The Temptation of Professorial Ministry

This past Sunday morning during Sunday School, we spent time talking about the sermon text Romans 8:31-39. In the sermon I had talked about God’s commitment to conforming us to the image of Jesus Christ and the security that commitment gives us to follow our Savior. It is a security grounded in a divine marriage that we have with a loving husband who has given himself for us – and therefore – will not let us go. This love grants us the courage and freedom to give ourselves away to him, or as Isaac Watts has said,

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

The goal of ministry is for the pastor to believe this, and practice this, in order to help others embrace and practice it, as well. However, how do you embrace such an urgent message, let alone lead others to embrace it when things just don’t seem that urgent to us? Continue reading

Ten Commandments for Handling Significant Change in Your Life

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? . . . One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple. ~ Psalm 27:4

I saw this today and thought it was pretty good. Though it was originally written with welcoming a new pastor in mind, it provides a good picture of mature faith and trust for dealing with any significant change in your life. You can simply insert “the new/old thing” in the place of “new/old Pastor.”

I. Thou shalt not compare the old Pastor and the new Pastor, for the Lord thy God has made each person unique and wishes you to appreciate each original creation.

II. Thou shalt not expect everything to stay the same when the new Pastor arrives. Nor shalt thou resist change, nor assume that change is bad, but thou shalt trust that the Lord thy God isn’t finished with your church yet and is bringing change for your good and the good of your mission.

III. Thou shalt not make graven images of thine old grudges, nor shalt thou keep stale disappointments in the temple of thine heart, but thou shalt forgive and move on in the grace of the Lord thy God, for how can thou ask God for mercy unless thou give mercy from thine heart? Continue reading

Is the Mystery Gone?

Is the mystery gone? No, I’m not talking about your relationship with your spouse – I’m talking about your relationship with God. I have been thinking about his question for some time now, for I have a strange vocation. I am a pastor – which means that I have been called to be a steward of God’s mysteries. This provides me a great deal of time reading God’s words and praying in private, as well as, leading my church in worship and adoration of God through reading, preaching, praying, and administering the sacraments twice on Sunday. But all this time around God’s truth can be difficult – and one of the primary struggles is not allowing the divine mysteries to become common-place. But this is not just a problem that minister’s face – this is a trial that we all face, as I have been reminded from my current sermon preparations for preaching through Habakkuk.

The very history of the church, going back to the Old Testament is that the people of God have always tended to forget God and what he has done for us. Continue reading

Holiness: More Than Middle-Class Family Values & Checklist Spirituality

Today I finally received my copy of Kevin DeYoung’s new book, The Hole in Our Holiness: Filling the Gap between Go0spel Passion and the Pursuitof Godliness.  I have been waiting on this book since late Spring when I watched his presentation “Spirit-powered, Gospel-driven, Faith-fueled Effort,” which he gave at this year’s Together for the Gospel Conference, in which he provided a heads-up that this book was forthcoming. His presentation, which you can watch by following the link provided, is a small snapshot of what he deals with in the book – his fear that the current trend of emphasizing gospel living is leading people away from a serious pursuit of holiness.

Passionate exhortation to pursue gospel-driven holiness is barely heard in most of our churches. . . . My fear is that as we rightly celebrate, and in some quarters rediscover, all that Christ has saved us from, we are giving little thought and making little effort concerning all that Christ has saved us to. Shouldn’t those most passionate about the gospel and God’s glory also be those most dedicated to the pursuit of godliness? I worry that there is an enthusiasm gap and no one seems to mind, (p. 10-11, emphasis in original). Continue reading

>Introducing "Life in Christ," Another Pilgrim Blog

>My good friend Mark Garcia has finally started to blog! Mark is the minister at Immanuel OPC in Moon Township, PA. Mark is a gifted exegete, biblcial-theologian, communicator and minister of the gospel. His blog, Life in Christ, is dedicated to the “sights and sounds of a pilgrim life.” The title of the blog illustrates Mark’s perspective of the Christian life as a life lived out in union with Christ, so that the gospel not only “saves” a sinner, but also shapes and directs the ongoing life of the saint. This robust understanding and commitment to the necessity and sufficiency of the gospel is illustrated in a recent post:

The reach of the Fall is wide and painfully deep, and the face of Sin is not one to be smirked at, made light of, dismissed. Appearances notwithstanding, hungry evil does not nibble; it devours and savors every bloody morsel of its conquest. The Gospel, then, must reach as far as that. If the “good news” is a mere peddling of superficial goods – a better name, better sleep, better wife and kids, better anything – then that is good news only to those untouched by horror. If it is not good news to those caught in the jagged teeth of Evil’s extremities, then it is not good news. Yet here is something of the glory of the true Gospel. Only at the extremities of evil do we begin, and yet only begin, to peer into the depths of the love of the One who “descended into Hell.” At the edge of that abyss, that which at first makes us recoil ultimately offers the only true rest from an often nightmarish existence.

No matter the extremity and extent of the evil that is present in this fallen generation, there is no evil and, therefore, no sinner that is beyond the reach of the Christ of the biblical gospel. Mark is only getting started so check out his other posts at “Life in Christ.” You can also hear some of Mark’s sermons here (especially the series on Deuteronomy!).

>More on Gospel Living

>As a follow up to my previous post on The Gospel Driven Life, I thought I would also promote a book I have just finished reading that also promotes a gospel understanding of the Christian life, but from a more personal perspective. Authored by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Dennis Johnson, this book seeks to emphasize that the proper way to understand ourselves and our personal struggles is not “by walking beyond the gospel that first brought us into the favor and family of God but rather by moving more deeply into that same gospel,” (14, emphasis in original). Stated very simply in the Introduction, the purpose of the book is to help Christians “take the truth of our acceptance before God by Christ’s righteousness alone and make it practical as you live your everyday life, (19), because “many Christians . . . just don’t know how his incarnation, sinless life, substitutionary death, bodily resurrection, ascension, and reign ought to impact them in the ‘real world,'” (20).

The book is geared towards providing a Christian approach to counseling, which they call “gospel-centered counseling, and define as,

the process of one Christian coming alongside another with words of truth to encourage, admonish, comfort, and help–words drawn from Scripture, grounded in the gracious saving work of Jesus Christ, and presented in the context of relationship (91-92).

The goal of this counseling is not just to help people behave better or to have more self worth, and it is not just geared towards individuals, but rather to help “one grow in his or her understanding of the gospel and how it applies to every area of life and then respond in grateful obedience in every circumstance, all tot he building up of the church and for the glory of God,” (92). This book emphasizes the reality that in Christ, we are part of a community and therefore, there should be a communal focus to how we live and deal with our problems.

The book is split up between chapters 1-4, which are general chapters that discuss the different aspects of the gospel and provide specific illustrations for how the gospel should shape our lives, and chapters 5-9, which contain more direct material concerning counseling. In this latter section, the authors deal with such topics as the gospel and sanctification, emotions, and relationships.

For those familiar with a redemptive-historical approach to the scriptures, you will be pleased to find that this book is basically an approach to counseling that is based on the insights gained from a redemptive-historical interpretation. Throughout the book, Fitzpatrick and Johnson look at different areas of life through the indicative/imperative lens–what Christ has accomplished for us and who we have been made in him, and now how we should live in light of our new identities in Christ.

Although Counsel from the Cross: Connecting Broken People to the Love of Christ is directed towards the topic of counseling, the material can and should be read, reflected upon and applied by all Christians, not just counselors and pastors.

If interested, you can see the Table of Contents and read the Introduction and some of the first chapter here.

>Gospel-Driven Life

>Thankfully there appears to be a welcome transition away from the “Moral Majority” understanding of the Christian life that distinguishes between a gospel that is believed to make one a Christian and then an ethic that is lived out back to the Reformational understanding that the gospel is a message that shapes not only faith but all of life. In his most recent book, Micahel Horton seeks to reorient our faith and practice as Christians and churches toward the gospel. He writes in the Intoduction:

. . . the gospel creates the kind of community that is even now an imperfect preview of the kingdom’s marriage feast that awaits [the church]. The church is its own culture, not only with its distinct story and doctrine, but with its own “politics” and means. Consistent with the message that it proclaims, the church is receiving its life, identity, growth, and expansion from above rahter than creating these for itself and from its own resources, (p. 11, emphasis in original).

Horton has written this as a follow up to his book Christless Christianity, in which he “offered a prophetic wake-up call for a self-centered American church.” Now, with this newest book, Horton offers up his solutions and recommendations for a new reformation in the faith, practice, and witness of contemporary Christianity.

If you are looking for a book that will help you better understand how to live out the gospel and not just believe it, if you’re looking for more than a Twelve-Step approach to the Christian life, if you’re looking for more than a forty day program, if you’re looking for more than a Moral Majority political perspective of living the Christian life, then read this book.

For a limited time it is available here for $10.99 (45% off), so act fast.

>Authentic Not Enough?

>
Over at Reformation21, Carl Truman reviews a Christian review of the film Milk. Part of his review focuses on the new buzz word of the postmodern–“authentic.” He points out that “authentic” anything is not a word for describing behavior, because it is not an ethical term–it is a term that is devoid of any moral content, biblically speaking. He writes,

If honesty and consistency between belief and action, even at personal risk, are the criteria for judging that somebody is worthy of emulation, then what is to stop a spoiled eight year old screaming for the latest toy, or Adolf Hitler, or even serial killers from being such? All offer examples of sincerely held beliefs in action. (emphasis mine)

So is it proper to use “authentic” as a description for Christian faith and living? He writes,

…sometimes it is not acting on impulses, not comforming public behaviour to inner drives and instincts which is appropriate — particularly, for Christians (at least one would hope), when those drives and instincts are opposed to the teaching of scripture. Being sold out to the wrong set of beliefs, be those beliefs white supremacy, exploitation of the poor, in-your-face gay lifestyle, or wife-beating, is not admirable.

Although I am not emphasizing his entire review of the movie, I think his analysis of the use of “authentic” as being morally vacuous and potentially a justification for all kinds of evil, should cause us to give pause and question whether or not it is a category that should be used in assessing ours or anyone’s behavior.

Let me offer a quick biblical critique of “authenticity.” First, Jesus tells us in Matthew 11.29-30: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Our rest is not found in borrowing the ideas of the world and adopting them as our own by synthesizing them with Christianity. All that we need comes directly from Christ–not Christ and the world. Our faith is lived out in Christ–not in postmodern authenticity.

Second, Jesus says in Matthew 16:24-26: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” When we take Christ’s yoke upon us and then live out our faith in him, it includes not only living according to his words alone–it includes us denying our desires to incorporate the world into our faith. This statement of Jesus was his response to Peter who made a correct profession of faith, but then contradicted that profession when his worldly thinking caused him to rebuke Christ for announcing his intention to live a gospel life–a life of the cross. We do not find life by mixing worldly wisdom with the gospel–that will only keep us from living the gospel–for the gospel life of faith is a life of the cross.

Lastly, the apostle Paul tells us in Galatians 5.13-14: “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Life in Christ is truly a life of freedom and liberty–but not a liberty to behave authentically, but a liberty to live lovingly and self-sacrificially. We are not to act in light of our desires, but in light of the desires of Christ. He lovingly gave up his life for us when we were his enemies. We are to love and serve one another in that same way–this is not about being authentic, its about being in Christ.

My point in this is that we don’t have to adopt a word like “authentic” because it is popular–especially when what is communicated by the word is antithetical to the call of the gospel living of the cross, self-sacrifice and love. When we live this way, we are not being authentic, we are being the opposite of authentic; we are living out our new identity in Christ. We don’t need to adopt a worldly term to describe that–the Bible has already provided one, its called “holy.”

But I guess “holy” is just not cool enough and smacks of sectarianism and intolerance.