Tuesday, August 31, 2010

calvinists warning calvinists

Below is an excellent heads up from CH Spurgeon via Ian Murray via Ray Ortlund ...

1. “Genuine evangelical Christianity is never of an exclusive spirit. Any view of the truth which undermines catholicity has gone astray from Scripture.” Spurgeon regretfully disagreed with hyper-Calvinists who “made faith in election a part of saving faith and thus either denied the Christianity of all professed Christians who did not so believe or at least treated such profession with much suspicion.”

2. Spurgeon “wanted to see both divine sovereignty and human responsibility upheld, but when it came to gospel preaching he believed that there needed to be a greater concentration upon responsibility. The tendency of Hyper-Calvinism was to make sinners want to understand theology before they could believe in Christ.”

3. “This controversy directs us to our need for profound humility before God. It reminds us forcefully of questions about which we can only say, ‘Behold, God is great, and we know him not’ (Job 36:26).” “It is to be feared that sharp contentions between Christians on these issues have too often arisen from a wrong confidence in our powers of reasoning and our assumed ability to draw logical inferences.” Spurgeon saw “how a system which sought to attribute all to the grace of God had itself too much confidence in the powers of reason.”

4. “The final conclusion has to be that when Calvinism ceases to be evangelistic, when it becomes more concerned with theory than with the salvation of men and women, when acceptance of doctrines seems to become more important than acceptance of Christ, then it is a system going to seed and it will invariably lose its attractive power.”

Iain H. Murray, Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism (Edinburgh, 1995), pages 110-122

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Saturday, August 28, 2010

god and the kingdom

Building on what man can and can't do with the Kingdom of God, this summary by Timmy Brister is what Jesus and the Holy Spirit do in relationship to the Kingdom.

Jesus inaugurates the kingdom by His coming to earth as the Word made flesh (John 1:14). He was conceived by the Holy Spirit (Matt. 1:18), anointed (Matt. 3:16; 12:18; Luke 4:18) and empowered by the Holy Spirit, through which He gave commands (words) to His disciples (Acts 1:1-2). The kingdom has come precisely because of the mighty works performed by Spirit-anointed Messiah (Matt. 12:28) who utters the words of God as one who has received the Spirit without measure (John 3:34). [There's a little tension here because at the same time, the Kingdom did begin at the first coming of Christ.]

Jesus establishes His kingdom in the hearts of men as people are born again by the Spirit of God (John 3:3-8) and brought to faith through hearing the Word of God (Rom. 10:17; 1 Pet. 1:22-25). It is the Spirit who gives life (John 6:63), and it is the Word which is able to make one wise unto salvation through faith in Jesus Christ (2 Tim. 3;15). Sinners are delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of Christ (Col. 1:13) and therefore experience the reign and rule of King Jesus through submission to His Word, illumining our paths (Psalm 119:105), as well as submission to His Spirit, who leads us in ways that are pleasing to the King (Gal. 5:18-25).

Jesus advances His kingdom as He empowers His people with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8) to proclaim the word of God. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16), and the Spirit who applies this gospel word to the hearts of men brings resurrection life (Rom. 8:11) to those dead in their trespasses and sins. When God’s people are filled with the Spirit, there is gospel utterance (Acts 2:4; 4:8; 4:31). Those who are set apart and sent by the Spirit (Acts 13:2-4) continue in what Jesus said and did (Acts 1:2) as His representatives on earth.

Jesus displays His kingdom on earth through a new community formed by the Word of God and animated by the Spirit of God. As the Word works, the Spirit yields His fruit (Gal. 5:22-23); as the community abides in the Word (John 15:1-8), the Spirit works to conform us to the image of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18) and reflect the character of God.

Jesus consummates His kingdom as the Spirit brings the gospel word through citizens of the kingdom unto all the peoples of the earth (Matt. 24:14) so that His church would be built, His name worshiped, and His glory manifested among every nation, tongue, and tribe (Rev. 5:9). As the Word goes out and does not return void (Isaiah 55:10-11), the Spirit goes out to gather in the Bride, who together call out to the King, “Come Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20).


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Monday, August 23, 2010

who is the bible about?

What/Who is the Bible basically about? Tim Keller answers:

Implication for ministry: Every sermon should center around who Jesus is and what he has done.

As Vince Black recently reminds, "The 'shoulds' and the 'oughts' of New Testament discipleship always follow a 'therefore'." That is, the imperatives are outnumbered and preceded by the indicatives.


Sunday, August 22, 2010

one more on judging

I need to add another idea to the topic of judging. Jeff Lacine wrote the excellent piece copied below. All I can add is AMEN!

But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? (1 Corinthians 5:11-12)

It is dangerous not to be judged. We need other people to judge us, with righteous judgment (John 7:24). We need accountability. If we don't have Christian friends that are close enough to confront us when our lifestyle doesn't match our confession, then we ought to tremble.

The type of judgment I am referring to is not generated by a desire to look down on others for the sake of feeling superior—a condescending disposition. Rather, it comes from a tender disposition of love. It comes from a Nathan who is willing to tell David to repent and turn to God (2 Samuel 12).

We should fear God in light of the sin that can deceive and destroy us. We should not fear the judgment that comes from friends in the church which helps us to fight sin. This is grace!

It is immeasurably more safe to be a part of a local church that watches for our souls. Praise God for the safety that is in the righteous judgment of his people. It is grace from heaven!

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more on judging

I've posted on the topic of judging a number of times. I listed Scriptures that indicate we are to judge and how in a sense the law is still binding. I posted that Lk 6.37 is often misapplied by those who really mean they disagree with your perspective. And yet ... it keeps coming up, every time some one doesn't agree, you can hear it, "judge not". And therefore I will post again on the topic of judging.

Kevin DeYoung outlines why we rebuke:

1. It is biblical. When Peter came to Antioch, Paul opposed him to his face because he stood condemned (Gal. 2:11). Bravo to Paul for dishing it out, and kudos to Peter for taking it to heart. “Strike a scoffer, and the simple will learn prudence, reprove a man of understanding, and he will gain knowledge” (Prov. 19:25).

We are supposed to correct one another (see Matthew 18). It’s strange that we get correction in school, correction from parents, correction from employers. Yet in the rest of life, in the stuff that matters most, people will rarely dare to tell us hard things. Every bit of Scripture is useful for reproof (2 Tim. 3:16). If we only use the Bible to tell people things they want to hear we’re wielding a single edged sword.

2. It is loving. “Those whom I love,” Jesus said, “I reprove and discipline” (Revelation 3:19). He didn’t say, “I love you so much, but I still have to rebuke you.” He said, “Because I love you, I will rebuke you.” The reason we don’t rebuke more often is not because we are so full of love, it is because we do not truly love. We like people to think well of us. We like our relationships to be easy. As one writer said: “the opposite of love is not correction, but indifference.”

And yet, if you rebuke or discipline, people will say you are not loving. Just count on it. We live in an age that is emotionally fragile, easily hurt, and quickly offended. People don’t make arguments, they emote feelings. They don’t respond to logic, they claim that you use your logic in a mean way. So don’t be surprised when people equate rebuking with reviling. If you dare to correct a friend, he may think you hateful, judgmental, and meddlesome. But Jesus said, “those whom I love, I reprove.”

3. It protects. Rebuke protects you from hurting others and from hurting yourself. It also protects the flock from false teachers and evil doers. One of the chief responsibilities of the elder or pastor is that he be able to rebuke (2 Tim. 4:2; Titus 1:9, 14; 2:15). A leader who never rebukes sin and never corrects false teaching is not protecting his flock. And he who refuses to protect refuses to love.

In Ezekiel, the leaders were likened to watchmen on the city walls. That’s what the elders are to be (Acts 20:26-31). If we see enemy doctrines or enemy sin in our midst, we must warn the city, lest we have blood on our hands. Correction is our calling.

4. It restores. The goal of a rebuke, like any kind of discipline, is always restoration. It’s not punitive, but palliative. A loving rebuke is not supposed to be like a gunshot, but like a flu shot. It may hurt, but the goal is to help you get healthy. “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20).

DeYoung then details when to rebuke (rightly imply "not all of the time"):

1. The more hurtful the action or error. If your friend keeps talking about Calvinism and Arminianism and thinks the last book of the Bible is Revelations, a corrective word at the right moment might be in order but a full-fledged rebuke is not. On the other hand, when someone’s sin is ruining a marriage, killing a church, grinding down your small group, or destroying their own soul, you had better get on the rebuking train. And fast.

2. The more potential there is for the issue to escalate into a bigger problem. For example, say you are over a friend’s house and you hear her snap rather inappropriately at her children. You could probably overlook the incident. But if your friend snapped at three other families’ children in the hallway at church, you better talk to her. There’s a real possibility this mole hill will becomes a mountain unless she does something to address her mistake.

3. The more the person is blind to it. Christians who make mistakes and feel terrible about it don’t need a rebuke. They need the Savior. But it’s a different story when your brother or sister doesn’t see the problem. Suppose you begin to notice that one of the couples in your small group never seems to get along. You sense coldness and hostility in their marriage. But they’ve been open with the group that they are seeing a biblical counselor for help. Probably no need to rebuke what they already see. But if they were blind to their problems, someone needs the courage to confront.

4. The more habitual the problem is. An errant swear word is bad, but depending on the situation may not require your rebuke. But where there’s a habit of letting the filth fly, reproof is in order. When Christians fall into sin they need a hand up. When they fall into the same sin in the same place day after day, they need a kick in the pants first.

5. The more you will be held account for your silence. We don’t all have to rebuke the President when we think he makes a mistake. We can in a free country, but unless we are his advisors, friends, or family it isn’t incumbent upon us to do so.

Likewise, we don’t have to rebuke every wayward Christian author, pastor, or church (that would be daunting). No one is responsible for speaking into everyone’s life on every issue (praise God for that). But for your children, your spouse, your close friends, your accountability partner, your flock, that church member who invited correction in his life–for these people our silence in the face of sin will not be golden.

6. The more the name of Christ is dishonored. We must distinguish between honest struggles that are part of the normal upward trajectory of the Christian and flagrant sins that embarrass the cause of Christ. Yes, every sin dishonors Christ. But some are more egregious, more public, more high-handed. These are especially harmful to our Christian witness and deserve a sterner rebuke.

7. The more the gospel is threatened. Young zealous Christians sometimes don’t get this one. Every theological error looks and smells exactly the same to them. But they are not all the same. Some matters are of first importance, which means others must be secondary or tertiary.

How to give a rebuke:

1. Know whom you are rebuking. Learn to distinguish among the different animals in the ecclesiastical barn. For starters, there are pigs–not worth your time. Save your pearls of wise rebuke for someone else. Then there are the sheep. Deal gently with them if you can. But as for the wolves, they need a firm whack with the rod. And when it comes to the top dogs, remember to show them extra respect. But when they mess up in front of everyone and keep on doing it, “rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear” (1 Tim. 5:20).

If you can keep these animals in mind it will save you a lot of trouble. Don’t go whacking the junior high school student who breaks curfew the first time or the high schooler who isn’t sure the Bible can really be trusted. Use the staff and bring them back to the pen. Too often we blast the sheep and coddle the wolves, and waste all our time on the pigs. The one thing we may get right is to address the top dogs. We like to take people down. But we are no doubt quicker to speak than we are to listen.

2. Know who you are. Some people hate conflict. They probably need more of it. Others run into it. They need to chill. If you can’t wait for your next opportunity to rebuke, take a little Sabbath from being the Holy Spirit in everyone’s life. It’s like C.S. Lewis said, the hard saying of Jesus are only good for those who find them hard. Anyone who is eager to rebuke is not ready to do so.

3. Check your heart. Are you getting in his face so you can serve your notice of indignation, or are you going to serve their sanctification? Consider this wisdom: “Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding” (Prov. 17:27). And, “A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention” (Prov. 15:18). In other words, check yourself before you wreck yourself. Or as James puts it, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person by quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20).

4. Check your eye. As in, is there a plank in it.

5. Don’t be loud if you can be soft. Galatians 6:1 says restore your brother gently. 2 Timothy 2:25 tells us to correct our opponents with gentleness. A gentle answer, Proverbs tells us, turns away wrath (15:1). It was always Paul’s desire to come in a spirit of gentleness; the rod was only a last resort (1 Cor. 4:21; cf. 2 Cor. 13:10). You see a pattern here? Try gentleness first. Don’t be the one whose rash words are like sword thrusts (Prov. 12:18).

Immature Christians only have one decibel level. Some don’t know how to whisper and some don’t know how to scream. The goal is to administer the rebuke as softly and gently as possible. In most situations, the trumpet blast should come only after you’ve tried the flute first. Don’t launch the nukes at the first sign of trouble. Try diplomacy, then sanctions, then warnings, then strategic targets, then air, then sea, then ground, then start consulting about the big red button. Don’t punch them in the gut if an arm around the shoulder will do the trick.

And finally, and probably more important, how to receive rebuke:

1. Consider the source. If you are any kind of public figure there will always be complaints. Ditto if you spend any time on the internet. So it’s imperative we know what to do with criticism. Ask yourself: is this rebuke coming from someone I trust and respect? Is it from someone I know and someone who knows me? Is this person someone to whom I am accountable–a spouse, an elder board, an employer? We can’t take every rebuke to heart. But ignoring every unflattering assessment is foolish too.

2. Consider the substance. Pray about the hard word spoken to you. Ask others what they think. Maybe this rebuke needs your blind eye and deaf ear. Jesus was rebuked by Peter, so not every correction hits the mark. If you take an honest, humble look at the rebuke and it doesn’t seem to fit. Don’t wear it. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 4 “My conscience is clean.” That didn’t mean he was necessarily acquitted before God, but as far as he could tell, he had not sinned. So he moved on.

But sometimes we do screw up. Even the best of men are men at best. I doubt many of us are over-rebuked. Most of us, myself included, would probably do well to receive more specific correction. So consider the source, consider the substance, and be prepared to grow.

3. Consider the sin. We will never benefit from rebuke (and our friends will be scared to tell us the truth) if we are never open to the possibility that we might have sin that needs rebuking. There are few things more necessary in a child of God than being teachable. “A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding than a hundred blows into a fool” (Prov. 17:10). Or more to the point: “He who hates reproof is stupid” (Prov. 12:1).

4. Consider the Savior. Jesus sees all your sins right now. Why not see them for yourself? The way of godliness is the way of confession, cleansing, and change. One of the reasons we aren’t really changing, is because we aren’t really confessing. And we aren’t really confessing because we aren’t really seeing. And we aren’t really seeing because few of us love enough to give a rebuke and very few are humble enough to receive one.

But in the end, we have a lot to gain with rebuke–a restored brother, a conquered sin, a greater sense of the Savior’s love–and we’ve got nothing to lose but our pride.

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Saturday, August 21, 2010

thinking about hard views

When I first read Dan Phillips' post it bothered me and when I copied it and posted it a couple of days ago it bothered me - yet I fully agreed with not only all that Phillips wrote but in particular with his conclusion. They are important so I will restate them, if we do not keep ourselves mindful of the truths Philips outlined we will be led off into the wrong path and we will not be useful to those who desperately need Christ.

What did I like about what he said? Well aside from the conclusions above, there are too many calling themselves Christians who deny these truths and worse, seem proud that they do so. These are wrong. So why does what he wrote bother me. It is clearly not because what he wrote is wrong. I think it is because not all of Scripture is written to everyone. Much of Scripture is to the believer, some is to non-believers, and some is to both. These truths that Phillips extracts from the whole of Scripture is I think for the believer and warning to those that cannot accept these. These truths extracted and isolated as they have been are not what I think is for the unbeliever.

So I say all this to say too many of us react as if we are in the shoes of the unbeliever. What he wrote is necessary for us. It should not be rejected. Yet be careful, it is not God's written communication to the unbeliever. It should not be hidden but it needs to be presented in the presence, power, grace, etc. of the Holy Spirit.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

a hard viewpoint

Dan Phillips recently wrote a list of 15 things we can know about non-Christians. Reading this list may lead some to a knee-jerk response and certainly summarizing hard-truths in this manner is far from popular. But as I read this I thought it a timely reminder to help us not get swallowed up in popular world views. In fact, in his post, Phillips even outlines a couple of consequences of not being mindful of these truths. The consequences:
  • I will be led off into the wrong path; and
  • I will be, at best, absolutely useless to you and, at worst, positively harmful to you.
The things we know about the non-Christian are as follows - and before reacting, please reread the 9th, 10th, and 11th points and add to that all Christians were once as follows - this is nothing to be puffed up about.
  • I know that you were created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26), and still bear that image (Genesis 9:6), though sin has warped that likeness (Genesis 5:1, 3; cf. Ephesians 4:24), and though you try hard to efface it (Romans 1:18-32).
  • I know that everything you will tell me will come from a heart that is (A) self-deceived, and (B) definitionally unaware of that self-deception (Jeremiah 17:9).
  • I know that you are at war with God, and hate Him (Romans 8:7).
  • I know that you are under the wrath of God (John 3:36; Romans 1:18; Ephesians 2:3).
  • I know that you are dead to God (Ephesians 2:1).
  • I know that it is natural to you to resist the truth of God, and to warp truths about God into forms that do not threaten your war against God (Romans 1:18).
  • I know that your very ability to see and understand the truths of God is so mangled by sin that you could effectively be said to be blind to them (Psalm 14:1-3; 1 Corinthians 2:14; Ephesians 4:17-19).
  • I know that you are blinded to the beauty and truth of the Gospel (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).
  • I know that what you most need from me is to be loved (Luke 6:26-27).
  • I know that the specific expression of love you most need from me is not for me to affirm nor enable your self-destructive errors, nor for me to tell you about myself (2 Corinthians 4:5a).
  • I know that the specific expression of love you most need from me is that I tell you the good news about Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:5b), and that if you do not hear that good news, you have no hope of being saved from God's wrath (Romans 10:8-17).
  • I know that Jesus Christ came to save people exactly like you (Luke 19:10; 1 Timothy 1:15).
  • I know that if you believe the Gospel and come to Jesus Christ the saving Lord, in repentant faith — and only then — you surely will be saved (Matthew 11:28-30; John 6:35, 37, 40; Acts 16:31; 17:30).
  • I know that if you do not come to this saving faith, you have no hope whatever (John 3:36).
  • I know that you must do this, and that you can only do this if God does a gracious, miraculous, life-giving work within you (Matthew 11:25; John 3:3; 5:25-26; 6:37, 44-45, 65; 2 Corinthians 4:5-6; Ephesians 2:1-10).

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hill on hyper-calvinism

Geoff Hill recently wrote on What is Hyper-Calvinism? Or as I refer to it as Things Calvinists Hate. Below are his bullet points (read the entire post here).

Most Calvinists reject as deplorable the following hyper-Calvinistic and destructive beliefs:
  • that God is the author of sin and of evil
  • that men have no will of their own, and secondary causes are of no effect
  • that the number of the elect at any time may be known by men
  • that it is wrong to evangelize
  • that assurance of election must be sought prior to repentance and faith
  • that men who have once sincerely professed belief are saved regardless of what they later do
  • that God has chosen some races of men and has rejected others
  • that the children of unbelievers dying in infancy are certainly damned
  • that God does not command everyone to repent
  • that the sacraments are not means of grace, but obstacles to salvation by faith alone.
  • that the true church is only invisible, and salvation is not connected with the visible church
  • that the Scriptures are intended to be interpreted by individuals only and not by the church.
  • that no government is to be obeyed which does not acknowledge that Jesus is the Lord, or that Biblical Law is its source of authority
  • that the grace of God does not work for the betterment of all men
  • that saving faith is equivalent to belief in the doctrine of predestination
  • that only Calvinists are Christians (Neo-gnostic Calvinism

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joe thorn: hell mythbuster

Joe Thorn busts five myths about hell - he is, the evangelical mythbuster.

the only answer

There are many big questions but Jesus is the only answer.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

small groups are for gifts

I'm a continuationist. I understand from Scripture that I should expect God to do Kingdom miracles today and that He might involve me directly in that. And,to the best of my ability to assess, I have been involved in these. At the same time, I do not perceive all that is touted as "signs and wonders" really is.

With that said, I have space in my theology for God to do these sorts of things in any setting. At the same time I highly regard John Piper's thoughts here in regard to the small group being the place these are most likely practiced, i.e., "spontaneously in relationships and especially in smaller groups."

I think that these kind of gifts are most effectively and appropriately ministered in smaller groups rather than ... the large gathered body of lots of people with lots of strangers and the need for some kind of movement in the service, rather than the whole thing being devoted to individual expressions.

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before the watching world

“If we stress the love of God without the holiness of God, it turns out only to be compromise. But if we stress the holiness of God without the love of God, we practice something that is hard and lacks beauty. And it is important to show forth beauty before a lost world and a lost generation. All too often young people have not been wrong in saying that the church is ugly. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ we are called upon to show to a watching world and to our own young people that the church is something beautiful.

Several years ago I wrestled with the question of what was wrong with much of the church that stood for purity. I came to the conclusion that in the flesh we can stress purity without love or we can stress the love of God without purity, but that in the flesh we cannot stress both simultaneously. In order to exhibit both simultaneously, we must look moment by moment to the work of Christ, to the work of the Holy Spirit. Spirituality begins to have real meaning in our moment-by-moment lives as we begin to exhibit simultaneously the holiness of God and the love of God.”

Francis A. Schaeffer, The Church before the Watching World (Downers Grove, 1971), page 63.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

christians and social issues

I've been waiting for the prop 8 dust to die down a bit. I know it's not dead by any stretch of the imagination but I didn't want this to be yet another post on the sin of homosexuality. I want this to be about how we as Christians engage our society on any sin issue that gets entangled in laws. With that said, I think the below by Kevin DeYoung is excellent advice for the church regarding homosexuality and feel free to substitute the appropriate words to apply this to other sin issues and institutions other than that of marriage.

Below is DeYoung's post almost entirely. I've added emphasis and a link.

1. We should not disengage. It’s tempting to say “We’re going to lose this one. So let’s just try to love people and not put up a fight” But laws do have consequences. Seeking the peace of the city means we defend marriage because we believe it is for the common good. We need thoughtful, winsome Christians engaging with this issue on television, in print, in the academy, in the arts, and in politics and law.

2. Pastors need to teach on sexuality, preferably in the regular course of expositional preaching. A special series on sex is needed at times, but that can look like special pleading. It’s better for congregations to develop a biblical view of sexuality as they go through Ephesians, 1 Corinthians, Genesis, and the Gospels (yes, Jesus did talk about homosexuality; see Mark 7:21).

3. We should assume that there are people in our churches right now struggling with same gender attraction. Leaders need to verbalize this (not specific names obviously) in sermon application and in pastoral prayers. We need to convey that the church is a safe place for those fighting this temptation. Second to Jesus Christ and his gospel, those struggling with same gender attraction need gospel community more than anything else.

4. Youth groups need to talk frankly about sex and sexual identity. The public school teachers I talk to tell me that teenagers are more and more likely to experiment with their sexuality. They’ll choose to be gay for a season just because they can. These issues will only become more prevalent.

5. We must not be afraid to talk about homosexuality. Don’t be silenced by Christians calling for umpteen more years of dialogue or those who say you need at least one gay friend before you can open your mouth. The Bible speaks openly about sexuality and we must not be embarrassed to open God’s word. BUT when we do speak we must do so with broken hearts not bulging veins. A calm spirit and a broken heart are keys to not being tuned out immediately.

6. Preaching and discipleship must exhort Christians to flee all kinds of sins. If churches take sin seriously and address specific sins all the time, it will be less jarring when homosexuality is brought up.

7. We must accept that no matter how hard we try, some people will conclude we are bigots, homophobes, and neanderthals for thinking homosexuality is wrong. Our goal must not be to stop people from viewing us in this way. We can’t control perceptions. Our goal is that those ugly perceptions do not match reality.

8. We need some of our best theological writers and thinkers to explore the nitty-gritty issues that perplex Christian families affected by homosexuality. How should Christian families relate to loved ones who are gay? If your homosexual friend gets “married” should you attend the ceremony? Should families welcome their relative’s partner in the house? In the same room together overnight? How should parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles talk about these issues with younger children? What should a Christian do if he or she is put together with a homosexual roommate in college? These are just some of the very practical questions that pastors and families need help considering.

9. No gay jokes. None. It doesn’t help our witness and they’re not funny. Plus, the more we laugh at sin the more it gets normalized.

10. We must be prepared to suffer. We must not revile when reviled. We must choose to love those who work at cross-purposes to God’s ways. We must be willing to be called names, discriminated against, or worse.

11. We must put away “hate the sin, love the sinner” and put homosexuality in the context of the Bible’s metanarrative of creation, fall, redemption, re-creation. This is one issue just screaming for the bigger picture.

12. We must be people of hope not despair. We know the Lord and he knows us. This is not the worst crisis in the history of mankind. Homosexuality is sinful, but God specializes in sin. Look at what he’s done with us.

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holiness v. love

It's popular to latch onto God's true nature of being love - and I love that. But as with so many other truths, this is often perverted, misunderstood, miscommunicated, and misapplied.

R.C. Sproul wrote in The Holiness of God:

Only once in sacred Scripture is an attribute of God elevated to the third degree. Only once is a characteristic of God mentioned three times in succession. The Bible says that God is holy, holy, holy. Not that He is merely holy, or even holy, holy. He is holy, holy, holy. The Bible never says that God is love, love, love; or mercy, mercy, mercy; or wrath, wrath, wrath; or justice, justice, justice. It does say that he is holy, holy, holy that the whole earth is full of His glory.

Melinda at Stand To Reason Blog has this to say:

R.C. Sproul made an interesting observation on a recent podcast about Isaiah 6:3.

In the year of King Uzziah's death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said,

"Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts,
The whole earth is full of His glory."

Emphasis is sometimes indicated in language by repetition. For instance, when Jesus emphasized something He began with "Truly, truly I say to you."

In this passage in which Isaiah has a vision of the angels worshiping God in Heaven, it is the only time one of God's attributes is repeated - not just twice, but three times. God's holiness is the only aspect of God's nature to be emphasized in this way in the Bible.

Now, it would be improper to stretch this too much to raise one attribute of God over others, but it is should highlight to us how awesomely holy God is and worthy of respect and honor. Far, far, far above anything or anyone else.

It's also an interesting observation against the common tendency of some people to emphasize God's love above all of God's other attributes. "God is love" seems to be a favorite verse some like to isolate from the Bible as if it's the only attribute of God's. It's sometimes used alone as a refutation against arguments for punishment for sin. But it's not God's attribute of love that is repeated three times, but God's holiness.

"Holy, holy, holy" is the anthem the angels sing to worship God before His throne. We can join them now because He is worthy to be worshiped and respected.

two americas

As with so many issues, the less thoughtful are busy calling each other fear-mongers and whateveraphobes. In regard to the so-called "ground zero mosque" - news flash not everyone support the idea is a terrorist sympathizer and not everyone against it is an "Islamophobe and fear-monger". For me, I found Ross Douthat's piece in The New York Times insightful. Douthat proffers the concept of two America's, one constitutional and one cultural. I find it interesting how those on either side of the mosque issue (and other issues like it) switch which America they represent almost seamlessly as it suits their need. Those supporting the mosque cite a constitutional rationale for doing so (and I agree with that aspect) yet they are happy to be "cultural Americans" as they add liberties to some people group at the cost of slavery to others.

That aside, Douthat's article is worth reading and his conclusion is worth reading again.

By global standards, Rauf may be the model of a “moderate Muslim.” But global standards and American standards are different. For Muslim Americans to integrate fully into our national life, they’ll need leaders who don’t describe America as “an accessory to the crime” of 9/11 (as [Feisal Abdul] Rauf did shortly after the 2001 attacks), or duck questions about whether groups like Hamas count as terrorist organizations (as Rauf did in a radio interview in June). And they’ll need leaders whose antennas are sensitive enough to recognize that the quest for inter-religious dialogue is ill served by throwing up a high-profile mosque two blocks from the site of a mass murder committed in the name of Islam.

They’ll need leaders, in other words, who understand that while the ideals of the first America protect the e pluribus, it’s the demands the second America makes of new arrivals that help create the unum.

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bodies and wills

This in from Tyler Kenney:

True and saving faith in Christ is not a thing out of the power of man, but infinitely easy. 'Tis entirely in a man's power to submit to Jesus Christ as a Savior, if he will; but the thing is, it never will be that he should will it, except God works it in him.

—Jonathan Edwards, from Miscellanies #71

Edwards draws a distinction here between two kinds of ability:
  • Physical ability - having the external means with which to do something, and
  • Moral ability - having the internal will or desire to do it.
He argues that though every person is free physically to believe in Jesus Christ, still no one by nature has the moral ability to do so. That is, no one naturally wants to believe in Jesus and therefore does not—unless, of course, God intervenes.

For some biblical evidence of this distinction, see Mark 10:17-27 and John 3:19-21.

dogs and dung beetles

Randy Noblog sent me the link to this post by Chuck Colson about the giving of communion to a dog. I align with Colson in regard to his repulsion toward this activity. Much could be said regarding compromise in the church here. But the angle I want to take is in regard to people and their notion of salvation of their pets. I have dear friends who I love that would say, "I believe [insert pet's name] will be with me in heaven."

What does that mean? If it means that there will be animals on the scene after the second coming of Christ (I'm not a preterist), then I agree. I haven't spent any effort proving that to myself - I don't really care - but that seems to fit my general understanding of things.

The issue is that they mean their specific pet will be there. Without getting into what exactly they think heaven is, I know they mean their pet has a soul (or an inner being). While I can imagine each and every animal (bug, bird, fish, ...) being there or generic new animals being there, I cannot imagine some there and some not. That is, to me, I do not think some dogs are saved while others are not. When my friends use phrases such as animals have souls or a specific animal is saved, I cringe. They speak as if to elevate animals to the rank of humanity or to degrade the work/meaning of Christ crucified, etc...

Let's be clear, if all animals are in the Kingdom come based on God's general work of redemption of creation, I'm there. But the notion of a given animal having a soul for which Christ died in the same relationship as to a given man, that to me is blasphemy and I wish I could find a way to tell my friends how much of an affront that is. I really wonder if they understand their salvation.

Our language and actions have meaning and when we toss phrases around or do things like give communion to a dog, we may think we don't mean what is being conveyed, but it doesn't matter and it is serious. Christians need to stop this sort of thing and learn to communicate what we mean - and that should be based on Scripture rather than romantic notions. If we do not separate the two we do not help the world know the Truth.

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Monday, August 16, 2010

keep returning to the cross

“The key to change is continually returning to the cross. A changing life is a cross-centered life. At the cross we see our source of sanctification (Ephesians 5:25-27; Colossians 1:22; Titus 2:14). We find hope, for we see the power of sin broken and the old nature put to death. We see ourselves united to Christ and bought by his blood. We see the glorious grace of God in Jesus Christ, dying for his enemies, the righteous for the unrighteous. We see our hope, our life, our resources, our joy. At the cross we find the grace, power, and delight in God we need to overcome sin. If we don’t come to the cross again and again, we’ll feel distant from God, disconnected from his power, and indifferent to his glory — and that is a recipe for sin.”

- Tim Chester, You Can Change (Wheaton, Ill.; Crossway, 2010), 127.


because he is good

Matt Chandler's Sermon Jam ... for those of us that like this sort of thing ...


Sunday, August 15, 2010

heads-up to prideful calvinists

Dustin Neeley wrote a great piece entitled Justification by Theology. In it he reminds us that Satan can deceive us by helping us fall more in love with our theological systems than with our Savior. For us Calvinists, here are some warning signs, the root cause of which is not new at all, it's pride.
  • If there is a disagreement, we defend Calvinism before we seek unity in the Gospel.
  • When asked to describe our theology, we define ourselves as a Calvinist more quickly than as a Christian.
  • And perhaps the worst of all...when our hearts are more captivated by the points of TULIP than with the person and work of Jesus.
Why do we fall for it? Many reasons but the cure is the same:
  • Repent of theological idolatry
  • Believe the gospel is enough
  • Be on guard in the future (1 Cor 8.1 and therefore engage the humility of Christ in Philippians 2)

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targets in the church

From NakedPastor:


This doesn’t always necessarily happen all the time. But it does happen most of the time. I heard from 6 different people yesterday who have experienced this very phenomenon. When someone decides or discovers they don’t fit the group’s norm and pronounce it, a subtle separation occurs. The red represents the embarrassment or even the deep sense of shame the person feels when they experience alienation from the group. It does take a lot of courage to examine oneself, know oneself, and be oneself.

David Hayward is someone I've followed in the blogsphere for quite some time now and over time I continue to understand less of what he is saying and disagree more with what I think he is saying. In this post, I am making assumptions regarding his points and commenting on those assumptions. If these are not his intent fine, just apply them where possible and don't extrapolate some made up issue between David and myself.

Regarding the cartoon, David often pokes at the "gay issue". I understand homosexuality is a sin. I don't know David's position and this is important for further analysis. If it is that homosexuality is a sin and his cartoon is a commentary on the Christian response to someone declaring they want to live a sinful lifestyle, that's one thing. If it is that homosexuality is a sin and his cartoon is a commentary on the Christian response to someone declaring they are struggling with temptation in that area that is another thing. If it is that homosexuality is not a sin and his cartoon is a commentary on the Christian response to those who are different than the group norm that is yet another thing.

Since I'm convinced from Scripture that homosexuality is sin, I'll approach this from the first two angles and ignore the third. With that said, I'm frustrated that we respond to some sin issues different than others. That is, David could have placed any sin in this cartoon. The larger question is whether or not the individual is defending his sin/temptation or confessing it and seeking redemption. If the former, the person needs loving confrontation with the Gospel and sadly, if they are a rebel, then they will feel the "target effect" David depicts regardless of the true behavior and intentions of the Christian community. In this case the diagram on the right may actually be the correct response. At some point, the rebellious brother may need to be made clear that he is really not accepted into the community until he repents (1 Cor 5.9-12). To be clear, this should not be the immediate reaction but if one is adamant that their sin is not sin and persists in its practice, then I see no other proper Biblical response. And to restate, I am not limiting this to a specific sin ... apply where appropriate. My main point is this, many who are ensnared in sin and given to it perceive the church responding as if they are a "target" independent of what the church has actually said or done. If the right course has been taken, the church should not feel ashamed or wrong for this.

So to the point, we want loving redemption and reconciliation. We ought to be careful that we don't single out some sins as ugly and others and normative and acceptable (resulting in David's "target effect"). All need the healing that comes only through Christ. We need to take that approach without shrinking from our call to be a holy people set apart for glorifying our great King. This requires no compromise.

David is correct in that it takes courage to examine oneself and to know oneself. I think he is wrong on his last point. Relative to the alternative, it is weakness to be oneself ... and it is weakness to accept those doing so. I think it takes real courage to change oneself and to be part of helping someone achieve that the transforming power of the Spirit of God. This is courage - not the opposite.

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Friday, August 13, 2010

reasons churches don't grow

Perry Noble tosses out eight reasons some churches do not grow.

#1 – The Vision Is Not Clear – If people don’t know where a church is supposed to be going…then it will attempt to go everywhere and eventually wind up nowhere. (Interesting experiment–ask people this coming Sunday at your church, “What is our vision” and see if people give you the same answers or different ones. ...)

#2 – The Focus Is On Trying To Please Everyone – There is NO church on the planet that will make everyone happy every single week…and…according to the Scriptures that isn’t really supposed to be our obsession. Too many times we become so concerned with offending people that we actually offend Jesus.

#3 – Passionless Leadership – When a leader does what he/she does for a paycheck and not because its their passion…it’s over. I’ve said at this site before…I want difference makers not paycheck takers. AND…also…it is hard to be passionate about a place when a persons average stay at a church is two years or less.

#4 – Manufacturing Energy – If a program is dead in a church…then it needs a funeral and the people need to move on. Investing time, energy and money into something that is dead will not revive it. Celebrate the fact that “that” program had its day…and then move on. AND…quit trying to fire people up over events that you would not attend if you were not on staff.

#5 – Lack of Prayer – Many times we work so hard putting our ideas together than we actually think there is no need for the supernatural power of God to be involved. Prayer should not be the good luck charm that we stick at the beginning or the end of what we do…but rather it should be our constant desperation to see God do the undeniable among us. Intense desperation often brings undeniable revelation!

#6 – Unwillingness To Take Risks – When our focus becomes to play it safe rather than to do whatever it takes to reach people far from God…it’s over. NOWHERE in the Scriptures did God ever ask anyone to do anything that didn’t involved an “oh crap” moment. We’ve GOT to be willing to embrace the uncertain if we want to see the unbelievable.

#7 – Disobedience To The Scriptures – Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 16:15, Luke 24:48, John 20:21, Acts 1:8, II Corinthians 5:16-21, Luke 19:10…I could go on and on…but we MUST understand that Jesus didn’t come to earth, live here for 33 years years, give HIS life for us and then return back to heaven to intercede for us so that we could get in really little circles and talk about ourselves and condemn those who are not as good as us. We are called to REACH PEOPLE FOR GOD–PERIOD!

#8 – Selfish Attitudes – Matthew 20:28 says it all…and if we are going to be more like Jesus we’ve GOT to serve others rather than expecting the church to be our servant all of the time. When a person (or group of people) refuse to embrace that a call to follow Jesus is a call to serve…then we’ve lost sight of who He is and eventually we will make being a Christian all about Jesus following/serving us rather than us taking up our cross and following Him!

Any major disagreement? Anything significant that he missed?

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what you can and can't do with the kingdom

I love the Kingdom of God and find that many confuse our relationship to it. In that light I very much appreciate this post from Justin Taylor.

George Eldon Ladd, The Presence of the Future (Eerdmans), p. 193.
  • The Kingdom can draw near to men (Matt. 3:2; 4:17; Mark 1:15; etc.); it can come (Matt. 6:10; Luke 17:20; etc.), arrive (Matt. 12:28), appear (Luke 19:11), be active (Matt. 11:12).
  • God can give the Kingdom to men (Matt. 21:43; Luke 12:32), but men do not give the Kingdom to one another.
  • Further, God can take the Kingdom away from men (Matt. 21:43), but men do not take it away from one another, although they can prevent others from entering it.
  • Men can enter the Kingdom (Matt. 5:20; 7:21; Mark 9:47; 10:23; etc.), but they are never said to erect it or to build it.
  • Men can receive the Kingdom (Mark 10:15; Luke 18:17), inherit it (Matt. 25:34), and possess it (Matt. 5:4), but they are never said to establish it.
  • Men can reject the Kingdom, i.e., refuse to receive it (Luke 10:11) or enter it (Matt. 23:13), but they cannot destroy it.
  • They can look for it (Luke 23:51), pray for its coming (Matt. 6:10), and seek it (Matt. 6:33; Luke 12:31), but they cannot bring it.
  • Men may be in the Kingdom (Matt. 5:19; 8:11; Luke 13:29; etc.), but we are not told that the Kingdom grows.
  • Men can do things for the sake of the Kingdom (Matt. 19:12; Luke 18:29), but they are not said to act upon the Kingdom itself.
  • Men can preach the Kingdom (Matt. 10:7; Luke 10:9), but only God can give it to men (Luke 12:32).

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

the obvious

At times we miss the obvious. I sometimes wonder if our desire to find the obscure is really about promoting ourselves. That is, do we want to find something others haven't seen so that we can stake a claim? Or perhaps we simply relish the attention of creating controversy?

Tumblr L6Ufrxgyqk1Qz6F9Yo1 500

Thanks to Whatevs for the cartoon.

hopa girl a hoax

It turns out that the HOPA girl quitting her job was a hoax. I thought it interesting the number of people who gleefully reported her quitting. They cheered her on and were anxious to assume her boss was a jerk as she reported. Their giddiness speaks volumes about their heart. Of course, my interest in noting their error probably speaks volumes of me ... but at least mine is based on some truth ... does that make it better?

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

questioning citizenship

The Question of Citizenship. by my friend David Spence:

It is impossible to live in our country right now without hearing news, discussions, and philosophies surrounding the concept of citizenship. Arizona, like many states, has enacted laws that deal with this. Florida is in a constant struggle with what to do when there is a life that will be lost at sea without the granting of citizenship. Even our elected officials have been called on the carpet over the idea and requirements of citizenship. And you and I struggle with our own citizenship more than we realize.

I saw a young man in his late teens or early twenties driving a very loud Honda Civic get pulled over last week. I am not sure what he had done to warrant this action but he was very nervous. I am sure that his nervousness was in regards to him getting a ticket or not. If he did get a ticket, he would have to pay the fine or maybe even show up in court and pay whatever fines were levied and then he would be free to go about his life as usual. I don‟t believe his citizenship ever came into question just because of a traffic ticket – that would be ridiculous as the two are unrelated. Citizens of this or any other nation are citizens regardless of their driving record. For that matter, jails are full of people who are citizens of their respective countries. The bottom line is that breaking the law does not change your citizenship.

Why am I saying this? Because we are all lawbreakers (God‟s law) and when we break His law our immediate response is to question our citizenship in heaven. Guilt wears away at us as Satan accuses and lies to and about us. He would like very much to convince you that you are somehow different (worse) than everyone else and that God really doesn‟t love you because of your sin. He wants you to believe you are an exception and that you have lost your citizenship in heaven. Both of these are lies straight out of hell. The truth is that your ticket/fine has already been paid for by the judge (because He so desperately loves you) and you are not merely a citizen of heaven but you are part of the royal family.

In Mark chapter 12, When Jesus was asked which commandment was most important He said it was to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. You may have questions about your salvation (whether you‟re a citizen of heaven or not) and about the process you follow to get there. I know this: if you love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength then the rest of your journey will fall into place. The judge loves you, he‟s already paid your fine, and you‟re free – stop running. You‟re free and you have a personal invitation to a feast at the judge‟s house tonight. I‟ll see you there!

Monday, August 09, 2010

trueman on gay marriage

Sometime ago Phyllis Tickle wrote;

The erosion of the authority of sola scriptura will have been in 4 stages: the end of slavery as a biblically justified practice, the acknowledgement of the reality of divorce and that those who suffer it might find total restitution in the eyes of God, the ascendancy of woman to ministry, and finally (and as yet incomplete), an acceptance of homosexuals into the Church.

Aside from the obvious miss regarding what sola Scriptura is about, I fail to see how she links these points and their link to sola Scriptura. Moreover, I'm not even sure what she is saying about anything other than some wrongly used Scripture to support slavery. But regarding homosexuality, I personally haven't heard anything new on the topic since submitting to Christ 30+ years ago. I have heard and continue to embrace the position of caring for sinners by, among other things, confronting their sin and helping them find healing.

Anyway, all of that aside, I thought it true that the church who places women in authority over men will have trouble holding to the Biblical position regarding homosexuality and therefore very much appreciate Carl Trueman's words on gay marriage, especially;

Churches that have sold the pass on other issues -- most notably women's ordination -- are going to find themselves skewered by the need to oppose homosexual practice with a consistent hermeneutic rather than the appearance of arbitrariness based on simple bigotry. I suspect many evangelicals were able to live with women's ordination because, hey, they liked women; women's ordination may have been wrong, but it was not distasteful in the way that two men in bed together is distasteful; they never in their wildest dreams imagined what was coming round the next corner, even though enough people pointed it out to them. Now, if they stand against homosexuality, they look like homophobes. Better to look like an outdated fundie than a bigot. Churches that have held the line on women's ordination can at least say `Nothing personal against homosexuals; we simply follow scriptural criteria' when asked by a practising homosexual why he should not be ordained.

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Saturday, August 07, 2010

under law or grace

John Piper speaks on Christians and the 10 Commandments.

The transcript is here. The best book I've ever read on the topic is Terry Virgo's God's Lavish Grace.

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human government

This morning I had back to back posts on my feedreader that will have me thinking all day.

First R.C. Sproul reminds us of our call to submit to governing authorities. Right after that a post by Mark Heath discusses the righteous civil disobedience found in Esther.

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Friday, August 06, 2010

justice and the gospel

Mark Dever gets it.

It's not about social justice. Because some have failed in the area of justice does not mean we elevate it to the level of the gospel. It is the out-flow (or evidence or fruit of) of our change by the gospel.

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human autonomy

In Chosen by God, R.C. Sproul writes:

If God is sovereign, man cannot possibly be autonomous. If man is autonomous, God cannot possibly be sovereign. These would be contradictions.

It is not freedom that is cancelled out by sovereignty; it is autonomy that cannot coexist with sovereignty.

One does not have to be autonomous to be free. Autonomy implies absolute freedom. There are limits to our freedom.

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Thursday, August 05, 2010

believing God

R.C. Sproul in Knowing Scripture:

"The issue of faith is not so much whether we believe in God, but whether we believe the God we believe in."

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deyoung's final words

Kevin DeYoung posts a summary of his Social Justice series. The top lines are, in my opinion, spot on (and a caution we could apply to any topic).

#1: Don’t Undersell What the Bible Says About the Poor and Social Justice
#2: Don’t Oversell What the Bible Says About the Poor and Social Justice

To point 1:
... the New Testament, in passages like 2 Corinthians 8-9 and Galatians 6:1-10 demonstrate the gospel motivation for mercy ministry. Because we have been given grace in Christ, we ought to extend grace to others in his name. Tim Keller is right: ministering to the poor is a crucial sign that we actually believe the gospel.

To point 2:
(1) The alleviation of poverty is simply not the main storyline of Scripture.
(2) The “poor” in Scripture are usually the pious poor.
(3) Almost all the references to caring for the poor in the Bible are references to the poor within the covenant community.
(4) Justice, as a biblical category, is not synonymous with anything and everything we feel would be good for the world.

It's worth reading his summary as well as his detailed analysis.

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his life and death

R.C. Sproul in Saved From What?:

The whole point of the gospel is that the minute I embrace Jesus Christ, all that Christ has done is applied to me. All that He is becomes mine, including His righteousness. Luther’s phrase “at the same time just and sinner” means that, at the very instant that I believe, I am just by virtue of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. It is Christ’s righteousness that makes me just. His death has taken care of the punishment I deserve. His life has made possible my eternal reward. There it is. My justice is all tied up in Christ. And yet at the same time, in and of myself I am a sinner. It is sinners who are saved by the atonement. That is the glory of the gospel and of the cross. The Bible tells us that the only way we can have the righteousness and the merit of Christ transferred to our account is by faith. We cannot earn it. We cannot deserve it. We cannot merit it. We can only trust in it and cling to it.

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us in all wisdom and insight” (Ephesians 1:7-8)


Wednesday, August 04, 2010

sabbath worship

From New Geneva Orthodox Presbyterian Church:

Substantial, reverent worship:

The apex for every Christian week is Sabbath worship.

It is the duty of all Christians to present themselves with all of the family in the assembly of the saints to render praise to God, submit to the life changing discipline of the Word preached and the Word made visible in the sacraments of baptism and holy communion, sing the songs and Psalms of the Kingdom, confess doctrine, and give of our earthly goods for the support of the church.

We are called out of the world for these few moments to live in a world fragrant with the air of the coming Kingdom of God. Thus, we seek to provide the true laborers of worship (you, the saints) with all of the ordained elements of worship so that we might provide the true audience of worship (not you, but God) with worship that will be pleasing to Him.

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worship v. evangelism

We do not jettison worship for the sake of evangelism, but evangelize for the sake of the worship. ~ R.C. Sproul

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new interpretations

While not I'm not agreeing 100%, this point by R.C. Sproul in The Agony of Deceit is generally reliable.

If, upon reading a particular passage, you have come up with an interpretation that has escaped the notice of every other Christian for two thousand years, or has been championed by universally recognized heretics, chances are pretty good that you had better abandon your interpretation.


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Tuesday, August 03, 2010

homosexuality and the church

I found this great article at I Caught the Vapors on Homosexuals in the Church - a position paper from FellowshipMemphis. Here is the full position paper:


Those who visit our website, church or look at any of our official stationary easily pick up that one of the things we are intentionally pursuing is diversity. By diversity we specifically mean in a racial, cultural and socio-economical context. However, as we all know words only have meaning in a given context, and we live in a world where the term diversity is being used in a much broader (diverse) way.

One of the ways the term is being used is to refer to the homosexual community. When attached to a church, therefore, more and more people are wanting to know if the church is not just diverse racially, but also when it comes to sexual orientation. So that when people ask if a certain church is diverse one of the things they could very well be asking is if that church allows into their membership people who are living in the homosexual lifestyle.

As we’ve grown we are getting this question with increasing frequency. People are wanting to know if Fellowship Memphis’ pursuit of diversity extends not just across racial, cultural and socio-economical lines, but they are also wanting to know if our pursuit of diversity extends across homosexual lines as well. It is because of these growing questions that we as an elder team feel the need to answer the question, by articulating our heart on the matter.

A Biblical Response to Homosexuality:

It’s more than stating the obvious when we say that the issue of homosexuality and the church is an extremely volatile one. Unfortunately, because of some very bad remarks and actions by some under the guise of Christianity, the church as a whole has been seen as judgmental and condemning of those in the homosexual lifestyle. So where do we begin when we try to not only articulate our position, but engage those who not only have a different opinion, but who live a different lifestyle?

We begin where God begins. The Bible tells us that all of humanity has been made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26). The implications of this are astounding. The image of God is universal, and is not attached to a spiritual condition or belief. In other words, regardless of your religious positions (or lack their of), all of mankind has been made in His image. Not just Christians bare the image of God, but so do Mormon’s, Atheist’s, Buddhist’s, etc. The image of God is universal.

What this means is that all of humanity deserves to be treated with dignity, love and respect, because all of humanity bares the image of God. Again, this is beyond religious affiliation, sexual preference, race and gender!

This is what Jesus modeled for us- treating everyone with love, respect and dignity (John 4; Luke 10:25-37). Jesus also taught this. His instructions to love everyone, even our enemies, and to go the extra mile with those who mistreat us were unheard of (Matthew 5-7; John 13:34-35).

The early church modeled this. Their love for one another regardless of class, gender or any kind of difference so shocked the Romans who had set up a society predicated on class, that they accused the early Christian community of incest! They had no category to describe their love, so they said it had to be sexually profane!

It is important to remember these things when we talk about those who live in the homosexual community because all of humanity, and even more so Christians, bare the responsibility of bestowing love on everyone, because everyone has been made in the image of God.

For this reason, we believe that the question of whether or not people were born homosexual means nothing when we talk about our joyful responsibility of loving everyone. We’re not commanded to love categories, we’re commanded to love people! This is the second part of the great commandment- a love for our neighbor, and our neighbor is everyone we see (Luke 10:25-37; Matthew 22:39).

The church in America has woefully blown it in this area. The venomous way we have attacked the homosexual community. The words we’ve used, our tone, and even the passive way we’ve turned our backs on them has created a seemingly insurmountable chasm between the Christian community and those living in the homosexual lifestyle. Unfortunately, for most in the homosexual community, the only times they hear from us is when we are picketing one of their events! This is not the example Jesus left us.

At the very least the church can be accused of being more passionate about our issues and positions than with the people we have our issues with. This is illustrated clearly in the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). Here the religious leaders of the day drag her to the Temple, and drop her at the feet of Jesus. They then enter into a dialog over how to interpret the Law when it comes to the manner of execution (One Jewish source said that the woman should be stoned, and another said she should be strangled.). What is glaringly obvious is that these religious individuals were more passionate about the issue (manner of execution) than the poor woman! Sadly, this issue is still very much an issue today.

So what is our position on the homosexual community? Our position is that they are people who are made in the image of God who, like everyone else, demand being loved by everyone, particularly Christians! The second part of the great commandment, the commandment to love our neighbor, propels us to do nothing less than to love them.

Admittedly, there is the first part of the great commandment- to love God with every inch of our being (Matthew 22:36-38). To love God means that we love His Word, and that we keep his commandments (Psalm 119; I John 2:3). In other words, to love God, and therefore to love others, means that there are responsibilities that we must embrace, a standard that must be held, if mutual love is to be expressed in a God honoring way.

The obvious place to illustrate this is the parent-child relationship. Parents love their children. They want the best for them. They embrace them. They tell their children they love them. They cheer them on. They provide for them. But loving parents also hold their children to a standard. We know this because any loving parent disciplines their children. Their love for them is not simply a do as you please kind of love. For a parent to let go of a 2 year old child’s hand in downtown New York City, because the child wants to cross the street on his own, is hardly the stuff of a loving parent. We would all be horrified at such a scene. And while we would have a million things to say about such a parent, the word loving would not come to mind. Love has standards, responsibilities.

To love anyone is not simply to pat them on the back, wish them well and say, “Have at it, live your life any kind of way.” No, in order to love someone at the deepest levels there must be some responsibilities that both parties commit to in order to make their relationship work. While it’s fashionable among some to have open marriages, we would all admit that these arrangements cannot possibly be loving.

To love God, and to love our homosexual neighbors means that we bestow honor, dignity, love and respect on them, but we do that in the context of a mutual calling to live in faithful love and fidelity to God. When a person is not committed to those same commitments which has God at the core, then love compels us to inspire them to live in faithful fidelity to God and His Word.

This was the model Jesus left us, a model that towed the tension between grace and truth, and acceptance and approval. John says that when he saw Jesus he saw a man full of grace and truth (John 1:14). Grace is God’s unearned favor that he freely bestows on all (Yes we do make a distinction between common grace (grace that the unsaved and saved experience), and particular grace (grace that the saved experience when they are drawn into relationship with God through His Son Jesus).). Jesus was full of this grace, and it was exactly grace that propelled him to become a friend of sinners, eating with tax collectors, prostitutes and the marginalized of society.

To see Jesus was to see a man who wreaked of grace. But Jesus also wreaked of truth. In fact Jesus would say that he not only possessed truth, but that he was the truth (John 14:6). The grace of Jesus attracted the marginalized to him, but the truth of Jesus propelled him to challenge people, like the adulterous woman in John 8, to, “Go in peace and sin no more” (verse 11).

As Christians we are to steward the gospel well by maintaining the tension between grace and truth. And we are no more like Jesus when it is said of us that we are full of grace and truth. This is fundamental to engaging those in the homosexual community. The call to live lives that wreak of grace will make us attractive to those whom society (AND the church) have marginalized. But the same call to live lives that wreak of truth necessitates that we at some point say, “Sin no more”.

This now leads us to what we believe the Scriptures say about those who live in the homosexual lifestyle? We believe that the Scriptures are the truth (John 17:17). And as such they outline for us what God requires of all of us. Specifically as it relates to those who live in the homosexual lifestyle we believe that the Word of God clearly teaches that homosexuality is a sin:

In Leviticus 18, a chapter which deals with such sexual sins as molestation and bestiality, homosexuality is prohibited by God,

“You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination” (verse 22).

Romans 1:26-27, “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error”.

Most telling is I Corinthians 6:9-11a:

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you.”

I say this passage in I Corinthians is most telling because Paul gives a list (not a comprehensive one) of sins. It’s interesting to note two things about this list. One is the placement of the sin of homosexuality- it’s right in the middle. But secondly, we should be careful to note the other sins.

Seldom do people debate that adultery is wrong, for example. Most people acknowledge this fact, that for one to engage in relations with a person who is not their spouse is wrong. Here Paul places homosexuality in the same line of sins as adultery, meaning that he acknowledges that homosexuality, like adultery is indeed sinful.

If we trace this back to Jesus we will be forced to reach a similar conclusion. Jesus tells the woman caught in adultery that she was to go in peace and sin no more. He, this man full of grace and truth, points out that her behavior (engaging in adultery) was wrong. Paul continues the theme in I Corinthians 6 by acknowledging that adultery is wrong, and placing homosexuality in the same list of sins. So we are forced to conclude that Jesus would say about homosexuality what Paul says of homosexuality and that is it is a sin.

We should not be quick to leave the passage in I Corinthians 6, though. Because Paul says in the first part of verse 11 that, “such were some of you”. Paul helps us to see that the church at Corinth was made up of people who had engaged in some of these specific sins. In fact, I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that Paul’s motivation for the list was his thinking of specific people in the church who had engaged in those specific acts. So in the church at Corinth were ex- adulterers, ex- drunks and ex- homosexuals (to name a few).

What a church? And this is what we desire at Fellowship Memphis. That people from all walks of life, with all kinds of sin struggles and issues will come to our church and experience the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ. Yes homosexuals are welcome at our church, and it is our prayer that they would experience a community full of grace and truth, and that this community would play a significant role in their transformation.

Two things must be said, though. What do we mean by the statement that homosexuals are welcomed at Fellowship Memphis, and what is the outcome of those who are living in the homosexual lifestyle, but have now accepted Christ?

Are Homosexuals Really Welcome at Fellowship Memphis?

There are two kinds of people at Fellowship Memphis- attenders and members. Those who are attending are investigating our church, but have not officially locked arms with us through the covenant of membership. The membership covenant at Fellowship Memphis, among other things, assumes salvation, an agreement to a core set of beliefs (our doctrinal statement) and a commitment to pursue an intimate relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ, reflecting holiness.

This last point is key. The Bible requires that those who are members of the local church agree to exude lifestyles that are walking in close fellowship with God, and keeping short accounts when it comes to sin (I John 1). When a person who professes Christ and is a member of a local church is living in sin then we have a responsibility to speak and reflect grace and truth to this individual (Matthew 18), and if he or she remains unresponsive then we must engage in the unfortunate process of church discipline which will hopefully result in repentance and restoration (I Corinthians 5).

Because we regard homosexuality to be a sin, we cannot receive into our membership any person who is a practicing homosexual, who will not seek to bring both their behaviors and orientation under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, leaning on the Spirit to experience victory and exemplifying the new man that Paul talks about in Ephesians 4:17-24. Homosexuals are allowed to attend our church. Our hope, again is that they will not only hear the truth of God’s Word, but experience a community full of grace as well, and that these two things will draw them to Christ.

While we don’t allow people who are resigned to sin to join our body (regardless of what sin it is), we do joyfully welcome into our body everyone who struggles with sin (that’s all of us!). So you can be one who struggles with homosexual thoughts, feelings and even acts, but as long as you are willing to battle well, lean on the grace of God, and commit yourself to walking in repentance, we receive you as an integral part of our body.

What is the Outcome?

It should be noted that the goal of everyone is to be like Christ, to so live that he is glorified (I Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:23). This is important when engaging those in the homosexual lifestyle. The goal is to not make them heterosexual, but the goal is to make them like Christ! Whose to say that their struggle with homosexuality won’t be a life long struggle, just like many heterosexuals will struggle all their lives to bring their appetites under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

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anne rice and modern individualism

Leave it to Mike Wittmer to provide sound analysis amid some relatively stupid dialogue on current events. In this case, it is in regard to Anne Rice's leaving the church. Wittmer points out that Rice didn't leave the church for ethical reasons, at least not the obvious ones; "She isn’t targeting the moral corruption of priests abusing altar boys but is leaving the church for its alleged positions on social issues."

While others are simply applauding her disdain toward the church, Wittmer notes, "Two of [her reasons] are indecipherable: how is the church “anti-life” and how could a religious institution not oppose the secular in “secular humanism”? Two seem confused and historically mistaken: the church has supported science and includes many members who are Democrats."

This frees Wittmer to assess her real reasons and points out that these are simply characteristic of our fallen society (as well as of confused christians supporting her pronouncement):

That leaves the social issues of homosexuality, women’s rights, and birth control. Of these, Anne suggests that the church’s position on homosexual practice is the real reason she is leaving the church. In an interview yesterday on NPR’s “All Things Considered”, Anne said: “I didn’t anticipate at the beginning that the U.S. bishops were going to come out against same-sex marriage. That they were actually going to donate money to defeat the civil rights of homosexuals in the secular society. …When that broke in the news, I felt an intense pressure. And I am a person who grew up with the saying that all that is needed for evil to prevail is for good people to do nothing, and I believe that statement.”

Anne’s decision to leave the church—and the reason for it—are the logical products of modern individualism. If you begin where Anne does—and most people in our culture do—then you will end up where she is.

Individualism turns homosexual practice into a civil rights issue. Who are we to deny anyone their pursuit of happiness? Their marriage isn’t hurting you, so leave them alone. I agree that we must protect the civil rights of homosexuals, but saying that gay marriage is ontologically impossible is not taking away their civil rights. Here is one area where individualism bumps up against nature. Homosexuals have the civil right to unite with a person of the same gender (it’s not against the law), but calling their union a marriage doesn’t make it so.

Individualism turns Jesus into a spiritual version of me. Despite the Scripture passages which denounce homosexual practice, Anne is remarkably certain that Jesus is on her side. She ignores the historical evidence and turns Jesus into the great defender of homosexual practice. “In the name of Christ,” she says, “I refuse to be anti-gay.” Anne forgets that Jesus is a historical person with actual views that can be known. He is not merely an elastic symbol for whatever I happen to like.

Individualism liberates us to leave the church. This is the stunning denouement of individualism. “In the name of Christ,” writes Anne, “I quit Christianity and being Christian.” Like a husband who divorces his wife because “I love you too much to live with you,” Anne says that Jesus is the reason she is leaving his body. Is it possible to love Jesus if we don’t love his bride?

Individualism creates a Do-It-Yourself Religion. I will leave the final judgment to God, but it seems that Anne did not fully convert when she found God ten years ago. She enjoyed the comfort and peace which came from believing in God, but she apparently did not submit herself and her beliefs to God’s Word. Jesus is not a smorgasbord, where we can take extra helpings of tolerance and skip his teachings on holiness. We either receive the whole Jesus or we don’t receive him at all.

How do we share the gospel with people like this? We confront their autonomous individualism. We explain that we all struggle in this area, for we all want to play God and to project our beliefs and values upon him. But that is precisely our problem. Unless we repent of our autonomy, we cannot be saved. Jesus came to save us from our sin, including and especially the sin of turning God into a divinely large image of ourselves.

Which brings me to myself. I also am a product of Enlightenment individualism, which means that I also am tempted to project myself upon God. I need to ask myself whether any passages of Scripture still offend or challenge me. If it’s been awhile since I’ve been convicted by the Word of God, I can be reasonably sure that I’m not reading it correctly. I too easily project my lifestyle and values onto God, turning him into the great defender of what I like. I may differ from Anne on the specifics, but at root our sin is the same.