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Archive for August, 2015

J.-Gresham-Machen

Do we use God to get what we want, or love and serve Him because of what He can do for us? Or do we love and serve Him for who He is? Nearly one hundred years ago, J. Gresham Machen wrote this:

We are subject to many pressing needs, and we are too much inclined to value God, not for His own sake, but only because He can satisfy those needs. There is the need of food and clothing, for ourselves and for our loved ones, and we value God because He can answer the petition, ‘Give us this day our daily bread.’ There is the need of companionship; we shrink from loneliness; we would be surrounded by those who love us and those whom we can love. And we value God as one who can satisfy that need by giving us family and friends. There is the need of inspiring labour; we would be delivered from an aimless life; we desire opportunities for noble and unselfish service of our fellow-men. And we value God as one who by His ordering of our lives can set before us an open door.

These are lofty desires. But there is one desire that is loftier still. It is the desire for God Himself. That desire, too often, we forget. We value God solely for the things that He can do; we make of Him a mere means to an ulterior end. And God refuses to be treated so; such a religion always fails in the hour of need. If we have regarded religion merely as a means of getting things – even lofty and unselfish things – then when the things that have been gotten are destroyed, our faith will fail. When loved ones are taken away, when disappoint comes and failure, when noble ambitions are set at naught, then we turn away from God. We have tried religion, we say, we have tried prayer, and it has failed. Of course it has failed! God is not content to be an instrument in our hand or a servant at his beck and call. He is not content to minister to the worldly needs of those who care not a bit for Him.

…If we value God for His own sake, then the loss of other things will draw us all the closer to Him; we shall then have recourse to Him in time of trouble as to the shadow of a great rock in a weary land…if here and now we have the one inestimable gift of God’s presence and favor, then all the rest can wait till God’s good time.

(What is Faith? pp. 72-74)

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This morning I had the privilege of preaching on John 8:12-20. Here is a summary of my sermon in one sentence: Jesus is Light and offers light to those who follow Him, while those who do not follow Him remain in darkness.

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Trevin Wax has written an excellent blog post on the response, or lack thereof, of those who are pro-choice in the matter of abortion to the Planned Parenthood videos called “The Shrug that Scares Me to Death.” I’m afraid he’s right. We can see John 3:19-20 lived out: “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” 

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The gospel – the good news that God is reconciling sinners to Himself through His Son Jesus Christ – changes everything. It turns the world upside down. Dan Phillips, in his book The World-Tilting Gospel: Embracing a Biblical Worldview & Hanging on Tight, sketches out in some detail just how much of a difference it really does make.

In four major sections, Phillips explains the foundation of the Christian worldview by answering the following questions: Who are we? What has God done for us? How do we get in? How do we get going? In the last chapter, he gives us nine ramifications of the gospel:

  1. Over everything, God
  2. Sin is a massive, universal nightmare factor
  3. The world is not self-defining
  4. Meaning and self-fulfillment cannot be found within the world
  5. We mustn’t reason from “is” to “ought”
  6. We must reason from “designed,” “commanded,” and “re-created,” and “attended.”
  7. Jesus Christ is the most important Person, event, and figure in all of history
  8. In Christ and through the cross, we have been given all we need for godly living
  9. The vast bounty of God’s provisions for us in Christ enables and obliges us to get on with it to His glory.

A good book, worth reading. Tolle lege!

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I had the privilege this morning of preaching on John 7:53-8:11 (“A Disputed Text and a Fascinating Event”). What follows is a summary of my sermon in one sentence: Jesus upheld justice and offered mercy to the woman caught in adultery, just as He does to sinners like you and me.

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Just a Small Change?

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For quite a long time, I’ve given thanks to God because my sins are forgiven. I’ve expressed my thanks every day (after, of course, I’ve confessed my sin to the Lord). There’s nothing wrong with that – in fact, it’s a good idea.

But about a week ago, I made a small change. No, I didn’t stop being thankful, thankfully! I changed my wording. Now I’m not saying, “I’m thankful my sins are forgiven,” but instead praying, “Lord, I’m thankful that You have forgiven my sins.”

I made the change because I realized my old statement, while true enough, was vague and focused in the wrong direction – me.  The new statement is more specific and focused on God, not me. After all, God is one who has forgiven my sins – it didn’t happen out of nowhere. My sins weren’t just forgiven by themselves! God forgave them based on the shed blood of the spotless Son of God, Jesus Christ.

The Scriptures are clear – “If we confess our sins, He (God) is faithful and just to forgive us or sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

It’s a small change, but maybe it isn’t.

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riversoflivingwater

I had the privilege this morning of preaching on John 7:37-52. What follows is a summary of my sermon in one sentence: Confusion and division regarding the identity of Jesus Christ, as well as a true understanding of it, has its source in the Holy Spirit.

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Is it proper for Christians to use satire in their speech or writing? Most believers would say it is not, but Douglas Wilson disagrees (in his own inimitable style, of course). In his book, A Serrated Edge: A Brief Defense of Biblical Satire and Trinitarian Skylarking, he defines and defends satire and its use by Christians.

Satire is the exposure of human folly or vice through ridicule or rebuke. And guess what? The Scriptures – the inspired, inerrant, infallible, authoritative Word of God – are filled with it. It’s a genre that’s very common. With that knowledge, Wilson gives a good defense using the Old Testament prophets, Jesus, Paul, and even Charles Spurgeon. He answers objections and provides some necessary guidelines. You may not agree with Wilson, but you’ll enjoy the book. Tolle lege!

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The first two paragraphs of Rosaria Butterfield’s book The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey Into Christian Faith read as follows:

When I was 28 years old, I boldly declared myself lesbian. I was at the finish of a PhD in English Literature and Cultural Studies. I was a teaching associate in one of the first and strongest women’s studies departments in the nation. I was being recruited by universities to take on faculty and administrative roles in advancing radical leftist ideologies. I genuinely believed that I was helping to make the world a better place.

At the age of 36, I was one of the few tenured women at a large research university, a rising administrator, and a community activist. I had become one of the “tenured radicals.” By all standards, I had made it. That same year, Christ claimed me for himself and the life that I had known and loved came to a humiliating end.

What follows is her spiritual journey. It included the hospitality, love, and patience of a pastor and his wife, and the encouragement of a number of other Christians and several churches. Another characteristic of Rosaria’s journey was the faithfulness of Christians to proclaiming God’s Word, and not backing off or backing down.

If you read this book (and I hope you do), be warned that you won’t agree with everything she writes or thinks. I didn’t, and don’t. She’s a little raw at some points, and blunt at others. It’s worth the rough spots, though.

There were places that this book was hard for me to read, not because I didn’t understand the words, but because of the content. Rosaria and her husband Kent have adopted four children and fostered a number of others. She goes in detail about their experience – the ups and the downs. It was difficult to read (though I rejoice with the Butterfield’s) because the subject of adoption is still somewhat raw with me (having gone through the process two separate times; first from application through home study to completing the portfolio and waiting, and the second time being turned down at the end of the home study process). Adoption is a wonderful thing that Christians should embrace wholeheartedly; but it’s still a bit hard for me to “rejoice with those who rejoice” in a full, unhindered way. (I know that attitude isn’t pleasing to God, and I pray it changes. I’m trying to be honest and Butterfield brought it to the surface again.)

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert is an important book, especially at the particular time in which we live. It should be widely read, thought about, and discussed.

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David French of National Review wrote an excellent article called “The Church Will Survive Gay Marriage if It Sticks to Its Guns.” Here are a bit of what he had to say – all of it very pertinent:

Even before the Supreme Court concocted a constitutional right to gay marriage, American religious liberty was being systematically undermined. There were widespread efforts to exclude orthodox Christian organizations from American colleges and universities, occasional attempts to literally coerce Christians into voicing support for homosexual conduct, and well-known efforts to destroy businesses that aren’t willing to participate in gay weddings.

All of this is worrisome, and all of it should be resisted, but none of it represents an existential threat to the church. The only real threat is surrender – caving to the cultural, legal, and political forces demanding conformity. The church can and will survive persecution. It will not survive faithlessness. This is both a theological and historical truth.

In previous pieces, I’ve amply documented the decline and fall of the Protestant Mainline, those churches – like the United Churches of Christ and the Presbyterian Church (USA) – that abandoned biblical orthodoxies decades ago, in the name of cultural relevance and “inclusion.” Some are declining so precipitously that they may cease to exist within a generation. Already we’re seeing similar signs of decline in those Evangelical churches that are abandoning biblical truth on questions of sex, family, and marriage.

Sure, there will be a few individual congregations that thrive – at least for a time – by embracing the social change the Left ha to offer, but at the end of the day, a church that conforms to the world is no church at all. It’s a social club that asks for money.

Defiance, however, means more than merely ensuring that your church or your Christian school doesn’t change its policies. It means more than still donating to your church even if the day comes when you can’t deduct the contribution. It means a willingness to lose your job, your prosperity, and the respect of your peers. It means saying no every time you are compelled to applaud or participate in the sexual revolution. It means standing beside fellow Christians who face persecution or job loss – not just shaking your head and thinking, “There but for the grace of God…” It means having the courage to proclaim an opposing message – even during mandatory diversity training, even when you fear you might lose your job, and even when you’re terrified about making your mortgage payment. And through it all, it means being kind to your enemies – blessing those who persecute you.

But being kind to one’s enemies does not mean surrendering to them.

God will always preserve His people. All we have to fear are our own buckling knees.

Well said! If you’d like to read the entire article, it’s here.

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