Wednesday, June 30, 2010

It Doesn't Take a Village...It Takes a Family

About fifteen years ago, Hillary Clinton famously said that it takes a village to raise a child. Liberals loved it while conservatives hated it. Not surprisingly, many conservatives responded to Clinton by disagreeing and saying that it takes a family to raise a child.

I'd like to throw my "two cents" into this equation.

First, Clinton is simply wrong. It is absurd to think that it takes a village, by which she means the broader community, to raise a child. As a Christian, there is no way that I would allow the village to be significantly involved in raising my children. Most of the village does not know Christ and is therefore dead in sin. They have hearts of stone. Their minds are blinded to the things of Christ. In light of all that, the village is not raising my kids.

So who should raise children? Primarily it should be Dad and Mom. This is God's plan and is therefore the ideal. This is the best situation. However, there are certainly real families out there who do not fit the Dad-and-Mom pattern. Due to death or sin, single Dads and single Moms are raising their kids; many are doing a very solid job of this. We also see grandparents actively involved. Sometimes aunts and uncles act as parents. Additionally, adoption is one of the most beautiful examples of parenthood (In case you are wondering, the two-dad and two-mom families are not beneficial).

We should, however, ask ourselves whether or not this is enough. Are the families mentioned above enough to raise a child? I think the answer is, "Yes, but..." Yes, they can raise their children well. But, there is an important addition that can help immensely.

What is this addition? The answer is simple: the church family.

The church should be a family. Because of this, everyone in the family ought to know everyone else. They should be familiar with each other's strengths and weaknesses, interests, talents, hopes, struggles, etc. In this setting, adults have a tremendous opportunity to positively influence children. This happens through both word and deed. Parents may be wise, but they don't hold all the wisdom in the world. They need help and can benefit a great deal from the wisdom of their brothers and sisters in Christ. An encouraging and/or challenging word from an adult can edify a child a great deal.

In order for this to happen, churches must come together in a way that leads to people really getting to know one another. This requires families meeting with families. It means people letting down their guard and being real with one another.

Let me be clear about what I'm not talking about. I'm not referring to many of the church programs we see today. These programs, which split families apart, do little for the building up of the family or the individual. They are based on man's ideas, not on scripture.

I am talking about real communication, real relationships, real accountability, and real family.

So as parents, let's protect our kids from the world's influence. Let's at the same time look for positive influence from our church families. Let's get to know one another intimately enough that we can say and do things that will be meaningful to others' children. Let's all build one another up in the faith.

It takes a family. Dad + Mom + church = a good formula for Christian growth.

ESV Bible Atlas

Check out the new ESV Bible Atlas here. Even if you have no intent of purchasing it, it is still worth the look.

If you want to buy it, click here. I'm ordering mine right now (it releases today).

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

What Would You Do?

When we were recently staying in a hotel in Orlando (for the Ligonier Conference), we came across something that is becoming all too familiar. One of our kids opened a drawer and found a Gideon's bible, a local phone book, and a Book of Mormon. I love the bible, am indifferent about the phone book, and despise the Book of Mormon.

Let me be clear: the Book of Mormon is false teaching of a false gospel. It is devious because it pretends to tell a continuing story of Jesus Christ. In fact, it twists and distorts the beautiful truths we find in the bible.

I decided to take the Book of Mormon. I ended up tossing it in the trash when I got home. I didn't want anyone to stumble across it in the hotel, read it, and be misled. I'm glad I tossed it and would do it again.

After disposing of the Book of Mormon, I told several people about it. After giving my actions some thought, one person (who is a Christian) lovingly confronted me about what I did. This person told me that in his/her opinion I should not have taken the Book of Mormon. This person said that in taking the book, I am giving the message to others that it is acceptable to take things that do not belong to me.

I explained that I took the Book of Mormon in order to keep others from being misled. I also reminded this person that the Book of Mormon is false teaching. Despite these reasons, this person still said that I shouldn't have taken it because it justifies stealing.

The conversation was pleasant enough and there are no hard feelings. However, we certainly have a difference of opinion on this issue.

So, what would you do? If you were in a hotel and found a Book of Mormon in a drawer, would you remove it and dispose of it, or would you leave it there? Why?

"The Prince's Poison Cup"

R.C. Sproul has written an excellent allegorical story for children entitled The Prince's Poison Cup. Only about 35 pages long and including wonderful illustrations, this book would be a good choice for kids of all ages.

This story is a clear allegory to the story of salvation in the bible. In The Prince's Poison Cup, we read of a great king who has a wonderful relationship with the people he has created. In his park, he has placed a fountain that he has commanded them not to drink from. However, after being enticed by the king's archenemy, the people disobey and drink anyway. Their hearts immediately turn to stone and they move away from the king to the City of Man.

The allegory continues with the king sending his son, the prince, to the City of Man to drink from a poisonous fountain located there. The prince obeys, knowing that he will die. After he dies, the great king resurrects him. At the same time, the fountain's poison is transformed into pure water. All the people of the city are invited to drink from the new fountain. Everyone who drinks is restored to a close relationship with the king.

This book would make a nice gift for any child.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Ligonier 2010 Now Online

The Ligonier 2010 National Conference is now on-line. If you only have time to listen to one speaker, check out Steven Lawson speaking about the bible.

A Story of Three Trees

Many wonderful themes and pictures run through the bible. One of my favorites is the three trees:

Tree #1:

Genesis 2:16-17 -- And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die." (emphasis mine)

Genesis 3:1-6 -- Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, "Has God indeed said, 'You shall not eat of every tree of the garden'?" And the woman said to the serpent, "We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, 'You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.' " Then the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.

Tree #2:

Acts 10:38-40 -- " God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. And we are witnesses of all things which He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem, whom they killed by hanging on a tree. Him God raised up on the third day, and showed Him openly..."

Galatians 3:13-14 -- Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree"), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

I Peter 2:24 -- who (Jesus) Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness -- by whose stripes you were healed.

Tree #3:

Revelation 22:2 -- In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

Revelation 22:12-14 -- "And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last. Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city."

John MacArthur and Gospel Truth

"Jesus - The Only Way to God"

In Jesus: The Only Way to God, John Piper discusses why Jesus Christ is, in fact, the only way to God.

I imagine that just about anyone who reads this blog agrees with Dr. Piper. However, we must remember that the exclusivity of Jesus Christ has become a very politically incorrect and unpopular position in our country over the past twenty years or so. When we say Christ is the only way of salvation, we are quickly labeled by the mainstream as "intolerant." For these reasons, I'm glad for this book.

Piper deals with three main questions:

1. Will anyone experience eternal, conscious torment under God's wrath?

2. Is the work of Jesus necessary for salvation?

3. Is conscious faith in Jesus necessary for salvation?

Piper walks through numerous bible passages to make the case that all three of the above questions should be answered with an unqualified "Yes."

This book is a short (about 125 pages) and relatively easy read. It is ideal for anyone, saved or not, who is struggling with the issue of Christ being the only way to God. It is also a great encouragement to Christians to hold their biblical convictions even in the face of cultural rejection.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Something Old, Something New

Don't worry - this post is not about weddings. Rather, it is about reading.

Maybe you don't know what to read. Maybe you have too many books to read. Maybe you are stuck in a reading rut.

C. S. Lewis suggested that we alternate reading old books and new ones. I'd like to tweak that just a bit. My suggestion is that you always be reading a couple of books at a time - one old and one new. I've found that this method keeps me interested and challenged.

Right now the old book that I am reading is The Bruised Reed by Puritan Richard Sibbes. Old books usually take longer to read than new ones because the English language has changed over the years. However, the good old ones are almost always very rich and worth the effort.

As for the new, I just completed John Piper's Jesus: The Only Way to God. I'm now going to start Mere Churchianity. This book was written by the late Michael Spencer (formerly the Internet Monk). I don't know if I will like this one but I know it will force me to ask myself some hard questions. Sounds good.

So read something old and something new. Don't concern yourself with reading anything borrowed or blue.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

My New Confession of Faith

Beliefs are important. Almost all of us within the Christian community agree with this.

It is good to know what we believe. This obviously applies to the gospel, but also to secondary (but important) issues such as baptism, the Lord's Supper, treatment of the poor and needy, worship, outreach, sanctification, the end times, all aspects of church life, etc.

Beliefs are frequently written down in the form of confessions. Protestant groups have had many different confessions over the last 500 years. These include the Westminster Confession of Faith, the 1689 2nd London Baptist Confession, the 39 Articles of the Church of England, the Augsburg (Lutheran) Confession, etc.

Confessions can be helpful because they act as concise statements of what an individual or group believes. They are almost always the result of a great deal of study and hard work. I know of no respected confession that was put together quickly and/or haphazardly.

Over the last several years my favorite confession has been the 2nd London Baptist Confession. I still like it a great deal. However, my confession of faith has changed. I'll get to that in a minute.

First, let me state my primary problem with confessions such as those mentioned above. The problem is what they are now used for. Denominations and local churches use confessions not simply to state what they believe. They also use them to determine who can be in their local church and who cannot. Confessions are now employed as dividing lines.

I'm tired of division among followers of Jesus Christ. All followers of Christ have the same Father God, and are therefore a family of spiritual brothers and sisters. Families should be united. It is Christ who unites us as opposed to beliefs over secondary doctrines.

If confessions of faith are roadblocks to unity within the church of Jesus Christ, then we need to think a great deal about whether or not we want to use them at all.

In light of all this, my new confession is simply this: Jesus is Lord.

I am united with anyone who confesses Christ as Lord and Savior. We are part of the same family. He is my brother and she is my sister. I want no more dividing lines.

Let's know what we believe. However, let us not allow confessions to separate us from other followers of Christ. We will be together for eternity. Why should we be divided now?

Let us be gracefully bold about the gospel. Let us be humble about secondary issues.

My Christian brothers and sisters, let's be united in Christ and our held confession that He alone is Lord.

Friday, June 25, 2010

"The Unquenchable Flame"

While at T4G, I received about 20 "free" books (they weren't really free because, of course, we had to pay to attend the conference). Anyway, one of the books was The Unquenchable Flame. Since I have read several books about the Reformation, I figured this one would end up sitting for months on my "books-needing-to-be-read" shelf.

Soon after the conference, however, I heard from a few people that this book is really good. I decided to give it a try. It turns out that those folks were right. This is the best introduction to the Reformation that I have ever read. The author, Michael Reeves, is quite simply a very good writer. The book moves along quickly and easily. It is ideal for anyone wanting a basic understanding of the Reformation.

To read what blogmeister Tim Challies thinks of it, click here.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

My Son with a Gun

Our son Bobby is currently at Boy Scout Camp. This is his first time away from home for a full week. He seems to be having a good time, especially with that rifle in his hand. What will the liberals think?

Our Family's Favorite Greek Word

God has blessed Alice and me with three wonderful children (Caroline, Mary, and Bobby).

This will come as no shock to you: our kids frequently leave their things lying around the house. The messes that reside in their respective rooms more than occasionally migrate out into the living room and beyond. This is where our favorite Greek word comes into play.

We take this word from Philippians 3:8 where Paul writes, "Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ."

The word I'm focusing on is "rubbish." In the Greek, this word means garbage or even dung.

The actual Greek word is σκυβαλα (pronounced skoo-ba-la). All our kids know it well because it is our favorite.

Skubala just carries a colorful, even aromatic, sense to it. For this reason, we will often say to one or all of the kids, "Please take your skubala to your rooms." It not only feels good to say it, but it is also very effective.

The kids often reply with something like, "My toy/book/pillow/stuffed animal/action figure is not skubala." The key, however, is that they are almost always carrying their objects to their rooms as they say it. Mission accomplished.

Sometimes I even hear one kid say to the other something along the lines of, "Your skubala is on the couch." Nice.

So, learn some NT Greek. Start with one word if you need to: skubala.

"Celebrating Biblical Feasts"

Isn't it strange that we celebrate Christmas and Easter even though we have no biblical reason for doing so? At the same time, we basically ignore the different feasts that are, in fact, in the bible. For those of us who cry "Sola Scriptura," this is a strange inconsistency.

I'm not suggesting that we have to celebrate the biblical feasts. Rather, I'm encouraging it. They add a richness to our understanding of the scriptures in general and Christ's mission in particular. Just last month our church family celebrated a Passover Meal together. We all enjoyed it very much.

My guess is that many of us may want to celebrate at least some of the feasts, but we do not know where to begin. Let me suggest a resource.

Celebrating Biblical Feasts in Your Home or Church is an excellent resource to help anyone get started. The book's subtitle says, "Experience the New Testament Significance of Old Testament Celebrations."

Each of the seven chapters focuses on one of the primary feasts of Israel: Sabbath, Passover, First Fruits, Pentecost, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Tabernacles. This book is an easy read, it describes the theology behind the feasts, and it provides clear details as to what to do and what you will need.

Why not get the book and try a feast?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Peter, Paul, and Mary

Peter, Paul, and Mary are folk singers who hit it big back in the 1960's. Alas, this post is not about them.

Rather, this post focuses on the apostles Peter and Paul. Specifically, I'd like to look at what these two apostles wrote about Mary, the mother of Jesus.

I've been thinking a lot about Roman Catholicism over the last few days. This stems from our driving past a shrine to Mary, Queen of the Universe in Orlando.

Peter and Paul both held very significant positions in the first century. Peter often took the leadership role amongst the twelve disciples when they were with Christ. He preached at Pentecost and was instrumental in the early spread of the gospel. Paul was the greatest missionary and wrote much of the New Testament.

Both Peter and Paul had much to say to us in their letters. We learn a great deal from them about what God has done for us and how we should respond to Him. Both Peter's and Paul's letters are critical to the life of the church.

It is clear based on a cursory reading of Peter's and Paul's letters that Jesus is to be the focus of our lives. For example, Peter writes in I Peter 1:3-5:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

Paul writes in Philippians 3:7-14:

But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Both of these men are focused upon Jesus Christ.

Roman Catholicism has much to say about the supposed importance of Mary to our lives. Certainly if Mary is important, these two apostles would have written something about her in their letters. We know that Peter wrote two letters and Paul penned either thirteen or fourteen (depending on who wrote the book of Hebrews). This makes for a total of at least fifteen letters written to churches throughout the Mediterranean area. It is safe to say that if these two men believe Mary is significant to the life of the church, they would have told these churches much about her.

I was curious about this so I took a look. In all of their letters combined, Peter and Paul write NOTHING about Mary.

We can conclude from their utter silence that Mary was not significant for the churches in Pontus, Galatia, Cappodocia, Asia, Bithynia, Rome, Corinth, Ephesus, Philippi, Colosse, and Thessalonica.

If this is the case for those churches, it is certainly the case for us as well. Peter and Paul were men focused on one person: Jesus Christ.

Mary was certainly a great women. However, she is not worthy of our attention, much less our veneration.

Let us be like Peter and Paul. Let us be people of a singular focus: the God-Man Jesus Christ.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Today's Theology Question

While we were at the Ligonier 2010 Conference, R.C. Sproul dealt with the questions of what evil is and where evil comes from. Better him than me - those are certainly difficult ones. To read about his answers, click here.

As Sproul talked, he spent some time in Genesis 3. Not surprisingly, he focused on Eve's exchange with the serpent. The serpent famously lies to Eve, contradicting God by saying, "You will not surely die."

That got me thinking back to Genesis 2:15-17. In these verses, God instructs Adam not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If he does, God tells him, "You shall surely die."

We know from scripture that death comes from sin. Since no one had ever sinned in Genesis chapters 1-2, there could have been no death up to that point. So here is my question for you: Since Adam had never seen death of any kind, how did he know what God was talking about when God told him that if he ate of the tree he would surely die?

What do you think?

"Total Church: A Radical Reshaping Around Gospel and Community"

This book is one of the top five books I have ever read about the church. That is no overstatement.

In Total Church: A Radical Reshaping Around Gospel and Community, Tim Chester and Steve Timmis discuss in detail the importance of the gospel to community and community to the gospel. Looking to the scriptures, they focus on the interplay between the truth of the gospel and real Christian community as it relates to church life and mission.

The authors point out that many churches that are faithful to the truth of the gospel are at the same time lacking in true community. They also show that many other churches that have real community have failed to take a strong position on the biblical gospel. Chester and Timmis show that gospel and community need not be an either-or issue. Both gospel and community not only can, but need to go together.

Regardless of your current church status, this book will be beneficial to you. I highly recommend it.

To read a more detailed review from Arthur Sido, click here.

Mary, Queen of the Universe

As we drove through Orlando last Thursday, we were stunned to see a huge "church" sign that says "Mary, Queen of the Universe." I've known for a long time that some Catholics worship Mary. However, this is the most up-front sign I have ever seen. It turns out that this church is more of a shrine than anything else.

I decided to take a look at the shrine's website (click here if you want to see it). The above photo shows a statue from the museum - I got it from the website, not from a visit to the shrine.

The following are four quotes from the site:

"Preserved free from all guilt of original sin, the Immaculate Virgin was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory ... exalted by the Lord as Queen of the Universe ..." -Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater

"A 2,000 seat Shrine Church adorned with inspirational stained-glass windows, depicting the story of God's love for man, and Mary's place in God's plan for salvation." (emphasis mine)

"But equally important - the area's teeming tourist population gives us a marvelous opportunity for evangelization and witness for Catholicism." (emphasis mine)

"In years that followed, the beloved Saint Desiderius was venerated as a martyr, his bone wrapped, sealed and preserved. And his feast day is still celebrated in Langres, France on the 23rd of May." (They have a relic from a bone of his forearm).

As we think about this shrine, let us first remember that if not for the grace of God we would too be worshipers of Mary. Let's also be reminded of the world's need for the gospel. The folks who worship at this shrine are lost just like Muslims, Hindus, materialists, and moralists.

I'm thankful that these Catholics are so up front about what they believe. My hope is that followers of Christ in the Orlando area will lovingly and sacrificially reach out to them with the biblical gospel.

"The Voyage of the Dawn Treader"

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Back Home

We arrived safely home a few hours ago. I was again reminded of the providence of God. On the way, we drove through five separate thunderstorms. Any of these could have sent us off the road, but God brought us through them with little problem. Additionally, we were almost driven off the interstate by a distracted driver who decided to wander into our lane. Our tires hit the shoulder at about 70 or so miles per hour. It was quick, but also frightening. God, again, preserved us. We thank Him for His great grace.

As for the 2010 Ligonier Conference in Orlando, I guess the best way to sum things up is this: mixed emotions. I'll blog more on this over the next few days. For now, let's just say that the academic/intellectual side of the teaching was great. However, the application/missional aspect was lacking. I love Reformed theology, but after a while it can get old and dull unless we discuss how to impact the world while depending on God's sovereignty.

The time with my family was great. I thank the Lord for that.

We had no internet access for our time there. That made for a nice, forced mini-break from blogging.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Heading to Orlando

I'm excited to be traveling to Orlando with my family to attend the 2010 Ligonier National Conference. We'll be gone for the next few days. I'm excited for two reasons. First, the lineup of speakers and topics seems excellent. Second, and more important, we get to spend a few days together as a family. I'm looking forward to the time together more than I am to anything any of the speakers has to say. As a bonus, the music is excellent.

Alice is looking forward to it, too.

If you cannot attend, I encourage you to watch some of the live webcast.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Keep Asking Questions

If we dare think about what the church is and does, we will undoubtedly have some questions. These questions can be uncomfortable because they will likely challenge the norm. Any time we do this, we will be confronted with whether or not we are willing to change to be more biblical.

The ugly reality is that if we ask questions about the church, there will be some people who will not welcome these questions. Questions necessarily imply that some things are up for change. The people who do not want change will likely try to avoid the questions or outright reject their legitimacy. Sadly, this often comes from leaders within the church who like things the way they are.

So what should we do? My encouragement to you is to keep asking questions.

We must keep in mind that the way we go about asking questions related to the church is important. May we all, myself included, ask in a loving, humble manner. May the goal be the increasing biblical nature of the church and the edification of the entire body.

We may feel very alone as we ask. Much like the red figure in the above graphic, we may be surrounded by many people who feel comfortable going along with the status quo. Let that not discourage you.

Always look to the scriptures for your answers. Even if no one else is willing to seek the truth, keep seeking it.

Find others, if possible, who are at least willing to begin looking for answers with you. We are most effective in discovering biblical truth in community, so do it with others whenever possible.

Do not accept answers that are based on tradition. Do not accept answers based on human reasoning and/or experience.

Do not accept answers that imply that you should stop asking and just accept "the way things are." Never accept an answer that suggests that you just don't understand and need to trust those in positions of authority.

Keep asking.

What Does This Mean?

Last night the above sixty foot tall statue of Jesus was struck by lightning and burned to the ground (read more about it here).

What does this mean? Is the world coming to an end? Should we all run for cover?

Frankly, I don't think it means much of anything.

It does however, make me think of a fairly significant bible verse.

Exodus 20:4, "You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth."

Disagreeing But Still United

Division over secondary doctrines is widely accepted in the modern church. Division over secondary doctrines is also blatantly unbiblical. We give a fancy name to divisions over secondary doctrines: denominations.

When we look to the bible, we see very clearly that the dividing line is the gospel.

In Galatians 1:8-9, Paul writes, "But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed."

When we look to John 17, we very clearly see Christ's desire for the unity of His church. In John 17:20-23, Jesus prays, "I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me."

So, according to the scriptures, it is the gospel that unites brothers and sisters in Christ. Technically speaking, of course, it is God Himself who unites us and is our Father. His gospel is the way that we are united. This is God's plan.

The bible speaks of NO secondary doctrines around which we should divide from other Christians. We are never told to divide over issues such as baptism, the Lord's Supper, spiritual gifts, church polity, views on predestination/free will, bible versions, etc.

When churches in the N.T. (see Corinth and Philippi for example) were dealing with division, Paul told them to stop it. Division over issues lesser than the gospel is always seen in a negative light in the N.T.

Today, however, our churches are splintered into many different denominations. Some of this needs to take place because some denominations have rejected the gospel. However, there are also many denominations that adhere to the gospel yet remain divided.

For example, many Christians refuse to meet with one another because they hold different beliefs on baptism. Baptism is certainly an important issue. However, the bible nowhere even suggests that we should separate over it. The same can be said for a whole host of other issues.

Some Christians will say that they really are united, but just don't gather together. I find their reasons for not gathering together to be completely pragmatic and unbiblical.

What is a better way? My suggestion is that we, as Christians, unite around the gospel of Jesus Christ. Based on this and this alone will we unite or be divided. We should make this clear and be firm about. Let us agree that nothing sub-gospel will divide us.

Basically, we will be saying that while we may disagree on some things, we will still be united.

Once we make this decision, then we will be forced to start talking through some of these other issues. As we do so, we will gain deeper understanding of why others believe differently than we do about issues such as baptism, spiritual gifts, etc. We may come to gain greater respect for their positions, even if we still disagree with them. The more we talk, the more likely we are to find that our positions are closer than we thought.

Division within the church is, quite simply, disobedience. God expects His children to be united.

I hope denominations eventually go the way of the Dodo Bird.

Unity is not an option. Let's embrace our unity in the gospel of Christ.

Monday, June 14, 2010


When we look at our local church families, we probably see some really positive things, some things that are acceptable, and some things that need changing. I imagine this is the case with just about any local church.

In light of this, what can we do? First, I think we should praise the Lord that there are some positive things happening in our church families. These things might include a spirit of love, real sacrifice, attitudes of humility, joyful witnessing, digging into the scriptures, real repentance, biblical discipleship, etc. When these things happen, it is God who deserves the praise. Let us also remember that all these are possible because of what God has done through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

What about the things that are acceptable or need changing? If something is acceptable, it can probably be improved upon (at least a little). If it needs changing, then by definition, it needs to be improved upon. But how do we go about this?

The more I read scripture, the more I believe it benefits the church to reconnect with the early church. As the man in the graphic above is reconnecting a couple of cords, the modern church ought to reconnect with what we see in scripture. We know that scripture is true, inspired, authoritative, and sufficient, so we can trust it to benefit us to follow what we see there.

We reconnect when we look to books such as Acts, I Corinthians, and Ephesians to see what to do and what not to do. We see beliefs, attitudes, and actions in real life situations. We see what is commended and what is rebuked. We also see what is modeled for us. Personally, I'm thrilled that we have I Corinthians because we see a lot of what to do and what not to do. We see a great deal of what the church should be and do, and what it should not.

My suggestion is that every local body take a hard look at itself. In those areas that need improvement, may I recommend reconnecting with what we see in the New Testament? This may be a slow process for churches. It may be arduous. It will not always be pretty. It will definitely take time.

The benefits of doing this will, however, far outweigh the costs. The reason for this is that when we follow what we see in scripture, we know that we are on the right track.

Let us all reconnect with the early church. The more we follow God's model for church life instead of our own, the more we can be assured of being the church God desires.

Wesley in Savannah

Last night we were in the historic district of Savannah to attend the Compline service at Christ Church Savannah. Christ Church is the mother church of Georgia. Both John Wesley and George Whitefield served as rectors for Christ Church in the mid-1700s. As we were walking back to the car after the Compline service, I took this photo of a monument to Wesley in one of Savannah's squares. Even a Calvinist like me recognizes the work for the gospel of Jesus Christ accomplished by John Wesley.

The Power of Encouragement

Yesterday I received the following note from a sweet lady in our church family:

Thank you for everything you do. Your willingness to do for others stands out, and it encourages me to do more things, too. You are a wonderful pastor and follow God with all your heart. Thank you so much!

This is such an encouragement to me. Although I may not agree with everything she says in the note (after all, we all know our own faults better than others do), I greatly appreciate the thought and time that went into this. She didn't have to do it. We do not know one another particularly well. Despite this, she went out of her way to encourage me.

Her note reminds me of what Paul writes in Ephesians 4:29, "Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers."

This note did what Paul says - it imparted grace to me.

This is a good reminder to me of the power of encouragement. Let's face it: life can be difficult and discouraging. It is wonderful to hear and/or read words that counteract that.

We underestimate the power of words. Words can be devastating. However, they can also be transforming, convicting, and encouraging. Let us be people of encouragement.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Important Post

I've been thinking for a few weeks about what I consider to be an important post. My friend Alan Knox, in his post Living in the Shadows, discusses our tendency to revert back to O.T. practices in the N.T. church. Alan stresses that the O.T. practices and patterns are simply shadows of the greater reality to come in Jesus Christ. I consider Alan's post important because it has direct application for many of our church practices today. I previously linked to his post, and I've copied the entire thing below. Enjoy and be challenged:

I grew up in the deep South in the 70’s and 80’s. We grew up going to church where ordained ministers would hold services on Sundays. Perhaps it was only me, but I saw this as holy men performing holy services on holy days in holy places.

As I’ve continued to study Scripture, I see that my understanding while I was growing up is much closer to the Old Testament than to the New Testament. But, what’s the problem with that? The Old Testament is Scripture too, right?

Yes, but when it comes to things like the temple, the priesthood, the sacrifices, the Sabbath, and other aspects of life as the people of God in the New Testament, the New Testament tells us that these things are shadows of reality, and not reality themselves.

In other words, these things were all intended to point to something else, something bigger, something better. In fact, all of these things point forward to Christ, who fulfilled the whole law and became the better temple, high priest, sacrifice, and Sabbath.

Given my background, it is easy to switch back to thinking that there are holy days on which holy men do holy things in holy places. But, when this begins to cloud my understanding, I live in the shadows and not the reality of Christ. In Christ, all of God’s children are holy people; every day is a holy day; all opportunities to serve are holy offerings; and any place we are is a holy place, because we are the temple in which God dwells.

When do we live in the shadows? When we find ourselves asking questions like these: Should you do that on Sunday? Is there an ordained minister available to do that? Should they be doing that in the church [building]? Why is that person preaching [or teaching, or baptizing, or serving the Lord's Supper]?

These questions indicate a shift back into the shadowy thinking of the Old Testament. Today, in Christ, we have the realities available to us; we do not need the shadows.

As We Gather...

Let's remember these challenging verses and live them out:

Matthew 20:26-28, "Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave -- just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."

Let us cherish the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ.

Let us serve one another as Christ would have us serve.

How will you serve today?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Who Decides What the Church Believes?

Today's question, "Who decides what the church believes?"

Please let me clarify three things. First, we know that the scriptures are inspired by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, at a most basic level it is God who determines what is true. We should all believe what God believes. However, we are fallen creatures and therefore will not always get it right.

Second, we are all accountable for what we believe as individuals. In particular, this applies to the gospel. I can't believe the truth of the gospel for you, and you can't believe it for me. I imagine we all agree on this.

Third, when I use the word "church" in the above question, I'm referring to local bodies of believers (what some refer to as the local church). My current question focuses on the issue who who should decide what that local church believes. Most local churches have somewhere stated what they believe. Who decides this? Why?

I realize that many churches have simply gone along with their respective denomination's statement of faith. However, the question still applies: Who decides what that local church believes?

My guess is that most people would say that the pastor or pastors should decide. Their reasoning would be that these men have the degrees from institutions of higher learning. Therefore (so the thinking goes), they know the most and therefore should decide what the church believes.

My response to the above logic is that it follows a modern, business world type of mindset and cannot be supported by scripture at all.

So, who decides? Do a small group of people decide what the church believes? I don't see how this can be healthy for the church. We all gain by discussing the scriptures together. If a small group decides, how does this benefit the body?

The worst case scenario for a church has to be when one person (almost always the pastor) makes the decisions about what the church believes. I'm picturing the pastor thinking through these issues, writing down what he thinks, and then telling everyone else what to believe. Frankly, this makes the pastor somewhat Pope-ish.

What is the best option for deciding what the church believes? The best option is for the church to decide what the church believes.

My basis for saying this is that God has made all His children to be priests. We need to act like it. We can all interpret and understand scripture. Peter makes this clear:

I Peter 2:5, "You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." (emphasis mine)

I Peter 2:9, "But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light."

Keeping this in mind, the church should look together to the scriptures, trying to determine together what the authors meant. We should look to apostolic teaching as our infallible guide.

Acts 2:42, "And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers."

Some people may object to the church as a whole making these decisions, saying that only those with the gift of teaching should be involved in determining what the church believes. The problem with this objection is that it cannot be supported biblically. In scripture, we see the entire church teaching the entire church.

I Corinthians 14:26, "How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification."

Colossians 3:16, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord."

These verses imply that we can all, as the church, sit down together, pour over the scriptures, and determine together what the church believes. The idea of doing this in community goes right along with two of the key verses about church gatherings in the bible:

Hebrews 10:24-25, "And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching."

In these verses, we see the church stirring one another up to love and good works. They are also exhorting one another. The basis for these actions is the truths found in scripture. They are, then, teaching one another.

It can only be healthy for churches to get together and ask hard questions. These questions should focus on what we should believe and how we should live. They should range from questions such as, "Could Jesus have sinned if he had wanted to?" to questions such as, "How can I best love my enemies?" As we struggle with difficult questions together, it builds everyone up in the faith.

In most of today's churches, these hard questions have already been answered. Either the answers sit on a confession of faith or the pastor(s) has decided what the answers are. The church body may discuss these issues in a small group, but the answers are basically set. Sadly, someone else already decided for the church what it should believe. This cannot be the best option.

Now, if the best option is for the church to decide what the church believes, how might this process work? I've given some thought to this. These are a few humble suggestions:

-The bible must be the basis of what the church believes.

-The Holy Spirit must guide the process.

-Discussions must be bathed in prayer and humility.

-Discussions should be group oriented, with everyone encouraged to speak.

-Discussions must be orderly and edifying.

-An atmosphere of community should be fostered.

-Decisions should be group decisions (not dominated by a single person or a few people).

-The group should as much as possible strive for consensus.

One obvious question in all this is, "What is the role of elders/pastors/overseers?" My answer (which could certainly be flawed), is that elders should strive to not dominate the conversations. However, they should be involved. They must step in if any false teaching ensues (whether on purpose or out of biblical ignorance).

The key to all this is that decisions about what the church believes are most beneficial to the church when they are made in community. When this happens, everyone benefits. This way, everyone knows why the church believes what it believes. Also, people feel much more involved in the process. Everyone is built up in the faith.

I encourage you, regardless of your church situation, to ask hard questions and push humbly for group decision making. This should apply not just to pragmatic decision making, but also to our beliefs about faith and practice.

We all mature in Christ when we ask and answer hard questions together. Don't rely on someone else to do it for you. You are a priest. Get together with other priests, look in the bible, and search for answers together.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

New Piper Book Available

John Piper's latest book is now available from Desiring God. In Jesus: The Only Way To God, Dr. Piper deals with the fundamental issue of the exclusivity of Jesus Christ. This book will undoubtedly be unpopular in secular culture, where relativism rules the day.

If you follow Jesus, this book probably won't teach you anything new, but I'm sure it will be an encouragement to cherish Christ and Him alone.

I just ordered my copy from DG - only $4.99. Nice.

"40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible"

Interpreting the scriptures correctly is one of the most important things we can do as followers of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, most books written on this topic are either too complicated or too boring to read. I have struggled with the lack of readable books that focus specifically on interpreting the bible correctly.

I'm pleased to say that I finally found one. 40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible is a readable, interesting, useful, and enjoyable book that deals with the key issues surrounding interpretation of scripture.

The author, Robert Plummer, does a masterful job of writing about this subject in a manner that makes you want to keep reading. He breaks the book down into forty chapters that do not have to be read consecutively. This format is helpful because it allows you to go straight to the chapters that seem most interesting.

At a personal level, I found chapters 21-35 to be most beneficial. In this section of the book, Plummer focuses specifically on how to interpret different genres within scripture. These chapters deal with historical narrative, prophecy, apocalyptic literature, hyperbole, figures of speech, proverbs, poetry, parables, and epistles.

I highly recommend this book to any Christian.

To see Justin Taylor's review, click here.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Acts 13:15-16 - What Would Happen If We Did This?

Acts 13:15-16 -- And after the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent to them, saying, "Men and brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say on." Then Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said, "Men of Israel, and you who fear God, listen..."
I wonder what would happen if during our church gatherings we asked the same question the rulers of the synagogue asked. If we said to our church family, "Men and brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say on," what would be the outcome?

It is interesting that in the typical American church gathering, the above question is never asked. The reason for this is that we have ceremonies instead of informal gatherings. We give a small percentage of our people the opportunity to speak instead of allowing anyone to speak who may have a word of exhortation.

My guess is that if we asked the above question, our church families would be greatly blessed. The reason for this is that everyone would be able to share. Since all believers are indwelt by and gifted by the Holy Spirit, all may have something important to share with the body.

So, what would happen if we followed this example from the synagogue? I think it would only be a blessing for all involved.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Humility (and How I Attained It)

The above photo comes from a humbling experience in my life. I was probably about eight years old. That Halloween my costume was a homemade Batman outfit. The only problem with this was that my best friend also dressed up as Batman - and his was purchased from a store. The primary material of my costume appears to have been some sort of heavy-duty plastic. Although my boots and cape were cool, that mask left a little to be desired. Sadly, my friend's Batman getup was much sleeker and superherolike.

The trick-or-treating started off well enough. However, the fun times ended rather quickly. As we waited at a certain house, a college-aged male opened the door. We said, "Trick-or treat." What he then said is forever seared into my memory. He yelled to someone else, and I quote, "Look! It's Batman and Fatman!" Based on our costumes, we all knew who "Fatman" was. I was crushed and humbled. I can't remember what happened after that.

The next year we went to a store for my costume.

The "Fatman incident" was a sort of forced-humbling. In fact, I suppose it was more of a humiliation. Regardless, it was not a positive experience for me. It was not constructive and was not done in love.

Today, many years later, as I think back on this episode, it does make me think of something we all need: more humility. Humility is sorely lacking in most of our lives. Despite what this post's title says, I have not even come close to attaining it. In fact, I'm far more prideful than I want to admit. I'm probably more prideful than I even allow myself to think about.

As Christians, we benefit a great deal from pondering our sinfulness and God's holiness. We are far worse than we think and He is far better than we think. Although we say we depend on the grace of God for all things, we actually look to ourselves for quite a bit. Why is this? I think the reason is that deep down we really don't think we are all that bad.

The reality is that apart from the grace of God, we would be spiritually dead. The only reason we can do anything that is worth anything is by the grace of God. In light of this, we must be people of humility.

Since we see so few humble people, where can we look for an example? We must, as always, look to Jesus Christ. In one of my favorite passages of scripture, we see Jesus' humility in full view. Philippians 2:5-11 says:

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The scriptures exhort us to humility:

Proverbs 15:33 - The fear of the LORD is the instruction of wisdom, and before honor is humility.

Colossians 3:12 - Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering.

The world notices the church when we act like Jesus. We may be hated for this, but in the end the world has a hard time rejecting sacrificial love. May we be people of humility like our Lord Jesus. This honors Him. May we be people who seek to put others first. May we be people who are willing to humbly sacrifice everything for the cause of the gospel. The gospel will spread far more effectively through humble, loving action than it will through carefully crafted apologetic arguments.

May we be humble to honor Christ. May we be humble to build up the church. May we be humble to win the lost.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Ready to Change at Any Time

This past weekend we had some friends over for dinner. It was a sweet time of fellowship around the table. At one point I was talking to my friend Jeff, who said something profound. As we discussed various things that we believed, he said, "We need to be ready to change what we believe at any time." That may be a bit of a paraphrase, but that is the gist of what he said.

Let me be clear: Jeff was not saying that we should ever stop believing the gospel. He was saying that as we read the bible, we should be willing to let the scriptures change any of our beliefs and practices. This is, after all, the obvious direct application of sola scriptura. We should be willing to change at any time.

I agree with Jeff. I just don't know if I put this into practice. It is somewhat scary and challenging to commit to changing what we believe any time the bible says to do so. This is challenging because the bible has a way of making frontal assaults on our comfortable traditions. Think for just a minute of a tradition you hold dear. Would you be willing to immediately jettison that tradition if you find that it conflicts with scripture?

Most of us fall into the trap of thinking that we have the Christian life all figured out. We can go on a sort of "Christian autopilot" for days if we are not careful. This can happen if we are not consistently reading scripture. However, if we read the bible regularly, it will have a way of knocking our traditions down to the ground.

On a related topic, we all need to be in church situations where we are encouraged to share our lives with one another. As we do this, we will (or at least should) have the opportunity to lovingly confront others and be confronted by others about areas of our lives that are simply unbiblical.

As for being changed by scripture, we must be willing to alter belief and practice. As evangelicals (especially those who have attended seminary), we tend to elevate belief over practice. We must be careful. The reality is that we actually believe what we practice. Additionally, I think God cares more about some practices than others. For example, God cares more about how I treat the poor than He does what I believe about baptism. They are both important, but I have no doubt that the one matters more than the other.

Will I let scripture change how I think about and treat the poor?

Will I let scripture challenge me at any time on any point?

If we believe the bible is the word of God, then we must do so.

A Great Church History Resource

Most Christians, myself included, have a relatively poor grasp of church history. If you would like to improve your knowledge, The Hall of Church History is an excellent resource. You probably won't agree with everything that is said at this site; this is because you will find writings from important theologians across schools of thought from throughout the history of the church. The site leans a little to the Reformed side of things, so I advise that you go primarily to the writings of the theologians themselves (as opposed to people writing about the theologians). This site is not new; I realize that many of you will have already looked it over. However, for those who have not seen it before, you should take a look.