07/23/2014

The Utility of the Law

The utility of the law may be shown by this, that it obliges all whom it proves guilty of transgression to betake themselves to grace for deliverance… For it rather commands than assists; it discovers disease, but does not heal it; nay, the malady that is not healed is rather aggravated by it, so that the cure of grace is more earnestly and anxiously sought for.

–Augustine, “On the Grace of Christ,” in Basic Writings of Saint Augustine, vol. 1, part 2 (eBook: Kessinger Publishing, 2006), 589.

07/17/2014

The Everlasting City

Listen to Augustine describe the eternal city of God. Don’t you want to go there?

Who can measure the happiness of heaven, where no evil at all can touch us, no good will be out of reach; where life is to be one long laud extolling God…. God will be the source of every satisfaction, more than any heart can rightly crave, more than life and health, food and wealth, glory and honor, peace and every good – so that God, as St. Paul said, ‘may be all in all’ (1 Cor. 15:28). He will be the consummation of all our desiring – the object of our unending vision, of our unlessening love, of our unwearying praise… in the everlasting City, there will remain in each and all of us an inalienable freedom of the will, emancipating us from every evil and filling us with every good, rejoicing in the inexhaustible beatitude of everlasting happiness, unclouded by the memory of any sin or of sanction suffered, yet with no forgetfulness of our redemption nor any loss of gratitude for our Redeemer…. And, surely, in all that City, nothing will be lovelier than this song in praise of the grace of Christ by whose Blood all there were saved…. On that day we shall rest and see, see and love, love and praise – for this is to be the end without the end of all our living, that Kingdom without end, the real goal of our present life.

From Augustine, City of God: An Abridged Version, ed. Vernon J. Bourke (New York: Doubleday, 1958), 540-45.

06/23/2014

Preaching Christ from the OT

This was a good reminder for me, especially as I’m preaching through Numbers right now:

Drawing lines to Christ is not preaching Christ. How does a line to Christ edify the hearers? A preacher’s task is not just to draw lines to Christ but to preach Christ in such a way that people will be attracted to him and put their faith, trust, and hope in him.

From Sidney Greidanus, Preaching Christ from the Old Testament: A Contemporary Hermeneutical Method (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 98.

05/28/2014

Prayer and Preaching

From David Helm’s new little book in the 9Marks Building Healthy Churches Series, Expositional Preaching: How We Speak God’s Word Today (Wheaton: Crossway, 2014), 68-69:

There is an intimate connection between the revelation of the identity of Christ – seeing him as the fulfillment of the Scriptures – and moments of prayerful quiet.

Luke makes this connection on a number of occasions. When Peter responds to Jesus’s question, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ with ‘the Christ of God,’ the readers had just been told that Jesus was praying alone (Luke 9:18-20). In other words, Luke wants his readers to know that Jesus was revealed to Peter in the context of prayer. The transfiguration, when Jesus was revealed in his glory as the Son, the Chosen One, follows Jesus taking Peter, James, and John to go to the mountain and pray (Luke 9:28-36). Back in the beginning of the Gospel, aged Simeon and Anna are both identified as pious people of prayer – statements that immediately precede God’s revealing Jesus to them (Luke 2:27, 37; cf. Luke 2:28-32, 38). Even when God reveals the identity of Jesus at his baptism, Luke records that the heavens were opened and that God spoke, claiming Jesus as his Son. Luke records that the heavens opened just as Jesus was praying (Luke 3:21-22).

Luke could not have been any clearer: God reveals Jesus to people as a consequence of prayer. And so, if we really want Jesus to be revealed in our preaching – if we really want to uncover Jesus as the very center of all the Scriptures – then we must begin with prayer in our preparation.

05/21/2014

The Most Difficult Task in Urban Ministry

Robert Linthicum writes in City of God, City of Satan: A Biblical Theology of the Urban Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991):

The most difficult task in urban ministry is to remain optimistic, creative, hopeful, and full of humor. Ministry demands that you give out constantly – and city ministry makes that demand relentlessly. But you cannot give out what you do not have. If you are not replenishing yourself in order to continue the spiritual warfare of the city, then you are exposing yourself to defeat, burnout, and spiritual exhaustion. After all, you can lead God’s people only as far as you yourself have gone. If you have not paid attention to your soul’s interior journey, you do not have the resources nor the experience either to sustain yourself or to lead your church in sustaining the battle with the Enemy.

05/11/2014

It’s Sunday!

Make not your worldly affairs of more account than the word of God, but on the Lord’s Day leave everything and run eagerly to your church, for she is your glory. Otherwise what excuse have you, if you do not assemble on the Lord’s Day to hear the word of life and be nourished with the divine food?

Didascalia 2:59:2 (an ancient church document, composed most likely in the first part of the third century, for a community of Christian converts from paganism in the northern part of Syria)

05/06/2014

Why Christians Must Go To Church Every Sunday

I believe that the only reason to miss the corporate worship of your local church on the Lord’s Day is if you are puking your guts out or just had a baby the day before. If you happen to be traveling, you shouldn’t do ‘church’ in the hotel room; find a service to attend. I’ve always said that church attendance is the very first thing that a new Christian must learn. We can talk about daily ‘quiet times’ eventually, but first I want to see you at church every Sunday.

However, there are many men and women that have been Christians for quite some time who haven’t caught this vision of the Christian life. They don’t see the big deal. If something better comes up, or they’re not feeling like it, or they had a rough Saturday night with kids, or they feel they have too much homework, church gets skipped. We’re witnessing what Kevin DeYoung has called “The Scandal of the Semi-Churched.”

In case you think this is making a mountain out of a mole-hill or I’m just saying it because I’m a frustrated religious company man, consider the full weight of these 15 reasons for making Sunday church as automatic as brushing your teeth.

1. God commands it. You can’t escape the fact that Hebrews 10:25 is in the Bible and it is very clear. Okay, so you think you can fulfill this one by ‘hanging out’ with Christian friends? We also have passages like 1 Corinthians 16:2 and Acts 20:7ff that presuppose regular Sunday gatherings for the church.
2. Your leaders expect it. Even if Sunday attendance at a worship service wasn’t biblically commanded, Hebrews 13:17 commands you to “obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account.” If coming to church on Sunday is what your pastors expect of you because it is a chief way that they keep watch over your soul, you should submit to their wishes. Don’t make it hard on them, “for that would be of no advantage to you.” If in the end your coming to church was a complete and total waste of your time, they will have to give an account for that. You have done right by submitting to them.
3. It’s good for you. It won’t be a waste of your time. How can hearing the Word read, sung, prayed, preached, and visualized in the sacraments together with your brothers and sisters be a bad thing?
4. It’s not all about you. Alright, maybe the Scripture reader is dyslexic and the worship team isn’t polished and the prayers seem rote and the preaching is mediocre and the effect of bread and wine are mysterious and the people are a bit annoying or you don’t naturally click with them. You have to remember that it’s not just about you. You showing up is an act of love to other people. Have you ever considered how your attendance might encourage someone and conversely your lack of attendance may discourage someone? Enough has been said about our culture’s entrenched consumerism and the way this affects our ‘church shopping’. Stop thinking about yourself and learn to love others. Every church will have aspects you wish were different; just pick one and dive in! And even the act of congregational singing is not merely about you closing your eyes and feeling emotionally moved. It’s about you singing truth into the ears of your brothers and sisters (check this out). When you don’t show up, and I’m struggling myself, the choir singing of Christ’s worth has one less decibel level to it.
5. Think about the lost. What does it say to a lost person who finds his or her way into your worship service (cf. 1Cor. 14:24) and finds a group of people gathered to worship God who don’t really want to be there or several empty seats left open for members who slept in? If, on the other hand, everyone that’s supposed to be there is there then there is a palpable and contagious feeling that Jesus is worthy of worship. It’s sad and pathetic when it’s the first nice day of spring and attendance is a paltry 50% of the seats and a visitor shows up. “There’s not much life here!” they say. “I’d rather be out in the sun myself.”
6. Think about the children. And what if you go to the game on Sunday instead of church? What does that say to your kids? Actions speak louder than words. It tells them that Jesus isn’t really that important to mom and dad. Those early years of childhood are so crucial and having the joyful habit of church attendance seared into their souls is so critical. Those songs and Scriptures are getting etched into minds. Observing mom or dad listening to God’s Word attentively is a memory they won’t be able to shake. It is impossible to overestimate the formative effect of regular Sunday church attendance on children.
7. You need to pace yourself. The Christian life is a marathon. In order to make it to the end in faith you need a steady rhythm, not a series of fits and starts. Some Sundays may be amazing, but most won’t. However, we can’t downplay the cumulative effect of preaching. Good things take time to grow. Don’t expect every Sunday to be a long, dramatic touchdown pass; sanctification is more like the running game – pounding it up the middle for short gains. The very rhythm of weekly worship, going through the same basic liturgy has the power to shape you into a patient, stable, content person.
8. It’s a discipline. Disciplines are not usually immediately satisfying, but they produce results in us that outweigh the costs. Being disciplined is part of spiritual maturity. It’s another word for self-control, a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:23). It takes self-control to say ‘No’ to a late night movie on Saturday so you can be rested for Sunday morning. It takes self-control to get up and ready and out of the house on time. But isn’t that the kind of life we should want to grow into? To be ruled by our passions and moods and be scattered and undependable is immaturity.
9. You need to trust him. God has said that “faith comes from hearing the message” (Rom. 10:17), he has promised that we are filled with the Spirit as we “speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” (Eph. 5:19), he has told us to eat the bread and drink the cup in remembrance of him. We must trust that these means of grace that he has given us are sufficient and will do the work that needs to be done. Skipping church to meditate at the beach is like standing God up on a date. He’s promised to be somewhere and he’s called you to come. I also think of my father’s example. He was a farmer and no doubt would have had many times that he looked at the weather forecast and saw rain all week. And it was a sunny Sunday. But he went to church and rested and trusted that God would provide. And the crops always got planted and harvested. The Lord will help you with the big presentation on Monday; come worship him on Sunday.
10. You said you would! God takes vows very seriously (e.g. Ps. 15:4). We should be men and women of our word and keep our word at all costs. When someone joins our church, for example, they freely sign a church covenant that says, “I specifically covenant to regularly attend Sunday worship services.”
11. We are embodied people. Gathering physically in an appointed place, at an appointed time, with real flesh and blood people, to eat real bread and wine militates against our natural Gnosticism that pits the spiritual against the material. You can’t just stay home and listen to worship music and honor him in your heart. Getting your butt in the pew on Sunday is one way that you “offer your bodies as living sacrifices” (Rom. 12:1). “Praise the LORD. Sing to the LORD a new song, his praise in the assembly of the saints” (Ps. 149:1).
12. It syncs you up with something bigger than you. Your Christian life is not just about your soul and God. When Christ saves you he places you in the Church. Your spiritual life is now inextricably bound up with other people. You may want to go one direction, but being part of the church means going the direction the church is going. Sitting under the same preaching as a group of people creates unity and community and means that you’re all going through the same curriculum together, learning the same lessons together.
13. It’s what the church has always done. Church tradition shows that this is what Christians have been doing for centuries. Suddenly you know better? For example, the Didache (2nd century) says, “And on the Lord’s Day, after you have come together, break bread and offer the Eucharist, having first confessed your offences…” Consider also the New Hampshire Baptist Confession of 1833 – “We believe that the first day of the week is the Lord’s Day, or Christian Sabbath; and is to be kept sacred to religious purposes, by abstaining from all secular labor and sinful recreations; by the devout observance of all the means of grace, both private and public; and by preparation for that rest that remaineth for the people of God.”
14. It’s counter-cultural. There may have been a time when everyone was doing it in some parts of the country, but loyalty to a church and sacrificing your Sunday mornings really says you’re different from the world these days. Not being part of organized religion makes you such a conformist.
15. If you don’t go you may miss the very thing you needed. Revivals of various levels have been known to break out when God’s people are assembled. J.C. Ryle said, “The very sermon that we needlessly miss, may contain a precious word in season for our souls.” The main way a good pastor serves and loves you is by working very hard all week to prepare a gourmet feast for your soul on God’s Word. Why would you skip that? Would it be very considerate of others or smart for yourself to let your mother fix an elaborate Thanksgiving Day spread for you and then decide on a whim not to show up?

I hope you will seriously consider whether you are a part-time churchgoer? If you are, in light of the 15 reasons above, what does that say about the state of your heart? Repent and come to church this Sunday because there you will be welcomed, assured of the gospel, and drawn to worship a gracious God.

05/01/2014

Recommending Myself to God

David Brainard recounts:

When I had been fasting, praying, obeying, I thought I was aiming at the glory of God, but I was doing it all for my own glory – to feel I was worthy. As long as I was doing all this to earn my salvation, I was doing nothing for God, all for me! I realized that all my struggling to become worthy was an exercise in self-worship. I was actually trying to avoid God as savior, and to be my own savior…. I was not worshipping him, but using him…. Though I often confessed to God that I, of course, deserved nothing, yet still I harbored a secret hope of recommending myself to God by all these duties and all this morality.

Quoted in Elyse Fitzpatrick, Because He Loves Me: How Christ Transforms Our Daily Life (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008), 217.

04/29/2014

Multi-Ethnic Ministry

Race, ethnicity, culture and church… some things I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

This talk by Dr. Tony Evans at the recent Kainos Conference was helpful in framing the issue.

The gospel is the emulsifier!

04/27/2014

Faith

A.W. Tozer said this about saving faith:

Faith is the gaze of the soul upon a saving God…. Faith is the least self-regarding of the virtues. It is by its very nature scarcely conscious of its own existence. Like the eye which sees everything in front of it and never sees itself, faith is occupied with the Object upon which it rests and pays no attention to itself at all.

From A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of Go: The Human Thirst for the Divined (Camp Hill: PA, 1993), 83.

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