my soul?' he asks.

"His soul had been repressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says: 'Self, listen for a moment, I will speak to you'. Do you know what I mean? If you do not, you have but little experience.The main art in the matter of spiritual living is to know how to handle yourself. You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself.

"You must say to your soul: 'Why art thou cast down'--what business have you to be disquieted? You must turn on yourself, upbraid yourself, condemn yourself, exhort yourself, and say to yourself: 'Hope thou in God'--instead of muttering in this depressed, unhappy way. And then you must go on to remind yourself of God, Who God is, and what God is and what God has done, and what God has pledged Himself to do.

"Then having done that, end on this great note: defy yourself, and defy other people, and defy the devil and the whole world, and say with this man: 'I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance, who is also the health of my countenance and my God'."

--D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, "Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cures" pp. 20-21

Series on Worship, conclusion

In its services of public worship, the church must obey such Scriptures as Philippians 2:3-4: "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others more important than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others."

"When my first church home divided over musical issues and other aspects of our public worship, many hearts were broken. I remember the final act of our final service together. We were asked to form a circle around the sanctuary and join hands. Together, we sang the chorus, 'We Are One in the Bond of Love.' Then we closed the service with prayer; many hugs and tears followed.

"It was very emotional. It was also very hypocritical. We were not, of course, one in the bond of love. We were the victims of self-seeking from all sides. We had not obeyed the admonition of Philippians 2:3-4, nor that of Ephesians 4:3 to 'make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace,' nor Christ's new commandment to 'love one another as I have loved you' (John 13:34).

"My earnest prayer is that such scenes will occur with far less frequency as the people of God think more deeply about the nature and purposes of worship, and that a renewed approach to music and hymnody will lead us all to greater love of God, love of one another, and love for all our neighbors."

-- from Gary A. Parrett, assistant professor of Christian education at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Copyright © 2005 Christianity Today. February 2005, Vol. 49, No. 2, Page 38

Are You a Believ-er?

This post is along the same lines of my previous one (“Are You Spiritual?”). This time, when I ask ‘are you a believer?’ my focus is on what it really means to ‘believe.’ And again, it’s a question that I definitely have to face myself.

For an awfully long time I think I’ve mainly thought of ‘believing’ in terms of thinking the right thoughts about God and the Gospel, or agreeing with the right doctrines about the way of salvation, etc. Now again, it’s absolutely true that that saving faith includes knowing and agreeing with Biblical truth, centered in the content of the Gospel (see, for example, 1 Cor. 15:1-5; Rom.10:17, and contrast that with Gal.1:6ff.). But Biblical theologians have always insisted that true and saving faith includes an essential third ingredient – trust…personal trust...that is, trust between persons: me trusting God.

In other words, it’s not enough for me to know that God offers, through the Gospel, forgiveness and life and peace and sonship – all because of the saving work of Christ. It’s not even enough for me to agree that this is in fact, what God offers and promises. What’s also essential is that I really and truly trust Him to do all the good that the Gospel offers for ME too – that Jesus will be such a great Savior in MY life, as well as in the lives of others.

This kind of trust – this confidence that the grace and goodness of God are as much for me as they are for others – is a response to God’s Word to me. True faith means trusting that God is just as good and wise and powerful towards me, working always for my good (Romans 8:28), as the Bible describes Him to be.

For me, being this kind of believ-er, this kind of trust-er in God, is trickier than it might seem. It’s one thing for me to claim that I trust in God to do me good on judgment day, saving me from the wrath to come. (After all, how can that ‘trust’/belief really be tested?) But what about my trusting in the goodness of God for what he’s doing in my life TODAY? What about trusting in his love, wisdom and power towards me in what his Providence has purposed/permitted for me today?

That kind of real-life, real-world, existential/experiential trusting (or not trusting) actually IS testable (cp. Deut. 8:1-5). And the crucial indicators are my words (Matt.12:34-37), attitudes (Ps. 42:5) and deeds (Jas.2:14-26). If I’m really trusting in God today, confident that he’s my loving Father who graciously delights in me and is orchestrating all things for my true good (that is, of making me like his Son [Rom.8:28-29; Heb.12:4-13], then I will respond to other people and to circumstances in ways that manifest that trust (think again of the fruit of the Spirit, and of attitudes of gratitude, contentment, and words of praise to God and appreciation towards others).

But of course the opposite is also true. I know my faith – my trusting and believing – has failed or faltered when I respond to life (people, problems, problem people!) with words of complaint and criticism, attitudes of anger and resentment, and actions of disobedience that show that I feel like, since God can’t be trusted, I'd better take matters into my own hands!

So, back to the question? “Are you a believer?” Are you a trust-er in God?

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Are You Spiritual?

I think that many of us have ‘grown up’ with a version of what it means to be ‘spiritual’ that differs in some crucial ways from what the Bible emphasizes. For many of us, being spiritual had to do, mostly, with getting our doctrines right and conforming to certain behavioral expectations. Now, I hope it goes without saying (but maybe not these days) that being spiritual certainly includes believing Biblical teaching and living by Scriptural principles. The problem is, it’s possible to do both those things in a certain way and still be very unspiritual (remember the Pharisees?).

Biblical scholars like Gordon Fee have pointed out that one of the best ways to think about what it means to be spiritual is to think of it in this way: ‘Spirit-ual’ – that is, having to do with the Holy Spirit. So one of the best ways to think of being spiritual is to think about the fruit the Spirit produces in a life yielded to Him.

Now if we ask ourselves, “Am I ‘spiritual’?” it would mean “Am I a person whose life and character is increasingly marked by ‘love, joy, peace, patience……’?” (See Galatians 5:22-23). Putting the question that way might change the answer of many people. To be honest, the version of Christianity that I’ve been around for years tends to call people ‘spiritual’ who are, in fact, angry, joy-less, critical and discontented – even those attitudes are the opposite of the fruit of the Spirit.

So again, does being Spirit-ual mean believing the right doctrines? Absolutely, for the Spirit is the one who inspired Biblical truth in the first place. And the Word is the instrument the Spirit uses to do his saving and sanctifying work (see, for example, 2 Thess.2:13; 2 Pet.1:21; Eph.5:18 & Col.3:16).

And does being Spirit-ual have to do with living right and godly conduct and behavior. Again, the answer is absolutely ‘yes’ (see, for example, 1 Thess,4:3-8; Gal.5:16-24; Eph.5:18ff.).

But in saying this, we can’t forget the portrait of Christ-likeness that we find in Paul’s description of the fruit of the Spirit – and that the first on the list is ‘love’ (which echoes what Jesus said about the greatest commandments were – Matt.22:37ff.).

So, are you loving? Are you habitually joyful? Are you a peace-maker? Are you patient with people and persevering in difficult circumstances? Would people be quick to describe you as kind?....

…In other words, “Are you Spirit-ual?”

Sermon from the DG Pastors Conference

Here is a link to an outline of D.A Carson's message, "The Pastor as Son of the Heavenly Father." He preached this message at the Desiring God Pastors Conference (underway right now in Minneapolis). From this page you can link to the sermon itself. The conference theme is 'Fathers and Sons.'

Monday, February 4, 2008

Signs of God's Love

"We mistakenly look for tokens of God’s love in happiness. We should instead look for them in His faithful and persistent work to conform us to Christ."

--Jerry Bridges' "Trusting God" p. 150. (NavPress)

What Matters Most

""It is not so much great talents that the Lord blesses as great likeness to Jesus Christ."

-- Robert McCheyne

Excellent Articles Online

Here are some excellent articles from the "Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals."

Worship, Faith, Obedience and the Word of God

"In the Bible God gives us revelations of himself which lead us to worship, promises of salvation which stimulate our faith, and commandments expressing his will which demand our obedience. This is the meaning of Christian discipleship. Its three essential ingredients are worship, faith and obedience. And all three are called forth by the Word of God." -- John Stott

–From The Bible: Book for Today (Leicester: IVP, 1982) = God’s Book for God’s People (Downers Grove: IVP, 1983) reissued as You Can Trust the Bible (Grand Rapids: Discovery House 1991). p. 74.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Work of God's Kingdom

“The central work of God’s kingdom is change. God accomplishes this work as the Holy Spirit empowers people to bring his Word to others. We bring more than solutions, strategies, principles, and commands. We bring the greatest story ever told, the story of the Redeemer.

"Our goal is to help one another live with a ‘God’s story’ mentality. Our mission is to teach, admonish, and encourage one another to rest in his sovereignty, rather than establishing our own; to rely on his grace rather than performing on our own; and to submit to his glory rather than seeking our own. This is the work of the kingdom of God: people in the hands of the Redeemer, daily functioning as his tools of lasting change.”

- Paul David Tripp, "Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands" (Phillipsburg, Pa.: P & R publishing, 2002), 35. (cited on the website: