Tuesday, September 29, 2009

"Counterfeit Gods" by Timothy Keller

I am consistently impressed with the Biblically-profound, life-related wisdom of Tim Keller (pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, and author of excellent books like "The Reason for God" and "The Prodigal God").

Here is a preview excerpt from his soon to be released book, "Counterfeit Gods -- The Empty Promises of Money, Sex and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters."

Even just this preview is well worth reading.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Lloyd-Jones On Seriousness in the Pulpit

From D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ Preaching & Preachers, pp. 85-86:

"The preacher must be a serious man; he must never give the impression that preaching is something light or superficial or trivial….What is happening [in the act of preaching] is that he is speaking to them from God, he is speaking to them about God, he is speaking about their condition, the state of their souls. He is telling them that they are, by nature, under the wrath of God–”the children of wrath even as others”–that the character of the life they’re living is offensive to God and under the judgment of God, and warning them of the dread eternal possibility that lies ahead of them. In any case the preacher, of all men, should realize the fleeting nature of life in this world.

"The men of the world are so immersed in its business and affairs, its pleasures and all is vain show, that the one thing they never stop to consider is the fleeting nature of life. All this means that the preacher should create and convey the impression of the seriousness of what is happening the moment he even appears in the pulpit. You remember the famous lines of Richard Baxter: 'I preached as never sure to preach again, and as a dying man to dying men.'…

"You remember what was said of the saintly Robert Murray McCheyne of Scotland in the last century. It is said that when he appeared in the pulpit, even before he had uttered a single word, people would begin to weep silently. Why? Because of this very element of seriousness. The very sight of the man gave the impression that he had come from the presence of God and that he was to deliver a message from God to them. That is what had such an effect upon the people even before he had opened his mouth. We forget this at our peril, and at great cost to our listeners."

True Friendship

Ray Ortlund: “True friendship thrives when, before God, each one is more aware of his debts than his rights.”

Read the whole thing.

HT: Justin Taylor

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Responding to the Lordship of Christ (series on "The Kingdom of God")

Here are the study questions to this morning's lesson and discussion in our series on the kingdom of God:

Kingdom. Lordship applied -- Matthew 4:17
Discussion/application questions

Lesson summary:
Rightly responding to the reality of the (coming) kingdom in the present means rightly responding to the reality of Christ’s total Lordship (Matt.28:18-20.; Rom.10:9).

This means that the Christian life is a life lived devoted to the glory of God, in obedience and service (spiritually, vocationally….). But it also means living a Spirit-empowered life – we do not obey and serve in our own strength, or in the flesh.

To actually live out this new allegiance, one must be baptized, join the church (the body of those already devoted) and progressively learn to live by all Christ has taught, applying that teaching (again, progressively) to every sphere of life.

Questions for discussion and application:

Discuss how this relates to key areas like… (use this underlined areas for this application)
--Discipleship: holiness of character, in relationships (family, friendships, community)
--Service (use of your spiritual gift for the good of the rest of the Body [1 Cor. 12:4-11])
--Stewardship of your time, finances, resources, etc.
--Vocation (your work life)
--Recreation (re-creation) – for example, have you deliberately thought through how your allegiance to Christ as Lord applies to your recreational life (e.g, the place of sports in your life)?

Do your habits of choosing, valuing, doing demonstrate and principled allegiance to Christ as Lord? How is this different from being a ‘nominal’, “Laodicean” professing Christian? (Rev. 3:15-16ff.)

Why is presenting Christianity/the Gospel in a man-centered, self-centered way a fundamental contradiction of what Christianity essentially is?

What are the implications of this understanding of what it means to ‘get saved’ in relation to your kids? ….and in relation to our church’s ‘outreach’ and evangelism?

In what ways is Kingdom-focused living highly purposeful, intentional and rewarding?

What is the only alternative to living under the Lordship of Christ in the kingdom/reign of God? (Col. 1:13; Rom. 6:17, 22)

Friday, September 25, 2009

National Public Religiousness

Is is just me, or does any one else find it bizarre to see Wayne Dyer's "New Age' strangeness (which is essentially a secularized version of 'name it-claim it' theology) trotted out every pledge week by the purportedly secular National Public Radio?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Prayer: One of the Surest Marks of a True Christian

“A habit of prayer is one of the surest marks of a true Christian. All the children of God on earth are alike in this respect. From the moment there is any life and reality about their religion, they pray. Just as the first sign of the life of an infant when born into the world is the act of breathing, so the first act of men and women when they are born again is praying.”

~ J.C. Ryle
A Call to Prayer, 5.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Christ-centered worship

"Christ-centered worship is not just talking or singing about Jesus a lot. Christ-centered worship reflects the contours of the gospel. In the individual life of a believer, the gospel progresses through recognition of the greatness and goodness of God, the acknowledgment of our sin and need of grace, assurance of God's forgiveness through Christ, thankful acknowledgment of God's blessing, desire for greater knowledge of him through his Word, grateful obedience in response to his grace, and a life devoted to his purposes with assurance of his blessing.

"In the corporate life of the church this same gospel pattern is reflected in worship. Opening moments offer recognition of the greatness and goodness of God that naturally folds into confession, assurance of pardon, thanksgiving, instruction, and a charge to serve God in response to his grace in Christ. This is not a novel idea but, in fact, is the way most churches have organized their worship across the centuries. Only in recent times have we lost sight of these gospel contours and substituted pragmatic preferences for Christ-centered worship. My goal is to re-acquaint the church with the gospel-shape of its worship so that we are united around Christ's purposes rather than arguing about stylistic preferences."

-- Bryan Chappell, in an interview with Collin Hansen on "Christianity Today" online

Belonging to God, Belonging to God's Church

“By becoming a Christian, I belong to God and I belong to my brothers and sisters. It is not that I belong to God and then make a decision to join a local church. My being in Christ means being in Christ with those others who are in Christ. This is my identity. This is our identity. . . . If the church is the body of Christ, then we should not live as disembodied Christians.”

- Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, Total Church (Wheaton, Ill, Crossway Books, 2008), 41.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Enlightenment as a Christian Heresy

“One way of understanding [the Enlightenment] is to think of it as a Christian heresy. What Christian faith had offered was retained while the Source from which that offer had been made was rejected. The prerogatives that had belonged to God did not simply disappear; now they reappeared in human beings. The revelation he had given now reappeared in the form of natural reason, which would do what revelation had done but without the discomfort of requiring humanity to submit to God from whom the revelation had come; the idea of salvation was retained but transformed into the drive for human perfectibility, at first achieved by moral striving and then, as we know it today, by psychological technique; grace became effort; the life of faith became the hope of personal growth; and eschatology became progress (what Lord Acton called the religion of those who have none).”

~ David F. Wells, Above All Earthly Powers (Grand Rapids, Mi.: Eerdmans, 2005), 30.

Friday, September 18, 2009

"The Gospel-Driven Life"

WTS Books is offering Michael Horton's new book, The Gospel-Driven Life: Being Good News People in a Bad News World (Baker), for 45% off. The offer is good for the next week and a half.

This book is a sequel to Christless Christianity, moving from "the crisis to solutions, in the hope that we will see a new reformation in the faith, practice, and witness of contemporary Christianity."

Here are some excerpts:

"Unique among all religious claims, the gospel is an announcement about certain historical events. At its heart, then, Christianity is not a resource for spirituality, religion, and morality, but a dramatic story at the heart of which is the claim that during the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Jesus was crucified for our sins and, after three days, was raised bodily from the dead. As we will see, the arguments for his resurrection are eminently reasonable—more reasonable, in fact, than alternative explanations. The apostle Paul told the Corinthians that if Christ was not raised, then we are not saved. No other religion makes its validity wholly dependent on a historical fact….

"It is interesting that the biblical writers chose the word “gospel.” The heart of most religions is good advice, good techniques, good programs, good ideas, and good support systems. These drive us deeper into ourselves, to find our inner light, inner goodness, inner voice, or inner resources. Nothing new can be found inside of us. There is no inner rescuer deep down in my soul; I just hear echoes of my own voice telling me all sorts of crazy things to numb my sense of fear, anxiety, and boredom, the origins of which I cannot truly identify.

"But the heart of Christianity is Good News. It comes not as a task for us to fulfill, a mission for us to accomplish, a game plan for us to follow with the help of life coaches, but as a report that someone else has already fulfilled, accomplished, followed, and achieved everything for us. Good advice may help us in daily direction; the Good News concerning Jesus Christ saves us from sin’s guilt and tyranny over our lives and the fear of death. It’s Good News because it does not depend on us. It is about God and his faithfulness to his own purposes and promises."

--Michael Horton, "The Gospel-Driven Life: Being Good News People in a Bad News World," Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, © 2009.

HT: Justin Taylor

Thursday, September 17, 2009

"What coward would not fight when he is sure of victory?"

“The victory lies not with us, but with Christ, who has taken on him both to conquer for us and to conquer in us. The victory lies neither in our own strength to get it, nor in our enemies’ strength to defeat it. If it lay with us, we might justly fear. But Christ will maintain his own government in us and take our part against our corruptions. They are his enemies as well as ours.

"Let us therefore be `strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might’ (Eph. 6:10). Let us not look so much at who our enemies are as at who our judge and captain is, nor at what they threaten, but at what he promises. We have more for us than against us. What coward would not fight when he is sure of victory?”

—Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1998), 122
posted at "Of First Importance"

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

"Take Heed What You Read" (and Watch)

“Do not let newspapers, novels, and romances be read, while the prophets and Apostles be despised. Do not let the exciting and sensual swallow up your attention, while the edifying and the sanctifying can find no place in your mind.”

“Young men, give the Bible the honor due to it every day you live. Whatever you read, read that first. And beware of bad books: there are plenty in this day. Take heed what you read.”

~ J.C. Ryle

Thoughts For Young Men, 42.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Judge Yourself By What Christ Is

“Ah! believer, it is safer always for you to be led of the Spirit into gospel liberty than to wear legal fetters. Judge yourself at what Christ is rather than what you are. Satan will try to mar your peace by reminding you of your sinfulness and imperfections: you can only meet his accusations by faithfully adhering to the Gospel and refusing to wear the yoke of bondage.”

- Charles Spurgeon, Morning & Evening, September 6

Monday, September 14, 2009

Living in Light of the Kingdom/Reign of God

The Reign/Kingdom of God
Lesson summary: (from the New Horizons class on Sunday 9/13/09)

Essentially, the "gospel" in the NT is the good news that the kingdom of God is at hand (very near) in Jesus (Matt. 4:23, 9:35, Mark 1:14, Luke 4:43, Acts 20:24-25).

"God’s kingdom/reign" is his powerful activity coming into history to defeat Satan and bring about salvation with all its blessings. God’s kingdom authority is the reiteration/re-assertion of his commandments. (cp. Matt.28:18-20). So when the kingdom/reign of God is ‘at hand,’ it is time for people to repent. (Matt.4:17)

Even the demand for repentance is good news, because in context it implies that God, though coming in power to claim his rights, is willing to forgive for Christ's sake. (John Frame)

When God comes into history, he brings his power and authority to bear on his creatures and the creation. In kingdom power, he establishes peace/shalom. (Isa. 35; Rev.21:1-5)

Consider Isa. 52:7, one of the most important background passages for the New Testament concept of gospel:

MAIN IDEA: The coming of the kingdom of God means God’s re-assertion of his rightful reign/rule (the way He wants things to be/shalom) through His activities of saving and judging. God saves those who repent and believe, and finally judges those who persist in rebellion and unbelief. (Rom.2:7-11)

1. Do you habitually respond to the message/reality of the reign/kingdom of God with a deepening, widening response of repentance and faith (trust and allegiance/obedience)?
Matt.13:18-23 [Parable of the Sower].

2. Read Luke 8:14 (another version of the parable of the sower):

a.. What are some of the worries of life that choke out the working of God’s Word in people’s lives today?
b. What are some of the riches….?
c. What are some of the pleasures…?

3. Do you think most professing Christians today view their Christian lives in terms of the reign of God, or do we tend to view ourselves as central and ‘sovereign’? And do we encourage that self-focused attitude in non-Christians as we seek to ‘reach’ them?

4. How should the central reality of the reign of God shape and influence our view of…

Friday, September 11, 2009

Cross-centered Worship Singing

In an interview, C.J. Mahaney and Bob Kauflin affirm the importance of cross-centered songs in worship. Here's an excerpt...

"...we must never leave the impression during corporate worship that we do not need a mediator. There isn’t a moment where I don’t need a mediator. In light of the Father’s holiness and my sinfulness, I cannot approach him directly apart from Christ. It is quite possible for us to sing songs that are accurately extolling the attributes of God. But if the cross is absent, we leave the unintended impression that somehow I can approach the Father apart from a mediator—that I can experience intimacy with God apart from the One who died for my many sins. "

Remembering 9/11

A very moving collection of videos, remembering September 11, at Kevin DeYoung's blog.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Authentic Experience of Christianity

"Men ...have no real acquaintance with Christianity, who imagine that the placing of the most intense affections of our souls on the person of Christ, the loving him with all our hearts because of his love, our being overcome thereby, until we are sick of love [i.e., 'love-sick'], the constant motions of our souls towards him with delight and adherence, are but fancies and imaginations."

-- John Owen Works I:166f.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Who Can Live With This Worldview?

"It was true, I had always realized it -- I hadn't any 'right' to exist at all. I had appeared by chance, I existed like a stone, a plant, a microbe. I could feel nothing to myself but an inconsequential buzzing. I was thinking...that here we are eating and drinking, to preserve our precious existence, and there's nothing, nothing, absolutely no reason for existing."

-- Jean-Paul Sartre, "Nausea"

"If one puts aside the existence of God and the survival after life as too doubtful...one has to make up one's mind as to the use of life. If death ends all, if I have neither to hope for good not to fear evil, I must ask myself what I am here for, and how in these circumstances I must conduct myself.

"Now the answer is plain, but so unpalatable that most will not face it. There is no meaning for life, and [thus] life has no meaning."

-- Somerset Maugham, "The Summing Up"

-- cited by Timothy Keller in "The Reason for God" (Dutton, 2008, p. 127)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Evangelical Disinterest in Communion with God

Justin Taylor highlights two crucial quotes from J.I. Packer...

". . . whereas to the Puritans communion with God was a great thing, to evangelicals today it is a comparatively small thing. The Puritans were concerned about communion with God in a way that we are not. The measure of our unconcern is the little that we say about it. When Christians meet, they talk to each other about their Christian work and Christian interests, their Christian acquaintances, the state of the churches, and the problems of theology—but rarely of their daily experience of God.

"Modern Christian books and magazines contain much about Christian doctrine, Christian standards, problems of Christian conduct, techniques of Christian service—but little about the inner realities of fellowship with God. Our sermons contain much sound doctrine—but little relating to the converse between the soul and the Saviour. We do not spend much time, alone or together, in dwelling on the wonder of the fact that God and sinners have communion at all; no, we just take that for granted, and give our minds to other matters. Thus we make it plain that communion with God is a small thing to us. But how different were the Puritans! The whole aim of their ‘practical and experimental’ preaching and writing was to explore the reaches of the doctrine and practice of man’s communion with God."

-- J.I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness, p. 215 (chapter 12).


From the last page of J.I. Packer's 1973 classic, Knowing God:

"We have been brought to the point where we both can and must get our life’s priorities straight. From current Christian publications you might think that the most vital issue for any real or would-be Christian in the world today is church union, or social witness, or dialogue with other Christians and other faiths, or refuting this or that -ism, or developing a Christian philosophy and culture, or what have you.

"But our line of study makes the present day concentration on these things look like a gigantic conspiracy of misdirection. Of course, it is not that; the issues themselves are real and must be dealt with in their place. But it is tragic that, in paying attention to them, so many in our day seem to have been distracted from what was, and is, and always will be, the true priority for every human being. That is, learning to know God in Christ."

Communion and the Kingdom of God

Here's the link to my message Sunday, focusing on the connection between the Communion service and our hope for the coming kingdom of God.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Seeking God's Kingdom For Its Own Sake

"Christianity will indeed accomplish many useful things in this world, but if it is accepted in order to accomplish those useful things it is not Christianity. Christianity will combat Bolshevism; but if it is accepted in order to combat Bolshevism, it is not Christianity: Christianity will produce a unified nation, in a slow but satisfactory way; but if it is accepted in order to produce a unified nation, it is not Christianity: Christianity will produce a healthy community; but if it is accepted in order to produce a healthy community, it is not Christianity: Christianity will promote international peace; but if it is accepted in order to promote international peace, it is not Christianity.

"Our Lord said: 'Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.' But if you seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness in order that all those other things may be added unto you, you will miss both those other things and the Kingdom of God as well."

-- J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism p. 152
HT: Russ Reeves

Friday, September 4, 2009

More from Martin Luther regarding faith...

A friend sent me this quote from Martin Luther, as a follow-up to the quote from faith I posted yesterday:

"Faith is a work of God in us, which changes us and brings us to birth anew from God (cf. John 1). It kills the old Adam, makes us completely different people in heart, mind, senses, and all our powers, and brings the Holy Spirit with it. What a living, creative, active, powerful thing is faith! It is impossible that faith ever stop doing good. Faith doesn't ask whether good works are to be done, but, before it is asked, it has done them. It is always active. . .

"Faith is a living, unshakeable confidence in God's grace; it is so certain, that someone would die a thousand times for it. This kind of trust in and knowledge of God's grace makes a person joyful, confident, and happy with regard to God and all creatures. This is what the Holy Spirit does by faith. Through faith, a person will do good to everyone without coercion, willingly and happily; he will serve everyone, suffer everything for the love and praise of God, who has shown him such grace. It is as impossible to separate works from faith as burning and shining from fire."

-- from 'An Introduction to St. Paul's Letter to the Romans.'

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Faith in Christ Alone

“Faith, if it is to be sure and steadfast, must lay hold upon nothing else but Christ alone, and in the conflict and terrors of conscience it has nothing else to lean on but this precious pearl Christ Jesus. So, he who apprehends Christ by faith, although he be terrified with the law and oppressed with the weight of his sins, yet he may be bold to glory that he is righteous. How? Even by that precious jewel Christ Jesus, whom he possesses by faith.”

—Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, 99

(HT: Ray Ortlund; "Of First Importance")