When God is your partner in ministry…

Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. (2 Corinthians 6:1)

For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. (1 Corinthians 3:9)

And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them (Mark 16:20)

So if there is any encouragement in Christ…any participation in the Spirit…complete my joy. (Philippians 2:1-2)

And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:20)

If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. (John 12:26)

And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” Acts 18:9-10

For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. (Col. 1:29)

What an encouragement to remember. God works with us as we work for him. This reminds of William Carey’s memorable saying: “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.”

If God be for us, who can be against us?

 

And all her slain are a mighty throng

Proverbs 7 describes how the adulteress lures a young man into her room while her husband is away. She pulls out all the stops. She mentions the sacrifices she made earlier and the vows; she describes her excitement for the young man, and she assures him that no one will find out: “For my husband is not at home; he has gone on a long journey.” The young man consents not knowing that the decision will cost him his life.

Then Solomon says “And all her slain are a mighty throng.”

Those taken down into the pits of adulterous death aren’t the weak, the stupid, the ignorant. And they aren’t few. Kings and lords, elders and laymen, pastors and businessmen, writers and plumbers, CEOs and Ph. Ds. The adulteress doesn’t discriminate; she’s on every corner, in every building, on every screen. She’ll barter with presidents and peasants. “All her slain are a mighty throng.”

As soon as you think you don’t have to go out to battle anymore you’ll see her bathing on the roof. Keep vigilant, gripped by truth and committed to integrity. Know a war wages and brandish your weapons to fight. And keep fighting.

Remember that “all her slain are a mighty throng”

Freed to enjoy God forever: A reflection on God’s commands for obedience

How we feel about the imperatives in Scripture reveals much about the condition of our hearts. For those whose hearts are hard, commands seem like unwarranted intrusions into our otherwise free living. Christians who have been softened by the grace of God see God’s commands in a different light. When the light of the cross of Christ is shed upon these imperatives, they become less drudgery and more joy. That’s why the apostle can write such a shocking statement in 1 John 5:3 “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” Well, if they’re not burdensome, what are they? They’re our joy.

When we get down to the basics, Christianity is quite simple. Christians are people who have realized that they’ve dumbly been walking toward eternal hellfire and having discovered that they’re desperate and determined to do whatever it takes to escape. They hate sin and its effects, so they not only cling to Christ for salvation from the eternal punishment of sin but they also cling to the Word for salvation from the immediate consequences of sin. They seek salvation from hell and despair. They’re not content to wait for the joys of heaven; they do all they can to bring the joys of heaven down.

And that’s why Christians love obedience.

Obedience releases us from the tangles of sin and frees us to enjoy God forever.

I treasure all the commands I find in Scripture because behind them I hear the voice of a loving Father telling me where to find true joy.

Obedience is often seen as a straight jacket. Born-again believers, who have been given eyes to see the greatness of the glory of Christ, see obedience as a treasure map. It doesn’t restrict me from pleasure, it enables me to find that which is my heart’s greatest delight—Christ.

 

Where are the fearless young high schoolers?

I pray for a generation of young zealous, fearless Christians. I know a fifteen minute speech isn’t much, but I’m praying that it would be used of God to light a flame in a heart or two. Here’s an excerpt of my speech I’m giving at the Jr. High graduation:

Where are the fearless young high schoolers who take life seriously and see the world as much bigger and grander than their immediate pleasures? Where are the young people who take education seriously, and treat school as an indispensable training ground for future ministry? Where are the young people who renounce the small pleasures of being “cool” for the staggering joys of being Christ-like?

Oh, as a youth pastor, how I dream and pray for a generation of young people to see Christianity for what it really is: a glorious call to come and die—and in dying to experience the height of Christian joy. For a generation of young people who say, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain.” To shake free of the world’s death-grip around your neck and run the Christian race with passion, fervor, and zeal. Teenagers who turn off the smutty TV and read a biography about the breathtaking courage of William Wilberforce, the all-night prayer vigils of George Muller, or the evangelistic zeal of George Whitefield. Young people who get off the internet and pray and plan about how they can help the gospel into the ears of Muslim terrorists, unreached African tribesmen, and the kids sitting next to them at lunch. High schoolers who relentlessly devote themselves to purity, faithfulness, diligence, and love.

Is this that class? Will you begin the upsurge of comfort-forsaking, risk-taking, Christ-exalting work? Will you defy the wisdom of this dying world and live as fools for Christ? Will you  give your life to that which will outlast it—namely, Christ, his glory, his kingdom, his praise, his name?

 

Does Calvinism stunt evangelistic zeal?

Who did God use to pull the church out of the Satanic grip of the Roman Catholic Church?

Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli. All “Calvinists”.

Who went to Scotland and set the nation on fire with his zeal for preaching God’s truth?

John Knox, a man profoundly influenced by Calvin himself.

Who is known for their evangelism to the American natives, their compendium of lasting classic Christian literature, and their zeal to serve the Lord in all of life?

The Puritans– who were all-out Calvinists.

Which American preacher was used of God to spark the first Great Awakening?

Jonathan Edwards– who perhaps was more Calvinistic than Calvin.

Which other English preacher ignited the Great Awakening?

George Whitefield, a devoted believer to the doctrines of grace.

Who did Jonathan Edwards influence to take to the fronteir and minister among the native Americans?

David Brainerd. Calvinist.

Which famous missionary read David Brainerd’s biography and was so impacted that he went to the mission field and ignited the modern missionary movement?

William Carey. Calvinist.

The list is endless– Spurgeon and Lloyd-Jones; not to mention our contemporaries John Piper, John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul and many others.

History attests to the fact that Calvinism does not stunt evangelistic zeal, but rather it ignites it. As Steven Lawson has said, “Arminian evangelists are not playing with a full deck.” When Calvinism meets evangelism it’s like gas and fire– an explosion of power results.

Are we sleepwalking through the great infanticide?

This article, by Harvard Law graduate Lea Singh, echoes much of my sentiment about abortion:

Is it just me, or is there something sickly schizophrenic about a society that huffs and puffs in outrage at the killing of a baby in the light of day, but quietly supports it when it happens in the darkness of the womb? We are talking about the very same baby here, at the exact same moment of gestation, the only difference being the location of the demise. If we can kill a baby within the womb, why not outside of the womb? Viable babies are being put to death in late-term abortion clinics all over the United States, perhaps some in Canada. We call it “abortion” but in the light of day, these actions clearly are “murder”.

The abortion pandemic proves that the “Enlightenment” perhaps wasn’t so enlightening after all; that the modern experiment is a sham; and that despite the innumerable scientific developments and technological advances, human beings are still not much different than our racist white-American ancestors; brute beasts, tainted by sin, depraved of mind, and in desperate need of a Savior.

 

Pillars of Grace– a premature review

I am not finished with the book, but per my desire to become a book reviewer, and my promise to start somewhere, here’s my review of Pillars of Grace: A Long Line of Godly Men, by Steven Lawson.

I started by reviewing chapter one, which you can read here if you want to.

Chapters 2-13

After an introductory chapter, the book focuses in on individual Christian stalwarts. They are arranged chronologically. I am now on chapter 14, and I’ve read of Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Cyprian, Athanasius, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzus, Ambrose, Augustine, and Isidore of Seville.

Mini-Biography

Each chapter is arranged essentially the same way. It begins by setting the stage. Lawson writes of the main dilemmas Christians were facing, whether it’s government decreed persecution, discredit from the world of philosophy, or heresy. Once he establishes the scene, the hero takes center stage. What follows is a short biography: where he grew up, what influenced him, what he wrote, why he wrote, and what became of him. I found these sections to be the most interesting.

I also found that the chapters later in the book have gotten better. This is partially because the cumulative testimony of these witnesses to the doctrines of grace is so strong. Each chapter is like a brick being laid, and the total effect is a beautiful building.

The later chapters are better also because the farther we go through church history, the more biographical information we have. For example, the extant writings of 1st century Clement are infinitesimal compared to the voluminous writings of 4th-5th century Augustine. The more material, the better the biography and the greater understanding of who they were and what they taught.

Major Works

After introducing you to the character, he briefly describes his most popular writings. In the chapter on Justin Martyr, he mentioned his Apologies, who they were written to and what they were about. The chapter on Irenaeus discussed the importance of his Against Heresies, what it was, why he wrote it, and what effect it had.

Because of Augustine’s incredible output of literature (242 books), Lawson focuses on the most popular ones (Confessions, The City of God, etc). For Isidore, who also wrote extensively, he makes sections (Biblical and Theological works, Dogmatic and Apologetic works, etc) and highlights the most important writings in each. These sections, combined with the comprehensive citations at the end of each chapter make for a great reference.

Doctrines of Grace in Focus

The chapter then turns to focus on their doctrine. He looks at them through five or six doctrinal categories, each category having its own section: divine sovereignty, radical depravity, sovereign election, definite atonement, irresistible call, and divine reprobation. Lawson goes through each doctrine and shows what the father believed about it by citing original sources.

A few comments about this section. First, it tends to be dryer than the rest. It mostly consists of original source citation (which is helpful) and Lawson’s summarizing comments. Second, in some cases it seems difficult to truly understand whether the churchman in question was actually articulating the specific doctrine. In most cases, Lawson is right on by nailing down the father’s stance on an issue. In other cases, the father’s writings simply don’t offer enough information on the subject, and the few quotes offered aren’t very convincing. This is a small quibble, however, because it doesn’t happen often, and when it does, Lawson is quick to admit that the writings are blurry.

On the more positive side, Lawson makes it clear early on that these men are by no means infallible. In many cases, he critiques their view, shows how it contradicts Scripture, and offers an opinion as to what influences caused them to take that view. Lawson doesn’t make the Catholic mistake of unwittingly buying everything the fathers said.

Conclusive Exhortation

After the doctrinal focus, Lawson ends with an exhortation for his readers. This section is short and pointed. He summarizes the life of the father and shows how it applies to people today– men need to rise up and proclaim strong theology, live with conviction, and do all for the glory of God while they have breath.

Conclusions

This book might be difficult to read lengthy portions in one sitting because it doesn’t tell a single cohesive story. It’s like reading a compilation of short stories– they’re not much related. In many instances, it reads like a series of lectures, which, according to the preface, it was– Lawson put together this material to teach the men of his church (I find this fascinating) and ended up editing it and publishing it as a book. This means that there are many repeated statements throughout (I have no problem with that, I need to hear something again and again for it to stick). With that being said, it doesn’t feel academic. Lawson is a preacher, and you won’t finish a chapter without being exhorted to faithfulness.

A great way to approach this work would be to read it devotionally. Since the chapters are around 10 pages each (except for a few longer ones, like Augustine’s and Luther’s), I think it would be a great exercise to read a chapter each morning, perhaps after your Bible reading and prayers. I continually find my soul soaring to great heights after reading reading of these men and the truths they proclaimed.

Through reading this book, I am convinced more than ever that pastors need to be familiar with church history. What we can learn by reading the pages of the centuries is far more important than what we can learn by reading the latest issue of Relevant Magazine.

Mastering the book review

I am committing myself to learn how to write good book reviews. Why do I want to write good books reviews? Here’s a few reasons:

  • Writing reviews requires critical thinking and discernment. By committing to mastering the book review, I am committing to read well.
  • Writing reviews requires writing. And writing is an important skill that takes practice to master. The people who leave dents in history are notable writers. How do we know that? We read their books.
  • Different books require different measures of attention. Writing book reviews will force me to learn how to evaluate books. It will force me to understand the piece good enough to take what’s good and discard the junk. Also, I’ll learn how much time I should spend with a book.Bacon writes: “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.”
  • To write a good review, you have to have convictions. Book reviews are not like pre-school tee-ball. We keep score here. Not everyone gets a blue ribbon. It’s important to develop the ability to determine what is good, and what isn’t. The best reviewers stick to their guns even when the tides of popularity are against them. For instance, Challies’ review of The Shack is constantly his most popular post. And the reason the review is so good is because he stuck to his theological guns even when the whole world was caught up in Shack-fever.
  • You don’t really understand something until you have to teach someone else about it. Writing about the books I’ve read will bring me into a deeper understanding of them. For me, writing and thinking go hand in hand. Articulating what I’ve had to think about will solidify the thoughts in my mind. I am among the number of those who must “write themselves clear.” Writing is the wind that blows away the mind-fog.
  • Free books. Seriously. If you become a reputable book reviewer, writers will be drooling for your endorsements. Kevin Deyoung has new manuscripts on his desk every week. Imagine that.

If I can master the book review, I will be a better scholar for it. Oh, and let me in on some resources if you know any.

 

The human dilemma

God’s holiness is the reason why the Fall was so devastating. God’s holiness is the reason why Nadab and Abihu were consumed at the altar. God’s holiness is the reason why the earth opened up and swallowed the complainers. God’s holiness struck down Uzzah when he touched the ark.

When the ark returned to Israel after the Philistines had captured it in 1 Samuel the men of Beth-shemesh were elated to see to ark coming back. 1 Samuel 6:13, “Now the people of Beth-shemesh were reaping their wheat harvest in the valley. And when they lifted their eyes and saw the ark, they rejoiced to see it.” But do you know what happened? Just a few verses later: “And [God] struck some of the men of Beth-shemesh, because they looked upon the ark of the Lord. He struck seventy men of them, and the people mourned because the Lord had struck the people with a great blow.”

The ark, in God’s amazing providence, returns to Israel on an oxcart. The people rejoice and offer sacrifices and praise to God. And as they’re sacrificing, and worshiping, and praising God, a man drops dead. Then another. And suddenly there’s something like an epidemic—and seventy men die. Why? Because they looked at the ark. A direct violation of Leviticus 16:13.

In the Bible, some of the most profound insight comes after a person, in some way, experiences God’s holiness. This clash between God and man causes the men of Beth-Shemesh to ask one of the most important questions a person can ask: “Who is able to stand before the LORD, this holy God?” (1 Sam 6:20)

That’s the human dilemma. Anyone who as ever really experienced God asks the same question. In fact, this is the question that all sinners ask before they grab hold of the grace of God in Christ. Until the dilemma haunts you with its stone-faced reality, you wont’ find any need for a Savior.

If God were not holy, we would have no hope because though he’s sovereign he wouldn’t be good. But because God is holy, we are doomed, because when the unholy and the holy meet, someone has to die. And it’s not going to be God.

Or is it?

 

Get wholly excited about the gospel

“Beloved, I urge you, as sojourners and exiles, abstain from the passions of the flesh that wage war against your soul.”

What is your strategy to abstain? Get wholly excited about the gospel, that you have been justified by Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection; that you were in darkness but now you’re in the light; that death once reigned in you but now death has died; that you were once separated from God but now you’ve been brought near. Think of the utter impossibility of having God as your Father; think of the absurdity of being his child; think of the insanity of being forgiven by such a holy God—and then marvel at the breathtaking love that he has accomplished all this for you. He has shown all who believe his love—that while they were still sinners, enemies, rebels, haters, Christ died for them. You are God and God is yours. Did you hear that? God is yours. Marvel at this, O sinner! Be stunned and amazed at this great mystery. And never lose sight of it. Gaze continually into the depths of the gospel, as angels do, and be enthralled at all that God has for you. If you do this, your zeal will not go. Your fervor will not cease. You, like Moses, will die with your eyes undimmed and your zeal unabated. Sin will lose its sway. The passions of the flesh will be replaced by the passions of the Spirit.

* * *

I can’t wait to preach this Sunday night.