Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Beauty & Glory of the Holy Spirit

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary Conference in Grand Rapids. The conference's theme this year was The Beauty & Glory of the Holy Spirit, and for the second straight year, I found the teaching excellent, the fellowship wonderful, and the facilities/physical arrangements splendid.  I am already looking forward to attending the conference again in the future, and my only concern is that it is such a great conference that it is no doubt bound to grow, which I fear might change its atmosphere some.

It is always difficult to "rank" such things, but I think my favorite message was the final one of the conference, delivered by Geoff Thomas.  You can click here to listen to the messages from the conference, and I especially recommend clicking here to listen to Thomas's message on The Love of the Spirit.  Here is a snippet of what he shared (minus his wonderful Welsh accent):
Think, think if you still aren’t captivated with the wonder of the Holy Spirit loving you. Think, think of him coming into your heart and mind and indwelling you. 
Imagine I lived in London now and not in my fair principality and my drains were all clogged, so I phoned Buckingham Palace and had a little chat with the queen and I said to her, “Your Majesty, I’m having a problem with my drains. Now can Phillip and Charles and William and Andrew…can you send the boys along to clear my sewage pipes?”

Well you’ve got to have such men, and it’s a noble work that they do. But they would not be members of the royal family, would they? Now you multiply by infinity and here is the Holy Spirit. And he’s coming into hearts that are desperately deceitful. And he’s coming, rolling up his sleeves to clean up the mess that we’ve made of our lives. The holiest being that ever has been or ever will be, coming into such intimate contact with our depravity.

He is the spirit of Jesus Christ, isn’t he? He came, he came and pitched his tent in the dark valley of this world. He came where men crucify other men. He came where the blasphemies are, where men gamble for the clothes of those they’re torturing to death. And he came there, he came into the closest contact with us. He was made in the likeness of sinful flesh. He came because he loved us.
And the Holy Spirit, he comes into sinful flesh, he comes to set up his abode in us, to visit such polluted hearts. And ceaselessly and patiently and constantly to woo us with many groanings and many trials. And slowly and tentatively turning us around, maturing us and making us do good. And never, never, never leaving us for a moment, until through his wonderful work within us we have been won entirely and the old man is no more and we are the new man, and we are creatures and when we see our Savior we shall be like him, for we will see him as he is! And it’s this work, with this goal in mind, he’s made up his mind to do it in every one of his elect!

Weekly Words of Wisdom...Bonhoeffer on Costly Grace

"Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace...Such grace is costly because if calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: 'ye were bought at a price,' and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us.  Costly grace is the Incarnation of God."

Dietrich Bonhoeffer
The Cost of Discipleship

Friday, August 26, 2011

Friday Fun...The Triple Play

Going a little different direction than normal, today's Friday Fun presentation is from the world of minor league baseball.  Below is your routine 8-4-3 (or is it 8-8-8-4-3?) triple play, started (and continued, and continued again) by Nashville Sounds' centerfielder Logan Schafer.

(HT: Challies)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Freshman 15

The other day I saw a post by Jeff Brewer entitled The Freshman 15. I immediately passed it along to every incoming college freshman I could think of.  In it he highlights 15 ways college students can glorify God.  Brewer begins with:
1. There is no greater way you can spend your time, energy, and effort than pursuing Christ with all your heart. Education matters. That’s why you’re going to college. But pursuing Christ matters more. Remember, you can make only one thing your central aim in life. Make it the right thing. Ask God for much grace to keep him at the center.
If you are (or know) a college student, click here for the complete list.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Anyone who knows me well knows that I'm a pretty big sports fan.  That being said, as I've mentioned elsewhere, I get a little uncomfortable when outspoken Christian athletes seemingly turn God's word into nothing but decontextualized, triumphalistic platitudes about God's goodness in times of victory.

That's why I was recently heartened to find a new blog produced by Kurt Earl named Compete4Christ. Kurt is one of the football coaches at Lincoln Christian School in Lincoln, Nebraska, and in his words, "Compete4Christ exists to offer athletes, coaches and fans the opportunity to read verse by verse exegetical teaching of the Bible from an athletic perspective. My prayer is that this blog, guided by the power of the Holy Spirit, will help to equip the Elect in redeeming sporting events for God's glory."

We need to realize that if God is truly God, then all of life (including our competition on the athletic field) is subject to his sovereignty. Furthermore, if God is present and active in our victories, then he must be every bit as much so in our defeats. If we only see God's hand at work in our victories, then every time we fail it will call into question God's faithfulness.  But as Kurt pointed out in a recent entry, God is perhaps even more active in our failures.
When you Compete4Christ you begin to see failure as an opportunity for growth rather than a reason to be embarrassed or feel shame. Is God surprised or disappointed when we give our best effort and fall short? In fact, what we often declare failure God probably sees as opportunity.
'More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.' –Romans 5:3-5 
God sees failure as an opportunity for growth, for becoming more like His Son. Remember, our goal in participating in sports is to become more like Jesus Christ, to conform to his image. No amount of failure can deter us from that goal. In fact, as we have seen, failure gives us a chance to obtain the goal. Is that liberating or what?!

Wednsday's Words of Wisdom...Mike Wittmer on Hoping vs. Wishing

"Our hopes are only as strong as the reasons we have for holding them. Some hopes are nothing more than a wish -- I hope that it doesn't rain tomorrow or that my team will win the game. But Christian hope, the kind that makes the top cut with faith and love (1 Cor. 13:13), is grounded in the promises of God. Such hope is 'an anchor for the soul, firm and secure' (Heb. 6:19), because it rests in what 'God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time' (Titus1:2)."

Mike Wittmer

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Essence of Human Nature

This cartoon is funny, while at the same time quite theologically astute in regards to the doctrine of sin.

(HT: Vitamin Z)

Monday, August 22, 2011

A Word for Preachers...Mohler on the Theological Nature of Preaching

"We will be hard-pressed to define any activity as being more inherently theological than the preaching of God's Word, for preaching is an exercise in the theological exposition of Scripture.  Congregations that are fed nothing more than ambiguous 'principles' supposedly drawn from God's Word are doomed to a spiritual immaturity that will quickly become visible in compromise, complacency, and a host of other spiritual ills.

"Why else would the apostle Paul command Timothy to preach the Word in such solemn and serious terms? 'I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching' (2 Timothy 4:1-2)."

Al Mohler
He Is Not Silent: Preaching in a Postmodern World

Friday, August 19, 2011

A great story...even if it is the Yankees.

(HT: Challies)

The Integrity of God

In Ezekiel 36:36, God says in reference to his prophetic promises to his people, "I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it."

As I thought about this passage, it struck me how intertwined are God's identity, his word, and his actions.  Sometimes I say things and then don't  follow through, or do things that are less than consistent with who I am (at least who I am in Christ).  But with God there is no such disjunction.  There is perfect integrity between who he is, what he says and what he does.  God will never act out of character with himself.  He will never speak rashly nor make a promise and then not follow through.

So it is that we can be confident in his proclamation that as we behold his glory, we are constantly being transformed into his likeness (2 Corinthians 3:18), and we can be sure that this work he has begun will one day be brought unto completion (Phillippians 1:6).  What glorious words of promise!  Oh how I long for that day!

Friday Fun...Teenagers

Tim Hawkins, John Branyan and Bob Smiley share assorted thoughts on teenagers...

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Ten Commandments of Preaching

The most recent edition of the theological journal Themelios has an article by one of my favorite pastors, Sinclair Ferguson. In it he offers Ten Commandments for preachers. Ferguson elaborates on each of them, and if you're a preacher, you would do well to click here and take a couple minutes to see what he has to say. But if you only have a second, here is the list of the Commandments by themselves:
  1. Know your Bible better.
  2. Be a man of prayer.
  3. Do not lose sight of Christ.
  4. Be deeply trinitarian.
  5. Use your imagination.
  6. Speak much of sin and grace.
  7. Use the “plain style.”
  8. Find your own voice.
  9. Learn how to transition.
  10. Love your people.

(HT: Justin Taylor)

Marketing the Gospel

I saw an interesting post from Denny Burk yesterday.  In it he comments on a piece by Meghan O’Gieblyn, in which she writes about how she was turned off to faith by her church's constant attempts to market itself as "cool."  As she put it,
The gospel became just another product someone was trying to sell me, and a paltry one at that because the church isn’t Viacom: it doesn’t have a Department of Brand Strategy and Planning.
Now I don't want to turn this into an argument for or against a certain style of worship (traditional or contemporary).  I have seen "traditional" churches that are both excellent and borderline heretical, just the same as I have seen with "contemporary" churches.

What I would like to highlight though is the danger inherent in relying ultimately on slick presentation as opposed to the simple proclamation of the gospel.  As Burk points out,
In any case, there is a lesson here for all of us. You cannot market the gospel like you market a Big Mac. I have seen lots of Big Macs in my lifetime, but I’ve never seen one that looks as good as the picture on the billboard. That’s because marketers are in the business of taking something ordinary and making it to look better than it really is.

This is the opposite of the ministry of the gospel. We are not in the business of making the gospel to look better than it is. It is already far more glorious and weighty and substantial than we could ever describe. The gospel doesn’t need to be photoshopped to make it effective, nor does it need an extreme makeover “Madison Avenue Edition.” It just needs to be preached plainly and faithfully. And where that simple proclamation occurs, people find it to be the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 2:4; 4:20; 1 Thessalonians 1:5).
May we strive to do things excellently, but as we do, let us always remember that it is Spirit of God that  ultimately changes hearts.  And the primary way he does this is through the preaching of the gospel.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Wednsday's Words of Wisdom...Christopher J.H. Wright and a Biblical Response to Evil

"Whereas we often ask 'Why?' people in the Bible more often asked 'How long?' Their tendancy was not to demand that God give an explanation for the origin of evil but rather to plead with God to do something to bring about an end to evil. And that, we shall see, is exactly what God has promised to do."

Christopher J. H. Wright
The God I Don't Understand

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Privileged Position

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, I am studying through the Book of Ezekiel, and one of the first things that struck me was the frequency with which we find the phrase "know that I am the LORD." Clearly, a key message that God is communicating through the prophet is his identity.

Whenever we see the word "LORD" printed in all caps (as it is in 67 of the 72 times "know that I am the LORD" appears in Ezekiel), that alerts us to the fact that the Hebrew word that is being translated is actually the divine name, YAHWEH. Jews had such respect for the name of God, and so feared misusing it (in violation of the third commandment), that instead of speaking it, they actually said, "adonai," the Hebrew word for "LORD."

So it is, that when we see God so emphasizing throughout Ezekiel his desire that people would "know that I am the LORD," it is more than a job description he is a talking about; it is his very identity. In light of this, it is interesting to note a slightly more specific phrase that appears four times in the Book of Ezekiel: "Know that I am the LORD their God." In each instance where we find this phrase, it is in the context of Ezekiel's prophetic words specifically to the house of Israel.

Make no mistake about it: YAHWEH is no tribal deity; he is God over all creation. Regardless of whether people bow their knee before him, he is God. But what we see here is that he is God of his people in a special way peculiar to their relationship. He is not just the LORD. He is not just the LORD God. He is the LORD, their God, and as such, they are in a position of amazing privilege.

Now we must be careful to realize that this doesn't mean that the people of God were (or are) necessarily better than the other peoples, nor have they have in any way earned this privileged relationship. Throughout the Book of Ezekiel, the prophet chastises the people of God for their sin just as he does the other nations (actually, even more so). Their special standing as God's particular people is a product of nothing but his grace and his steadfast love toward them.

The New Testament picks this idea up in Jesus' teaching that we should pray to God as "Our Father." This is not a prayer for all people, but rather the prayer of a disciple, one who has been conferred the benefits of adoption. May we, as Christians, never fail to exult in the fact that we are in a special relationship with God. And may we always do so humbly, knowing that it is nothing but the work of Christ that has established this relationship for us.

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Word for Preachers...Stott on the Exposition of God's Word

"Today's preachers are neither prophets nor apostles, for we are not the recipients of any fresh, direct revelation. The Word of the Lord does not come to us as it came to them; rather we have to come to it. Nevertheless, if we faithfully expound the Scriptures, it is his Word which is in our hearts and on our lips, and the Holy Spirit is able to make it a living and powerful word in the hearts of our hearers."

John Stott

Friday, August 12, 2011

Friday Fun...Hipster Music Discussion

"That club is ill..."

(HT: Vitamin Z)

The Gospel Coalition Women's Conference

From time to time I try to recommend good conferences to readers of this blog.  Though it obviously won't work for many of my readers, one such conference is The Gospel Coalition Women's Conference next June 22-24 in Orlando, with the theme Here is Our God: God's Revelation of Himself in Scripture.

If you are a woman, I highly recommend you look into this conference, and consider registering before the early registration deadline of December 31.  Among the main session speakers will be Tim Keller, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, John Piper, D.A. Carson, Paige Benton Brown and Jenny Salt, the final two of which can be seen on the video below discussing their views on teaching the Bible to women.

Dare to Go Where Few Women's Studies Will Go from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Kirk Cousins: Privilege Leads to Responsibility

"Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more." (Luke 12:48b)

This post is a little different than the norm for my blog, but I thought it well worth sharing.  As I've mentioned before, I am a big sports fan.  And one of my favorite sports (along with baseball) is college football.  That makes this an exciting time of year for me, as student athletes have returned to campus and began practice this week for the upcoming season.

But I was also excited about something that occurred a couple weeks ago in Chicago.  That's when Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins spoke at the Big 10 preseason media luncheon.  In an age where we are all so prone to consider ourselves entitled to whatever we have, Cousins instead articulately stated how privileged he sees himself to be as a college football player.  He went on to emphasize that instead of leading to a sense of entitlement, privilege ought to lead to a sense of responsibility.

What Cousins had to say should be required listening for every big time college football player in the nation.  And the rest of us should listen to him as well, not only to be heartened by his wise and humble example in the midst of so many prima donnas, but (more importantly) so that we could consider how we might apply his words to our lives as well.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Jerram Barrs on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Much has been said within the Christian community about Harry Potter. I have neither read the books nor seen the movies. This was not because I felt there was something necessarily objectionable about them, but simply a matter of not being a big reader of fiction (to my discredit), and not having gotten around to see the movies.

That being said, I found the following comments by Jerram Barrs to be quite enlightening. Jerram was one of my seminary professors and I can think of very few (if any) people who I respect as much as him. In contrast to many Christians, Jerram is unapologetically supportive of the books. In the video below he discusses the redemptive themes found specifically in the final book of the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

***********   WARNING! THERE ARE SPOILERS IN THIS VIDEO!   ***********

Monday, August 8, 2011

A Word for Preachers...Williiam Still on the Greatest Task

"In this work we must not be afraid of upset. We must not go out of our way to create it; we don't look for trouble, but seek peace. But if we are going to be faithful to God and to men, there will be upset. The great thing to know is that God is at work creatively, through His word, in answer to the prayers of His people. There is not a greater task a man can perform in the whole world than this, that he is being used to release the all-searching Word of God upon a company of needy souls. It is the most amazing thing. It works!  God works.  His Word works. Prayer works. The Spirit works."

William Still