Dear Pastor, Why Not Preach the Word?

One of my favorite radio hosts is always reviewing sermons, and I love it. So it made me wonder: why don’t you, dear pastor, preach the Word?

  1. Do you think that your ideas are wiser than God’s? No? Then preach the Word.
  2. Do you fancy your stories to be more entertaining than God’s Word? No? Then preach the Word.
  3. Do you find your topical sermons to be more directly applicable to people’s lives? Never! It canot be that you are a better exegete than the Holy Spirit! Preach the Word.
  4. Do you think your pop culture references are better connections than those inspired of the Spirit? No? Then preach the Word.
  5. Do you long to see souls saved from sin, death, and hell? God promises only one means, so preach the Word.
  6. Do you want to see Jesus Christ exalted over your own means, methods, and mole-hills? If not, leave the ministry. If so, preach the Word.
  7. Do you want to see Christ’s church upbuilt? Then preach the Word.
  8. Do you want to see your wife and children saved, strengthened, and sustained until the end? Your family vacation stories won’t do it. Preach the Word.
  9. Do you struggle with pride in your ministry? Only one means slays pride, so preach that Word.
  10. Do you care about the gospel ministry more than anything else you could give your life to? You’d better, so preach the Word.

Twelve Ways Romans Uses the Law

Romans uses the Mosaic law to:

  1. Convict of sin (ch. 1)
  2. Give just grounds for God’s wrath (ch. 1-3)
  3. Prick the conscience and lead to repentance (ch. 2)
  4. Show our utter inability and depravity (ch. 1-3)
  5. Show the glory of God’s promise to Abraham (ch. 4)
  6. Show our failure in the First Adam (ch. 5)
  7. Show Christ’s glory as the Second Adam (ch. 5)
  8. Explain our slavery to sin (ch. 6)
  9. Heighten our sense of sin (ch. 7)
  10. Show our freedom in Christ by the Spirit (ch. 8)
  11. Explain the proud failure of even the most law-oriented (ch. 9)
  12. Explain Christ’s substitution for us (ch. 10)

As always, there are probably more. But the point is: neglect neither the law nor its teachings!

There Ain’t No “Man Sauce”

I was talking to my students the other day about the Christian doctrine of manhood and womanhood, found preeminently in Genesis 1:27:

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

What we learn here is at least three key points:

  1. God is the creator of man, and He gives us a God-centered meaning. We are not self-created nor self-determining. From the beginning, autonomous humanity is a contradiction in terms.
  2. God created male and female in His own image. Both male humans and female humans glorify God by their respective designs. Men and women are different by design and yet united in their purpose to glorify their Creator.
  3. God created male and female persons from the beginning. God never thought of Adam as an gender-less being, only later to add on the “man sauce.” God never thought of Eve as an androgynous person, later deciding to dip her in a “lady potion.”

The fact that God created two genders, alike in purpose but different in design, means that from the beginning He conceived of us as gender-centric humans. All that we are, in the personhood-identity sense, is wrapped up in our identity as either male or female, but not both and not neither.

To put a point on it, God never thought of you as X person and later decided you would be a man or a woman. He always conceived of you as either a man or a woman because your gender is intrinsic to your personhood.

Our world would avoid an army of confusions if we understood that gender is not an afterthought, not an add-on. It is essential as males and females made in the image of God.

Archives: “Do Stuff” Still Isn’t the Gospel

Talking with a friend tonight, we were both reminded of the great glory of the grace of God in the gospel. God requires not that we “do stuff” to earn His favor or His forgiveness, but commands us to trust Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sins and eternal favor. The gospel isn’t that we “do stuff,” but that Jesus has already done all we need.

Here’s a rundown:

  1. Jesus Taught Justification by Faith Alone
  2. Did Jesus Teach Justification by Works?
  3. What Preaching the Gospel Is, and Isn’t
  4. Matthew 23: More Reasons “Do Stuff” Isn’t the Gospel
  5. “Do Stuff” Isn’t the Gospel
  6. Drink Deeply of Jesus Christ
  7. Hate at the Bottom of Your Heart
  8. Opinions We Make Into Law
  9. Is Your Church Characterized by Commands or Christ?

My prayer is always that we treasure Jesus Christ more through believing the gospel.

The Real Reason for “Atheism”

A few years back, I read Christopher Hitchens’ rather angry book, god is not great. As I reflected on it, it occurred to me that there are no real atheists. There are no true, self-assured atheists. There are only people who are lying to themselves.

“Wait, that sounds crazy! What about Hitler, Nietzsche, Stalin, and a host of serial killers and mass murderers?! What about the worst of the worst?!”

Contrary to humanistic psychology, the Bible teaches that all people have a knowledge of God, then reject that knowledge. Consider:

  • “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, doing abominable iniquity; there is none who does good.” (Psalm 53:1)
  • “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” (Romans 1:18)

Notice in both verses that there is a knowledge of God that is innate within every human that unbelievers then deceive themselves about (“the fool says in his heart”) and reject (“suppress the truth”).

Why Do They Reject?
If self-proclaimed “atheists,” then, have a knowledge of God which they reject, why do they reject Him? The answer lies in their lifestyles, their self-chosen desires, their lusts of the flesh.

The Bible regularly connects self-deception about God to the desire to “do abominable iniquity,” such as violence against other humans (e.g., abortion), perverted sexual desires, envy, deceit, slander, disobedience to parents, and the like.

It is often assumed that beliefs lead to lifestyles, and this is very true. But the connection works in the other way, too. We suppress God’s truth because we want to do abominable evils against Him and our fellow man, then our false beliefs allow us to do just so.

The Evil Circle
Apart from God’s gracious deliverance, our evil desires lead us to believe lies. In believing these atheistic lies, we justify our own evil desires. It is an evil, dark circle of deceit.

Women and men want to kill “unwanted” children, so they invent doctrines that allow it. A young man wants to steal a pair of shoes, so he decides God hasn’t spoken in the Ten Commandments. A young woman wants to feel loved, so she morphs God’s institution of marriage to mean “being in love.”

To put it another way, in the unbeliever, the atheist, the “fool,” desires rule beliefs. Individuality governs truth. Selfishness stomps out the reality of God’s revelation.

For Christians, it is just the opposite. By the grace of God through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, we have escaped the rule of ourselves to be conformed to God’s Word. God’s Word is reality, truth governs and changes individuals, and faith redeems desires toward the all-satisfying God.

Pray for those today who are still caught in this evil circle, and don’t think for a moment that their false beliefs are the strongest force in their hearts. Rather, it is their selfish, dark, evil desires to defame their Maker.

Hiding Behind Conservatism

On “Christian” Cowardice, the Lukewarm “Church,” and False Converts

In my state, we’re in the midst of a popular vote on whether or not we should exclusively define marriage as a union between one man and one woman. Several professing “Christians” have posted statements like this:

  • “Love is love is love.”
  • “Doesn’t Jesus tell us to love each other?”
  • “Legal marriage and spiritual marriage are two different, unrelated things.”
  • “I’m not sure this law should be in the state constitution.”

What troubles me more than the muddled thought processes behind such statements is the fact that they reveal an ignorance of the whole of Scripture. Such words have yanked passages out of context, used them in ways God never intended, and thrown them aside.

Such issues shine spotlights on our supposedly converted Christians and evangelical churches. If someone has no concern for God’s Word as He wrote it, is that person converted at all? Has he truly been transferred from the domain of darkness and into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son? Wouldn’t it show in the way he looks at the world?

A converted man would he care more for people’s souls than for the supposed pillars of conservatism. A converted man would stand up against evil, even when everyone else stood against him. A converted man would preach this gospel, live this gospel, and die for this gospel.

“Hold on, that seems harsh.” Is it? When professing Christians cajole, contort, and apologize to get around God’s Word, do they really love God?

The way that Christians respond publicly to abortion and marriage will be one true test of our faith. Do we believe God’s Word or do we care more for other man-centered issues? Do we fear God or man? Indeed, who is our God?

Afflicting the Unconverted

Mike McKinley’s Together for the Gospel 2012 talk about preaching to self-deceived unbelievers in our churches is full of gems. Here’s one:

“[Self-help teaching] only creates high-functioning citizens of hell.”

The whole thing is worth listening to, particularly if you don’t realize the effect of so-called “cultural Christianity.”

As McKinley reminds us, Christianity is a radical thing, not something you slide into because it’s convenient. It is our job, as believers, to help people see their true spiritual state.

A Family Better than a Billion Bars

Working the late-night shift lately I’ve seen how easy it is for single men (and, sadly, too many married men) to architect shaky “friendships” with women. These men drink, they party, they say dirty things to these women and their friends. Despite themselves, they might even get a few phone numbers.

But what they never get is a real relationship. Not out there, at the Irish bar at two in the morning anyway.

What’s more is this: I know that I could easily be out there with them, if not for the mercy of God.

I would be out there with them because I enjoy hanging out with women. God made women beautiful, but not mainly on the outside. Ladies have a kind of joy, gentleness, compassion, and love for people that men like me find baffling.

So instead of leaving me to seek such false friendships in an unsafe, foolish, and evil way (read: flirting and fornication), my good Lord gave me a mother who exemplifies each of those. So I was blessed to know and grow up with my godly mother.

Through her prayers, God brought me my wife, whose beauty shines in her character, full of love, compassion, and service, then it shines through in her appearance. She is my glory, and I am blessed to know and be known by her better than anyone.

Though my wife, God gave me daughters to know and love. In their lives, I see how God has particularly shaped young women to show off Jesus.

And through the rest of my family, grandmothers, my mother-in-law, aunts, sisters-in-law, cousins, and nieces to boot, God has give me a family literally full of godly women. In such a family, He graciously protects me from my sin while showing me the beauty of Jesus in the character of these godly women. I am truly blessed.

The Bible teaches the same principle in places like 1 Timothy 5:1-2:

Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.

While there is always more to the Scriptures and never less, one of the things Paul is teaching Timothy is that, in the Lord, we have safe familial relationships in the church. Men, we are meant to treat younger women as sisters, not lust-targets. We know this because God says we are to encourage these ladies “in all purity.”

In the Lord, I have a family better than a billion bars. I praise Him for my wife and the so many more godly women in my life.

T4G Panel #1: Complementarianism

Below are some highlights from the first panel discussion at Together for the Gospel 2012.

John Piper:

  • “[Complementarianism] a vision that steers a path between the nullification or minimization of differences as they are played out in society and the abuse of those differences.”
  • “We want to call women to full personhood and men to initiative and leadership in a Christlike demeanor.”
  • “I fought battle after battle with college students in the late 70’s and early 80’s over these things, but now we have thousands of young men and women who are receiving this [complementarianism] and flourishing.”
  • “The question that egalitarians can never answer for me is, ‘What do you do with a little 8-year-old boy that asks, “Daddy, what does it mean to grow up and be a man, and not a woman?” Or a girl who asks, “Mommy, what does it mean to grow up and be a woman, and not a man?” ‘ “
  • “Carefully walk through Ephesians 5 about marriage. It’s what every woman wants in her marriage.”
  • “Walk through the eight or nine evidences from Genesis 1 and 2 [sic, he included 3 in his explanation] that show that role reversal is what wrecked the world.”

Russell Moore:

  • “I fear that we have many people within evangelicalism who ‘check off’ complementarianism but live functionally egalitarian lives and marriages.”
  • “I recently spoke with a woman who told me her husband wants to get a sex-change operation. He didn’t want to leave her. They were going to stay together. Now, Martin Luther never had to deal with that.”
  • “When a wife submits herself to her own husband, when a young woman submits herself to a future husband she does not yet know, she refuses to submit to other men and the culture’s idea of women being defined by how men see them.”
  • “We as the church need to stop mimicking the outside culture in the way women are portrayed.”
  • “[You have to pay attention to complementarianism because] you have to deal with specifically complementarian texts: Ephesians 5, 1 Peter 3, 1 Timothy 2, and others. And you have personal sanctification issues to deal with.”
  • “Complementarianism bears the cross.”
  • “When Jesus washes the feet of the Church, she refuses Him. . . When He is going to die for her, Peter tries to stop him.”
  • “Jesus always gently and lovingly, but decisively, leads His bride.”

Greg Gilbert:

  • “We have men who think that complementarianism really has no feet on it until you come to a disagreement, that they have no role in leading in the home, in establishing an environment in the relationship, in taking initiative.”
  • “To get to an egalitarian position, you have to bring in some bad DNA, some bad principles and ideas, into your interpretation of Scripture. And eventually you will bring that to other texts as well.”
  • “As a pastor of a local church, you can’t ‘back-burner’ the issue [gender relations, complementarianism, etc.], because it’s so practical.”
  • “Too often, we let the discussion [about gender roles] be about negatives rather than positives.”
  • “God-given role does not speak to God-given dignity.”
  • “God has every right to give out roles to His created people.”

For more resources, go to CBMW.org . Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, and other resources, are available as free pdfs.

A New Creation Like a Loaded Arrow

Another one of the most misquoted/misused passages in the Bible has to be 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone; behold, the new has come.” People tend to explain this passage in one of two inadequate ways:

  1. Blank: This way says, “Look, you’re new! Everything has changed! You’re a different person, better, invigorated, alive!” But this way fails to explain what this new creation entails.
  2. Glorified: This way emphasizes the newness of this re-creation, “You won’t suffer any more! You’re a new creation, just like the heavens and the earth!”

Now look at the context. Verse 15 says explicitly, “And [Christ] died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

Note the purpose statement here: “That those who live might no longer live for themselves for him who for their sake died and was raised.” This purpose of Christ’s death, which re-creates believers, has a negative element and a positive element.

  • Negative: Christ’s death and resurrection accomplish repentance for us to turn from our former way of life. And what was that evil way of life? Living for ourselves.
  • Positive: Christ’s death and resurrection further buy grace for us for the faith to live for Christ, our substituting Savior.

The problem with the common explanations of 2 Cor. 5:17, then, is that these fail to focus the new creation on Jesus Christ. Verse 15 speaks through the ages: “that those who live might no longer live for themselves for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

This is the new creation: not money or health or more energy but an all-encompassing, sin-slaying love for Jesus Christ. We’re not blank creations nor do we yet have glorified bodies; we’re loaded arrows headed for Christ our Treasure.

A Clown Leading a Funeral

Or: American Evangelicalism Cannot Lament

One of my teachers recently reminded me that roughly 70% of the Psalms are lament. That would be astounding if . . . only we knew what lament was.

In the US, we prefer laughing at something terrible rather than weeping. We prefer joking over looking someone in the eye. We would grin a thousand times (a million?) before ever tearing our clothes. In other words, we’re cowards.

In God’s logic, however, these things should not be. To go down to the house of mourning is better than the house of feasting, because death is our end in this life, and we ought to take that to heart.

So why do we act like clowns leading the world’s funeral march? I offer but three reasons:

  1. Laughter is our escape. As well it should be, but only sometimes. Laughter is a gift that teaches us who believe about the world to come, but it doesn’t teach us much about the shortness of our lives. And our world is too filled with glib gaiety to understand the weight of blood-bought joy.
  2. Laughter is our default. It seems that so many of us, when confronted with hard situations like death or disease or divorce, try to laugh it off. Why is that? Surely, we are using laughter to escape, but we’re also using it because we don’t know what else to do. It’s easier to laugh than to look someone in the eye and feel their pain.
  3. Laughter is our drug. Like an escape and an I-don’t-know-what-else-to-do knee-jerk reaction. Laughter is our drug. When we’re tired but refuse to go to bed, we want to watch comedy. When we’ve had too many hard things for one day, we are thrilled to disconnect from the real world by watching more YouTube nonsense.

I ought to pause here to say that, as my friends would smirkingly testify, I am a man who loves to laugh. But these points convict me, too: am I too eager to laugh when I ought to weep? Do I try to escape pain meant to abase me in prayer by escaping in false glee? Do I really believe that my life will skip the cross and all its suffering to go straight to the singing and dancing?

Oh, friend, let us remember that all of our singing and dancing must be tainted with longing, sorrow, and lament until Jesus returns. Hasten the day, Lord Jesus, when faith will be made sight! Until then, keep us real, burning our lamps in sorrowful joy until you bring the fullness of joy in Your kingdom.

No Other Message

Thomas Jones, from a 1976 lecture, “Preaching the Cross of Christ”:

True Christian preaching must center on the cross of Jesus Christ. The cross is the central doctrine of the Holy Scriptures. All other revealed truths either find their fulfillment in the cross or are necessarily founded upon it. Therefore, no doctrine of Scripture may faithfully be set before men unless it is displayed in its relationship to the cross. The one who is called to preach, therefore, must preach Christ because there is no other message from God.

[Quoted in Bryan Chappell, Christ-centered Preaching, p.271]

The Redeemer > The Redeemed

In his recent post,”What Does It Mean to be Biblically Balanced?” Tullian Tchividjian explains how the Bible places a premium on the gospel:

The emphasis of the Bible is on the work of the Redeemer, not on the work of the redeemed.

To Live and Die a Son

Bible translator Drew Maust reports that Emily Belz’s story on the battle over Bible translation in Muslim contexts still rages. As one pastor says, “I want to die for the Bible.”

And many will, knowing that – contrary to nonsensical translations – the Word says we are children, not mainly of earthly parents, but of the heavenly Father through Jesus Christ, the Son.

“Our Religion is What We Do”

An Investigation into the Ethos of One Mainline Liberal Protestant Non-Profit

Mainline liberal Protestantism has a lot of ills, which are better chronicled and dissected elsewhere; but, in a recent conversation, one came to the forefront. This is how it went:

  • Mainline liberal Protestant leader: We want you to understand that we are a Christian organization, but we’re not religious.
  • Me: What does that mean?
  • MLPL: Well, we believe in the teachings of Jesus, and we teach our children about a relationship with God and a belief in a ‘higher power.’
  • Me: So what is this relationship with God based on?
  • MLPL: Our religion is who we are, it’s what we do, it’s how we live.

Now, to understand the context, we need to back up. This organization for which the MLP leader spoke does present itself as a Christian operation, even taking their name from one of Christ’s miracles. As with many Christian social aid organizations, they receive donations from both individuals and Christian organizations, including (in all likelihood) several local churches.

So, at the very least, churches that are supposed to beacon the gospel are support this organization instead. But, someone might read this and say, what’s so bad about that?

Deceptive and Disorienting
From the first statement, I knew where we were headed: this leader meant to confuse and mislead people by her use of terms. To say “we are Christian, but not religious,” in her own usage, means that Christ is a personal tiny-idol who has no bearing on their operation but to be a prayer cuckhold.

Now, this is surely worth another post, but only in the Bible belt could we countenance such Christ-hating lies (see below) with a smile. Only in the South could such a leader raise money under the name of Jesus, then turn around and spit on His name. And to have the gaul to say that this is the essence of “Progressive Christianity.”

“We’re a Christian organization, but we’re not religious,” only means, “We want everyone outside to think we’re Christian, but our program will refuse to follow Him so as to remain acceptable to all the unbelievers involved. We are dry water, living death, holy idolatry.”

Anti-Truth and Anti-Theology
The second statement, that this organization holds to the teachings of Jesus and teaches students about a persona dei non descripta and their relationship with him (her? it?), is a clarifying summary of many MLP’s approach to truth and theology. This is to say, that in any biblically recognizable way, many don’t believe in truth or theology.

“Whoa! That’s a big blanket statement! Aren’t you being unfair?” Well, with respect to this one conversation’s context and intent, no. To this particular leader of this particular organization, the Bible’s truth had no bearing on her leadership, the program’s goals, and the lives of their students. Worse, this truth had long been divorced from the Christ who is its depth of meaning and rich fountain of life:

  • Jesus is the Truth: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” (John 14:6).
  • Christ is the Storehouse of wisdom and knowledge: “In whom [Christ] are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” (Colossians 2:3).
  • Christ is the personal revelation of God’s truth: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ,” (John 1:17).
  • Truth leads back to Christ: “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,” (Ephesians 4:15).

In other words, an organization who cares not to describe God according to the Bible cares not for the real Jesus Christ, who is the personal fulfillment and embodiment of that truth.

God-less, Christ-less Religion
This all brings us to the last statement, which now is particularly revealing. When pressed on the basis for her beliefs, all this leader could answer was: “The religion I’m talking is all about me! Me! Not God! Me! It’s how I live, not who He is!” To her, following Jesus had nothing to do with faith, but everything to do with works.

To put it another way, she had all cart and no horse. The cart could be hitched to anything; here it is hitched to a vague deity of your own choosing, who happens to look a lot like you. Such a statement is me-magnifying idolatry of the lowest order.

Me-centered religion is no religion in the old sense of the term at all. It is no face-to-face-ness with God, no worship of Him at all. It excludes God and His Christ for an image made in the likeness of man. This leader’s god was found in the mirror, not the Scriptures.

Stop the Charade; Warn the Wicked
Because of these things, I’ll be writing the board of this particular organization to notify them of the God-hating things that they have authorized in the name of Jesus. No organization should take Christ’s name and spit on His face in the Word, and we must rebuke the wicked. “But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul,” (Ezekiel 33:9).

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