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]).

Thursday, September 11, 2008

"Prayer and Providence"

“Coming events cast their shadows before them, and when God is about to bless his people his coming favour casts the shadow of prayer over the church. When he is about to favour an individual he casts the shadow of hopeful expectation over his soul. Our prayers, let men laugh at them as they will, and say there is no power in them, are the indicators of the movement of the wheels of Providence. Believing supplications are forecasts of the future, He who prayeth in faith is like the seer of old, he sees that which is to be: his holy expectancy, like a telescope, brings distant objects near to him.”

- Charles Spurgeon, The Holy Spirit’s Intercession
posted at Of First Importance

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Essence of Sin (Idolatry)

"Sin is not only doing bad things, it is more fundamentally making good things into ultimate things. Sin is building your life and meaning on anything, even a very good thing, more than on God. Whatever we build our life on will drive us and enslave us. Sin is primarily idolatry."

-Tim Keller

Living in Laodicea (2): "Christless Christianity"

again via Justin Taylor (HT: James Grant):

Michael Horton interviews R.C. Sproul on 'Christless Christianity.'

Horton's latest book, due out in November, is on the theme of "Christless Christianity": Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Living in Laodicea

Here are excerpts from Colin Hansen's Christianity Today Online review of the book, "Jesus Made in America"

"...if evangelicals today still regard Jesus Christ as true God from true God, fully God and fully man, they don't dwell on it. Their music, trinkets, DVDs, and movies market a Jesus who will hold you tight, model generosity, and tell you how to vote. So argues Stephen J. Nichols, research professor of Christianity and culture at Lancaster Bible College and author of Jesus Made in America: A Cultural History from the Puritans to the Passion of the Christ.

"'Today's American evangelicals may be quick to speak of their love for Jesus, even wearing their devotion on their sleeve, literally in the case of WWJD bracelets,' Nichols writes. 'But they may not be so quick to articulate an orthodox view of the object of their devotion. Their devotion is commendable, but the lack of a rigorous theology behind it means that a generation of contemporary evangelicals is living off of borrowed capital.'

"When Nichols reaches our current era, he explains how evangelicals have fallen captive to American culture. He admires the evident devotion to Jesus in much contemporary Christian music. But he shows how lyrics 'safe for the whole family' begin with sub-Christian notions of romantic love and neglect the biblical record, not to mention the rich descriptions in the Nicene and Chalcedonian Creeds.

"'Like a good boyfriend, Jesus shows up at the right moment, says the right thing and knows how to hug,' Nichols writes after surveying popular Christian radio hits. Perhaps we should not be surprised, Nichols observes with some indignation. After all, entries for Sandi Patty and Stryper in an encyclopedia of evangelicalism run longer than entries for John Perkins and John Stott."

Saturday, September 6, 2008

"A Bow and A Kiss: Authentic Worship..."

A Bow and a Kiss: Authentic worship reveals both the friendship and fear of God
by Philip Yancey posted 04/28/2005

"Christianity claims a unique place among the world's religions. Our faith tells of a God before whom the strongest saints took off their shoes, bowed down, fell on their faces, repented in dust and ashes. At the same time it tells of a God who came to Earth as a baby, who showed tender mercies to children and the weak, who taught us to call him "Abba," who loved and was loved. God is both transcendent and immanent, the theologians say. God inspires at once awe and love, fear and friendship.

'To most moderns, however, a sense of awe comes with the greatest difficulty. We have domesticated angels into stuffed toys and Christmas ornaments, made cartoons of St. Peter at the gate of heaven, tamed the phenomenon of Easter with bunny rabbits, and substituted for the awe of shepherds and wise men cute elves and a jolly man dressed in red. Almighty God gets nicknames like "The Big Guy" and "The Man Upstairs."

'An article in the February 2005 issue of this magazine ["Christianity Today"] addressed one of my pet peeves. How did it happen that the word worship became synonymous with music? For several months my church went on a hunt for a "worship pastor," and a parade of candidates auditioned with their guitars and backup groups. Some of them prayed, yes: "Lord, just, you know, really be here tonight with us, just let us know you're here." None showed much knowledge of theology, and assuredly none led us toward anything like awe. Worship today means loudly filling every space of silence.

"I welcome the sense of celebration and joy apparent in much recent music. Yet I wonder what we are missing when we seek to reduce the distance between creature and Creator, a distance expressed so eloquently by Job, Isaiah, and the psalmists. John, the disciple Jesus loved, who had lain against Jesus' breast, records in Revelation that he fell at his feet as though dead when Jesus appeared in full glory.

"The style of worship swings back and forth like a pendulum, from Orthodox to Doukhobors, from Anglican to Quaker, from Lutheran to Moravian, from state-sanctioned churches to counter-cultural emergent churches, and perhaps we need a bit of both. Søren Kierkegaard once said that we treat worship as if the pastor and choir are the actors and the congregation the audience; instead, God should be the audience, the pastor and choir the prompters, and the congregation the true participants. Which brings up an interesting question: What kind of music does God prefer? We will have a long time to learn the answer to that question, it seems, as Revelation gives many scenes of creatures worshiping God through music and through prayer.

"Jewish ethicist and writer Abraham Heschel made the observation, 'Awe, unlike fear, does not make us shrink from the awe-inspiring object, but, on the contrary, draws us near to it.' And Martin Luther was said to pray with the reverence of addressing God and the boldness of addressing a friend….

"…An album [Matt] Redman released in 1998, 'The Friendship and the Fear,' takes its title from a verse in Psalm 25: "The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him." Redman continues exploring the borderland between friendship and fear, for authentic worship encompasses both. It is the proper response when a holy God extends to flawed human beings an invitation to intimacy. In the Hebrew Old Testament, the primary word for worship means 'to bow down in reverence and submission.' And in the New Testament, the most common Greek word for worship means 'to come forward to kiss.' Between those two—or combining both—lies our best approach to God."

Copyright © 2005 Christianity Today. May 2005, Vol. 49, No. 5, Page 80

Friday, September 5, 2008

"God Is Now Weightless"

David F. Wells ... has labored to awaken the Western church from its neglect of the pre-eminence of God. The evangelical church, says Wells, ‘has lost its traditional understanding of the centrality and sufficiency of God.’

(No Place for Truth: Or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology?
[Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993], 296).

‘It is one of the defining marks of Our Time,’ he writes elsewhere, ‘that God is now weightless. I do not mean by this that he is ethereal but rather that he has become unimportant. He rests upon the world so inconsequentially as not to be noticeable. He has lost his saliency for human life.

'Those who assure the pollsters of their belief in God’s existence may nonetheless consider him less interesting than television, his commands less authoritative than their appetites for affluence and influence, his judgment no more awe-inspiring than the evening news, and his truth less compelling than the advertisers’ sweet fog of flattery and lies. That is weightlessness.’

(God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a
World of Fading Dreams [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994], 88).

cited by Dane Ortlund in his new book, "A New Inner Relish: Christian Motivation in the Thought of Jonathan Edwards" (Christian Focus Publishing)

Thursday, September 4, 2008

"God's Fatherly Pity"

“Though he knows your trials will work for your good, yet he pities you. Though he knows that there is sin in you, which, perhaps, may require this rough discipline ere you be sanctified, yet he pities you. Though he can hear the music of heaven, the songs of glee that will ultimately come of your present sighs and griefs, yet still he pities those groans and wails of yours; for ‘He doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men.’ In all our distresses and present griefs he takes his share; he pities us as a father pities his children.”

- Charles Spurgeon, “God’s Fatherly Pity”
posted at "Of First Importance"

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology?

"...I have watched with growing disbelief as the evangelical Church has cheerfully plunged into astounding theological illiteracy. Many taking the plunge seem to imagine that they are simply following a path to success, but the effects of this great change in the evangelical soul are evident inevery incoming class in the seminaries, in most publications, in the great majority of churches, and in most of their pastors.

"It is a change so large and so encompassing that those who dissent from what is happening are easily dismissed as individuals who cannot get along, who want to scruple over what is inconsequential, who are not loyal, and who are, in any case, quite irrelevant.

"Despite this, the changes that are now afoot are so pregnant with consequences that it becomes, for me, a matter of conscience to address them. Conscience, I have learned, is a hard taskmaster, and I have not the slightest doubt that my attempt at doing this will appear quite ridiculous. I will look to some like the foolish dog that sits on the front lawn and, to everyone's displeasure, bays at the moon. But bay I must."

-- David Wells, "No Place for Truth: or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology?" pp.4-5 (Eerdmans 1993)

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Revive Us Again

"...although in the sixteenth century the Word of God had been taken captive by the Catholic Church, the meaning of sin had been lost, and the death of Christ had been diluted, the Reformation still happened.

"The Gospel was recovered, the Church was renewed, Christian life was invigorated, and Europe was changed in deep and profound ways.

"If the Church then, which had been all but lost despite its outward wealth and pomp, could be recovered, so can the Church today. And if Europe [during the time of the Reformation] could be changed as drastically as it was, so might out world today.

"Then as now, however, the prerequisite is a Christian life that is biblically faithful and a Church that is doctrinally shaped, morally tough, intellectually vibrant, and buoyant with a faith that can lay hold of the promises of God in the face of circumstantial disconfirmation and see God's great power at work.

"Is this the kind of Christian life we find in evangelical churches? The answer is that what I have described here is becoming rare and is being replaced by a kind of spirituality that, because it is walking lockstep with the culture so often, is better able to mimic that culture than to change it."

-- David Wells, "Losing Our Virtue" p.30 (Eerdmans 1998)