Christian, Uncategorized

J.I. Packer on Liberty

An Excerpt from J.I. Packer’s Concise Theology:

The New Testament sees salvation in Christ as liberation and the Christian life as one of liberty- Christ has freed us for freedom. Christ’s liberating action is not a matter of socio-politico-economic improvement, as is sometimes suggested today, but relates to the following three points:

First, Christians have been set free from the law as a system of salvation. Being justified by faith in Christ, they are no longer under God’s law, but under his grace. This means that their standing with God rests wholly on the fact that they have been accepted and adopted in Christ. It does not, nor ever will it, depend on what they do; it will never be imperiled by what they fail to do. They live, and as long as they are in this world will live, not by being perfect, but by being forgiven.

All natural religion, then, is negated, for the natural instinct of fallen man, as expressed in every form of religion that the world has ever devised, is to suppose that one gains and keeps a right relationship with ultimate reality (whether conceived as a personal God or in other terms) by disciplines of law observation, right ritual, and asceticism. This is how the world’s faiths prescribe the establishing of one’s own righteousness- the very thing Paul saw unbelieving Jews trying to do. Paul’s experience had taught him that this is a hopeless enterprise. No human performance is ever good enough, for there are always wrong desires in the heart, along with a lack of right ones, regardless of how correct one’s outward motions are, and it is at the heart that God looks first.

All the law can do is arouse, expose, and condemn the sin that permeates our moral makeup, and so make us aware of its reality, depth, and guilt. So the futility of treating the law as a covenant of works, and seeking righteousness by it, becomes plain, as does the misery of not knowing what else to do. This is the bondage to the law from which Christ sets us free.

Second, Christians have been set free from sin’s domination. They have been supernaturally regenerated and made alive to God through union with Christ in his death and risen life, and this means that the deepest desire of their heart now is to serve God by practicing righteousness. Sin’s domination involved not only constant acts of disobedience, but also a constant lack of zeal for law-keeping, rising sometimes to positive resentment and hatred toward the law. Now, however, being changed in heart, motivated by gratitude for acceptance through free grace, and energized by the Holy Spirit, they “serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way the same way. Its third fault is lovelessness in that its self-advancing purpose squeezes humble kindness and creative compassion out of the heart.

In the New Testament, we meet both Pharisaic and Judaizing legalism. The Pharisees thought that their status as children of Abraham made God’s pleasure in them possible, and that their formalized daily law-keeping, down to minutest details, would make it actual. The Judaizers viewed Gentile evangelism as a form of proselytizing for Judaism; they believed that the Gentile believer in Christ must go on to become a Jew by circumcision and observance of the festal calendar and ritual law, and that thus he would gain increased favor with God. Jesus attacked the Pharisees; Paul, the Judaizers.

The Pharisees were formalists, focusing entirely on the externals of action, disregarding motives and purposes, and reducing life to mechanical rule-keeping. They thought themselves faithful law-keepers although (a) they majored in minors, neglecting what matters most; (b) their casuistry negated the law’s spirit and aim; (c) they treated traditions of practice as part of God’s authoritative law, thus binding consciences where God had left them free; (d) they were hypocrites at heart, angling for man’s approval all the time. Jesus was very sharp with them on these points.

In Galatians, Paul condemns the Judaizers’ “Christ-plus” message as obscuring and indeed denying the all-sufficiency of the grace revealed in Jesus. In Colossians, he conducts a similar polemic against a similar “Christ-plus” formula for “fullness”. Any “plus” that requires us to take action in order to add to what Christ has given us is a reversion to legalism and, in truth, an insult to Christ.

So far, then, from enriching our relationship with God, as it seeks to do, legalism in all its forms does the opposite. It puts that relationship in jeopardy and, by stopping us focusing on Christ, it starves our souls while feeding our pride. Legalistic religion in all its forms should be avoided like the plague.

A copy of this book can be purchased here:

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Christian, Uncategorized

“Pray About Everything” A Review

The discipline of prayer is often one of the most neglected spiritual disciplines of our time. I often find in my own life I have so much to pray about and yet, I pray so little. As a pastor, this is concerning to me, but what becomes more concerning, is when I realize that the seeds planted in the pulpit are reaped in the pew. Paul Tautges seeks to reverse this trend by setting forth this short work that encourages individuals, specifically pastors, to cultivate a profound sense of God-dependency within their lives and within their congregations.

In “Pray About Everything”, Paul Tautges presents a firm theological foundation for prayer that is both readable and enjoyable. This book is written in two parts with a practical set of appendices that help to wrap everything up. In Part 1, Tautges seeks to define and ground the command to pray within the biblical and historical tradition. Tautges shows that the early church understood prayer to be a lifestyle of God-dependency. He also examines how Paul’s commands to the church at Thessalonica reveals a powerful level of dependence on God in every aspect of life. In Part 2, Tautges presents seven brief meditations for prayer meetings. These meditations are instructional and devotional. They include instructions on what it means to pray in Jesus’ name, praying for unbelievers, praying for government leaders, and various other practical beliefs about prayer.

In these two parts, Tautges presents a wealth of biblical knowledge on prayer that is perfect for beginners and those more advanced in the discipline of prayer. Tautges brings together the profound and the simple in an extremely helpful and attainable manner. In every chapter, Tautges shows his heart for churches to let go of self-dependency and grasp the life-giving God-dependency found in the gospel. As a pastor, I would recommend this book to anyone struggling to cultivate a consistent and meaningful prayer life, and I intend on using it with my own congregation.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Shepherd Press in exchange for an online review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Christian, Uncategorized

Reflections on John 12

Earlier this month I challenged the folks at Midway to join me in a journey through the gospel of John by reading five chapters of the book a week.  I did this for several different reasons.  First, I believe that the word of God is powerful and able to change the life of the reader.  Second, I believe that our average church member has not yielded themselves to this life-giving word.  Finally, I believe that people are more willing to engage with the text if they are held accountable by their peers who are also reading it.  That being said, whether you have been traveling with us on this journey from the get-go or you’re just beginning your journey, let me share with you some reflections from one of this week’s chapters.

Chapter 12 marks somewhat of a shift in attention in John’s gospel.  Jesus does the impossible:  he strikes his first blow against that enemy death by calling Lazarus out of his grave.  By doing so Lazarus becomes a walking billboard for the Messiah.  It’s hard to argue with a formerly dead man.  I’d like to draw your attention to another change that has occurred from chapter 11 to chapter 12.  In John 11:1, John introduces Lazarus as “Lazarus of Bethany” but when we arrive at John 12:1, Lazarus receives a new title.  He is identified not as “Lazarus of Bethany” but instead as Lazarus “whom Jesus has raised from the dead”.  Again in verse 9, we read that the crowds came to see Lazarus, “whom (Jesus) had raised from the dead.”  This leads me to my first reflection:

  • When Christ raises an individual from death to life our identity changes.

Lazarus was no longer average “Lazarus of Bethany” instead he was well-known as Lazarus, the one who lives again.  What, then, is our identity in?  Do we find our identity in our jobs? “That’s so-and-so the mechanic.”  Maybe we find our identity in our family.  “That’s whats-her-names son.”  Maybe people know us because of our hobbies.  They know us as a golfer, hunter, camper, or cook.  Yet, we’ve been given a new life that brings a new identity.  We are the born again.  We, like Lazarus, were once dead, but Jesus spoke and now we live.  Our identity must be in Christ.

  • Our new identity should point people to Christ.

Next, because of Lazarus’s new found identity, verse 11 says, “because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.”  Once again, it’s hard to argue with someone who has been brought back to life.  The evidence is clear.  His heart is beating, his blood is pumping; his lungs are operating.  There is no doubt that Lazarus is alive.  This natural draws a crowd.  People are not impressed by someone coming to a new-found intellectual conclusion.  Thank God, that is not biblical conversion!  Biblical conversion is reanimation.   It is a “quickening”.  Christ brings us back from the dead.  The heart of stone that was formally ours is replaced by King Jesus with a heart of flesh that will beat!   Verse 18 says, “The reason why the crowd went to meet (Jesus) was that they heard he had done this sign (raised Lazarus).”  Our transformation should be undeniable.  I pray for a work of God in our church where we see many come out of their graves at the mighty shout of Jesus.  I pray for a work in which all we can say is, “Look what God hath wrought!”

  • Only Jesus can bring this change.

Through the gritted teeth of the Pharisees came the amazing testimony, “Look, the world has gone after him.”  May God grant this again!  No politician can bring this change!  No country can bring this change!  Only Jesus brings this change!  Immediately after this statement John shows us that even the Greeks proclaimed, “We wish to see Jesus.”  If we desire that these statements be made again then we must do one thing:  lift up Jesus.  Jesus says in verse 32, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”  Today we must lift up the person and work of Jesus to a dead world.  It is only through death – Christ’s death – that we can live.  Church, point to Jesus!  Lift high the person of Jesus and God will draw all people to him.  Our message has not changed; we must tell every man the sweet words of Jesus, “While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” – John 12:36

I hope you continue to see and savor Jesus in the book of John.  What a blessing are these words of life!

 

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Christian, Uncategorized

Maybe Scrooge Was Right?

Few characters in Christmas literature personify the antithesis of the season like Ebenezer Scrooge.  Penned in 1843, Charles Dickens classic, “A Christmas Carol” has been told and retold.  It has become a fixture of the season.   So ingrained in our culture, is this story, that everyone knows the name “Scrooge” and the negative connotation that accompanies it.  But what if, instead of just a cranky old miser, Ol’ Ebenezer Scrooge was more of a rather observant social commentator?  In order to defend my rather peculiar thesis, let me set forth the particular meaning of Scrooge’s famous catch-phrase as exhibit number one.  At the beginning of the tale, the infamous old miser, when told, “Merry Christmas” vehemently replies, “Bah! Humbug!”  Now, I am quite sure that even though this phrase has found its way, perhaps permanently, into our cultural vocabulary, many of us are not actually aware of its meaning.  The word humbug is “deceptive, false, or insincere behavior.”  Scrooge’s main problem with Christmas then is the lack of sincerity.  This then provides a key insight to Scrooge’s hatred of Christmas.  He earnestly believes that the so called, “Christmas Spirit” is just a hoax.  It is no more than an attempt to deceive and receive, if you will.  Scrooge places his life and faith, therefore, in the fortune that he has amassed because he knows that money has no ulterior motive.  Scrooge believes that he is the only one honest enough to admit that good will toward one another during this time is simply a charade done once a year.

Where Ebenezer Got it Right:

Now before three intrusive Spirits visit me in my sleep tonight, let me explain.  I believe this is an astute social observation of secular Christmas.  Call me negative or call me pessimistic, but I believe that Christmas stripped of its Christian significance can be nothing more than a hollow charade.  Christmas without its roots in Christ can only be a humbug.  The problem in our world today is that many Christians are buying into this secularized Christmas.  The same mouths that cry, “Keep Christ in Christmas” only want him to be a small portion of their holiday.   In his book, “God With Us” John MacArthur reveals to us the problem the world has with Christmas.  He writes, “The world is happy to let Jesus Christ be a baby in a manger, but not willing to let Him be the sovereign King and Lord that he is.”  As believers, we have made the disastrous mistake of allowing our culture to borrow Christ for a season.  Much like Scrooge feared, the culture’s reason for adopting Christmas carried with it, it’s own impure motive.  This is seen in the marketing and the materialistic emphasis that now seems to go hand and hand with our holiday.  The opening of the Christmas season is now marked by folks trampling and fighting one another for slightly discounted vacuums at Walmart.  Brothers, this should not be.  We cannot pimp the story of Christmas out to our materialistic culture and expect them to treat her like a lady.  But yet, I still believe there is a better way.

Where Ebenezer Got it Wrong:

What am I suggesting then?  Should Christians stop celebrating this holiday because of the many perversions of it?  Certainly, I would not recommend the Ebenezer Scrooge approach.  We know Christmas to be a celebration of the birth of the Christ; “the fullness of God in helpless babe”  We know that Christmas celebrates the freedom that Immanuel has brought his people.  We are filled with joy and hope because God has not left us fatherless.  In spite of our great rebellion, God continues to pursue us in the most unbelievable way!  This perfect, sinless babe would one day become a man.  This man would be no ordinary man, but instead would be God incarnate.  He would “for the joy that was set before him” endure the cross as our substitute, accomplishing our salvation.  This must be celebrated!  Worship springs forth from the fountain of this great knowledge.  MacArthur helps us again here, “What is the right response to Christmas?  What should characterize the way we observe the holiday?  An emphasis on peace toward men?  The spirit of giving?  Joy and gladness?  Kindness to our fellow man?  All those things are good, but they are inadequate responses to the birth of Christ – unless they are the products of a worshipful heart.”  Christians must show the world that we are the exception to Scrooge’s aforementioned thesis.  Though the world may only offer a hollow picture of the truth, we Christians must set forth the sincere picture of joy that Christ has wrought in our hearts.  We have been changed! We must show, therefore, that Christ is all in all, not just at Christmas time.  There are many disillusioned Scrooges in our world today that need to see an authentic presentation of the gospel at work in our lives.

What a haunting idea.

This might be the underlying idea in Charles Dickens’ work.  He writes in the preface, “I have endeavored in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea…May it haunt their house pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.”

May a clear presentation of the gospel in the words and deeds of believers in our world today be the Ghost in the life of our culture.  A Ghost that leads to a change in heart.  May our miser of a society see and embrace the riches of the gospel of grace that we proclaim.

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Christian

Praying the Word of God

It has been said that prayer is the life-blood of the Christian.  Prayer is, as John Piper so fittingly put it, the “communication by which the weapons of warfare are deployed according to the will of God.”  It is the very spark that ignites us to action, and the fountain that refreshes us in our weaknesses.  A non-praying Christian is simply an oxymoron.  Yet, prayer seems to be something that I struggle with in my day to day life.  I always feel as though I don’t pray enough, and when I do pray I feel as though I’m being terribly repetitive.  I read stories of the giants in church history who were known for being mighty men of prayer.  Men like John Knox and George Muller lived and died praying to the God they loved.  I am certainly encouraged and challenged by their example, but more often than not I become overwhelmed, discouraged, and ultimately frustrated by my lack of ability.  Did these men have something that I don’t?  Were they just more focused or did they just have more time on their hands?  Is there a secret to powerful prayer that has been eluding me?  Unfortunately, there is no cheat code to prayer.  There is no one time fix-all to having a perfectly consistent and effective prayer life.

However, I have found a technique that has helped me tremendously.

I pray the word of God.

Here are four advantages to praying the word of God, specifically through the Psalms.

1. Praying through God’s Word gives you a structured guide to prayer.

One of my biggest problems in prayer before was that I did not have much structure during my prayer time.  This caused me to lose focus faster and more frequently than I’d like to admit.  When I pray verse-by-verse it helps me to stay on course.  For example, when I pray through Psalm 67, I begin with verse one. “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us.” I begin praying for God to be gracious and to bless me, my family, my church, and whatever else is close to my heart.  When I get done with that I go on to verse two.  I continue this until I’m done with the Psalm or I run out of time.  This method allows God’s infallible Word to be our guide in prayer.  John Sampey, former president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, once wrote, “If one wishes to learn how to approach God acceptably in worship, the Psalms are the best manual to put into his hands.”

2. Praying through God’s Word helps you to grow in the love of the Word.

Is there a better way to come to appreciate God’s Word more than to make it the center of your prayer life?  Martin Luther was a man of great resolve who stood opposed to the most powerful institution of his day.  His life is said to have been “full of dangers and conflicts with men and demons.”  Written on his personal Bible in his own hands are the words of Psalm 119:92: “Unless thy law had been my delight, I should have perished in mine affliction.”  When we pray the Word of God it has a way of burying itself into the depths of our heart and affections.  We begin to understand why the Psalmist loved the law of the Lord enough to pen Psalm 119.  It becomes our food and our drink.  We crave it and we uphold it as the perfect masterpiece that God himself sent to us in love.  We become enamored by the very heart of God by simply praying back to Him the Word that He has given us.

3. Praying through God’s Word helps you to have a more effective prayer life.

We as humans seem to be consumed by the idea of being as efficient as possible.  Our consumerist society is best characterized by Frank Gilbreth, the father in the beloved children’s novel Cheaper by the Dozen. We are told from a young age not to waste time, and we are tempted to feel it would be more productive to just do something other than prayer.  However, as a Christian we know that prayer is the most productive action that we can do.  We can petition that the all powerful Sovereign of the Universe would act in our lives.  How do we do that correctly though?  Pray the Word of God.  The Word of God is a “rich vocabulary of praise for stammering lips.”  When we don’t know what to pray, we can always pray the promises of God found in his scriptures.  What better reason can we give God to answer our prayers than, “Lord, based upon your unchanging Word.”

4. Praying through God’s Word helps you to have a more consistent prayer life.

Ultimately, we are an inconsistent and an imperfect people.  This can only change by the Holy Spirit growing us closer to God.  Jesus prayed in his high priestly prayer in John 17:17, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”  Jesus did not say that we’d be sanctified by neat daily devotionals or by Christian books and he certainly did not say that we’d be sanctified by occupying a pew on Sunday morning.  It’s only by dwelling and abiding in the scriptures that we see spiritual growth in our lives.  In fact, it’s a love for God and what He has said that is a characteristic of one who has truly been saved.  Don’t spend your time waiting for a future unrevealed word from the Lord.  Dive into the truth that He’s already spoken in His Bible.

Obviously, a lot can be said about the attitude of prayer.  One cannot have any of these things if they have not been radically transformed by the grace of Christ.   Prayer is not the Christian equivalent to rubbing the lamp of a divine Robbin Williams-esque genie, and we must not treat this sacred act as such.  Discipline in prayer only comes to those who work at it.  Those that understand that prayer is a lifestyle and not just an escape hatch when we get ourselves into too much trouble.  These are the ones that will preservere and will honor their Lord by seeking his face continually.

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Christian, Society

Were You There When They Crucified my Lord?

2000 years ago today, a Jewish man was set to be executed by the Roman authorities. The crowds gathered around him chanting, “crucify, crucify him!” As The roman soldiers led him to his cross. On this day in history, we celebrate Good Friday, but it’s the day we remember the obscene, brutal death of our Savior. So why call it “Good” Friday? It’s a Good Friday because of the many deaths that occurred that day. Let’s look at a few briefly:

The Death of Christ

First, the obvious, Jesus Christ was put to death. Now this is only a good thing if we understand a little bit about the purpose behind this ghastly crucifixion. You see, Christ did not just suffer the wrath of the Jewish religious leaders, and he was not just suffering the wrath of the Roman Government. Christ was suffering the full wrath of Almighty God upon that cross. Ever since the original sin of Adam and Eve, mankind has been storing up wrath against ourselves for every sin we commit. We come to understand this better when we realize that sin isn’t just a little blemish in our nature, but sin is, as R.C. Sprouls says, “cosmic treason” to the utmost degree. Sin is us saying to the Infinite, Holy Creator that we don’t need or want him because we know better. Sin is a massive debt that all mankind has incurred that we could never dream of paying off. In steps Jesus, the God-man, perfectly sinless and prepared to take on our debts by being the spotless sacrifice that God requires. Jesus dying means that the believer no longer stands condemned; our debt has been paid. God now counts us not only as innocent, but he also vicariously applies the righteousness of Christ to our life in order that we might be “Sons of Righteousness”. So we see that Christ’s death was substitutionary; he died in our place.

The Death of the Believer

The second death that we observe is the death of the believer. Paul exclaims with the utmost praise, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Gal 2:20). Paul was saying here that as one who has been born again we died along with Christ. His cross was our cross as well. We have been united with him in death. This means that our old sin-drenched man was crucified along with Jesus 2000 years ago. Therefore the believer is no longer, “enslaved to sin”. Hallelujah, what a Savior! Sin no longer has dominion over the one who has been radically transformed by the grace of God! Through this we see that Christ’s death was vicarious; his death is applied to us.

The Death of Death

The last death that we see is the death of death in the death of Christ. On the cross, Christ destroyed the dominion of death. By tasting death for the believer, he freed us from death’s bondage, removed the fear of eternal death, and ensured us that death is now just a doorway to lead us into our faithful lover’s arms. We can exclaim with great praise, “O Death, where is your sting? You have been defeated by the one true God, you have no control over us, just as you had no control over our Elder Brother, Christ!” Praises to the lamb who suffered and died for us! Christ’s death was victorious; by his death we are more than conquerors.

Good Friday, Indeed

These three deaths that occurred on this day, truly make today a Good Friday, but only for the redeemed. Only those in Christ share in his victory. The question we have to ask one another today echoes in the great negro spiritual, “were you there when they crucified my Lord?” Were you there, reader? Have you been united with him in death and in life? I pray that you share in the victory with me today.

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Christian, Movie, Society, Uncategorized

Noah?

Darren Aronofsky’s Noah seems to be the next big event that has Evangelical Christians parting quicker than the Red Sea.  Christian blog FINALLY have something to write about.  Should we go?  Should we boycott it?  Should we storm the gates of Hollywood Bibles in hand, ready to protest in the streets?  Before we start sharpening our pitchforks, here are a few quick things to consider.

1. Hollywood is not a Christian entity.  Hollywood is not Christian, nor do they claim to be.  What did we expect?  The Bible tells us that spiritual things are foolishness to those of the flesh (1 Corinthians 2:14).  Hollywood didn’t promise us an exegetically correct film that stands for Christian values.  So let’s not act surprised here.  If we get upset at the LGBT organization for acted “shocked” that evangelical Christian organizations support the biblical view marriage, then we can’t respond the same way when a non-Christian organization isn’t as biblical as we want.

2. The Story of Noah isn’t as “picture perfect” as we’ve made it.  Go to any church nursery in the South and what do you see?  A depiction of the story of Noah, complete with smiling animals and Noah smiling from ear to ear.  Like so many stories in Genesis, we’ve made them into cutesy stories, but the reality is these were real life events involving real life people.  God the Just was judging the sinful mass of humanity for the crimes they had committed.  Noah and his family were graciously saved from this judgment.  As the rains poured down, the reality of God’s judgment probably hit Noah and his family with a force.  Their neighbors stood outside the arch condemned because of their wickedness.  This isn’t a story that is exclusively the children’s bedtime story we’ve made it.

3.  Let’s make lemonade.  When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade, right?  This is the situation we find ourselves in.  Lost people are flocking to this movie based on a Biblical event that is a perfect depiction of the severity of sin, the righteousness of a Sovereign God, and the grace and mercy of that same God upon those he loves.  What makes more sense, condemning the movie or using this a springboard to present the gospel?  There is a judgment coming, Christ is our perfect Ark in which we can escape the righteous wrath of God upon our wickedness.  There is no other shelter.  No other covering.  Let’s proclaim this with a voice that drowns out the sound of other’s complaints.

4.  All things are permissible, but not all are beneficial.  This movie will not condemn you to hell, but we do have to approach any movie with discernment.  Even “Christian” movies should be approached with discernment.  For example, the movie, “Heaven is For Real” is coming out soon.  To take our views about heaven from a film based upon a four year olds experience instead of looking to the Bible is just as bad as accepting the movie of Noah as the way it really happened.  Let’s check what we’re affirming by comparing it to the Bible.  Whether or not you go see Noah or not is your prerogative and in between you and God.  However the bigger issue is whether or not we decided to be people that exhibit grace toward a lost generation or whether we just want to argue about it between ourselves some more.

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