Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Feed Your Soul or Lose Your Appetite

While driving back and forth to the office yesterday and today, I have been listening to a sermon by Al Mohler on the parable of the sower and the soils. Mohler made a comment in the sermon about how people who are fed a steady diet of low biblical content lose their flavor for solid study and teaching. I couldn't help but think of the implications of this for my own life and ministry.

There seems to be a spiritual dynamic in life which mandates that we feed our souls or we lose our appetite for spiritual things. This means that I cannot survive on the spiritual equivalent of cotton candy in my personal devotional life. I need to feed on the meat of the Word. As a preacher, it means that I must labor to study and understand God's Word so that I can prepare a spiritually nutritional meal for the congregation each week. For the congregation, it means that they must not settle for shallow spiritual food which has no nutritional value. Rather, they must insist on solid food in their private lives and from the pulpit.

One has to wonder how many of us have become accustomed to junk food and no longer have a taste for the deep things of God. Like the believers addressed in Hebrews 5:11-14, we cannot tolerate the solid food of truth but are still subsisting on milk. They are described as dull of hearing, infantile in their spiritual understanding, and not ready for the substance given to those who are mature. Oh, let us feed our souls on solid food lest we lose our taste for it! A banquet is available to us. May God grant that we do not become satisfied with happy meals when we could be feasting at the Lord's banquet table.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Preaching that Feeds and Challenges Your Soul

Grace Community Church has provided the audio for the 2007 Resolved Conference here. These are free downloads. You can download and listen to the likes of John Piper, John MacArthur, C.J. Mahaney, Steve Lawson, and Rick Holland. There is tremendous value in listening to great preaching. This is some of the best.

I am especially encouraged that this conference is attended by young people in their late high school and college years. My heart is excited to think about the impact of a generation of young people whose hearts are captured with the truth preached at this conference.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Newly Redesigned Monergism.com

Tim Challies of www.challies.com is well-known as one of the best Christian bloggers in the blogosphere. He also designs web pages. Challies has redesigned one of my favorite web sites, www.monergism.com. The new design is much more user-friendly and easily navigable. It is a tremendous resource for theological study. I highly recommend it.

Titanic Mistake Update

Justin Taylor provides more insight on the Cameron documentary over at Between Two Worlds. He offers some fine comments by historian Paul Maier. It is worth reading.

A Titanic Mistake

Titanic director James Cameron has decided to jump on the Davinci Code bandwagon and take on Jesus and the gospels (see more here). Cameron has produced a new "documentary" which states that the remains of Jesus have been found in an ossuary (burial box containing bones)in Jerusalem. Along with the remains of Jesus, there is also the remains of a son born to Jesus through a relationship with Mary Magdalene. Cameron's film makes the claim that DNA evidence exists to support these findings. There are a total of ten ossuaries containing the remains of Jesus and his family including James and Mary.

When I first read this information, all I could think of was Psalm 2.

1 Why are the nations in an uproar
And the peoples devising a vain thing?
2 The kings of the earth take their stand
And the rulers take counsel together
Against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying,
3 "Let us tear their fetters apart
And cast away their cords from us!"
4 He who sits in the heavens laughs,
The Lord scoffs at them.
5 Then He will speak to them in His anger
And terrify them in His fury, saying,
6 "But as for Me, I have installed My King
Upon Zion, My holy mountain."
7 "I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD:
He said to Me, 'You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You.
8'Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance,
And the very ends of the earth as Your possession.
9'You shall break them with a rod of iron,
You shall shatter them like earthenware.'"
10 Now therefore, O kings, show discernment;
Take warning, O judges of the earth.
11 Worship the LORD with reverence
And rejoice with trembling.
12 Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way,
For His wrath may soon be kindled
How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!

I am sure that Christian scholars will have much to say in response to these claims. It seems that each generation of believers must answer those who take their stand against the Lord and against His anointed Son, the King. This is an appropriate and necessary function of apologetics. We can only pray that Mr. Cameron and others like him will take the time to listen to biblical historians, archaeologists, and New Testament scholars. As I said in an earlier post, we must be ready to defend our hope in Christ with gentleness and reverence. We should never begrudge the opportunity to engage unbelievers with respect to the validity of Christianity. Our faith rests on solid evidence.

Yet, there is a warning to be heeded in Psalm 2. God makes it clear that it is a titanic mistake to harden your heart and dig in your heels against the Lord and His Anointed One. In the end, such rebels will find themselves exposed to the terrible wrath of the One enthroned in heaven. Better to serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling than to be eternally destroyed.

We may only hope that Cameron and others like him will have the happy experience of Sir William Ramsey. Ramsey was a scholar and a skeptic who set out to discredit the historicity of Luke's New Testament writings. However, as Ramsey subjected the writings of Luke to greater scrutiny, he discovered them to be accurate and verified by history and archaeology. His final assessment was that Luke was a historian of the first rank. Of course, mere intellectual assent to the historicity of Jesus does not a Christian make. To be sure, one must have more than intellectual agreement with the facts of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection to be a genuine Christian. But, to be a true Christian, one certainly cannot have less than an acceptance of the historicity of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Making a Defense with Gentleness and Reverence

Fox News web site reported a story today about a Muslim cab driver who ran down his passengers after a discussion on religion. Of course, such things are not isolated among those who follow Islam. Those who profess to know Christ have too often been less than charitable in their conduct towards those who disagree with them. Fred Phelps comes to mind. Shouting down or, in our cab drivers case, running down those who disagree with your religious persuasion is not exactly the way to win them over to your point of view.

This story caused me to think about how difficult it can sometimes be for evangelicals in a culture which has become increasingly antagonistic to the gospel. Truthfully, in spite of this antagonism, we have it easy in the USA compared to many nations in our world. Many of our brothers and sisters in places like Indonesia, India, China, and several African nations are threatened with physical persecution and death because of their allegiance to Christ. It makes me feel like a whiner to speak about "antagonism" toward my faith in light of the horrible cost these believers are paying.

Whether we are talking about a cultural antagonism or full-blown religious persecution, there is an important biblical principle we must observe when dealing with those who oppose the gospel. Peter writes in 1 Peter 3:15-16, "...but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame."

Peter lived in a climate that went way beyond a mild cultural antagonism. Those to whom he was writing were undergoing harsh persecution for their faith in Jesus. Peter called it a "fiery ordeal" in 4:12. He speaks of suffering for the sake of righteousness and being reviled for the name of Christ (2:13, 4:14). Tradition has it that Peter himself was eventually executed by the Roman state for his Christian faith. It was a climate of active persecution. In this climate, Peter challenged his persecuted readers to remain prepared for a defense of their hope in Christ. The striking thing is the attitude in which this defense was to be given. It was to be given with gentleness and reverence.

Gentleness has to do with our posture toward our persecutors or questioners. We are to defend our hope in Christ with an attitude of gentleness. A gentle, reasoned, serious response from a person who is under control demonstrates a Spirit-filled, respectful attitude. Angry, combative, disrespectful responses to those who oppose the gospel are directly opposed to the biblical mandate for the Christian. Side-show antics and angry posturing do no good to promote understanding of the gospel or demonstrate its power.

Reverence has to do with our posture toward God. As we answer our critics, we not only do so with their persuasion in mind but with the glory of God in mind. Our response should demonstrate proper reverence for God. To mistreat or disrespect those who criticize or persecute us is to be irreverent. To conduct ourselves in an unbecoming manner is to heap shame on the name of the very One whose gospel we seek to defend.

Finally, we are to keep a good conscience so those who slander us will be put to shame by our good behavior in Christ. A good conscience is the conscience that is approving of our behavior. It is a clear conscience. Peter is saying that we ought to live in such a way that our conscience is clear so our good behavior rather than affirming the accusations of our opponents, will in turn, shame them. Thus, our lives become a clear and compelling testimony along with our words.

All of this is couched in the context of following the example of Christ Himself. To answer the opposition to the gospel of Christ in an un-Christlike manner is to lose the battle even if we win the argument. Most of us probably won't attempt to run down the opposition with our vehicles. But do we run them down with our words? Do we stage verbal "drive-by shootings" in which we disrespectfully fire verbal projectiles at those who oppose the gospel? How unlike the One who "while being reviled, did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept trusting Himself to Him who judges righteously...(1 Peter 2:23)." Let us defend the hope we have in Christ with reverence for God and gentleness toward our persecutors.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Appropriate Words for Kansans from Al Mohler

If you live in Kansas, you probably know that our science standards were recently changed again by the Kansas Board of Education. Until this week, the standards allowed for the idea of intelligent design alonside the theory of evolution in the consideration of origins. Now, that is no longer true. The Kansas BOE decided that we need to keep religion out of science. The theory of intelligent design, which includes but is no limited to biblical creationism, is considered religion while evolution is considered hard science.

This article from Al Mohler speaks to this whole issue. It is worth the read.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

The Glory Story or the Foolishness of the Cross?

In the current issue of Modern Reformation magazine (15th Anniversary edition, by the way), Michael Horton writes about the difference between the "glory story" of wayward man finding his way back to God and the foolishness of the cross. Horton begins with a quote from H. Richard Niebuhr which lamented the vaccuous nature of liberal theology in the 1950s. Niebuhr said, "A God without wrath brought men without sin into a world without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross."

Horton argues that Niebuhr's commentary on liberalism 50 years ago is strikingly relevant to the current atmosphere of evangelicalism. I want to offer a couple of quotes from Horton that struck a chord with my heart as I read them.

Children of Adam are always looking for yet another map to help them find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. How to Have Success- whether in personal, family, or public life- will always gather a worldly crowd. Talk about religion as suggestions for practical living, as a source of moral virtue and social activism, and as the fountain of health, wealth, and happiness, and the world is only too happy to see if there is something there that can be usefully added to the mix of personal therapies. The place for God in the glory story is life coach, and even the proudest souls can concede a need for this kind of assistance.

...The glory story is all about our progress - ethical, mystical, personal, social, psychological, and emotional, ascending rung by rung up the staircase until we finally return to Paradise. The story of the cross and resurrection, however, is about God's progress, descending to us in what can only appear to us as weakness and foolishness but is in fact the power and wisdom of God. The whole Bible is an unfolding drama of that condescending grace of the Father, in the Son, through the Spirit.

Horton cites several signs of failing health among evangelicals. The authority of the Scriptures are officially affirmed, yet expositional preaching is being replaced by "topical pep talks and marketing." Christ is spoken about often but many times in therapeutic, moralistic terms that detract from the sufficiency of His atoning work. Justification by faith alone is challenged altogether in some circles and marginalized in others in spite of the fact that this doctrine is "the most important place where the church has to decide whether it will remain a church at all."

Horton says it is time for the church to once again confess its faith. Rather than seeking the lowest common denominator in defining who we are, we need to reconnect with the various confessions which have historically given the various traditions (Baptist, Lutheran, Reformed, etc.) their identity. These confessions of faith do not save us or substitute for the personal witness of Christians. Yet, they do "confess" to the world what we believe the Scriptures teach. This is much better for promoting true unity than reverting to the "default setting" of what Horton calls "the generic piety of a vapid Evangelicalism."

This issue of Modern Reformation is titled A Time for Truth. Forthcoming issues in 2007 will focus on the five solas of the Reformation. These issues promise to be informative, insightful, and even inspirational for those of us who share Horton's passion to see the church return to her strength by recovering her biblical identity.

Of course, there is a negative bent to this assessment of things. However, the very fact that there is a growing chorus of voices among evangelicals today (like Horton) who are sounding the alarm is itself an encouraging sign. May the Lord of the church be pleased to revive and renew His church in our days.

Learn more at www.modernreformation.org.



Thursday, February 08, 2007

Inerrancy Alone Insufficient

Douglas E. Baker has written a timely piece about Southern Baptist life in which he states that inerrancy isn't enough. I think Baker is right in his assessment. Believing in inerrancy has to be more than a slogan or a litmus test for orthodoxy. It would be sad indeed if history one day reveals that the conservative resurgence among Southern Baptists turned out to be much ado about nothing. I don't think it started out that way. I don't think those who risked much to turn the SBC back to its biblical roots set out to get only a nod for inerrancy. Yet, if our high view of Scripture has little or no effect on how we actually live and do ministry, then the resurgence will turn out to be a paper victory.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Your Blessed Life Now...and Forever

OK. I realize the title of this post is a cheesy attempt at humor. I couldn't resist. All kidding aside, I have been studying Psalm 1 this week. This psalm presents a clear picture of the blessed life. I couldn't help reflecting on the difference between pursuing my "best life now" and a blessed life now...and forever.

My best life now is all about me. It is about dreaming my dreams and developing my self-image. It is about making sure I avoid negative thoughts and attitudes. It is about letting go of my past, finding strength through adversity, and learning to give. All of this is couched in a very me-centered way. God's principles are vehicles I manipulate for my own happiness.

My blessed life now is also about happiness. After all, the Hebrew term used in Psalm 1:1 refers to a person who is in a happy and enviable state. The difference is that the happiness of the blessed life flows from a God-centeredness rather than a me-centeredness. The blessed person avoids ungoldy counsel and conduct. Rather, he or she takes delight in the law of the Lord. That is, they find pleasure in what God teaches through His word about Himself and life. The blessed person contemplates the Word of God regulary, night and day so that they might know God's truth and put it into practice. The blessed life now is one which finds delight in God's Word because it is God's Word, not just because it brings me happiness.

As a result of this God-centered, Bible-oriented life, the blessed person has both stability and fruitfulness. His or her life is like a tree which has been transplanted near streams of water. It is nourished, durable, and fruitful. In contrast, the wicked person is neither fruitful or durable. The wicked are not like secure trees rooted in the nourishment of God's truth. They are like chaff which is so void of any weight it is blown by the wind. Whereas the righteous will stand in the day of judgment, the wicked will wither and perish.

I don't believe the psalmist was teaching us that we merit eternal life by avoiding sin and obeying the Word. The righteous do not earn their righteousness by obedience. They are righteous by virtue of Christ's imputed righteousness. However, those who are made righteous in Christ will manifest that righteousness in a hatred for sin and a love for God's Word. They will not take delight in the advice of the ungodly no matter what their expertise or popularity may be. Instead, they love to hear, understand, contemplate, memorize, and live God's truth.

A rank unbeliever could have your best life now. But only a believer can have your blessed life now. An atheist could utilize pragmatic steps to improve the quality of his or her life. But only a truth-loving follower of Christ can delight in the Word of God which produces stability and fruitfulness. There is a vast difference between approaching the Bible as one who loves the Author and approaching it as one who is looking only for a "how-to" fix for a troubled life.

As it stands today, we cannot always tell the difference between those who have your best life now and your blessed life now. Sometimes they look very similar. The visible church is always a mixed bag of the truly converted and those who are mere pretenders, tares among the wheat. The wind of judgment will reveal those who are the trees planted by the streams and those who are the chaff blown away by the wind.

Friday, February 02, 2007

A Very Important Question

Tom Ascol over at Founders Ministries asks "Have We Lost the Gospel?" It is hard to think of a more important (and currently controversial) question. Tom asks the question in a clear and penetrating way. I must say that I largely agree with his assessment of things. His post caused me to ask myself some questions about the clarity of the gospel in my own preaching, living, and church ministry.

Could evangelicalism be in danger of losing the evangel? Could Southern Baptists, arguably one of the most evangelistic groups in history, be losing our focus when it comes to the centrality of the gospel? These are tough questions to ask. Some don't appreciate them being asked. It seems to me that there ought to be a constant burden in our hearts to protect the centrality of the gospel in our lives and churches.

After all, it is the gospel which is the power of God for our salvation (Romans 1:16). The proclamation of the gospel with clarity and passion is God's chosen instrument to bring dead sinners to life in Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:21). The gospel is the basis of sound teaching in the church (1 Tim. 1:10-11). Our lives are to be lived in a manner worthy of the gospel (Philippians 1:27). All belief and behavior ought to flow from a proper understanding of and passion for the gospel.

I am not offended that Tom Ascol would ask such a question any more than I would be offended if I went to the cardiologist with chest pains and he asked if he could do an ultrasound of my heart. If we are losing the gospel, then we have some serious heart trouble. In my opinion, there are symptoms which merit examination of this issue. Thanks for asking, Tom.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Interview with Al Mohler on Calvinism and Death

Just a quick post to make you aware of interesting article in Time. Dr. Albert Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary was interviewed regarding how his theological persuasion (calvinism) affected him during a recent potentially fatal illness. I am thrilled that the Lord allowed Dr. Mohler to live and continue his wide and effective ministry to the body of Christ.