Friday, February 25, 2011

Right in Front of Your Eyes

A couple days ago I attempted to mail a package overseas. Unfortunately, I did not see the customs declaration form which was with the package, so when I got to the post office I was not able to mail the package. My wife later informed me that the form was right in front of my eyes. I missed it. Somehow, our minds can filter what we see so that we don't even see what is truly there.

Spiritually, the same kind of thing can happen, except for a much deeper reason. Jesus performed many works which God the Father sent him to do, yet many people who saw those works were blind to their true significance. Join us this Lord's Day as we look to see the meaning of the works that Jesus did. It is right in front of your eyes.

Songs
Ye Servants of God (#44)
Doxology
What Think Ye of Christ (#363)
I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say
To God Be the Glory (#16)

Scripture Reading
Old Testament: Genesis 30; Psalm 125
New Testament: Matthew 19:16-30

Sermon
Right in Front of Your Eyes - John 10:22-42

Thursday, February 24, 2011

How Not to Call Children to Follow Christ

Here is a specific example of the error I discussed in the post "True Faith vs. Temporary Faith."



You can also check out this example, this time directed at adults.

Hopefully this brings more clarity to what the gospel is and what the gospel is not.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Sacrifice, Security, Love and Authority


Jesus teaches us that there is a special, effectual relationship between Jesus and his sheep. This is a relationship that death itself cannot sever, for the love and the authority of God Almighty makes this relationship absolutely sure and secure through Christ's sacrifice. As we meet this Lord's Day, I hope you will delight in the special, effectual relationship that Jesus secures with his sheep, for it is the only relationship that gives you eternal life. If you have confidence in this special, effectual relationship, then it will lead you to be wholly committed to this relationship. See you at church!
Songs
Holy, Holy, Holy (#3)
Doxology
Rejoice, Believe, in the Lord (#627)
A Debtor to Mercy Alone (#614)
Trust and Obey (#525)

Scripture Reading
Old Testament: Genesis 29; Psalm 96
New Testament: Matthew 19:1-15

Sermon
The Good Shepherd's Special, Effective Relationship with His Sheep - John 10:14-18

Friday, February 18, 2011

We Need More Real Men

Real men protect women. They don't fight them.

I don't comment a lot on social happenings, but the recent buzz about Joel Northrup refusing to wrestle a girl caught my attention. Coming from a family of wrestlers, I've got an affection for the sport. I'm glad he had the courage to do what was right. He could have gone to the mat and pinned her in 30 seconds flat, but that would have cheapened both his manhood and her womanhood. Kudos to him for making the manly move. He did something that was far more important than winning a state title.

True Faith vs. Temporary Faith

The following is roughly a transcript of a sermon preached on January 16 of this year. Due to technical difficulties, the sermon was not recorded. In the hopes that this may be helpful to many, a transcript is provided here.


I Am the Light of the World:
True Faith vs. Temporary Faith
John 8:30-59

I believe this is an extremely important sermon, for I want to confront head-on what I believe may well be one of the most destructive false ideas in your life. American Christians are often so worried about what laws the government is enacting or what junk Hollywood is producing that we don’t even see that one of the most destructive ideas attacking us is not coming from outside but from inside of professing Christianity. I believe understanding this false idea is one of the keys that unlocks the reasoning behind the way we typically conceive of our relationship with God in our day. It helps to explain why we think that baptism is not part of conversion, why praying a prayer gives us assurance of salvation, why church membership is optional for the Christian life, why pursuing holiness of life has little to do with our salvation, why going to a Christian camp means more to our walk with God than partaking of the Lord’s Supper, or why revival meetings are the way to save America.

Temporary Faith

That false idea has to do with faith. What is faith? What it its real character? If you answer that question incorrectly, it can have devastating consequences. We all know that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, so faith is pretty central to the gospel, isn’t it? If we go wrong here, it will impact everything else about our lives, just as an airplane that flies one degree off course will end up far from its intended destination. Today I want to talk about true faith vs. temporary faith. You absolutely must learn to distinguish between the two.

The difference comes out clearly in our text today – John 8:30-59. When Jesus declared himself to be the light f the world at the Feast of Booths, the Pharisees rejected him, but many others believed in him (8:30). So Jesus went on to address those who apparently believed his message. He told them that they must remain in his teaching, and then they would be free (31-32). The would-be believers responded by questioning the implication that they were not free. They appealed to the fact that they were descendants of Abraham to prove that they were free (33). Jesus clarified that the one who sins is a slave to sin; therefore, since they were slaves, they did not have a place in the household of God. The Son (always used of Jesus in John’s Gospel) is the one who can make them free (34-36). Jesus then went on to prove that though they were the physical descendants of Abraham, they had an entirely different father than Jesus (37-38). As Jesus unrelentingly pressed this point home on them through the last two sections of the chapter (vv. 39-47 and 48-59), their astonishment and anger boiled over. Incredibly, those who believed in Jesus just moments before were now ready to stone him. It is abundantly evident that their faith was not a true faith; it was a temporary faith.

This is a theme that has been building throughout the Gospel of John up to this point (cf. 2:23-25; 6:60-66). From this Scripture then we learn this crucial lesson: Faith is not a decision as much as it is a disposition of the heart. It is not the decision of a moment; it is the disposition of the heart. Faith is a living, active trusting in Christ. It is a sure and settled knowledge of Christ that unites us to him. Real faith flows out in love and obedience to Christ.

In the Gospel of John, we learn both the content and the character of genuine faith. The content of true faith is centered in Jesus. He is the Christ, the Son of God. But not only is there right content to genuine faith, there is also right character. The character of true faith is living and active. In the Gospel of John we find that “Faith receives, obeys, drinks, hears, comes, beholds, eats, abides, goes, knows, sees, follows, enters, hates, loves, and more” (Schreiner, New Testament Theology, 560). In our text Jesus emphasizes the abiding character of true faith. This means that those who are truly Jesus’ disciples continue in his teaching. They obey his commands. They hear what he says and they follow where he leads. Jesus emphasizes this even more in John 15. There he teaches that “those who do not continue to abide will be destroyed forever because they will be severed from the vine (John 15:6)” (Schreiner, 564).

That leads us to contrast the character of true faith with temporary faith. Temporary faith can be called faith because it responds to the same content as genuine faith. It can also be called faith because it initially appears to have the same characteristics as true faith. A person hears the preaching of the truth of Christ and is moved, intellectually or emotionally, to accept it as true and to make some kind of a commitment to Christ. However, looking at our text, we can see where the flaws begin to show up. (1) Temporary faith does not remain; hence (2) it does not continue in Christ’s word; (3) it continues in bondage to sin; (4) it does not hear the words of God; (5) it does not know Christ for who he truly is.

In order to make the character of temporary faith clear, let me show you a couple other biblical examples. The first one is a man named Simon, who was a magician (Acts 8:9-24). That is to say, he was a magician until Philip came and preached the good news of the kingdom of God. The Scripture tells us that he believed and was baptized and publicly continued with Philip. It is pretty hard to believe that this was some kind of insincere profession of faith. Simon was truly amazed by the signs and miracles, and he wanted to identify with Christ. Nevertheless, when Simon offered the apostles money in order to get their miracle-working power, it became evident that Simon did not possess the truth. He was not a genuine believer, even though he was a man who thought that he was a believer. “…He still manifested the signs of his old unregenerate nature. The poisonous root of superstitious self-seeking had not been eradicated from his heart…” (F. F. Bruce, Acts, 171).

Another powerful example of this kind of faith was given by Jesus when he told the “Parable of the Sower” (Matt 13:1-9; 18-23). Notice that that the second two types of soil, which represent heart responses to the message of the kingdom, understand and receive the word. Christ specifically states that person represented by the rocky soil received the word with joy. There was an immediate and full-fledged embrace of the truth. Yet he has no root in himself, and it becomes evident with the passing of time and the trials that it brings that he is not the genuine article. Remember, faith is not the decision of a moment but the disposition of the heart.


Promoting Temporary Faith Today

Now that we have seen the clear biblical distinction between true faith and temporary faith, I want to show you how we often promote temporary faith today.

First, we promote temporary faith in our presentation of the gospel. Here I want to use the example of Evangelism Explosion. I use this example because it is one of the better widely taught evangelistic methods in the U.S. in the past 40 years. They clearly recognize that faith is not merely mental assent but is trusting in Christ alone for our salvation. That is excellent. But they fail to deal with the very real and very common phenomenon of temporary faith, and so they leave the real impression that trusting in Christ is the decision of a moment. This faulty view is expressed in three ways.
1.      They assume that you can know if someone is truly trusting in Christ or in self simply by asking questions and getting answers (Evangelism Explosion, chap. 6).* In other words, they fail to account for the fact that no human being knows his own heart fully. We can and do deceive ourselves. We may possess the correct truth content of faith and yet not have genuine faith. This is revealed more by our living response to Jesus than by our answers to questions.
2.      They seek a commitment from the one to whom they are witnessing by carefully leading him through a prayer. They make this statement, “Many commitments have been lost at this point because of the way prospects were asked to pray” (Evangelism Explosion, 99). I respond that this is categorically and emphatically false, and without any biblical support. True faith will not be thwarted simply by an awkward or inept presentation. To imply that it will is to turn the gospel presentation into a sales pitch aimed at getting an immediate decision.
3.      But the most glaring point at which they communicate that faith is the decision of the moment is when they deal with assurance of salvation. Here are the exact words they teach people to use when witnessing.
 Now, Rene, you just told Christ in your prayer that you trust Him alone for your salvation. As best you know your heart, Rene, did you really mean that?

Yes.

Well, Rene, do you believe that Jesus Christ meant what he said in this promise you just read [i.e. John 6:47]?

I do.

Then let me ask you this question: If you died tonight in your sleep – and you just might – where would you wake up?

In heaven.

Who said so?

Jesus Christ.

Rene, now if you were to meet God at heaven’s gate and He were to ask you “Why should I let you into My heaven?” what would you say?

I’d say, I’m trusting in Jesus Christ as my Savior.

(Reaching over and shaking her hand…) If you really meant in your heart what you just said in that prayer, then you have the promise of Jesus Christ that your sins are forgiven….(The “if” clause is inserted here in order not to give the person a false assurance. We are saved by trusting in Jesus Christ, not by saying that we trust in Jesus Christ.) (Evangelism Explosion, 100-101).
The last parenthesis quoted is clearly attempting to erect a barricade against a false idea of faith, yet it is a flimsy wall because of what has just been said: “If you really meant in your heart what you just said in that prayer.” Really meaning it in your heart is not a biblical description of true faith. I’m sure that Simon “really meant it” when he believed and was baptized, but his life demonstrated that he was still in the bondage of sin (Acts 8:20-23). Those who are like the rocky soil in Christ’s parable receive the Word with joy! There is no insincerity in their profession of faith. But, as it turns out, they didn’t have true faith. The decision of a moment may be entirely sincere, but this is not the biblical measure of genuine faith. Thus, perhaps even unwittingly, Evangelism Explosion is promoting an inadequate understanding of faith.

Second, we promote temporary faith by pop culture Christianity. When we tie Christianity, that is, following Christ, to the consumerist fads of the moment, we actually encourage a temporary faith. We live in a society that has been perfecting the art of tying Christianity to whatever makes it mass marketable. But this shallow, sentimental kind of attachment to Christ does not constitute true faith. I came across an excellent example of this last week. Russell Moore says about country music:
Roots music, after all, is remarkably honest about things commercial music often doesn’t want to talk about: despair, loneliness, heartache, sin, redemption, sowing what one reaps. [I would disagree with this statement. I don’t know of any kind of music which refuses to talk about these things. Furthermore, commercial music uses exactly these themes, among others, to market itself. JDP] And in so doing, this music often unveils what it looks like to be, in Flannery O’Connor’s words, “Christ-haunted.” Often, in this music, there’s a Christian subtext but no Christianity. There’s some kind of redemption but no crucifixion. There’s grace, and grace abounding, but often grace that sin may abound.

This is how Willie Nelson can end a concert by moving, without comment, from crooning “Whiskey River, Take My Mind” to softly singing “Amazing Grace.” The point isn’t that Willie does this. It’s that he knows stadiums full of concert-goers want him too.

In the music of the Bible Belt, we can hear something of what it means to be simultaneously the Publican and the Pharisee. It’s a religious identity, indeed a “Christian” identity, with a tortured conscience. That’s an awfully heartsick place to be. (http://www.russellmoore.com/2011/01/14/introducing-the-cross-and-the-jukebox/)

If your faith is a “Jesus Take the Wheel” kind of faith, then you had better examine yourself carefully. If your faith is a “Veggie Tales” kind of faith, then you had better fear. Let me get even more controversial. If your faith is a Casting Crowns rock concert kind of faith (or Bill Gaither vocal band or so on and so forth), then you have been warned. If your faith is a revival meeting kind of faith, be very careful. If your faith is a camp fire kind of faith, you need to tremble. If wearing a “Jesus Rocks” t-shirt makes you feel like a bold witness, but you don’t have a clue about why some people ought to be welcomed and others excluded from the Lord’s table, then you don’t know much about real faith and the way it works.

This is why I am so dead set against sentimental and shallow expressions of faith devoid of substantive truth and staying power. This is why I do not like pop culture expressions of Christianity. They lull hearts to sleep and inoculate them against true conviction of sin, true repentance, and true faith. Remember, faith is not the decision of the moment but the disposition of the heart. A faith that only gives you sentimental attachments to Jesus is not the same thing as a faith that follows him against the world, the flesh, and the devil.

There are other ways in which we promote a temporary faith, such as by a Christianity that strives to be intellectually acceptable to the world. But for time’s sake we will have to stop now.

When the Gospel of John says that these things were written so that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, he is talking about true faith, not temporary faith. What kind of faith do you have?

_______

*All citations are from D. James Kennedy, Evangelism Explosion: Equipping Churches for Friendship, Evangelism, Discipleship, and Healthy Growth. 4th edition. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 1996.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Utopians Wielding Stats

Have you heard that Christians in America get divorced at the same rate as non-Christians?

Don't believe it. It is not true.

While we do have our fair share of problems, we don't need to create a crisis mentality based upon faulty use of statistics. I know that I have committed this error. I'm slowly learning, I trust, to be more careful. Whenever you hear or read a statistic without context, it is virtually meaningless. Take it with a grain of salt, especially if whoever is using it is saying, "We have to fix this NOW!"

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Feeling of Conservatism

Several years ago I discovered the philosopher Roger Scruton, and he has been an intellectual dialogue partner ever since. On Saturday I devoured his most recent book The Uses of Pessimism. Now, Albert Mohler has put online a discussion with Dr. Scruton which, in light of a recent discussion on this blog, is quite helpful for those who wish to understand what conservative thinking looks and feels like. I commend it to you.

...Essentially, the conservative is the person who is looking out for what he loves and seeking to protect it....That's why the family is so important in conservative thinking, that's why religion is so important, that's why custom, tradition, ceremony...the peaceful things which attach people to life and which are always threatened by our agitated desire to improve things. Roger Scruton

Listen to the whole thing here.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Thieves and Robbers

Jesus is the good shepherd who gives life to his sheep. But there are many false shepherds that you may be tempted to trust in for life. Join us this Lord's Day to see the clear distinction between the Good Shepherd and thieves and robbers.

Songs
Praise the Savior (#17)
Doxology
O Thou in Whose Presence (#451)
Jesus Loves Me (#719)
Jesus, in His Heavenly Glory (#170)

Scripture Reading
Old Testament: Genesis 28; Psalm 80
New Testament: Matthew 18:21-35

Sermon
I Am the Good Shepherd: The Good Shepherd vs. Thieves and Robbers - John 10:1-21

Thursday, February 10, 2011

True Worship or Just Smashing Idols?

I've been dipping into Herbert Schlossberg's book Idols for Destruction lately, and it prompted these thoughts.

It seems that much of professing Christianity these days is constitutionally incapable of recognizing idolatry, even when it is shaking our hands and introducing itself. Those of us of a conservative bent, like myself, can tend to get very frustrated about this and, in full prophetic mode, thunder against those sniveling, sentimental "Christians" who think they can love Jesus "in their hearts" while bowing down in the idol's temple. Such judgment is necessary, but it seems to me that we face a particular temptation just at this point.

Smashing an idol is not necessarily the same thing as true worship. In fact, it can be an example of one idolatry smashing and replacing a different idolatry. A mob of peasants running around demolishing idolatrous church statuary is not overcoming evil with good. When I get sick over the idolatry oozing out of the Super Bowl, I am not thereby proving myself to be God-fearing man. I may, in fact, be a very self-righteous man, which is just as grotesque an idol as man ever devised.

I think one way we show whether we are merely idol-smashers or true worshipers is by being able to receive and gratefully rejoice in God's good gifts. The only thing an idol-smasher can see is idols. Everywhere he looks he is provoked with righteous indignation, and the hammer begins to swing. But being devoid of gratitude, he fails to see that the things that have been turned into idols are actually the gifts of God. Men have perverted them, no doubt, but men didn't create them out of nothing. When an idol-smasher has done his work, he has not destroyed idolatry. Rather, he has destroyed humanity with a terrifying idolatry.

The answer is not to destroy humanity but to reverse the worship. In order to deal with sin, God did not destroy mankind. He became a man and took on himself the penalty for sin. Idolatry is worshiping and serving the creature rather than the Creator. True worship is worshiping the Creator and not the creature. And a necessary ingredient in that worship is gratefully receiving all of the good gifts that the Creator lavishly bestows on his poor creatures.

So, when the Super Bowl makes me want to puke because it embodies all the carnal desires of a sin-sick world, I have to ask myself if I can enjoy getting out a playing a good ol' game of hard-nosed football. Can I unreservedly rejoice in my friend's son's good season last fall, or do I have to make sure he knows that he is tiptoeing down the sideline toward the end-zone of idolatry? If it is the latter, then it is likely that I am losing the sense of gratitude that fills the heart of a true worshiper.

It is no accident that our resurrection life in Christ has so much to do with thanksgiving (Col 3:1-4; 15-17) or that grace is so closely related to gratitude. I want to show the world true worship, which, while it will include fearlessly removing the high places and cutting down the Asherah, will be filled with a joyful and humble delight in all of the Lord's good gifts.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Loving the Church and Loving the Lost Go Hand in Hand

I often say that the gospel and the church exist in a symbiotic relationship. Where the gospel is weak, the church will be weak. Where the church is weak, the gospel will be weak. If we love others and want them to enjoy the blessings of knowing Christ, then we must love the church Christ died to save. So, when I came across these "16 Ways to Demonstrate Love and Unity in the Church," I had to share them. These are from J. Mack Stiles' book Marks of the Messenger as posted by Andy Naselli.

  1. Attend a church that takes the gospel seriously (Hebrews 10:25). . . .
  2. Become an actual member of a church. I’m serious; membership shows your loving commitment to one another. . . . And just think, the less cool the church the more opportunity to demonstrate real love!
  3. Read C. J. Mahaney’s book Humility once a year. . . . Mahaney gives us practical tools for demonstrating love and unity in the context of community.
  4. Turn down jobs that might take you away from church even if they pay more.
  5. Arrange family vacations around your church’s schedule. Or better yet, take your family on a short-term mission trip with other members instead of a family vacation. This will blow people’s minds.
  6. If your church doesn’t have a church covenant, think about developing one that expresses your love for each other.
  7. Move to a house closer to the church [building] and use your house as a place of hospitality (Romans 12:13).
  8. Practice church discipline. . . .
  9. Respect, even revere, the authority in the church (1 Thessalonians 5:12–13).
  10. Turn heads—really practice the biblical teachings of giving and receiving forgiveness. . . .
  11. Take care of people who are in need physically in your congregation (Romans 12:13).
  12. Pray for each other (Ephesians 6:18). Don’t just say you’ll pray. Actually put into place some ways to pray for each and every member.
  13. Sympathize with other believers (Romans 12:15). Check a critical spirit.
  14. Focus on caring for one another spiritually by discipling one another (Galatians 6:1–2). . . .
  15. Share your faith together (Philippians 1:27). . . .
  16. Read Mark Dever’s 9 Marks of a Healthy Church.
. . . [T]his kind of radical love leads to radical evangelism.
To be a healthy evangelist means to love brothers and sisters.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Missions and Music

With all the talk these days about culture, being missional, contextualization, and multiculturalism, it is refreshing to see someone who is investing serious thought about how we work out what the Word of God has to say. If you have questions about these issues, take some time to read this series of articles on "Missions and Music" at Religious Affections Ministries website. It will be worth your time.

Friday, February 04, 2011

The Good Shepherd

We are sheep - not a very flattering title, but an apt one. We need a shepherd, and there is one shepherd who can give us life abundantly. He, in fact, laid down his life that his sheep might have life. His name is Jesus, and we will listen to his voice this Lord's Day. Join us!

Songs
O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing (#69)
Doxology
From Depths of Woe (#337)
Psalm 23b
All the Way My Savior Leads Me (#494)

Scripture Reading
Old Testament: Genesis 27; Psalm 28
New Testament: Matthew 18:1-20

Sermon
I Am the Good Shepherd - John 10:1-21