He Redeemed Us From the Curse of the Law

Why Johnny Can’t Preach

I heard of this book on the White Horse Inn (which just redid their website and you should check it out), then Tony Reinke published the quote below on his blog.  I think I might have to read this book…

“Faith is not built by preaching introspectively (constantly challenging people to question whether they have faith); faith is not built by preaching moralistically (which has exactly the opposite effect of focusing attention on the self rather than on Christ, in whom our faith is placed); faith is not built by joining the culture wars and taking potshots at what is wrong with our culture. Faith is built by careful, thorough exposition of the person, character, and work of Christ….

We feed on Christ himself, and we do so not by some physical eating of his body, but through faith in the Christ proclaimed in Word and sacrament. These four alternatives [moralism, how-to, introspection, and social gospel] have left much of the evangelical and Reformed church malnourished. People know what they ought to do, but they are dispirited and lethargic, without the vision, drive, or impetus to live with and for Christ. And the reason for this dispirited condition is that the pulpit is largely silent about Christ. He is mentioned only as an afterthought or appendage to a sermon; in many churches, he is never proclaimed as the central point of a sermon, and surely not on a regular, weekly basis.”

T. David Gordon, Why Johnny Can’t Preach: The Media Have Shaped the Messengers

I’m In Rebellion

Bird Droppings and Broken Cisterns

“As soon as I looked at it, it gave me chills all over my body. I was just like, you know, I just couldn’t believe it.” This was not someone standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon or at the foot of Mt. Rushmore or on the beach looking out on the Pacific Ocean…this is a quote from a news story regarding the appearance of an image of “the Virgin of Guadeloupe” that literally “fell out of the sky” in Bryan, Texas. The words were spoken by a young lady in reaction to seeing a bird dropping that had fallen onto the window of a vehicle creating a likeness to “the Virgin of Guadeloupe”. You can view the news story here.

Do you find anything wrong with this story? That someone actually examined this bird poop long enough to see something in it…that this actually made the news (maybe not so surprising in Bryan, Texas, but the national news picked it up)…that people from miles around made the journey to see this bird poop. There are so many problems brought to light here. I want to go to the heartbreaking root of things demonstrated by this story.

Let me start with Thomas Chalmers words in his sermon, The Expulsive Power of a New Affection. Chalmers states, “In attempting to bring a worldly man intent and busied with the prosecution of his objects to a dead stand, we have not merely to encounter the charm which he annexes to these objects – but we have to encounter the pleasure which he feels in the very prosecution of them. It is not enough, then, that we dissipate the charm, by a moral, and eloquent, and affecting exposure of its illusiveness. We must address to the eye of his mind another object, with a charm powerful enough to dispossess the first of its influences, and to engage him in some other prosecution as full of interest, and hope, and congenial activity, as the former.”

This, in essence, is the thesis of his sermon – that it is not enough just to demonstrate to the people of Bryan, Texas, that bird poop is not worthy of giving them chills or invoking awe in them. Although lack of worth and “awesome-ness” in bird poop may seem obvious to us and we wonder why it is not obvious to these other folks, the more appalling and heartbreaking problem here is the completely absent or abysmal view of God’s glory and worth that is held to which causes bird poop to appear precious to people.

Naturally, like self-righteous Pharisees, we find such a display of idolatry incredulous. It is so blatantly obvious to most that a bird dropping is not worthy of admiration and exaltation. However, let’s not be too quick to look down on these folks who made the pilgrimage to Bryan, Texas. Each day we esteem, much too highly, things that are not worthy of our worship?

So we can look with incredulity at the folks in Bryan, Texas, but really – the infinite distance between bird poop and God’s glory is equal to the infinite expanse between our own idols and God’s glory. At the root of all our sin is an inadequate or absent view of God’s worth and glory and the fact that we have not esteemed God as God.

Jeremiah 2:12-13 says, “Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”

We are appalled and shocked at the commission of everyone else’s idolatry, but we rarely ever look into our own hearts to find the same sin at work in us. Like fools dying of thirst in the desert, we have turned our backs on the fresh, clean and cold refreshment provided by a spring fountain of water and we’ve dug holes in the ground waiting for them to be filled up with muddy, bacteria-laced, luke warm water. And our holes empty as fast as they are filled up because they can’t even hold the nasty water we try to collect in them.

I don’t know what the broken cisterns are in your life, but I know that it is not enough for me or anyone else to try and prove to us the inadequacy of our holes in the ground. What we must do is look to an infinitely better source of refreshment for our souls and then fall in love with that object. Let’s put away our idolatry, not merely because our idols are empty and vain and useless and powerless. Let’s put away our idolatry because there is only one in all the universe who is worthy of all glory and honor and power and praise.

“For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” – 2 Corinthians 4:6

Michael Jackson on Total Depravity

Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

We Are Far Too Easily Pleased…

A couple of Sundays ago our church sang “Jesus, I Am Resting“.

I just love the words to that old song. The song writer captures the essence of what it means to trust/rest in Christ:

Simply trusting Thee Lord Jesus
I behold Thee as Thou art
And Thy love so pure so changeless
Satisfies my heart
Satisfies its deepest longings
Meets supplies its every need

My prayer partner from college is a missionary in the Philippines and he ends each of his ministry update letters with the words, “Satisfied in Him.” That is what it means to rest in Christ – to find in him our only satisfaction – to His glory. As Pastor John Piper puts it, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”

The Bible has a word for when we go to anything other than Christ to find our deepest satisfaction – it’s called idolatry. I was very convicted recently of the many things in my life that have become idols. There are about a million things that compete for our desire to be satisfied. When we find our deepest satisfaction in knowing Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his suffering, then we have been freed from idolatry and are trusting/resting in him and all that he is and it is then that he is “most glorified in us.”

For many, the Christian life seems to be a bunch of people trying so hard to suppress their desires for “satisfaction”. C.S. Lewis said that the problem is NOT that our desires are too strong – causing us to search endlessly for satisfaction wherever it can be found. NO! The problem is that our desires are too weak and we have learned to become satisfied with far lesser things (cheeseburgers, fine wine, good sex, advancing careers, big screen TV’s). These things are not bad in themselves. In fact our Creator would have us enjoy these things as gifts. The problem is that there is something wrong with us and we take these things that were intended for our enjoyment and we use them for purposes they were not intended. Our eyes beheld the gifts and we became far too easily taken with them instead of looking to the one who gave us those gifts and then resting in Him alone.

C.S. Lewis wrote in The Weight of Glory, “Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Don’t be “far too easily pleased.” Find your rest and satisfaction in Christ alone.

The National Religious Broadcasters vs. J. Gresham Machen

In terms of sharing the faith, which do you prefer – sharing the gospel message – the doctrines – or your personal testimony? That is the question that was asked of many on the floor at the national religious broadcasters convention – the group of people whose job it is to communicate what Christianity is to those listening over the airwaves. What was their answer? Overwhelmingly they replied that they believed their personal testimony was to be preferred and was more effective in evangelism. Listen to this week’s White Horse Inn to hear the tragic answers. However, I do not blame these poor broadcasters mostly. To whom are these people listening? What do they hear preached on Sunday mornings?

At the end of the broadcast, Horton shares this quote from J. Gresham Machen – in it Machen teaches exactly the opposite of what most of us (apparently this would include those on the floor of the national religious broadcaster’s convention) were taught all of our lives. Machen’s words line up with the Bible. However, much of the church’s so-called evangelism today does not line up with the Bible. Maybe that is why much of our evangelism is so powerless.

Let us not deceive ourselves. Christian experience is necessary to evangelism; but evangelism does not consist merely in the rehearsal of what has happened in the evangelist’s own soul. We shall, indeed, be but poor witnesses for Christ if we can tell only what Christ has done for the world or for the Church and cannot tell what He has done personally for us. But we shall also be poor witnesses if we recount only the experiences of our own lives. Christian evangelism does not consist merely in a man’s going about the world saying: “Look at me, what a wonderful experience I have, how happy I am, what wonderful Christian virtues I exhibit; you can all be as good and as happy as I am if you will just make a complete surrender of your wills in obedience to what I say.” That is what many religious workers seem to think that evangelism is. We can preach the gospel, they tell us, by our lives, and do not need to preach it by our words. But they are wrong. Men are not saved by the exhibition of our glorious Christian virtues; they are not saved by the contagion of our experiences. We cannot be the instruments of God in saving them if we preach to them thus only ourselves. Nay, we must preach to them the Lord Jesus Christ; for it is only through the gospel which sets Him forth that they can be saved.

If you want health for your souls, and if you want to be the instruments of bringing health to others, do not turn your gaze forever within, as though you could find Christ there. Nay, turn your gaze away from your own miserable experiences, away from your own sin, to the Lord Jesus Christ as He is offered to us in the gospel. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” Only when we turn away from ourselves to that uplifted Savior shall we have healing for our deadly hurt.  -J. Gresham Machen, The Importance of Christian Scholarship in The Defense of The Faith

Reflections on Advance09 (Part Four)

Here is what I realized over a year ago and Stetzer and Greear and Piper solidified it for me at Advance09. Here it is – So what did Christ and the Apostles have in mind when they called the people of God to holiness in this world?  Many of the tendencies I observe among those who make up the church take the “in and not of” thing further than the scriptures allow, both personally and corporately.

I have personally made the mistake many times of thinking I needed to separate myself from non-Christians and non-Christian things so that I could be “holy”.  However, in looking back on that tendency to withdraw I found that the reason I separated myself was not for the sake of holiness but so I could avoid suffering persecution and trial. The pursuit of holiness was just used as an excuse to stay away from tribulation and persecution.

This tendency began in me when I first repented of my sin and Christ called me to Himself. I had two very good friends – lifelong friends. But instead of sharing with them my new found commitment to Christ and my life of repentance, I cut myself off from them and it was all in the name of wanting to be godly but it was really because I knew I would be ridiculed by them and maybe, heaven forbid, rejected by them.

Now, don’t be ridiculous here, I realize there are times when we must separate ourselves and there are things that we, as Christians, must separate from. I’m not going down to the local strip club and starting a Bible study there and I wouldn’t counsel a redeemed drug dealer to stick with that profession so that he/she can be a light to other drug dealers. However, certainly not all of us have to quit our vocations that the Lord, in His providence, has seen fit to give to us simply because it could be labeled as secular. The sacred/secular dichotomy was rejected by Luther and Calvin and the Puritans, but I think many in the church today would debate them on this. Does being a software developer really make me ungodly? No. I could be a godly or an ungodly software developer. For example (and don’t go crazy, this is just an example – I’m not suggesting anything about how to choose your institute of higher learning), being a student at JMU, a state school, did not make me less of a Christian than those who went to Liberty University with all Christians (sadly, you would run into the same problems at both places regardless). No. I was a follower of Christ at JMU. Ecclesia, the word translated “church” in the New Testament, means the called out assembly. So there was a group of us at JMU made up of Christ followers. We were an assembly of called out ones within in the community of JMU – and we were to be salt and light within that community. Make sense?

Again – just an example so I’m not arguing for or against going to a “Christian” school. I’m not saying that you should not transfer out of a secular school so that you can get a Christian education. If that is what you need to do, then do it. But don’t think it makes you more holy. It helps you avoid persecution and tribulation. (Now it also helps you get a Christian education, which I am totally for…) I’m just using my JMU experience as an illustration of what I’m talking about. I’m not making any prescriptions for how to choose an institute of higher learning.

One of the speakers at Advance09 made this point – Christians are cutting themselves off from the rest of the world in just about every area of our lives. We have our own soccer leagues, our own book stores, our own financial gurus, and even our own biker clubs. These things are not bad things, it’s just that many of these things exist because they feed our desire to have our own thing so that we can avoid any and all persecution and tribulation in this world – not because they make us more set apart or holy as we might think they do. Because of these tendencies, many Christians can go through an entire day without any contact with this lost and dying world. And it is all setup that way with the pretext that we are to be separate.  How is that fulfilling the great commission? How does that advance the local church?

The church’s task is not to avoid persecution, but to choose tribulation and persecution and then in that persecution and trial show the world our light and let them get a taste our saltiness. Piper made this point so well in one of his talks. Unless the church injects itself into communities and cultures, the light will be hidden and the salt will stay in the shaker. Let’s be in the world (though we are not of it) and then show this world that it is not precious to us, but Christ is precious to us. So…pastors, leaders, churches – stop the withdrawal and join the advance.

Reflections on Advance09 (Part Three)

The men of Grace Bible Church – I couldn’t have asked God for a better group of guys to go with to this conference. So encouraging…so genuine…so loving…so brotherly and fatherly…My time was deepened by being there with these men.

Sitting next to men like Mike, who has survived brain surgery and a rough recovery from it and is currently struggling to find work and continues to faithfully and joyfully follow hard after God, and then getting to discuss with him what has been said after every session adds a depth to events like this that is irreplaceable. Getting to ride there and back with men like Jack, who planted Grace Bible Church and is still an elder faithfully serving and shepherding to this day, offers a perspective on the local church that few can offer and he makes a good co-pilot too. Rooming with a young man like Jacob, who is living as a new believer and a young married man with his first child on the way and still has a passion for the lost in the city of Richmond and is a faithful member in a local church, is more encouragement than all the speakers put together can offer (This guy could’ve written “Why we are NOT emergent” himself). Listening to the wisdom of a newly ordained church leader like Rick, who is 6 years younger than me and sets such a solid example of being quick to listen and slow to speak, is humbling and so refreshing. Sitting in the rocking chairs on the front porch at Cracker Barrel with men like Mike (a different Mike) and hearing his heart for his family just brings such clarity and conviction. These are the things that God uses to grow men and sanctify them through His Spirit and then empower them to advance His church.

For this reason, my heart goes out to guys like my brother, who went to Advance09 without others from his church. God can still empower him and others like him to advance His church. I pray that these men came away making commitments and will be faithful to those commitments. It is so difficult being one of those men, but it is the same Lord who empowers us all to advance His church. I pray that the plurality of the men that went from our church will spark a movement, by God’s grace, with the commitments they make coming away from this event. I look forward to seeing what God is going to do in us and through us for His glory’s sake, His gospel’s sake, and His church’s sake…

In Part Four I’ll go over a conviction that God has given me over the past year but then clarified in my heart during Advance09.

Reflections on Advance09 (Part Two)

The Music – As we first walked into the Durham Performing Arts Center, a worship band was playing one of my favorite hymns – “Before the Throne of God Above.” It was excellent. It was loud, but it was excellent. In a nutshell – I was encouraged by the energy and excellence of the worship through music, but I was concerned by the appearance of these bands – that they might be walking a thin line between leading the people of God to worship God and performing before the people of God and calling it worship. That is a huge difference of course. So much of the difference depends on the hearts of the lead worshippers, which can be very difficult to discern just by mere appearances. Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed that hymn along with the “Power of the Cross“, “In Christ Alone“, “Help My Unbelief“, and a few others over the course of the weekend. With that said, I’m sure you can see my bias for the more congregational-ly oriented songs.

Driscoll – He was very helpful in his comments regarding the topic, “What is the Church?” He nicely qualified his affirmative answer to the question of whether a “video church” was a church or not. I don’t think I agree with him about it, but he has obviously put more thought into it than I have and he is dedicated to his answer. Of course, he has to be dedicated to it because his sermons are taped and sent to other “campuses” for use in those worship services. However, if the “campus” has elders who lead and practice discipline then he would consider the “video church” a church. To me – maybe, maybe not…I also enjoyed his comment that some churches needed to stop doing Sunday School. It definitely challenges our commitment to “programs” instead of what best benefits our congregations. Even better was the reaction he got from that statement. One pastor, obviously Southern Baptist, even shouted incredulously, “What?!” It was funny. His coverage of the topic “Ministry Idolatry” was thoroughly convicting and gave me a heavy burden to pray more urgently for my pastors and my brother, who is a pastor. Driscoll did a good job this weekend. He was Biblical, pastoral, and insightful. I pray his “lapses” will decrease so that Christ would continue to “increase” in his life and ministry.

Tyler Jones – I was struck by his humility and how genuine he was. Who would want to follow Driscoll at one of these things? How could you not feel the pressure to be something you are not in that context? Jones definitely overcame that temptation. I was convicted by his comments regarding lifelong active repentance. Peter denied Christ and then spent the rest of his life and his death in active repentance – shepherding the flock of Christ for the advancement of Christ’s church. That is a very appropriate call for me.

Bryan Chapell – This was a Christ exalting message. His exhortation to preach Christ was accompanied by some valuable instruction on how to do that and what it looks like practically through a Christ-centered hermeneutic. I actually am reading through the Psalms right now in my devotions and his instructions have opened my eyes to the nuggets about Christ that are found in every Psalm, not just the Christologically prophetic ones…

Matt Chandler – He is very entertaining and engaging. He seems to me to be authentic. I loved his introductory words regarding conferences like Advance 09. He challenged the assembly to avoid making these conferences into gatherings that God hates. It was a great reminder to guard against the idolatry that can run so rampant at these type of events.

Ed Stetzer – So much better than I expected. I’m encouraged that the Southern Baptist Convention has guys like this that are committed to reformed theology and missions. I know he has taken some heat because of his connections to the emergent church, but those connections seem to me to be circumstantial at best and I didn’t hear anything this weekend that caused me to question the man’s orthodoxy. I pray his health improves and that he continues to lead in the Southern Baptist convention.

JD Greear – Same thing as Tyler Jones, but, like others have written, I wish he would’ve stuck with his original message instead of feeling the pressure to change it all up the night before. I was challenged by the things his church has done to reach their community. I hope more church’s will follow that kind of example. Stetzer talk set the stage for the challenges to the majority of methodology in the church…more on this point in Part 4.

Eric Mason – I love that this guy pastors a church in urban Philadelphia and has hip hop artists there. His challenge was that the church, to many in our culture, is just like a white guy that says he can do hip/hop. Either the guy is a “beast at what he does” or “there is gonna be some trouble”. This is the church. We say that we can display God’s glory but more often than not, this doesn’t get any validation in the eyes of our culture. That’s a good call to all the churches that have become completely invalid to their communities and the cause of Christ. This world sees the church as invalid because of a number of things. We need to repent of this… I hope more churches will follow the example of Mason’s congregation and become a valid display of the glory of God through the proclamation of truth and the demonstration of life transforming power in Christ.

Danny Akin – Akin totally surprised me. He was thoroughly expositional (Hebrews 13) and presented a depth of thought that completely shocked me. I just thought we’d get a bunch of nice, quaint stories from this Southeastern Baptist Seminary president. I am just so encouraged and delighted that there is a guy like this as president of Southeastern Baptist Theological seminary instead of what I had in mind. Maybe the Southern Baptist Convention shouldn’t be written off just yet. Bottom line – I just love to hear the president of a Southern Baptist seminary quote John Calvin so much. Keep up the good work Dr. Akin. I also, having grown up in a Southern Baptist church, love Akin’s challenge and example to the church to stop being so homogenous. I’m sick of looking around on Sunday morning and seeing a bunch of people that look just like me. I just don’t know what to do to change that…it is going to take much thought and prayer and some Spirit guided realizations and repentance to determine what to do.

John Piper – I’ve read most of his books, including, “Let the Nations Be Glad.” I have listened to just about every sermon he has preached…So I know his material pretty well. But just as one of the guys who rode with me at the conference said – reading it and being convicted by what you read is one thing, but there is just something about experiencing the proclamation of the truth by a Spirit-filled man and the Holy Spirit energy that accompanies the event of preaching that cannot be written in a book. This was vintage Piper and he is a gift from God to the men who were at this conference. I just hope and pray that the men at this conference, including myself, will look not to the gift but to the Giver of the gift and give Him the glory for what He is doing through men like John Piper. I also pray that Piper would continue in his integrity until he drops or until Christ meets him in the air. God, for your name’s sake, don’t let him fall into sin…

In part three I’ll reflect on the greatest blessing of going to this conference – the men of Grace Bible Church that I accompanied to Advance09.