Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Source and Sum of All Full and Lasting Joy

First, read Ben Witherington's critique of the vision of Jonathan Edwards which might be summed up in this way: "The chief end of God is to glorify God and enjoy himself forever" (this is actually one of Piper's headings in Let the Nations be Glad! for chapter one titled: The Supremacy of God in Missions Through Worship). Witherington interacts with Tom Schreiner's forthcoming book on New Testament Theology. Witherington reveals the heart of Arminian theology with this telling (actually, appalling) paragraph:

"There were various nuances and amplifications to the discussion, but the more one read, the more it appeared clear that God was being presented as a self-centered, self-referential being, whose basic motivation for what he does, including his motivation for saving people, is so that he might receive more glory. Even the sending of the Son and the work of the Spirit is said to be but a means to an end of God's self-adulation and praise."

It is bizarre that Witherington would claim that human narcissism makes God and His glory paramount; then assert that the true end of God's love and work is man. The man who makes a god that has man as his chief end is the narcissist, it seems to me.

John Piper, one who has committed his life and ministry to propagating the Edwardsean vision of God and Biblical Theology, responds here. Piper reveals the heart of Augustinian and Calvinist theology with this telling paragraph:

"Many man-centered Americans who have defined the love of Christ as his making much of them, not his helping them to enjoy make much of him, would cry out to Jesus in this situation: I don’t care about your power being made perfect, I care about not hurting with this thorn! O how we need to help people see that Christ, not comfort, is their all-satisfying and everlasting treasure. So I conclude that magnifying the supremacy of God in all things, and being willing to suffer patiently to help see and savor this supremacy is the essence of love. It’s the essence of God’s love. And it’s the essence of your love. Because the supremacy of God’s glory is the source and sum of all full and lasting joy."

And, when all is said and done, the biblical weight is on the side of Edwards, Schreiner, and Piper. I urge you to read and meditate upon the Scriptures set forth to make their case.


Who's On First

Yoda and Jar Jar's take on this classic routine.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Why to Leave a Church- #2 Sound Doctrine

By this I mean the cardinal doctrines of the authority and inspiration of Scripture; the doctrine of God and His Triune perfections; the doctrines of the deity and humanity of Christ; the doctrines of Christ's atoning work and substitutionary sacrifice; the doctrines of the person and work of the Holy Spirit; a healthy ecclesiology; and a doctrinal commitment Christ's return and the final judgment.

As well, there are doctrinal distinctives which may be considered 'minor' doctrinal convictions, yet bind our conscience nonetheless. And, we all recognize that there are a variety of doctrinal questions which flow out of the cardinal issues put forth above. As we pursue unity together, we must be charitable and patient with another on all these matters, all the while seeking to be faithful. This is hard stuff. We are always, in a sense, patiently allowing for disagreement in various doctrinal matters for the sake of unity and common mission. Yet, we also recognize that there are issues that, while not 'cardinal' and primary, they are critical to body life and we must be faithful to live out our convictions regarding them at a local level. For example, I recognize that a conviction regarding women in leadership in the local church is not the same as my conviction regarding the deity of Christ. Yet, I would not be able to in good conscience worship under the leadership of a woman pastor, and so this issue would cause me to break fellowship in the local church. At the end of the day, we are answerable to God for our convictions and commitment to His Word. So we walk together with care and grace, yet bold joy, in matters of sound doctrine.


Friday, November 16, 2007

For the Discerning Ear...

For more ambient chill grooves, check out Saxon Shore.

Band of Horses have a new album out. I love these guys, some really unique stuff. ('Is there a Ghost' and 'Detlef Schrempf' - whatever that means; probably a Dutch curseword or something - are particularly good, in my humble estimation.)

The Shout Out Louds take me back to 80's alternative (the guy sounds like Robert Smith). It is pretty hard to not jump up and dance on "Tonight I Have to Leave It". Yes, I just said that.

Stars were recently in Tallahassee, I heard they were great. Sadly, as I grow old I must get to bed long before these bands hit the stage. Not nearly the scenester I once was, and aren't ya'll glad.

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Why to Leave a Church- #1 Preaching

The title of this post is a bit misleading. I am wary of giving these reasons to leave a church in some sort of strict order. The reason for this being that all these things are, as one of my old profs used to say, 'webs of multiple reciprocities'. What I mean to say is that these issues all form a whole cloth in the church, and it is often difficult to distinguish the failure or abuse in one area from the problems in another. But, we have to start somewhere. And, let me say that I understand the dangers (at least the dangers in a postmodern world of seemingly endless sentimentalism and naive tolerance above all else) of using the via negativa in this discussion. I could've worked in a more positive direction- in which case the title of these posts would be something like 'How to be a Great Church' or 'What Makes a Good Church', etc and so forth. But, the focus upon the modern phenomenon of church dating in American evangelicalism would be lost. So . . .

It is right to leave a church if the preaching is bad. Now, by bad I mean preaching that is woefully lacking in three things: gospel, sound doctrine, and exposition. Now, by gospel preaching I do not mean that the preacher simply offers a three point 'gospel message' with an altar call and a hymn at the end. What I mean is, the gospel of Jesus Christ is displayed through the whole counsel of God's Word. Not to toot my own homiletical horn, but I might offer an example of this in the text we worked through last week: 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 (Lessons on Headcoverings). How can the gospel be on display in such a passage on headcoverings, headship, and submission? How can people be brought to repentance and faith through the truth of God's Word in such a teaching? The goal here is to move away from sheer pragmatism in preaching (which would look like, "How to Have a Healthy Marriage" or "How to Submit to Your Husband" or "How to ..." ) which is fundamentally anthropocentrism in worship (another reason we'll deal with later). This sort of needs based, man centered preaching is becoming the norm in many churches and has always been an enticing idolatry facing believers. It makes man the measure of all things, worldly success and temporal blessing the priority, and minimizes the glory of Jesus' redemptive purpose in all things.

By bad preaching I also mean-preaching that is not rooted in and presenting sound doctrine. We'll talk more about sound doctrine in a bit. I am placing a failure in preaching sound doctrine as a reason to leave a church before a failure in doctrinal statements. This is because I believe doctrine flows out of biblical, doctrinal proclamation. Again, the web of multiple reciprocities is at work here: which comes first- a doctrinal commitment to sola scriptura or preaching scripture which leads us to such a doctrinal commitment? There is a clear priority in devotion to the Scriptures through preaching the Scriptures in the New Testament. This is seen in two strong, urgent charges given to Timothy by Paul:

1 Timothy 4:13 Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching.
2 Timothy 4:2 Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage-- with great patience and careful instruction.

Faithful proclamation of the Word and the Gospel is a means to preserving and promoting sound doctrine.

Finally, by bad preaching I mean preaching that is not fundamentally expositional. I have a series of posts on expository preaching that is begun here (click on the preaching label to read all ten posts). I need not say more at this point on that issue.


Monday, November 12, 2007

Why To Leave a Church- An Introduction.

Huh? Well, I didn't say why to leave OUR church...though, I think that will be a great series of posts for the future. In my sermon a couple weeks ago on Fellowship Around the Lord's Table I lamented upon the fickleness of evangelicals related to church hopping. Simply put, evangelicals these days have a very unhealthy and unbiblical view of membership and commitment to the local church. There are all sorts of reasons for this, and greater men than I have written on these issues more thoroughly and insightfully than I ever could (here, here, here, and here). Some of you were sorely vexed by what I said, which went something like this, "many of you are here today and you have left your previous church for some silly reason; if this is so, then I'll be the first to tell you not to stay here because you'll find similar silly reasons to leave us as well". Yes, this sounds ungracious, but is it? I think not, because while I might be inclined to tiptoe around the sensitivities of such a wandering parishioner, I'd be trampling upon the unity and purity of the church.

If one leaves a church for a good and biblical reason, then I would not say this. Many of you are at our church because you have left some other church. And this is not necessarily a bad thing. But if one leaves a church for a silly, mundane, trivial, or even very deeply felt reason (like feelings hurt, that are felt deeply)- which sadly is the case in many instances, then they are hurting that fellowship. That fellowship needs their gifts, resources, and service. That fellowship is their local church family, and should not be treated like the local mall (don't have what I want at Tallahassee Mall? I'll just head over to Governor's Square!). Perhaps there was an offense that should be dealt with through biblical means to resolution and peacemaking. We hurt our brothers and sisters when we don't redemptively pursue them in an offense, and simply run to the community church down the street. We hurt our family when we fail to endure through the latest budget crisis or worship war. We hurt our family when we fail to persevere through the building program, the youth ministry transition, the children's ministry curriculum overhaul (or whatever it might be...these are some examples of recent memory). In running away we are saying that our bond in Christ and fellowship in the Spirit forged and lived out in the local church is not stronger than such typical human struggles and Satanic attacks.

As I said, there are good, biblical reasons to separate yourself from local church fellowship. I've heard many say that you should never leave a church. This represents a failure to recognize the biblical elements that make a church healthy and more pure (since there is no pure church) as important. In a way it is the same sin in the 'church hopping' epidemic. It is failing to see the church and its health and life as critically important. In the one case one is forfeiting the unity and life of the church for trivial matters. In the other case one forfeits the health and life of the church by treating the things that make us a church as trivial and unimportant. It is affirming unity at the cost of purity, which is a dangerous game. Soon we have gatherings of folks on Sunday morning that believe nothing and do less. If you think I'm overstating the case, then check out the overall state of the mainline denominations in America (and the church throughout Europe, for that matter).

So, what are good reasons to leave a church and find fellowship in another local assembly? I'll tackle one reason at a time in upcoming posts.


Friday, November 09, 2007

Rocky is 5 Seconds

Yep. That's about it.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Answer: Pat Robertson, Rudy Guiliani, and Doug Wilson

Question: Who are three guys I'd love to see in a WWF cage match?

No, actually- I wanted to point you to Doug Wilson's great response to the recent endorsement of Rudy Guiliani by Pat Robertson.

My sentiments exactly.


Monday, November 05, 2007

Filling Your Cup

Tonight in our quarterly fellowship group leader/co-leader meeting I led a brief devotional I've entitled, "Filling Your Cup". The two passages of Scripture that I used to encourage and exhort us were:

Proverbs 4: 23 Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.

Luke 6:43-45 For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.

As leaders and co-leaders of these fellowship groups, we are called to come each week and 'pour out' ourselves. We are to lead in worship, lead in prayer, lead through teaching and facilitating the study of God's Word. For us to be fruitful in this task, if we are to have anything to pour out into others, we need to have our cups full ourselves. I encouraged them, and I exhort all believers, to actively pursue spiritual disciplines that would provide nourishment, joy, encouragement, admonition in their own lives if they are to have a voice in the lives of others. I offered five areas of the practical pursuit of that which might edify us as we love, encourage, and edify others.

(Sidenote: #'s 1 and 2 are the hardest for me!)

1. Turn off the T.V.

For most of us, the greatest obstacle we have in the pursuit of holiness and sanctification is 'time'. But, this is not entirely the case. The real obstacle is 'wasted time'. A great way to find more time in the week for the Lord, for your spouse, for your kids, for your friends, for your spiritual growth is to turn off the T.V. (and other modern gadgets of entertainment that have a tendency to suck the life and sould out of the average American). You will find so much more time in a given evening, you will go to bed earlier and so be more rested, you will be more able to rise early the next morning.

2. Rise Early.

Whether you are a 'morning person' or not, it is generally true (if we can make it through that first 10 minutes or so waiting for the coffee to brew) that we are most effective and fruitful after a night of rest and before the onslaught of the day's issues. Early in the morning is generally the quietest part of the day. When we rise early to be with the Lord we establish that he is the first priority of that day, and of our lives. Don't be a legalist...but also, don't be a fool. Be a good steward of your life, give yourself moments of quiet in the Word, in prayer, and in setting the tone for another day that the Lord has made. Let God speak into you before everyone else and everything else does. This is a biblical reality, too- so you don't have to take my word for it: Psalm 5:3; 30:5; 59:16; 143:8.

3. Read your bible and pray daily.

I use an ESV Journaling Bible, it has nice big margins that I use to scribble notes and use for my prayer lists. There is a bible in a year calendar to follow in the back as well. Allow for time in God's Word that is not related to the study you are preparing for group this week, or the small group you are leading, etc. I am always amazed at how God providentially uses the various readings I'm going through daily to speak into the various teaching and speaking opportunities I have during the week. I really believe that a pursuit of the discipline of daily bible reading is absolutely critical to a believer's sanctification. Without this in your spiritual diet, you simply cannot grow and thrive. As best you can- chart and make notes of prayer items, needs, struggles as you read and pray. I love going back over the notes of the past to see how God is answered prayer and to be reminded toward diligence in praying for issues still pressing in.

4. Read good Christian books.

Recommendation #1 is crucial to #4 being a reality. Even if you are not a 'reader'- it is imperative that you have great believers, thinkers, and scholars pouring into you from the labor and experience of their lives. I try to keep a short stack of books by my bedside for me to grab and work through as much as I can. There is a couple of stacks of books by my chair at my desk that I am always thumbing through. Here are a few good reading lists- ask for some of these titles for Christmas and your birthday- go online and pick three to work through over the coming weeks and months.
Mark Dever's reading list.
Reformed Theological Seminary's List.
C.J. Mahaney's reading list.

I was going to post my own, but I really can't recommend anything beyond what these guys set before us. Maybe I'll get a list together later.

5. Listen to good preaching.

If you don't have an mp3 player- well, what is wrong with you? Get with it! My ipod is one of my most treasured ministry resources. I am constantly downloading sermons for my daily run, my travel to and fro, for my own edification. I weekly listen to the passage that I am working on for Sunday preached by others. That way I am getting good preaching and not just giving it (at least I hope it's good, you can be the judge). Once you start downloading and following preachers and preaching- you won't want to stop, I promise. Here are some great preaching resources online for free:

The resource library of John Piper, of course.
Ray Stedman.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones.
Spurgeon, Ryle, and others over at
Messages and resources from Sovereign Grace Ministries.

6. Cultivate Personal Worship.

Are you pursuing the basic spiritual disciplines that God has given us to grow in grace?

Begin to build up resources for your own prayer life - here are some of my favorites:

The Valley of Vision.
Book of Common Prayer.
Resources from Donald Whitney.
Praying for the world.
Praying for the persecuted church.

Build up resources for personal worship:

RUF Hymnbook.
The words and chords and even midi files of almost every praise song out there.
Bob Kaughlin's worship blog- with insights, philosophy of worship, theological considerations, resourses, music, etc.

7. Develop meaningful relationships.

I know this seems like a 'duh'. But sometimes as we serve others and minister in a variety of contexts we can find that we have not taken time to foster deep friendships. Pursue those of like mind and build friendships that hold you accountable in your spiritual life and help you grow. Develop relationships that are gospel centered and give you hope. Sometimes as we lead others we find that squeaky wheels are taking up all our grease. We can find ourselves dealing with people's problems and crises, but never finding time to hang out, and enjoy the blessing of fellowship and friendship.

Well, here are some ways I want to encourage you to 'guard your heart' and build up a 'good treasure' within. If that isn't happening, then soon the well will run dry. For those we serve, pursue these gospel blessings in our walk of sanctification.


Sovereign Grace Audio

Sovereign Grace Ministries has been a great source of encouragement and blessing to me over the past 3 or 4 years. They have their entire catalogue of sermons, conferences, and miscellaneous messages on line for free download. This is treasure chest of great stuff, I encourage you to go check it out. There are messages by C.J. Mahaney, Mark Dever, John Piper, Al Mohler, Wayne Grudem, Josh Harris, David Powlison, and many others.


Saturday, November 03, 2007

Women in Combat

Last week in my sermon I said that as I preached through 1 Corinthians 11 my main focus would be upon the church and the home-the two covenantal frameworks which I am called to shepherd and speak into. But, this is not to say that the truth of God regarding men and women does not reach into other 'secular' realms (though I am loathe to make such sharp disctinctions between the sacred and the secular). I am not convinced that 1 Corinthians 11:3 must be translated 'the head of a wife is her husband'- the literal translation is 'the head of the woman is man'. I believe that the natural application, and most common application, will be within that most basic male/female relationship: marriage. But, these truths are profound and far reaching, and they are hard wired into us as men and women. Therefore, we will find them at work in the arenas of the workplace, politics, and, of course in the military. I just find it extremely difficult to say that the reality of our complementarianism in the home and the church will not reach beyond. First of all- complementarianism is the natural way of things (it is how God made us, and generally it is who we are as male and female, however much we try to deny it or level the playing field). Secondly, it is very hard for us to make application of these truths in our homes and churches without them impacting other corners of our lives.

So, on this issue of whether or not women should serve in field combat- I commend to you a few articles that I have found helpful. I don't necessarily agree with all of what Piper and Wilson say, respectively, but that is a given. I do believe they speak with good biblical sense on this issue. You can read Piper's latest World magazine piece here and a great article from Doug Wilson's Credenda Agenda here. The CBMW organization's Danvers Statement has a piece on women in combat here.

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Ownership vs. Membership

Leadership magazine had a little piece on the emerging trend in churches changing the language associated with traditional notions of 'church membership'. I tried to find the link online, but couldn't- so you'll have to take my word for it. Or you could read this blog post and get a taste for this sort of thing.

Here's the deal. Change is good. Challenging tradition is good. Examining the way and the why of what we say is good. Trying to keep from being a crusty crumudgeon is good. All these things are yea and amen in the Lord. I'm with it. But...

It is important to be biblically faithful. This idea just keeps getting lost in all the scrambling to be relevant to our culture. And, ironically, it is very relevant to be faithful. Hmmm. Yeah, think about it. Think, think about it.

The big deal, the real revolutionary idea seems to be that some are changing the paradigm (and all associated language) of church 'membership' to church 'ownership'. There is a sense in which this is good. Especially as it challenges the notion that membership in the local church is akin to membership in a tennis club, country club, or over at the Elks lodge. But the good brought by such a change of language needs to be weighed in light of the dangers of abandoning the biblical language associated with such notions in the first place.

In the above link (with the unfortunate blog title) it is said that church membership 'isn't actually in the bible'. Ok, Christians- take out your bibles. Now turn in your bibles to Romans 12:4 and Romans 12:5 and 1 Corinthians 12:12 and 1 Corinthians 12 :18 and 12:20 and 12:22 and 12:23 and 12:24 and 12:25 and 12:26 and 12:27 (sigh) and also check out Ephesians 3:6 and Ephesians 4:25 and Ephesians 5:30. Get the picture? Someone needs to put in a call to the emerging church headquarters and let them in on the crazy new thing we have called a 'concordance'. Ok...I know I'm being sarcastic and facetious and all that. But seriously!

Yes, if the practice is bad- change it. If the ethos that is at work in our churches is unhealthy, then change it. But, let's not say that this new language we tag along with our challenge is biblical. In fact, there really is a very UN-biblical aspect to this idea of 'ownership' over 'membership'. One, there really is NO explicit reference to people 'owning' the church in the New Testament. And there are copious references to people being 'members' of Christ, and his body, the Church. I really think that many believers have a very lax and unbiblical view of their place and role in the local church. But, it is dangerous to combat this, often very worldly, laziness with a very worldly sense of entitlement and 'ownership'.

It all gets back to what is lasting in the church as we establish these paradigms for service and community. And what is lasting is what God has designed and communicated in his word. So, we at Four Oaks have 'members'and not 'owners'- because we are members of Christ's body, members of one another, each serving the other, each valuable to the other, none "owning" the other (this 'ownership' is reserved for the Soveriegn head of the church, Jesus Christ), and each deferring to the other, loving each other, and sharing in fellowship with one another.

Sometimes being cool, provocative, and cutting edge is good. But, when it is not faithful to the Scriptures (which are themselves always cool, provocative, and cutting edge) - it is just wrong.

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For the Discerning Ear...

Yeah. Sure. Real discerning. Anyway, people are often asking what sort of stuff I'm listening to these days. Well, here are a few good bands for your consideration.

Check out Rogue Wave. My newest discovery, thanks to my brother Adam. I can't get enough of these guys.

Or, for the easy listening grooves that go great with sermon preparation- check out The Six Parts Seven.

And, there is our own home grown Ben Hofer with The Northernness. (Our worship band's Joel Parker is rocking the bass-ness.)

Though I am a fan of Wonder bread, every once in a while I dig whole Wheat.

For more chilly, vibey, instrumental stuff (also sweet for the preparation of sermons, though I know this sort of appeal is limited) check out El Ten Eleven.

And, last but certainly not least, is- I believe - America's next great band, The National (you must listen to 'Fake Empire').

That should keep you busy for a bit.

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