Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Some Reflections on Worship

Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!" (Rev 5:11 -12 ESV)

  • The whole council or community of heaven are engaged in worship in heaven. Around the throne in concentric circles are the four living creatures, the twenty four elders, and the thousands upon thousands of angels who are worshipping.  
  • Worship is not some shy, soft, unengaged act of obedience.  It is boisterous, loud, and here, apparently defending.
  • Most importantly, worship is centered on the Lamb and his work on behalf of the redeemed.  As one writer has said, the scene in Revelation chapters 4-5 is ant-anthropomorphic!  
  • Worship is engaged with the affections.  When our voices are raised it is because our affections are  also raised.  There exceptions, calling your kids to dinner, talking to someone who is hard of hearing, etc.  Jesus condemned those who worship him with their lips but whose hearts are far from him (Mat 15:8).
Think about these points the next time you gather to worship.  

Monday, October 28, 2013

Obama admin. knew millions could not keep their health insurance

Obama admin. knew millions could not keep their health insurance


Here are notes from Andy Stanley preaching at Catalyst 2013 from Matt Perlman.   This is good material.  Everyone in leadership struggles with this issue of being known and wanting to be known.

This was a fantastic message by Any Stanley to kick off Catalyst today. Here are my notes.
The theme of Catalyst this year is Known. So Andy Stanley’s message is: Known Survivor: Surviving Your Appetite for Known.
Now with social media we know that everyone, including your grandmother, has an appetite to be known.
One thing about an appetite is that if you feed it, it grows; and, it is never fully satisfied.
The Desire to be Known
You have in you an appetite to be known
You will never hear “I have enough friends, followers and mentions; my church is large enough; we don’t want any more campuses; I’ve sold enough books.”
If you get this wrong, it will make you weird! Sometimes the appetite can get so big it tips you over.
How do you survive your appetite for known?
It’s not from numbers. There is no amount of known that will satisfy your appetite to be known.
Almost titled the message “How Known is Known Enough?”
“Some of you are saying ‘I don’t struggle with this, but I’m sure glad my senior pastor is here to hear this.’”
But it’s in all of us to want to be known.
Even when you’re preaching, you can be thinking at the same time “Is she texting or taking notes? Does she have an emergency or does she just not like my message?”
You can’t help this. So what do you do with it?
Especially since there is no amount of “known” that will fully satisfy anyone.
The Laws of Applause
Part of this is the because of the “Laws of Applause.” (“I just made this up.”)
1. What’s applauded as exceptional the first time will be expected the next time.
Exceptional becomes exceptional.
A lot of leaders get derailed right here.
2. Applause is intoxicating.
Those most applauded for feel most entitled to.
“I’m just not sure about senior pastors having reserved parking spots.” [Amen!!!] This is an entitlement. And the worst thing about a reserved parking spot is that it’s a public entitlement.
You don’t have to give in to this!
Haven’t you seen this wreck people’s careers? Wreck people’s churches?
3. Applause is addictive
If you get it once, you want it again. You can start looking for it, manufacturing it.
It is here that you can become a victim of “known.”
Known and the Challenge of Leadership
Here is the real challenge for Catalyst leaders: To lead, you must be known. So the solution can’t be “I’m going to become a hermit and stop leading.” As a leader, you’ve actually been called to be known. You’ve been called out into the spotlight. God wants you to use your skills, be published, have churches use your curriculum, and have your church grow. To lead means you have to be known.
The question is: How do we keep it from ruining us? How do you avoid becoming a victim of hte laws of applause.
The good news is that we aren’t the first generation to deal with this.
So let’s look at John the Baptist.
Surviving Your Appetite for Being Known
There is an amazing statement John the Baptist makes that gives us a clue about how to survive being known.
Mark tells us that thousands of people came to hear John the Baptist, potentially tens of thousands. And it was not an easy place to get to where he preached. Suddenly he went from obscurity to everyone in the region hearing him speak or on their way. He is a phenomenon. He is known.
The word gets back to Jerusalem. So the Pharisees send some folks and people ask “are you the Messiah?” And he says no, and not the prophet either. So they say “who are you?” And he quotes from Isaiah “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘make straight the way for the Lord.’” In other words, “I’m just a sign.”
Then the next day Jesus comes, and John says: “Look.”
The next day John saw Jesus passing by again, and he said “Look.” Then John lost two followers–they followed Jesus. Things are starting to decline, right?…
Some came to John and said “Rabbi, that man [Jesus], the one you testified about, he is baptizing.” As if to say, “What is he doing? You’re the baptizer. This is your deal. What’s he thinking? He’s stealing your show. And he’s even going multi-site, because he’s got his disciples baptizing too. And everyone is going to him.”
The statement John makes here is huge. He says: “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven.” John would say to them, and say to us, is: “The reason I’m known; the reason for the crowds, is because God has given me this opportunity for this time. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Relax. It wasn’t me who made me known, and I’m not known for the sake of being known. God had a purpose in it, it wasn’t my idea, and now my time is up.”
Note the “only”! Heaven decides all things.
John survived extraordinary “knownness” because he understood what is often a cliche with us: “I am known in order to make him known.” The moment you focus on the amount of known, your history. You are known to make him known.
Surviving known, then, is this: Remember who it’s _from_, and remember who it’s _for_.
A great word from Andy about his dad, Charles Stanley: “One thing I’ve never seen in my dad is arrogance. He’s 81 and doing book tours right now! He’s always been known. And I’ve never seen him arrogant.” When people would ask him why not, he would say “because I know that God could cut it off in a minute.”
Your appetite for known will never be satisfied by a number. Only a name. A _who_, not a _how_ or a _how many_.
There is no number of friends, followers, fans, campus, books sold, songs sold that can satisfy you. John the Baptist got it right: it’s a name, a who, not a how many.
The solution is to live for an audience of One.
Andy then gives a great story of the time he preached for the president, and received a personal, hand written thank you.
So, what if Jesus was telling the truth in all his parables, and in all his teaching, like the parable of the talents, and there is a moment when we open the envelop at the end of days, and open an envelop from Jesus saying “well done. You don’t let ‘known’ screw you. You never forgot who it was from or who it was for.” Shouldn’t this fuel inject, energize everything we do in ministry and life?
So: preach hard, work hard, go multi-site, publish, lead extraordinary worship, and do everything in your power to leverage your talent, and continue to always remember who it is from and who it is for. Never forgot that it’s from the one who _knew you first_ and knows you _best_, and has given you a stewardship of knownness for the sake of making him known.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Big Story, part 1

I am teaching an evangelism seminar and workshop this weekend and found this while researching ways to share the gospel.  I have read about it before but never saw this video presentation.  A creative way of sharing the story of the gospel.

Questions to Ask Yourself About Eternal Security

This topic has been an issue in the town I pastor for a number of reasons.  It was, in particular, an issue in the church I pastor, namely for many decades the prevailing position was that one could in fact lose their salvation.  As I talk to individuals one reason for this position is the lack of transforming power displayed in so many professing Christians.  Yet this does not need to lead one to this conclusion.
As I hear many professing Christians talk, including pastors, I see the great issue is the shallow and bad teaching on what exactly the gospel is and it's power to transform people.  The gospel does not make bad people good, it makes dead people alive!  Conversion is not just making a decision for Jesus, it is God calling people by his Spirit in such a powerful and irresistible way that it is effective in bringing about the new birth so that the individual responds with a resounding yes to Jesus!  Here is a helpful article by Jared Wilson.

Because “eternal life” is integral to the gospel’s promise, I believe eternal security is an integral blessing of the gospel, and to deny it is to embrace a truncated gospel. Eternal security is near and dear to my heart, and I have been grateful and sobered by the many opportunities I have had to teach it to others in counseling situations over the last several years. Eternal insecurity, the doubting of grace for me, has been one of the prevailing counseling issue I have encountered in both Bible Belt Nashville and the traditionalist wasteland of rural Vermont.

When I reflect on God’s promise of eternal security for those in Christ, I go to these common Scriptures and posit these questions of conviction.

John 6:39
And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.

1. How perfect is the Father’s will?
2. How good is Jesus at his job?
3. Does the word “nothing” mean nothing, or does it mean “some”?

John 6:40
For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.

4. What does “eternal” mean?
5. What does Jesus’ promise about the last day mean for “everyone who believes”?

Romans 8:28-30
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

6. How does “predestined” jibe with insecurity?
7. If God commits to glorify those he justifies, why do we think he won’t?
8. Is justification really justification? Does it mean what it says?

1 Corinthians 1:8-9
He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.

9. How long does God commit to keep us blameless?
10. Is security dependent on our faithfulness or God’s? And how faithful is God?

Hebrews 7:25
Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.

11. Does “completely” mean “partly” or “temporarily”?

Hebrews 13:5
[H[e has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you."

John 10:28
I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.

12. Does “never” mean “never”?
13. Does “no one” mean “no one”?

Hebrews 10:10
And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

14. How long does Christ’s sacrifice last?
15. How much does Christ’s sacrifice cover?

Titus 1:2
. . . in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began

16. What kind of life did God promise?
17. When did he promise it?
18. Are God’s promises reliable?
19. Wouldn’t denying his promise of eternal life be tantamount to calling him a liar?

20. Is your sin more powerful than Christ’s blood? Is your weakness more powerful than God’s might? Are you the nut he can’t crack?
If our religion be of our own getting or making, it will perish; and the sooner it goes, the better; but if our religion is a matter of God’s giving, we know that He shall never take back what He gives, and that, if He has commenced to work in us by His grace, He will never leave it unfinished.
– Charles Spurgeon

Jared C. Wilson is the pastor of Middletown Springs Community Church in Middletown Springs, Vermont, and the author of the books Your Jesus Is Too Safe, Gospel Wakefulness, and the study 7 Daily Sins.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Networking vs. Encouraging (One Is a Lost Art)

Just biblical Community!

photo credit: Tim Dorr
When our home phone would ring on Saturday morning I knew it was probably my future wife’s grandfather, Hubert Sparks, calling. He called my dad almost every Saturday morning. He didn’t call to complain, make a suggestion, or ask for anything; he called because he was genuinely interested in the welfare of his pastor. “Sparks here, pastor. Just calling to see how you and your family are doing. How can I be praying for you today?” The conversations were always short and to the point, and my dad always hung up feeling better. Hubert Sparks was the most encouraging man I’ve ever met.
The ministry of encouragement seems to be a lost art, replaced by the art of networking. Every relationship needs to be milked for all its worth. Who does this person know? What can they teach me? How can they help me or my organization get ahead? Lip service is given to his well-being, but what we really want is information and connection. I love networking and helping others, but I find myself getting cynical when every email, text or phone call begins, “I was wondering if we could get together? I have something I want to run past you.”
This week I had the chance to catch up with some old friends in Charleston. None of them wanted or needed anything from me, and I wasn’t trying to learn, grow or network. We were just friends swapping stories, hurts and prayers. I walked away from each conversation refreshed and encouraged. It made me wonder who am I encouraging? Who loves to get my call or text because they know I’m just checking to see how they’re doing? Who looks forward to getting together for coffee because they know they will walk away encouraged?
The interesting thing is that encouragement is a biblical imperative:
1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NLT) So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.
Who are you encouraging? Who are you building up? Who do you connect with on a regular basis with no agenda other than a genuine interest in their life? We all need a Grandpa Sparks in our lives.Sharein

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Don't Outsource Your Kids to Youth Group

I have discussed this issue ad nauseam with my youth pastors over the years.  I address it regularly with our body. 

Though it's sometimes yielded more heat than light, the question cannot be avoided: What role should parents play in youth ministry?

In a new roundtable video, Cameron Cole, David Plant, and Liz Edrington discuss how parents and youth leaders ought to relate. "The church has done of poor job of communicating to parents that they are the primary discipler of their children," Cole remarks. Additionally, there's a tendency on the part of parents to outsource the development of our kids. So, for intellectual development, we send them to school; for athletic development, to Little League; and for spiritual development, to youth group.
But this won't do. "Youth leaders must let parents know we're partners with them in the spiritual formation of their children," Cole continues. "Parents may not believe this, but the reality is their kids listen to them far more than they're going to listen to us."
"Parents are our allies, our best support, in doing youth ministry," says Plant, youth ministries director at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York. "Youth ministers love their students, but nowhere near the way parents do. We look to them to know what's going on in the life of a kid."
Youth leaders, then, should labor to cultivate relationships with parents, observes Edrington, who will lead a workshop on "iRelationship: Doing Incarnational Ministry in a Technologically Dependent Culture" at the Rooted conference for youth ministers in Atlanta next week (October 10 to 12). "Sharing the grace of God with parents is part of the honor we have as youth ministers."
Watch the full seven-minute video to see these three leaders—each of whom serves on the advisory board of Rooted—discuss bridge-building, "youth ministry" versus "family ministry," the place of empathy, and more.
Matt Smethurst serves as associate editor for The Gospel Coalition and lives in Louisville, Kentucky. You can follow him on Twitter.
The more I find out about Obamacare the more frightening it becomes! Dave Ramsey gives a purely financial picture of the cost for the average individual.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology: Now Free as an eBook

I foolishly gave my copy away years ago and am currently shopping for a used copy and came across this article. - David

Thanks to, Berkhof’s classic theology text is now freely (and legally) available here.
Berkhof (1873-1957) was born in the Netherlands, and his family moved to Grand Rapids when he was 9.
After graduating from Calvin Theological Seminary and Princeton Theological Seminary, he returned to Calvin and joined the faculty. For the first two decades he taught biblical studies, and then for almost two decades after that he taught systematic theology. He also became president of the seminary in 1931 and continued so until his retirement in 1944.
His Systematic Theology was published in 1932 and revised in 1938.
Wayne Grudem has said Berkhof’s Systematic Theology is “a great treasure-house of information and analysis . . . probably the most useful . . . systematic theology available from any theological perspective.” Richard Muller calls it “the best modern English-language introduction to doctrinal theology of the Reformed tradition.”
It tends a bit toward proof-texting‚ which is not to say that Scripture is regularly misused but that he does not generally show his exegetical work. Further, the book is not very original or creative. In many ways, it is an English summary of Bavinck and a compendium of mainstream Reformed theology.
But having read every word of this influential work, I have no hesitation in warmly commending it as one of the most useful ways to get an excellent summary of virtually all areas of systematic theology.

Justin Taylor is Senior Vice President and Publisher for Books at Crossway, blogs at Between Two Worlds, and is the co-author with Andreas J. K√∂stenberger of The Final Days of Jesus: The Most Important Week of the Most Important Person Who Ever Lived, due out from Crossway in early 2014.
- See more at:

Monday, October 21, 2013

Train the Called

In this short video Mark Driscoll has a great story of the backwards way we train people for ministry! He states a statistic that 80% of those formally trained for ministry end up completely out of ministry five years later.

Friday, October 18, 2013

10 Silly Things Christians Say

Just some common Christian-isms that bug the living heck out of me, in no particular order.

1. I need to learn how to forgive myself.
2. I just need to hold on to my faith. (Or, I just need to trust my faith more.)
3. Only God can judge me. (Usually said by somebody in defense of living like God won’t.)
4. “Nine out of ten people won’t share this…” (Or, If you love Jesus, please forward…)
5. God needed another angel in heaven.
6. Let go and let God.
7. I’m a pan-tribulationist, because I know it will all pan out in the end.
8. Lord, we just come to you, Lord, just asking, Lord, that you’d just help us, Lord, just to just keep loving you, Lord, just…
9. Follow your heart.
10. God is a gentleman. He will never give you more than you can handle. He will never violate your free will. He can’t work until you let him. Etc.
These sorts of sayings aren’t just silly, they are shallow and superficial, some of them just flat-out stupid. You can likely think of more of these kinds of phrases, perhaps a whole new set that makes you itch in your own unique way. (“Smokin’ hot wife,” “the worship is really rockin’ today,” “this Sunday is going to be the best ever/can’t miss,” etc.)
What shall we say then to these things?
Here’s what I am learning: It is my first instinct to jump all over this stuff, to sneer and snicker, to correct and nitpick. I have an odd, inflated sense of justice when it comes to these silly, stupid phrases. Even when I’m not correcting people, I’m thinking I really ought to. But this impulse says more about me than them. It is not the Spirit of Christ to ambush my brothers and sisters with smug nitpickery. It is not the way of Jesus for Christians to mock God’s children for their affectations, to bite, to self-righteously manage, or to otherwise shame. I am not the Holy Spirit of social media.
Instead, it is entirely like Christ to put on humility, patience, kindness, and — the quality I’m striving to cultivate through the gospel in my own life more and more — gentleness. Nobody ever became un-shallow through shame.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

I’m Guilty Too

From Tullian Tchividjian.  I actually cringe for the same reason when I think of my earlier sermons.  

 In an interview that Jonathan Merritt of Religion News Services conducted with me regarding my new book One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World, one of the questions he asked was:

What are the ways in which you–yes you, as a clergy person–been complicit in perpetuating this system (works righteousness)?
I answered, in part, by saying:
I’m so embarrassed by many of the sermons I preached early on. I wish I could go back and apologize to all the people who heard them. My primary concern at that time was to get people to do more, try harder, and change. The end result was stunted spiritual growth for our people because I was causing them to fix their eyes on themselves rather than on Christ.
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Questions for Sleepy and Nominal Christians

By Timothy Keller.

I recently gave a talk on revival, and I want to share some thoughts from it. It’s difficult to find the right word for what we mean when we talk about revival. “Renewal” is almost too soft a word, and “revival” has too many dated connotations nowadays. But the older definition of revival is helpful. It refers to a time when the ordinary operations of the Holy Spirit—not signs and wonders, but the conviction of sin, conversion, assurance of salvation and a sense of the reality of Jesus Christ on the heart—are intensified, so that you see growth in the quality of the faith in the people in your church, and a great growth in numbers and conversions as well.

In a revival, sleepy Christians wake up, nominal Christians get converted, and non-Christians get reached. A sleepy Christian may believe they’re a Christian, but they don’t have a real sense of God’s holiness, their own sin, or the depth of his grace. They may be a moralist or a relativist, or living inconsistent lives.

Nominal Christians may be going to church, but have never really been convicted of sin or received salvation personally. When sleepy and nominal Christians get revived, attractive and bold in their witness, people who would never have believed before begin to get converted.

So how do you wake up sleepy Christians and convert nominal Christians? Let me give you what I would call my modernized American versions of the kinds of questions I would ask people if I was trying to get them to really think about whether or not they know Christ. These questions are adapted from The Experience Meeting by William Williams, based on the Welsh revivals during the Great Awakening. He would ask people to share about these types of questions in small group settings each week:

How real has God been to your heart this week? How clear and vivid is your assurance and certainty of God’s forgiveness and fatherly love? To what degree is that real to you right now?

Are you having any particular seasons of delight in God? Do you really sense his presence in your life, sense him giving you his love?

Have you been finding Scripture to be alive and active? Instead of just being a book, do you feel like Scripture is coming after you?

Are you finding certain biblical promises extremely precious and encouraging? Which ones?

Are you finding God’s challenging you or calling you to something through the Word? In what ways?

Are you finding God’s grace more glorious and moving now than you have in the past? Are you conscious of a growing sense of the evil of your heart, and in response, a growing dependence on and grasp of the preciousness of the mercy of God?

Put together, that is a growing understanding of grace.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Salvation History For Kids

I enjoy the challenge of communicating theology to a general audience, but Jim Hamilton has taken this to a whole new level. He has published an illustrated storybook for children that winsomely presents the main turning points of salvation history. The Bible’s Big Story covers creation, fall, the protevangelion, flood, Abrahamic covenant, Exodus, conquest, David’s reign, exile, return, Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection, Pentecost, and the return of Christ.
Each page has a rhyming doublet, brief verse of Scripture, an additional reference or two to read with your children, and a picture to illustrate the point. This book would be a great way for preschool and lower elementary children to learn the central story of Scripture.
Two sample rhymes: “So, ‘mother of the living,’ he named his wife, For her seed is the source of life” and “The people kept not God’s command, And he drove them from the land.”
One rhyme that didn’t make the final cut, but should have:  “This evil world is full of strife, but not for Guacamole Jim and his sweet wife.”

Monday, October 14, 2013

Tim Keller Wants You to Suffer Well

I thank God all the time for John Piper including a chapter on suffering in his revisions of Desiring God.  It sent me on a journey seeking to understanding the depth of the role of suffering plays in following Christ.  Timothy Keller will make you think well about it also.  

Suffering. Is there a more perennially and painfully relevant topic? Countless books address the subject—and countless sufferers read them. Beneath the sometimes shiny veneer, after all, this world is a profoundly tragic place.

Christian books on suffering tend to fall into one of three camps. Some are philosophical, written to address the "problem of evil" and other complex questions from a typically scholarly perspective. Others are theological, intended to survey the breadth of God's Word to see what it has to say about affliction and evil. Still others are pastoral, designed to give down-to-earth devotional help to those locked in the grip of pain.
Of course, these categories often overlap, and some books may capably address two. I don't know of any, however, that thoroughly tackles all three like Tim Keller's new Walking with God through Pain and Suffering. (Read Joni Eareckson Tada's review.) With an academic mind and a pastor's heart, the senior minister of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York engages our minds and our hearts with the truth-anchored hope of the gospel.
I corresponded with Keller about the wimpishness of Westerners, the bankruptcy of secularism, the usefulness of Judgment Day, the gymnasium of God, and more. And come back tonight to watch the livestream from New York as Keller discusses his newest work.
We are "more shocked and undone by suffering than were our ancestors," you observe. Why is suffering peculiarly traumatic for modern Westerners?
Most cultures—unlike our own—expect suffering as inevitable and see it as a means of strengthening and enriching us. Our secular culture, on the other hand, is perhaps the worst in history at helping its members face suffering. Every other culture says the meaning of life is something beyond this world and life. It may be (a) going to heaven to live with God and your loved ones forever; (b) escaping the cycle of reincarnation in order to enter eternal bliss; (c) escaping the illusion of the world to go into the all-Soul of the universe; (d) living a moral, virtuous, honorable life even in the face of defeat and doom; or (e) living on in your family and descendants. In each case suffering, though painful, can actually help you reach your life goal and complete your life story.
But in secular culture the meaning of life is to be free to choose what makes you happy in this life. Suffering destroys that meaning. And so, in the secular view, suffering can have no meaning at all. It can't be a chapter in your life story—it is just the interruption or even the end of your life story.
In what sense is the secular view of suffering, as French philosopher Luc Ferry put it, "too brutal to be honest"? Conversely, how does the Christian view offer both "greater room for sorrow and greater basis for hope"?
Ferry is referring to the remark, "If when we die we simply cease to exist, there is no reason to dread death at all." After all, the reasoning goes, when I'm dead I won't know anything. But Ferry says anyone who loves other people has to dread losing the relationship. It's impossible not to want love relationships to endure, and death means (in the secular view) the end of all love relationships. So for a secular person to say there's no reason to dread death seems dishonest.
Because Christianity gives us an assured hope that we will have infinitely greater and unending love relationships (with God first and foremost but with others too), this gives us not only a greater basis for hope, but it also gives greater room to express our sorrow. We don't have to detach our hearts from loved ones the way the ancient and modern stoics have done in order to protect themselves emotionally from the hopelessness of death.
How does Christian belief in Judgment Day keep us from being too passive or too violently aggressive in our pursuit of truth and justice?
On the one hand, Judgment Day shows us that God hates sin, evil, and injustice and therefore we should hate it too. That prevents mere acquiescence in the status quo. But Judgment Day also assures us God and truth will eventually triumph, and that means it's not all up to us. We can't bring about complete justice by any human initiative. This discourages utopianism and the cruelty that so often accompanies such a false hope.
In contrast to karma and even common sense, how is the Bible's perspective "less flattering to non-sufferers" and "kinder to those who are hurting"?
Karma says that if you're suffering you always personally deserve it—it's because of something you did in another life. And so if you aren't suffering, it must be because you lived well in the past and earned your current pleasant life. Readers of the Bible will recognize this as the view of Job's friends, a view that God condemns. The Bible's perspective is that suffering is not distributed according to the relative moral deserts of people. Good people don't all have more pleasant lives while bad people all have more difficult lives. That's not the way of things. "A poor man's field may produce abundant food, but injustice sweeps it away" (Prov. 13:23). And so because Scripture makes this claim, it is less flattering to non-sufferers. Biblically, you cannot assume your good circumstances mean God is pleased with you. It may be his way of judging you, allowing you to perish in your complacency. And biblically, you cannot assume that if you're suffering it's a direct chastisement for some wrongdoing. See John 9 and the whole book of Job.
How is the Bible's teaching on suffering "profoundly realistic and yet astonishingly hopeful"? 
It's profoundly realistic because it tells us suffering is inevitable. No one escapes it. We shouldn't be surprised and shocked by it. The Bible is terribly matter-of-fact about the reality that the world is filled with misery. Yet it offers not merely a spiritual afterlife but the hope of a renewed creation, the resurrection, and a material world wiped clean of decay and suffering and death. No other religion promises such a thing.
The Bible presents God's relationship to suffering as both "stronger" and "weaker," as it were, than does any other religion. On the one hand, God is absolutely sovereign over suffering. It's never out of his control. It's always part of his plan. On the other hand, God has come into the world himself and actually suffered with us. No other religion says that God is both a sovereign and a suffering God. This is the theological foundation for why Christians can be so realistic and yet so hopeful about suffering at the same time.
One of the themes pervading the book is the idea that suffering ought not be avoided or denied. Why should we embrace the experiences in "God's gymnasium" that he sends our way?
Secularism sees suffering as completely useless, while many ancient religions see suffering as useful to your character growth and spiritual attainments. While Christianity certainly acknowledges the outrageous, mysterious injustice of much suffering (as does the West)—and while it also points to the ways it serves as a "gymnasium" to help us grow stronger spiritually (as does the East)—I don't think the Bible sees the main use of suffering to beour benefit. I think the main reason we should be patient under suffering is that it glorifies God and that, for Christians, doing so is our greatest pleasure and duty. When we endure suffering with all the patience we can muster, we treat God as God, and that glorifies him, regardless of any other results we can discern.
Why were early Christian churches "famously good places to be a person in suffering"? What can we learn from our spiritual forebears in this regard?
Society was more stratified, and the poor and marginalized classes were despised in the early days of Christianity. The church was far more open to the poor, women and children, slaves and the sick. In some ways it's harder for churches today to look as compassionate to the world because secular Western society has co-opted the humanitarianism Christianity originally introduced. Christians displayed a previously unheard-of concern for all suffering people for many theological reasons, but especially because of their belief in theimago Dei in every individual. It remains to be seen whether our society—which is abandoning the idea of God and the imago Dei—can maintain its record of humanitarianism without it. Meanwhile the Christian church must certainly, then, be at least as well known for its care for sufferers as our spiritual forbears were.
You reflect how, before your cancer surgery a few years ago, you were granted a "sudden, clear new perspective on everything. It seemed to me the universe was an enormous realm of joy, mirth, and high beauty. . . . I went to sleep with a bright peace on my heart." How can a sufferer get that kind of peace?
You can't. I mean there's nothing you can do that necessarily brings it about. It's a gift. You should trust and pray and pour out your heart honestly to God and look to him. He promises in texts like 1 Corinthians 10:13 that you will have enough strength to get through it—but he doesn't promise to give us experiences of super-abounding joy and serenity such that for a moment the stress and sadness seem to melt away. That can happen, and we should be endlessly grateful for such "touches" of God's love. But he doesn't promise them, and only he knows what we need and when. Remember John Newton's maxim: "Everything is needful that he sends; nothing can be needful that he withholds."

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Thoughts On the Amazing Life of Chuck Smith

Many have blogged about the legacy of Chuck Smith wince his death.  Here is another one.  What is unique about Chuck Smith is that he was a nobody for so many years until Lonnie Frisbee and the Jesus movement invaded Chuck's church.  He had the wisdom to see and shepherd what God was doing.

Chuck Smith
Like many of you, I found out this morning that Calvary Chapel founder and pastor, Chuck Smith, has died. He was 86. Christianity Today has a helpful obituary.
Chuck and Calvary Chapel have played an important role in the evangelical movement in the past century. Simply put, it is hard to overstate the significance of Calvary Chapel in remapping Protestantism, particularly evangelicalism. And Chuck Smith was one of the main reasons for that impact.
When I first became a seminary professor back in 1998, I made a trek to Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa and attended with my family, interviewed the staff, and learned from how God was using the church and the movement. Over the years, I’ve been an observer of the movement to the point where I’ve actually had students write papers on Calvary Chapel and discussed the movement in my book, Viral Churches.
I actually do a presentation when seeking to explain the modern evangelical movement, particularly to movement leaders here in the United States or to missionaries who have been out of the country for a long time. The presentation is called “The Contours of the Modern Evangelical Movement.” In that, Calvary Chapel is right near the beginning of the trunk and has a series of arrows that flow from the movement showing its amazing influence. As scholar Donald Miller wrote about in his book Reinventing American Protestantism, Calvary Chapel helped birth and shape a movement.
Calvary Chapel helped a new generation of churches see:
  • a deep passion for evangelism where churches focused on reaching the lost, not just shuffling sheep.
  • a spirit-filled movement that believed in all the spiritual gifts, but focused on worship and spirit empowerment, not just the sign gifts (though they do believe in all of them).
  • culturally engaged communities that wanted to reach (at first) hippies and then just about everyone else, bringing them into a worshipping community.
  • church planting that was birthed out of a desire to spread the gospel and reach a lost world through new churches.
  • verse-by-verse preaching through books of the Bible.
My guess is that many of my readers will resonate with the list. If so, you can thank Calvary Chapel—and Chuck Smith. He will be remembered by many, but he has influenced many more.
Last fall, I spoke at a national Calvary Chapel meeting. Before I did, I shared this post at my blog. After the conference, Pastor Chuck wrote me and said:
Dear Ed,
Thanks for the kind things you have said about the ministry of Calvary Chapel, in the last [part] you mention Calvary as my ministry. I do not consider this my ministry, as I feel as a blessed spectator watching the glorious sovereign move of God and marvel continually at His work. Thanks again for blessing our people at this conference, may the Lord continue to use you to encourage others in how to be more effective in serving our Lord.
In Him,
Now that he is with the Lord I will tell you that he was wrong. He was not just a “blessed spectator” (though I am thankful he thought that way). He was a bold and courageous man that was used by God in amazing ways.
Yes, it was the Lord. Yet, the Lord used Chuck in a way that impacts most of my readers today. Yes, it was not his movement (so I guess he was right), but if you are in a contemporary church, engaging culture, and planting churches, you are in a sense, a child of Calvary Chapel and of Chuck Smith.
Let’s be thankful for Pastor Chuck and his legacy today. May this loss “provoke us to love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24) so the Savior who Chuck served so passionately is glorified and honored.

Saturday, October 12, 2013


Some friends made this video. A missionary is not just someone who will go across the world to share the gospel but who will go across the street to share the gospel!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

What Makes a Full Atonement Full?

Refreshingly orthodox.

Last month when the Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Songs for the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted to exclude "In Christ Alone" from its new hymnal, the chairwoman of the committee said the popular hymn mistakenly expressed "the view that the cross is primarily about God's need to assuage God's anger."

Her comment reveals both a discomfort that many contemporary Christians have with God's wrath and also an overly simplistic dismissal of penal substitution. We who believe the Son bore the Father's wrath don't narrowly think that assuaging this wrath is what the cross is "primarily" about. What happened on the cross is a bit more complicated.
All orthodox theories of the atonement fall into three or four main categories (depending on how sharply you separate moral influence from the example theory), and the four arms of the cross supplies a handy model for remembering them:
The cross is aimed:
1. Downward, toward Satan: The early church emphasized this Christus Victor aspect of the cross, which said Jesus died to defeat Satan, who held the power of sin and death (Colossians 2:15Hebrews 2:14-151 John 3:8).
2. Upward, toward God: Popularized by Anselm and Calvin, penal substitution explained that Jesus satisfied the Father's wrath by bearing our penalty in our place (Romans 3:25-26Galatians 3:132 Corinthians 5:211 John 2:24:10).
3. Sideways, toward us: Abelard, a contemporary of Anselm, said the cross provides a moral influence by showing us how much God loves us (1 John 3:164:7-12Romans 5:8). Socinians and liberal Christians said the cross is merely a human Jesus providing a moral example that inspires us to love and trust God. Though Socinians and liberals wrongly deny Jesus' deity, they rightly note that on the cross Jesus "suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you might follow in his steps" (1 Peter 2:21). The moral influence and example theory differ on whether the action on the cross is moving from God to us or from us to God, but they agree that its effect is on the human person rather than on God or the devil.
The fact that all of these theories have biblical support leads some to suggest they must be equally important. They say that none is more primary than another, but each supplies an equally significant reason for the cross.
But why would we think this way? If I asked why you wanted to get married, you might come up with lots of reasons. You might talk about love, your desire for companionship, sex, children, and to save money on taxes by filing jointly. Yet no one would suggest these are equally significant reasons for marriage. Some represent the goal of marriage, others the means to that goal, and still others the benefit of having reached the goal. I'll let you figure out which is which, assuming that any guy romantic enough to propose marriage has enough sense to give the right answer if asked by his fiancé (hint: it's not about the money).
Every action has a goal, a means to reach that goal, and a payoff for reaching it. This is true about getting married, going to work, even reading this article. It's also true about why Jesus died.

The Goal: Christus Victor

Ask informed evangelicals why Jesus died and they will likely respond with a paraphrase of2 Corinthians 5:21. Jesus who knew no sin became sin for us, "so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." This is an excellent statement of penal substitution, but what is its larger purpose? What does becoming God's righteousness lead to?
The answer is supplied by Christus Victor. God doesn't satisfy his wrath for its own sake—he could have chosen to leave his wrath unquenched and save no one—but for the sake of delivering us from hell. Hebrews 2:14-15 explains that Jesus died to "destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery."
The primary reason Jesus died, the main goal of the cross and resurrection, was to defeat sin, death, and Satan. In our rightful zeal to defend the truth of penal substitution, we must remember to always place it into this larger picture. Penal substitution is the means to the end, not the end itself.

The Means to Reach the Goal: Penal Substitution

But what an essential means it is! It's increasingly popular today for supporters of Christus Victor to say that Jesus can defeat sin, death, and Satan without bearing the Father's wrath. Indeed, they say the Father is too kind to have wrath that must be appeased. But these theologians quickly run into two large problems.
1. The Old Testament. The Jews regularly sacrificed animals as a substitute for sin. Spotless lambs, which foreshadowed the innocent Lamb of God, bore God's wrath in the worshipers' place. In The Nature of the Atonement: Four ViewsGreg Boyd and Joel Green say this popular view is wrong, for the sacrificial animals were not bearing God's penalty or wrath.
They both cite an essay by John Goldingay, who writes:
Sacrifice does not involve penal substitution in the sense that one entity bears another's punishment. By laying hands on the offering, the offerers identify with it and pass on to it not their guilt but their stain. The offering is then not vicariously punished but vicariously cleansed.
Goldingay doesn't cite any other source, so I can only evaluate his claims on their own merits. I notice that he doesn't supply an argument for his view that the animals were euphemistically "cleansed" rather than "punished," and changing the words doesn't change the reality. Where I live hunters "harvest" deer rather than "kill" them, but the result is pretty much the same for the animal. Henri Blocher rightly wonders, "When J. Goldingay claims that offerers 'pass on to [the victim] not their guilt but their stain,' we ask: what isthe spiritual stain of sin if not their guilt before God?"
2. Those who deny penal substitution are unable to explain how the cross defeats sin, death, and Satan. Greg Boyd admits this much about his Christus Victor view:
Obviously, this account leaves unanswered a number of questions we might like answered. E.g., precisely how did Calvary and the resurrection defeat the powers? In my estimation, the ancient Christus Victor models of the atonement . . . became incredulous precisely because they too vigorously pressed for details. . . . But at the end of the day we must humbly acknowledge that our understanding is severely limited.
If removing penal substitution means you can no longer say how the cross defeats sin, death, and Satan, perhaps you should take it as a sign that you took away something essential. In this way penal substitution is primary, because it explains precisely how Jesus defeated his enemies on the cross.

Benefits for Having Reached the Goal: Moral Influence and Moral Example 

These are not the most important benefits of the cross, as it's hard to top defeating sin, death, and Satan by becoming the righteousness of God. But these are necessary consequences. We who have received such love from God must follow Jesus' example and love others on his behalf.
As with Christus Victor, these theories flounder without penal substitution. Many who emphasize the moral influence and example theories accuse penal substitution of advocating divine child abuse. Why would the Father demand the death of his innocent Son in order to forgive us? Why can't he be more like us and simply forgive without strings attached?
A couple of quick points (see chapter 6 of Don't Stop Believing for more detail):
First, there is no free lunch, either in economics or salvation. Someone always pays. The only reason we are free to forgive without sacrifice is because Jesus already paid it.
Second, the cross isn't an act of love without penal substitution, because love is only love if it does something. If the cross isn't necessary for God to forgive us, then what would be the point? If the cross is merely God expressing his solidarity with sinners, then why didn't he simply use his outdoor voice and say, "Attention, people of Earth! I love you and I'm on your side!" The Father was silent when his Son begged for any other way, which proves that God believes the cross was necessary to defeat sin, death, and Satan. And the only candidate that purports to explain why is penal substitution.
Third, those who deny penal substitution are the ones with a genuine case of divine child abuse, for their Father sacrifices his Son for no reason, or at least a reason that they know of.
I can illustrate the relationship between the theories with a cake. Christus Victor is the cake itself—the thing that Jesus was doing on the cross. Penal substitution supplies the ingredients, the flour and sugar. And moral influence and example are the frosting, the lingering sweetness of our great salvation. The cross assures us that we are loved, and it motivates us to love others as God has loved us.
Christus Victor explains why Jesus died, penal substitution explains how his death worked, and the double-sided moral influence and example theories explain what we should do in response.
Mike Wittmer teaches theology at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. His books includeHeaven Is a Place on Earth: Why Everything You Do Matters to God and Don’t Stop Believing: Why Living Like Jesus Is Not Enough and the forthcoming Despite Doubt: Embracing a Confident Faith. He blogs at Don't Stop Believing.