Saturday, November 28, 2009

Blessing through Suffering

"Why must I go through this?" is one of the hardest questions to answer when we encounter hardships or troubles brought on by doing what is right. It seems natural to understand that doing something wrong brings suffering and that doing something right brings blessing. But life doesn't always work that way. How are we to make sense of this and even have joy in it?

This Lord's Day we will hear from God's Word, demonstrating to us that it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is God's will, than for doing evil. Following Christ on the path of life that sometimes includes suffering is the way to ultimate, eternal blessing. We invite you to come and follow Christ with us!

Songs
Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing (#243)
All Glory, Laud, and Honor (#11)
Behold the Savior on the Cross (#153)
Lamb of God, Thou Now Art Seated (#160)
Thine Be the Glory (#162)
Look, Ye Saints (#163)

Scripture Reading
Jesus Brings Us to God - Ephesians 2

Sermon
Blessing through Suffering - 1 Peter 3:18-22

Friday, November 27, 2009

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Canons of the Synod of Dort (Part 6)

Under the third and fourth heads of doctrine, dealing with "the corruption of man, his conversion to God, and the manner thereof," the Synod of Dort went on to specify which doctrinal errors it was rejecting. I would ask you to consider these errors carefully, for they are everywhere today.

The true doctrine having been explained, the Synod rejects the errors of those:

I. Who teach: That it cannot properly be said, that original sin in itself suffices to condemn the whole human race, or to deserve temporal and eternal punishment. For these contradict the Apostle, who declares: "Therefore as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death passed unto all men, for that all sinned," Romans 5:12. And: "The judgment came of one unto condemnation," Romans 5:16. And: "The wages of sin is death," Romans 6:23.

II. Who teach: That the spiritual gifts, or the good qualities and virtues, such as: goodness, holiness, righteousness, could not belong to the will of man when he was first created, and that these, therefore, could not have been separated therefrom in the fall. For such is contrary to the description of the image of God, which the Apostle gives in Ephesians 4:24, where he declares that it consists in righteousness and holiness, which undoubtedly belong to the will.

III. Who teach: That in spiritual death the spiritual gifts are not separate from the will of man, since the will in itself has never been corrupted, but only hindered through the darkness of the understanding and the irregularity of the affections; and that, these hindrances having been removed, the will can then bring into operation its native powers, that is, that the will of itself is able to will and to choose, or not to will and not to choose, all manner of good which may be presented to it. This is an innovation and an error, and tends to elevate the powers of the free will, contrary to the declaration of the Prophet: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly corrupt," Jeremiah 17:9; and of the Apostle: "Among whom (sons of disobedience) we also all once lived in the lusts of the flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind," Ephesians 2:3.

IV. Who teach: That the unregenerate man is not really nor utterly dead in sin, nor destitute of all powers unto spiritual good, but that he can yet hunger and thirst after righteousness and life, and offer the sacrifice of a contrite and broken spirit, which is pleasing to God. For these are contrary to the express testimony of Scripture. "Ye were dead through trespasses and sins," Ephesians 2:1,5; and: "Every imagination of the thought of his heart are only evil continually," Genesis 6:5; 8:21.

Moreover, to hunger and thirst after deliverance from misery, and after life, and to offer unto God the sacrifice of a broken spirit, is peculiar to the regenerate and those that are called blessed. Psalm 51:10, 19; Matthew 5:6.

V. Who teach: That the corrupt and natural man can so well use the common grace (by which they understand the light of nature), or the gifts still left him after the fall, that he can gradually gain by their good use a greater, namely, the evangelical or saving grace and salvation itself. And that in this way God on his part shows himself ready to reveal Christ unto all men, since he applies to all sufficiently and efficiently the means necessary to conversion. For the experience of all ages and the Scriptures do both testify that this is untrue. "He showeth his Word unto Jacob, his statues and his ordinances unto Israel. He hath not dealt so with any nation: and as for his ordinances they have not known them," Psalm 147:19, 20. "Who in the generations gone by suffered all the nations to walk in their own way," Acts 14:16. And: "And they (Paul and his companions) having been forbidden of the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia, and when they were come over against Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit suffered them not," Acts 16:6, 7.

VI. Who teach: That in the true conversion of man no new qualities, powers or gifts can be infused by God into the will, and that therefore faith through which we are first converted, and because of which we are called believers, is not a quality or gift infused by God, but only an act of man, and that it can not be said to be a gift, except in respect of the power to attain to this faith. For thereby they contradict the Holy Scriptures, which declare that God infuses new qualities of faith, of obedience, and of the consciousness of his love into our hearts: "I will put my law in their inward parts, and in their hearts will I write it," Jeremiah 31:33. And: "I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and streams upon the dry ground; I will pour my spirit upon thy seed," Isaiah 44:3. And: "The love of God hath been shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit which hath been given us," Romans 5:5. This is also repugnant to the continuous practice of the Church, which prays by the mouth of the Prophet thus: "Turn thou me, and I shall be turned," Jeremiah 31:18.

VII. Who teach: that the grace whereby we are converted to God is only a gentle advising, or (as others explain it), that this is the noblest manner of working in the conversion of man, and that this manner of working, which consists in advising, is most in harmony with man's nature; and that there is no reason why this advising grace alone should not be sufficient to make the natural man spiritual, indeed, that God does not produce the consent of the will except through this manner of advising; and that the power of the divine working, whereby it surpasses the working of Satan, consists in this, that God promises eternal, while Satan promises only temporal goods. But this is altogether Pelagian and contrary to the whole Scripture which, besides this, teaches another and far more powerful and divine manner of the Holy Spirit's working in the conversion of man, as in Ezekiel: "A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh," Ezekiel 36:26.

VIII. Who teach: That God in the regeneration of man does not use such powers of his omnipotence as potently and infallibly bend man's will to faith and conversion; but that all the works of grace having been accomplished, which God employs to convert man, man may yet so resist God and the Holy Spirit, when God intends man's regeneration and wills to regenerate him, and indeed that man often does so resist that he prevents entirely his regeneration, and that it therefore remains in man's power to be regenerated or not. For this is nothing less than the denial of all the efficiency of God's grace in our conversion, and the subjecting of the working of Almighty God to the will of man, which is contrary to the Apostles, who teach: "That we believe according to the working of the strength of his power," Ephesians 1:19. And: "That God fulfills every desire of goodness and every work of faith with power," 2 Thessalonians 1:11. And: "That his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness," 2 Peter 1:3.

IX. Who teach: That grace and free will are partial causes, which together work the beginning of conversion, and that grace, in order of working, does not precede the working of the will; that is, that God does not efficiently help the will of man unto conversion until the will of man moves and determines to do this. For the ancient Church has long ago condemned this doctrine of the Pelagians according to the words of the Apostle: "So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that hath mercy," Romans 9:16. Likewise: "For who maketh thee to differ? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive?" I Corinthians 4:7. And: "For it is God who worketh in you both to will and to work, for his good pleasure," Philippians 2:13.

Darwin and Religion

Periodically I comment on the Gazette's religion blog, The Pulpit, written by Mark Barna. Since this week marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, Barna asked about the relationship of religion and evolution. You can read the post and my comment here.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

True Pleasures

While I was thinking on giving thanks to the Lord, and contrasting it with the emptiness of seeking satisfaction in this world, I came across this poem by William Cowper.

Lord, my soul with pleasure springs,
When Jesus’ name I hear;
And when God the Spirit brings
The word of promise near:
Beauties, too, in holiness,
Still delighted I perceive;
Nor have words that can express
The joys thy precepts give.

Clothed in sanctity and grace,
How sweet it is to see
Those who love thee as they pass,
Or when they wait on thee:
Pleasant, too, to sit and tell
What we owe to love divine;
Till our bosoms grateful swell,
And eyes begin to shine.

Those the comforts I possess,
Which God shall still increase,
All his ways are pleasantness,
And all his paths are peace.
Nothing Jesus did or spoke,
Henceforth let me ever slight;
For I love his easy yoke,
And find his burden light.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Why I Love Jesus Christ

I love Jesus Christ because he has been made the perfect Savior for me through suffering (Heb 2:10).

Teaching the World to Sing

This Lord's Day, we will gather in order to teach the world to sing.

In 1971, Coca-Cola produced one of the most famous TV commercials of all-time with the song “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (in perfect harmony).” A generation later, the song sounds a bit trite. But it is even worse than that. It deals with a fundamental human longing – for peace and a good life – with the profound answer “Have a Coke.” But it was even worse than that. Having just come through “the sixties” in which paganism asserted itself forcefully in Western civilization, the world was looking for answers. If God was dead, then where was salvation to be found? The answer: prosperity and pleasure. Have a Coke. What a perfect illustration of the truth, “All the gods of the peoples are worthless idols.” And when men worship worthless idols, they lose all real hope. They cease to give thanks.

Coca-Cola was not the first to express a desire to see the world sing in harmony. Thousands of years ago, the psalmist under the direction of the Holy Spirit wrote, “Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth!” Do you realize what a profound act Thanksgiving is? It is a public, quintessential act of worship of the one true God. It is a statement to all the world to come and bow before him. And though we are simple people, it is powerful. Though this world’s presidents and professors and pop stars promote their false ideals with all of this world’s wizardry, God has ordained that praise would come out of the mouths of babes to still the enemy and the avenger. We are simple people responding to an awesome God, and God blesses that to his glory.

So this Lord's Day, we are going to do something radical – we are going to give thanks to God. We are going to declare the Lord’s glory. We are going to worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness and tremble before him. In doing so, we are going to show the world in the most simple but the most powerful way that there is hope. There is meaning and purpose and beauty to life because the Lord is great. He is the Lord whose right hand and holy arm work salvation for him. We have great reason to be thankful. We have all the reason in the world to sing.

Songs
All Creatures of Our God and King (#19)
Come, Ye Thankful People, Come (#708)
Psalm 100
Now Thank We All Our God (#5)
Behold the Glories of the Lamb (#653)
Let All Things Now Living

Scripture
Bless the Lord - Psalm 145
Responsive Reading - Psalm 100
The Greatest Thanksgiving Day - Revelation 5:1-14

Sermon
Teaching the World to Sing - Psalm 96

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Gambling

Phil Johnson has a helpful discussion of why gambling is always wrong, even though there is no proof text which forbids it.

Part 1: Is Gambling OK? Don't Bet on It

Part 2: Gambling: Some Definitions and Distinctions

What Is College For?

Douglas Wilson weighs in on the state college system.

This unholy alliance between higher education and industry was successfully accomplished, and the system has become unquestioned, and almost unquestionable. Moreover, it has become a system that many Christian parents insist on maintaining. Even while opposing Obama's proposals for socialistic health care (because they don't want "socialism"), they insist on perpetuating the central engine of socialism (as well as the central example of it) by having their kids go to the very schools that Marx demanded of us, and got. And on top of that, when someone proposes that their older student attend a liberal arts school that is seeking self-consciously to reestablish the old tradition, the parental (and Marxist) objection is often that "want their kid to be able to get a job." But before we think about getting a job, we need to train the next generation how to get a life.

Oh, and while you are in the culture questioning mood, have a listen to this interview with Ken Myers on the podcast Ordinary Means.

The Canons of the Synod of Dort (Part 5)

Salvation is by grace alone! The third and fourth sections of the Canons of Dort uphold and defend this glorious truth which is at the heart of our faith.

THIRD AND FOURTH HEADS OF DOCTRINE
Of the Corruption of Man, His Conversion to God, and the Manner Thereof.

Article 1. Man was originally formed after the image of God. His understanding was adorned with a true and saving knowledge of his Creator, and of spiritual things; his heart and will were upright; all his affections pure; and the whole man was holy; but revolting from God by the instigation of the devil, and abusing the freedom of his own will, he forfeited these excellent gifts; and on the contrary entailed on himself blindness of mind, horrible darkness, vanity and perverseness of judgment, became wicked, rebellious, and obdurate in heart and will, and impure in his affections.

Article 2. Man after the fall begat children in his own likeness. A corrupt stock produced a corrupt offspring. Hence all the posterity of Adam, Christ only excepted, have derived corruption from their original parent, not by imitation, as the Pelagians of old asserted, but by the propagation of a vicious nature.

Article 3. Therefore all men are conceived in sin, and by nature children of wrath, incapable of saving good, prone to evil, dead in sin, and in bondage thereto, and without the regenerating grace of the Holy Spirit, they are neither able nor willing to return to God, to reform the depravity of their nature, nor to dispose themselves to reformation.

Article 4. There remain, however, in man since the fall, the glimmerings of natural light, whereby he retains some knowledge of God, of natural things, and of the differences between good and evil, and discovers some regard for virtue, good order in society, and for maintaining an orderly external deportment. But so far is this light of nature from being sufficient to bring him to a saving knowledge of God, and to true conversion, that he is incapable of using it aright even in things natural and civil. Nay further, this light, such as it is, man in various ways renders wholly polluted, and holds it in unrighteousness, by doing which he becomes inexcusable before God.

Article 5. In the same light are we to consider the law of the decalogue, delivered by God to his peculiar people the Jews, by the hands of Moses. For though it discovers the greatness of sin, and more and more convinces man thereof, yet as it neither points out a remedy, nor imparts strength to extricate him from misery, and thus being weak through the flesh, leaves the transgressor under the curse, man cannot by this law obtain saving grace.

Article 6. What therefore neither the light of nature, nor the law could do, that God performs by the operation of the Holy Spirit through the word or ministry of reconciliation: which is the glad tidings concerning the Messiah, by means whereof, it hath pleased God to save such as believe, as well under the Old, as under the New Testament.

Article 7. This mystery of his will God discovered to but a small number under the Old Testament; under the New, (the distinction between various peoples having been removed), he reveals himself to many, without any distinction of people. The cause of this dispensation is not to be ascribed to the superior worth of one nation above another, nor to their making a better use of the light of nature, but results wholly from the sovereign good pleasure and unmerited love of God. Hence they, to whom so great and so gracious a blessing is communicated, above their desert, or rather notwithstanding their demerits, are bound to acknowledge it with humble and grateful hearts, and with the apostle to adore, not curiously to pry into the severity and justice of God's judgments displayed to others, to whom this grace is not given.

Article 8. As many as are called by the gospel, are unfeignedly called. For God hath most earnestly and truly shown in his Word, what is pleasing to him, namely, that those who are called should come to him. He, moreover, seriously promises eternal life, and rest, to as many as shall come to him, and believe on him.

Article 9. It is not the fault of the gospel, nor of Christ, offered therein, nor of God, who calls men by the gospel, and confers upon them various gifts, that those who are called by the ministry of the word, refuse to come, and be converted: the fault lies in themselves; some of whom when called, regardless of their danger, reject the word of life; others, though they receive it, suffer it not to make a lasting impression on their heart; therefore, their joy, arising only from a temporary faith, soon vanishes, and they fall away; while others choke the seed of the word by perplexing cares, and the pleasures of this world, and produce no fruit. - This our Savior teaches in the parable of the sower. Matthew 13.

Article 10. But that others who are called by the gospel, obey the call, and are converted, is not to be ascribed to the proper exercise of free will, whereby one distinguishes himself above others, equally furnished with grace sufficient for faith and conversions, as the proud heresy of Pelagius maintains; but it must be wholly ascribed to God, who as he has chosen his own from eternity in Christ, so he confers upon them faith and repentance, rescues them from the power of darkness, and translates them into the kingdom of his own Son, that they may show forth the praises of him, who hath called them out of darkness into his marvelous light; and may glory not in themselves, but in the Lord according to the testimony of the apostles in various places.

Article 11. But when God accomplishes his good pleasure in the elect, or works in them true conversion, he not only causes the gospel to be externally preached to them, and powerfully illumines their minds by his Holy Spirit, that they may rightly understand and discern the things of the Spirit of God; but by the efficacy of the same regenerating Spirit, pervades the inmost recesses of the man; he opens the closed, and softens the hardened heart, and circumcises that which was uncircumcised, infuses new qualities into the will, which though heretofore dead, he quickens; from being evil, disobedient and refractory, he renders it good, obedient, and pliable; actuates and strengthens it, that like a good tree, it may bring forth the fruits of good actions.

Article 12. And this is the regeneration so highly celebrated in Scripture, and denominated a new creation: a resurrection from the dead, a making alive, which God works in us without our aid. But this is in no wise effected merely by the external preaching of the gospel, by moral suasion, or such a mode of operation, that after God has performed his part, it still remains in the power of man to be regenerated or not, to be converted, or to continue unconverted; but it is evidently a supernatural work, most powerful, and at the same time most delightful, astonishing, mysterious, and ineffable; not inferior in efficacy to creation, or the resurrection from the dead, as the Scripture inspired by the author of this work declares; so that all in whose heart God works in this marvelous manner, are certainly, infallibly, and effectually regenerated, and do actually believe. - Whereupon the will thus renewed, is not only actuated and influenced by God, but in consequence of this influence, becomes itself active. Wherefore also, man is himself rightly said to believe and repent, by virtue of that grace received.

Article 13. The manner of this operation cannot be fully comprehended by believers in this life. Notwithstanding which, they rest satisfied with knowing and experiencing, that by this grace of God they are enabled to believe with the heart, and love their Savior.

Article 14. Faith is therefore to be considered as the gift of God, not on account of its being offered by God to man, to be accepted or rejected at his pleasure; but because it is in reality conferred, breathed, and infused into him; or even because God bestows the power or ability to believe, and then expects that man should by the exercise of his own free will, consent to the terms of that salvation, and actually believe in Christ; but because he who works in man both to will and to do, and indeed all things in all, produces both the will to believe, and the act of believing also.

Article 15. God is under no obligation to confer this grace upon any; for how can he be indebted to man, who had no precious gifts to bestow, as a foundation for such recompense? Nay, who has nothing of his own but sin and falsehood? He therefore who becomes the subject of this grace, owes eternal gratitude to God, and gives him thanks forever. Whoever is not made partaker thereof, is either altogether regardless of these spiritual gifts, and satisfied with his own condition; or is in no apprehension of danger, and vainly boasts the possession of that which he has not. With respect to those who make an external profession of faith, and live regular lives, we are bound, after the example of the apostle, to judge and speak of them in the most favorable manner. For the secret recesses of the heart are unknown to us. And as to others, who have not yet been called, it is our duty to pray for them to God, who calls the things that are not, as if they were. But we are in no wise to conduct ourselves towards them with haughtiness, as if we had made ourselves to differ.

Article 16. But as man by the fall did not cease to be a creature, endowed with understanding and will, nor did sin which pervaded the whole race of mankind, deprive him of the human nature, but brought upon him depravity and spiritual death; so also this grace of regeneration does not treat men as senseless stocks and blocks, nor take away their will and its properties, neither does violence thereto; but spiritually quickens, heals, corrects, and at the same time sweetly and powerfully bends it; that where carnal rebellion and resistance formerly prevailed, a ready and sincere spiritual obedience begins to reign; in which the true and spiritual restoration and freedom of our will consist. Wherefore unless the admirable author of every good work wrought in us, man could have no hope of recovering from his fall by his own free will, by the abuse of which, in a state of innocence, he plunged himself into ruin.

Article 17. As the almighty operation of God, whereby he prolongs and supports this our natural life, does not exclude, but requires the use of means, by which God of his infinite mercy and goodness hath chosen to exert his influence, so also the before mentioned supernatural operation of God, by which we are regenerated, in no wise excludes, or subverts the use of the gospel, which the most wise God has ordained to be the seed of regeneration, and food of the soul. Wherefore, as the apostles, and teachers who succeeded them, piously instructed the people concerning this grace of God, to his glory, and the abasement of all pride, and in the meantime, however, neglected not to keep them by the sacred precepts of the gospel in the exercise of the Word, sacraments and discipline; so even to this day, be it far from either instructors or instructed to presume to tempt God in the church by separating what he of his good pleasure hath most intimately joined together. For grace is conferred by means of admonitions; and the more readily we perform our duty, the more eminent usually is this blessing of God working in us, and the more directly is his work advanced; to whom alone all the glory both of means, and of their saving fruit and efficacy is forever due. Amen.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Perspectives on Family Ministry (Part 2)

Before I begin discussing Perspectives on Family Ministry: 3 Views, I would like to give you a little personal history. This will perhaps help you understand where I am coming from as I talk about the book. Please understand that I do not present this history as anything normative. It is simply a brief, simplified overview of what led me to think about these issues.

I, as most “churched” American youth do, grew up in the standard church youth ministries. I participated in junior church, AWANA, Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, and Christian camping (most notably at Northland Camp) while a member of Grace Baptist Church in Owatonna, MN. My father was a student at Pillsbury Baptist Bible College at the time, and many of the college students were my teachers. The youth ministry of Grace Baptist was led at the time by an exceptional administrator and kind-hearted pastor, Chuck Phelps, who has since served as a senior pastor Trinity Baptist Church in New Hampshire, as president of Maranatha Baptist Bible College, and is now senior pastor of Colonial Hills Baptist Church in Indianapolis, IN.

By the time I entered my junior high and high school years, my family had returned to my native Colorado, and I continued in the standard teenage discipleship ministries, though at this time in much smaller churches. Besides the regular fare of Sunday School, youth group meetings, and outreach activities, we attended big events like youth rallies every year. My parents also sacrificed greatly so that I could attend Faith Baptist School in Longmont, CO, where I was blessed by a wonderfully dedicated faculty. Several of my teachers I regard as great spiritual examples to this day. Later, I completed my high school education at Ordway Baptist Christian School.

I went off to college with a desire to serve the Lord as a pastor, and my training at Northland Baptist Bible College (now Northland International University) reinforced everything I had ever known about youth ministry. The school offered a major for those who wanted to become youth pastors, and the closely connected camping ministry kept youth ministry front and center on the campus. Pastoral ministry majors, such as myself, were trained with the expectation that age-segregated ministry models would be part and parcel of our outreach and discipleship efforts. In short, my entire Christian experience up to my young adulthood was wrapped up in standard American-style youth ministry. I did not know that there was anything else.

Yet, surprisingly, it was during the last two years of college that fundamental questions began to form in my mind regarding ministry in general, including youth ministry. These questions were prompted by serious theological questions that I started to wrestle with as I studied the Scriptures. I had always been taught, and thankfully so, to study the Word of God constantly, and I did it with a right good will. Through this study, I began to think quite a bit about salvation and sanctification. I began to wonder how the ministry models in which I had grown up fit with what I was learning from Scripture. I didn’t have any answers at the time, but I was questioning.

Three experiences in particular spurred my questions to a full gallop. The first was the privilege I had of participating on a youth evangelism team for a year and a half. The team, known as the Watchmen, was the brainchild of my fellow student, Jason Janz, now the lead pastor of Providence Bible Church in Denver. He gathered a couple other earnest and talented young men, Will Galkin (now a nationally-known itinerant preacher) and Bobby DeAngelo to start the team. Somehow I ended up on the team, although I fear that I dragged down the quality level Jason wanted! Over time, a couple other great guys participated on the team, too – Justin Weberg and Ethan LaVigne. Together, we traveled thousands of miles to churches in places ranging from New York to Virginia to Idaho, holding youth rallies. We planned and prayed and preached with fervent abandon! We wanted teenagers to be saved! We wanted teenagers to dedicate their lives to the Lord! We had a lot to learn, but we weren’t going to let that stop us from serving the Lord. It was an exciting time. Nevertheless, the end results of our efforts were sobering to me. From the little feedback we received, I seriously questioned whether the Great Commission was being accomplished. I was left wondering, “What is the eternal value of what we have just done?”

A second experience was my marriage, or, more accurately, a relationship brought about by my marriage. As you all know, when you get married you also acquire in-laws, and in my case that has been a great spiritual blessing. (I say that in case my in-laws read this!) My father-in-law, Dick Barber, was converted as an adult, and ever since his conversion he has been a voracious student of the Scriptures. Since his background was not in “conservative” Christian circles, when he entered into the realm of “conservative” Christianity he questioned many of the practices he found. His perspective enabled him to see that many church practices have a rather tenuous connection to the Scriptures. My observations of him and my discussions with him forced me to ask new questions and seek new answers from the Word.

The third experience which set my mind a-questioning was my first ministry after college. I had the great honor of being invited back to my home church to serve as an assistant pastor, and part of my responsibility included working with the teenagers. This obviously forced me to think more specifically and strategically about how to produce mature disciples of Jesus Christ. By this time I was convinced of the necessity of reaching and teaching parents in order to see teenagers become mature followers of Christ, so we ended up with what would be called “family-based ministry,” according to the label given in the book. But throughout my nearly three years in this position, I kept asking, “How is what we are doing producing disciples of Jesus Christ?” I wasn’t seeing young people who were radically shaped by the Scriptures. I was learning more and more how much I thought more like an American than like a Christian, and I was starting to come to some conclusions that startled me.

Consequently, I set off to seminary wanting to have my ideas refined and tested through deeper study. I was not disappointed. My superb professors helped me improve greatly in handling the Word skillfully and accurately. I also gained a great deal of perspective on the relative importance of various issues. I hope that I gained a much greater humility through recognizing how much I do not know. Yet I also deepened my belief in the absolute sufficiency of God’s Word to direct us in accomplishing God’s work. That belief continues to be my North Star in the practical questions of ministry.

Since the time that we founded High Country Baptist Church, I have continued the drive to direct all of life according to the Word of God. Besides my personal study in the Word, I have read between two and four hundred books every year, listened to scores of lectures from leading scholars all over the world, and discussed these issues with friends and pastors so that I will have a well-rounded perspective. I then try to take everything I have learned and see it from God’s revealed perspective, thinking God’s thoughts after him. I want to know God and to make him known. I don’t want to serve an idol of my own invention, nor do I want to present to the world a caricature of my God. I want Jesus Christ to be exalted greatly as men and women are conformed to his image. I want the life-giving weightiness of the saving Lord to be impressed upon us at every point!

It is in that spirit, then, that I take up the discussion of Perspectives on Family Ministry. May the Lord use even this discussion to produce in us the mindset which was also in Christ Jesus, exemplified by the apostle Paul when he said “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Then we will be able to “let our manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ…standing firm in one Spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.”

Why I Love Jesus Christ

I love Jesus Christ because he is the perfect man.

He fulfills everything that mankind was created to be (cf. Gen 1:26; Psa 8; Heb 2:5-8).

Suffering for Righteousness Sake

Last week we uncovered what the Scripture says about inheriting God's blessing. This Lord's Day we we will learn that suffering is not incompatible with receiving that blessing. If we do what is good, and still suffer for it, we will be blessed.

Songs
I Sing the Mighty Power of God (#19)
Though Troubles Assail (#45)
God Moves in a Mysterious Way (#56)
How Firm a Foundation (#610)
Our Great Savior (#434)
O Thou in Whose Presence (#451)

Scripture Reading
Isaiah 8

Sermon
Suffering for Righteousness Sake - 1 Peter 3:13-17

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Canons of the Synod of Dort (Part 4)

After each major point of doctrine, in order to make the point more clear and firm, the synod specifically rejected certain errors. Here are the errors they rejected concerning the death of Christ and man's redemption.

The true doctrine having been explained, the Synod rejects the errors of those:

I. Who teach: That God the Father has ordained his Son to the death of the cross without a certain and definite decree to save any, so that the necessity, profitableness and worth of what Christ merited by his death might have existed, and might remain in all its parts complete, perfect and intact, even if the merited redemption had never in fact been applied to any person. For this doctrine tends to the despising of the wisdom of the Father and of the merits of Jesus Christ, and is contrary to Scripture. For thus saith our Savior: "I lay down my life for the sheep, and I know them," John 10:15,27. And the prophet Isaiah saith concerning the Savior: "When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of Jehovah shall prosper in his hand," Isaiah 53:10. Finally, this contradicts the article of faith according to which we believe the catholic Christian church.

II. Who teach: That it was not the purpose of the death of Christ that he should confirm the new covenant of grace through his blood, but only that he should acquire for the Father the mere right to establish with man such a covenant as he might please, whether of grace or of works. For this is repugnant to Scripture which teaches that Christ has become the Surety and Mediator of a better, that is, the new covenant, and that a testament is of force where death has occurred. Hebrews 7:22; 9:15,17.

III. Who teach: That Christ by his satisfaction merited neither salvation itself for anyone, nor faith, whereby this satisfaction of Christ unto salvation is effectually appropriated; but that he merited for the Father only the authority or the perfect will to deal again with man, and to prescribe new conditions as he might desire, obedience to which, however, depended on the free will of man, so that it therefore might have come to pass that either none or all should fulfill these conditions. For these adjudge too contemptuously of the death of Christ, do in no wise acknowledge the most important fruit or benefit thereby gained, and bring again out of hell the Pelagian error.

IV. Who teach: That the new covenant of grace, which God the Father through the mediation of the death of Christ, made with man, does not herein consist that we by faith, in as much as it accepts the merits of Christ, are justified before God and saved, but in the fact that God having revoked the demand of perfect obedience of the law, regards faith itself and the obedience of faith, although imperfect, as the perfect obedience of the law, and does esteem it worthy of the reward of eternal life through grace. For these contradict the Scriptures: "Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood," Romans 3:24,25. And these proclaim, as did the wicked Socinus, a new and strange justification of man before God, against the consensus of the whole church.

V. Who teach: That all men have been accepted unto the state of reconciliation and unto the grace of the covenant, so that no one is worthy of condemnation on account of original sin, and that no one shall be condemned because of it, but that all are free from the guilt of original sin. For this opinion is repugnant to Scripture which teaches that we are by nature children of wrath. Ephesians 2:3.

VI. Who use the difference between meriting and appropriating, to the end that they may instill into the minds of the imprudent and inexperienced this teaching that God, as far as he is concerned, has been minded of applying to all equally the benefits gained by the death of Christ; but that, while some obtain the pardon of sin and eternal life, and others do not, this difference depends on their own free will, which joins itself to the grace that is offered without exception, and that it is not dependent on the special gift of mercy, which powerfully works in them, that they rather than others should appropriate unto themselves this grace. For these, while they feign that they present this distinction, in a sound sense, seek to instill into the people the destructive poison of the Pelagian errors.

VII. Who teach: That Christ neither could die, needed to die, nor did die for those whom God loved in the highest degree and elected to eternal life, and did not die for these, since these do not need the death of Christ. For they contradict the Apostle, who declares: "Christ loved me, and gave himself for me," Galatians 2:20. Likewise: "Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth; who is he that condemneth? It is Christ Jesus that died," Romans 8:33,34, namely, for them; and the Savior who says: "I lay down my life for the sheep," John 10:15. And: "This is my commandment, that ye love one another, even as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends," John 15:12,13.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Welcome to the Table

by William Cowper

This is the feast of heavenly wine,
And God invites to sup;
The juices of the living vine
Were pressed to fill the cup.

Oh! bless the Saviour, ye that eat,
With royal dainties fed;
Not heaven affords a costlier treat,
For Jesus is the bread.

The vile, the lost, he calls to them,
Ye trembling souls, appear!
The righteous in their own esteem
Have no acceptance here.

Approach, ye poor, nor dare refuse
The banquet spread for you;
Dear Saviour, this is welcome news,
Then I may venture too.

If guilt and sin afford a plea,
And may obtain a place,
Surely the Lord will welcome me,
And I shall see his face.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Perspectives on Family Ministry

On Monday I received in the mail a new book entitled Perspectives on Family Ministry: 3 Views. I ordered the book because it deals with a topic that is important to us as a church. We are rather unusual (that's a nice way to avoid saying "weird") among churches in Colorado Springs in that we do not have a youth pastor or a junior church or many of the other typical accouterments of youth ministry today. Many Christians look at us and say, "What is going on here?" Now that I have read this book, I've decided to blog through it in its entirety, in part to help to answer that very question.


I have another reason for blogging through the book. It is often helpful to engage with the best and most thoughtful proponents of other views in order to be sharpened biblically. It would be terribly damaging for me or for our church to simply stick our collective head in the sand on this issue, assuming that we are unquestionably right! In doing so, I would betray a less than biblical attitude already. My desire is that we would never think of ourselves as a good church just because "we don't compromise with youth culture" or something like that. I want us to pursue after Christ, filled with his love for others and in faithfulness to his Word. Having our practices challenged a bit can be good for us to help reveal whether we are more interested in our way of doing things or our walk with God.


Today I simply want to introduce the book. Next week, perhaps, I will share a bit of personal history that led me to think about the issues raised and debated in this book. After that, I will attempt to interact with the three models of ministry presented.



The book is edited by Timothy Paul Jones, who also wrote the first part of the book, introducing the issues and discussing the current state of youth ministry. I would like to state up front my appreciation to Dr. Jones for spearheading this project and advancing the discussion with this useful book. You can find some good information about his work at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary at the website Family Ministry Today. They teach and promote "family-equipping ministry," which I will discuss later.



The second part of the book consists of chapters written by proponents of three different models of ministering to families, followed by responses from the other contributors. The first model presented and critiqued is called "family-integrated ministry." Pastor Paul Renfro of Grace Family Baptist Church near Houston, TX champions this approach. GFBC is probably best known through the ministry of Voddie Baucham, most recently author of What He Must Be...If He Wants to Marry My Daughter.


Pastor Brandon Shields makes the case for "family-based ministry." He is the high school pastor at Highview Baptist Church, a multisite megachurch with seven campuses in the Louisville, KY area.


The final view explained and defended is "family-equipping ministry." This is ably presented by Jay Strother, pastor of emerging generations at Brentwood Baptist Church near Nashville, TN.

All of these men hold to the authority of the Scriptures, and each one believes his view to be biblical. So why the difference of opinion? Why the competing viewpoints? The answer to that question is one of the things I hope to address as we work through the book. I'm looking forward to this exercise, and I hope you find it profitable, too.

Why I Love Jesus Christ

I love Jesus Christ because he is the perfect Savior both in his exaltation and in his identification with us (Heb 1-2).

There simply is no other one so exactly suited to provide such a great salvation!

Inheriting a Blessing

Love toward those within and blessing toward those without - this is what God has called the community of Christians to express. It is a selfless and sacrificial calling. But in the end it results in an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, the blessing of God.

Songs
We Gather Together (#709)
Come, Let Us with Our Lord Arise (#25)
Great Is Thy Faithfulness (#22)
Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness (#400)
May the Mind of Christ My Savior (#476)

Scripture Reading
Psalm 34

Sermon
Inheriting a Blessing - 1 Peter 3:8-12

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The Canons of the Synod of Dort (Part 3)

Second Head of Doctrine

Of the Death of Christ, and the Redemption of Men thereby.

Article I
God is not only supremely merciful, but also supremely just. And his justice requires (as he hath revealed himself in his Word) that our sins committed against his infinite majesty should be punished, not only with temporal, but with eternal punishments, both in body and soul; which we can not escape, unless satisfaction be made to the justice of God.

Article II
Since, therefore, we are unable to make that satisfaction in our own person, or to deliver ourselves from the wrath of God, he has been pleased of his infinite mercy to give his only-begotten Son for our surety, who was made sin, and became a curse for us and in our stead, that he might make satisfaction to divine justice on our behalf.

Article III
The death of the Son of God is the only and most perfect sacrifice and satisfaction for sin; is of infinite worth and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world.

Article IV
This death derives its infinite value and dignity from these considerations; because the person who submitted to it was not only really man and perfectly holy, but also the only-begotten Son of God, of the same eternal and infinite essence with the Father and Holy Spirit, which qualifications were necessary to constitute him a Savior for us; and because it was attended with a sense of the wrath and curse of God due to us for sin.

Article V
Moreover the promise of the gospel is, that whosoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish,but have everlasting life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of his good pleasure sends the gospel.

Article VI
And, whereas many who are called by the gospel do not repent nor believe in Christ, but perish in unbelief; this is not owing to any defect or insufficiency in the sacrifice offered by Christ upon the cross, but is wholly to be imputed to themselves.

Article VII
But as any as truly believe, and are delivered and saved from sin and destruction through the death of Christ, are indebted for this benefit solely to the grace of God given them in Christ from everlasting, and not to any merit of their own.

Article VIII
For this was the sovereign counsel and most gracious will and purpose of God the Father, that the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of his Son should extend to all the elect, for bestowing upon them alone the gift of justifying faith, thereby to bring them infallibly to salvation: that is, it was the will of God, that Christ by the blood of the cross, whereby he confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and language, all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation, and given to him by the Father; that he should confer upon them faith, which, together with all the other saving gifts of the Holy Spirit, he purchased for them by his death; should purge them from all sin, both original and actual, whether committed before or after believing; and having faithfully preserved them even to the end, should at last bring them free from every spot and blemish to the enjoyment of glory in his own presence forever.

Article XI
This purpose proceeding from everlasting love towards the elect, has, from the beginning of the world to this day, been powerfully accomplished, and will, henceforward, still continue to be accomplished, notwithstanding all the ineffectual opposition of the gates of hell; so that the elect in due time may be gathered together into one, and that there never may be wanting a Church composed of believers, the foundation of which is laid in the blood of Christ, which may steadfastly love and faithfully serve him as their Savior, who, as a bridegroom for his bride, laid down his life for them upon the cross; and which may celebrate his praises here and through all eternity.

The articles are fairly self-explanatory, but I would like to make two comments.

Notice in Article 5 that the promise of the gospel ought to be declared to everyone "promiscuously and without distinction." "Calvinism" does not take away the urgency of gospel preaching, as has so often been slanderously asserted. Biblical Calvinists (as opposed to hyper-calvinists) strive to take the gospel to everyone in the whole world.

Next, take to heart what Article 9 says about the source and the goal of redemption. It comes from the love of God, and it leads to the worship of God. If your heart is captured by the love of God and the worship of God, then you will see that "Calvinism" is not dry speculation about abstract theological systems. It is ultimately about worshiping the Lord in the splendor of holiness.