For it is by grace you have been saved...

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Can We Really Turn America 180?

The much advertised production from Ray Comfort and Living Waters is here. It came out while I was away, but here it is.

Not sure how many minds will actually be permanently changed by this, but it's worth a look. This is very graphic, so be warned. If nothing else, it shows the lack of logic and consistency in the pro-death crowd. If they honestly consider the issues...

Well, look for yourself.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Seeking Solitude With My Savior

In the September issue of Ligonier Ministries’ Tabletalk Magazine, there is an article on The Gospel and Solitude by Dr. Don Whitney. In large part it’s a summary of the chapter on solitude Dr. Whitney wrote in his book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (a chapter you can read in a pdf file from his website here)

He defines this discipline as follows: “Scriptural solitude is the biblical practice of temporarily withdrawing to privacy for spiritual purposes.” In addition to the fact that our Lord often sought quiet and solitude for times of prayer, Dr. Whitney gives this summary of the benefits of this endeavor:

A mark of those who have experienced the true grace that comes through faith in Jesus Christ is that they take pleasure in being alone with God. Solitude provides the opportunity to meditate on Scripture, to pray, and to enjoy the worship of God in private — experiences enlivened by the Holy Spirit for those who have believed the gospel. Withdrawing from the presence of all but God affords an excellent occasion for focused thinking about gospel truths and realities, to freshly apply the gospel to our souls again, and to reflect on the blessings and hopes that are ours through the gospel.

Again, the chapter in the book goes into greater detail on some of these areas, but there’s a good start. About six years ago, before Dr. Whitney went to Southern Seminary where he now teaches, I took a doctoral seminar he taught at Midwestern Seminary in Kansas City. The seminar was on Spiritual Formation and he was extolling the virtue of solitude and meditation when I became a good “object lesson” for him.

Being a NASCAR fan, I was wearing a shirt with my favorite driver’s number on it, and Dr. Whitney pointed it out. He said basically, “Let me tell you why I hate NASCAR. It epitomizes the very things I’ve spent all these years trying to encourage people to get away from: Noise, Crowds, Hurry, and Going in Circles!” Glad I could add to the discussion, Dr. Whitney.

But he’s right, of course. (About the things needed for prayer and meditation; not about NASCAR being evil!) We do need to get away from those things, slow down, and seek God. In addition to the above summary, in his text Dr. Whitney also includes these other benefits/purposes of solitude: To be physically and spiritually restored; To regain a spiritual perspective; To seek the will of God. These three are the things that are of most interest to me right now.

And it’s because of those three benefits that I am taking Dr. Whitney’s further advice from the book. He suggests “Try to get away for a few extended (half-day to overnight or longer) times yearly.” He elaborates: "'Getting away’ for an extended time of silence and solitude may be nothing more than finding an empty room in your church in which to spend an afternoon, an evening, or a Saturday. Or it may involve spending a night or a weekend at a retreat center, lodge, or cabin.”

It’s the last suggestion that I’ll be doing in the very near future. Now, to be honest, my plan for a 48 hour stint at a retreat center near St. Louis was being planned before I read the Tabletalk article, reminding me of the things from Dr. Whitney’s book and class. But what great timing. What a great affirmation of the plan.

I’ll be spending 48 hours alone at a nice little abbey set aside for this very purpose. I plan to take my Bible, a notebook, and a couple other books and spend the entire time in reading, praying, listening, etc. My goal truly is to hit on those three benefits mentioned: restoration, perspective, and the will of God. I wouldn’t even mind if you prayed for me, that the time would be used purposefully and effectively, not wasted. I’ve never had the chance to do this before, and I’m grateful to our church leadership for giving me the time.

Being alone with God is a good thing, and while we can certainly do that in shorter times more often, I’m eagerly anticipating this time and its benefits. I’ll have more to say, I’m sure, after the time is over. But even before, I would strongly urge you to consider doing something similar if you haven’t already. As an added encouragement I’ll leave you with the quote from Jonathan Edwards which closes Dr. Whitney’s chapter on this topic:

Some are greatly affected when in company; but have nothing that bears any manner of proportion to it in secret, in close meditation, prayer and conversing with God when alone, and separated from the world. A true Christian doubtless delights in religious fellowship and Christian conversation, and finds much to affect his heart in it; but he also delights at times to retire from all mankind, to converse with God in solitude. And this also has peculiar advantages for fixing his heart, and engaging his affections. True religion disposes persons to be much alone in solitary places for holy meditation and prayer. . . . it is the nature of true grace, however it loves Christian society in its place, in a peculiar manner to delight in retirement, and secret converse with God.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Be Yourself – Good Advice for Preachers

I’ve been reading a collection of addresses by Charles Spurgeon called An All Around Ministry. At the beginning of each school year, Spurgeon would address the students of his Pastor’s College about some issue in ministry, and when collected together these addresses do indeed provide excellent instructions for all around ministry.

One address is on the issue of Individuality and Its Opposite. Basically it’s an encouragement for ministers to remember that they are not alone in this work (the “opposite” part), and yet at the same time, you are your own unique person.

In light of a couple posts ago when I talked about the “idols” we sometimes have in the church, I found this especially helpful. Our tendency, sometimes, is to try and duplicate those “heroes” of the faith. And quite honestly, there is much to be admired in some of these men, and worthy to be duplicated.

As most of you may know, John MacArthur recently complete a 43 year journey in preaching verse by verse through the entire New Testament. (You can see the “conclusion” of that journey here). He is an amazing servant of God, and this is an amazing accomplishment. Certainly, there are many things about MacArthur and his ministry that are worth imitating.

Others fit that category as well. Personally, I am moved by the preaching of men like Paul Washer and Art Azurdia and Voddie Baucham and John Piper and… well, the list could be rather long. All of those men have been gifted by God to preach His Word with passion, clarity and impact. And again, there is much there worthy to be imitated.

Yet, here’s the thing. I’m not John MacArthur or Paul Washer or Art Azurdia. In fact, even amongst themselves there is a great variety. Voddie Baucham is not John Piper, etc. And that’s as God intended it.

I remember learning this some years ago, way back in the dark ages when I was in college. God sent a man into my life, a dear friend, Rod Albert, who was and is a passionate preacher of the gospel. I heard him preach and immediately I wanted to be like him. Unfortunately, I don’t have the gifts Rod has. I don’t have his experiences, I don’t have his mastery of the Word, I don’t have a lot of things. I actually bemoaned that fact to Rod once. He told me in essence, “God didn’t call you to be Rod Albert. He called you to be you.” Wise words, brother.

Spurgeon hits on this same theme in his address on Individuality and Its Opposite. He says,

There is not only a work ordained for each man, but each man is fitted for his work. Men are not cast in moulds by the thousand; we are each one distinct from his fellow. When each of us was made, the mould was broken; — a very satisfactory circumstance in the case of some men, and I greatly question whether it is not an advantage, in the case of us all. If we are, however, vessels for the Master’s use, we ought to have no choice about what vessel we may be.

There was a cup which stood upon the communion table when our Lord ate that Passover which He had so desired to eat with His disciples before He suffered; and, assuredly, that cup was honored when it was put to His lips, and then passed to the apostles. Who would not be like that cup? But there was a basin also which the Master took, into which He poured water, and washed the disciples’ feet. I protest that I have no choice whether to be the chalice or the basin. Fain would I be whichever the Lord wills so long as He will but use me. But this is plain, — the cup would have made a very insufficient basin, and the basin would have been a very improper cup for the communion feast.

So you, my brother, may be the cup, and I will be the basin; but let the cup be a cup, and the basin a basin, and each one of us just what he is fitted to be. Be yourself, dear brother, for, if you are not yourself, you cannot be anybody else; and so, you see, you must be nobody. . . Do not be a mere copyist, a borrower and spoiler of other men’s notes. Say what God has said to you, and say it in your own way; and when it is so said, plead personally for the Lord’s blessing upon it.

For good or ill, I am who I am. By the grace of God, I am who I am. I’m not Spurgeon, MacArthur or Washer. I’m not even Rod Albert. But God has called me to proclaim His Word. He has gifted me, given me certain experiences, called me to a specific place of service, all of which He did according to His wisdom and for His purposes. And so I’m satisfied not to be nobody, but to be me, because I can’t be anybody else.

Preacher, as well as every believer, be content to be yourself by God’s grace. Don’t try to be someone you’re not and end up being nobody at all. Good words, don’t you think?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Standing on the Promises - Correctly

Standing on the promises of Christ my King,
Through eternal ages let His praises ring,
Glory in the highest, I will shout and sing,
Standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises that cannot fail,
When the howling storms of doubt and fear assail,
By the living Word of God I shall prevail,
Standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises I now can see
Perfect, present cleansing in the blood for me;
Standing in the liberty where Christ makes free,
Standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises of Christ the Lord,
Bound to Him eternally by love’s strong cord,
Overcoming daily with the Spirit’s sword,
Standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises I cannot fall,
Listening every moment to the Spirit’s call
Resting in my Savior as my all in all,
Standing on the promises of God.

So wrote Russell Kelso Carter, reminding us of the great faith with which we can approach God’s Word and God’s promises. It’s a wonderful reminder, and I enjoy the song (in spite of some who feel every singing of this song demands the introduction: “And we’ll ask you to stand and sing, because you can’t be standing on the promises while sitting on the premises.” Ha, ha, laugh, laugh)

It’s good for us to remember the faith with which we can stand on those faithful promises of God. And yet, we also need to be reminded to approach those promises in a faithful, biblical way. Which is why I was so thankful to recently read this article by Sinclair Ferguson posted at the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals site. Originally published years ago, the message is a great one. I’ve copied it below (hope that’s not some sort of violation somewhere), but if you prefer you can follow the link here. (But come back, I’ve got just a brief closing comment)

Boldly and Expectantly Leaning on the Promises

One of the very first “Christian” possessions I ever had, apart from a Bible, was a “Promise Box”—a box containing hundreds of biblical promises printed on small cards, one for each day of the year. I cannot now remember whether it was a gift or a personal purchase. Perhaps my forgetfulness is a personal convenience. It might be something of an embarrassment today to admit it to my friends if I still used a promise box. After all, we do not wrest Scripture texts out of their context; nor do we use the Bible as the ancients used the famous sortes virgiliance—randomly finding a line from Virgil to guide them on their daily path. To live in this way smacks of the Chinese fortune cookie approach to the Christian life.

My promise box went the way of all flesh. God’s promises are not fortune cookies. We do not use them in order to get a spiritual “fix” for the day. Serious progress in the Christian life requires the thoughtful understanding of the biblical message as a whole, understood in this context and applied appropriately to our own context. We are, after all, learning to think God’s thoughts after him—about himself, about the world, about others, about ourselves. God’s Word is not our comfort blanket. It is the sword of the Spirit; indeed it is sharper than any two- edged sword.

All this is true. But the other day, when I remembered my long-lost promise box, I found myself asking the question: Did I throw out the baby with the bath water? Do I still have a firm grasp on the promises the Lord has given me, and am I living on that basis day by day? What promises have I seen him fulfilling for me recently? What promises am I expecting him to keep in my life?

There are two places in the New Testament where right living is seen as the direct consequence of trusting God’s promises. Writes Paul to the Corinthians: “Since we have these promises . . . let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit . . .” (2 Cor. 7:10). The “promises” to which he refers are God’s covenant with his people that he will 1) be with them, 2) receive those who “touch no unclean thing,” and 3) be a Father to them (2 Cor. 6:16-18). Paul’s reasoning is: If this is what God promises to be to his holy people, let us make every effort to be such holy people. If these are the riches that await me, let me walk on that path of holiness that leads to them. Here holiness is a direct result of living in the light of the divine promises.

Peter writes in a similar vein: “[God] has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2 Pet. 1:4). Here, the promises of God in general are in view. What is their fruit? Once again it is holiness, or right living.

The question this raises is: What promises of God have been etched upon my heart? What am I expectantly waiting for the Father of lights who does not change like shifting shadows, to give to me (James 1:16)? Am I really living as his covenant child, with the words, “Father, you promised” forming on my lips, as I live in expectation of him keeping his Word?
How am I to live my life in the light of God’s promises?

First of all, I must know what God’s promises are. The old daily Bible study question was not far off the mark when it asked: “Is there a promise here for me today?” We have outgrown the “promise box mentally,” but we can never outgrow the promises themselves. Scripture is full of them. Is there one in the passage of Scripture I read today? (Did I even remember to read a passage of Scripture today?)

Second, I must feed my mind on the promises of God. As a child I was often amazed by the ability of my grandparents’ generation to suck a single peppermint for half an hour, while mine was crunched to pieces within minutes!

We need to learn to do the same with God’s promises, metaphorically placing them “under our tongue,” allowing them to release their pleasurable blessings over the whole day. We need to meditate on them if we are to find them redirecting our thinking and filling us with an expectation that the Lord will keep his Word. Only then will we be able to say “How sweet are your promises to my taste” (Ps. 119:103).

Thirdly, I must let God’s promises govern my life-style. Has he promised never to leave me? Then I will commune with him regularly, as an expression of my faith that he is near. I will allow the knowledge of his presence to give me poise in times of crisis and pressure. I will live in such a way that I will not be ashamed that he is near.

It is not surprising that Peter speaks about “great and precious promises.” He himself had clung fiercely to Christ’s promise when everything within him and around him seemed to be caving in. Jesus has said: “I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back . . .” (Lk. 22:32). His hope in Christ’s implicit promise of his restoration was the “very reason” he had held on. May God’s promises similarly renew your life.

What a wonderful set of reminders, to boldly stand on God’s promises, but to do so in a faithful and biblical way. I pray that we would grasp this concept firmly, and that our hearts would cry out confidently to God in the way John Newton expresses in this hymn on pleading the promises.

Approach, my soul, the mercy-seat, Where Jesus answers prayer;
There humbly fall before His feet, For none can perish there.

Thy promise is my only plea, With this I venture nigh;
Thou callest burden’d souls to Thee, And such, O Lord, am I.

Bow’d down beneath a load of sin, By Satan sorely press’d:
By war without, and fears within, I come to Thee for rest.

Be Thou my shield and hiding-place! That, shelter’d near Thy side,
I may my fierce accuser face, And tell him Thou has died.

Oh wondrous love! To bleed and die, To bear the cross and shame,
That guilty sinners, such as I, Might plead Thy gracious name.

“Poor tempest-tossed soul, be still, My promised grace receive:”
‘Tis Jesus speaks – I must, I will, I can, I do believe.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

When Idols Fall

Admit it. We all have idols. We may not call them that. We may not even treat them as such all the time. But most of us have those people we put up on such a pedestal that the reach from here to there is great.

Maybe we don’t call them idols, and maybe they aren’t “technically worshiped” in the sense of true idolatry. But most believers have a list of the “great men of faith,” “heroes of the faith,” etc. that we have come to rely on. When in doubt, ask ______________ and we know we’ll get a reliable answer.

Over the years, for me it has been men like John MacArthur, John Piper, Paul Washer, J.I. Packer, and others. Then the guys further back; guys like John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, John Bunyan, and of course C. H. Spurgeon.

And then comes “the day.” They suddenly say something, or we read something, that blows us out of the water. I break with MacArthur on some points of eschatology. I cringed when Packer signed the Evangelicals and Catholics Together document. And John Piper invited WHO to speak at his conference????

I’ll never forget the day I was reading Spurgeon’s comments regarding a certain verse in the book of Revelation, and I almost fell over dead. He said something I disagreed with! Spurgeon! How could he?!?! (I’ll refrain from revealing the specific verse so as not to start that discussion!)

Anyway, I was mulling this over as I listened to an interview Tim Keller did several years ago, in 2008 in fact, with Martin Bashir at Columbia University. (Read this excellent take on it over at the Cripplegate). Amazing how something several years old can just now be making headlines, especially in this day and age; but there it is. It’s gone “viral.” And with good reason.

Because in the course of the conversation, the question was asked regarding those “millions of Muslims, Sikhs and Jews who have heard about Jesus” but have not responded to the gospel. “Where does your thesis leave them?” he was asked.

Keller responded by saying: “Where they are right now, it means that if there’s never any change, they don’t get Jesus. If they die and they’ve never… if they die and they don’t have Jesus Christ, I don’t know.”

Now, to his credit, Keller did try to be a little more direct. He did say, “If he is who he says he is, then, long term, they don’t have God. If on the other hand…all I can always say about this is God gives me, even as a minister with the Scripture, a lot of information on a need-to-know basis. And a need-to-know basis means, Here’s all I can tell you: unless you get Jesus Christ who created you to start with, unless you are reunited with him sometime, there is no eternal future of thriving. It just makes sense.”

I’m not sure what “eternal thriving” has to do with it, in comparison to Jesus’ direct words about heaven and hell, but that’s beside the point. What concerned me was the hedging of bets. The “well, I don’t know.” We do know. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father except through me.” Pretty plain.

Now, I know it’s tough. Keller may have been “in a spot” as the Cripplegate article linked above mentions. Furthermore, while I have a great deal of respect for Keller and have benefited greatly from his writings, I wouldn’t put him way up there in my class of “superhero” types to begin with. Still, this whole thing is a bit disappointing.

And here’s my point. I don’t want to just pass judgment on Tim Keller. Who knows how I would have done in the same spot; as if I would ever be deemed worthy to be interviewed in this kind of forum anywhere in the first place. I simply want us to all think a little about the idea of our “idols” falling, failing to live up to our standards, etc.

It’s a simple, but excellent reminder that men are just that; men. We are all weak and broken vessels. None of us is perfect. I’m not saying that to excuse poor choices; I’m saying that to caution each of us about holding those folks up too high on that pedestal to begin with. They will all fall, eventually. Truly, no one is perfect. Mistakes will be made. Poor choices will be revealed. Doctrinal deficiencies will be unveiled. Even if it’s just that one verse in Revelation!

We live in a “celebrity” age, even in the church. The “paper preachers” and the “media ministers” often carry a lot of weight. And some are incredible men of God. But we must be careful about holding men too high on those pedestals. They are just men. They don’t deserve our ultimate loyalty. Only Christ does. (Read here for my thoughts on Jesus as our true hero).

I’ll still read MacArthur and Piper and Packer and even Keller. In spite of some disagreements here or there, they have much to offer. I’ll even keep my Spurgeon collection (including my Spurgeon bobblehead) even though he’s so clearly wrong about that verse! I just need to remember, as I encourage you to, that only Jesus is perfect. Only His Word is infallible. Only He should receive my loyalty and worship. He is the only One who will never fall; never fail.

NOTE: In fairness to Mr. Keller, I have since learned that he has recanted those earlier words (you can read about it here). The lesson is still a good one. Jesus will never recant anything!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Doctrine Is Exciting

Yes you read that right. No, I’m not being ridiculous. Doctrine is exciting. For years we have been told by church growth folks that “doctrine kills,” which in essence means that feeding the church too much doctrinal depth will bore them to death. So instead, we feed them a steady diet of shallow meaningless drivel and idiotic feel-good games. Here’s the evidence.

However, as many in the church have learned, this lack of doctrine produces nothing but social clubs and worldly professlings; not true disciples. And the truth of the matter is, doctrine is exciting. I think I said that already, but it bears repeating.

Take for example this short excerpt on the Doctrine of Propitiation.

Now, apart from the inclusion of one of those endless “pink bunny” songs (it keeps going, and going, and going), and the flashy media presentation, the truth itself conveyed in this clip is exciting!

How can you not get excited about having your guilt removed? It’s not just “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” It’s that guilty sinners have been rescued by the shed blood of Jesus. It’s not just a feel good idea that God will help you with your problems; it’s that God has already helped you with the biggest problem of all…you sin.

This is exciting stuff, folks. This is more exciting than doing the hokey pokey, or whatever else the pseudo-church wants to toss out there. This is life changing truth.

If you haven’t taken the time to study and read about things like Expiation and Propitiation and how they fit into the doctrine of Substitutionary Atonement, you need to. Don’t just roll your eyes at the big sounding words. This is the heart of the Gospel message, folks. And it’s exciting. In fact, it will cause more joy in your heart than just hearing that “God loves you.” (no matter how many times you sing it over and over).

So pick up your Bible and read. Front to back. See how those concepts are brought out under the Old Covenant and how they are fulfilled in the New Covenant. But let me warn you know. When you truly get a hold of these concepts, you might just jump up and down for joy. Here’s to exciting truth.

NOTE: If you really want to read some good stuff on doctrine in general, check out the Theology section at

Saturday, September 3, 2011

A Good Warning from MacArthur

I've just finished reading the Iain Murray biography of John MacArthur, which is a good read by the way. MacArthur has a long history of speaking the truth in opposition to both the world and to popular church culture. I've always appreciated that. (And in light of my last post, I also appreciate that he does a well researched, well thought out response to things, not just knee jerk reactions).

The latest "controversy" he's found himself involved in has to do with MacArthur's running "advice blog" to those who consider themselves part of the Young, Restless and Reformed movement. Again, in view of my last post, we have to be careful of lumping everyone together here. I know not everyone falls in the camp of those MacArthur addresses here; myself being one of them. I'm fairly young (don't laugh) and reformed, but side with MacArthur on this one. The concern is those who have come to a belief in the Doctrines of Grace as far as salvation is concerned, but still live in the more man-centered world of how to "do church" how to "do evangelism" and so on.

Anyway, I just found this video interview to be very helpful (and spot on, by the way), and thought some of you might enjoy it. He not only speaks to the Reformed folks, but has some good words for some "trends" in the modern church in general. It's worth your time. Thanks to Gregg over at Gospel Driven Disciples for making me aware of this. Enjoy