Wednesday, April 29, 2009

How the Gospel Opposes and Overcomes Our Idolatries

Tim Keller is one of the most insightful, helpful, Biblically-wise pastors I know of, and this message on how the Gospel detrones and de-mythologizes our "idols" is one of the most penetrating, significant and life-related messages I've ever heard.

As I listened, it occurred to me that many professing Christians will ever make any real progress in their spiritual lives until they honestly face the issue that Pastor Keller so wisely describes and diagnoses.

I highly recommend that you take the time to view (or listen to) this message.

Here is what I think was the fundamental truth expounded in this message: "Any life not built on God's glory and grace will be built on the deification of something/someone else."

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Bible's Purpose

“The Bible’s purpose is not so much to show you how to live a good life. The Bible’s purpose is to show you how God’s grace breaks into your life against your will and saves you from the sin and brokenness otherwise you would never be able to overcome… religion is ‘if you obey, then you will be accepted’. But the Gospel is, ‘if you are absolutely accepted, and sure you’re accepted, only then will you ever begin to obey’. Those are two utterly different things. Every page of the Bible shows the difference.”

- Timothy Keller
Tim Keller Wiki)
posted at "Of First Importance"

D.A Carson: The Necessary Consequences of the Gospel Are Not the Gospel Itself

(I've been out of town for a few days, which included taking a break from blogging, but I'm happy to return by recommending some very helpful thinking from D.A. Carson concerning what the Gospel/Good News essentially is.)

From D.A. Carson's editorial in the latest Themelios:

"[O]ne must distinguish between, on the one hand, the gospel as what God has done and what is the message to be announced and, on the other, what is demanded by God or effected by the gospel in assorted human responses.

"If the gospel is the (good) news about what God has done in Christ Jesus, there is ample place for including under “the gospel” the ways in which the kingdom has dawned and is coming, for tying this kingdom to Jesus’ death and resurrection, for demonstrating that the purpose of what God has done is to reconcile sinners to himself and finally to bring under one head a renovated and transformed new heaven and new earth, for talking about God’s gift of the Holy Spirit, consequent upon Christ’s resurrection and ascension to the right hand of the Majesty on high, and above all for focusing attention on what Paul (and others—though the language I’m using here reflects Paul) sees as the matter “of first importance”: Christ crucified. All of this is what God has done; it is what we proclaim; it is the news, the great news, the good news.

"By contrast, the first two greatest commands—to love God with heart and soul and mind and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves—do not constitute the gospel, or any part of it. We may well argue that when the gospel is faithfully declared and rightly received, it will result in human beings more closely aligned to these two commands. But they are not the gospel.

"Similarly, the gospel is not receiving Christ or believing in him, or being converted, or joining a church; it is not the practice of discipleship. Once again, the gospel faithfully declared and rightly received will result in people receiving Christ, believing in Christ, being converted, and joining a local church; but such steps are not the gospel."

Read the whole thing.

HT: Justin Taylor

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The War That Starts Inside Us: Desires and Demands

Justin Taylor gives a very helpful summary of Paul Tripp's penetrating teaching about how our self-centered desires keep leading us into trouble:

Paul Tripp, in Instrument in the Redeemer's Hands, unpacks James 4:1-10 and the war for the heart according to the following stages:

Stage 1: Desire. "The objects of most of our desires are not evil. The problem is the way they tend to grow, and the control they come to exercise over our hearts. All human desire must be held in submission to a greater purpose, the desires of God for his kingdom." (p. 85)

Stage 2: Demand. ("I must.") "Demand is the closing of my fists over a desire. . . . I am no longer comforted by God's desire for me; I am threatened by it, because God's will potentially stands in the way of my demand. . . . The morphing of my desire changes my relationship to others. Now I enter the room loaded with a silent demand: You must help me get what I want. . . ." (p. 86)

Stage 3: Need. ("I will.") " I now view the thing I want as essential to life. This is a devasating step in the eventual slavery of desire. . . . To 'christen' desire as need is equivalent to viewing cake as I do respiration. . . ." (p. 86)

Stage 4: Expectation. ("You should.") "If I am convinced I need something and you have said that you love me, it seems right to expect that you will help me get it. The dynamic of (improper) need-driven expectation is the source of untold conflict in relationship." (p. 87)

Stage 5: Disappointment. ("You didn't!") "There is a direct relationship between expectation and disappointment, and much of our disappointment in relationships is not because people have actually wronged us, but because they have failed to meet our expectations." (pp. 87-88)

Stage 6: Punishment. ("Because you didn't, I will. . . .") "We are hurt and angry because people who say they love us seem insensitive to our needs. So we strike back in a variety of ways to punish them for their wrongs against us. We include everything from the silent treatment (a form of bloodless murder where I don't kill you but act as if you do not exist) to horrific acts of violence and abuse. I am angry because you have broken the laws of my kingdom. God's kingdom has been supplanted. I am no longer motivated by a love for God and people so that I use the things in my life to express that love. Instead I love things, and use people--and even the Lord--to get them. My heart has been captured. I am in active service of the creation, and the result can only be chaos and conflict in my relationships." (p. 88)

So what do you do when desire has morphed into demand into need into expectation into disappointment into punishment? The first step must be vertical, not horizontal. Because relationship problems are rooted in worship problems, James's solution, Tripp rightly notes, is
"Start with God":

"Submit yourselves therefore to God" (James 4:7).
"Draw near to God" (James 4:8).
"Cleanse your hands . . . and purify your hearts" (James 4:8)
"Humble yourselves before the Lord" (James 4:10).

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Kevin DeYoung on the Serious Problem of Prayerlessness

Here's an excerpt from Kevin's good post on the importance of prayer:

Prayerlessness is the measure of our unbelief. We don’t really believe that God answers prayers. We don't really believe that we have not because we ask not. We don't really believe that God can do more than we ask or imagine. True, God doesn't need to hear from us, but he ordained prayer so that we might be convinced of our need for him and he might be glorified in answering our prayers.

Monday, April 20, 2009

"Christless Christianity"...

In an online article by Collin Hansen of "Christianity Today" -- "Death by Deism," about how no merely civil religion alone can sustain a free republic, Hansen refers to and briefly describes the 'Christless Christianity' ("moralistic, therapeutic deism' -- MTD) that's impacting so much of professing evangelicalism today:

Though they aren't journalists, Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton broke one of the biggest stories in contemporary religion with their 2005 book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. Conducting the most comprehensive study of religion and teenagers to date, the sociologists discovered a newly dominant creed that they dubbed Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD). Rather than transformative revelation from God, religion has become a utility for enhancing a teenager's life. Smith and Denton lay out the five points of MTD:

1. A God exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

Surely American teenagers did not invent this new religion. A quick scan of bestseller lists, television guides, or public school curricula will reveal MTD's appeal. Indeed, the God of MTD sounds like the "cool parent" teenagers adore.

"God is something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist: he is always on call, takes care of any problems that arise, professionally helps his people to feel better about themselves, and does not become too personally involved in the process," Smith and Denton write.

Hansen concludes: "If orthodox Christianity gives way to MTD, American public life may further degenerate into a feel-good free-for-all. No merely civil religion, especially one shaped by MTD, can long sustain a free republic by itself. A nation committed only to liberty and the pursuit of happiness will be left wondering why life is so unfulfilling."

"In my place condemned He stood..."

“Our sins have been punished; the wheel of retribution has turned; judgment has been inflicted for our ungodliness – but on Jesus, the lamb of God, standing in our place. In this way God is just – and the justifier of those who put faith in Jesus, who ‘was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification’ (Romans 4:25).”

- J.I. Packer, In My Place Condemned He Stood (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2008), 40.
posted at "Of First Importance"

Saturday, April 18, 2009

"The Real Struggle Between Science and the Supernatural"

From "The Big Picture"

Harvard biologist, Richard Lewontin, speaks frankly about the way in which a prior commitment to materialism functions in much of the scientific community. Refreshing to read such honesty.

Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community of unsubstantiated just so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of
the phenomenal world, but on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counterintuitive,
no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.

~ “Billions and Billions of Demons,” The New York Review of Books, January 7, 1997, 31.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

John Piper's Advice for Pastoral Staffs...

At a recent retreat, John Piper shared these principles for maintaining unity even in the midst of secondary differences.

The specific context was relations between pastoral staff members, but the principles apply in many other scenarios as well.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The only choice

"No human being escapes the necessity of conceiving some good outside himself towards which his thought turns in a movement of desire, supplication, and hope. Consequently, the only choice is between worshipping the true God or an idol."

--Simone Weil, 1909-1943

HT: Ray Ortlund

"He loved me, and gave Himself for me..."

Martin Downes has an excellent post regarding how the truth of 'penal substitution' (that Christ's death was his substituting for us, taking the penalty we deserved) is an expression of God's amazing love.

Here's an excerpt -- a quote from J.I. Packer:
The notion which the phrase ‘penal substitution’ expresses is that Jesus Christ our Lord, moved by a love that was determined to do everything necessary to save us, endured and exhausted the destructive divine judgment for which we were otherwise inescapably destined, and so won us forgiveness, adoption and glory. To affirm penal substitution is to say that believers are in debt to Christ specifically for this, and that this is the mainspring of all their joy, peace and praise both now and for eternity.

Don't Worry?

More solid, Scriptural, life-related teaching from David Powlison (via Justin Taylor's blog), this time on the theme of overcoming worry.

Monday, April 13, 2009

On the Fear of the Lord

“Fear of the Lord means that I carry around with me such a deep awareness, awe, and reverence for the power, holiness, wisdom, and grace of God that I would not think of doing anything other than living for his glory. Fearing the Lord means that this worshipful awe is the single and unchallenged motivator of everything I think, desire, say, and do.”

~ Paul David Tripp, A Quest for More (Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2007), 126.

posted at

"It's Friday...but Sunday's coming...."

Justin Taylor presents another powerful message with video from the late S.M. Lockridge about how Christ's resurrection changed everything.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Alive to God

“The atoning death of Christ, and that alone, has presented sinners as righteous in God’s sight; the Lord Jesus has paid the full penalty of their sins, and clothed them with His perfect righteousness before the judgment seat of God.

"But Christ has done for Christians even far more than that. He has given to them not only a new and right relation to God, but a new life in God’s presence for evermore. He has saved them from the power as well as from the guilt of sin.

"The New Testament does not end with the death of Christ; it does not end with the triumphant words of Jesus on the Cross, ‘It is finished.’ The death was followed by the resurrection, and the resurrection like the death was for our sakes.

"Jesus rose from the dead into a new life of glory and power, and into that life He brings those for whom He died. The Christian, on the basis of Christ’s redeeming work, not only has died unto sin, but also lives unto God.”

—J. Gresham Machen, Christianity & Liberalism
posted at "Of First Importance"

"Seven Stanzas at Easter" (John Updike)

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His Flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that—pierced—died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

HT: Justin Taylor

Saturday, April 11, 2009

A Glorious Resurrection Hymn

1. Christ the Lord is risen today,
Sons of men and angels say.
Raise your joys and triumphs high;
Sing, ye heavens, and, earth, reply.

2. Love's redeeming work is done,
Fought the fight, the battle won.
Lo, our Sun's eclipse is o'er;
Lo, He sets in blood no more.

3. Vain the stone, the watch, the seal;
Christ has burst the gates of hell.
Death in vain forbids His rise;
Christ has opened Paradise.

4. Lives again our glorious King;
Where, O Death, is now thy sting?
Once He died our souls to save;
Where's thy victory, boasting Grave?

5. Soar we now where Christ has led,
Following our exalted Head.
Made like Him, like Him we rise;
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies.

6. What though once we perished all,
Partners in our parents' fall?
Second life we all receive,
In our heavenly Adam live.

7. Risen with Him, we upward move,
Still we seek the things above,
Still pursue and kiss the Son
Seated on his Father's throne.

8. Scarce on earth a thought bestow,
Dead to all we leave below;
Heaven our aim and loved abode,
Hid our life with Christ in God;

9. Hid till Christ, our Life, appear
Glorious in His members here;
Joined to Him, we then shall shine
All immortal, all divine.

10. Hail the Lord of earth and heaven!
Praise to Thee by both be given!
Thee we greet triumphant now:
Hail, the Resurrection Thou!

11. King of Glory, Soul of bliss,
Everlasting life is this:
Thee to know, Thy power to prove,
Thus to sing, and thus to love.

(extended lyrics of the great Charles Wesley hymn)

The Heart of the Gospel

It is frustrating and tragic that again and again in the history of the professing church there are those from within (Acts 20:28-30) who strike at the very heart of the Gospel by denying the truth and reality of Christ's death as a substitutionary atonement.

But we should be clear, at least, on what is at stake. Those who deny and deride the Biblical doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement not only make a massive theological mistake (heresy), they also denigrate the central accomplishment of our Lord Jesus in his sacrificial death. Not only so, but such a denial eviscerates virtually every aspect of authentically Christian belief and experience, robbing Christians of deep assurance (Gal. 2:20-21), of motivation for ministry and mission (2 Cor. 5:14-15ff.), and of paradigm and motivation for brotherly love (1 Jn.4:10-11).

And were it not for the truth of substitutionary atonement, the worship of heaven would be diminished by at least half, since it is not only the reality of God as Creator that inspires the worship there, but also the crystal clear realization that the Lamb is worthy to be worshiped precisely because he has been slain, slaughtered as a redeeming ransom that sets believing sinners right with God and launches God’s great victory in Christ for reclaiming and redeeming the cosmos. (Rev. 5).

To depart from this Biblical Gospel is, again, not just a theological mistake – it is desertion from the one who calls by his grace, and it deservedly draws the apostolic anathema. For a ‘gospel’ without the accomplishment of the self-substitution of God (cp. Stott) is no good news at all, and saves no one. (Gal. 1:6-9).

Friday, April 10, 2009

He Became a Curse for Us -- Galatians 3:13

Kevin DeYoung posted this video from R.C. Sproul, explaining the deepest meaning of Good Friday.

"Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written,"Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree..." (Gal. 3:13)

"Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" that is, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matt.27:45-46)

" Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them,... For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Cor. 5:18, 21)

"O Sacred Head Now Wounded"

1. O sacred Head, now wounded,
with grief and shame weighed down,
now scornfully surrounded
with thorns, thine only crown:
how pale thou art with anguish,
with sore abuse and scorn!
How does that visage languish
which once was bright as morn!

2. What thou, my Lord, has suffered
was all for sinners' gain;
mine, mine was the transgression,
but thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior! '
Tis I deserve thy place;
look on me with thy favor,
vouchsafe to me thy grace.

3. What language shall I borrow
to thank thee, dearest friend,
for this thy dying sorrow,
thy pity without end?
O make me thine forever;
and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never
outlive my love for thee.

Text: Anonymous; trans. by Paul Gerhardt and James W. Alexander

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Good Friday: The Suffering and Glory of the Servant

13 See, my servant will act wisely;
he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.

14 Just as there were many who were appalled at him —
his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being
and his form marred beyond human likeness—

15 so he will sprinkle many nations,
and kings will shut their mouths because of him.
For what they were not told, they will see,
and what they have not heard, they will understand.

1 Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?

2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

3 He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

4 Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.

5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

7 He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.

8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished.

9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the LORD makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.

11 After he has suffered,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.

12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.

-- from Isaiah 52-53

"That's My King...."

"...well, I wonder if you know Him...."

From a powerful message (or prayer?) delivered in 1976 by Dr. S. M. Lockridge (1913-2000) entitled "That's My King."

Listen to it here.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

"Our old status lies in his tomb..."

“We are adopted into God’s family through the resurrection of Christ from the dead in which he paid all our obligations to sin, the law, and the devil, in whose family we once lived. Our old status lies in his tomb. A new status is ours through his resurrection.”

- Sinclair Ferguson, Children of the Living God (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1989), 4.

posted at "Of First Importance"

Kevin DeYoung's new book, "Just Do Something"

Justin Taylor provides a good introduction to what the book is about ("A Liberating Approach to Finding God's Will") here.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Lessons to Learn from "Palm Sunday"

Matt.21:1-17 (cp. rest of the chapter)
[Mk. 11; Lk. 19]

1. We can’t have Jesus (...God, salvation...) on our own terms.

2. it’s possible to be very zealous in religion, and still be crucially wrong (Rom. 10:

"Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness." (Rom.10:1-3)

It seems very likely that so many of the same people who were praising Jesus on Palm Sunday, are calling for his crucifixion by [Good] Friday.

3. You really can’t trust the crowd/consensus/what’s popular, even among the professing people of God, for knowing what is the real thing when it comes to religion/Christianity.

[cp. vv.28-32 – Parable of the Two Sons. There will be many surprises when it comes to ‘who’s in and who’s out’ of God’s kingdom]

4. First there must be cleansing from sin and what is offensive to God, before the blessings of his salvation can be received from the Lord.

5. The Lord Jesus is the Savior-King who will bring God’s saving reign to this fallen world, with final blessing and glory for all who have repented and believed in Him.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Transforming Power of the Gospel

I have often heard and read recommendations of the sermon, “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection,” by Puritan pastor, Thomas Chalmers – recommendations from people like Sinclair Ferguson and David Powlison.

But today was the first time I actually read the entire sermon for myself, and it struck me as one of the wisest, best, Biblically rich sermons I’ve ever read, explaining how believing the realities of the Gospel produces authentic transformation through God’s grace, because of Christ, and empowered by the Spirit.

It’s not an easy read, (which is more of a reflection on us and our times than on Pastor Chalmers and the Puritans) -- but it’s well worth the time and effort. You can read it here.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Do You Love the Lost?

(from Justin Taylor...)

Opening questions from Darrin Patrick's talk at the 2008 Dwell Conference in NYC:

Do you love non-Christians?
Do you have good friends that are far from God?
Is your heart broken consistently for lost people?

You can watch the video here.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Happy in God

"I serve You and worship You that I may be happy in You, to whom I owe that I am a being capable of happiness."

-- Augustine, Confessions (trans. F.J. Sheed; Hackett Publishing, 1992) p.259.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

"How Sweet and Awesome Is the Place"

My friend, Erik Hultquist, posted this on his blog:

How sweet and awesome is the place
with Christ within the doors,
While everlasting love displays
the choicest of her stores.
While all our hearts and all our songs
join to admire the feast,
Each of us cries, with thankful tongue,
"Lord, why was I a guest?"

"Why was I made to hear your voice,
and enter while there's room,
When thousands make a wretched choice,
and rather starve than come?"
Twas the same love that spread the feast
that sweetly drew us in;
Else we had still refused to taste,
and perished in our sin.

Pity the nations, O our God,
constrain the earth to come;
Send your victorious Word abroad,
and bring the strangers home.
We long to see your churches full,
that all the chosen race
may, with one voice and heart and soul,
sing your redeeming grace.

Hymn by Isaac Watts " How sweet and awesome is the place"