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Interesting Things Going on At TGC

The Gospel Coalition is involved in all sorts of interesting activities right now.  If you are unaware of the recent withdrawal of Tullian Tchividjian from the organization you can read some interesting and frankly important information here where Kevin DeYoung does a nice job giving a synopsis (maybe) of the issues.  They are not little ones and they center around the nature of how a Christian deals with sin and the commands of the Scripture.  Tchividjian essentially makes any serious obedience unnecessary because we are under grace.  Though I appreciate his love of grace in all that I read of him I find that he misses the point almost completely on how grace now frees us and empowers us to obey our Lord.  Secondly, I see him having an inappropriate understanding of the relationship between Law and Grace which makes any movement forward in this whole thing essentially a waste of time.

The following are a few useful articles for you to read if this little post piques your interest (honestly, just following the links on DeYoung’s article will keep you busy):

  • Todd Pruitt He has several more excellent links and some very useful comments after them.
  • Tullian Tchividjian We see here some of his ideas.  “Are we free to fail?”  “Are we free to be ordinary?”  Of course we are, Jesus did it all.  And therein lies the problem.  Note how this article is filled with skin-tingling thoughts but really light on clear biblical exposition to support it. Here he gets irritated with the claim that he is pushing a view that celebrates failure though he doesn’t really address it in reality.
  • Jen Wilkin This is the article that seemed to irritate Tullian.
  • Jared Oliphant Responds to Tullian’s response.
  • Carl Trueman Asks some very, very, very, very practical questions.  The kind that tend to not get asked but should in debates like these.  I have to invite him to preach at our church some day.

If you are interested, here is a three part series I did on the doctrine of sanctification.  If you listen to them you will see the great chasm between myself (along with others) and Tchividjian.  Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Regarding Josh Harris and CJ Mahaney stepping down, I am glad they did.  Many troubling things over several years have caused me to take a big step backward to wait until more comes to light.  Pretty shocking and sobering to read that a pastor and brother-in-law of Mahaney now admits under oath that he knew of the molestation and never contacted the authorities. One wonders if this is truly the very first time he admitted it to anyone.  My mind is boggled.

The Stump of Sin

I had a large black walnut tree in my backyard.  Sadly it overwhelmed the whole yard and was very messy so finally I decided to have it cut down.  We are still waiting for the stump to be ground away and in the meantime I noticed something very interesting.  The whole stump is constantly weeping water.  The roots are still doing what roots do and trying to nourish a tree that is not there anymore.  It is dead but not dead.  And as I thought about it I realized it was a good illustration on the nature of sin in the life of a Christian.

The New Testament uses a term to describe the reality of sin for a believer.  It is called “flesh.”  It has nothing to do with the physical body, though often it is misunderstood that way.  What it is is the lingering effects of what used to be our reality.  Ephesians 2 says it in a painfully succinct way, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.  Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest” (Ephesians 2:1-3 NAS).

That state is now forever broken.  That is part of the good news found in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  God’s grace through the death and resurrection of Jesus overwhelms sin.  Therefore we read in Romans 6 that we are dead to sin and therefore we are to have that as our mind set as we go about life.  We no longer are slaves to it; rather, we are free in ways we really don’t comprehend.  But . . . .

We still do sin.  And that is where the flesh comes into play.  “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.  For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please” (Galatians 5:16-17 NAS).  The flesh was described to me as a sin hangover.  The power it once had is broken.

It is dead, but not dead.  It is like the stump in my backyard.  It seeks to draw water into the fulness of the tree, but there is no tree.  It is gone.  And eventually the stump will be gone and the roots will return to dirt.  In the same way the flesh seeks always to draw sin and death into our lives.  But the power of sin is gone.  And in the power of the Spirit I, and you, can resist and reject these efforts of the flesh to bring us into bondage.  And in the end, when our Lord returns He shall make all things new, the stump of our old nature will be ground away and true life will be ours in fulness.

 

The Need for Repentance

Yesterday I proposed that repentance is something that is good, or as I said it, the “good stuff.”  My thinking behind this is that often repenting is seen as unpleasant and bad, something to be avoided.  When a person thinks this way then they are doomed in at least a couple of ways.

First, if they are not a Christian then they are simply doomed to a life that will never experience the joy of full forgiveness in Jesus Christ.  They shall remain in their sin and they have only the expectation of the eternal judgment of God that hovers over them.  As Romans 2:4-5 bluntly states it, “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.”   There is nothing in that passage for one who rejects Jesus to hope in.  So when I have a non-Christian who comes to me for help I have limited options.  I must point the person to Jesus Christ as their supreme need.  I can address as well the surface issues, such as drugs, anger, or drunkenness but in the end all that I can offer is behavioral changes that never address the core problem of being enslaved to sin.

Second, if they profess to be a Christian then I must have them realize that to remain in a sin is simply contrary to the gospel.  Paul makes this abundantly clear in Romans six when he states, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?  By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”  He goes on to describe how our union in Jesus Christ causes the dominion of sin to be broken.  To be sure the presence of sin is there, but not the power to enslave you as it once had.  He has given us the Holy Spirit so that He wars against the sin within us so that we do not do as we wish (cf. Galatians 5:16-17).  We have the Word of God that is, in part, given to us to grow with respect to our salvation (cf. 1 Peter 2:1-2).  Therefore, when one tries  to hide the sin or short circuit the process of turning from our sin they are living in a manner that is alien to their identity in Christ.  It is certain that they will lose a joy in their fellowship with the Lord and His people.  It is certain they can expect our Father to discipline them(cf. Hebrews 12:5-7). And it is certain that no change will truly occur for them as they are seeking to do it in their own power.

But if the non-Christian repents, meaning they turn from their sin and their idols to God alone through Jesus Christ then they are finally in a right relationship with Him.  They have now the ability to begin to truly change and grow.  Their sin no longer must have mastery over them.  For the Christian who finally comes to grip that they have given themselves over to a sin, if they recognize the need to repent then much good also occurs.  Though there might be pain, as they begin to sever relationships and activities that must be put away, there is also the encouragement that comes from the Spirit who desires their holiness.  There is a new perspective on life as they turn from a mind set on the things of this age to the hope of eternity where sin is wiped away in its entirety.  They place themselves in the paths where God’s daily, sustaining grace flows rather than the dry wastelands in which they only recently wandered.

So, you need to help a person repent.  The first thing you need to do is build hope in them.  They need to see that repentance really is the good stuff.  Life is found in repentance.  Forgiveness is found in repentance.  Jesus is found in repentance.

Next post will discuss what things you will want to look for with one who says they are repentant.

Sing about Your Failure

I literally was raised in a church before I was born. My mother and father were Christians and I attended church faithfully for the nine months I was in the womb. I have no memory of my childhood that did not include the church. My father was an elder at a small Plymouth Brethren chapel and I was baptized by him in an YMCA pool. On Saturdays I would go down with my family (which was a big one) and set up the folding chairs and wipe them down. My father taught his Sunday School class in the women’s shower room. My teacher was Mrs. Roth. I loved her. I used to day dream that I would marry her one day. The fact that she was 30+ years old and already married to another elder had little to do with my plans. She would be my wife one day.

All of this to say, I grew up singing songs. Heavenly Sunshine (which is also knows as Heavenly Sunlight by the less than holy) was my favorite, though many others were sung by me and the other kids in Sunday School. On Sunday evening during the service kids always had the first choice in what song the congregation would sing, and if I got picked it would be good ol’ Heavenly Sunshine.

Tonight I taught my final class on the Pentateuch before their exam. I showed them where the Lord commands Moses to teach the people of Israel a song until they learn it perfectly. Here is the passage:

And it came about, when Moses finished writing the words of this law in a book until they were complete, that Moses commanded the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, saying, “Take this book of the law and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may remain there as a witness against you. “For I know your rebellion and your stubbornness; behold, while I am still alive with you today, you have been rebellious against the LORD; how much more, then, after my death? “Assemble to me all the elders of your tribes and your officers, that I may speak these words in their hearing and call the heavens and the earth to witness against them. “For I know that after my death you will act corruptly and turn from the way which I have commanded you; and evil will befall you in the latter days, for you will do that which is evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking Him to anger with the work of your hands.” Then Moses spoke in the hearing of all the assembly of Israel the words of this song, until they were complete:

( NASB)

What follows in chapter 32 is a song that recounts the reality that Israel will fail in their covenant responsibilities before Yahweh. This song is not like the songs I sang in Sunday School. This one was painful. It spoke of a nation who would reject the love and covenant of the one, true God. It would wander and play the harlot. And in all of this it would not be a shock nor a surprise to the Lord.

Even though the nation knew this was going to happen they could not prevent it. They were like so many others, who will say today, that tomorrow they shall repent, tomorrow they shall reject their sin, tomorrow they shall follow the Lord with a whole heart. But then, when it is too late, they discover that their heart was never given to God in the first place. They are flung down into the fulness of their sin and they are trapped by their own snares.

Not pleasant words, but then, eternity is pretty serious stuff. So, what of you, my reader? Are you flirting with that which is not consistent with one who calls themselves a follower of Jesus? Do you love the world and yet call yourself a lover of Jesus?

I give thanks that we have a Savior who has gone before us. One who is the true, complete sin-bearer. The one who shall bring us faithfully to the Father without a stain or a blemish. But I also know that it is folly for us to say, “Lord, Lord, have we not . . . .” (cf. ) and never bothered to consider the call of following Jesus.

All of this to say, let us carefully consider our High Priest and let us also hold fast to the confession of our faith. May we walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which we have been called. And may we be found faithful in the end through the empowering grace of God.

The Power of Convicton

I am preaching through the book of 2 Timothy on Sundays.  Currently I am working through ten convictions that must be present in the life of any Christian if they are to effectively live in this age.  Now, a lot of sermons talk like this.  “Five steps of heaven-storming prayers.”  “Fourteen ways to bring yourself into the blessings of God.” “Three immutable truths to Christ-exalting holiness.”  And the list goes on.

So are these convictions something that matter?  Or are they just part of a long list of sermon titles that I shall continue to preach until I die?  Are they something I think the people should attend their ears to with the mind-set of repentance and prayer or are they messages to keep the people coming back with checkbooks in hand?  Are they to motivate and move people to true sanctification or enlarge the church’s attendance?  In our cynical world of America these are not easily answered.

But to make my attempt at it, yes, convictions matter.  At these specific convictions are essentially foundational for any Christian.  As one who has followed Jesus Christ for decades now, I find that it reminds and encourages me to grow more and press on more in these very convictions that I preach on each Sunday.  I have brand new Christians in the church who are establishing a heart that desires very different things then merely the “blessings” from God.

So I am going to blog those ten convictions here as well.  Not the whole sermons, no body reads long articles in blogs.  But the central points  to each one.  My hope is that as you read you might take stock of your position and relation to Jesus Christ.  Introspection is good for the Christian, especially when it is done honestly and with Jesus by your side.

But first a word about convictions themselves. Convictions are interesting things. They are not something you develop quickly; rather it takes time, practice, thought and diligence. You don’t have a conviction because you heard something once or twice and it sounded good to you.Many who attend conferences come away with that wrong conclusion.  It is something that seeps deep into your bones and does not let go of you easily, nor can you let go of it. Al Mohler said it this way in his book, The Conviction to Lead, “Convictions are not merely beliefs we hold; they are those beliefs that hold us in their grip.  We would not know who we are but for these bedrock beliefs.” (p. 21)

However, there is a dirty little secret about convictions.  Most people I have met think they have them, but most have none.  At least not ones that are evident. Convictions drive you and ground you in the hard times. Convictions are there to keep you moving forward when you look around and watch everyone else fall back. Convictions are what Paul would call the “obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5).  Convictions define you so that people around you already have a sense on how you will respond to a situation. Therefore, convictions are precious and they are hard to hold onto.

Convictions are consistent with the character of God.  I could do a whole series just on this, but suffice it to say that God’s ultimate conviction is that His Name shall be exalted and delighted in throughout the world. “ . . . that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” (Romans 9:17)  And frankly, everything in this world is moving toward that very end.

Convictions are not contradictions to humility.  Such a common charge in churches today.  Somehow humility requires that a person not be filled with certainty, authority, or conviction.  Silliness for a silly age.  Suffice it to say that Jesus was a man of convictions during his time on earth.  Yet He epitomizes humility.  You cannot read the gospels and not walk away with the clear grasp that He knew Himself, the will of His Father, and His purpose.  And never once did He shy from it.  He always did the will of His Father. His conviction to honor and obey His Father was so deep that with the joy set before Him He endured the cross for our sakes.

The Apostles were men of conviction.  So much so that when jailed for preaching the gospel, when they were then warned not to continue in this activity they declared that they must obey God rather than man.  Then after they were flogged by the leadership and sent on their way they were foolish enough to rejoice that they were worthy to be able to suffer for the name of the Lord.  This conviction allowed them to stand firm against the hellish assault upon the gospel as they planted and built up churches.

Convictions are critical for anyone.  But even more critical are to have the right convictions.  Those that honor the Lord and are fitting for a child of the eternal King.  Lord willing I will be able to unpack some of them over the next few weeks.

The Spirit and Our Battle against Sin

I am preaching on the deity of the Holy Spirit this Sunday and thought this quote out of John Owen’s, Mortification of The Flesh, would be of value.  The first paragraph is part of his lengthy discussion on how the Spirit is utterly indefensible in our battle to mortify the flesh. Then in the second paragraph he shows his pastoral heart as he considers those who are seeking to be holy and yet do not have the Spirit because they are not in Christ.  Powerful stuff.

He doth not so work our mortification in us as not to keep it still an act of our obedience. The Holy Ghost works in us and upon us, as we are fit to be wrought in and upon; that is, so as to preserve our own liberty and free obedience. He works upon our understandings, wills, consciences, and affections, agreeably to their own natures; he works in us and with us, not against us or without us; so that his assistance is an encouragement as to the facilitating of the work, and no occasion of neglect as to the work itself. And, indeed, I might here bewail the endless, foolish labour of poor souls, who, being convinced of sin, and notable to stand against the power of their convictions, do set themselves, by innumerable perplexing ways and duties, to keep down sin, but, being strangers to the Spirit of God, all in vain. They combat without victory, have war without peace, and are in slavery all their days. They spend their strength for that which is not bread, and their labour for that which profiteth not.

This is the saddest warfare that any poor creature can be engaged in. A soul under the power of conviction from the law is pressed to fight against sin, but hath no strength for the combat. They cannot but fight, and they can never conquer; they are like men thrust on the sword of enemies on purpose to be slain. The law drives them on, and sin beats them back. Sometimes they think, indeed, that they have foiled sin, when they have only raised a dust that they see it not; that is, they distemper their natural affections of fear, sorrow, and anguish, which makes them believe that sin is conquered when it is not touched. By that time they are cold, they must to the battle again; and the lust which they thought to be slain appears to have had no wound.

 

Run in Such A Way that You May Win

One passage I go to consistently as a man and as a pastor is 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.  In a generation that loves leisure, comfort and pleasure above most anything else it is a jarring passage but a good one.  I went back to it just now because I saw this photo essay–powerful images of the intensity of training.

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. And everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.

What Do Urine And Salvation Have in Common?

Last night I went to pick  Zach, my three-year-old, up from his class at church. When I dropped him off, the sign-in sheet asked, “Any special instructions?” I hesitated, then left it blank. I suppose that this was a mistake. When I went to get him, I lifted him up and sat him on my hip only to quickly find out that he, at some point in the night, had failed to utilize his potty training abilities. The smell was terrible and I was embarrassed.

All of my kids have gone through this stage. Right when we think the training is over, they revert back a couple of months later. When it happened with Katelynn, the doctor told us that we have to just let her do it. He told us that she will be both annoyed and embarrassed by the feeling and smell. This will be enough to make her stop. Sure enough, that is what happened. Same thing with Kylee. Same thing with Will. They would have an accident and come in crying due to the uncomfortable feeling and smell. They recognized it and wanted it to change, even though they were not sure how to take care of the problem. But I don’t know what is going on with Zach. He just does not seem to care. It has been over a month and nothing has changed. It is like he does not recognize that there is urine all over him and the smell, somehow, does not bother him. He can go all day with wet pants and not think twice.

Where am I going with this? I’m getting there.

Here is a unique take on the Lordship debate.  I am not sure I like the idea that he chose to use his son as an example but he did and that is not my problem.  If you go on to read the article, and you should, don’t stumble over his decision. What I do like is how he uses that situation to illustrate a way through the debate that still rages in areas of the Church today regarding the nature of salvation.  In other words, where does repentance fit into salvation? Read the rest here.

UPDATE: fixed bad grammar in title.

How Age Sometimes Helps Us Rethink Things

A compelling article:

Fifteen years ago I had it all figured out. Theology was perfect. My passions filled with the progressively growing belief that I was going to make a difference—a big difference. If people were in need, I could fix it . . . or at least direct them to the right way to fix it. I had all the answers. I was sanctified and I was being sanctified . . . fast (like Ferrari fast).

Fast forward fifteen years…

Things are much different now. I don’t have quite as much figured out. Passions are secure, but have been nuanced by the scars of my soul. Things I was so confident about before now make my spirit blush with frustration, salted with a bit of shame and bitterness. Fixing things is not as easy as it seemed back then. Complications have arisen. People are complicated. I am complicated.

Not long ago as I discussed spiritual growth with a discouraged Christian gal, I began to see my own plight in hers. She could not understand why she is not a “good” person. “I have been a Christian for thirty years and I feel as if I am less sanctified now than ever. I don’t understand. Maybe I am not even saved.”

Intrigued?  I was.  If so, go here to read more of a refreshingly honest post.

A Primer on Church Discipline, Pt 5

This will be my final installment on a short series on church discipline.This is a task that is never enjoyable but nonetheless is good and right to do in the sight of God.  We have seen already that it is not optional; rather it is necessary because Jesus commands it.  To refuse to do it is simply sin.  But it is also says that you do not care for the soul of he who sins nor the purity of the church.  Both are serious issues that demand careful rethinking by those who reject discipline within the church.

Today I will give two final points regarding why we should practice church discipline:  The first is that it protects doctrinal purity and the second is that it protects the office of elder.

Two passages come to mind regarding doctrinal purity:

This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have delivered over to Satan, so that they may be taught not to blaspheme. (1 Timothy 1:18-20)

If anyone advocates a different doctrine, and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness,he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions,and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. (1 Timothy 6:3-5)

In the first passage Paul speaks of these two men whom he delivered over to Satan so that they learn not to blaspheme.  What exactly is involved in this is not stated, but it is clear that it was not fun, safe, or minor.  Speaking false things within the church is devastating.  Young believers are easily led astray and non-Christians can be quickly confused.  The church is to be a place where truth is expounded and loved.  It is not to be a place where confusion and lies twist the hearts of those for whom Christ died. As the second passage makes clear, Paul has no time for a person advocating new doctrines that go counter to the Apostolic teaching.  If he doesn’t nor should we.

The final reason for proper, biblical discipline is that it protects the office of elder.  This protection works in two separate ways, both is keeping the office itself pure and in removing an elder who is holding  on to sin and thus harming the church.

Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses. Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also may be fearful of sinning. (1 Timothy 5:19-20)

Elders are almost always on the front lines when problems arise.  They are the shepherds of God’s flock.  They are the ones who stick their neck on the line whenever a trouble-maker makes trouble.  And this makes them very vulnerable to unfounded attacks.  It is a grievous thing to readily accept accusations when there are no witnesses.  This is why a church is to take great precautions to protect their elders.  There must be witnesses and if there are not then the accusation is to be discarded.

However, when an elder is found to be in sin, if they do not repent then they are to be rebuked in the presence of the church.  That is a painful reality that is seldom practiced.  Too often they are quietly removed and no one ever really understands what happened.  This leaves open the opportunity for gossip and slander.  It is not an act of grace to be vague about an elder’s on-going sin.  Notice that the purpose for rebuking him publicly is to have the rest of the church fearful of sinning as well.

If churches will take these words to heart they will find perhaps a smaller church, but one that is more serious about pursuing Christ in holiness and a place where purity is valued and one’s spiritual well-being is desirable.

 

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