Wednesday, December 31, 2008

One Resolution Every Christian Can Keep (Part 2)

In my last post, I gave a quick overview of how a Christian can grow more in godliness. It can be summarized in this: You must feed your faith and then live by faith. It all begins with growing more in your understanding of God’s love and care for you.

At this point, you may be tempted to say, “I already know God loves me,” and stop there. If that is what you are thinking, let me say this as kindly and gently as I can—you are clueless. You may have tasted a thimble of God’s grace, but there is an ocean to plummet. You do not have any idea just how deep it is. That is the “work” of sanctification. It is plunging into the depths of
God’s grace, swimming in it, and then living your life on the basis that it is real.

So, how do we go about this “work” of sanctification? We make good use of the means of grace that God has given to us. In order to make this practical, let me suggest there are two things that every Christian can do to grow. The first looks the same for all. The second is different for every person.

1. Resolve to participate in worship with the people of God every week, unless providentially hindered.

There is something profound, even mystical, about gathering with God’s people on the Lord’s Day. Even if the music doesn’t “move you” or you don’t learn anything from the sermon, there is something powerful about the corporate worship of the church that you cannot get anyplace else. The Spirit moves when the Word is preached, God is praised, when you hear the struggling saints around you singing and professing their faith, when you partake of the sacrament—God works through all of this in ways that we see and in ways that we do not notice. There is no substitute for this.

2. Resolve to meditate on God’s grace everyday.

This is where many Christians will say, “Oh, have a quiet time. I have tried that and failed so many times I don’t feel like trying again.” Let me suggest that there may be more than one way to skin a cat. Here are some suggestions for ways to incorporate a diet of grace in your life that can suit any lifestyle or level of discipline. By the way, when you fail at this (not if, but when), take a mulligan and start over. Failure is not fatal. Quitting can be.

Read a Daily Devotional
There are some wonderful devotional guides out these days. If you miss a day (or two, or week), don’t quit. Start back. Here are some that I recommend:

Holiness Day by Day, by Jerry Bridges

A Godward Life (vol. 1-3), by John Piper

For the Love of God (vo. 1-2), by D. A. Carson

Morning and Evening, by Charles H. Spurgeon

The Valley of Vision, a collection of Puritan Prayers, edited by Arthur Bennett

Knowing God’s Purpose for Your Life, by J. I. Packer

Read through the Bible in a Year

Follow this link to several Bible reading plans:

Read a Psalm a day

Take one hour a week to study a book of the Bible in depth

Listen to good MP3’s in your car, while working out at the gym, biking, hiking, etc.

This works great for me. I need to exercise and I need to grow in grace. So, I listen to good MP3s while exercising. Buffet your body and your soul at the same time. Here are some good resources. Most are free.

Read a good book on grace and holiness

If you are not a regular reader, commit to reading just two books this year. If you read regularly, why not read a book a month or every two months that will feed your soul? Here are some that I recommend:

  • Holiness by Grace, by Bryan Chapell
  • Transforming Grace, by Jerry Bridges
  • Rediscovering Holiness, by J. I. Packer
  • Desiring God, by John Piper
  • When You Don’t Desire God, by John Piper
  • The Prodigal God, by Tim Keller (short)
  • Dynamics of the Spiritual Life, by Richard Lovelace (long)
  • The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, by Walter Marshall (a bit challenging)
  • The Holiness of God, by R. C. Sproul
  • Holiness, by J. C. Ryle

Read a good book on prayer and spiritual disciplines

  • Praying Backwards, by Bryan Chapell
  • Pray with Your Eyes Open, by Richard Pratt
  • The Discipline of Grace, by Jerry Bridges
  • The Christian Life, by Sinclair Ferguson
  • The Fight, by Jerry White
  • Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, by Donald Whitney
  • A Hunger for God, by John Piper
  • Keeping the Sabbath Wholly, by Marva Dawn

Take a day or half-day off for prayer or spiritual refreshment

Plan to attend a spiritually nourishing conference this year

Attend a Spiritual retreat

  • Plan a personal retreat where you go away with your Bible, a good book, and a journal
  • A retreat with your church group
  • A retreat with a small group of friends

Listen to music that feeds your soul

Take an occasional break from your classic rock or favorite country station and pop one of these CD’s in. Here are some sources of good, worship music:

Get together with someone else for encouragement

  • Join or form a small group
  • Pick one night a week to share with your wife (or husband) what you are learning and to hear what she (he) is learning
  • Call a friend once a week and ask them what they are learning. Share with them what you are learning.
  • Pick one night at dinner to talk with your family about a spiritual topic.
  • Read through a book of the Bible with your family and discuss it over dinner (just a couple of questions to start)
  • Form or join an email discussion group

Final Practical Advice

What ever you plan to do, take active steps to implement your plan. If you don’t actually make a plan, then you are planning to fail. If it is important to you, you will plan for it. If it is not on your calendar, you are not planning. You are merely wishing, and wishing won’t do.

  • Put your chosen activity on your calendar. Make it an appointment. If you wait for free time to do it, you will never do it. This may be the single most important step.
  • If you are using a devotional guide, podcast, CD’s, book, etc… order whatever it is today. Do not wait until later. Go online at the first opportunity and get the materials you need.
  • If you are planning on attending a conference, or taking a spiritual retreat, schedule the time off right away. Register for the conference today. Take active steps right now to succeed.

One Resolution Every Christian Can Keep (Part 1)

“I wish that I was half the man I wish that I could be.” That is a memorable line from Andrew Peterson’s song, Mountains. I love that line because it expresses my heart so well. While none of us will achieve the perfect state in this life, every Christian can die more and more to sin and live more and more to righteousness. So, why don’t we resolve together to do just that? Let’s resolve in 2009 to become more conformed to the image of Christ.

You say that you have tried that and failed. Me, too. If your goal is to be perfect in 2009, you will fail again. However, while you will not attain total Christ-likeness this next year, you can become more Christ-like. You can become a lot more like Jesus. If you are a Christian, I can assure you with full confidence that you are not the exception to the rule. You can grow in godliness.
In pursuing holiness, we must be careful to avoid two equally destructive errors. The first error is simply sitting back and hoping that God changes you. After 40+ years of walking with Jesus, including 20+ years of pastoral ministry, I can assure you, that will not work. No one drifts into godliness.

The other error is what Bryan Chapell calls “Sola Bootstrapsus.” That is when you to try to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps through will power and self-discipline. Many Christians have tried or are trying this and it is corrosive to the soul. It will either cause you to feel crushed by your own sin or, even worse, turn you into a self-righteous religious jerk. Heaven knows we don’t need any more of those.

For those who think they can sanctify themselves, I remind them of the words of the old Puritan, Walter Marshall: “Men show themselves strangely forgetful, or hypocritical, in professing original sin in their prayers, catechisms, and confessions of faith; and yet urging on themselves and others the practice of the law, without the consideration of nay strengthening, enlivening means; as if there were no want of ability, but only of activity.”

To put it into contemporary language, Marshall is saying, "you are terribly deceived if you think that your problem in sanctification is that you aren’t trying hard enough. You not only lack the activity. You also lack the ability."

There is a third way: sanctification by grace through faith. Like the passive person who wants God to change him, this method of sanctification means depending solely on the work of the Holy Spirit. Like the bootstraps Christian, this, too, takes discipline. Yet, here it is an active discipline of dependence on Christ. That means you are making active use of the means of grace, not as a work by which you reform yourself, but as a means to grow in your understanding of grace and the majestic beauty of Christ.

To put it simply, you must discipline yourself daily to meditate on the grace and beauty of Christ, to understand that you are fully loved and accepted by Him, that you are not under condemnation, but under the reign of grace, that God has a future for you that is far greater and far more pleasurable than anything sin or this world offer you, indeed, have the Holy Spirit living in you, transforming you into the image of Christ. Because you have the Holy Spirit, and that you do indeed have the power to say “no” to sin and “yes” to godliness.

Therefore, you can grow in godliness by growing in grace. To do this, you must feed your faith and then live by faith.

Let me close with another quote from Walter Marshall: “Slavish fear may extort some slavish hypocritical performances from us, but the duty of love cannot be extorted and forced by fear, but it must be won, and sweetly allured by an apprehension of God’s love and goodness towards us.” Therefore, let us resolve to grow more in are understanding and wonder of God’s love and goodness towards us.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

More on the Rick Warren Controversy

A lot of conservative theologians have chimed in on the controversy over Rick Warren giving the Invocation at President-Elect Barrack Obama's inauguration. Some have been rather snarky, taking unnecessary pot shots at Pastor Warren, which is both unhelpful and unfortunate.

One blog post that I did find helpful was Carl Trueman's Goodbye Larry King, Hello Jerry Springer. Professor Trueman demonstrates how Christians will always be outsiders in the world. At the same time, we do not have to be the hatemongers the world says we are. It is a short post. Hope you find it helpful.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Christianity in America

As Ameican Christians, we have an awkward relationship with the culture around us. We are citizens, but we are also aliens and strangers. Ultimately, our citizenship is in the Kingdom of Heaven. Yet, we are also called to live as good citizens here. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God told the Jews to seek the peace and prosperity of Babylon (Jeremiah 29:7). We, too, should seek the peace and prosperity of the cities in which we live.

However, in seeking to bless our city and our country, we are caught up in a dynamic tension that is deeply embedded in our culture and history as Americans. On the one hand, there is the notion that America was founded as a "Christian" country. As a result, there are some who believe we should fight to recover our Christian heritage, grab the levers of power, and make sure that all the non-Christians here live by our rules. After all, if God is God, then the rules of biblical morality are not our rules--they are not mere social constructs--but are laws invested with divine authority.

On the other hand, we clearly live in a pluralistic society. Demanding that non-Christians embrace Christian values and behaviors when they have not embraced Christ seems wrong-headed and counterproductive. It distracts us from our God-given mission.

For example, take the issue of public prayer (prayer in public schools, high school football games, Baccalaureate services, etc.). Do we really want to insist that a Muslim/Hindu/Atheist/Cult member teacher lead our kids in prayer at any of these events? Do you want a Muslim/Hindu/Atheist/Cult member to lead your child in prayer at any of these events? Some seek to avoid these religious distinctions by praying "generic" prayers that are simply addressed to a generic god. Yet, this is the worst of all possible solutions. It implies that the god of all religions is the same god, that we can have real fellowship with people who hold to a different religion. This sort of civil religion is syncretism of the worst sort. Of course, we could insist that all public prayers be Christian prayers, but I don't think that will fly, nor do we want to force non-Christians to join in our worship when their hearts are not in it.

Another example is the on-going Christmas wars. Do we really want to insist that non-Christians wish us a Merry Christmas, and then punish them through boycotts when they do not? As Christians, we have a much higher calling than insisting on our "right" to be wished a merry Christmas. Instead, we should have the passion of Jesus to see these people come to know the Christ of Christmas. In our culture warrior mentality, we seem to have lost sight of our mission. Our mission is not to insist on our rights. Our mission is to proclaim the good news of Christ to a lost and dying world. Rather than getting angry over our loss of "rights", we should weep over the world's lostness in sin.

Still, the issue is more complicated than what I have written so far. While we live in a pluralistic culture, the dominant powers of this culture believe that biblical Christianity is a cancer that needs to be removed. For example, recently Senator Obama announced that Rick Warren would give the invocation at his presidential inauguration. The outcry is deafening. Why? Because Pastor Warren is pro-life and believes that marriage should only be between a man and a woman. Because he holds these biblical views, he has been called anti-women's rights, homophobic, and a hater of gays and lesbians. According to some of his opponents, Mr. Warren and his ilk (that includes all Bible-believing Christians) are what is wrong with America.

Another example is the recent Newsweek article that claims that the Bible supports gay marriage. I don't expect Newsweek to endorse biblical values, but this was nothing more than a hatchet job on the Bible. There are a number of excellent critiques of it here, here, and here.

All of this leads us to a very practical questions: How do we live as Christians in a pluralistic society without compromise and without engaging our culture with worldly tactics? Instead of making the post longer, let me link you to a few articles that articulate a biblical way of engaging our world. I highly recommend all of these.

Taking the Swagger Out of Christian Cultural Influence by John Piper

Evangelical Manners by Richard Mouw

No Need to be Nasty by Joel Belz

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Recommended for Christmas

Books are always a great Christmas gift. Not only can you show your appreciation for someone, but you also can help them grow in knowledge and grace. Here are a few books that you might consider buying for a friend, family member, or even yourself this Christmas season:

1. Holiness Day by Day, by Jerry Bridges. This is a wonderful book for the person in your life who doesn’t read whole books. It is also a great selection for those who want a daily devotional. I was a Jerry Bridges fan long before coming to Village Seven. Getting to know him has only increased my admiration. Holiness Day by Day takes selections from a number of Jerry’s previous books and puts them in a daily devotional. Preaching the gospel to yourself everyday is essential to spiritual growth. This book will help its reader do just that.

2. The Prodigal God, by Tim Keller. Keller’s sermon on the parable of the two sons (normally called the parable of the prodigal son) is his most famous sermon. In The Prodigal God, he expands on it a bit. This is a celebration of grace that will be helpful to both the legalistic “older brothers” and the libertarian “younger brothers” in your life.

3. Reason for God, by Tim Keller. Next to his sermon on the two sons, Keller is known for his sound apologetic sermons that speak to post-modern people. This takes some of those great themes and puts them all in one book. The book has had phenomenal success and would be an excellent gift for those who have questions about the Christian faith or those who simply need their faith strengthened.

4. The ESV Study Bible, published by Crossway Books. Calling this a study Bible is sort of like saying Everest is a tall mountain. This is a study Bible on steroids. It is very well done, has loads of articles and information. Even more, if you buy it, then you also get access to it all online. That way, if you have the internet, you have the ESV Study Bible. As a side note, when the ESV first came out, I greeted it with a yawn. While more literal than the NIV, it did not seem as readable. My first impression was that it was not much an improvement on the New American Standard (NAS), which is what I have always used in my personal study. However, two years ago, I switched from using the NAS in my study to using the ESV. More and more, I have grown to love it. I believe this will be the translation that all serious Bible students will use for the next generation.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Religion and Politics: What's a Christian To Do?

Below is a sermon I preached this summer on this issue. Since the election is upon us, I thought I might post it here. Since I wrote this out for preaching, it is full of typos and has some incomplete thoughts, especially near the conclusion.

Proverbs 31:1-9

The sayings of King Lemuel—an oracle his mother taught him: “O my son, O son of my womb, O son of my vows, do not spend your strength on women, your vigor on those who ruin kings. It is not for kings, O Lemuel—not for kings to drink wine, not for rulers to crave beer, lest they drink and forget what the law decrees, and deprive all the oppressed of their rights. Give beer to those who are perishing, wine to those who are in anguish; let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more. Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

1. You have a responsibility to be diligent

These instructions come to us from King Lemuel and were given to him by his mother. No one knows who Lemuel was, but most scholars believe that he was not an Israelite. Yet, here we have in Holy Scripture some advice he received from his mom. At first glance, it is just some simple homespun wisdom from a mother to a son about what it means to be king, about what it means to have power.

The reason we are reading these verses is because, in a democracy or a republic, “We, the people” have power. In our governmental structure, we have been given a great measure of power. So, the instructions to the kings of old would have direct application to those of us who live in a democracy. The question is, how are we going to use the power that has been given to us?

What we see in Lemuel’s mother’s instructions is a contrast between the worldly use of power and the redemptive use of power. In verse 4, she tells her son not to drink wine and crave beer. Now, this is not a prohibition against drinking. If you were to read it as that, then you would have to read verse 6 as an encouragement for the poor and oppressed to drown their sorrows in drunkenness. Certainly, the Bible does not encourage that. Instead, what these verses say is that rather than using your power to create your own life of luxury, to be concerned about your own comfort, your own personal peace and affluence, you are to use your power redemptively. God has given you power and with this power comes a grave responsibility. So, take your responsibility to govern seriously. Think soberly about your responsibility. You need to be diligent in dispensing justice.

Specifically, you need to work hard to see that rights are protected and you cannot be passive about this. You need to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves and defend the rights of the poor and needy.

Well, what does this mean for us? This is a democracy. That means that “We the people” sit in the place of the king. God has given you power in the governing process. With that power, comes responsibility.

Millions of people will be impacted by how you engage or fail to engage in the political process. What you do or don’t do will determine who will make decisions about healthcare, social security, the economy, the war on terror, energy, the Supreme Court, and on and on. That means your involvement in the political process will indirectly affect who lives, who dies, who gets financial help, who does not. It is a big deal and you must accept it as a big deal.

Well, you might say, “I don’t care for any of the candidates. So, I don’t want to vote for someone who does not share all of my views. John Piper says this:

There is no escape from responsibility by pointing out the imperfections of leaders. That is the only kind of leaders there will ever be. Our calling in this world is not to wait for the arrival of the perfect, but to pick our way through the thicket of flaws. We would be arrogant to put ourselves above this fray and say, "A curse on both your houses."

If you have the right to vote, then you cannot lay aside the responsibility because you don’t like the options. That would be a neglect of your power and dereliction of duty.

2. You have a responsibility to act justly

We live in a pluralistic society. That is, in our country, there no longer is a shared consensus of morals, ethics, and values. So, the question is, is it proper for Christians to bring their biblical teaching to bear on public life? Does religion have any place in the public square?

One of the areas that came up a few years ago was the topic of embryonic stem cell research. Regarding stem cell research, President Bush said the following:

…scientists believe further research using stem cells offers great promise that could help improve the lives of those who suffer from many terrible diseases -- from juvenile diabetes to Alzheimer's, from Parkinson's to spinal cord injuries. And while scientists admit they are not yet certain, they believe stem cells derived from embryos have unique potential.

He goes on to say that while stem cells can be derived from sources other than embryos, “most scientists, at least today, believe that research on embryonic stem cells offer the most promise because these cells have the potential to develop in all of the tissues in the body.”[i]

Yet, even though embryonic stem cell research holds such great promise, President Bush is opposed to it. Why? He opposes it, not on scientific grounds, but on moral grounds. In order to harvest stem cells from embryos, you must kill the embryo. If you believe that an embryo is a human being, then to destroy that human life, even for something as noble as finding a cure for terrible diseases, is still morally wrong. We do not kill any human beings for the purpose of scientific research.

The President’s policy sparked a firestorm. At the center of this firestorm was Christopher Reeve. You will remember that Christopher Reeve. He is the actor most famous for playing Superman, who died due to complications from a spinal injury. Reeve, along with many others, had hoped that embryonic stem cell research might hold the cure to his injury. In commenting on the President’s policy, Reeve said: "It is my belief that when matters of public policy are being debated, no religion should have a seat at the table,"[ii]

However, it is impossible to separate one’s religious beliefs from one’s beliefs about public policy because all of us have values and those values must come from someplace. Everyone believes that we should have values and be governed by those values. But the question is, how do we arrive at values?

For example, without referring to God, why should we find a cure for spinal injuries or Parkinson’s disease as Christopher Reeve and Michael J. Fox suggest? Well, we would all say because human life is valuable. But, how do you know it is valuable? Science does not tell you that human life is valuable. If you want to go with a pure Darwinian view of life, then it is survival of the fittest. There is no place in such a worldview for compassion and mercy and caring for the weak.

If there is no God, how do you determine values? How do you know what is good and what is evil? Most people take the Jiminy Cricket view of ethics. That is, they say, “Let your conscience be your guide.” But whose conscience? Hitler’s or Mother Teresa’s?

Some ethicists today say that society agrees upon its values. That raises the question, whose society? When societies disagree about values, who is to say which is right? Was the North right to impose its values on the South during the Civil War? In some cultures, it is acceptable to have Aunt Betty over for dinner in other cultures it is acceptable to have Aunt Betty for dinner. Are those two cultures equal? In Afghanistan, the Taliban refused to educate women, forced them to wear Burka’s that covered them from head to toe and denied them the basic rights that every man had. Who are we to say that culture was wrong?

If you take God out of the equation, then values are merely social constructs, which means, values are the means by which one group imposes its will on another. Values and morals then become nothing more than power plays. If you think I am carrying this to the extreme, I assure you that I am not. This is the view of most contemporary philosophers and ethicists who deny God. They believe and are teaching our children that morals are social constructs that those in power impose on those who are without power as a means of oppression.

Ultimately, that means that no one can say that one person’s values are better than anyone else’s. There is no basis for making any important decisions because there is no compass. Was invading Iraq right or wrong? That is a values statement. Is protecting the environment important or unimportant? Should rich people be obligated to pay for poor people’s healthcare? You can go through every issue of this election and it comes down to values. But, the question is, where do those values come from? What is their foundation?

Everyone—without exception—brings their values into the voting booth. No one derives his values from neutral, scientific observation. The difference is, the Christian seeks to anchor his values—not in his own personal preference—but in the character of God the Creator.

However, even here, we must be careful as Christians. We must use our political influence for the sake of justice, but we should not be confused into thinking that we can bring about revival through political power. We do not live in a Christian culture. Rather, we are living in a post-Christian culture. There no longer is a shared consensus. In this, we are living in an age that is very similar to the Jews who lived in exile in Babylon and the Christians living in the pagan Roman Empire of the early church.

I do not see any model in the New Testament where Christians were called to reform the moral character of the Roman Empire by grabbing the levers of power. Christians did not march in protest against the Emperor Cult or the temple prostitutes of Corinth. Instead, they lived moral lives and engaged in acts of mercy and compassion.

Leslie Newbigin, a missionary to India summed it up this way. In answering the question of how the kingdom of this world is displace with the kingdom of God, he writes, “How is the throne itself to be shaken? Only by the power of the gospel itself--announced in word, embodied in deed [and in the Christian community] ... The victory of the Church over the demonic Power of the Roman imperial system did not begin when Christians seized the levers of power: it was won when the victims knelt down in the Coliseum and prayed in the name of Jesus for the Emperor. The martyrs did not displace the emperor with swords, but rather through them the entire mystique of the Empire, its spiritual power, was unmasked, disarmed, made powerless.”
Jesus ushers in His kingdom, not on a warrior’s horse, but on an executioner’s cross. The reason is, it is only through His suffering, only through His death, that He can bring about the kingdom of God.

As a church, our mission is not to promote any political agenda. Our mission is to make disciples. In making disciples, we want to encourage our people to live out their faith in every area of life including the home, work, leisure, school, money, and politics. A biblical world and life view is all-encompassing. At the same time, the Session, which is the governing body of the church, has made it very clear, that it will not permit the distribution of campaign literature. Only in very rare cases, will the church endorse any particular legislation.

In fact, as Presbyterians, our Confession of Faith, which all of our elders and deacons have taken a vow to uphold, states very clearly that the church is not to “intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth, unless by way of humble petition in cases extraordinary; or, by way of advice, for satisfaction of conscience, if they be thereunto required by the civil magistrate.” [Westminster Confession of Faith, 31-4].

So, there is a difference between what Christians as responsible citizens should do and what the church as an institution should do.

3. You have a responsibility to care for the weak

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.

It is natural for those who have power to see it as a means to increase their own comfort, to use it for their own personal gain. Because of that, it would be easy to go into an election and think, what will I get out this? Which candidate would be better for me and for my family? Who will give me the best tax cut or the most government benefits?

But, those are not the right questions. Here, in the climax of her instructions to her son, the queen mother reminds Lemuel that he is to use his power to give justice to the poor.
God’s Word is clear that those who are in positions of power must use their power to defend the powerless. We are to be the defenders of those who cannot speak for themselves. Certainly, this would include the unborn. They literally have no voice. They are completely powerless. If we do not stand up for them, who will? It is our royal duty to protect the weak and powerless. A failure to come to the aid of these—the most powerless people in our culture—is clearly negligence.

Yet, the unborn are not the only ones. Minorities—simply because they are in the minority—do not have the same access to power as those in the majority. If we are only looking out for our personal interests, then democracy devolves into a tyranny of the majority.

The group that God mentions explicitly in this passage are the poor and needy. This is not an exception. We see this same emphasis in the giving of the law in Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy, as well as in the Old Testament prophets. This should not be a side issue for Christians, but should be front and center. The reason is, it is front and center with God. Here, God commands the king specifically to defend the poor and needy, which is a clear sign that this is a critical role of government.

One of the things that has upset younger evangelicals is the way we who are older have cherry-picked the issues of social justice that concern us. We preach with great passion against the sins of our culture, but give very little priority in our thinking to this issue. Yet, there are far more commands and instructions in Scripture in regard to justice for the poor than there are on issues of sexual morality.

God is concerned about the poor and the powerless. Here, the king is commanded to ensure he provides justice for them. Because God is concerned about this issue, it should be front and center for us as well.

Proverbs 29:7 - The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.

In Ezekiel, we read why God destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, and it isn’t what you think. He says:

Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. (Ezekiel 16:49)

Now, we might reasonably differ on what is the best way to defend the rights of the poor and to see that they are cared for. You can have two people who care about the poor and yet have radically different views on which program cares for them best. Government handouts and socialized medicine are not always the best thing in caring for the poor and oppressed. Just look at Communism. It did not work very well. On the other hand, a totally free market economy doesn’t have the best track record, either. To see that, all one has to do is look at the oppression of the worker during the Industrial Revolution or visit some of the emerging economies around the globe today.

Yet, even though we might reasonably differ on how we should approach this issue, we should agree that this is a priority for the Christian. It is not a secondary issue.

The point is, we must see our power as voters, not merely as a means to make our own lives better, or even to improve the lot of people like us. Rather, we need to vote to promote a just and equitable society, with particular concern for those who have no voice or power themselves.

Many of you have heard of William Wilberforce. He was the subject of a movie a couple of years ago called “Amazing Grace.” Wilberforce was a member of Parliament. He spent forty years in Parliament fighting against both the slave trade and slavery in England. In 1833, three days before he died, England passed the Slavery Abolition Act. In order to get the bill passed, the English people were willing to compensate the slave owners for their financial loss. So, the people of England agreed to pay 20 million sterling, which was an astronomical amount in those days. 20 million sterling in 1833 is the equivalent of $42 billion dollars today. That would have been the equivalent of $3000 for every man, woman and child in England and Wales. The citizens of England were willing to sacrifice to end the horror of slavery. They were more concerned about human dignity than they were about their own pocketbooks.

So, as you step into the voting booth, the Christian should not be thinking about which candidate or amendment will simply give you lower taxes or greater government benefits. Rather, which candidate or policy will promote justice? If you are speaking for those who cannot speak for themselves, what should you say? What should you do?

No king in Israel ever lived up to the instructions we find here in Proverbs 31. David abused his power to commit adultery with Bathsheba. Solomon taxed the people heavily so that he could live in luxury. His son was even worse. He taxed the people so much that it caused a civil war. Almost every king saw power as a means to increase his own comfort.

However, hundreds of years later, a King was born who would sit upon David’s throne. Isaiah prophesied of his birth saying,

... and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist. (Isaiah 11:3-5)

Isaiah, of course, is writing about Jesus. Jesus did not use His power and position for his own comfort. Rather, He sacrificed His comfort for us. As Paul writes in Philippians,

...Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:6-8)

Then, in 2 Corinthians, we read:

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9)

Jesus did not do this just for the deserving poor. Rather,

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

Throughout history, kings have called upon their people to die for them. Jesus is different. Jesus is the King who died for His people. It is through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that we have forgiveness of sins—including the sin of abusing our power and failing to care for the weak. It is also through Jesus death that we have been redeemed out of our former way of life—a life of selfishness—and brought into the kingdom of His light.

So, as we prepare to come to the Lord’s Table, may we remember the grace that we have received and so extend it to others.

[i], Remarks by the President on Stem Cell Research , The Bush Ranch, Crawford, Texas, August, 2001. it is important to note that President Bush is not against all stem cell research, but only embryonic stem cell research.

[ii], Yale Bulletin & Calendar, April 11, 2003.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Plants Have Feelings, Too

I am not making this up.

I just started preaching through Genesis. Last Sunday, one of my points was that the doctrine of creation matters, especially the doctrine of the creation of humans in the image of God. A member of the church sent me this article in the Wall Street Journal entitled "Switzerland's Green Power Revolution: Ethicists Ponder Plants Rights." Yes, plants have rights in Switzerland. According to the article, bioligists in Switzerland have to prove that they are not harming a plant's dignity by modifying it genetically. Switzerland's constitution gives plants rights. As a result vegetation has an inherent value and that it is immoral to arbitrarily harm plants by, say, "decapitation of wildflowers at teh roadside without rational reason."

The man who gave me the article remarked, "After reading it, I became convicted by what happens to coffee beans at our house. We put them in the freezer, then pulverize them in a grinder, then douse them with boiling water, adn tehn we toss them down teh garbage disposal." Cruel indeed.

I don't know if it is funny or sad when radicals make Reductio ad absurdum arguments for you.

This shows both the logic and the irrationality of denying the Creator. If there is no God, then there is no basis for ethics. All living things are of equal value. However, what they cannot prove is that any living thing has any value at all.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Abortion and the Presidency

I have just a few blogs that pop up on my blog reader. Even then, I don't get to read them all. However, one that always has interesting posts is Justin Taylor's Between Two Worlds. I encourage you to read his most recent post on why Senator Obama is not just Pro-Choice but is actually Pro-Abortion. I think any Christian should consider these issues long and hard before voting for Senator Obama.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

On the Road

My job (and passion) is local. I am the local pastor of a local church. So, I don't travel much. However, last night, I returned from a trip to Belize. I hope to write more on that later after I formulate my thoughts. However, let me say that I loved meeting the Americans and the Belizeans there who are serving Christ. It is a difficult work. Yet, there are people there committed to serving Christ and His church.
Tomorrow morning, I will be traveling to Montana. One of the adjustments to being in the West is that our presbytery ( the "local" grouping of our PCA churches) encompasses three states. So, I will be flying to a presbytery meeting. That is much different than what I have been accustom to for the past 20 years.
On my trip, I finished Gordon McDonald's Who Stole My Church and Nate Larkin's Samson and the Pirate Monks. Both were interesting reads. McDonald does a good job of demonstrating the church's need to change, but not excluding the older members. He makes a wonderful case for older and younger generations working together. In facing change, one of the things that I appreciate about being a Presbyterian is that our Confession allows us to change without losing our anchor or our rootedness. I appreciate both our confessional nature and our tradition--not because they keep us from changing, but because they allow us to change without losing what is important. Frankly, I am fearful for churches do are not confessional in nature as they go through cultural shifts. Without the confessional grid, I am not sure how they are going to distinguish the baby from the bath water. Of course, confessionalism in and of itself is not a perfect safeguard (look at our mainline churches), but it is helpful.

Speaking of managing change, I saw this blog post on trends by D. A. Carson. I found point #4, "There is a trend in our churches to be consumed by social concern" to be particularly helpful. I believe he strikes the right balance for the church on this issue.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Ecclesiastes and Football

I preached on Ecclesiastes 3 this morning. In that chapter, made famous in a song by the Byrds, The Teacher laments that life seems out of control (or, at least out of our control). I saw this funny video on Justin Taylor's blog, Between Two Worlds. The Teacher of Ecclesiastes would have loved it.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Bagging a Fourteener

In my quest to become a true Coloradoan, I have been fly fishing, snow skiing, and, as of yesterday, I climbed a fourteener. For those of you not from around these parts, a fourteener is a mountain over 14,000 feet tall. There are 51-54 (depending on who you ask) fourteeners in Colorado, including our own Pikes Peak.
Yesterday, a group of men from the church began our ascent on Barr Trail before the sun came up. Barr Trail is 12.6 miles long, but it is not the distance that gets you. It is the elevation gain. It begins in Manitou at 6,600 feet and goes all the way to the top of Pikes Peak, which is 14,110 feet—that is a 7510 foot gain in elevation. When you get to 12,000 feet, you are breathing 40% less oxygen that you breath at sea level. By 14,000 feet, you are getting just over half the amount of oxygen as at sea level. For those who are in good shape, that isn’t too much of a problem. Unfortunately, I am not in good shape.
I was feeling pretty good until the last three miles, but the part that really got me was the last mile. During that last stretch, where the oxygen is at its lowest and the climb is at its steepest, I started counting my steps. I would take 150 steps. Stop. Take another 150 steps. Stop. . . Snails can travel a mile faster than I did that day. While I was despising life, Page Clark and Bryan Counts were running to the top. The whole time, Page was saying, “This is brutal,” which is Page’s way of saying “I love it!”
Just ahead of me was Kevin Allen, Kevin had the look of death on his face and his hands had swollen so much they looked like his hero’s, Mickey Mouse. It must have been because he downed enough generic “Sport Drink” and Powerbars to fuel Michael Phelps for a week. Alan Bruns, who is a physician, looked at Kevin and told him that his best bet was get to the top as quickly as possible. Whenever a doctor looks at you and says, “Your best bet is…”, it is pretty motivating. So, Alan escorted Kevin to the top as quickly as Kevin could go. Once he got Kevin near the top, he ran (yes, ran) back down to encourage me the rest of the way.
A bit behind me, Thomas Ufer and Randy Thompson were making sure Richard Hunt made it up. These men are great encouragers and did a wonderful job of taking care of those of us who were struggling. I think Page, Thomas, Randy, Alan, and Bryan could have climbed another peak that day and still had energy left over for a jog. Richard, Kevin and I were simply thankful to be alive. In fact, Alan had so much energy left that, instead of riding down with the rest of us in the church van, ran back down on his own.
The beauty of the hike was spectacular. We saw deer, marmots, and pikas. However, most impressive were the views and the rock formations. My pictures do not do them justice.

Am I glad I did it? You bet. Would I do it again? Only if I were in better shape.
There were a number of things that impressed me. First, I was impressed with the way the men cared for and encouraged one another. It is obvious why these men are respected leaders in the church. They all have shepherds' hearts. Secondly, I was impressed with the sheer size, diversity, and beauty of the hike. It truly is something to behold. If this is what fallen creation looks like, I can't wait to see the renewed world.

More On Deaconnesses

Dr. Phil Ryken, pastor of the historic Tenth Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Philadelphia has this article on Tenth's website that interacts a bit with the articles by Tim Keller and Ligon Duncan. It clarifies Tenth's position a bit.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

A Few of My Favorite Things

In my various teaching setttings, I am having the students read a variety of articles that I have found helpful, as well as listen to a number of MP3s. It got me thinking about some of my favorite resources that I use. Most of my favorite articles and MP3s, I can't post because of copyright issues. However, there are a number that I can direct you to through links in the web. So, here are some good articles and MP3s that I have found helpful. If I can find a legal way to put other stuff up here, I will do that later.

Good MP3s
There are a number of good sources for sermons on the web. I typically listen to sermons by Tim Keller, John Piper, and some by Mark Driscoll, Scotty Smith and Ray Cortese. A great new source for many of these is The Gospel Coalition. Besides sermons, here are some lectures that I have found helpful. Two other great resources are Covenant Theological Seminary and Third Millenium Ministries. You can get the equivalent of a seminary education through these sites without paying a dime. For those of us who have been out of seminary for a while, this is a great way to get in some continuing education while driving, hiking, or running. Praise God for the IPod!

Heaven is not Your Home Message by Richard Pratt on The Kingdom of God (Also see Pratt's full series on The Kingdom of God)

The Heart of a Christ Centered Message Dr. Bryan Chapell's 1st Lecture on Communicating Christ - This Series is a MUST for all who teach and preach.
The Hands of a Christ Centered Message Dr. Bryan Chapell's second message on Communicating Christ
The Hope of a Christ Centered Message Dr. Bryan Chapell's third lecture on "Communicating Christ."

The New Perspective on Paul, lectures 1, 2, and 3 by D. A. Carson (Note: I listened to the lectures he gave at RTS-Orlando. I assume that these are the same). I realize that my friends who are more sympathetic to N. T. Wright find Carson "unfair". However, while I am no expert on Wright (and have benefited much from his writings), I found this critique to be spot on.

Keeping Up with the Conversation: Undestanding the Emergent Movement and the Emerging Church by D. A. Carson

The Gospel and Post-Modern Minds by D. A. Carson

Good Articles
Preaching in a Post-Modern City by Tim Keller
Preaching in a Post-Modern City II by Tim Keller
Hope Management by John Ortberg
Ministering to Post Everythings by Tim Keller
Leadership and Church Size Dynamics by Tim Keller
Living a Magnetic Faith in a Post-Modern World by Denis Haack
The Missional Church by Tim Keller
Christian Charity by Jonthan Edwards
Evangelical Manners by Richard Mouw
The Burden of Change by John Frame
The Good Shepherd by Leslie Newbigin
Taking the Swagger Out of Christian Cultural Influence by John Piper
The Covenant of Grace by Calvin Knox Cummings
How to Teach and Preach Calvinism by John Piper
Worship as Evangelism by Sally Morgenthaler
I would also add the the articles on deaconnesses in my previous post.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


I just saw where Ligon Duncan and Tim Keller both have articles in By Faith magazine (a publication of the Presbyterian Church in America) on the issue of deaconesses. This is a significant debate in the PCA. Keller's paper does a good job of clarifying his position on non-ordained deaconnesses and its historical roots, showing that it is not cowering to feminism or an abandonment of complementarianism (as some have claimed). I think there has been a lot of misunderstanding of his position. Duncan's paper does a good job of outlining why the PCA's position on this issue should remain the same.

While we are on the topic, Phil Ryken also has a paper on the issue. It is included in his paper on Qualifications for Deacons. I don't think anyone would accuse Ryken (or his predecessor, Jim Boice) of being a feminist and I am pretty sure the feminist would not claim him. The church I pastor, Village Seven Presbyterian Church, used to have deaconesses in the early days and I am certain none of the founders of Village Seven were feminists. Somewhere along the line, Village Seven renamed their deaconesses to Sisters in Serving.

I am not pushing for deaconesses. The papers above are the only things I have read on the topic. So, I remain undecided, which leaves me with my default position of remaining the same. However, I am pushing for a reasonable debate on the issue. At the last General Assembly of the PCA, I was bothered by three things:

1) The debate by some on both sides seemed to focus on the role of women in our society rather than on the real issue, which is, what does the Bible say. We should not follow the culture either on the left or the right. Rather, we should always seek to be in submission to Scripture.

2) There are some who seem to be looking for ways to circumvent the PCA or their presbytery's stance on this issue. In doing this, they are showing a complete disregard for the authority of their presbyteries and the denomination, and thereby abandoning their vow of submission to the brethren in the Lord. All PCA ministers and elders have taken vows to submit to one another. If we only submit when we agree, then we aren't really submitting. It makes our vows meaningless.

3) On the other side, there are those who refuse even to debate the issue, claiming that, even to debate it, is to give in to feminism. Even though they know the issue is divisive, even though they know there are godly men who hold a different position, they are refusing even to discuss the biblical merits of the topic. I think this is injurious to the peace and purity of the church.

All this to say, I am thankful to have these thoughtful articles by Dr. Keller and Dr. Duncan. In my mind, this is the type of debate that we should be having. I only wish it had official status at the General Assembly level.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Summer is Over - What I Actually Read

The calendar may say that it is still summer, but school starts here tomorrow. So, in reality, summer is over. The kids are not the only ones going back to school. I will be joining them. Only this time, I will be a teacher. Because I had nothing else to do, I volunteered to teach the Senior Bible class at our school, Evangelical Christian Academy. I will teach them hermeneutics, beginning with the Redemptive Historical Approach to Scripture. I also will cover some of my other favorite themes like sanctification, biblical world and life view, and presuppositional apologetics. Should be fun (at least for me).

At the beginning of the summer, I posted what I intended to read during the summer. However, I must confess that I got a bit derailed in my reading. Here is what I actually read:
  • The Crescent Through the Eyes of the Cross: Insights from an Arab Christian by Nabeel Jabbour (NavPress). Very informative and helpful. I have had the added blessing of meeting with Nabeel regularly to discuss this book. I knew very little about Islam when I started, but feel much better equipped to discuss my faith with a Muslim now.
  • A Quest for More by Paul Tripp. Here is a sample quote: "I may be grateful for the gospel, but what really excites me is the hope that my relationship with God will give me what I really want.." Ouch!
  • The Ascent of a Leader, by Thrall, McNicol, and McElrath. Good, not great, but good.
  • Vintage Jesus by Mark Driscoll. The main reason I read this was because I have heard a lot about the author but never read him or listened to his sermons. Very orthodox and very relevant.
  • Communion with the Triune God by John Owen. However, I must confess that I did skip some parts and I need to go back and reread this one. Like a lot of John Owen, great stuff to say, but not the easiest reading for me.
  • I also listened to a few MP3 lectures on my IPod (I love my IPod), including: David Calhoun of Covenant Theological Seminary on the Early Church Fathers, several lectures by Mark Dalbey on worship, D. A. Carson's 3-part series on the New Perspective on Paul, D. A. Carson's series on the Emergent Church and postmodernism, Marc Driscoll on Creation, and, of course, a few sermons by Tim Keller. BTW, you can download lectures for free from Covenant. Also, through ITunes, you can get a number of free lectures from Reformed Theological Seminary. Great resources.

Besides the above, I did a little reading on Ecclesiastes and Genesis for my upcoming sermon series. I hope to post a little study guide for each of these books on the Village Seven website fairly soon. I also rewrote my Leadership Training (Officer Training) course.

I had planned to read Going Public with Your Faith by Peel and Larrimore and The Insiders by Petersen and Shamy. However, once I decided to teach at ECA, my reading fell by the wayside.

What's next on my reading list? Well, I still want to get to the two books above. However, a few books have moved ahead of them, including:

  • Samson and the Pirate Monks by Nate Larkin. Word on the street is that this is a good book for men serious about growth.
  • Minority Report by Carl Trueman. I have a lot about Dr. Trueman and his teaching at Westminster, but have never read him. Looking forward to it.
  • In Christ Alone by Sinclair Ferguson. I alway enjoy Ferguson. His clarity reminds me of Packer.
  • Who Stole My Church? by Gordon McDonald
  • Reason for God and The Prodigal God by Tim Keller.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Some Great Quotes

A friend turned me on to a blog by Justin Taylor called Between Two Worlds. He posted part of an interview with J. I. Packer on worship. I thought it was very insightful.

"We have separated the ages, very much to the loss of each age. In the New Testament, the Christian church is an all-age community, and in real life the experience of the family to look no further should convince us that the interaction of the ages is enriching. The principle is that generations should be mixed up in the church for the glory of God. That doesn't mean we shouldn't disciple groups of people of the same age or the same sex separately from time to time. That's a good thing to do. But for the most part, the right thing is the mixed community in which everybody is making the effort to understand and empathize with all the other people in the other age groups. Make the effort is the key phrase here. Older people tend not to make the effort to understand younger people, and younger people are actually encouraged not to make the effort to understand older people. That's a loss of a crucial Christian value in my judgment. If worship styles are so fixed that what's being offered fits the expectations, the hopes, even the prejudices, of any one of these groups as opposed to the others, I don't believe the worship style glorifies God, and some change, some reformation, some adjustment, and some enlargement of spiritual vision is really called for."

I read another great quote on preaching from the quotable Howard Hendricks . He says:

"It is not too difficult to be biblical if you don't care about being relevant; it is not difficult to be relevant if you don't care about being biblical. But if you want to be both biblical and relevant in your teaching, it is a very difficult task indeed."

Friday, July 11, 2008

Food and Sports

A few random thoughts on food and sports.

  • While visiting friends in Orlando, I learned that the Krispy Kreme near our church closed. There are some that claim that my leaving Orlando was the cause of the closing. However, I don't think I ate that many doughnuts.

  • I returned to Colorado Springs and discovered that Panera raised the price on a Cinnamon Crunch bagel from 99 cents to $1.25. For those slow at math, that is a whopping 25% increase. For me, this is significant because every day I don't have a breakfast appointment, I go to Panera at about 7 or 7:30 am for coffee and a Cinnamon Crunch bagel.

  • Also, when I left for vacation, we had two sports radio stations. When I returned, I discovered both had gone out of business.

  • A couple of years ago on my old blog, I wrote that Roger Federer (tennis) and Tiger Woods (golf) were probably the best athletes of our generation. Both seemed virtually untouchable. Well, it appears that these Supermen have found their Kriptonite. Tiger is out for the season (after winning the US Open with a torn ACL and a broken leg!) and Federer has lost the last to majors to Nadal.

  • I played golf a couple of weeks ago for the first time since moving here. I discovered that the high altitude does nothing to improve one's game.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Worship Series

I am beginning a mini-series on worship this Sunday. Because the series is short and there is so much to say, I hope to post several thoughts and links on the topic here.

Using Hymns in a Postmodern World

Few, if any people in my denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) have put as much thought into worship, at least worship music, as Kevin Twit. Here are a number of articles by Kevin and others.

To hear some hymns recasts with modern tunes, go to and click on any of the five album covers.

By the way, some people don't like it when we "change" the tunes to old hymns. While there is something comforting about the familiar, there are good reasons for this. First of all, if you look through the hymnal, you will notice that most of the tunes were not written at the same time as the text. So, in most cases, there is no "original" tune. Secondly, if you go the back of the hymnal, you will notice that there is a Metrical Index. That index is there so that you will know which tunes can be sung to which texts. There is a long standing tradition of NOT singing hymns hymns to the "traditional" tune. Thirdly, sometimes the tunes we think of as being the "original" just don't fit. I realize that there are some people who love the Scottish Psalter, but it seems that the Scots had a knack for taking glorious psalms and putting them to depressing, unsingable tunes. Fourthly, musical tunes are cultural expressions. Even a cursory glance of music history (and even church music history) will show that the musical style of the church has always been changing. After all, even in the most traditional churches Protestant churches, we sing with the use of hymnals, organs, and pianos, which were not even invented at the time of the early church. The early church didn't even use harmonies. Fifthly, some great hymns with great texts are being lost because they are attached to unsingable tunes or tunes that don't connect with modern and post-modern people. Sixthly, a new tune can make you see familiar words in a new light.

More to come later.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Inviting all Florida Friends

Florida friends, we will be in Orlando this weekend. Our dear friends, the Wheatleys, have secured their clubhouse for a little informal get together. So, we will be at the Cypress Springs Clubhouse from 2-5 PM on Sunday. Hope to see many of you there. Of course, we will be at UPC for worship that morning, which will feel really, really strange, but we are looking forward to it.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Summer Reading

Because of moving and starting a new job, I have done very little reading this past year, other than sermon preparation. However, I plan to get caught up this summer. Here are some of the books I am reading, or plan to read.

The Crescent Through the Eyes of the Cross: Insights from an Arab Christian by Nabeel Jabbour (NavPress). I am about two-thirds of the way through this book. It is very insightful and challenging. In addition, Nabeel is a member of V7PC. He graciously comes by my office about once a month to explain to me the Muslim worldview. The book will challenge your thinking about Muslims. Even more, I hope it will provoke us to view Muslims through love and the cross rather than merely through fear and the news media.

Communion with the Triune God, by John Owen, edited by Kelly Kapic and Justin Taylor (Crossway). I am nearing the halfway point of this book. I must confess that I really struggle to read Owen. Most of the time, I would rather read someone who has read Owen than read him myself. However, Kapic and Taylor have done a wonderful job of making this book more accessible. Kapic's introduction and Taylor's outline help keep you on track. I am reading this one very slowly, but there are many gems in it as Owen helps the reader to contemplate the beauty and majesty of the Trinity.

Also, I plan to read a couple of books recommended to me by friends on the topic of evangelism; Going Public with Your Faith by Peel and Larrimore and The Insiders by Petersen and Shamy.

Others in my book bag for the summer are A Quest for More by Paul Tripp, The Ascent of a Leader, by Thrall, McNicol, and McElrath, and, hopefully some sort of non-fiction book for fun that captures my eye at Barnes and Noble.

Preaching at Village Seven

Last Sunday, I concluded my series on 1 Peter. It had been 17 years since I last studied that book. None of my study from back then carried over. I truly enjoyed studying it again. If I had it to do over again, I would have taken longer to go through it.

Now that we are finished with 1 Peter, many have asked, "What's Next?" During the summer, I will be preaching on a few different topics before I start our next book series in the fall. Here are some of the topics we will cover:

June 15 - Work Hard, Rest Easy - a look at God's gift of the Sabbath in Exodus 16:13-30.

June 22 - Religion and Politics: What's a Christian To Do? (Proverbs 31:1-9). I was going to preach this right before the General Election. However, after talking with some others, that might be too late to be relevant. So, I moved it up to June.

July 13 - August 10 - Encountering God in Worship - This will be a mini-series on worship. In this series, we will look at several different Scriptures, including Psalm 63, John 12, John 4, and Isaiah 6.

During the summer, I spend much of my time studying in preparation for my sermon series for the fall through spring. I plan to do a short series (4-6 weeks) on Ecclesiastes. Despite being nearly 3000 years old, Ecclesiates speaks directly to contemporary people. It is challenging to non-Christians who live as if this world is all there is. It is also challenging to Christians because we have bought into our culture's worldview on so many levels.

After Ecclesiastes, I will begin a series on the book of Genesis.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Some Quick Hits

  1. Congratulations to my friend and colleague, Mike Osborne, on being called as Senior Pastor to UPC. I am excited for Mike and the church. Mike and I served together at UPC and he was always a faithful colaborer and is an excellent preacher. Congratulations to UPC. As you already know, you are getting a fine man.
  2. The other night, we are having dinner and Ashley says, "Dear." I said, "What?" "Dear", she repeated. It turns out she wasn't talking to me. There was a deer in our backyard, followed by 12 of his friends. Actually, most of them were in the yard behind our house, but one hopped the fence into our yard. A little bunny and a robin were there as well. Some of you may think we live out in the country. Actually, our house is pretty close to the center of town, but it is right by the amazing Palmer Park. Two weeks ago, I saw a fox trotting down our street. The same day, I saw a bunch of gazelle running in a field by the airport. Welcome to the wild west.
  3. To our friends at UPC -- thanks for the gift certificate. I got in 14 days of skiing. My girls are on blues now. We thoroughly enjoyed it all season.
  4. To our Florida friends -- today, it is about 80 (but no humidity). Tomorrow, it might snow. Ahh! Springtime in the Rockies! Every place I have lived, people have said, "If you don't like the weather, just wait a while and it will change." This is the one place where that is true.
  5. It's Tax Day and I, along with thousands of other procrastinators, will be going to the Post Office this evening. While I don't get a lot of pleasure out of paying taxes, I am thankful for the freedoms I enjoy and the incredible benefits we all get to enjoy simply because, in the providence of God, we were born in America. We might complain that the government wastes money or that it spends it on things we find objectionable. However, I am pretty sure Jesus and the Apostle Paul could have said the same thing about the Roman Empire. Considering all the people who have died and continue to put themselves in harm's way so that we can enjoy this liberty, taxes are a small price to pay.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Union with Christ

The doctrine of our union with Christ (sometimes called the mystical union--not to be confused with the hypostatic union, which some also call the mystical union) is a powerful doctrine of Scripture that is difficult to teach. Essentially, it means that the Christian is truly united to Christ through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. This union is so real that the Christian actually shares in the body of Christ so that His body becomes our own. Christ also shares in our bodies so that our bodies are actually His own. This is how our sin became His sin and how His death and resurrection became our death and resurrection. This doctrine has rich implications, especially in regard to the sacraments. Even more, it has rich implications on how we live.

A few summers ago, I waded through Walter Marshall's The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification. I say "waded through" even though the book is small, because, like many Puritan classics, it was not easy reading for me. To make matters worse, the edition I read had terrible printing. The typeface was horrible and there were no margins. Just when I finished it, Bruce McRae released a new edition in modern English (with modern typeface). I haven't read the new edition, yet, but plan to this summer.

If I ever write a book (which I doubt I have the discipline to do), I would like to write a book loosely based on The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, with stories and illustrations to connect with a modern audience.

Marshall's book could be called a celebration of our union with Christ. Here are some quotes from it. Unfortunately, these quotes are in the original English.

Men show themselves strangely forgetful, or hypocritical, in professing original sin in their prayers, catechisms, and confessions of faith; and yet urging on themselves and others the practice of the law, without the consideration of nay strengthening, enlivening means; as if there were no want of ability, but only of activity.
In order to be able to practice the law, we must have first want to do it, which means we must first be convinced that we are reconciled to God, and be convinced of our future enjoyment, and be convinced of sufficient strength to will and to do all our duties acceptably until we enjoy that future blessed state.
God has abundantly discovered to us, in His word, that His method in bringing men from sin to holiness of life, is, first to make them know that He loves them, and that their sins are blotted out.
In order to practice holiness, we must be persuaded of our future enjoyment of the everlasting heavenly happiness.
Though Christ is in heaven, and we on earth; yet He can join our souls and bodies to His at such a distance without any substantial change of either, by the same infinite Spirit dwelling in Him and us; and so our flesh will become His, when it is quickened by His Spirit;; and His flesh ours, as truly as if we ate His flesh and drank His blood.
The corrupt natural estate, which is called in scripture the old man, was crucified together with Christ, that the body of sin might be destroyed. And it is destroyed in us, not by any wounds that we ourselves can give it, but by our partaking of that freedom from it, and death to it, that is already wrought out for us by the death of Christ.
We are naturally so prone to ground our salvation on works, that if we cannot make them procuring conditions and causes of our salvation by Christ, yet, we shall endeavor at least to make them necessary preparatives, to fit us for receiving Christ and His salvation by faith.
Beggars will make most of their nasty rags, till they are furnished with better clothes; and cripples will not case away their crutches, until they have a better support to lean on.
Many have fallen into great sin because they do not account the grace of Christ sufficient for their pardon and salvation.
If Christians knew their own strength better, they would enterprise greater things for the glory of God.
There are many more. However, let me encourage you to read the book.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Jesus Family Tomb

On Sunday, I mentioned that I would post an article debunking The Discovery Channel's progam in 2007 claiming that they had found the tomb and the bones of Jesus. Actually, The Discovery Channel debunked it pretty well itself with a program by Ted Koppel critiquing it. However, I don't have access to it any more.

Here is a link to some of my sermons. If you scroll down to the bottom, there is a sermon called JesusFamilyTomb. It has the information I mentioned, including footnotes. Below it, is the PowerPoint presentation that I used when I preached the sermon. It includes some images that might be helpful.

By the way, I often will preach "apologetic" type sermons, as I did on Sunday. Some may think that I am doing this for evangelistic reasons. That certainly is part of it, but only part. Richard Pratt, in teaching on 1 Peter 3:15, notes that apologetics are for 1) the glory of God, 2) strengthening the faith of believers, and c) answering unbelievers. In doing apologetic style sermons, one of my purposes is always to strengthen the faith of Christians, particularly younger people who are constantly finding their faith under attack.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Easter, Village Seven, and UPC

Did Bing Crosby sing "I'm dreaming of a white Easter"? Yes, we had a white Easter in Colorado. It started snowing Saturday afternoon and kept it up all night. It wasn't terribly cold. So, the roads weren't bad. But having a white Easter was a new experience for me. Of course, having a white Thanksgiving, a white Christmas, a white New Years, a white Valentines, a white Palm Sunday, and a white St. Patrick's Day were all new experiences for me as well.

The truth is, we have had lots of snowing days, but we haven't had any really bad storms. Even though it snowed Easter Sunday, today (Monday) it was in the mid-60's--downright Spring-like.

This also was my first Easter at Village Seven. Richard Hunt, our Worship Director, did a wonderful job of putting the service together. The orchestra rocked (can I say that? I just did). It was a beautiful service.

Easter made us think about our friends at UPC. Both Village Seven and UPC's Easter services are wonderful, but they are very different. UPC's Easter service is usually creative and energetic. Jonathan Noel pulls out all the stops. At Village Seven, the service is more majestic--a full choir and orchestra. Each are gloriously worshipful, but very different. I love that about the body of Christ. Both Richard Hunt at Village Seven and Jonathan Noel at UPC both are passionate about God's glory first and foremost. Music and the "performance" (bad word) aspects of music are a distant second to the goal of music -- worship. Yet, both do their jobs with excellence.

Speaking of UPC, I very excited that the Pastoral Search Committee is recommending Mike Osborne to be the next senior pastor. Mike was my Associate for a number of years. He was always very loyal, encouraging, and a faithful friend. Mike is a gifted preacher. Even more importantly, he understands the DNA and vision of UPC. UPC is a unique church that is well-suited to serve its community. Mike gets the mission and Mike can lead the church in being faithful to her mission.

My hope and prayer is that the people of UPC will love, support, and care for Mike just as they did for me for so many years. They were always patient with me, forgiving, and allowed me to grow. I trust that they will give Mike the same support and care.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


I never know how to footnote in a sermon. I have footnotes in my manuscript, but no one else ever sees my manuscript. Sometimes I mention my sources. However, often that seems cumbersome. Generally speaking, if you hear me say something really profound, you can bet it is not original with me. Ask me, and I will tell you where I got it.

This brings up my sermon on Palm Sunday. I received a number of compliments on it and want to make sure I am giving proper credit. The background information that I shared could be found in a number of sources. So, I don't think anything I said was too unique to one particular source. However, one source that helped me tremendously and that I relied on heavily was N. T. Wright's The Challenge of Jesus. He put the ideas all together for me and it influenced my message a great deal. I found the book to be very helpful and easy to read.

I hesitate to share this, not because I don't want to give him proper credit, but because I don't want to endorse a lot of what Rev. Wright has written. Particularly, his views on justification are very troubling. For all of the Wright supporters who want to tell me how I have misunderstood Wright, I will admit that I am no expert on the him or the others in the New Perspective movement. However, I have read enough from him, his fans and his detractors to be concerned and don't plan to spend a lot more time researching him.

However, even thought I disagree with Rev. Wright on Justification (which is a pretty big issue!), I still find much of his material helpful (as does one of his most ardent critics, D. A. Carson). He is a remarkable scholar and has a great ability to communicate clearly. He has been a staunch defender of the orthodox view of the historicity of Jesus and the reality of the resurrection. He also has done quite a bit of research on the period of time in which Jesus lived. So, we can learn much from him. However, I am hesitant to recommend him to a broad audience that might not be as discerning about matters of justification.

This brings up a challenge that I have as a pastor. There are a number of people whom I read--both Christian and non-Christian--with whom I differ on some very significant issues. However, I have learned from them and benefited greatly from them. I believe that my years of education, personal study, dialogue with other pastors, being part of a Confessional church, and a solid diet of Scripture and books with good theology has enabled me to be discerning so that I can read material (and benefit from it) even though I might not recommend it. I believe that I have a responsibility and privilege to read people from a variety of traditions, not just those who are Reformed. In fact, I think pastors and leaders who only read people in their own tradition are missing out on what God is teaching in other parts of the body of Christ. The sort of parochialism that keeps one from only reading people within his own tradition is both impoverishing and rooted in fear and insecurity. Yet, at the same time, I would not want less mature or less theologically grounded church members to read the same material.

All this to say, just because I quote a source or an author, that does not necessarily mean I am in agreement with all that author has said or even that I think that author is completely orthodox. In the case of N. T. Wright, I think he is making some very valuable contributions to Christianity. However, I find his views on justification (at least my understanding of his views) disturbing.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Need for a Great Awakening

Several people have asked for the statistics about the decline of Christianity in America. I thought it might be helpful to post the information here.

Today, the Christian Church is experiencing its greatest expansion in history. More people are becoming Christians everyday than at any other time in history. Because of the success of the world missions movement, today there are more Christians in Asia, Africa, and Latin America than there are in North America and Europe. Furthermore, the growth of the church in those regions is continuing at a staggering pace.

However, while the church throughout the world is growing, the picture is not as rosy at home. In fact, we are facing a looming crisis. If current trends continue, the evangelical church in the United States is in danger of becoming culturally irrelevant in fifty years. We will be like the Amish—together in our own little enclaves virtually ignored by the world around us.

Why do I say that? How can I make such an outlandish claim that the church in America is headed for irrelevancy? Because we are losing our young people and have so for the past few decades.

In my lifetime, the United States has moved from being a nation that was predominantly Christian, or at least a nation where the majority had a Christian worldview, to becoming a post-Christian nation. This is not just my opinion. Here are the facts:
  • There are 195 million unchurched Americans
  • For every one church being started, 3 are closing
  • In 1958, 50% of all people Americans attended church regularly. In 1996, that number had dropped to 37%.

When you break down the numbers by generation, the picture becomes even more disturbing.

Who Attends Church in America Each Weekend

Generation Birth Years % Attending Church
Builders (Born before 1946) 51%
Boomers (1946-1964) 41%
Busters (1965-1976) 34%
Bridgers (1977-1994) 29%

Over 70% of people between the ages of 11 and 28 do not attend church. Now, when we consider that 85-90% of people who become Christians do so before the age of 18, then it seems apparent that we have already lost, not one, but two generations of people.

Wait. It gets worse. Anywhere from 88%-95% of Christian young people abandon the faith during the college years.

We live in a post-Christian nation. Unless God sends a revival that surpasses that of the Great Awakening and the Protestant Reformation, things will get worse before they get better. Those of you who are older may not sense it as much because the majority of your peers are either Christian or share a Christian worldview. However, that is not how it is for our young people. They feel this everyday. They live in a world where Christianity is viewed, not only with skepticism, but with cynicism and deep suspicion.

Despite its reputation as a religious city, Colorado Springs is not immune to these national trends. Even though Colorado Springs is known for its religious institutions, it is more unchurched than either California or New York. The Colorado Springs Business Journal states “according to The Quality of Life indicators published recently by the Pikes Peak United Way, El Paso County has a lower rate of membership in religious congregations than does Denver County, Pueblo County, Colorado and the United States. Additionally, while other areas show an increase in membership from 1990 to 2000, only El Paso County residents’ and the U.S average membership decreased. That decrease, from 38.9 percent in 1990 to 37.1 percent in 2000, was much different than Denver County’s increase, 39.3 percent to 50.2 percent of members of religious congregations.”

Because the world has changed so radically from the 1950’s—or even the 70’s and 80’s—how we as Christians engage the world must look different as well.

Denis Haack, in his article, “Living a Magnetic Faith in a Post-Christian world” compares two cities.[1] One is Jerusalem. “Dominating the city was the Temple where priests offered sacrifices for the sins of the people. Jerusalem was home to the covenant people of God who defined its life and shaped its society. The calendar was marked by a series of feasts that celebrated God’s grace in the history of His people. The legal system was rooted in God’s revelation in the Scriptures, the law, and the prophets. Though non-believers lived there, every aspect of Jerusalem’s life and culture was centered on God and his Word.”

The other city was Babylon. “The greatest military and economic force of its day, it was a pluralistic society. Races and religions from every corner of the world could be found there. And, while God’s people were in the mix, they were given no advantage. They could achieve positions of influence, as long as they were careful not to offend the ruling elite. The art and literature of the Babylonians was pagan, colored by their belief in sorcery and magic. It was very different from Jerusalem, especially in the ways that matter most.”

He goes on to conclude that we live in Babylon. “Our postmodern world is profoundly pluralistic—far more so than ancient Babylon. The religions we used to hear about only when missionaries visited are now next-door, and growing. The public square is a cacophony of competing truth claims. Increasingly our closest neighbors and co-workers do not share our deepest values and convictions.” He goes on to say, living like we are in Jerusalem while we are living in Babylon will not work. Getting angry at the culture, judging the culture, or dreaming about the old days of our culture will not transform the culture.

Furthermore, the change in the American religious landscape means that we cannot continue on with business as usual. We must be more aggressive in reaching out with the gospel, engaging with people, and planting new churches. These have to be priorities for the church if we are going to be faithful to the mission that Christ has given us.


Some of these stats are slightly different from what I used on Sunday. I have seen different numbers from different sources--all very similar--these seem to be more reliable.

On Sunday, I said that no county in America has a higher percentage of Christians than it did a decade ago. I heard that at a church planting conference but have not been able to verify it. According to one source cited above, the percentage of people attending church in Denver has increased.

[1] Actually, he compares three. The third one being Samaria, but, in order to keep the illustration simple, I only am mentioning two.