07/07/2017

FOMO

     One legitimate FOMO [Fear Of Missing Out] cuts through all the other FOMOs of life: the fear of eternally missing out.  God’s wrath is real.  And apart from Christ, there is only eternal destruction.  The wealthy man in Jesus’s parable [of the Rich Man and Lazarus; Lk. 16:19ff] is a portrait of life’s greatest tragedy – a man filling his pockets, his belly, and his life with vain pleasures.  He bought Satan’s old lie to Eve, choosing the foolish path of God-ignoring self-sufficiency, and never embraced God as his greatest treasure.  He deadened the reality of judgment with the Novocain of self-indulgence, and by it he destroyed himself eternally.

In this condition of unbelief, the rich man faced the agony of the one most dreaded missing out, an eternal missing out, a weeping-and-gnashing-of-teeth missing out.  ‘Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it’ (Heb. 4:1).  The fear of missing out on eternal life is the one FOMO worth losing sleep over – for ourselves, our friends, our family members, and our neighbors.

But if you are in Christ, the sting of missing out is eternally removed.  FOMO-plagued sinners embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ, and he promises us no eternal loss.  All that we lose will be found in him.  All that we miss will be summed up in him.  Eternity will make up for every other pinch and loss that we suffer in this momentary life.  The doctrine of heaven proves it.  The new creation is the restoration of everything broken by sin in this life; the reparation of everything we lose in this world; the reimbursement of everything we miss out on in our social-media feeds.

Lazarus learned this blessed truth: heaven is God’s eternal response to all of the FOMOs of this life.  Heaven will restore every ‘missing out’ thousands of times over throughout all of eternity.  Therefore, the motto over the allurement of the digital age is set in the slightly altered words of the apostle Paul: I count every real deprivation in my life – and every feared deprivation in my imagination – as no expense in light of never missing out on the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord for all eternity.

Tony Reinke, Twelve Ways Your Phone Is Changing You (Wheaton: Crossway, 2017), 160-61.

06/28/2017

What Is Theological Liberalism?

This is a helpful definition from someone who identifies with that tradition:

Fundamentally [Liberalism] is the idea of a genuine Christianity not based on external authority.  Liberal theology seeks to re-interpret the symbols of Christianity in a way that creates a progressive religious alternative to atheistic rationalism and to theologies based on external authority.  Specifically, liberal theology is defined by its openness to the verdicts of modern intellectual inquiry, especially the natural and social sciences; its commitment to the authority of individual reason and experience; its conception of Christianity as an ethical way of life; its favoring of moral concepts of atonement; and its commitment to make Christianity credible and socially relevant to modern people.

Gary Dorrien, The Making of American Liberal Theology: Imagining Progressive Religion 1805-1900 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001), xxiii.

 

 

05/09/2017

Calvin’s Company of Pastors

I gather monthly with a group of like-minded pastors for fellowship and to discuss pastoral ministry.

 

Lately we’ve been reading together Scott Manetsch’s Calvin’s Company of Pastors: Pastoral Care and the Emerging Reformed Church, 1536-1609 (Oxford UP, 2013).  This is from the Epilogue:

 

The task of the historian is not simply that of an antiquarian who dusts off ancient artifacts that are roped off from the general public with a sign reading ‘do not touch.’  The study of religious history invites, even compels, us to investigate the past with an eye toward the present, to explore the foreignness of history with the expectation that ‘cultural immersion’ of this sort will not only expand our knowledge of peoples and events but also enrich our experience by providing needed perspective, timely wisdom, apt warnings, and precious glimpses into the failings, the beauty, and the sheer complexity of the human condition.

Manetsch then provides four final observations and insights for pastoral life today gleaned from its practice back then.

(1) “The vocation of Christian ministry is a difficult one.”   “Pastoral effectiveness in Geneva required courage, a clear sense of vocation, thick skin, a generous dose of humility, and solid Christian faith.”

(2) “The importance of accountability and collegiality in pastoral work.”  “Contemporary Protestantism, with its infatuation for robust individualism, celebrity preachers, and ministry empires, has much to learn from the example of Geneva’s church.”

(3) “The leading role that the Scriptures played in Calvin’s Reformation, suggesting the central importance of God’s Word for Christian renewal in our own day.”

(4) “The ministry of pastoral care.”  “In our modern world where men and women so often struggle with spiritual dislocation, fractured relationships, and deep-seated loneliness, Calvin’s vision for pastoral oversight that includes gospel proclamation and intense relational ministry appears especially relevant and important.”

04/27/2017

Pastor Moses

I’m finishing up Deuteronomy this Sunday and coming to the end of 10 years in the Pentateuch.  It’s actually kind of emotional.

 

In the conclusion of his commentary on Deuteronomy, Dan Block draws several lessons for pastoral ministry from Moses’ life:

The pastoral ministry of Moses is paradigmatic.  All who are called to divine service should surely emulate his passion for the agenda to which God has called them, his determination to preach only in accordance with the revealed will of God, his plea for gratitude for the grace of God in salvation and providential care, his call for wholehearted and full-bodied obedience to God’s will as the proper response to divine grace, his realistic view of his congregation, his vision of the church in God’s program of salvation for the world (Deut. 26:19), his refusal to erect monuments in his own honor, and his confidence in God to do his work by his means.  The flavor of ministry that arises from these commitments differs greatly from the self-serving, egotistical, and pandering paradigm of ministry that drives so much of the evangelical world.

Daniel I. Block, Deuteronomy, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 817-18.

03/21/2017

The Loneliness of Leadership

From Peter C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, NICOT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976), 373:

[Deuteronomy 31:]23     After addressing Moses in the tent, the Lord then speaks to Joshua, who was soon to assume the office held for so long by Moses.  Be strong and be courageous – see also vv. 6, 7 (above).  The words that would be the source of continuing strength to Joshua come at the end of the verse: I will be with you.  Of the forms of loneliness that a man can experience, there are few so bleak as the loneliness of leadership.  But Joshua assumed his lonely role with an assurance of companionship and strength.  God’s presence with him would be sufficient to enable him to meet boldly every obstacle that the future could bring.

03/06/2017

Congealed Divine Oral Communication

Here’s a gem of a quote from a commentary that might not make it into a sermon, but needs to be shared and is too big for a tweet:

This written document represents not only a written transcript of Moses’ pastoral addresses but also congealed divine oral communication.  Since Yahweh’s voice is expressly identified with a written text, in the Torah of Moses Israelites of all generations have access to the divine voice.

Daniel I. Block, Deuteronomy, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 699; commenting on Dt. 30:9-10.

03/01/2017

The Five SOLAS Five Hundred Years Later

 

At our church we have a questionnaire that anyone who desires to be an elder has to fill out.  One of the questions is – “What are the five solas of the Reformation and would you be willing to be burned alive at the stake for holding these?”  We strongly believe that these rallying cries of the Reformation are still just as needed today as they were 500 years ago.

 

Before returning to Germany and facing his eventual martyrdom at the hands of the Nazis, theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived for a time in the United States.  His assessment of the religious scene here was – “Protestantism without Reformation.”  This critique still largely holds true.  We may not be Roman Catholic, but might some of the same problems that precipitated the Reformation in 16th Century Europe be present in 21st Century Evangelicalism?  I am afraid so.

 

The Five Solas provide a helpful grid for assessing the American church’s current spiritual climate and guide us in how to pray and work for revival.

 

Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) – I think that there are many churches who say that they believe the Bible to be the inspired, inerrant, authoritative, sufficient Word of God on paper, but in practice you cannot tell.  Scripture does not saturate their worship services.  The sermon is cut short and full of stories and tips instead of exposition and proclamation of the whole counsel of God.  The Word is not trusted to grow the church, but rather we look to and lean on techniques and tricks.  Science is respected over Scripture, psychology prized over theology, experience trusted over exegesis.  And many church-goers today are as biblically illiterate as they were in the Middle Ages.

 

Sola Fide (faith alone) – If we gave Southern Baptist church-goers a test with a True or False question – “People get into heaven by doing good” – I imagine a majority would know enough to say FALSE.  But that doesn’t mean they could pass an essay question on what justification by faith entails.  We may have simply lowered the bar or tried to lighten the law, but we still are preaching a form of works-righteousness when we major on what people need to do… to end sex-trafficking, get out of debt, have healthy families… instead of what Christ has done to free us from sin, forgive us our debts, and adopt us into his family.  The truth is that you actually have to be perfect to get into heaven, and thus our only hope is having Jesus’ perfect record given to us as a gift, received by faith.

 

Sola Gratia (grace alone) – We like grace… when it is seen as an assist for our slam dunk.  The polls are heart-rending which show the number of Christians who think that the quote – “God helps those who help themselves” – comes from the Bible.  Do we really believe our salvation is wholly of grace?  If so, then we could never allow our Christianity to be a badge of pride that makes us feel superior to or live in fear of the big, bad world.

 

Solus Christus (Christ alone) – We may say that we believe Jesus is the only way to God, but do our actions back that up?  We live in a highly pluralistic society.  Do we really believe that the nice Hindu family living down the street is destined for hell apart from faith in Christ?  Do we believe it enough to lovingly and sacrificially share the gospel with them of what Christ has uniquely done?  Our lack of evangelism betrays our lack of belief in the exclusivity of Christ.  Furthermore, so much of our faith talk is vague spirituality that does not really need the virgin birth, perfect life, substitutionary death, victorious resurrection, and imminent return of the historical God-man Jesus Christ.  We spout meaningless Oprah-esque mumbo-jumbo and it is no wonder that our kids start to think Christianity is not that distinct from the other religions and philosophies of their friends.

 

Soli Deo Gloria (the glory of God alone) – Ministry can so easily become about our name or brand.  We like to take the credit for our successes.  Plus, there is a pervasive man-centeredness among our culture which has seeped into our churches.  We are not in awe of God, but obsessed with our felt needs.  Therefore, we fundamentally view God as there to serve us instead of the other way around.  We have not been struck by the utter weightiness of the Triune God, but are pathetically shallow and flit about from this to that fad so easily.

 

In our consumeristic context where everyone is bombarded with endless options all the time, the solas can at first seem like a straightjacket.  But they truly represent our only hope.  We are in desperate need of a fresh vision of God’s glory, in the face of Jesus Christ, as a result of his grace, perceived by faith, in the pages of the Bible!

This article appeared in the February 27th issue of the Illinois Baptist.  It can also be found here.

 

02/18/2017

What Makes Someone A Great Leader?

I listened to a fascinating interview this week with Cub’s President of Baseball Operations and Chicago’s Baseball Messiah, Theo Epstein.

The section from 7:45 to 9:55 is pure genius on leadership that I think can be applied to any field, including pastoral leadership.

02/06/2017

The Justice of Hell

In my sermon yesterday on Deuteronomy 25 I mentioned how hell (the eternal conscious suffering of all those who have not been united to Christ by faith) is perfectly just; that is, the punishment is in proportion to the offense.

This is a hard topic and there is much that could be said on it.  Here are just three concepts that have helped me understand how eternity is not excessive.

(1) There is a gradation of punishment in hell based upon the level of one’s rejection of God.  Jesus said to those who heard him and rejected him, “I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you” (Mt. 11:24).  Will the person who never heard the gospel be condemned to hell for eternity?  Yes, because they suppressed the knowledge of God that they did have from general revelation (cf. Rom. 1:18ff).  But it there will be a more severe judgment for those who had greater light and exposure to the gospel.  God will be fair.

(2) Punishment is proportionate to the magnitude of the One sinned against.  Sin against an infinite God deserves an infinite punishment that can never be repaid by a mere human.  After preaching I came home to find that my dog had gotten sick and soiled my $100 rug from Target.  It reminded me of this illustration from Jerry Bridges:

Suppose you want a new rug to cover the wooden floor in your living room.  Being of modest means, you go [to] the local discount store and pay three hundred dollars for a rug.  I come into your house with a bottle of black indelible ink and spill that ink on your rug.  I have just ruined your three-hundred-dollar rug.  But suppose you are a wealthy person and you pay thirty thousand dollars for an expensive Persian rug.  If I spill ink on that rug, it is an entirely different matter.  Why is that true?  It is the same act on my part.  In both instances, I have spilled black indelible ink on a rug.  The difference, of course, lies in the value of the rug.

God’s holiness is infinite.  We don’t just have accidental spills, we have spite.  When we think that eternal hell is overkill, we reveal the littleness which we view God’s glory.

(3) People in hell never stop sinning.  Not only is our debt infinite and unable to ever be repaid by us, but those in hell continue to add sin to sin.  Jesus describes hell as a place where there is “gnashing of teeth” (i.e. Mt. 8:12).  That is not an indication of people’s pain.  It reveals people’s hearts.  Gnashing of teeth in the Bible indicates a deep hatred, anger, and resentment (cf. Job 16:9; Pss. 35:16, 37:12, 112:10; Lam. 2:16; Acts 7:54).  Nobody is repentant or regenerated in hell.  They continue to bristle at God’s authority.

 

The time of salvation is now.  Praise God for the infinitely valuable Christ and his sufficient sacrifice!  Let’s spread the news…

01/24/2017

Pastors at Trump’s Inauguration

A sad example of bad hermeneutics and the dangers of civil religion:

On Inauguration Day, Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist in Dallas, delivered the sermon at the private prayer service prior to the swearing-in ceremony. He titled the sermon, “When God Chooses a Leader,” taking the message from Nehemiah 1:11.

“When I think of you,” Jeffress said to Trump, “I am reminded of another great leader God chose thousands of years ago in Israel. The nation had been in bondage for decades, the infrastructure of the country was in shambles, and God raised up a powerful leader to restore the nation. And the man God chose was neither a politician nor a priest. Instead, God chose a builder whose name was Nehemiah.”

He noted the first step God instructed Nehemiah to take in rebuilding the nation was building a wall around Jerusalem to protect is citizens. “You see, God is not against building walls,” Jeffress shared. Jeffress recalled sitting with Trump on a jet, eating Wendy’s cheeseburgers, and talking about the challenges facing the USA. Jeffress was an early supporter of Trump.

He told the incoming President and Vice President to look to God for strength and guidance: “…the challenges facing our nation are so great that it will take more than natural ability to meet them. We need God’s supernatural power.

“The good news is that the same God who empowered Nehemiah nearly 2,500 years ago is available to every one of us today who is willing to humble himself and ask for His help.”

Hmmm…  I thought the Good News is that God sent his Son to live the perfect life we should but never could, and die the death we deserve in our place so that all those who repent of their sin and put their faith in Christ alone could have his righteousness given to them by grace so they could be part of God’s eternal kingdom.  I thought SBC pastors knew that…

 

https://ib2news.org/2017/01/23/sbc-well-represented-at-trump-inauguration/

 

Addendum (from an email to someone asking for clarification):

I think it’s great for people to pray to God and ask for his help!  But it’s sad when a pastor will let the Christian message be understood as simply that – God is there to give you a boost with your plans.  If you read the whole text of that “sermon” it makes no mention of Jesus, sin, the cross….  It’s just really confusing to apply Nehemiah and the OT nation of Israel to Trump and the United States of America.  The book of Nehemiah has more to say today about the Church – the NT people of God – maintaining its distinctiveness from the world (i.e. staying true to the Gospel!) than it does about border security for the U.S.  I just want the Church to be the Church in the midst of it all and keep the gospel clear and call people to repentance and entrance into the eternal kingdom of God and not get sidetracked to the Right OR to the Left.