Archive for November, 2011

David Platt, pastor of the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama is radical. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind that description! In Radical Together, he’s written a sequel to his bestseller Radical, in which he explained the implications of the gospel of Jesus Christ on individual lives. Radical Together explores those same implications, but this time for the church as a whole.

Platt asks important questions. Can the good things we do as a church actually prevent us from our purpose of making disciples? What if we, as a church, took the Great Commission seriously? I don’t agree with all of his answers, but he’s honestly grappling with the issues.

Several of the points Platt makes are significant. The gospel saves us from work, in terms of trying to earn our salvation, but also saves us to work in terms of living out our faith and expressing it through our good works and action. The word of God, which must be central, will accomplish the work of God. Growing churches today – many of them, not all – seem to be preoccupied with “a performance at a place filled with programs run by professionals. The problem, though, is the one p we have left out of the question: the people of God.”

Radical Together is a good conversation starter for churches. You may come to different conclusions (or the same), but at least the questions will be asked.

(Multnomah Waterbrook provided me with a free copy of this book to review.)

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This morning I had the privilege of preaching a topical message called “Only One Savior.” Here is a summary of my sermon in one sentence: Jesus Christ is uniquely qualified to be the one and only Savior of mankind.

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This is an abridged version of President George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1789.

“May we unite in rendering unto God our sincere and humble thanks –

For His kind care and protection of the people of this country,

For the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have enjoyed,

For the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness,

For the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge, and in general for all the great and various favors which He hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And may we also unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him –

To pardon our national and other transgressions,

To enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually,

To render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed,

To protect and guide all nations and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord,

To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science,

And generally to grant all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.”

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Thankfulness, or gratitude, is one of the most important virtues, but it’s also one of the most difficult to cultivate.

The problem is our sinful and fallen nature. Romans 1:20-21 tells us that “his (God’s) invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (emphasis added). Unthankfulness and ingratitude are our default position as human beings.

The solution is a new heart and nature that only God can give us through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Jesus, as God in human flesh, lived a perfect life of obedience in our place; died a sacrificial death for our sins as our substitute; and rose again victoriously from the dead. Through His life, He satisfied God the Father’s demand for holiness and perfection. Through His death, He satisfied God the Father’s demand for justice as He paid the full penalty of the sins of His people. Through His resurrection, He proved that He is who He claims to be and that He accomplished what He set out to. He died to be our Savior and lives to be our Lord.

When we put our faith and trust in Jesus, we’re given the gift of the Holy Spirit who indwells and fills us. When that happens, we become thankful as a matter of course. Listen to what Paul says in Ephesians 5:18-20: “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” (emphasis added).

Will we always be thankful from that moment on? Of course not, but we have the ability to be. We can be thankful for that!

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This morning I had the privilege of preaching on the subject of thankfulness and gratitude. Here is a summary of my sermon in one sentence: Thankfulness is one of the most important virtues in life, but it’s also one of the most difficult to cultivate.

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Hence we may infer, that the human mind is, so to speak, a perpetual forge of idols.

The human mind, stuffed as it is with presumptuous rashness, dares to imagine a god suited to its own capacity; as it labours under dullness, nay, is sunk in the grossest ignorance, it substitutes vanity and an empty phantom in the place of God. To these evils another is added. The god whom man has thus conceived inwardly he attempts to embody outwardly. The mind, in this way, conceives the idol, and the hand gives it birth. That idolatry has as its origin in the idea which men have, that God is not present with them unless the presence is carnally exhibited, appears from the example of the Israelites: “Up,” said they, “make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wet not what is become of him,” (Exod. 22:1). They knew, indeed, that there was a God whose mighty power they had experienced in so many miracles, but they had no confidence of his being near to them, if they did not with their eyes behold a corporeal symbol of his presence, as an attestation of his actual government.

In consequence of this blind passion men have, almost in all ages since the world began, set up signs on which they imagined that God was visibly depicted to their eyes.

(John Calvin – Institutes of the Christian Religion; Book 1.3.8) 

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Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you – unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared to me. (1 Cor. 15:1-8)

The gospel is an announcement, or a proclamation, of the good news that sinful people can be reconciled to a holy God through faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul reminded the Corinthians of that in his epistle to them. Clearly, the gospel has specific content which must be proclaimed to everyone.

But the gospel is not simply an announcement of good news – it has implications, too. The same apostle Paul who wrote to the Corinthians wrote these words to Timothy:

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ before the ages began. (2 Tim. 1:8-9)

To the Ephesians, Paul wrote:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. (Eph. 1:3-4)

The gospel obviously has moral and ethical implications – we have a holy calling and were chosen by God in order that we might be holy and blameless before Him. When we believe the gospel, we’re declared righteous by God (justification), but that isn’t the end of the story. God works, with our responsible cooperation, to sanctify us and make us more holy. Sanctification is a process that goes continues throughout our life, and will end when we are glorified in the presence of the Lord for all of eternity.

God’s work of salvation begins at justification, but it doesn’t stop there. The gospel transforms our heart and life in such a way that our thoughts, speech, and actions are changed – we became more holy as time goes by. Not only that, but our family, our vocation, our church, and our world are changed as the implications of the gospel are lived out in everyday life.

Paul didn’t end his epistles with the “indicatives;” he applied them by giving the “imperatives.” Believing the gospel leads to a changed life – it has to or it’s not genuine. The New Testament is filled with commands, all of which are based on the truth of the gospel. It’s not legalism to emphasize, or even mention, God’s commands – it’s what should naturally follow from believing the announcement of the gospel.

The gospel is an announcement of good news which has ethical and moral implications. We can’t forget that. If we do, I fear we’re preaching only half of a gospel.



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There are only two questions that will matter at all one second after you pass from this life to the next:

  1. What have I done with Jesus Christ?
  2. What have I done for Jesus Christ?
Nothing else will matter at that point in time. Not how many hours you worked. Not how much money you made. Not how many degrees you earned. Not how many friends you had. Not how much your kids inherited. Not how much power you had. Not how beautiful you were. Not how smart you were. Not how successful you were. Not how much you knew.
The only two things that will matter will be our relationship with Jesus Christ (have we repented from our sins and put our faith and trust in Him alone for our salvation), and how we used the gifts, talents, and abilities that He gave us – for His glory or for our own selfish purposes?
Something to think about.

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Sermon in a Sentence

This morning, I was privileged to finish preaching through the book of Ephesians. Here is a summary of my sermon in one sentence: I simply read the entire book, then made some comments on our guilt, God’s grace, and our gratitude.

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Having nearly completed a series of sermons preaching through the book of Ephesians, it may be helpful to make a list of good and useful commentaries on the epistle. I’ve used each of these in my preparation – some more, some less.

  1. Ephesians: The Mystery of the Body of Christ by R. Kent Hughes. A good mix of exposition and application.
  2. Ephesians (Reformed Expository Commentary) by Bryan Chapell. More pastoral in nature, but deals well with the technical issues.
  3. Ephesians: An Expositional Commentary by James Montgomery Boice. A solid, well-done treatment, as are all of Boice’s works.
  4. Ephesians (The New Testament Commentary) by William Hendriksen. The most technical of those I’ve listed, though still practical.
  5. The Message of Ephesians (The Bible Speaks Today) by John R.W. Stott. Stott was nearly unrivaled in his ability to explain ideas clearly and concisely.

Honorable Mentions: The Bible Exposition Commentary by Warren Wiersbe. Ephesians by John Calvin. Ephesians (The MacArthur New Testament Commentary series) by John MacArthur.

A word about the use of commentaries: I use commentaries to “check my work,” so to speak. After I’ve done my own work of reading, studying, and attempting to apply the passage of Scripture I’ll be preaching, I consult the commentaries. I don’t go to them before I’ve done my own study because I don’t want my understanding of the passage colored by someone else’s thoughts. It’s important that I be able to determine what the Bible says and means, and not simply rely on the work of others.

Having said that, it would be foolish to ignore the collected wisdom of Spirit-filled men of God who’ve gone before me.They have something to teach me, therefore I need to listen. Commentaries let me know if I’ve missed something in my own study, or if I’m being “original” in the sense that I’ve come up with something no one else has (which will almost always be wrong). Consulting commentaries and commentators let me know if I’m on the right track and have a good understanding of the passage, as well as sharpening fuzzy thinking.

Commentaries are tools, not straitjackets.

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