Archive for June, 2009|Monthly archive page

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.

Reflections on Advance09 (Part One)

This past week I had the privilege of attending the Advance09 Conference in Durham, North Carolina.  I wanted to take a few posts to share with you my reflections on the weekend.

My brother mentioned the conference to me because it was going to be in Durham, NC, and John Piper was going to be there. So he knew that, if Piper was coming that close, I would want to see him. So one day, at lunch with a couple of my pastors, we discussed the latest Mark Driscoll controversy and the articles regarding it at the Shepherds Fellowship (I’m not sure what to make of Driscoll – I’ve got some real concerns but I haven’t written him off and would actually love to see God glorify himself through that roughneck). I sent information about the conference to my teaching pastor, Rich Ryan, jokingly offering him a chance to hear Mark Driscoll in person, and oh yeah – Piper too. Well…he totally took the bull by the horns and the next thing I know I’m going to this conference with him and about twenty other guys from our church – AWESOME! I love this guy and his intentionality and initiative.

However, even with Rich’s intentions and initiative and even with my brother’s invitation and even with the draw of John Piper’s preaching, there is no way I would’ve gone to this unless my wife saw the greater good of me going. She is the real and precious visionary in my life. She sees what good it is for me to attend things like this and then she determines to send me off to it and does what it takes for that to happen. She is the one who sacrificed for the three days. She is the one that endured a kidney stone (yes she passed a kidney stone during the first night – and that sucker was big) and the sleepless night that came with it so that I could experience these things and have these reflections. I love her for seeing greater things for me and for us and her endless acts of self sacrificial service that are required to allow me to do something like this. So thanks Dr. Piper for making the trip. Thanks Rich for getting it together. Thanks Jason, my brother, for the invitation. But thank you God for giving me the gift of Jenn and the ever growing display of a servant’s heart that defines her life and ministry to me and our children. May your blessings continue to abound in her life.

Now, back to Advance09…in Rich’s words – “That conference soooo exceeded my expectations.”

Overall, I was very encouraged by the overwhelming theme of Christ-centeredness in the church and the obvious commitment, by all the speakers, to scripture and to the preaching of the true gospel message to all peoples as a necessary “mission” of the church. I was convicted by the call to be “mission-minded” in all areas of life and in the local church and the global church. I was convicted of the idolatry in my life and my lack of a war time attitude regarding prayer, evangelism, and missions.

I determined to pray for my elders on a more regular basis. I determined to buy Patrick Johnstone’s, “Operation World”, and begin learning about the unreached peoples of the world and teaching my family about it. How can the Holy Spirit call me or my family or you to go and reach a certain people group unless we know that they exist?

In part two I’ll give my reflections on the music and the individual speakers.

Andy Being a Christian and His Guest Week

Andy is a blog friend of mine in the UK.  For some reason, he thought it would be a good idea to include me in his guest “week”.  So I wrote up a post regarding something I’ve been convicted of in the past months and something that has helped my walk with Christ in recent years.  So visit Andy’s blog and leave a comment or two.  He’s a fairly young Christian and could use some encouragement regarding his “being a Christian”…especially with the controversy that has kicked up over there.  Your contribution would be welcomed I’m sure.

Battling Against Living in the Flesh @ Andy Being A Christian