Men's Conference on Pursuing Genuine Biblical Revival
Keynote Speaker: Dr. Ray Ortlund
Pastor of Immanuel Church (Acts 29 plant in Nashville, TN)
James Buchanan Harrison Prof of New Testament Interpretation, Professor of Biblical Theology and Associate Dean of the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Louisville, KY)
Registration opens soon at www.FGCon.org
Thursday, May 7, 2009
"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." (vv.38-39).
Jesus went still further in describing how sons of God should treat those that hate us:
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven." (vv.43-45a).
If you're a Christian, a "son of your Father who is in heaven," then you've heard these words before. You haven't mastered them, but as a new creature with new desires to honor God, you're no doubt growing in your ability to apply them. We must, however, see that we draw strength to love our enemies from the God who reminds us that "while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." While we were His enemies, rebels against Him, Jesus came to be humiliated, rejected, scoffed at, beaten, and murdered. He did all of that in order to buy us back from our hatred of Him.
God loved His enemies. That is why we need to reflect Jesus Christ by loving our enemies. When we don't love our enemies, when we hate them back, we need to repent from our opposition to the gospel. We need ask God to forgive us for not acting like sons that were bought by the supreme demonstration of Someone loving His enemies.
As I said, you've heard these words before, but they are new to some. My non-Christian friend (we'll call her Sue) called me last night asking me if Jesus really said we should love those that don't love us. I've been praying for 12 years for an open door so that I might share with Sue how Jesus loves his enemies. It was a glorious time of sharing this good new with Sue. Pray for her, for conviction and repentance and new life.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
With respect to the conference specifically, I cannot say enough about God's faithfulness and answers to our prayers. We prayed that men from many different churches would come and fellowship together around the gospel and its power...and God answered that prayer. We prayed that pastors from Detroit would come and join us in the fellowship...and God answered that prayer. We prayed for teaching that would challenge men to become better leaders...and God answered that prayer. We prayed for music that would lead the men in singing that lifted up Jesus Christ and His cross...and God answered that prayer. We prayed for many gospel-centered books to be taken away by the men for future encouragement...and God answered that prayer (half the books were bought!)...We prayed for efficient registration and traffic flow...and God answered that prayer. We prayed that the gospel would be advanced and Christ's kingdom would be benefited...and God answered that prayer.
For all that came, I pray God's richest blessings on you as you explore and cultivate again the power from what Jesus has already done for you. Continue to fellowship around that gospel with new friends you made at the conference and with the brothers in your own church. One prayer that we had (which we are awaiting with confident expectation that God will answer) is that you would take gospel-centered teaching, preaching, and living back to your churches so that the Kingdom might be extended in our region. Do your part by talking about it, praying about it, reading about it, and living it as God powerfully works in you. It doesn't end with the conference being over.
For those that could not come (and those that want to review what you've already heard), the website (http://www.fellowshipinthegospel.com/) will be updated in the coming weeks with audio recordings of the conference sessions (perhaps videos) and many photographs. We also are working on a resource page that will include a number of helpful links and documents.
May the effects of this conference continue to emanate for years to come as God is glorified in Christ and in His church. Pray to that end. Now go and fellowship in the gospel!
Sunday, April 26, 2009
"But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of this holy prophets long ago. Moses said, 'The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.' And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days. You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, 'And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.' God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.'"
There is much contained in these verses about who Jesus is and why He came. In class today, we spoke much about Moses' prophecy concerning "a prophet like me" (to use Moses' words). To say it another way, he predicted a Second Moses. While Moses was a deliverer and the mediator of a covenant, Jesus would come and be the perfect Deliverer and the Mediator of a New Covenant that far exceeds the Old.
What I thought was significant in this text pertaining to biblical theology (or the drama of redemption seen throughout the Scriptures) is that Peter tells his countrymen all of the prophets had been pointing to Jesus. Take note of v.24. Peter there explains: "And all the prophets who have spoken . . . proclaimed these days." Every prophet that God has ever sent, pointed the people to the days of Jesus, to the days of a resurrected Messiah that would lead His people out of spiritual bondage, to the days of the God-man who would be the perfect Mediator.
In other words, God's message for His people has always been concerning His Son that would one day come as the Deliverer and Mediator. God sent prophet after prophet that pointed to the days of the risen Savior. It is no wonder that Jesus could explain to the men on the Emmaus Road how all of the Scriptures spoke about Him. We too need to be men that can see all of the Scriptures as, in some way, concerning Jesus and His cross. May the Fellowship in the Gospel Conference help equip us to do just that. Commit to pray in these final days before the conference for such an outcome! Pray for the speakers and their final preparation. Pray for yet more men to register. Pray that many, many gospel-centered books will be bought, taken home, and read. Pray that men will fellowship in the gospel long after next weekend.
Friday, April 10, 2009
"[I]f you do not believe you are dead to sin's guilt, you cannot trust Christ for the strength to subdue its power in your life. So the place to begin in dealing with sin in your life is to count on the fact that you died to its guilt through your union with Christ in His death. This is an important truth you need to ponder and pray over until the Holy Spirit convinces you of it in both your head and heart."
Do you agree with the author's contention that "the place to begin" in defeating sin is trusting that (because of Jesus) you have "died to its guilt"? All Christians would agree that we have died to the guilt of sin because of the cross of Jesus (Romans 8:1). My question is do you believe focusing on the lack of guilt is the place to start in dealing with your sin?
Friday, April 3, 2009
"How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell...It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison." James 3:5b-6, 8b.
We have all no doubt heard a sermon on James 3 and the tongue. But these words always seem to grab my attention when I read them. What is it about our speech that causes James to use such an alarming description?
Earlier in the passage (v2b), James says that it is the tongue that prevents a man from being truly mature ("a perfect man"). Or perhaps a better way to understand it would be that a person's speech reveals that they are not spiritually mature. You may remember the words of Jesus' rebuke: "[O]ut of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks." When we speak evil, it's because our hearts are focused on evil, being governed by evil. (Matt. 12:34). What is so terrible about this is that when our tongues spread hate and bitterness, we act as if we were enemies of the cross. We can actually hinder the message of the cross by how we speak!
Our speech should rather reflect a heart that has been made new and that is focused on what caused its newness! Paul reminds us in Colossians 3 about this process of putting on the new man (which includes the new tongue). He reminds us of how our actions should reflect those of our Savior: We should set our minds on things above because we "have been raised with Christ" (v.1). If we have a complaint against a brother, we should forgive them "as the Lord has forgiven [us]" (v.13). We should let the peace and unity of one body that comes from the gospel rule our hearts (v.15). We should "let the word of Christ dwell in [us] richly" (v.16). Finally, "whatever [we] do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God teh Father through him" (v.17).
As Good Friday approaches when we specifically remember the cross, let our minds be fixated on His sacrifice and the benefits it brought us...and may our mouths overflow rather with praise.
Thursday, April 2, 2009
The other side of the coin is true oftentimes as well. When our spiritual disciplines are in the tank we feel that God must love us less than when we are faithful. We can often use our failures to fuel an attitude that goes something like this, "Well, I've already sinned. God is disgusted with me. I might as well continue on with it!" Again, though these words probably don't come out of our mouths, this attitude can be prevalent.
Some might even think that God's love for them is evidenced by their situation. Trials indicate God's displeasure with me. Happiness and blessings mean God loves me.
Why do we feel like are standing with God is either kept or lost (increased or decreased if you'd rather characterize it that way) based on our actions? Why do we feel that God's love for us is such a fluid reality? It is because we are legalists. We have this innate sinful desire to justify ourselves. In the face of Spirit-illumined truth to the contrary, we continued to defiantly say, "My standing with God cannot be based outside of myself!" This war can wage within us.
It begins before our conversion, like the rich young ruler who asked, "Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?" (Matt.19:16 NASB). This young man needed to know what "good deed" (ESV) he should do in order to be awarded eternal life. Jesus' answer is so foundational: "Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good." (v.17a). Jesus told him that the "good" that was needed for eternal life only came from one source...and it wasn't from within the young man (as was demonstrated by his refusal to sell all of his many possessions and give the money to the poor). After he left, Jesus provided some commentary about the difficulty of a rich man reaching heaven. His hearers were astonished and wondered who then could be saved. Jesus redirected them from thinking about individual people to God, leaving them with a word of great hope: "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." (v.26).
As believers, we know this teaching, don't we? This teaching that God is the one who has done what was impossible for us to do. This teaching that the goodness that is needed for eternal life comes from Jesus the Savior. But we forget. We try and replace the righteousness of Jesus with our filthy rags again and again. God is good to grant us fresh repentance, though, and bring us back to the hope in Jesus that we first understood. Consider how Peter reminded the Christians of his day of this very fact in the salutation of his second epistle:
"To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ."
Brothers, remember that God sees you every day as perfect, standing in Jesus' righteousness that is neither added nor diminished by anything you have done or failed to do.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Listen to the damage done: "the fields are destroyed...the grain is destroyed, the wine is dried up, the oil languished...the harvest of the field has perished. The vine dries up; the fig tree languishes." (1:10-12).
This was a calamity of such proportions that they should be asking themselves why it happened. God's judgment of physical destruction of the land came as a result of the people's lack of fidelity to their God. Consider 1:13, "[G]rain offering and drink offering are withheld from the house of your God." Is this a relevant message to our age? Do people need to hear the Joel's call to repentance?
First we are given the directive: return to God. Hear God's urging, "'Yet even now,' declares the Lord, 'return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments'" (2:12-13a). Second we are given a description of God which engenders sinners to return to Him: "Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love" (v13b). The end of the chapter assures the people of the result of repentance, "And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved" (v.32).
And so we see salvation history continue: God's judgment on men's sin and His offer to save them based in something extrinsic, or outside of, themselves. Men sitting in the rubble and ruin of their own "accomplishments," contrasted with their salvation being based in God's character and on the basis of calling on His name (not their own name or their own accomplishments). New Testament assures us that 2:32 was actually foreshadowing Jesus, "[I]f you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved" (Romans 10:9).
It is on the basis of this ancient message of a God who saves that we fellowship together!
Sunday, March 1, 2009
It's only after this important contrast is pointed out, that he encourages them to follow him, to imitate him. And as if Paul's example was not worthy of imitation--especially in light of the transformational message that he had delivered to them--he mercifully sends Timothy to assuage any of their doubts about Paul's consistent gospel-centered life. We see this in verse 17: "to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church." Such evidence, such a life, is a powerful influence on others. Paul elsewhere instructs Timothy to ensure that his life the same kind of saving influence: "Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers." (1 Tim. 4:16). Paul wasn't boasting to the Corinthians about his piety, and he wasn't instructing Timothy to be boastful about his. Paul's instruction to both the Corinthians and to Timothy was to follow Paul to the extent that what he believed and what he did reflected the transformational power of the gospel of Jesus!
So can we ever tell someone to imitate us? It is dangerous, I'll admit. Pitfalls of pride abound. But if you are experiencing a self-denying, sacrificial life in the hope and power of the cross and you see a brother that is running after some other source of hope or power (e.g., the love of money or prestige), I think it is your duty to tell them about how your thinking and life has been changed because of your moment by moment trust in what Jesus has already accomplished. Its what Paul did. He instructed Timothy to do it.
The caveat is that you cannot live like a hypocrite and then tell someone to imitate you. You must heed Paul's advice to Timothy to keep a close watch on your way of living and your attitudes about your life, making sure that they are informed by, motivated by, and reflective of the gospel (There may even be the need of a Timothy to come and testify to it). Only then will your call for a brother to imitate you be boasting in Christ and what He has done for you.
Friday, February 27, 2009
But Paul wasn't squeamish about coming right out and saying "Be like me." He didn't seem to have a problem with people thinking he was pompous. Consider his encouragement to the Corinthians:
"I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge yo, the, be imitators of me. That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church." 1 Corinthians 4:14-17.
His words are almost shocking. He begins by saying "Forget all of the countless other people offering you advice. Just listen to me and be like me." Can you imagine telling someone who has asked 4 or 5 other people for advice and is now asking you...and you were to respond in a similar way? Paul even concludes with saying he's sending Timothy to tell them about how consistent and faithful he was as further proof that they should imitate Paul.
What do you think Paul was doing with this portion of his epistle?
Given the fact that our hearts are idol-factories, always concocting ways to make ourselves look great, could we say such things to a brother? Should we say such things?
Monday, February 23, 2009
We are called on to behave in a way that reflects His sacrifice. The chapter begins with, "Therefore be imitators of God" and follows the theme of the latter part of Chapter 4. After describing the evil deeds and desires of the lost (which begins with "giv[ing] themselves up to sensuality"), Paul exclaims to the Ephesian Christians: "But that is not the way you learned about Christ!" (4:19-20).
Now consider that 5:3 (following verse 2's description of Christ loving and giving Himself up for us), begins with a word of contrast: "But." Consider the impact of this small conjunction. Christ's self-sacrificial love was a sweet aroma unto God..."[b]ut sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints." We could say a lot about how sexual immorality contradicts the gospel, but given the direct contrast hinged with the word "but," appears that sexual immorality often heads up list of sins because the offending sinner's attitude and actions are not reflective of Jesus'. For example, Jesus put other first, the offender puts themselves first (e.g., to get short-term pleasure). Jesus sacrifices Himself in an incredible and profound way. How does the offender sacrifice himself? He doesn't. He rather gets what he wants (e.g. sexual satisfaction). Jesus is motivated by lost sinners. The offender doesn't truly love or care about the object of his sexual immorality. Elias rightly commented to part one of this post that God designed sex to occur within marriage. When someone engages in sexual immorality, they are causing (or at least joining with) their partner to sin against God and thus bringing His wrath upon them. That is the opposite of sacrificing for another out of love. The offender just wants his darkened desires satisfied without a care for how it is damaging the other person, even to the point of pitting them against God!
This kind of self-focus, self-service, lack of care for others is actually referred to a few verses later as idolatry. When you engage in sexual immorality you act contrary to the cross. Instead of the acceptable offering to God, you serve the idol of your own self-pleasure. Instead of the sweet aroma of cross-like love, the stench of loving and worshipping yourself reaches God nose. Sexual immorality is your attempt to replace God with yourself as worthy of worship. What a terrible thing to act in a way that stands opposed to God and His gospel. Hear the sober words of verse 5: "For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater) has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God."
God, grant us the grace to offer sweet-smelling sacrifice to you. Guard us from coveting what is contrary to your plan for us. Help us to be satisfied in our Savior. Help us to not fall into sexual immorality. Help us, Father, to walk in a manner worthy of our calling.
Saturday, February 21, 2009
So, Proverbs and wisdom, eh? Here’s my best explanation for you. All of the Bible (Proverbs included) is revealing God to us. In the Old Testament (where Proverbs is found in about the middle of it), all of the books are pointing toward the one who would come and reveal God perfectly to us and be able to do what we could not. So for example, Proverbs is what's known as “wisdom literature” which means it is things that are generally true. It has things like "Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is grown he will not depart from it" or "Don't judge a situation before you hear both sides." Things like that. The problem is that we screw all of these wise things up. For example, I judge people's motives all the time before hearing all the facts.
What I mean about it pointing to someone is, of course, pointing to Jesus Christ. Jesus lived with perfect wisdom in a way we cannot. In fact, Colossians 2:3 describes Jesus this way, "in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." The gist is that there is the world's wisdom that is apart from Christ, and God's wisdom that is only found through Christ. If you wanted to see the way the Bible says it, you could read 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 on this topic.
You see, I became a Christian in 1997. It was at that time that I heard the true story about who Jesus is and what he did. Of course, I thought I knew it already, but it wasn't until someone showed me in the Bible for myself that I truly came to understand. That truth is this: God has always existed, is always good, and is worthy of our worship. God is so holy, for example, that his law sees wishing you had someone else's things as stealing, lusting as adultery, and saying a hateful word about someone as murder. God created us and we choose to ignore him and live our lives chasing after whatever we think will make us happy, breaking God's laws all the while. Because of our sin, we simply are not capable of pleasing him. One sin, makes us sinners and unholy. As a result, we deserve (and unless something changes can expect) God's judgment and anger for our sin to be poured out on us through eternal punishment and suffering. I KNOW...I KNOW…this is terrible and frightening…but keep reading…
HERE IS THE GOOD NEWS THAT I CAME TO SEE. Jesus, although being himself God and Creator, humiliated himself by putting on skin and being one of us. Can you imagine the God who spoke and the worlds leapt into existence, made himself to be a helpless baby. As I said, he lived a perfect life, never breaking God's law. In other words, he had goodness or righteousness. Even though he didn't deserve punishment of any kind, he permitted himself to be beaten and murdered for other people's sin. Because he is God, the grave could not hold him and he resurrected from the dead. When sinners (like me or you) repent of our sin, turning to him, God forgives us because Jesus’ righteousness is then credited to the sinner while the punishment for his sins (which he would've had to pay for himself) get transferred to Jesus' cross. The Bible says that a person who hears this message, believes it, and trust only in Jesus' righteousness (not anything they did themselves) and his suffering and death for their sins...is born again, becoming a new man (or woman). At that moment, they are a Christian with the blessed hope of a resurrection from the dead themselves to go and live forever with the one who died in their place, who bought them back from sin and death.
It is only after this wisdom (in Christ) is found that Proverbs can be truly useful. Keep in mind that when I say "this wisdom" I don't mean my wisdom. I mean this wise gift from God that He gives us freely at no cost to us but at great cost to his son, Jesus. Without Christ, it is just a book of wise sayings that sinners like you and me will never be able to follow. Hope that helps.
As you can see I love to talk about God and spiritual things. We should get our families together and talk some more. What do you think?
Friday, February 20, 2009
For those of you who went to T4G in Louisville back in April have you read all your books yet? I think we were given 6 months to get through the stack. I think I'm about half way though & just finished a gem. R.C. Sproul wrote "The Truth of the Cross" & it is excellent. An inspiring read that I tagged teamed with my morning Bible reading.
In chapter 1 Sproul begins by making the connection between the word "cross" & the words "crucial" & "crux". Those last two words find their root in the word cross so R.C. points out the significance of the Gospel ministry being central and/or foundational to our lives. He says on p#2, "...because the concept of the cross is at the very center and core of biblical Christianity. In a very real sense, the cross crystallizes the essence of the ministry of Jesus."
It seems as though we are easily distracted by all sorts of diversions...some legitimate & others perhaps not so. How does the cross become the crux of all that we do? How do we see our chosen pursuit in light of the cross. Is there a way to keep the cross as the crucial thing in my family? My gym membership? My involvement in youth soccer. Is there a way that the cross can be the crux of my business life? Since the cross is central to the message of the NT, central to the ministry of Jesus & certainly to the gospel as well then it must become central to our ministry as well. Since the cross is the key to eternity then certainly it must be vitally connected to the person who has "set his mind on heavenly things" & to "seeking first the kingdom of God". Sproul's book helped encourage me to consider the cross as the crucial point of my life.
Several chapters in the book caused me to think that they were perhaps some of the best chapters I have ever read. Many times I found myself slipping from my reading off into meditation on the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. The book was definitely inspirational, informational & motivational as well. If you received a copy in April why not move it to the top of your "to read" pile. If you didn't then go to one of the on line book sites & get a copy.
Leaders are readers. Turn off the tv & pick up a book.
God bless you men,
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Consider, for example, Galatians 5:19, "Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality . . ."
Or Colossians 3:5, "Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire . . ."
Or 1 Thessalonians 4:3, "For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you will abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God . . ."
Or 1 Peter 4:3, "The time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions . . ."
For sexual sin to make the top of the list, there must be something inherent about it that flies in the face of the gospel. What is it about this particular version of immorality that stands so opposed to Jesus' cross?
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
In My Place is actually a compilation of articles and portions of other material all centered on the atonement. In the first chapter of the book, you find yourself reading a chapter from Packer's classic Knowing God. The quote about John 20:19-20 comes on page 49. Packer's answer to his own question is as follows:
"Not just to establish his identity, but to remind them of the propitiatory death on the cross whereby he had made peace with his Father for them. Having suffered in their place, as their substitute, to make peace for them, he now came in his risen power to bring that peace to them . . . It is here, in the recognition that, whereas we are by nature at odds with God, and God with us, Jesus has made 'peace through his blood shed on the cross' (Col. 1:20), that true knowledge of peace of God begins." Id.
Consider the irony of Jesus using a common salutation: "Peace be with you." On this day, however, this was not common. It was not like what we hear nearly everyday in the way of empty greetings like, "How are you?" or meaningless well-wishings like, "Have a good day." No. On that day, Jesus' words of welcome were pregnant with meaning. When He uttered "peace" to His disciples, He wasn't being hopeful that they would have a peace-filled day in their precarious cultural predicament. You will recall that verse 19 begins:
"On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews..."
Jesus' address had no reference to the blood-thirsty Jewish leaders who had orchestrated His death and were now on the hunt for His followers. No. On that day, Jesus' actually proclaimed peace with God Himself and proclaimed a peace that was already transacted on their behalf. This most blessed of proclamations was based upon God's wrath being absorbed by Jesus in their place. This propitiatory death was evidenced by His wounds which He showed to them.
Take a moment and meditate what had to have been silent awe in that upper room at that moment. Given Jesus' announcement of this new and costly peace with God, I wonder what must have become of their fear of the Jewish leaders from which they had been hiding. My good friend, Ray, rightly alludes (in his comment) at this point to the truth of Romans 8:31-35,
"What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?"
What mercy that He shows His wounds to us over and over again in the Scriptures! May we continue to see them and remember the peace with God that they bring as our own unique fears fade into insignificance.
Sunday, February 15, 2009
"When Jesus came to his disciples in the upper room at evening on his resurrection day, he said, 'Peace be with you'; and when he had said that, 'he showed unto them his hands and side(John 20:19-20 PHILLIPS). Why did he do that?"
Consider the question. Meditate on it.
Friday, February 13, 2009
The Puritan Movement in England was primarily in the 16th & 17th Centuries with lasting effects far beyond. One thing we can learn from the believers of that era is that they too were looking to the cross of Christ for the source of their supplications. Arthur Bennett compiled and edited prayer thoughts of a number of such saints in the book The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions. Consider the content of this prayer with an eye toward reforming your own prayers:
"By thy cross crucify my every sin;
Use it to increase my intimacy with thyself;
Make it the ground of all my comfort,
the liveliness of all my duties,
the sum of all thy gospel promises,
the comfort of all my afflictions,
the vigour of my love, thankfulness, graces,
the very essence of my religion"
What is this man asking the Lord to do? Does this prayer look familiar? Perhaps the requests look familiar, but do you ask that God will answer such requests based in Jesus' sacrifice? This brother is asking for sanctification, intimacy, comfort, etc. through the cross. How that honors Jesus! We should ask for relief from our suffering, a love that is hard-working and other spiritual duties that are energized...and that God answering these prayers will be grounded in the death, burial and resurrection of our Savior. Why do we want these things in the first place, except to reflect what He has done? These prayers are granted because of our identification with and trust in Jesus' powerful sacrifice. In this way we reflect what Jesus has done as we live through answered prayers. Another excerpt from this Puritan prayer speaks to this concept a little more specifically:
"Thou has also appointed a cross for me to take up and carry,
a cross before thou givest me a crown.
Thous hast appointed it to be my portion,
but my self-love hates it,
carnal reason is unreconciled to it;
without the grace of patience I cannot bear it,
walk with it, profit by it.
O blessed cross, what mercies dost thou bring with thee!
Thou art only esteemed hateful by my rebel will,
heavy because I shirk thy load
Teach me, gracious Lord and Saviour,
that with my cross thou sendest promised grace
so that I may bear it patiently,
that my cross is thy yoke which is easy,
and thy burden which is light."
Let us learn from the prayers of those who have gone before us. Let your prayers be reformed to include not just requests that honor Jesus, but request that will be granted through the only source that honor Him: His own death, burial and resurrection. Pray for the conference to be characterized by such an attitude of complete dependence. Nothing will be accomplished for the Kingdom in this conference but that it is sourced in the power of Christ's sacrifice and victory.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Polycarp (AD 65-155) was a disciple of the Apostle John and died as a martyr through fire. Polycarp's student, Irenaeus, wrote this of Polycarp: "[He] was instructed by the apostles, and was brought into contact by many who had seen Christ." Consider this excerpt from Polycarp's letter to the Philippian Church:
"Let us then continually persevere in our hope and the earnest of our righteousness, which is Jesus Christ, 'who bore our sins in His own body on the tree,' 'who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth,' but endured all things for us, that we might live in Him. Let us then be imitators of His patience; and if we suffer for His name's sake, let us glorify Him. For He has set us this example in Himself, and we have believed that such is the case.
Ignatius (AD 30-107) came even earlier. There is a myth that supposes Ignatius was the young boy that Jesus called to Himself and put in the midst of the disciples (Matt. 18:2). Ignatius was also a disciple of John and is believed to be martyred in Rome by wild beasts. In his letter to the Ephesian Church, he writes in part:
"The last times are come upon us. Let us therefore be of a reverent spirit, and fear the long-suffering of God, lest we despise the riches of His goodness and forebearance. For let us either fear the wrath to come or let us love the present joy in the life that now is; and let our present and true joy be only this, to be found in Christ Jesus, that we may truly live. Do not at any time desire so much as even to breathe apart from Him. For He is my hope; He is my boast; He is my never-failing riches, on whose account I bear about with me these bonds from Syria to Rome, these spiritual jewels, in which may I be perfected through your prayers, and become a partaker of the sufferings of Christ, and have fellowship with Him in His death, His resurrection from the dead, and His everlasting life."
What is so amazing at looking back to these earliest of church fathers is that their writings were not Scripture. While they are soaked with quotations and allusions to Scripture, they are not Scripture. This means that they had been so discipled in Jesus and his cross being everything to them, that in the face of persecution and eventual martyrdom it was the theme of their letters to other saints.
"[P]ersevere in our hope...which is Jesus Christ." urges Polycarp.
Ignatius in shackles cries: "[L]et our present and true joy be only this, to be found in Christ Jesus, that we may truly live."
I hear them reminding their brothers to live in the power and hope of the cross. He was the hope of the early church in fighting disunity and despair, and He is our hope today. Our forefathers (who lived under pressures and strains that we cannot understand) knew the power of Jesus being their day-by-day Savior. Their writings are filled with pleas to focus on Jesus' sacrifice and live in the power that it affords. Listen to their voices of old, exhorting us to fellowship in the gospel. An exhortation that is by no means new.
Monday, February 9, 2009
Last night I came across a notable quote that answered a question I have asked myself for a long time: what does it mean for a modern-day American shepherd to lay his life down for his sheep? Miller's convicting and inspiring answer demonstrates that laying down your life is a calling, not just for pastors, but for Christian leaders in every capacity:
Die for your sheep as you study the Word, die as you agonize in prayer for them, die as you look at some backsliding, die as you wrestle with your own sinful self-love. And then you will find daily a resurrection power in life and ministry. …To do this we need to see ourselves in a mighty battle for souls and that our every move is in need of the presence of the Great Shepherd’s love.Here, brothers, is a form of leadership that takes its shape from the cross of Christ: leading by laying down our lives. Instead of using leadership as a way to establish his own identity, significance, or power, the Christlike leader offers himself up in death-like self-denial so that others might truly live.
For example, when we look at the command of Ephesians 4:32 we see that our responsibility to “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another” is actually rooted in what Jesus did. The verse goes on to say: “…as God in Christ forgave you.” So ministering to one another in kindness, with a tender heart, by forgiving each other…these things are demonstrated for us in the cross. God showed us the most profound kindness in sending Jesus to be emptied out for us. God was tender to us when we deserved nothing of the kind. He handled us gently. And then of course He forgave us. He pardoned us. He diverted the wrath that had been stored up for us because of our sin. He did all of these things—kindness, tenderness and forgiveness—through the work of His Son. So our behaving in this manner reflects the gospel. It bolsters what we believe. Our acting in this way is empowered by our meditating on God having done them first and in a deeper more extraordinary way.
Similarly, when we are told to “[bear] with one another in love” (in Eph. 4:2) it follows Paul’s exposition of what Christ has already done for us in the first three chapters of Ephesians. The command follows Paul's transition in 4:1, “I therefore . . . urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” So again, we see that God’s desire for the way we treat each other is based in the calling of us to Himself through the work of Jesus. So our manner of ministering to each other is either worthy of the gospel (because it reflects Jesus’ attitude or actions) or is unworthy of the gospel (because it is against the attitude or actions of Jesus) and thus hinders its power in our lives. Cf. Philippians 1:27.
This idea of our attitude or action either furthering or hindering the gospel is exactly what I've asked Fred Froman, Don Magee & Bob Johnson to speak to in the elective break-out sessions of the Fellowship in the Gospel Conference. Pray for effective, powerful teaching in those teaching times. There is an inherent power in our finding our identity in Jesus and His cross and then our desiring to act in a manner consistent with Him. It’s when we forget our calling--the cost of our calling--when we act contrary to the gospel. This is why we need to be reminded again and again of who we are and base how we live in what Jesus has already done for us. This is the goal of the conference. It is why we gave the conference the name that we have. It's why I close conference promotions with the phrase: "Come join us on May 1-2, 2009 and fellowship in the gospel."
Saturday, February 7, 2009
"Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being found in the likeness of men."
"[M]ade himself nothing" translates a Greek word literally meaning "to empty himself." There has been much theological debate on what was emptied out of Him. We know that He didn't empty Himself of divinity. Jesus never stopped being God. However, the text doesn't give us any details about specific qualities or abilities of which He emptied Himself. What we do know is that the emptying is modified in these verses by "taking the nature of a servant" and "being made in human likeness." In light of these modifying phrases, listen to what two of my favorite commentators have pointed out about this "emptying":
Gordon Fee states: "Christ did not empty himself of anything; he simply 'emptied himself,' poured himself out. This is metaphor, pure and simple."
Richard Melick adds: "[T]he emptying is that God became human, Lord became servant, and obedience took him to death . . . This passage affirms simply that Christ left his position, rank, and privilege."
Both speak to the cost of our peace: Christ had to leave the privilege and glory of His holiness (His separate-ness from the creation or His other-ness) and be used up as something beneath Himself to do it. His emptying through humiliation climaxed in a horrible death. The One who couldn't die was sent to be killed.
I think this cost is captured in the terrible irony of a phrase Paul uses in another of his epistles: "making peace by the blood of His cross." (Col. 1:20b). Reconciliation through bloody wounds and death. Peace through an emptied out and slaughtered Savior.
We have been transformed from men who hated God and who God hated (Psalm 5:5-6) to men who love Him and are loved by Him (Eph. 2:4). But it was not a cheap transaction. It was not a peace that was free. Sure it cost us nothing. But it was of profound, monumental cost to our Savior. A cost that we will ponder for all of eternity. A cost for which we worship Him all of our days. Yet we will never fully grasp it. We do not know what it is like to leave the glories of the God-head to be made flesh and die. Yet He is merciful and reveals the measure of this sacrifice to us slowly, incrementally...the only way finite creatures can handle it.
Do you have trials today? Relationship problems? Sin struggles? Depression? Financial distress? Consider the cost of the Savior to buy you peace. Meditate on it. Hope is yours wherever you find yourself if you have peace through His blood. "He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?" (Rom. 8:32)
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
- that we would treat the conference as God's conference and not our own,
- that Christ and His cross would be exalted in the conference,
- that through the conference area churches might unify and see each other as co-laborers,
- that the men in our churches would become true Christian leaders as a result of the conference,
- that the conference would have eternal significance resulting in the advancement of the Kingdom so that even the gates of hell would not prevail against it
As we were sitting in Don's office sharing prayer requests, I thought of the grace God has shown us by giving us sister churches in close enough proximity that we are able to promote and guard the gospel together. It is our hope that the men who come to this conference will begin to experience what I did with Don & Darryl this morning: fellowship in the gospel.
It is our great prayer that men will hear teaching that is specifically gospel-centered, that is, teaching that shows us (reminds us) that in the same way that we couldn't justify ourselves, we cannot daily save ourselves from our struggles. That is what true Christian leaders are: men who daily live in the power of what Jesus has already done. It is our hope that many men will come and fellowship in the gospel in this way and be more equipped to do so when they depart.
One vehicle we expect God to use is Don's teaching on "Patience in Light of the Cross." This message isn't written yet. We're still a few months away. It's exciting to think that our prayers will be powerfully answered by God to direct Don to teach just the message that we need to hear. How important for Christian leaders to demonstrate patience, over against rage and frustration that can so easily dominate us, rendering us useless for the Kingdom! Pray with us that the Spirit will lead Don to just the right biblical texts, to illumine the Word, to show him the ways in which patience reflects the cross. Pray that he will be given a profound clarity in teaching on this ever so important characteristic of the gospel-centered leaders.
This conference will not live up to its name without men praying. Join with us in these days of conference preparation.
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
Another passage with a similar reminder is in Hebrews 13:17, "[Y]our leaders . . . are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account." However, the reference to accountability in this text seems amplified compared to James' warning. James 3:1 indicates we will be judged more strictly because of our handling of the Scriptures. The writer of Hebrews seems to speak even more seriously about what is in store for the leaders of God's church; they will be judged for how they watch over men's souls. Is there really an appreciable difference between the two warnings though?
I think the what's going on in both James 3:1 and Hebrews 13:17 can be seen more clearly when seen in the light of 1 Corinthians 3:10-15. In Chapter 3, Paul has been rebuking the church for its factionalism manifested in their pitting various church leaders against each other (see v.4). Paul does something interesting in the metaphor of the builders of a building. He begins by stating that he laid the foundation down "like a skilled master builder" (v.10). He explains this in the next verse by saying what other church leaders must not do: "For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid which is Jesus Christ." Of course, this is what Paul said one chapter earlier: "For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified" (2:2). This fact is critical to understanding Paul's warning to church leaders about the proper type of building materials to use. Paul says that if church leaders build the church with material that will not withstand God's fiery judgment, everything they work at will be of no eternal value and the leaders themselves will be effected most severely by God's judgment of their worthless work: "If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself wil be saved but only as through fire" (v.15).
I believe that this passage, as I said, includes the warnings of James 3:1 and Hebrews 13:17. Paul is warning Christian leaders that would follow him, "I relied only on the gospel of Jesus Christ to begin the church because it builds something of eternal value, will withstand God's awesome judgment, and brings glory to the Savior. If you continue the work with anything else, you will do none of these things and, as a result, it will be a shameful and frightening account you will give to God." This warning speaks of teaching Scripture and all other aspects of Christian leadership. How we pray, evangelize, spend God's money. All such things are how we might build upon the gospel. If we manipulate people or lead in a way that doesn't point to our absolute dependence upon what Jesus has already done, we are building in a faulty way.
Pray that the teaching at the conference will be characterized by the gold, silver, and precious stones of the gospel. Pray that it will be anything less than the gospel that men fellowship in at the conference. Pray that the conference will build up God's Kingdom in Detroit in a way that will endure the flames of God's judgment.
Monday, February 2, 2009
Why was this book and the defining of this doctrine so important? Roman Catholic doctrine teaches something that sounds a lot like imputation but is in actuality profoundly different: infusion. Infusion is where Jesus righteousness is seen as being poured into a believer and that the new man results in a mixture of His righteousness and their own growing righteousness. This teaching holds that the end result is righteousness, while inspired by Jesus' righteousness, is not foreign but their own. This teaching sounds sterile enough--a difference in finer point of theology perhaps--but it is actually spiritual treason. What is actually saying is that after my initial infusion of righteousness, I have the ability to actually earn righteousness through the works of the law. Sproul explains infusions @ p. 65, "Only when the person is inherently just by the help of the grace of Christ's infused righteousenss will God declare the person just." To say that I stand in my own righteousness to any degree (even though somehow began or sparked by Jesus') robs God of His glory. Paul would bluntly and soberly say to the Galatians, "I do not nullify the grace of God, for if justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose." (Gal. 2:21).
Here is the crux of this post: Consider how your grasp on imputation vs. infusion informs your thinking about sanctification. One of the goals of our men's conference coming up in May is that the men of our region will come and fellowship in gospel--that they will hear gospel-centered teaching, buy affordable gospel-centered books, and talk to other men about a gospel-centered approach to living. For us to truly believe in gospel-centered sanctification requires that we (to use his title) get the gospel right in the first place. If we don't have a clear understanding on imputation, sanctification becomes merely a legalistic way of trying to please God with our works. Gospel-centeredness springs from imputation. Martin Luther, a champion of imputation declared that believers are simul iustus et peccator, or "at the same time just and sinner." When we begin there, that we remain a sinner even though we have the benefits of the foregn righteousness of Jesus, we remember that any sanctification that will happen will have to be done in His power.
Friday, January 30, 2009
"For too long, many evangelicals have viewed the cross exclusively as the means by which God in Christ Jesus achieved our redemption. Of course, no Christian would want to minimize the centrality of the cross in God's redemptive purposes. But if we view it as the means of our salvation and nothing more, we shall overlook many of its functions in the New Testament. In particular . . . we shall fail to see how the cross stands as the test and the standard of all vital Christian ministry. The cross not only establishes what we are to preach, but how we are to preach. It prescribes what Christian leaders must be and how Christians must view Christian leaders."
Carson points out time and again how the gospel is critical to genuine Christian leadership. For example, after unfolding the folly of "man's wisdom" as seen in 1 Cor. 1:25, Carson reminds us (on p.26) that the church in our area of the world "tends to run through cycles of fads" (e.g., many books being written on ministry planning and "vision"). While acknowledging that these fads often bring about helpful emphases for Christian leaders, he warns of a subtle yet dangerous shift that can take place:
"I fear that the cross, without ever being disowned, is constantly in danger of being dismissed from the central place it must enjoy, by relatively peripheral insights that take on far too much weight. Whenever the periphery is in danger of displacing the center, we are not far removed from idolatry."
What he is saying is that we need to be vigilant to keep the gospel at the center of what we do, for when it ceases being at the center we cease being good leaders. Paul told Timothy the same thing in 1 Timothy 4. In verse 10, he said that godliness is "the end [to which] we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe." Paul affirms in this verse the way in which leadership efforts are infused with real power: when they are done in the hope of what Jesus has already done. Despite all of this effort toward godliness, Paul then warns Timothy just six verses later to "Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers." Strive for godliness in the hope of the Savior. Even if you're doing it at one point, you can lose the focus if you are not watchful! If you guard your life and your doctrine (i.e., by making sure they center on the hope in the cross), salvation for you and those you lead are the result. Carson's warning of idolatry is what is the result if you don't.
Pray that the conference will be full of this type of teaching and warning. That the hope of the risen Savior will be what stands out in the messages. And that we will fellowship in that hope, both at the conference and beyond.
Thursday, January 29, 2009
"And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God."
Many things could be said of this passage, but consider just a few observations.
First, you don't hear a lot about Paul's delivery, his command of the language, his confidence in his own abilities. Keep in mind that this is Paul describing himself: "weakness," "fear," "trembling," no "superiority of speech," no "persuasive words," no "wisdom" of his own. Most of us would no doubt have tried to keep our reputation in tact by at least throwing in words describing our adequacy to the task. Not Paul. He was being used by God to teach us something different.
You might say: "Doesn't sound like much of a leader." But whatever your definition of a "successful leader" is, I'll bet it has something to do with a man understanding some source of power upon which he can draw. In a football coach, perhaps it's his ability to impress a young man with motivational stories. In a foreman, perhaps it's his ability to threaten employees with the fear of job loss. In a corporate ladder-climber, perhaps it's his ability to slander his competition.
For a Christian leader like Paul, however, he knew that the source of power that he would need to draw upon was quite outside of himself. Notice how he had reconciled himself to that fact: "For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified." Paul added no original thoughts. No ingenuity. No sales techniques. Just the plain facts about Jesus and why He had to die for sinners.
Was this a "successful" strategy? Well, here at last we read of Paul's confidence. Not confidence in himself, but in those strange and wonderful facts about Jesus. Listen to Paul speak of it: "my message and my preaching was . . . in demonstration of the Spirit and of power." He provides the reason for his strategy as well. It was so that their response to his message wouldn't fade after they forgot how charismatic or persuasive Paul was, but would endure because it was based upon "the power of God." So Paul knew that the gospel was the only way to show the Corinthians the true power of God. He also knew that it was only if they saw that power and were changed by it, would it stick. Paul comprehended that there was nothing about himself, certainly no innate ability to lead, that would eternally change any of those folks in Corinth.
So often I want to be seen as a strong, knowledgeable, capable leader because of my own natural abilities. Oh, that I would rather desire to be a weak, trembling, forgettable leader that wields the power of the cross in the lives of others.
Pray that God would cause my leadership team (me especially) and the conference speakers to live out Paul's lesson in this text. Pray that the teaching at the conference would reflect it. Pray that conference attendees would receive this teaching and become leaders that, perhaps nobody remembers, but who leave Detroit radically transformed by the power of the crucified Jesus Christ!
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Today, I hear Paul's heart-felt words to the Colossian and Laodicean believers (whom he had never met) in Colossians 2:6-7. Paul was concerned that these young Christians were going to try and face the struggles of their lives with a hope that was different than the one they began with: "Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him, and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving." Amazing. They had been changed in the most profound way. The spiritually blind given the eyes of faith. And yet they were succeptible to believing that something other than the Savior... something without any power...could grant them understanding in how to live.
How I need to be reminded of my own succeptibility! I need my brothers to have the concern for me that Paul had for those early believers. This is where the conference title came from. We need to have fellowship in the gospel, to point each other back to the only one with power to save (initially and each day thereafter). We love ourselves and, even after being radically transformed, our sin nature still wants to preempt the power that Christ has for us after our justification. To fellowship in the gospel is to grow in the knowledge and grace of Jesus and his power that is readily available to us.
Brothers, pray for the conference speakers, their messages, their spiritual lives and the fiery darts of Satan that will no doubt come due to this endeavor. Pray for the conference. Pray that many men will come from many different regional churches.
Pray that it will be an event that will have supernatural impact. Pray that it will result in . . . our growth in the ability to "walk in him" in the way we "received [him]" . . . the region in which we live being significantly impacted for the kingdom . . . the men of the church being equipped in such a way that they will live in the hope and power of the gospel . . . Christ's Kingdom will expand in Michigan . . . the church will stand so that the gates of hell will not even prevail against it.