Men's Conference on Pursuing Genuine Biblical Revival

May 5 & 6, 2017

Theme: "Capture Our Hearts Again!"

Keynote Speaker: Dr. Ray Ortlund
Pastor of Immanuel Church (Acts 29 plant in Nashville, TN)
President of Renewal Ministries
Regional Director of Acts 29 Network
Formerly Assoc. Prof. of OT & Semitic Languages @ Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Deerfield, IL)
Council Member & regular blogger at The Gospel Coalition
Author of commentaries and many books including Isaiah: God Saves Sinners in the Preaching the Word Series Commentary Series, When God Comes to Church: A Biblical Model for Revival Today, The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ in the 9 Marks Building Healthy Churches Series and most recently Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel.

Pre-Conference Workshop - 2 Sessions (Content to be released soon)

Special Guest Speaker: Dr. Tom Schreiner
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)
Author of many commentaries and books including The Law and Its Fulfillment: A Pauline Theology of Law, The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance; The King in His Beauty, and Romans in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament Series.

Registration opens soon at

Hosted by:
Union Lake Baptist Church
8390 Commerce Road
Commerce, MI 48382

Friday, February 27, 2009

Imitate You?!

Is it ever right to tell a brother that he should act like you? Is it possible to be humble and say such a thing? It seems to me that we do it all the time but without saying those words exactly. Think back to when a friend came and ask you advice on ho to make a difficult decision or how to get out of some trouble they were in. Many times your answer will be based on how you made a similar decision or how you got out of a similar jam. You probably don't conclude your advice with the explicit encouragement of "You should do what I did." Something about it just smacks of arrogance. I suppose we could be arrogant without saying it.

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

The Stench of Sexual Immorality (Part Two)

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. I think there a number of reasons that this particular version of immorality stands so opposed to Jesus' cross. Consider Paul's description of Jesus in Ephesians 5:2, "as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." What we know about Jesus from this verse is that: (1) He loved, (2) He gave himself up, (3) the purpose of His action was serving others ("for us"), and (4) His ultimate motivation was to honor God ("offering and sacrifice to God"). Of course, His giving Himself up is a description of how He loved. His giving of Himself for people who weren't able to help themselves honors God. It is a sweet smell in God's nostrils.

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

Evangelism Through Facebook

Brothers, please pray earnestly for a friend from high school who recently contacted me through FaceBook. She saw that I had Christian stuff on my FaceBook page and asked me a question about something she heard from a pastor on TV. She wondered what this pastor meant by saying we could become wise by reading Proverbs. Pray that she will read my reply which immediately follows and be converted. Please pray, Brothers! Here was my reply:

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 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

The Truth of the Cross

Hey Guys,

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

The Stench of Sexual Immorality (Part One)

What is it about sexual sin? Why do you suppose, God often leads off lists of sins with "sexual immorality"?

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

Why Did He Do That? (part two)

Don't you love when you put on some jeans or a coat you haven't worn in a while and find a few bucks in the pocket? Well, that's the feeling I get when I find a book I didn't remember owning. Or when I run across a book I had intended to read but never got to. Well, that's what happened with this little book In My Place Condemned He Stood by J. I. Packer and Mark Dever. I belive I received it at T4G last year. I completely forgot I had it.

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

Why Did He Do That? (part one)

A respected theologian and author provides the below quote from John's gospel and then asks a question:

"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.

More on this later.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Source that Honors

When you pray, what spiritual works do you pray the Lord will do in your life? Cause you to be victorious over sin? Increase your faith? Draw you into greater intimacy with Him? Give you the power to do what is right? What means does God use to answer these prayers? What is the spiritual source we should ask Him to employ? What else, but Jesus' work on our behalf.

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

New-Fangled Gospel-Centeredness?

A dear brother has been thinking through this "gospel-centeredness thing" and recently said a very wise thing. I'll paraphrase him here: "I'm a little concerned about whether this focus on the gospel in every text and being the key to Scripture interpretation is new?" What a mature way of thinking. That we would all be so questioning when we encounter something new about our faith! On this very topic, a brother elder pointed out to me one day that the reason we should be wary of things that are new within Christendom is that Jude tells us that we ought "to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints." (Jude 3). Taking both of these brothers' sincere desire to contend for the faith, I was spurred to do some historic investigating. I hope that it will be profitable for all to take a look at some examples of cross-centric thinking in our forefathers of the faith.

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

Leading by Dying

Jack Miller was a pastor, church planter, author, professor at Westminster Seminary, director of World Harvest Mission, and prolific letter writer. His book The Heart of a Servant Leader is a collection of his letters to leaders of every sort. It was recommended to me in preparation for this conference, and I have not been disappointed. Nearly every page features one or two pearls that set me to pondering, praying, repenting, and/or rejoicing.

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.

Relationships Based in the Cross

One of our endeavors as a local church is to have God-honoring relationships with each other. I was given the opportunity to speak on this in a joint Sunday School Class yesterday. How easy (and powerless) it would be to put together a list of commands about one another relationships and then simply say, "Do these!" Thankfully, the gospel speaks to such an endeavor.

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

The Cost of Peace

It's a beautiful truth that we have peace with God. Though we are born as enemies of God, warring against Him, Jesus has brought his people peace with God. But at what cost? From beginning to end, the cost was so great we cannot approach full understanding of it. Philippians 2:5b-7 speaks to the cost to Jesus:

"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

Conference Preparation

I was able to spend some time this morning meeting with Don Magee and Darryl Gross at Lakes Baptist Church in Walled Lake. Don is the preaching pastor and Darryl is the men's ministry pastor at Lakes. My church (Berean Baptist) and Lakes has a long history. Terry McIntosh our preaching pastor planted Lakes Baptist before taking the call to lead Berean's pulpit in the early 90's. Lakes and Berean are both members of the Detroit Coalition (with a number of other local churches), a joint missions endeavor to train churches in Russia. Asking Don to be one of the conference speakers was a no-brainer. Anyways, we had a sweet time of fellowship this morning catching up on the events of our lives and churches, talking about the upcoming conference. As we talked and prayed together, the unity of the Spirit between us was evident. We affirmed desires that we shared:
  • 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

Be Careful How You Build It

James 3:1 is oft quoted for the heightened accountability of teachers in God's church. Listen again to it: "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness." John MacArthur's comments on this warning, "[N]o believer shoud begin any form of teaching God's Word without a deep sense of the seriousness of this responsibility."

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

Foreign or Home-Grown Righteousness?

R. C. Sproul wrote a critical book for our time entitled Getting the Gospel Right: The Tie That Binds Evangelicals Together. If you attended the first T4G Conference in 2006, it was one of the books you were given. Among other things, it defined imputation with razor's edge accuracy. Imputation is, of course, the theological term referring to believers having the righteousness of Jesus transferred (or imputed) to their account at the point of their justification. The truth of this was one of the embattled doctrines of the Reformation. Imputation teaches that it is Jesus' righteousness that a believer receives at the second birth. A Christian is not given some of Jesus' righteousness as an exemplar to which he adds his own righteousness to finish his justification or to maintain his standing. The Bible teaches that the righteousness that is required to stand before our Holy Judge is completely foreign. It isn't ours. It is only through the utterly foreign righteousness of Jesus that we have standing to be in the presence of our God.

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.