Saturday, January 31, 2009

Out of the park

Scott Thomas hits it out of the park with this prophetic word from the Acts 29 website:

Emasculated men are the norm. Most young men have brokenness with their fathers. Macho men are typically posers. They are hiding behind their toughness so others will not see their frailty. They hide behind their academia, their success, their busy-ness, their sexual prowess, etc. Emasculated men are not necessarily effeminate, but they are hiding from their own weaknesses.

The problem is that only men can build men and too many pastors are broken as well and have their own father issues. That’s usually why some go into ministry—to get validated.

Anthony Bradley said at an Acts 29 event, “Your church will suck if you do not have strong men.” The typical church is made up of 39% men and 61% of women. Most boys raised in church will abandon it as a young man. If a mother comes to faith, the rest of her family follows 17% of the time. 93% of the time it is true with the father coming to faith (Barna Research).

We prefer the men in our church to be mules. A mule does not act like a jackass and they are able to carry larger loads and endure longer than a horse. They are tamer than a jackass but do not seem to want to run like a stallion. I think many pastors prefer a mule to a stallion. Stallions are designed to run and not be penned up in a stable. We are generally afraid of stallions because we are afraid of our own masculinity, our leadership, and our “importance” to the Christian community. We are afraid that the stallion will steal our oats and our affirmation by “our” people. Since our own fathers did not affirm us, this is seen as a threat. We value Steady Eddie instead of Daring Dan. Christianity is a radical following of Jesus. The problem with being a mule is that it is almost always sterile.

The Heavenly Father delights in us as His sons and expressing this fact advances the gospel. We are accepted in spite of our sin through the person of Jesus and thus, we are reconciled to our Father. Jesus came to men and called them to follow; to leave their nets and to follow Him. Men are looking for others to lead them into a radical adventure of the gospel. They are attracted to the crazy ideas, not the boring. Most churches invite men to pass out bulletins and mow the grass as the great adventure. That’s why they prefer staying home on Sundays watching masculine sports on TV or doing masculine things at home.

Friday, January 30, 2009

The gift of hope

Leviticus 16:21-22

"In Passion Week, as I was reading Bishop Wilson on the Lord's Supper, I met with an expression to this effect -- 'that the Jews knew what they did, when they transferred their sin to the head of their offering.' The thought came into my mind, 'What, may I transfer all my guilt to another? Has God provided an Offering for me, that I may lay my sins on His head? Then, God willing, I will not bear them on my own soul one moment longer. Accordingly, I sought to lay my sins upon the sacred head of Jesus."

Charles Simeon, describing his conversion, in H. C. G. Moule, Charles Simeon, pages 25-26.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Who you are


"The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet." Romans 16:20

When the angel came to a defeated man named Gideon, he greeted him with "The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor" (Judges 6:12). Even in defeat, that's who you are -- a mighty man of valor.

If you are in Christ, you are more than a conqueror. You are living proof that Satan is a loser. You are humiliating him every day. Not because you are strong but especially when you are weak and Christ is your only strength, your only hope. How frustrating for Satan -- to have weakened you and defeated you and brought you low, only to discover his Enemy strongly present, with you, at your point of need.

True for me too.

Did we in our own strength confide
Our striving would be losing
Were not the right Man on our side
The Man of God's own choosing
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus it is he
Lord Sabaoth his name
From age to age the same
And he must win the battle.

Psalm 27:8-9

"He will not ask for our love, and then withhold his own."

Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72, page 121.

An unAmerican way of life

"The educated man keeps a tight rein on his tongue and cultivates disciplined, measured utterance."

William McKane, Proverbs, page 313.

Reputation


"I should forfeit my self-respect forever if I tried to shield myself behind an easily obtained reputation for courage."

Winston Churchill, quoted in William Manchester, The Last Lion, 1874-1932, page 322.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Mark Driscoll on Nightline

Last night Mark Driscoll was featured on ABC's Nightline. You can watch it here.

Thoughts. One, I praise God for setting this man apart to the gospel. Two, I love his unflinching courage in tackling head-on the hard and even embarrassing questions people are really struggling with. If they don't get answers from the Bible, they're going to get answers from other sources. Three, "a neighborhood church near you." Bring it on. Four, "a colorful bunch." What were they expecting? Jesus doesn't use a cookie cutter when he makes his people. There is no more fascinating, surprising, varied and opinionated group of people than born again Christians! Five, "If you don't have a critic, . . . ." Maybe a big step forward in our sanctification would be to fear criticism less. Six, "a new breed of believers." Not new, really. Same hang-ups as always. And yet, new, as all God's people are new, in the most wonderful way.

May Jesus Christ always be praised in us all.

It was true

"The real reason why Paul was devoted to the doctrine of justification by faith was not that it made possible the Gentile mission, but rather that it was true. Paul was not devoted to the doctrine of justification by faith because of the Gentile mission; he was devoted to the Gentile mission because of the doctrine of justification by faith."

J. Gresham Machen, quoted in Peter Stuhlmacher, Revisiting Paul's Doctrine of Justification: A Challenge to the New Perspective, page 90.

Our justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone apart from all our works creates huge allowances for creativity and adaptation in ministry, so that we can bring the gospel to more and more unlikely people.

Who couldn't give his life to this?

Isaiah 2:17 again

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

When, in Christ, we die

"There was a real railway accident," said Aslan softly. "Your father and mother and all of you are -- as you used to call it in the Shadow-Lands -- dead. The term is over; the holidays have begun. The dream is ended; this is the morning."

And as he spoke he no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. . . . And we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world . . . had only been the cover and title page; now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read, which goes on forever, in which every chapter is better than the one before."

C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle, pages 183-184.

Calvin's faithful ignorance

How man fell into sin without that implicating a sovereign God in evil is, to Calvin, ". . . a secret so much excelling the insight of the human mind that I am not ashamed to confess ignorance. Far be it from any of the faithful to be ashamed of ignorance of what the Lord withdraws into the glory of his inaccessible light."

John Calvin, Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, page 124.

Boot Camp in Raleigh next week

Scott Thomas offers seven reasons to attend this Acts 29 Boot Camp here.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Friday, January 23, 2009

On the road


"You always expect some kind of magic at the end of the road . . . getting all ready for the purity of the road again, the purity of moving and getting somewhere, no matter where, and as fast as possible and with as much excitement and digging of all things as possible."

Jack Kerouac, On The Road: The Original Scroll, page 234.

It is very American to love the road. I love the road. My Chevy pickup loved flying down I-65 this morning at 82 mph. Going somewhere -- Jack Kerouac calls it purity. Kenny Chesney calls it "Freedom." Isaiah calls it salvation.

The highway is one of Isaiah's favorite places. When he thinks of how salvation actually works out, he sees a highway (11:16; 19:23; 35:8; 40:3; 49:11; 57:14; 62:10). For example,

And a highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Way of Holiness . . .
even if they are fools, they shall not go astray. Isaiah 35:8

Being a fool does not disqualify for the journey, because the Lord marks his way so clearly. The only disqualifier is staying where we are.

But unlike our short-term hopes, which maddeningly can depend on, among other things, the mood of some sheik in Saudi Arabia, we have in Christ a long-term hope so like our short-term hopes that we really can love it.

The Lord is good.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

True Woman

This Thursday evening at 7:00 Immanuel Church will extend the ministry of True Woman to Nashville. Dr. John Piper will teach, through a DVD, on "The Ultimate Meaning of True Womanhood."

We are part of something grander than we know. It touches our most personal identity and worth. All women are invited to come and consider what God has revealed in the gospel about the privilege of being a woman.

The gale of the Spirit

The Countess of Huntingdon recalled the funeral service of Rev. Howell Harris in 1773:

"On the day Mr. Harris was interred we had some special seasons of Divine influence both upon converted and unconverted. It was a day never to be forgotten, but I think ought to be remembered with holy wonder and gratitude by all who were present. . . . Though we had enjoyed much of the gracious presence of God in our assemblies before, yet I think I never saw so much at any time as on that day; especially when the Lord's Supper was administered, God poured out his Spirit in a wonderful manner. Many old Christians told me they had never seen so much of the glory of the Lord and the riches of his grace, nor felt so much of the gospel before."

Who wrote that? Hardly a nut. She was upper-class British, 18th-century, Jane Austen's world. A highly structured culture. Everything just so. And in that culture, in a Bible-believing, standard-brand, non-eccentric theological setting, both the converted and the unconverted were receiving an unforgettable outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones asks, "Does our doctrine of the Holy Spirit and his work leave any room for revival either in the individual or in the church, or is it a doctrine which says that we have all received everything we can have of the Spirit at regeneration [being 'born again'], and all we need is to surrender to what we have already? Does our doctrine allow for an outpouring of the Spirit, the 'gale' of the Spirit coming down upon us individually and collectively? . . . Is not the greatest sin among Evangelical people today that of quenching the Spirit?"

The longer I live, the more intensely I long for the end of quenching and the return of outpouring.

Quotes from D. M. Lloyd-Jones, The Puritans: Their Origins and Successors, pages 301-302.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

"One anothers" I can't find in the New Testament

Humble one another, scrutinize one another, pressure one another, embarrass one another, correct one another, corner one another, interrupt one another, run one another's lives, confess one another's sins, disapprove of one another . . . .

"Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you." Ephesians 4:32

Let freedom ring

Praying in Jesus' name

Pray in public in Jesus' name?

Well, why not? What would prayer be, if Jesus were excluded? Would you, could you, be happy? Would you, could you, be confident that you were really connecting with God? Would you, could you, think that you had anything worth saying to those around?

If you pray in Jesus' name and, for that reason, some people don't like you, they didn't like you before. But now you know. And there is no way they will ever like you unless you deny Jesus in every way. Their problem is not you. They don't like Jesus.

If you are criticized for praying in Jesus' name, could you find a happier occasion for being criticized? This criticism, for once, isn't about you at all. You can blow it off. Even more, you can be amazed at God's kindness, that he would set before you so easy a path to the privilege of persecution. And more than ever, you can love your enemies the way Jesus does.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Who can do more?

"Who can do more? We with our own energy and wisdom, or the God who created heaven and earth and who can work in space-time history with a power which none of us has?"

Francis A. Schaeffer, Death in the City, page 142.

Friday, January 16, 2009

How revival behaves

"There were earnest longings that all God's people might be clothed with humility and meekness, like the Lamb of God, and feel nothing in their hearts but love and compassion to all mankind; and great grief when anything to the contrary appeared in any of the children of God, as bitterness, fierceness of zeal, censoriousness, or reflecting uncharitably on others, or disputing with any appearance of heat of spirit."

Jonathan Edwards, "Thoughts on the Revival," in Works, I:377, recording the experience of his wife under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

Immanuel and Acts 29

The Acts 29 Network has graciously received me as one of their church-planters. So Immanuel Church is now connected with this exciting young movement. We are grateful.

Why join Acts 29? For at least these reasons:

1. God has given the men of Acts 29 unusual wisdom in planting and growing new churches, and I have a lot to learn.

2. Our desire at Immanuel is to raise this church up, in order to give it away to the next generation. Joining Acts 29 facilitates that hand-off.

3. Acts 29 opens doors to financial support until we are fully funded ourselves. And it opens doors to our own giving toward other church plants.

4. The covenant Acts 29 pastors sign commits them to plant church-planting churches. This was Immanuel's desire from the start, but now that desire is accelerated and a practical mechanism is provided.

5. Belonging to the Network gets us into a larger fellowship. We don't want to stand alone. The gospel always moves us toward relationships. And it's great to link arms with such inspiring men.

May God keep his hand on Acts 29, to the praise of the glory of his grace.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Fullness

". . . that you may be filled with all the fullness of God." Ephesians 3:19

"The definition of 'fullness' is neither superiority nor maturity but stretchability. It means we have allowed the Holy Spirit to renew the wineskins of our souls, to expand the vision of our understanding, to enlarge our heart for Christ and his redeemed, and to extend our reach to the world.

Joel prophesied that a final harvest will be reaped someday. Whether it will be in our time remains to be seen, but this much is sure: it will be harvested by those upon whom the Holy Spirit is outpoured at a measure of fullness unrealized by any previous generation since Pentecost. It will be a measure of fullness that is received by people too thirsty for God to mind the fact that the taste of new wine is never as mellow as the old."

Jack Hayford, A Passion For Fullness, page 12.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Best music video ever

I dare you to try watching this without a hearty laugh.

There is a time for laughter (Ecclesiastes 3:4).

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Hopeless Dawn


"The Hopeless Dawn" by Frank Bramley shows a young widow, who has just found out that her husband was lost at sea, being comforted by her godly mother-in-law. Notice the altar-like table, suggesting the Lord's Supper. Notice the big open Bible on the seat by the window. The two suffering women are not alone. Christ is there.

Sooner or later every one of us is confronted with a hopeless dawn. Hopeless, as someone or something important to us is taken away forever. A dawn, because that very moment of overwhelming loss is the beginning of a new era. Christ is there.

I have met many men, in their 50s like me, who have simply lived long enough to get body-slammed by life in some unforeseeable, major way. Divorce, cancer, their business stolen out from underneath them, sued, a wayward child breaking their heart, and so forth. Previous successes make no difference and offer no protection. Sooner or later, the unimaginable comes and finds us. It's just a matter of time.

What I am learning is that such a moment is not when I should say, "Okay, now I begin again." Instead, it is when I can say, "Okay, now I begin." Christ is there.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Psalm 27

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear? Psalm 27:1

"One of the best ways to dispel doubts and fears is to summon to our aid the very strongest doctrines and highest truths of religion. Weak doctrines will not be a match for powerful temptations.

No confidence is so well placed as confidence in God, no joy is like that which he gives, no deliverances are so manifestly glorious as those he works, life is never so sweet as when felt to be the renewed gift of God.

Courage is both a duty of man and a gift of God. We should sharply reprove ourselves for all disheartening timidity. . . . We must be heroic, or we must perish."

W. S. Plumer, The Psalms, page 359.

Trying to understand the Bible

When you're trying to understand a passage in the Bible, weighing different interpretations, here is the ultimate criterion for deciding. Which one is "an interpretation worthy of God"?

The quote from Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Prophecies of Isaiah, II:458.

What does a leader do?

Matt Perman nails it here.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Does God want bugs to have fun?


When Jonathan Edwards was converted to Christ, his experience of things, including the creation, changed. "There seemed to be, as it were, a calm, sweet cast or appearance of divine glory in almost everything," he wrote.

One aspect of the creation that caught his attention was a spider that he observed swinging from tree to tree by its webs. Where some people might have thought, "Creepy," or "Sure proves evolution," or just shrugged and moved on, Edwards saw evidence of God's glory. He saw "the exuberant goodness of the Creator, who hath not only provided for all the necessities but also for the pleasure and recreation of all sorts of creatures, even the insects."

Is God so good that he wants even his bugs to have some fun? Looking elsewhere at the creation, Edwards wrote, "God's goodness is like a river that overflows all of its bounds."

Edwards quotes from Stephen J. Nichols, "Thunderstorms and Flying Spiders," Christian History, Issue 77, pages 40-41.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

53 years ago today


53 years ago today five American missionaries were murdered on the bank of a South American river by people they loved, prayed for, sacrificed for in the name of Jesus. We honor their memory today.

If we do not die martyrs' deaths, may we live with martyrs' hearts. As one of them was famous for saying, "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose."

She smiled

Early yesterday morning I walked into a Starbucks for my daily consciousness-raising, looked around absent-mindedly, and there was an attractive woman sitting off to my right. She smiled at me.

I am not saying anything negative about her or positive about myself. She was probably just a friendly person. She probably smiled at everyone. But I did not like even that nano-second of undefined connection with a woman who is not my wife.

I immediately went into hyper-focus on that venti-Pike-with-room I came in to buy, plus the glazed donut. As soon as I was back in my truck, I called Jani and told her what happened and how uncomfortable that moment felt. One defense against my own sinfulness is my wife's awareness. Sweet lady that she is, she wondered if I was overreacting. But I'd rather err in that direction.

I want nothing between my wife and me. I want to go the distance with integrity. The Lord deserves that from me. Jani deserves it. My family deserves it. My church deserves it. My city deserves it. That woman deserves it.

"I will run in the way of your commandments" (Psalm 119:32). Lord, keep me running there, and there only, all the way home.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The eternal youthfulness

"We have lost the eternal youthfulness of Christianity and have aged into calculating manhood. We seldom pray in earnest for the extraordinary, the limitless, the glorious. We seldom pray with real confidence for any good, to the realization of which we cannot imagine a way. And yet we suppose ourselves to believe him infinite Father."

Unidentified, Edinburgh, 1910

HT: Walt Harrah.

Un-Jesus

"If we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself." 2 Timothy 2:13

If you are in Christ, the deepest reality in your life is not your sins against Christ but his faithfulness toward you. Sometimes you trust him magnificently, and those are the moments of your life you love. Other times you barely trust him, maybe not at all, you freak out, you despair, you obsess on yourself and your inadequacy and guilt, and those are the miserable moments of life. But in all our erratic faith, he remains faithful. Our ever-changing states of mind are wonderfully irrelevant to his steadiness of love.

"As Matthew sat at the receipt of custom, waiting for the people to pay their dues, so does Christ sit at the receipt of sinners, waiting for them to mention their wants. He is watching for you. I tell you again that he cannot reject you. That would be to alter his whole character and un-Christ himself. To spurn a coming sinner would un-Jesus him and make him to be somebody else and not himself any longer. 'He cannot deny himself.' Go and try him; go and try him."

C. H. Spurgeon, Treasury of the New Testament, III:862.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

On our watch

In his "Commentary," 14 October 2005, Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr. informs us,

"Researchers George Gallup and Jim Castelli put the problem squarely: 'Americans revere the Bible--but, by and large, they don't read it. And because they don't read it, they have become a nation of biblical illiterates.' How bad is it? Researchers tell us that it's worse than most could imagine.

Fewer than half of all adults can name the four gospels. Many Christians cannot identify more than two or three of the disciples. According to data from the Barna Research Group, 60 percent of Americans can't name even five of the Ten Commandments. . . .

According to 82 percent of Americans, 'God helps those who help themselves,' is a Bible verse. Those identified as born-again Christians did better--by one percent. A majority of adults think the Bible teaches that the most important purpose in life is taking care of one's family. . . .

A Barna poll indicated that at least 12 percent of adults believe that Joan of Arc was Noah's wife. Another survey of graduating high school seniors revealed that over 50 percent thought that Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife. A considerable number of respondents to one poll indicated that the Sermon on the Mount was preached by Billy Graham. We are in big trouble."

This is on our watch. What can we pastors do about it? Here are a few obvious ideas. Please help me by adding your own:

1. Memorize the Bible together, as a church. One verse per week in your service. It can be fun, and it provides a moment of connectedness and participation together. It says a lot to guests about what your church is passionate for.

2. Gather a small group of eager men and go deeper. I believe every man should be able to think his way through the argument of the book of Romans, for example. That can happen, with great effect, in a small group.

3. Read the Bible in every worship service. Is this too obvious to say? I don't think so. And end the reading with the faith-filled declaration, "This is God's Word." That solemnizes the moment in a gentle, non-spectacular, factual way. It's a tactful way of saying, "Okay y'all, now we've got to deal with this for what it is."

4. Preach from the Bible, and from the Bible only. Again, does this need to be said? One thing's for sure. The Bible is fascinating, disturbing, offensive, sweet, alarming, comforting, stretching, shocking, controversial, caressing, strengthening. No way are you and I that interesting. Let's put the Bible front and center and let it be itself and do its thing, whatever the impact. Submerging the Bible for the sake of our cool personas isn't really cool at all. It's a way of avoiding risk, chickening out.

5. Approach church problems and opportunities with explicit reference to the Bible, chapter and verse. Some may expect us to preach from the Bible but will be surprised if we lean hard on the Bible when everything is on the line. A corporate experience of realigning ourselves with the help of a specific, powerful and relevant verse of Scripture at an important moment in a church's journey can be unforgettable.

6. Saturate your church's children and youth with the Bible faithfully and enthusiastically, week by week, year by year, and they will still be drawing strength from it fifty years from now. They might not remember our names, but we will still be there in their lives, speaking the Bible into their hearts and minds and consciences.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Freedom of spirit


"Thinking of Jesus, I suddenly understand that I know nothing, and for some reason begin to laugh hilariously, which brings me to the realization that I understand everything I need to understand."

Malcolm Muggeridge, Jesus: The Man Who Lives, page 71.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

40 days until Valentine's Day



40 days until Valentine's Day. It will be a happy day for some, a sad day for others. If your heart is broken, maybe this is the time to find out what Ephesians 4:32 can do for you and the one you love but might lose.

A lot can happen in 40 days.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Long in the making

"God's chosen vessels are often long in the making, as for example in the case of Moses, and they emerge at the strategic moment, the most notable instance of this being Christ himself."

R. K. Harrison, Jeremiah and Lamentations, page 49.

True seeing

"In the face of the resurrection it becomes finally impossible to think of our Christian narrative as only 'our point of view,' our perspective on a world that really exists in a different, 'secular' way.

There is no independently available 'real world' against which we must test our Christian convictions, because these convictions are the most final, and at the same time the most basic, 'seeing' of what the world is."

John Milbank, The Word Made Strange, page 250.

He knows how

"The church's ever-living Head knows how to usher in creative epochs, to rally his people to some converging point through the lapse of centuries, and to gather up under this powerful influence isolated opinions into one consistent whole."

George Smeaton, The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, page 285.

All else is nothing


"All in Christ, by the Holy Spirit, for the glory of God. All else is nothing."

H. C. G. Moule, Veni Creator, page 247.

Friday, January 2, 2009

It is finished


"Would you like to be rid of this spiritual depression? The first thing you have to do is to say farewell now once and forever to your past. Realize that it has been covered and blotted out in Christ. Never look back at your sins again. Say: 'It is finished, it is covered by the blood of Christ.' That is your first step. Take that and finish with yourself and all this talk about goodness, and look to the Lord Jesus Christ. It is only then that true happiness and joy are possible for you."

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression, page 35.

HT: David Mathis.

The ninth commandment: entryway into revival

Ed Stetzer helps us all face into the sin of bearing false witness with this post.

God said, "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor" (Exodus 20:16). The most profound explanation of the ninth commandment I've ever seen is the Westminster Larger Catechism, Questions 143-145. If we're in the mood for some sanctification, let's read that brief section of the Catechism and ask ourselves, phrase by phrase, "Have I fulfilled these duties in every relationship I have? If not, what am I going to do about that? Have I committed any of these sins in any relationship I have? If so, what am I going to do about that?"

If we cherish God's lovely ninth commandment, actively promoting it, it will be so joyous, so restoring, other dominoes will start falling in a wonderful way. It might feel like revival.