Archive for October, 2012

Jonathan Leeman writes:

Now, Satan uses different devices in different locations to undermine Christ’s kingdom. A favorite device of his in the West is cultural Christianity. The American brand of cultural Christianity results from well-intending adults handing out the candy of cheap grace to five-year-olds and twenty-five-year-olds alike. You ask them if they want to be with mommy and daddy in heaven or pressure them into walking an aisle. The point is, you play on their fears, emotions, or appetites to get quick, unconsidered professions of faith. Then you immediately affirm those professions. The European state-church brand, on the other hand, is much more civilized. Cheap grace comes with a birth certificate.

The genius of this device in both locations is that it allows Satan to inoculate their hosts against real Christianity. It’s nearly impossible to share the gospel with a cultural Christian because he already gives lip service to it. “Yes, I believe that.” But there’s no repentance. He merely baptizes a slightly sanitized version of his old self into Christianity.

The other big danger of cultural Christianity is that it fools churches into thinking that they don’t live in enemy territory. Churches feel as though their nation is home. That it’s safe.

(Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus, by Jonathan Leeman. Crossway. 2012. pp. 122-123. Emphasis is the author’s.)

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Steven J. Cole, in a sermon on Genesis 17, recalled an episode from the ministry of John Piper that emphasizes the need for us to vastly increase our vision of God.

Piper preached a sermon on Isaiah 6 focusing on the greatness of God. Although he would normally attempt to make application from any text he preached, this time he didn’t. He simply lifted up and exalted God’s greatness. Unknown to him, a young family had just discovered that their child was being sexually abused by a relative. They heard his sermon on Isaiah 6 that day.

Piper wrote that many advisers of preachers would have said, “Pastor Piper, can’t you see that your people are hurting? Can’t you come down out of the heavens and get practical? Don’t you realize what kind of people sit in front of you on Sunday?”  Some weeks later the husband of the young family told him, “John, these have been the hardest months of our lives. Do you know what has gotten me through? The vision of the greatness of God’s holiness that you gave the first week in January. It has been the rock we could stand on.”

“The greatness and glory of God are relevant. It does not matter if surveys turn up a list of perceived needs that does not include the supreme greatness of the sovereign God of grace. That is the deepest need. Our people are starving for God.” (The Supremacy of God in Preaching [Baker], pp. 10-11.)

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I had the privilege of preaching on Genesis 17 this morning. Here is a summary of my sermon in one sentence: God reconfirmed His covenant with Abraham by reminding him of His faithfulness and instituting the sign and seal of that covenant (circumcision).

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Submitted for your approval: three links to articles that make interesting points. I hope you enjoy them, and am certain they’ll cause you to think.

“The Importance of Repentance” by Kevin DeYoung. Repentance is often overlooked, but it shouldn’t be. Read his post here.

“Beyond ‘Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin'” by Tim Challies. Tim has good thoughts on a phrase we hear quite often, but may not have thought through well. Read it here.

“10 Questions a Pro-Choice Candidate is Never Asked by the Media” by Trevin Wax. The media asks pro-life candidates all kinds of questions (in the form of moral dilemmas), but never ask pro-abortion candidates similar questions. Here are ten good questions. Read it here.

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“But we have this treasure in vessels-made-of-clay, in order that the excess of the power may be God’s and not from us.” (2 Cor. 4:7 – DLNT)

When I come across a story like this, I need to share it. That author is unknown. The story is called “Are You ‘The Cracked Pot’?”

A water bearer had two large pots, each hung on each end of a pole which he carried across his neck. One of the pots had a crack in it, and while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water at the end of the long walk from the stream to the master’s house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.

For a full two years this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one and a half pots full of water to his master’s house. Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, perfect to the end for which it was made. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do. After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, it spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream. “I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you.” “Why?” asked the bearer. “What are you ashamed of?” “I have been able, for these past two years, to deliver only half my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your master’s house. Because of my flaws, you have to do all of this work, and you don’t get full value for your efforts,” the pot said. The water bearer felt sorry for the old cracked pot, and in his compassion he said, “As we return to the master’s house, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path.” Indeed, as they went up the hill, the old cracked pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful wild flowers on the side of the path, and this cheered it some. But at the end of the trail, it still felt bad because it had leaked half its load, and again it apologized to the bearer for its failure.

The bearer said to the pot, “Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of the path, but not on the other pot’s side? That’s because   I have always known about your flaw, and I took advantage of it. I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream, you’ve watered them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my master’s table. Without you being just the way you are, he would not have this beauty grace his house.” Each of us has our own unique flaws. We’re all cracked pots. The Lord will use our flaws to grace His Father’s table. In God’s great economy, nothing goes to waste. so as we seek ways to minister together, and as God calls you to the tasks He has appointed for you, don’t be afraid of your flaws. Acknowledge them and you, too, can be the cause of beauty in His pathway. Go out boldly, knowing that in our weakness we find His strength.

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I had the privilege this morning of preaching on Genesis 16 (Abram and Sarai try to “help God out” by using Hagar to have a son). The following is a one-sentence summary  of my sermon in one sentence: True faith sometimes resorts to scheming, but the results are always disastrous.

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Studying the Bible can be hard work – we know that. It’s not always easy to discern the meaning of a text given the differences of language, culture, geography, and time. But what about prayer – another of the spiritual disciplines?

Most of the time we seem to think that prayer is, or should be, easy. I could be wrong about that, but my sense is that we’re surprised when prayer is difficult. We shouldn’t be, though. We’re expressing our thoughts and feelings to God when we pray, which will sometimes be very hard. We don’t always know what to pray for or how to pray. Sometimes we pray for healing when greater sanctification would be the better request. There may be so many needs or problems, we don’t even know where to start. We cry out to the Lord and words may escape us. Being honest with God, especially when we confess our sins and ask for the strength to repent and forsake them, is exhausting.

In his conclusion of his letter to the Colossian church, Paul wrote this: “Epaphrus, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God” (4:12, emphasis added). When Jesus was praying just before His arrest and subsequent death, Luke reports, “And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (22:44).

Prayer is hard work – don’t be fooled into thinking it isn’t. But because it’s hard, it’s worth it.

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Starr Meade, author of The Most Important Thing You’ll Ever Study, wrote:

When God chose to reveal himself to human beings, he chose to do it by means of a book – sixty-six books, to be exact, all of which would form a unified whole with a beginning and an end, to which nothing else needs to be added. So if we want to know what God has revealed – if we want to know God – we will have to do that by means of the book he gave.

What do we do with a book? We read it – from beginning to end, straight through, more than once if it’s good and has a lot to say. But few people read their Bibles that way. If a teacher assigned Moby Dick for you to read, you would be foolish to open at random to a page and read it, then find another page two pages later and read it, then close the book, confident that you understood Moby Dick. Although we all recognize the foolishness of that approach with any other book, we fail to see that this is how most of us read the Bible – a passage here, and a passage there, confident that we have understood the meaning. We need to read the whole Bible, each book straight through and all of them together, to see God’s overall message in it.

The Most Important Thing You’ll Ever Study is a five-volume survey of the entire Bible – both Old and New Testament – in a workbook style. It’s appropriate for junior-highers and above. I’ve found it to be excellent so far. For more information, check it out here.

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I had the privilege this morning of preaching on Genesis 15:6 (“Abram believed in the LORD, and He reckoned it to him as righteousness”). Here is a summary of my sermon in one sentence: Justification is God declaring the believing sinner righteous based on the merits of Jesus Christ.

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If you haven’t checked Immanuel Community Church’s revamped and updated website, click on over and take a look. I think you’ll enjoy it.

On the “Who We Are” page, you’ll find this statement about Immanuel (among others): We are “a singing church with music focused on congregational singing, not a rockin’ band, and a glorious mix of old and new hymns, songs and choruses.” What does that mean? An explanation is in order.

We’re convinced that the most important instrument used in the people of God singing the praises of God is the individual voice of the worshiper and the collective voices of the  congregation. This doesn’t mean that we don’t have or allow instruments – we do. What it means is that the piano, guitars, an occasional violin, and the vocalists who lead  are all meant to supplement the congregation as we sing together. We’re convinced that if too much emphasis is placed on the “praise band,” the congregation gradually stops singing and simply watches the performance. The task of musicians is to assist the congregation in their worship of God (while worshiping God themselves).

As we gather for worship, we hear the Word of God read and preached, we pray the Word of God, and we sing the Word of God through our music. Singing the truth, as well as hearing and praying it, is a necessary ingredient to our growth in Christ. We’ve observed that the louder the music, the fewer people in the congregation there are who actually sing. Why is that? Because they can’t hear themselves or the person next to them (which is important because we need to have some idea if we’re close to the proper melody of a song, or if we’re a ways off).  Because of that, we try to keep all of the musician’s sound at a certain level, and drums are not part of the mix (their loudness is very hard to control and they tend to dominate the other instruments).

We want to play and sing songs that are doctrinally rich, appropriate for worship, and can be sung by the congregation – not just the musicians. We’re committed to a blend of older and newer music – newer or trendy isn’t always better, but neither is older.

Because of our commitment to congregational music and singing, we don’t have a “rockin’ band,” or a rock band for that matter. Given our philosophy, we don’t want one. Yes, that’s different from most churches today, but it’s one of the things that sets us apart.

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