Monday, April 30, 2012

Alistair Begg's Thoughts for Pastors

Last week I was blessed to attend a luncheon for pastors hosted by WLQV Faith Talk 1500. This is an annual event I enjoy greatly, and this year was my favorite yet, as the guest speaker was one of my favorites: Alistair Begg. In his message he suggested (with a tip of the hat to Owen and Warfield) that faithful preachers MUST have the following:

1) Spiritual wisdom and understanding about the mystery of the gospel
    If we are to preach faithfully, we must above all else understand that "in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation." And, "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:19, 21). God has come to do for us what we could never have done for ourselves. This is the very heart of the gospel.
    2) The experience of the power of truth in our own souls
      This is not just a theoretical set of truths that we are expounding. Our congregation is asking, "Is he offering bread he has never tasted, or that bread by which he himself has been nourished?"
      3) Skill in rightly dividing the word of God
        It is not enough to merely be "a nice man." We would not accept it in any other field. Even if they were "nice men" you would not fly in an airplane if the pilot had never been in a cockpit or undergo cardiothoracic surgery performed by a man who'd never held a scalpel. People everywhere are dying under the preaching of "nice men." Let Scripture always be the source of our message. As preachers, we serve the Bible; it does not serve us.
        4) Spiritual discernment of our congregation
          Preach to the congregation you have, not to the congregation you wish you had. God has entrusted these very real souls to your care, not some other hypothetical ones.
           5) A zeal for the glory of God and genuine compassion for the souls of men and women.
            John Murray spoke of preaching as "a personal, passionate plea." 2 Corinthians 5:19 and 21 were mentioned earlier. Verse 20, of course fits in between them is: "Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God." Preaching is not just a sharing of the facts presented in the Bible. It goes one step further to imploring people to be reconciled to God on account of those facts.
            Richard Baxter once proclaimed, "I seldom come out of the pulpit but my conscience smiteth me that I have been no more serious and fervent." We should similarly be convicted that we could have done more, but at the same time be comforted by the fact that "a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench" (Isaiah 42:3), knowing that he is pleased to place his "treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us."

            A Word for Preachers...David Murray on the Preacher's Heart

            "The pendulum of the preacher's heart must be continually swinging between two states. He must know that he is a hell-deserving sinner with a deceitful and desperately wicked heart. And he must know that he is saved by the grace of Jesus Christ through faith in his blood. The further and faster the pendulum swings between these two convictions, the better. No one has a right to preach who is not totally and utterly convinced of his own misery and of Christ's saving mercy."

            David Murray
            How Sermons Work

            Saturday, April 28, 2012

            New President Coming for Covenant Seminary

            This evening I saw the following announcement from the Board of Trustees of Covenant Theological Seminary:
            At our spring stated meeting of April 27-28, 2012, the Board of Trustees of Covenant Theological Seminary voted to approve the transition of Dr. Bryan Chapell from President to Chancellor, effective June 1, 2012. The Board appointed Dr. Mark Dalbey, currently Vice President of Academics, as interim President. In addition, the Board announced the formation of a search committee to assist the Board in selecting the next President. More information will be forthcoming.
            To my knowledge, Covenant has not had a Chancellor in the past, so I'm not sure what exactly this means in regards to Dr. Chapell's responsibilities. That being said, I am sure that Dr. Dalbey will provide wonderful leadership in the interim, while Covenant searches for it's next President. Please join me in praying for the seminary during this period.

            Friday, April 27, 2012

            Friday Fun...Cookie Monster

            Saw the following cartoon today...

            ...and it reminded me of this video I've posted before:

            The Detroit Project

            Yesterday afternoon I had the pleasure of spending a couple hours with my good friend Ryan McVicar. Ryan is the Associate Pastor at Knox Presbyterian Church in Harrison Township, Michigan (just north of Detroit) and is preparing to plant a new church in the Royal Oak area of Detroit. The goal is that this church plant would not be an end in itself, but would become a church that in turn would plant other churches in Detroit and throughout the Detroit metro area.

            The success of any such venture is of course entirely in the hands of God, but I can't imagine a much better person than Ryan to be spearheading the project. He loves the Lord and has a passion to share with others the grace that has been made known to him. A godly man and a gifted teacher, we had him as one of our speakers at the Mid-Michigan Conference for Reformed Theology last year. Ryan only had four or five days to prepare his message as he was filling in for another speaker who had to cancel at the last moment.  Even with such late notice of his involvement though, he delivered what many considered to be the finest address of the conference.

            A graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary (Orlando), Ryan served at Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis before moving to Michigan to pastor at Knox, where he has served for over five years. During his time here, God has developed in Ryan a great heart for the people of Detroit. So while he is fulfilling his duties at Knox, Ryan is also looking for others who might be interested in partnering with him in The Detroit Project. He has raised much of the necessary funding to get things off the ground, but still is looking to raise additional financial support. In addition to this, he is looking for people who might be interested in partnering with him not just financially, but in the work of ministry. Finally, I am certain that he would covet your prayers. If you have a heart for cities in general (or for Detroit, in particular!) please consider being a part of this exciting work that is getting underway in the Detroit area. Feel free to contact me or Ryan with any questions you might have.

            Wednesday, April 25, 2012

            Wednesday's Words of Wisdom...Bryan Chapell on Spiritual Armor

            "Because God provides each aspect of our armor, we need not fear its failure against Satan's attacks. Our confidence is not in our ability to stand but in the ability of our armor to withstand assault. Whenever we begin to point to our godly practices as the source of our spiritual protection, our virtues become tools of unbelief in which we deny the need of grace and assert the rule of self. We do not put on the armor of God by trusting in the more vigorous performance of our duties, but by relying on God's provision for our protection. We gain the confidence to rely on God's armor when, on Scripture's authority, we perceive his protection to be as real as the armor Paul observed on the soldier guarding him in prison while he penned these words."

            Bryan Chapell
            Holiness by Grace: Delighting in the Joy That is Our Strength

            Tuesday, April 24, 2012

            Charles Colson: "Like I Am"

            An interesting video looking at the life of the late Charles Colson, and how God used his own experiences to change the way he looked at life...

            (HT: Vitamin Z)

            Monday, April 23, 2012

            A Word for Preachers...J.W. Alexander on the Value of the Preacher's Office

            "I fear none of us apprehend as we ought to do the value of the preacher's office. Our young men do not gird themselves for it with the spirit of those who are on the eve of a great conflict; nor do they prepare as those who are to lay their hands upon the strings of the mightiest passions, and stir up to their depths the ocean of human feelings."

            James W. Alexander
            Thoughts on Preaching: Contributions to Homiletics

            Thursday, April 19, 2012

            Rescue, Restoration and Redemption...The Jason Mirikitani Story

            I'll be honest with you...I don't normally watch The 700 Club. Okay, truth be told, I don't know if I've ever actually watched the program. That being said, I will be setting my DVR to record it on May 4th. This is because my friend Jason Mirikitani will be featured.

            On January 15th, 2002, Jason's car flipped 5 times, killing his wife and leaving him terribly injured and close to death himself. Against this bleak backdrop, Jason's life is still one of God's faithfulness. He shares this story in the book Mile Marker 825 and I look forward to seeing him share it once more on television.

            Even if you've never watched The 700 Club before and might never watch it again, please consider tuning in May 4th to catch Jason's compelling story of rescue, restoration and redemption. Click here to see when and where you can find it. 

            Roots and Wings: The Story of Indelible Grace

            Yesterday I got my copy of Roots and Wings: The Story of Indelible Grace. Like countless others, I have been richly blessed by the music of Indelible Grace. Rightly described by my friend Zac Hicks as "the galvanizing force behind the Hymns Movement," this group of artists led by Kevin Twit has set much of the rich hymnody of the Church's past (including many long forgotten hymns) to fresh, new music.

            The first disc of the two DVD set includes the 1 hour and 14 minute documentary gives a behind the scenes look at the history and work of Indelible Grace, interspersing interviews with performances from Indelible Grace's 2010 hymn sing at The Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. The second disc contains another hour-and-a-half worth of interviews, as well as three more performances.

            Watching the documentary was both educational and edifying, and prompted me to thank God once more for the blessing that Indelible Grace has been in my life and the ways he has used them to stir up the affections of my heart.

            Whether your church's worship style is as "contemporary" as they get or the most "traditional" in town, I recommend watching the preview below and consider learning more about Indelible Grace, perhaps even purchasing the DVDs or some of their music.

            Additional note: If you live in Colorado, Oklahoma or Arkansas, a new tour has just begun and Indelible Grace may soon be in your neck of the woods. Check out their tour schedule here.

            Wednesday, April 18, 2012

            Interview: Stephen Leung

            For some time, I've been kicking around the idea of adding interviews to my blog as a regular feature. Today we're going to have our first go at it as I have the pleasure of interacting with Stephen Leung. Stephen is the Assistant Pastor at Ascension Church (PCA) in Queens, New York, and has been involved with the effort by New York City churches to retain their right to rent space in public schools.

            Thanks so much, Stephen, for agreeing to take some time to answer my questions. First off, can you give us a little bit of your personal background (where you’re from, where you went to school, how the Lord called you to ministry, etc.)?

            Thank you for inquiring, Pete. I am the husband of Vicki and the father to four boys: Benjamin, Matthias, Isaiah, and Timothy. I am also the son of Samuel and Esther Leung of Richmond, KY, where I grew up. Samuel and Esther are first generation immigrants from Hong Kong who came over in the 1960s. I was born in St. Louis, MO in 1964. I grew up in a Christian home and my earliest recollections were that of worship, fellowship, and instruction in the word, with other Christians. I was told I told a mean story even when I was four years old and adults would gather around for my retellings. 

            I grew up attending Southern Baptist churches in Kentucky and wasn’t baptized until I was a sophomore in High School. I attended college at MIT in Cambridge, MA. It was there that I first had my taste of ministry – being invited to help with the youth at an immigrant church. Upon graduation from college I entered the Navy having been an ROTC student. I served nearly eight years in the Navy and was stationed up and down the East Coast. During my time in the Navy, I spent several months in the South Philadelphia Shipyards. It was there that I ran into my first serious Calvinists – a member of Tenth Presbyterian who was the first to ever ask me if I knew the Five Points of Calvinism. I met my wife when I rotated to a shore tour in Northern VA. When I left the Navy, I went to work for a Government Contractor for a little over ten years. I picked up my MBA from George Mason University along the way. Throughout all these years I was active in churches, but I wound up in an ethnic, PCA church in Alexandria, VA. It was there that I had a deeper exposure to the Reformed faith and the confessional standards of the PCA. I was elected a deacon and then a ruling elder, partly to be a representative of the small English-speaking congregation of Chinese Christian Church of Virginia. It was in the process of serving as an elder that I saw personally the benefits of the Presbyterian form of church government as well as the riches of Reformed Theology. Back in the late 90s and early 2000’s I also grew much more interested in pursuing my theological education. I hosted early online email discussion groups and web sites, and I explored distance education that a variety of Reformed seminaries offered. In 2003-2004, my call to full-time vocational ministry fully crystallized with encouragement from our assistant pastor and many others in our congregation. I declined a lucrative job offer that came my way right as I was preparing to move on, and took our family (of five at the time) to attend Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO.

            How did you end up ministering in New York City?

            So, how did I end up here? I never imagined it during my time in seminary. I was interested in church-planting. But New York City was not one of the spots that attracted me. To be honest, I was not looking to be part of the “Redeemer system” that seemed to orchestrate so much. I attended Old Orchard Church in Webster Groves, MO, and completed an internship there. The pastor at Old Orchard is Ron Lutjens. Near the end of seminary, without full-time call from any other part of the country, he suggested that I give his brother, Kurt Lutjens a call. Kurt is the pastor of Grace & Peace Fellowship in St. Louis. They were looking to bring on two part-time assistants temporarily until they were ready to hire a full-time assistant on the other side of their unique five-year review of their senior pastor. I wound up spending two years at Grace & Peace and was also ordained in the PCA in the meantime. At the end of that time I was informed that I was not among the finalists for the permanent assistant position. 

            In the meantime, however, I had become aware of Ascension Presbyterian Church in Queens, which Grace & Peace helped support since its planting pastor, Michael Kytka, had served as an assistant at Grace & Peace during his time as a student at Covenant. I looked at job listings that Covenant maintained and saw that Ascension Church had this position for an Assistant Pastor listed. That Summer (2010), Grace & Peace sent a short-term missions team comprised of youth and a few adults to help with Ascension’s Vacation Bible School (VBS). When I saw the listing, I sent an inquiry into Pastor Kytka asking if the opening was still available, and if so, if he would take a look at my resume and also talk to some of the members of the short term missions team, especially Kurt Lutjens, who was with them. 

            Things proceeded quickly after that. We came to understand the nature of Forest Hills, and Central Queens. About 25 percent of the population in Forest Hills is Asian and another 25 percent is Russian Jews, and the remaining 50 percent is also richly diverse, but primarily European Roman Catholics. It is also a rather strategic place for global missions, as in Queens people have extensions around the globe. There are over 120 languages spoken here. I had some experience working with international students with International Students Inc, my other part-time position, while I was in St. Louis. Missions To the World (MTW) farms some of its missionaries to Ascension Church for its hands-on portion of cross-cultural ministry training. I sensed the situation here was ideal. 

            One other thing happened during my first visit to New York that was also affirming. Ascension was hosting a concert by Michael Card. At a dinner with him, he shared that he believed community would be very important in confirming my call here – both at this receiving end and the sending end in St. Louis. That was timely wisdom. I sought and received such confirmation. Of course along the way, there was confirmation from the temporary session for Ascension (since it continues to be a mission work) and from the Metro New York Presbytery. So despite Ascension being a plant out of Redeemer Presbyterian in Manhattan, and there being a representative from the Redeemer’s church planting center (now City to City) on the session, this is where I wound up. God has a sense of humor in addition to being sovereign and using things in ways that we would never think or imagine to answer our prayers. (Of course, I am not advocating this way of finding God’s calling as being typical or normative.)

            Can you give us a brief synopsis of the situation that currently is taking place in New York City in regards to public schools and churches (both the history of it and where things currently stand)?

            In a nutshell, New York City has been fighting to get “religious organizations”out of its public schools for a long time. It started in NYC before Mayor Michael Bloomberg ever got into office, however, it has come back around to be an issue here late in Mayor Bloomberg’s extra term because several factors seemed to align. One of the major factors is the Federal 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals vacating an injunction that the Federal District Court for the Southern New York Region had granted churches in the long-running Bronx Household of Faith versus Board of Education cases. The District Court judge had granted the injunction because of the precedence that had come down from the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) regarding equal access. However, the City, arguing for the Board of Education (now the Department of Education) changed its arguments to preclude the conduct of worship services and not just the meetings of “religious organizations.” In that way, it convinced the majority of a three-judge panel of the 2nd Circuit Court to see the case as not being equal access or viewpoint discrimination that would violate the 1st Amendment but as a ban on certain activity that simply serves to protect the Establishment Clause by precluding even the perception of the violation of the separation of Church and State. To everyone’s surprise, SCOTUS did not grant cert (meaning review) of the case after the 2nd Circuit Court overturned the District Court judge’s injunction against the City’s rule. 

            With the U.S. Supreme Court opting not to overturn the case, the city now had the green light (not the requirement) to proceed with its law that required churches to stop worshiping in schools. Since then, the City has erroneously argued that SCOTUS agreed with the 2nd Circuit Court’s majority opinion by not choosing this case to be among the 80 or so it chooses to review for the year. This in fact is false. It also continues to wage a campaign that says it is only churches that can rent schools after hours because they are only available on Sunday, thereby effectively establishing the Christian religion or (potentially) confusing children to think that Christianity is the preferred religion and that they are special and they are less special if they are not Christian. Fortunately for the churches, the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) lawyer arguing for Bronx Household went to the District Court one more time and got the judge to grant yet another injunction. This time the argument is that the City is violating the Free Exercise Clause and the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment when it excessively entangles itself in deciding who is or is not conducting a worship service in order to approve or deny permits for any group applying to rent space at a public school. The final opinion of the preliminary injunction granted by Judge Loretta Preska is due in June of this year. The Circuit Court will probably hear the City’s appeal in August. Now, that’s the legal summary.

            In addition to what is happening in litigation, there is also what has been involved legislatively. There are bills before the New York State Legislature to change its Education Laws so that the City is not able to enforce such a ban on “religious groups” conducting “worship services.” It in effect says that “religious groups” will not be among those denied the opportunity to rent like every other non-profit or non-political group. It would preclude what the judicial branch has said is permissible, but it would still only affect the state of New York. The bill in the State Senate passed. The bill in the State Assembly is being held up by the Speaker of the State Assembly, Sheldon Silver. This is despite a majority being secured in the Assembly over a long and hard-fought battle by lobbyist, including many of our affected pastors. 

            At the city level, a resolution was introduced by a pastor/city council member that has the support of a clear majority but is also held up from a vote by the Speaker of the City Council, Christine Quinn. The resolution would have no binding effect but would send a strong signal to the State Legislature. So, in essence, two Speakers have their way and are ensuring the Mayor has his way. The New York Governor has not come on record saying whether he would sign the bill into law if the bills clear both chambers of the State Legislature, but the political calculus is on the side of him not holding it up since 1) he has higher political aspirations and this would not look good in other parts of the country and 2) he has already recently gone against his word to New York clergy in signing same-sex marriage into New York law. Within the city of New York, we hear and see that the opinion is not merely about (perceived) threat to the separation of church and state, it is also the notion (real or argued) that the GLBT community feels that churches are homophobic and engage in hate speech and therefore should not be accommodated by the State. There are also arguments and fears that there is some church-planting movement that is out to take over all the schools.

            What would you say to those who would suggest that the separation of church and state should forbid public schools being used for religious purposes?

            There are several aspects of the argument here that need to be stepped through. First of all, the idea of separation of church and state was to preclude the state from interfering with the church and the state from establishing a particular sect as the state church. That was the original intent. It has been radically reinterpreted by some to mean some type of freedom from religion instead of freedom of religion. 

            Even the idea of some sort of “clear wall” does not mean that all traces of faith should disappear from the public square. We are not advocating some sort of theocracy as some would imagine or spin the intent. However, our faith does inform all of life and the Kuyperian understanding of God ruling in every sphere is not precluded as Christians who vote and who have a calling in the arena of government and politics are not supposed to be uninformed by the teaching of their faith or Scriptures and never to act upon their convictions that are so informed. Politicians voting to allow religious organizations to rent schools is not a theocratic move or a case of politicians allowing religion to unconstitutionally sway their lawmaking. Allowing churches to rent schools after hours does not establish one religion. Accommodation does not equal endorsement. Churches should be able to rent the exact same way that other groups rent. To exclude them is to discriminate and in fact is precisely the interference of the State in the church. 

            Moreover, to call the gatherings of some churches, typically of the higher liturgical end, a "worship service" and thus bar them and then not call the gatherings of other churches or religious groups "worship" and permit them to meet is precisely the kind of interference that the U.S. Constitution does not allow. As for the perception of establishment being the same as establishment, that is too much of a stretch. Thus far, no confused children have been brought forth for testimony. What we have is a hypothetical perception of a violation of the Establishment Clause being allowed to put in place a city ordinance that in fact perpetuates an actual violation of the Establishment Clause.

            The idea that there is a subsidy of religious organizations that amounts to endorsement because the rates are more affordable than what can be found from commercial landlords also fails to even-handedly call every agreement to rent to any other “non-religious” organization a case of subsidizing what that organization stands for. If anyone is unhappy that churches are able to find an affordable solution to their need to find a gathering place, raise the rent, but do so on all the organizations that are renting. The fact that affordable renting arrangements are not allowed for religious organizations only is in fact the soft erection of barriers of entry to congregations not already established in a neighborhood from being able to provide services to people of that neighborhood, who desire to have a congregation of their preference in their proximity. In other words, the favor is given to religious organizations who already have the means and or longstanding possession of buildings in a community to be present but not to others. Many of the churches affected have also been found to be comprised of and serving the materially and financially disadvantaged. It is citizens who are in possession of less wealth and churches of fewer resources that are being disproportionately affected. What we clearly have is an effort to discriminate that amounts to the state violating the separation of church and state and in effect playing favorites.

            Two other arguments that have been put forth relate to who owns the building and whether the building becomes a church building or a house of worship when it is used by religious renters. In fact, the building is owned by tax-payers. It is not for bureaucrats of the state to decide who can or cannot rent the building for use beyond what has been allowed or not allowed by laws voted on by tax-payers, especially if those bureaucrats are not even those on the ground and in the community, i.e. the principals of the schools. Principals could deny a permit if they deem use of the school to be detrimental to the well-being of the community. But, even if they rule as such, they would be reflecting the sentiment of local tax-payers and not the whim of a centralized government official. As for the notion that the buildings are being converted to houses of worship, the idea that the building is somehow sanctified in the worship service is a particularly Roman Catholic practice and not the classic understanding of most Christians who say that the church is not the building but the community of worshipers. We do not convert the building any more than the musicians who play in our subway trains and stations convert the trains and stations to concert halls. The activity does not define the nature of the venue. Taxpayers have not unknowingly built a church, scout meeting hall, or lecture hall instead of a school when those schools are used after hours for other purposes than the primary purpose of the building.

            Why should people in other parts of the country take particular note of this situation?

            It is not too difficult to see that this is a harbinger of the attitude that is taking root throughout our country and the attempts in other parts of the country to try to follow the example of what New York City has tried to do and is apparently meeting some success in doing. All that is necessary is a favorable legislative and judicial arrangement – one made up of a majority of those opposing the church either vehemently or apathetically. Already we see in places like Orange County, CA were other municipal measures reflect an animus towards religions in general and Christianity in particular. New York City is the only one of the 50 largest school districts in the country that has a law on the table that so discriminates in precluding religious organizations from renting its school buildings when they are not in use and do not interfere with the primary mission of the school. But if and when this is finally cleared for implementation, the other major school districts around the country are going to take notice of the precedence – including the refusal of SCOTUS to intervene in this first case. As someone has aptly put it, this is like a contagion that threatens to go viral around the country. In other words, it’s coming to a community near you.

            What would you like to see people in other parts of the country to do?

            Please pray for your brothers and sisters that are affected here. Pray that the Lord would continue to build his church and let his Gospel go forth without hindrance, even in this city (and this country). Pray for the civil leaders involved – at all levels and in all branches. Pray that they would rule justly and equitably as servants of God. Pray that we would have the right attitude to obey our leaders and serve our communities, come what may. Please pray that other churches throughout our city would come together in solidarity to understand the plight of sister churches and demonstrate the unity that the Lord Jesus prayed for would be true among his people. Before April 22, 2012, please pray that this coming together would be visibly expressed and understood by onlookers in the march and celebration scheduled to start in Brooklyn, cross the Brooklyn Bridge, and wind up next to City Hall in Manhattan. Pray for and contact their friends in New York to express their convictions and communicate to the Speaker of the State Assembly, the Governor, and their elected State Assembly members that they wish to see the Assembly Bill A8800A voted on and passed. We are grateful for the prayers and willingness to be involved from a distance by our brothers and sisters across the country.

            Any thing else you’d like to add?

            God is clearly still at work in this city. He even uses obstacles and seeming defeats to work his purposes. We have benefited from learning to identify with other churches and Christians across our city – those of different denominational, social-economic, and ethnic backgrounds. His glory will cover the earth like the waters cover the sea!

            Thanks so much, Stephen, for taking the time to answer my questions. May God bless you as you continue to serve him in New York City!

            Wednesday's Words of Wisdom...David Platt on the Motive for Missions

            "If we believe Revelation 5:9, if we believe that Jesus died to purchase people from every tribe and tongue and nation, then we will go to every tribe and tongue and nation. We will go and make disciples of all people groups.

            "Why? Think about it. Because we feel guilty that we’re reached? Because we feel guilty because of all the resources that we have? People say, 'Aren’t we just guilting people into going overseas, guilting people into going to unreached peoples?'

            "No! What drives passion for unreached peoples is not guilt: we feel bad so we go. No! What drives passion for unreached peoples is not guilt, it’s glory—it's glory for a King. It's people who believe that our king deserves the praise of every single people group on the planet, not just select ones here and here and here and here."
            David Platt
            Together for the Gospel, 2012

            Monday, April 16, 2012

            So, What Exactly Am I Supposed to Render?

            Yesterday I preached from Matthew 22:15-22, "So What Exactly Am I Supposed to Render?" In this sermon, we took a look at what exactly it is that we do (and don't) owe the government, and why this is so. Click here to access audio from it as well as from prior sermons.
            Matthew 22:15-22 (ESV) - Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone's opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar's.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.” When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.

            A Word for Preachers...Edwards on Raising Affections

            "I don't think ministers are to be blamed for raising the affections of their hearers too high, if that which they are affected with be only that which is worthy of affection, and their affections are not raised beyond the proportion to their importance, or worthiness of affection. I should think myself in the way of my duty to raise the affections of my hearers as high as possibly I can, provided that they are affected with nothing but truth, and with affections that are not disagreeable to the nature of what they are affected with."

            Jonathan Edwards

            (HT: Stephen Miller)

            Friday, April 13, 2012

            Friday Fun...Just a Bit Outside

            I thought I would share this in honor of the start of baseball season. For full effect, you need to watch until the second replay. Remember, this is a man who is paid millions of dollars specifically to throw a baseball. And you will note that with two outs in the ninth inning, he had still not given up a run, so he was doing it incredibly effectively.


            The Explicit Gospel

            Not sure if you've heard about it yet, but I wanted to alert you to a new book by Matt Chandler with Jared Wilson entitled The Explicit Gospel. I've not read it yet, but Matt and Jared are two guys who love the gospel and love to proclaim it, and I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of this book as soon as it becomes available this month! Check out the short video below to get a feel for the book.

            Thursday, April 12, 2012

            The Virtue of Ordinary Faithfulness

            A few years back, Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck co-authored Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion. I was reminded of what a helpful book that is this morning when I saw a number of friends on Facebook linking to this post at by Kevin (which is an adaptation of the book's epilogue). In it he calls us to the following:
            What we need are fewer revolutionaries and a few more plodding visionaries. That’s my dream for the church — a multitude of faithful, risktaking plodders. The best churches are full of gospel-saturated people holding tenaciously to a vision of godly obedience and God’s glory, and pursuing that godliness and glory with relentless, often unnoticed, plodding consistency.
            It's well worth reading the whole post -- or the whole book for that matter! I know I need to remind myself often that God doesn't necessarily call me to turn the world upside down, but he does call me to be faithful. This is a good word for us all, but especially essential for pastors to remember.

            Another must-read for pastors that helps remind us of this fact is D.A. Carson's Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor: The Life and Reflections of Tom Carson. In the book, Carson weaves together his father's journal entries with biographical information to give a sketch of a man he profoundly respects and admires, even though the depth of his own direct impact and the level of his own fame have far outreached those of his father, who spent the vast majority of his life pastoring rather small churches. Carson notes in the book's preface:
            (F)ew assessments of Dad's journals are likely to prove more penetrating than that of Michael Thate, my administrative assistant. Michael cheerfully transcribed the English parts of the journals. When he sent me the last digital files, he accompanied them with an e-mail that said in part, "I used to aspire to be the next Henry Martyn [heroic British Bible translator and missionary to the Muslim peoples of India and Persia]. However, after reading your dad's diaries, the Lord has given my heart a far loftier goal: simply to be faithful. I know we men are but dust, but what dust the man I read about in these diaries was!" And after proofing the manuscript he sent me a note telling me he was reminded of Tolkien's lines about Strider:
            All that is gold does not glitter,
            Not all those who wander are lost;
            The old that is strong does not wither,
            Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
            From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
            A light from the shadows shall spring;
            Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
            The crownless again shall be king.
            All true. And yet Tom was a most ordinary pastor.
            Some of us are indeed called to wield massive influence. The vast majority of us are called to more ordinary things. Instead of seeking to revolutionize the world, let us simply seek the far loftier goal of being faithful. If God desires to use our faithfulness in ways that are beyond our wildest imagination, then so be it. May he receive all the glory. And if he should choose to use us only in the smallest of ways, then so be it. May he be glorified just as much.

            Wednesday, April 11, 2012

            Lloyd-Jones Sermon Audio Available for Free

            If you like great preaching and are not currently at Together 4 the Gospel (I assume there are at least three or four of us), then I have some big news for you. Apparently Jonathan Catherwood, the grandson of Dr. Martyn Llloyd-Jones, announced this morning at T4G that the MLJ Trust will be making audio of ALL of his grandfather's sermons available for free at

            This is great news as over 1600 sermons from one of the greatest preachers of the 20th century will be available to us all beginning tomorrow. I understand the announcement was met with rousing applause at T4G (no surprise). Click here to read the particulars of the announcement.

            Wednesday's Words of Wisdom...Lewis on Spirituality and Vocation

            "I reject at once an idea which lingers in the mind of some modern people that cultural activities are in their own right spiritual and meritorious — as though scholars and poets were intrinsically more pleasing to God than scavengers and bootblacks. I think it was Matthew Arnold who first used the English word spiritual in the sense of the German geistlich, and so inaugurated this most dangerous and most anti-Christian error. Let us clear it forever from our minds. The work of a Beethoven, and the work of a charwoman, become spiritual on precisely the same condition, that of being offered to God, of being done humbly 'as to the Lord.' This does not, of course, mean that it is for anyone a mere toss-up whether he should sweep rooms or compose symphonies. A mole must dig to the glory of God and a cock must crow. We are members of one body, but differentiated members, each with his own vocation."

            C.S. Lewis
            The Weight of Glory

            Tuesday, April 10, 2012

            Video Podcast #1...Mastering Priorities

            In this first attempt at a video podcast, I take a look at the priorities of the champion of this year's Masters golf tournament.

            Click here to follow Bubba Watson on Twitter...or click here to follow Pete!

            Monday, April 9, 2012

            A Word for Preachers...Ryle on the Nature of the Gospel

            "As ever you would grow in grace, and have joy and peace in believing, beware of falling into this error. Cease to regard the Gospel as a mere collection of dry doctrines. Look at it rather as the revelation of a mighty living Being in whose sight you are daily to live. Cease to regard it as a mere set of abstract propositions and abstruse principles and rules. Look at it as the introduction to a glorious personal Friend.

            "This is the kind of Gospel that the apostles preached. They did not go about the world telling men of love and mercy and pardon in the abstract. The leading subject of all their sermons was the loving heart of an actual living Christ. This is the kind of Gospel which is most calculated to promote sanctification and fitness for glory. Nothing, surely, is so likely to prepare us for that heaven where Christ’s personal presence will be all, and that glory where we shall meet Christ face to face, as to realize communion with Christ, as an actual living Person here on earth. There is all the difference in the world between an idea and a person." 

            J.C. Ryle
            Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots

            Sunday, April 8, 2012

            Friday, April 6, 2012

            Isaiah 53

            The words of the prophet Isaiah, written 700 years before Christ:

                Who has believed what he has heard from us?
                    And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
                For he grew up before him like a young plant,
                    and like a root out of dry ground;
                he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
                    and no beauty that we should desire him.
                He was despised and rejected by men;
                    a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
                and as one from whom men hide their faces
                    he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
                Surely he has borne our griefs
                    and carried our sorrows;
                yet we esteemed him stricken,
                    smitten by God, and afflicted.
                But he was pierced for our transgressions;
                    he was crushed for our iniquities;
                upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
                    and with his wounds we are healed.
                All we like sheep have gone astray;
                    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
                and the LORD has laid on him
                    the iniquity of us all.
                He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
                    yet he opened not his mouth;
                like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
                    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
                    so he opened not his mouth.
                By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
                    and as for his generation, who considered
                that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
                    stricken for the transgression of my people?
                And they made his grave with the wicked
                    and with a rich man in his death,
                although he had done no violence,
                    and there was no deceit in his mouth.
                Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;
                    he has put him to grief;
                when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
                    he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
                the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
                Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
                by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
                    make many to be accounted righteous,
                    and he shall bear their iniquities.
                Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
                    and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
                because he poured out his soul to death
                    and was numbered with the transgressors;
                yet he bore the sin of many,
                    and makes intercession for the transgressors.

            (Isaiah 53, ESV)

            The Crown and the Cross

            Down and down and down, from the heaven above to this sinful world below; made like a man, made out of dust, made in the form of a servant.  The poorest among the poor, like a slave, obedient unto death, even the death of the cross devised by the Roman government for felons and murderers and slaves.

            And He was crucified between thieves.  He was raised between the earth and the sky, as though rejected by both.  Despised by man, refused by God, reviled and cursed; as though abuse was not vile enough, He was covered with spittle.  As though to spit upon Him was not contemptuous enough, they plucked out His beard.  As though to tear off His beard was not brutal enough, they pressed on His brow the crown of thorns.  But the thorns were not sharp enough, they drove in the nails.  But the nails did not pierce enough, they thrust Him through with a Roman spear.  At three o’clock that afternoon it was over.  He bowed His head and gave up the spirit and the light of the world flickered out.

            Tread softly, tread softly around the cross, for Jesus, the Son of God, is dead.
            The head that was anointed in the love of Mary of Bethany is bowed, with a crown of thorns. 
            The lips that called Lazarus from the grave are silent as the tomb.
            The eyes that went over Jerusalem, are glazed in death. 
            The hands that blessed little children are nailed to a tree. 
            The feet that walked on the waters of Galilee are fastened to the wood. 
            And the heart that beat in love for a lost world is broken in two. 
            Jesus is dead. 

            And that sad refrain seemed to be repeated by the whole earth.  The mob that clamored for His life looked and said, “Now He’s dead!” and they drifted apart.  The sojourner, passing by, paused to look, “He’s dead,” and continued on into the city.  The Pharisee with a smile of self-satisfaction and rubbing his hands in self-congratulation, said, “He’s dead,” and returned to the city.  And the Sadducee, with sigh of relief said, “He’s dead,” and returned to his coffers in the temple.  And the Roman centurion made his official report to Pontius Pilate, “He is dead.”  And the soldiers who were dispatched to break their legs, seeing Jesus on the center cross so certainly dead, no use to break His legs, and with a spear they thrust into His heart when blood and water flowed out. 

            And Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, fellow Sanhedrinists, went to Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator, and asked for His body, “He is dead.”  The mother of our Lord and the women who ministered unto Him in Galilee, in sobs and in tears said, “He is dead.”  The two on the road to Emmaus, as they walked and were sad, said to one another, “He’s dead.”  And the eleven apostles, like frightened sheep, crowd into eleven shadows, hiding from the pointing finger of Jerusalem, cry in their solitude and despair, “He is dead.”  Wherever they met in upper rooms, on lonely roads, behind closed doors, in hiding places, that same sobbing refrain, “He is dead, buried, sealed in a tomb; even a guard at the grave.  He is dead.”  Peter the Rock, is a rock no longer.  James and John, sons of Boanerges, are sons of thunder no more.  Simon the Zealot, a zealot no longer. 

            In the depths of despair the hope and the light of life went out...

            W. A. Criswell
            From the sermon, The Crown and the Cross

            (HT: Trevin Wax)

            It's Friday...But Sunday's Coming

             Rev. S.M. Lockridge

            Thursday, April 5, 2012

            Video Available for Race & the Christian

            As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, John Piper, Tim Keller and Anthony Bradley got together last Wednesday to discuss the topic of Race & the Christian. Each of the three men spoke for approximately 20-25 minutes followed by a Q&A session.

            If you were unable to catch this important discussion via the live stream last Wednesday, or if you did and you'd like to watch it again, Desiring God has made the videos available online. To watch them, you can either go to their website, or simply watch them embedded below.

            Wednesday, April 4, 2012

            Wednesday's Words of Wisdom...Dan Doriani on the Lord's Supper

            "Whenever we partake of the Lord's Supper, we share in the benefits of the new covenant: substitutionary atonement leading to the forgiveness of sins, particular redemption granting security to believers. With sins covered, with freedom from guilt, with no need to make amends for sins, we can rest in Christ. If the disciples left the final meal singing a hymn of joy (Matthew 26:30), how much more should we."

            Dan Doriani
            Matthew (Reformed Expository Commentary)

            Tuesday, April 3, 2012

            Dane Ortlund on Staying Christian in Seminary

            You may have noticed in the right sidebar of my blog that there is a section called "Most Popular Posts." At the top of the list, you'll find that of all the posts I've written, the one that has gotten the most traffic is my post entitled Seminary Doesn't Need to Kill Your Faith. It was a response to a series that Desiring God had started entitled How to Stay a Christian in Seminary and focused on the fact that far from being a place of spiritual turmoil, Covenant Theological Seminary was a sweet foretaste of heaven for me.

            Fellow Covenant alum Dane Ortlund wrote a post yesterday entitled Staying Christian in Seminary in conjunction with the Desiring God series. In it he suggests that among the many good words of advice, there are two things in particular that the seminary student should remember:
            1. You are justified by another.
            2. You are strong in weakness.
            In both of these, much is made of God's grace, and our need to be in performance-mode is minimized. If you are a seminary student, I highly recommend you read Dane's entire post. In fact, the gospel-centeredness of this post is so rich that it would benefit you greatly even if seminary is the last place you expect to find yourself.

            Monday, April 2, 2012

            A Word for Preachers...John Brown on the Doctrine of the Atonement

            "Let a man preach with the greatest ability and zeal everything in the Bible but the Cross, he shall, as to the great end of preaching, preach in vain. While, on the other hand, the honest preaching of the Cross — though in great weakness, and even when accompanied with great deficiencies as to a full declaration of the counsel of God on some other subjects — has usually been accompanied with the divine blessing. The doctrine of the atonement ought not to be the sole theme of the Christian ministry, but every doctrine, and every precept, of Christianity should be exhibited in their connection with this great master principle; and the leading object of the preacher should be to keep the mind and heart of his hearers steadily fixed on Christ Jesus — Christ Jesus crucified."

            John Brown
            An Exposition of the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians
            (HT: Of First Importance)

            Free Download..."Jeremy Lin: Faith, Joy, and Basketball" by Ted Kluck

            The other day I posted this message at Facebook:
            My friend, Ted Kluck, has written a book about Jeremy Lin, subtitled Faith, Joy, and Basketball. I haven't read it yet, but Ted is a talented, honest and witty writer who has penned books on such varied topics as Mike Tyson, international adoption, and the emergent church.
            In the Introduction to this book, Ted writes,
            Watching the Knicks, and waiting for this deal, is like watching the stock market. I have a few shares of Jeremy Lin, Inc., and while I wait for my publisher to have the requisite fifty-five committee meetings necessary to approve a project, I'm praying Lin doesn't sprain an ankle or have a horrendous shooting night. Time is of the essence. I'm breaking the cardinal rule of publishing (and of pro sports, for that matter), which is "Don't begin work without a contract." Rod Tidwell would be ashamed of me.
            Fortunately for Ted, the book got the green light and was made available for e-readers last week. Unfortunately for Lin, Ted's words turned seemingly prophetic this weekend with the announcement that Lin would have surgery on a torn meniscus in his left knee, likely sidelining him for the rest of the season.

            When I saw this news and then shortly thereafter saw that the download of the book was available for free, I assumed the two facts were related. Turns out the marketing plan all along was to make it available for free for a very limited time. I encourage you to click here today to get a FREE download of it for your e-reader. I'm not sure how long it will be available at no charge, so don't hesitate!