Saturday, January 30, 2010

Global Christian First

I am a global Christian first and a PCA minister second.

By this I mean that I am…

1. Excited by the worldwide spread of the gospel historically. I love studying history because I love studying the spread of the gospel from the time of Jesus to the present day. This includes the spread of the gospel through missionaries, monks, and theologians; through those we might label “Roman Catholic” or “Eastern Orthodox” or (more recently) “Pentecostal”; through reformers and revivalists; from high church to horseback.

2. Excited by the worldwide spread of the gospel presently. I love hearing about the underground church in China, Brazilian churches in New Jersey, Korean missionaries going into Muslim countries, and the Africans welcoming the Americans.

3. Humble concerning my own tradition, respectful of other Christian traditions. What I've written above could not be possible unless this were also true. I wouldn’t be “Reformed” or “Protestant” or “Presbyterian” if I didn’t believe those labels pointed toward biblical faithfulness. I think Reformed theology best summarizes the biblical teaching concerning God’s salvation in Jesus Christ, and I believe that being “protestant” means returning the church to its biblical foundations. Yet I respect the histories and the strengths of other traditions. My Christology owes a great debt to those we now label “Eastern Orthodox” and “Roman Catholic.” And I owe a huge personal debt to Pentecostals who prayed for my salvation and charismatic evangelicals who led me to Jesus.

4. Ever called to guard the trust. Let me add an important note, which is that my joy concerning the global spread of the gospel is tempered by concern for that which is spiritually dangerous or unhealthy. We pastors are called to be defenders of God’s truth, and in particular the biblical gospel, and the more this gets distorted the less we rejoice and the more we warn. The gospel can get distorted by extrabiblical tradition, extrabiblical “revelation,” legalism, greed, perversion, or cold intellectualism within the church. So when I speak about the joy of seeing God work in all different geographical and theological corners of the globe, I’m referring to his work in magnifying Himself through the salvation and Lordship of Jesus Christ. You can't be a global Christian without believing the Christian means something precious!

Some applications.

1. I think a person misses out on great deal of joy if they do not recognize the blessing of Jesus Christ among believers who think, act, or worship differently. And this happens to all of us, to some degree, whether we are Reformed, charismatic, Pentecostal, Anglican, Orthodox, or Catholic.

2. I like to read widely. I will tend to read plenty of books (and blogs) by Reformed and/or evangelical people like myself, because this is my world. But I do not shun books or commentaries that come from a different angle and, in fact, welcome them to the degree that they help me see something in Scripture that I would otherwise fail to notice.

3. More important: I like to pray widely. I like to know what’s going on in other denominations, or other parts of the world, so that my heart can better resemble Jesus’s heart for His people. It's not always easy or natural, but I like to cultivate this habit.

4. Perhaps more important still: I like to befriend widely. I want friendships with believers of all sorts, for the purpose of prayer, mutual encouragement, and standing together for the gospel. Again, not always easy or natural, but important.

I suppose this all goes back to the earliest post I wrote for Moose: The Lord Thinks We’re Crazy!

Friday, January 29, 2010

What is means to be humble before the text.

I've been learning recently that the doctrine of sola scriptura is easier said than done. Which is saying something, since I'm never really sure if I'm pronouncing those Latin phrases correctly or not. But as difficult as it is to say, its even tougher to do.

Sola Scriptura means that we hold the Bible as our ultimate authority in faith and in life. It means that we, as Christians, are bound to believe what the Bible teaches. And it means that all of our beliefs should be based on scriptural teaching. That which we hear in church, we compare to the Bible to make sure it is true (Acts 17:11). When we read Christian books, theologians, or even when we sing songs, we judge their content by what is in the Word of God.

Things get a little sticky when we realize that this process often works in reverse as well. In other words, when our pastor explains a certain passage of scripture to us, we tend to believe him, and that becomes the way we understand the passage. Our theology often informs the way we read the Bible. And for the most part this is good. God ordained that there would be teachers and preachers in the church so they could do just this, teach us the Bible!

Here's where I'm going. One of my teachers was recently telling me how he came to a certain position he holds to. It is a very acceptable, yet minority position within the world of reformed theology. For years he had held to the majority position. But then he began to read a few key texts differently. For so many years he had read the text in one way, because that was how our theology told him to read the text. But it had made him miss several obvious features.

He told me how deeply humbling it was for him to realize that this could happen. He is a Bible scholar both by trade and by hobby. He immerses himself in the text, both in English and Hebrew. And yet the task of Biblical interpretation is such a deeply communal activity that we often follow the footsteps of those who have gone before, enjoying their insights, and often making the same mistakes.

Another teacher often said that he had to be much more careful in reading authors he trusted, because he was liable to let his guard down and follow them in both truth and error. Whereas when reading authors he was skeptical of, he already was on his guard, and eagerly testing everything by the scriptures.

If the Bereans were praised for testing the Apostle Paul by the Word of God, then how much more ought I to subject my reformed forefathers (as much as I love and trust them) to the scriptures. And when I read the scriptures, how much more do I need to pray for the Spirit of God to lead me into all truth.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Miller's Million Miles

After reading Jeff’s post yesterday, I thought it was time to finally post a review of Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. After stumbling upon Bob Goff yesterday, I knew it was time.

First, a disclaimer: I have no horse in this race. I never read Miller’s popular Blue Like Jazz, never was disappointed by his subsequent books, never developed an opinion about his writing. I just happened to hear what this book was about and thought it sounded like good, light holiday reading. So around the New Year, I picked it up.

At first, I didn’t like it. I wanted to return it and get my money back, in fact. His writing style was just so…well, he was just trying too hard to be clever, and it bugged me.

But for some reason I kept reading. I liked it a little more, although I didn’t fully relate to the main character. The main character is, in fact, Donald Miller. He is fairly self-depreciating, and basically describes himself as a bum who’s not accomplishing anything. Although I’m often disappointed in myself, I’m not wasting a whole lot of time on movies and TV.

But for some reason, I kept reading. And I ended up liking it quite a bit. Basically, Miller realizes that he’s living a boring life and that he needs to do something challenging. Then, he realizes that challenging isn’t quite enough, you have to overcome some fears. Then, he realizes that you have to still go a step further and do something that is actually meaningful…helpful…sacrificial.

All of this is wrapped in the idea, kind of popular now, of looking at our life through the lens of story. (This is where Jeff’s blog comes in.) What we look for in a dramatic story is really what we want to see happen in our lives, if we’re willing to get out of our comfort zone: “A character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it.” Miller analyzes this in pieces: A character. Who wants something. Who overcomes conflict. To get it.

Here’s the opening of the book:

If you watched a movie about a guy who wanted a Volvo and worked for years to get it, you wouldn’t cry at the end when he drove off the lot, testing the windshield wipers. You wouldn’t tell your friends you saw a beautiful movie or go home and put a record on to think about the story you’d seen. The truth is, you wouldn’t remember that movie a week later, except you’d feel robbed and want your money back. Nobody cries at the end of a movie about a guy who wants a Volvo.

But we spend years actually living these stories, and expect our lives to feel meaningful. The truth is, if what we choose to do with our lives won’t make a story meaningful, it won’t make a life meaningful either. Here’s what I mean by that:

And so the story unfolds.

Actually, Miller doesn’t accomplish anything stunning over the year (or so) that he chronicles. But he sets out to do some things that are, for him, steps in the right direction. And I think that’s part of the enjoyment of the book: after the first few aggravating chapters, it’s actually pretty realistic. He doesn’t buy a Volvo, but he doesn’t save the planet either. He loses weight; he hikes; he bikes across the country. He faces some fears concerning his estranged father. He starts mentoring some other kids who don’t have dads.

So, by the way, yesterday a guy was standing in my church named Bob Goff. He was speaking to about 400 law students (and to me, I was in the back row). And I realized part way through his talk why I recognized his name: his family, and his story, is described by Donald Miller in a chapter called “Meeting Bob.” Hmm! So while Bob was talking about doing exciting things with one’s law career, I was thinking, “Time to write that blog.”

So if this sounds interesting at all, you’ll likely enjoy the book. It will make you pause and reflect the way light reading sometimes does. But if this doesn’t sound interesting, well, you probably haven’t even finished reading this post and you’re certainly not going to be tempted to buy the book anyway.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Through New Eyes

When Aubrey and I began our blog way back in '06 I remember a funny thing happening. It didn't take long before I began to start seeing every part of life as being a potential blog post. I no longer lived life in a simple, happy-go-lucky, non-reflective sort of way. No, I began to filter my experiences through the lens of blogability.

The same thing happened after I signed up for facebook. Each experience, quip, or mishap, no matter how mundane prompted reflection: "Could this be turned into a clever status update?"

When Ken and I began blogging here at The Moose back in November, these silly reflections took a more serious turn. As I was putting more time into writing things of a more serious, edifying nature, I began to search my daily experiences for illustrative material. I began asking not simply, "Could this be turned into a blog post," but "Could this be used to illustrate a bible verse, hebrew word, or theological dynamic?"

Looking at our life through lenses is not bad. It's inevitable. We all do it. Sometimes its instructive to reflect on what lenses we filter our experiences through. Blogability? Facebookability? Tweetability? Other lenses are more serious. Vanity? (everything that happens is one more chapter in the amazing story of me!) Pessimism? (just a more depressing take on vanity) A Quest? (every experiences relates to my search for meaning in ______)

The Bible encourages us to wear certain interpretive lenses. Romans 8 teaches us about God's sovereignty, and encourages us to see our lives not as meaningless progressions of bloggable (or not) events, but as being guided by the hand of our loving Heavenly Father. Can I reflect on my daily events and appreciate that God is in control (even if I don't understand why things happened the way they did)? Can I learn to be thankful and even worshipful in the knowledge that God knows every sparrow that falls?

Other lenses influence the way we see the whole world. For instance, a Biblical lens sees all of history as broken up into periods of Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation. This lens helps us to understand an important cosmic trajectory. Likewise when we learn to see the world in theological categories. This world is fallen, stepped in sin, yet being redeemed. The church, which is the kingdom of God, is growing, and slowly but surely people are being redeemed, and rescued from the dominion of darkness.

Biblical lenses help us to make sense of the world, even when we don't see the ultimate purpose behind every event. They give us hope, give us meaning and give us direction. And they help us to see the significance of every experience, quip, and mishap, no matter how mundane.

Note: I like that last sentence, but let me be clear. Saying that biblical lenses can help us to see the significance of every experience most certainly does NOT mean that we will understand just exactly why God sees fit to order our lives or the world at large the way he does. However, good Biblical lenses will help us to know that though his providence is mysterious, He is in control. And sometimes that is enough.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Anxiety and Prayer

One of the helpful points Paul Miller makes in A Praying Life is that we should monitor our anxieties to know how to pray.

He writes:

What does an unused prayer link look like? Anxiety. Instead of connecting with God, our spirits fly around like severed power lines, destroying everything they touch. Anxiety wants to be God but lacks God's wisdom, power, or knowledge.

This is simply what is said repeatedly in the Bible: anxieties are to be replaced with prayer (see Philippians 4:5-6 for example). But what I find helpful here is thinking of anxieties as "prayers left unprayed."

I think it's true. Instead of letting those prayers go unprayed, we need to take those cares and turn them into prayers, lest they destroy the whole neighborhood.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Megchelsen Challenge

When I was a twentysomething and new to the Reformed faith, my church in San Diego had an assistant pastor named Jim Megchelsen who was attending seminary at the time. He taught an adult Sunday School class on Zechariah. That’s a book in the Old Testament.

And he said something that has stuck with me to this day:

Jim claimed that 90% of our theological questions would be resolved if… now, that’s a very important “if”… if we understood precisely the relationship between the Old and New Testaments.

In other words: If we could know precisely where there is continuity, and precisely where there is discontinuity, between the Old and New Testaments, we would resolve many of the thorny issues that divide believers today.

For example, we would have answers to the following questions:
* Should we baptize infants or not?
* Should we (only) sing psalms in worship? Should we pray imprecatory psalms?
* Should clergy be called “priests”? (I consider that a “gimme,” but a billion other people on the planet do not.)
* Should we seek to implement the Old Testament law in our nation? In our lives?
* Should we expect prophecy in the church today? What is the church?
* Should we honor the Sabbath? How? And what day is it on, by the way?

Not to mention that we would have a much better understanding of the Trinity, biblical prophecy (in the “end times” sense), and very personal questions such as “does God love me even when I don’t keep the rules?”

What do you think?

As for Jim Megchelsen, I looked him up online. He’s currently preaching from Colossians in the mornings and Numbers in the evenings. Nice.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Spiritual Guinea Pig runs a series entitled Human Guinea Pig: Humiliating Myself for Fun and Profit. The writer, Emily Yoffe, has been a mime for a day, a drag king, even a golfer. Once she was a “standardized patient” for med students, the first patient 23 different medical students ever examined.

Sometimes I feel like the spiritual guinea pig. I’m currently working through a study with my wife and two other couples; among other things, we are often called upon to examine our “respectable sins” (as Jerry Bridges calls them). Attitudes of self-righteousness, efforts at control, approval gathering, and so forth. For some reason, I’m usually the one in the room on the operating table—the “standardized patient”—explaining how my lack of faith played itself out this week.

For example, last night I explained how I experienced the sinfulness of sin in Walmart. It had nothing to do with the people there—who apparently conspired to take up my time, get in my space, and hinder my progress. No, the real sinfulness was my complete lack of love, based ultimately on a lack of faith. Although as I explained to the group last night, I really did have to get some things.

Maybe I’m not always the one describing my bouts with selfishness and lovelessness. Maybe it just feels that I’m always the one, because our pride desires that we never be the one.

One thing I’ve been learning through my assignments as a spiritual guinea pig is this: we will hinder our own progress unless we have open relationships with others, and in particular the confession of our sins. As uncomfortable as it is to be honest about who we are when we are exposed by God’s word, it is far worse—and fruitless, in the Galatians 5 sense—to hide from others. Somehow, and I don’t have it all figured out yet, our relationship with God suffers as our relationships with others suffer—and vice versa.

“If we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). This is the guinea pig’s motto.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Grace + Growth = Obedience

I'm preparing a sermon this week on three very well known verses, Ephesians 2:8-10. Verses 8 and 9 in particular are quite well known, and are one of the classic statements of salvation by grace alone. We contribute nothing. Pure gift. Don't try to earn it. Your works don't save you. And yet I can't miss the fact that they are followed up by verse 10, telling us about the good works God desires us to do.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:8-10

As clear as Paul is about the fact that we can't obey our way into God's favor, he is just as clear about the fact that God's favor should now result in our obedience.

The classic dilemma for preachers approaching this text, or similar grace-centered texts, is to worry that if we make too big a deal out of grace, that people will start to think obedience doesn't matter. Perhaps, we may think, it's dangerous for us to emphasize grace too much, because people will stop caring about holiness. How do we tell people their obedience doesn't earn them favor with God, and still tell them to obey?

Bryan Chapell sums up the dilemma neatly, "It is difficult to say plainly that obedience does not qualify us for grace, without having some hear that obedience is no longer a requirement of God." Indeed.

Even Paul was not unaware of such distortions of the gospel of grace. In Romans 6 he deals with the exact issue. Some are claiming that since they are saved by grace, that they are then free to live any way that they please. "What then shall we say? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!!"

Preaching grace means maintaining as Chapell says, that our good works do "not qualify us for grace." Indeed, by definition, grace cannot be qualified for. We are saved apart from a consideration of good works, but we are also saved that we might now do good works. Preaching the importance of holiness in the Christian life is not "legalism" or "works based theology," it is biblical, so long as the context is right. Paul is a model of what it means to keep these together in Ephesians 2:8-10.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

I have two relationships with God.

Think of this post as functioning as 'part two' of Tuesdays post, "Does God withhold blessings from me when I sin?" On Tuesday I answered that question with a resounding "No!" God does not withhold blessings from us based on our behavior, because our behavior is not the foundation of our relationship with God. We have a relationship based on grace.

But there is another way to answer the question. And that would be, well.... yes. Because there are some blessings which I believe that God might temporarily withhold from a believer based on that believer persisting in a state of sin. To be sure, none of the blessings withheld would in any way affect the state of that believer's salvation. None of the things mentioned yesterday (justification, sanctification, union with Christ, adoption, etc) can ever be taken away or lost by a believer. But there are other blessings, such as a sense of God's presence or assurance of our own salvation which we can forfeit by living in sin.

Take for example Hebrews 12:5-10, which talks about the discipline of the Lord. Now, again, this discipline is a sign of his love. But this discipline might involve the removal of some of the benefits of walking with God.

For me, the key to understanding this was to realize that I have two relationships with God. I have both a legal and a personal relationship. The legal relationship is what I wrote about on Tuesday. I have been justified, united to Christ, adopted, and I belong to Christ. Nothing can ever change any of that. Those blessings are eternally secure, nothing can take them away. (Romans 8:31-39) But I also have a personal relationship. And like all personal relationships, this one can be hindered by a lack of communion.

Consider what question #81 of the Westminster Larger catechism is saying...

Question 81: Are all true believers at all times assured of their present being in the estate of grace, and that they shall be saved?

Answer: Assurance of grace and salvation not being of the essence of faith, true believers may wait long before they obtain it; and, after the enjoyment thereof, may have it weakened and intermitted, through manifold distempers, sins, temptations, and desertions; yet are they never left without such a presence and support of the Spirit of God as keeps them from sinking into utter despair.

In Q. 79, the catechism has just assured us that true believers, despite their sin, will not ultimately fall away from grace, they are secure in Christ. But now see what it says. Regarding our subjective sense of assurance, the catechism says that through "manifold distempers, sins, temptations and desertions" our sense of assurance of our salvation may be weakened.

Although our sins can never separate us from God (they've all already been forgiven!), they can fog up our personal relationship with our God. They can keep us from experiencing the full range of blessedness that we are meant to experience from walking with our faithful covenant savior.

I have two relationships with God. Both were begun purely by grace, and both are maintained by grace. But my personal relationship is maintained by the grace of God's spirit working in my life to produce obedience. The more I submit myself to this grace, the more I enjoy my relationship with God.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Does God withhold blessings from me when I sin?


How could he? Every blessing that I receive from God, I receive purely as a matter of grace. Election? Grace. Justification? Grace. Adoption? Grace. Sanctification? Grace. Glorification? Future Grace.

If our loving heavenly Father withheld his blessings from us because of our sin, I dare say that none of us would have ever received anything good from God at all. Nevertheless, I fear that many of us (myself included) live our lives as though we believed in a God who meted out his blessings to us based on our performance.

Consider. If you had an important meeting later this week regarding a promotion, what would you do? Many of us would instinctively feel that we better "step it up" this week, read our Bibles more than usual, have extended times of prayer, to make sure that come meeting day we will be on good terms with God. Habits like these go to show that despite what we say (and sing in church), we live our lives as though we have a works based relationship with God.

How good do our 'good' days have to be to merit God's blessing? "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect." Are they that good? How bad does a bad day have to be to drop off God's blessing list? I know we don't think in these terms. At least I don't. But my actions betray such things. Jerry Bridges says "it is because we do not fully grasp the fact that Jesus paid the penalty for all our sins that we despair of God's blessing when we have failed to live up to even our own desires to live a life that is pleasing to God."

I can say with confidence that I will sin tomorrow. I will not deserve anything from God. But at the end of the day (at at the beginning of it, and during the middle) God will look at me and see only the righteousness of Christ which has been imputed to my account. All my sins have been forgiven. What I have done or not done will not matter, my relationship will be by grace. God will take delight in blessing me no less than he takes delight in blessing Christ.

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places." - Ephesians 1:3

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Mighty Man Worships a Mightier God

1 O Lord, in your strength the king rejoices,
and in your salvation how greatly he exults!
2 You have given him his heart's desire
and have not withheld the request of his lips. Selah
3 For you meet him with rich blessings;
you set a crown of fine gold upon his head.
4 He asked life of you; you gave it to him,
length of days forever and ever.
5 His glory is great through your salvation;
splendor and majesty you bestow on him.
6 For you make him most blessed forever;
you make him glad with the joy of your presence.
7 For the king trusts in the Lord,
and through the steadfast love of the Most High he shall not be moved.

8 Your hand will find out all your enemies;
your right hand will find out those who hate you.
9 You will make them as a blazing oven
when you appear.
The Lord will swallow them up in his wrath,
and fire will consume them.
10 You will destroy their descendants from the earth,
and their offspring from among the children of man.
11 Though they plan evil against you,
though they devise mischief, they will not succeed.
12 For you will put them to flight;
you will aim at their faces with your bows.

13 Be exalted, O Lord, in your strength!
We will sing and praise your power.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Shaking the Sleeping Soul

I’d like to follow up on yesterday’s post concerning sermon styles.

I find it interesting that all the preachers Jeff named yesterday have something in common, in spite of their different styles. For they are all quite different on the surface: Mark Driscoll is grungy like Seattle and very wide angle, as Jeff said. Tim Keller is also wide angle but his temper, and temperament, are much different; he is more like a psychiatrist whereas Driscoll is more like an armed combatant. I love them both. Meanwhile, Piper is hyper-exegetical and can preach a compelling sermon on a jot or tittle, which is exactly why Jesus insisted they not be removed. (Note: I think Jeff Tell is like John Piper but sneakier. Scandalously, his sermons are not available online. We'll have to stick with comparing the three lesser lights.)

So what do these guys all have in common? Well, they are all conservative and Reformed, and they are all preaching in big liberal cities, and they are all passionate about the gospel. But there’s something about their preaching that I want to point out, something that ties their styles together even though they are different on the surface.

And it’s something that I think is absolutely essential to quality preaching.

It’s this: each of these preachers, horrified at the reality of sleeping souls, pulls the shades wide open so the light streams in, and then grabs the soul by the shoulders and shakes it till it wakes up.

That’s another way of saying this: each of these preachers, in their own way, reveals the beauty of the Scriptures and then persuasively confronts us with its application to our hearts.

Regarding beauty: the two types of sermon styles Jeff mentioned yesterday both help people see the beauty of Scripture, either in its harmony or its intricacy. The fish-eye (wide angle) preachers who “go big” are like those who are impressed with the immensity of the universe. The microscopers who “go small” are like those who see the beauty of the microscopic world—atom, molecules, DNA, and the universe contained there. Bottom line, effective preachers give you a new lens to use so you can appreciate (maybe for the first time) the beauty of the universe that is God’s word.

Regarding application: all the preachers Jeff mentioned yesterday are confrontational. They are not satisfied to say either “don’t miss the big picture” or “hey, don’t miss the nuance here” but instead take those truths and do battle with the heart. Their form of warfare may be more or less outwardly confrontational, but they are all on the same mission: to move people to worship God instead of whatever else they may be prone to worship in Seattle, Minneapolis, or New York. Unless you are dead, you are forced to get out of bed.

Here’s what I’m saying (and not saying as well as any of the guys mentioned above): Whatever the style may be, effective preaching must aim the truths of God’s word at the hearts of the hearers and take a shot. What’s great about both the fish-eye lens and the microscope, “going big” or “going small,” is that both help to rouse the soul who’s all too comfortable with their minimal knowledge of Scripture. The light streams in. Then from there, you have to start shaking…or shooting.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Microscope and The Fish-eye Lens

Recently, Ken and I were discussing the relative merits of listening to sermons by Mark Driscoll. Driscoll is a pastor in Seattle who has become quite well known in the church-planting world. He planted a church in Seattle which has become enormous, and is popular with the young, hip, urbanite crowd you think of when you think of Seattle. Nevertheless, Driscoll is quite traditional when it comes to preaching. He preaches lengthy expositional messages from the Bible, and is surprisingly conservative is his theology. These are the facts of the case.

Our discussion consisted of Ken trying to convince me that I should like Driscoll's preaching. And maybe I should. Its not that he's unbiblical, or theologically weak (quite the opposite), its just that he preaches with a fish-eye lens.

A fish-eye lens is the ultimate wide-angle lens. And Driscoll is the ultimate "big picture" kind of guy in preaching. In his sermons, he doesn't focus so much on the details of any particular text, but rather on the biblical-theological themes being developed. In other words, say Driscoll were preaching on the temptation of Jesus in Matthew 4. The text mentions that Jesus is tempted by Satan. Driscoll would stop, zoom the lens all the way out, and starting with Genesis 1 explain the biblical testimony concerning who Satan is. Next, the wilderness. Then Jesus. Then, with the components explained, he will begin to draw application.

I tend to preach with a microscope. I usually do the opposite of what Driscoll does. Instead of reading a passage, and then zooming the lens all the way out in order to explain it, I zoom all the way in, in order to examine each relevant detail. Why this word instead of that? Why does this sentence follow that? I explain a text from the inside out, Driscoll sets it in the context of all of scripture and draws conclusions from there.

So which way is better?

Well, I think the fish-eye lens approach is great for helping people grasp the big picture of scripture, helping them learn a biblical-theological approach and seeing the shape of all of scripture. In a place like Seattle where biblical literacy is low, this is a good thing. I think Tim Keller is also a fish-eyer.

I think the microscope is great for meditating on God's word, exposing the beauty and richness of it, and savoring the complexity. If the Holy Spirit has inspired each and every word, then not only is the text able to bear such scrutiny, but it deserves such scrutiny. John Piper preaches with a microscope. And if your pastor has ever taken five years to work through one book of the bible, he might be a microscoper too.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

From the Rising of the Sun...

The sun is a multifarious image in scripture. That is, used poetically, it does not always represent the same thing. It is multifarious. And multifariousity can be very instructive. The sun, as we know, is our own local star. And what a star it is! Every quotable statistic is so completely enormous as to give almost no earthly idea of the magnitude and ferocity of the sun. 99.8% of the mass of our solar system is contained in the sun. The core of the sun, which on its own is many many times the size of the earth, burns pretty consistently at around 29,000,000 degrees. The energy output in the core is roughly equivalent to 100 billion large atomic bombs being detonated every second. See what I mean?

The sun is a dangerous place, and considering the numbers, I feel lucky to escape with a mild sunburn when I occasionally neglect sunscreen on hot sunny days in the summer. But viewed from within our cozy atmosphere, the sun is usually a very good thing. We appreciate the light and heat that it provides. It makes the green plants grow, and turns our skin that lovely shade of brown. But every benefit of the sun is a dangerous thing that is being put to a good use. The sun provides us with light, but don't look straight at it. The heat of the sun is good, but don't get too close. The life giving rays make plants grow, or wither, and give us vitamin D, with melanoma waiting in the wings. The sun is a very good thing, but be careful to use it correctly.

When we turn to the scriptures the same complexity is found. In Psalm 84 the Lord god is a sun and shield, giving favor and honor to those who walk uprightly. He provides light and heat, and is the true light that comes into the world, making know to us the path of righteousness. He gives health and encouragement to his saints, and is truly their source of life. In John's vision of the celestial city there is no longer any sun, for the Lord God has taken its place, and his presence is the light of the city. Psalm 121 looks at the other side of the picture, and presents God as our shade, protecting us so that the sun does not strike us. And all who have spurned sunscreen on a bright day know the danger that lurks. The sun is able to give the light of day and to oppress us with its fury. And God is both our supply of the good, and our protection from the bad. For those who believe God is both the light of day, and the sunglasses of grace. He is the energy that gives heat and the car with air conditioning. The prophet Malachi combines both duties of the sun in describing the day of the Lord. For the arrogant and the evildoers the day of the Lord is coming like an oven, that will burn them to stubble, but "for those who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in its wings" (Malachi 4:2). On that great day of the Lord, when Christ appears, the Sun of Righteousness will do his job, and justice will be done. To the unbelieving, who have not the Lord God as a shade, the Sun of Righteousness will scorch and burn. But to those of us who fear his name, and who by faith have believed the promises and clung to them, for us the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. The eternal Son will be for a light and for healing, for comfort, and a never ending protection from darkness.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Saint's Everlasting Rest

Before Richard Baxter hit the big time– wait a minute, have you ever heard of him? He wrote The Reformed Pastor (very convicting) and The Christian Directory (very long). He was an English Puritan, and popular among Reformed-minded pastors like Jeff and me.

Well, before Jeff and I heard of him, he fell very sick. So sick that he began blood letting (this was the 1600’s), which ties today’s post back to yesterday’s by the way. And so sick that he thought for sure he was going to die any day. He was only a young pastor at this time.

Baxter began to sketch some thoughts about heaven, hell, and eternity from the Bible (where else can you learn about such things?). He figured they would console him or possibly be used for his funeral sermon (or both?).

But an interesting thing happened. He didn’t die. Instead, he just kept writing.

And so was born a rather lengthy book (Puritans, and especially Baxter, are known for these). The book is titled The Saint’s Everlasting Rest and went through many printings.

A long while ago, I had heard about this book and sought to get hold of it. I found a used, abridged copy. Unlike the original, it’s short. But, I’m not so great at finishing long books anyway and, truth be told, sometimes the Puritans do go on a bit long. It’s not that they don’t have great things, certainly smart and orthodox things, to say, it’s just that they can say them…repeatedly.

Unlike Baxter, I had never finished this book. So I started reading it again yesterday.

Early on, Baxter gives thought to what it must be like for the soul to leave the body. He reflects on how terrifying this is for the one who “loitered” (hesitated) concerning his spiritual condition. And yet the reverse is true also. How joyful is that moment for the believer!

The contrast may be seen by considering two passages of Scripture. In Acts 6:54-60, Stephen leaves his body with Jesus joyfully in view. He is not concerned about the injustice and pain that is leveled against him; in fact, he forgives.

55 But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together [2] at him. 58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

Those in Revelation 6:12-17, however, also see Jesus—but they are terrified at the prospect.

12 When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, 13 and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. 14 The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. 15 Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”

I’m looking forward to further thoughts from this sober, young man. As I said, he went on to some degree of fame in his later years. More significantly, he went on to meet Jesus . We will too.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Spiritual Pleege

The other day my brother-in-law Andrew was describing to me the process of fixing an aortic aneurysm. It made a lot of sense the way he described it. Almost as though, if it came right down to it, I could do it myself. You just make some judicious use of clamps to stop the blood from flowing through the heart, and temporarily reroute it through a bypass machine. Then you remove the damaged length of artery and sew in the bionic patch. A procedure comparable to what you might do if your exhaust manifold ever rusted out. The stakes, however, are high. Your aorta is the main artery supplying blood to your arms, legs, brain, and everything in between. And at the crux of the operation, you have to stop the heart from beating so you can do your needle work without ripping the whole thing to ribbons. The doctor orders, "Run the Pleege." Pleege is a potassium laden solution called cardioplegia which when run through the heart causes it to stop beating. The potassium in this solution makes it effective; it doesn't kill your heart, it just stops it from beating. When oxygen-rich blood is reintroduced to the heart, it will find its lost rhythm once more.

Proverbs 4:23 tells us to "Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life." The heart is the well-spring of our life in more ways than one. Yes, it is the pump that moves the blood that feeds our vital organs. But the Bible tells us that the heart is also the seat of our emotions and our will. Keeping our hearts spiritually healthy is the command of Proverbs 4:23, and is by and large the task of the Christian life. A spiritually healthy heart is one that beats in tune with our Lord's heart. One whose healthy, steady beat brings in from the hands, and eyes, and ears the love of the Lord, being experienced through the reading of the word, worship, prayer and meditation. And whose strong chambers process the grace we receive, and send it back out resulting in the fruit of the Spirit. This happens when we know the love and grace of our Father, and we know our status as accepted by Him. Jesus calls this life, and his goal is for us to know it. Knowing that we are the beloved of the Father, and that we are freely accepted is sanity's defense and charity's spring.

But there is no shortage of toxins to infect a healthy heart in this, our fallen world. Spiritual pleege is a false-world-view laden solution of lies that threatens to stop our beating heart. Spiritual pleege is a potent mixture of insecurity, false identity, legalism, license and pride. When these things are the nourishment of our heart, the springs of life are stopped. The worst lie of our fallen culture is when it tells us that this worldly pleege IS our life, and is good for us. The springs of our life are under active attack. This is why our leaders remind us every week to fight back daily with the weapons of the word and prayer. They are forgiveness-rich channels of truth, and we are to be vigilant in the use of this grace.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Blend My Worship!

A while back I put together a brief comparison of “traditional” and “contemporary” worship styles. Yes, these are generalizations. However, I’ve been in 5 different denominations and so I think this is somewhat fair. I have seen both traditional and contemporary worship done well, and done poorly. We need to be careful, however, not to judge “our side” according to its best proponents and the “other side” according to its worst. All the terminology used below is meant in a positive way, there is nothing pejorative here. Hope it helps.

Tone. The tone of traditional worship is “reverence and awe” and tends to emphasize God’s exalted nature. The tone of contemporary worship is celebration and tends to emphasizes God coming near.

Style. Traditional worship is based on classical instrumentation and hymnody. Contemporary worship is composed of modern or folk forms of music and produces shorter (or at least simpler) songs.

Order. Traditional worship is more regulated and liturgical, reaping benefits of well planned or historic prayers/creeds. Contemporary worship is less regulated, creating space for spontaneity of expression.

Leadership: Traditional worship tends to be ministerial, that is, led by an ordained pastor or elder. Contemporary worship tends to be lay led, that is, led by a home grown leader.

* Traditional worship is concerned for theological clarity and tends to be more intellectual/cerebral. Contemporary worship is more concerned for the experience of God within worship and tends to be more emotional/expressive.
* Traditional worship emphasizes the corporate nature of worship, with a desire for unity in worship. For example, the creeds. This connects believers across the globe and across the centuries. Contemporary worship is more concerned for the individual and internal nature of worship. The worshiper asks, “Did I ‘enter into’ worship?”

Proof Texting: Traditional worship sees in the psalms an example of well-crafted poetry that is theologically sophisticated. Contemporary worship sees in the psalms heartfelt prayer and joyful celebration. Traditional worship crafts New Testament priorities into elements of worship that should take place weekly (such as sacraments, pastoral prayers, confessions), contemporary worship sees in the New Testament examples of spontaneity and Spirit-led expressiveness.

And the winner is: Traditional worship sees its emphasis as godly and biblical. Contemporary worship sees its emphasis as godly and biblical.

There you have it. Your field guide to worship styles!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Favorite Commentaries That Are Not

Commentaries provide background information, application, theological reflection, or other reference material on a particular book or section of the Bible. As a pastor, I use a bunch of them. Occasionally you work through one in its entirety, but mostly they’re the kind of books you pull them down on an as-needed basis.

But some books function as commentaries for me, although it wasn’t necessarily the intent of the author. They were not intended to be reference books, but they are so useful I keep returning to them again and again.

Here are some favorites.

1) The Resurrection of the Son of God by N.T. Wright. This is a book of enormous scope, providing a wealth of historical research into many aspects of Old and New Testament theology, specifically concerning the resurrection/afterlife. It has massive apologetic value. His overview of the four gospels near the end is incredibly helpful.

2) Desiring God by John Piper. He covers a lot of ground on major practical topics such as prayer, worship, marriage – all through the lens of mankind’s highest joy and chief end.

3) How Long, O Lord? by D.A. Carson. In preaching, we frequently need to address suffering and the goodness of God. People have questions and struggles here. This book covers these topics from so many biblical angles, and contains the best chapters on God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility that I’ve ever found.

4) The Empowering Spirit by Gordon Fee. Closest thing to a commentary on this list, this book goes over all the discussions of the Spirit in the Pauline epistles. I pulled it down the other day to see what he had to say about Galatians 5 concerning the fruit of the Spirit, for example.

5) The Cross in the New Testament by Leon Morris, and--

6) The Death of Jesus in Early Christianity by John Carroll and Joel Green. Both these books survey the New Testament and help give you see the most important theme of all—Jesus’ atonement.

7) The Bible and the Future by Anthony Hoekema. Excellent resource for eschatology, including issues such as heaven, hell, millennium, eternal life, new heaven and earth. Has a great chapter arguing for the amillennial position, by the way.

ALSO: In a category and weight class all its own is the ESV Study Bible. This is what I'd recommend to someone who wants a commentary on the entire Bible, because it's all that and more.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Just Read Something

Thankfully, in light of my poor reading year in '09, I was able to squeeze in one more book before the end of the year. I read Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God's Will, by Kevin DeYoung. I read all but four pages before the clock struck midnight, December 31st (so I guess those four pages can go on 2010's reading list).

It's an easy read. I read it all (minus four pages) in two sittings. It has the same clever wit and easy reading style that made Why We Love the Church so enjoyable. And it is filled with a bit more autobiographical detail, which was interesting. For instance, I learned that he and I are the same age. (why haven't I published my first three books yet?)

The book is aimed primarily towards young people, and as I was reading, I couldn't help but wishing that this book had been around when I was in college. Not so much for me, I've never been too indecisive, but for everybody else! I went to a Nazarene college, and remember hearing incessant talk about people "wanting to be in the center of God's will." And people worrying that if they did something that got them "off-center" that they would not receive God's full blessing, and they would be doomed to a life of second best.

It's that kind of unbiblical silliness that Kevin sets out to correct in the book. It would seem that a whole bunch of divining mediums have arisen among Christians who are seeking to make a decision. DeYoung does an admirable job analyzing the various methods, appreciating what's appreciate-able, and critiquing what's critique-able. In exchange, he offers the more biblical model of wisdom, and gives several practical how-to suggestions.

During the first half of the book, I was concerned about a slightly laissez-faire attitude about decision making. As though perhaps it was a bit too easy for Kevin to say "just do something" as a settled career man with a wife, three kids, and a house. Had he forgotten just how difficult it can be to make important decisions? However, after the chapter on "Work and Wedlock" (two of the bigger life decisions young people make) I was content that he had given decisions their fair due.

I liked this small, insightful, occasionally funny, wise, easy little book. I imagine you will like it too.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Ken's Individualistic Tendencies Take A Hit

Don’t let my passionate entreaties against individualism in the church fool you. I am a closet individualist.

Left to myself, I tend to read the Bible in a very individualistic manner. I fail to remember (that is to say, I forget) that normally the exhortations in Scripture are given to the church as a whole, to the community of believers, to all God’s people. And they are intended to be practiced within the church, not without it.

For example, last week I was preparing a sermon on Galatians 5:22-23. You’ll recognize it:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

As I prepared this sermon, Individualistic Ken intended to expand on our priority to love God, to enjoy God, to have peace with God. Me and God. The Spirit at work in me. My life.

However, a good, thick book hit me over the head and helped me see that the context of Galatians 5:22-23 is relationships within the church. In fact, this context is so pronounced that it becomes necessary to understand the fruit of the Spirit as the love, joy, peace, etc., that is exhibited within the context of our relationships with others.

For example, Galatians 5:13-15:

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another!

And on the other side, Galatians 5:25-26:

If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

And then on into Galatians 6, which is a heavy dose of practical, relational theology.

So the point of this ninefold fruit of the Spirit is love within the Christian community (the local church in particular), joy in our relationships with one another, peace among ourselves, patience with one another, etc. Of course all this involves individual piety as well. We cannot love others without first loving God; we cannot serve anyone effectively without the joy of our salvation. All that is true, but it is not the main point - not here, anyway.

I think—I hope—that I am a recovering individualist. Here are some things I’ve learned:

1. Yes, the church is composed of individuals and the amazing reality is that Jesus Christ died for, and loves, even me. God’s word tests our individual hearts, desires, choices. We must begin here.
2. But we must not end there.
3. The commands and encouragements in Scripture are generally given within a community context because we are to “love God” and “love our neighbor.”
4. This means we cannot fool ourselves as easily. There is an objective way in which we can examine whether we are, in fact, loving God—are we practically loving our neighbor? Are we peacemakers? Are we patient with one another?
5. This is also an encouragement. We’re not alone in the Christian walk. Struggling with temptation? Don’t try to go it alone! Find a Christian brother (if male) or sister (if female) and fight the good fight with someone at your side.
6. This also keeps us humble. God is less concerned with our individual achievements as with being glorified within the church as a whole. “To him be the glory in the church” (Ephesians 3:21).
7. Our sermons should never leave people feeling alone. Not only do believers have a Triune God who will never leave them nor forsake them, they have the body of Christ.
8. For example, the Great Commission. It is not about a million individuals getting their act together and doing evangelism. It is about the church as a whole witnessing the good news to the world as each person contributes their particular gifts.

Well, enough of that for now. I hope I get the point.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Hebrew Mnemonic #5: Ken forgets this word.

Ya know how in the little side bar over to the right, it says that Ken has forgotten far too much Hebrew? I think he had a particular word in mind when he wrote that. Because there was this one certain word, and no matter how many times we reviewed it, Ken always forgot what it meant. The word is shakah. And it means 'to forget.'

At first we had some lame mnemonic for this word somehow involving 'Chicago,' but I don't remember exactly how it worked. And it certainly never worked for Ken! I remember many times prompting Ken during a review session, only to have him throw up his hands in despair, "I don't know... to remember? to forget? Chicago?" The irony of it all was not lost on Ken. But the meaning of the word was.

The densest concentration of shakah in the OT occurs in Psalm 119. Nine times David declares that he will not forget God's law, or his statutes, or his ordinances, etc. He will not forget God's commands because they are his delight (v. 16), his life (v. 93), and his comfort (v. 141).

I remember a number of times when I was younger when someone, usually myself or a friend, would try to beg out of a punishment by claiming forgetfulness. "Sorry Dad, I forgot." How could Dad possibly punish me? I didn't mean to not mow the lawn, I just forgot.

King David would not have suffered such nonsense (neither did my Dad). Because in the Bible, remembering and forgetting are moral matters. Israel was repeatedly charged with remembering the law of God, because without such communal memory, they were no different from any of the other nations. Moreover, remembering and forgetting are not just things you do with your brain, but you do them with your life. Obeying is a form of remembering, and sinning a varietal of forgetfulness.
Deuteronomy 8:11 - Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today.

Forgetting the meaning of a Hebrew word is one thing; but forgetting the Lord your God is another matter all together. So its no surprise that God has provided some real life mnemonics for his people. Yesterday in church we partook of the Lord's Supper. Handling the bread in our hands and tasting the grape juice on our tongues are physical reminders of all our Lord has done for us. It is a proclamation of the Lord's death, both to ourselves and to the watching world. We eat, lest we forget the the Lord has redeemed us to be his special possession.

The love of Christ is our delight, our life, and our comfort. And we must take heed to ourselves, lest we forget, and be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Have you prayed WITH your pastor lately?

Several months ago I had a doctors appointment. I don't love going to the doctor, but I am blessed to have a good believing doc, who is also a ruling elder in a local PCA church, a leader of mission trips, a friend, and one of Aubrey's best faculty members. At the end of the appointment he grabbed my hand and prayed for me. He prayed not only that I would feel better, but for me as a person, my family and my ministry at church. This meant a lot to me. In fact I was surprised how much it meant to me.

As a pastor I pray in all sorts of situations. I often pray for people in one-on-one situations. And I know that many of my people are praying for me. They do so regularly in our small group prayer meetings. But almost never does someone come up to me and simply pray for me, without it being a quid pro quo, I'll-pray-for-you-and-you-pray-for-me sort of thing. And the fact that my doc did this was very encouraging to me. It was pure gift. Pure love.

For anyone with a pastor, think about whether this might be an appropriate way to encourage your pastor.
Pastor Inquivist, that was an, um..... interesting message this morning. Can I pray for you?

Actually, Sunday after the service might not be the best time to take this advice. I can say from both personal experience, and hearing from others, that Sunday afternoons can be a fragile time for pastors, and your good intentions might be misinterpreted. But by all means, Sunday morning before the service, or other times throughout the week, pray WITH your pastor!