Archive for April, 2010

When it comes to homosexuality, we don’t always make a good case for biblical orthodoxy. Trevin Wax offers some excellent suggestions here. His basic point is

The debate is not about homosexuality versus other sins. It’s about whether or not repentance is integral tot he Christian faith.

Trevin’s ideas are a good balance of mind and heart. It’s worth a read and some thought.

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Testing, Testing

Last week I started preaching through the book of James. This morning I preached on chapter 1, verses 2 through 4. The subject is trials, and in my preparation I came across some good comments by Daniel Doriani in his commentary on the book in the Reformed Expository Commentary.

When James says believers should rejoice in trials because they test our faith and develop maturity, he addresses more than the hour of crisis or sorrow. James wants the church to live out its faith in the crucible of life, in all its tests. This includes tests born of hardship, such as accidents, sickness, poverty, and anxiety, but it also includes trials that spring from prosperity, such as wealth, knowledge, skill, and high position. Both hardship and prosperity test our faith. Either one can prove a profession of faith to be genuine or specious. hardship brings obvious trials, but success often sifts us too.

Later, he writes,

The trials of life will probe whether we live by our professed doctrines or not. James says life will try us, proving our faith authentic or inauthentic. In life’s tests, abstract theology will not suffice. Genuine Christians fail some tests, of course. James does not think that everyone who succumbs to a foolish idea or a sinful desire is an unbeliever. But faithfulness during trials does prove that our faith is genuine and mature.

He goes on to say,

Thus, times of severe, focused testing will meet us, but every season and circumstance of life tries our faith in some way, testing whether it is genuine or not. For that, we should be thankful, says James, because daily trials prove the authenticity of our faith.

He also says,

At a minimum, trials expose our weakness so we know where we must grow. Trials expose our sin and our inability to reform ourselves. Trials reveal our need of a Savior. (James, pp. 16, 18, 24)

Trials, or tests, then can be defined as anything that challenges our trust in and obedience to God. In that sense, all of life is a trial, not just the “bad” things that happen.

Thanks to John Calvin and Daniel Doriani for expanding my vision of what a trial actually is and expanding my vision of the God who uses them as a means to produce steadfastness and maturity in us.

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Someone once asked a famous theologian (it could be Karl Barth, but I’m not sure) to identify the most important truth he had ever learned. He answered by saying, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Amen! There’s a lot of truth in a children’s song.

There’s a lot of truth in another song children sing, this one on the basics of the Christian life:

Read your Bible, pray every day.

 Read your Bible, pray every day.

Read your Bible, pray every day

and you’ll grow, grow, grow!

Don’t read your Bible, forget to pray;

Don’t read your bible, forget to pray;

Don’t read your Bible, forget to pray

and you’ll shrink, shrink, shrink.

How much more basic can we get? The two most fundamental ingredients needed for growing and maturing as a Christian are the Bible – hearing, reading, studying, memorizing, meditating, and applying it – and prayer. We will grow in Christlikeness if these are part of our disciplined routine. If they aren’t, we won’t – it’s that simple.

Yes, there are other spiritual disciplines that should get our time and attention, but the Bible and prayer are foundational. Without them we’ll shrink, shrink, shrink. With them, we’ll grow, grow, grow!


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Heavenly Father,

“Do not be afraid.” You tell us that 365 times in Your Word. It must be important or You wouldn’t have said it so many times.

I confess that quite often I’m afraid. I’m sure my brothers and sisters in Christ would admit to that, too. I’m afraid to tell people about the greatest news ever – the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ in order to reconcile us to You – because they might think I’m odd or get mad at me. I’m afraid to attempt great things for You because I might fail and look like a failure in people’s eyes. I’m afraid to preach the truth of Your Word boldly because people may not like it and leave the church. Father, You know that I’m not always afraid in these areas (and a lot of other ones), but I am afraid enough to notice it, and I know nothing escapes Your notice. Forgive me, Lord.

Give me the strength, desire, and discipline to unafraid by the power of Your Holy Spirit. Unafraid to trust You; unafraid to speak; unafraid to step out  in faith. You tell us in Your Word not to be afraid because You are with us and are the sovereign Creator and Sustainer of the universe. May I fear You and You alone.

In the Name of Him who is unafraid, the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

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If God wanted to prove His existence to everyone, why doesn’t He just do a bunch of really big miracles? If He did that, everyone would believe, right?

God certainly could do a whole bunch of big miraculous things that would get everyone’s attention – there’s no question about that. But I don’t think everyone would believe in response to the miracles. Miracles don’t seem to have much lasting value, at least in those who witness them.

Janie B. Cheaney wrote this in a recent WORLD magazine:

The answer to that may have more to do with who we are than who He is. The spectacular defeats of Ra and Isis and Baal had no life-changing effect on pagans as a whole, and only little more on believers. Reports of parting the Red Sea made the inhabitants of Jericho shiver, but only Rahab and her family actually changed their allegiance because of it. Poor Dagon, god of the Philistines, seemed to hold the upper hand when the Ark of the Covenant was stolen and carried into his temple, but he ended up minus hands – and head – the next morning (1 Samuel 5). Though embarrassing, the incident did not convince the Philistines to ditch Dagon, only to return to the rival with a peace offering. Yahweh 1 – Dagon 0 – he may be a schmuck but he’s our schmuck.

Even among God’s people, spectacular confrontations had no lasting effect. Remember the Israelite response when fire fell from heaven and devoured Elijah’s altar, after the prophets of Baal had worked themselves into a tizzy trying to coax a little spark from Baal. “The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God!” had as much staying power as shouting “USA! USA!” at victorious Olympic events: a feel-good moment that may glow for a week or a month, but won’t change a life.

Later in the article, Cheaney writes:

The true age of miracles is now: Instead of merely being exposed to scenes of wonder that fade within a generation, human beings are being remade from the inside out, as the Spirit works from the outside in. (April 10, 2010, p. 26)

Cheaney echos something I’ve always believed as a Christian – the greatest miracle is when God changes a life from the inside out beginning with regeneration, continuing with sanctification, and culminating in glorification.

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Write It Down!


Listen to what God commanded every king in Israel to do:

And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and by doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel. (Deut. 17:8-20)

Every king in Israel was required by God to write out a personal copy of the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament), and then read it every day. I can’t even imagine how long that might have taken, but it’s obvious that it was a huge (and time-consuming) undertaking. The king became, in effect, a scribe and possibly a scholar in regard to the Word of God.

Why would the Lord require something like this?

  1. God’s Word is just that – His Word. The king needed to know that the standard for belief and behaviour is God’s Word and not his own feelings or ideas.
  2. The kings all needed to be reminded that God is the ultimate authority and that they ought to be in submission to Him.
  3. God’s Word and Law were to be taken seriously – not just put on the shelf to gather dust. His Word should be heard and obeyed.
  4. Practically speaking, writing something out for yourself helps you effectively assimilate it. It forces you to slow down and think (when we only read we have a tendency to move quickly, especially if it’s familiar territory).

Like the kings, you and I need to take the Bible seriously. Maybe we should write out a copy for ourselves – it couldn’t hurt (other than writer’s cramp).

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The great guide of this world is fashion and its god is respectability – two phantoms at which brave men laugh! How many of you look around on society to know what to do? You watch the general current and then float upon it! You study the popular breeze and shift your sails to suit it. True men do not do so! You ask, “Is it fashionable? If it is fashionable, it must be done.” Fashion is the law of multitudes, but it is nothing more than the common consent of fools. (Charles Spurgeon)

I think Spurgeon is absolutely right. Respectability – the desire to be liked and respected by others, to be thought well of by them – is a false god, an idol. But it’s an idol many of us seem to have a hard time smashing to pieces.

Why do Bible colleges and Christian universities that started out solidly orthodox gradually move away to something far different? Why does a professor or teacher or pastor begin to espouse views that are beyond the pale biblically? Why do we, over time, either drop or downplay strong biblical convictions?

Respectability may be one of the answers. It’s difficult for us to swim upstream against the strong current of our culture, but for the sake of being faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ we have to do it. Very few of us enjoy being seen as “odd” or “weird” or “one of those people” by our friends, families, or co-workers, but we must not bow and worship at the idol of respectability or “fashion” as Spurgeon puts it.

J.B. Phillips put it well in his paraphrase of Romans 12:2a – “Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold.”

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“Faith is believing what you know ain’t true.”

I was in a coffee shop studying for an upcoming series of sermons when I heard those words – the lyrics of a song being played on the shop’s sound system. I looked up from my book and Bible and almost said, “That’s not right!” out loud.

As wrong as that definition might be, it’s a common one today. People think of faith as “blind faith,” wishful thinking, or believing something there is absolutely no evidence for. There’s a lot of misunderstanding about what faith actually is.

Faith is extremely important to those of us who believe in Jesus Christ and follow Him. We’re saved by faith (“For it is by grace that you have been saved through faith, and not that of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works so that no one may boast” – Eph. 2:8-9). We live day-to-day by faith (“For we walk by faith and not by sight” – 2 Cor. 5:7, and “The just shall live by faith” – Heb. 10:38).

But what is it? Theologically and historically, faith has three parts or elements: knowledge, assent, and trust. All three parts must be present for true faith to be present.

Faith involves knowledge. Faith needs to know certain things. It has content and is not empty, therefore it can never be “blind.” To exercise faith, a specific set of facts has to be known and understood. If you’re making a decision of whether or not to sit on a particular chair, you have to know what a chair is, and that what you’re about to sit on is, in fact, a chair. In terms of the gospel, we need to know certain facts about Jesus Christ before we ever come to the point of trusting Him for our salvation.

While knowledge is crucial, it isn’t enough to produce genuine faith. Faith involves assent also. We first must know certain facts, but then we must agree with them and be convinced that those facts are true. In other words, if you “believe something you know ain’t true,” it isn’t real faith. Once you know that what you’re looking at is a chair, you have to decide if it will hold you when you sit on it. If you’re sure it will, then you assent and you have the second element of authentic faith. When we know who Jesus is and what He claims about Himself, assent is the next step – agreeing that what He says is true.

Knowledge and assent are crucial, but there is another part of biblical and true faith – trust. Faith involves trust. After we know something and are convinced of its truthfulness, commitment is what makes it full-orbed and biblical faith. Trust, or commitment, is active and not passive. In terms of the chair, trust and commitment means actually sitting on the chair. When it comes to the gospel, it means to, in effect, place all of our weight on the Lord Jesus Christ for our salvation and believe in Him.

Faith is not believing something you know isn’t true, it’s trusting something you have reason to believe is true. We know faith is real when it has knowledge, assent, and trust. All three elements are needed, not one or even two, but all three. Then, and only then, do we know we have biblical faith.

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Elyse Fitzpatrick gives this excellent advice regarding the cure for spiritual depression:

“All progress in the Christian life depends upon a recapitulation of the original terms of one’s acceptance with God” (John Stott, The Cross of Christ, p. 27). This delightful quote points us to an enduring remedy for all our ills, even that of spiritual depression. Every step we take in our Christianity, especially as we learn to war against inclinations to be introverted, self-critical, angry, anxious, bitter, hopeless, unbelieving, or fainthearted, depends upon an intentional revisiting of the Gospel. After all, what does a sad person need more than to be gently, yet continually, reminded of the good news? Over and over again, we’ve got to remember His suffering on our behalf: His incarnation, sinless life, substitutionary death, bodily resurrection, and ascension. In a nutshell, we have to intentionally consider Jesus, especially during those dark hours when we’re tempted to think only of ourselves. And although every one of us needs a daily dose of Gospel-recapitulation, those of us who feel the blows of Giant Depression need it even more.

What would Gospel-recapitulation look like? It would simply look like encouraging fainthearted with the truth about Jesus Christ. The depressed person needs a deep draught of encouragement, not trite banalities like, “Cheer up, things are bound to get better,” or “You’re not so bad. You’re really a wonderful person.” No, the depressed need strong medicine like, “God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that…we might live with him.”

That’s only part of a good and helpful article in the March 2008 Tabletalk (which is available at Ligonier Ministries).

Spiritual depression can be beaten, but only by the Gospel. Praise God for His grace!

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Good times aren’t always good for us.

“Take care lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, you when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and when your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the tiny rock, who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. (Deuteronomy 8:11-16)

We tend to forget God in the good times. The Israelites did it, and we do it, too. We don’t think we need Him anymore and certainly don’t cry out to Him in desperation.

Consider, though, the mysterious ways of God. He uses bad times – trials, suffering, discipline – as a means of sanctifying us. Notice the last part of the passage quoted above – “to do you good in the end.” The wilderness wanderings of God’s people, as bad as it must have been, was for their good.

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

We all love good times, but they don’t teach us much and, in fact, can cause us to forget the God who loves us and redeemed us.

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