Thursday, May 31, 2012

Coming and Leaving Well

Over the next two Sundays, I will be leading a class to introduce newcomers to our church.  As I have served as a pastor for the last four years or so, I have seen a lot of people come and go from the church.  And a lot of the people who come are people who have recently left other churches and are looking for a new church home.

While I believe there are good, wise and legitimate reasons to leave a church, I also believe that all Bible-believing churches together compose Christ's universal Body, and therefore each local should have some responsibility to other churches in how they welcome and receive new folks who come from another church. 

For this reason I was really grateful for the wisdom I received from Kevin DeYoung in these two blog posts.  The first one addresses how to start at your new church, and the second one addresses how to leave your old church.  I plan on giving a copy of these two articles to everyone in attendance at the class this Sunday, and to future newcomers in the months and years to come. 

Something I am really learning over the past few months is the seriousness and importance of membership in the local church.  So I am glad for resources like these, which put practical advise on how to walk out such important matters.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Resigning Church Membership

Add this to the file of posts I'm making to help myself find a link to something I want to refer to in the future:  Jonathan Leeman applying his pastoral wisdom on matters of church membership and discipline.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Gospel of Paul & the Gospel of the Kingdom

Not sure if anyone else will have the time and/or desire to read this, but I hope to read this essay by Simon Gathercole, and am posting it here so I'll know where to find it when I have time to dig into it.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Gospel Diagnostics

David Fairchild posts twenty questions to help us think through what our hearts are really treasuring.  He writes:

It [is] the loving responsibility for each of us to run gospel diagnostics to determine whether or not what motivates our heart and lives is “in step” with the gospel (Gal. 2:14).

Here are twenty gospel questions to ask ourselves:
(1) What is my greatest nightmare? What do I worry about most?
(2) What, if I failed or lost it, would cause me to feel that I did not even want to live? What keeps me going?

(3) What do I rely on to comfort myself when things go bad or get difficult?
(4) What do I think about most easily? Where does my mind go to when I am free? What preoccupies me?
(5) What prayer, unanswered, would make me seriously think about turning away from God?
(6) What makes me feel the most self-worth? What am I the proudest of?
7) What do I really want and expect out of life? What would really make me happy?
(8) What position of authority do I desire to give me a sense of power?
9) Whose opinion of me do I hold so dear that if lost I would be undone?
(10) What type of financial loss or gain would change my sense of security?
(11) What one criticism would cause me to respond in anger (wife, children, work, ministry, family, friends, etc.)? What am I most touchy about when brought to my attention?
(12) If I had ______________, then I’d be truly happy and feel as if my life has meaning and value.
13) If I lost ______________, I would be undone.

(14) I’m impatient because I’m ____________.
(15) I’m critical because I’m _____________.
(16) I’m angry because I’m _____________.

(17) I’m unhappy because I’m ____________.
(18) I’m in despair because I’m ____________.
(19) I have hope because I’m ___________.
(20) I feel worthy because I’m ___________.

These are only a few questions to help us be truthful with ourselves about the gospel. There is no benefit answering these questions with the “right” answers at the expense of the “true” answers (how we really feel and think).

You can read the whole article from which this list is taken here.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Contraconditional Love of God

I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that there probably aren't many people unable to sleep at night until the question I posed the other day about the conditional/unconditional love of God gets resolved.  But let me suggest a solution that comes from David Powlison, in his book Seeing with New Eyes:
Saying “God’s love is unconditional love” is a bit like saying “The sun’s light at high noon is a flashlight in a blackout.”
Come again?
A dim bulb sustains certain analogies to the sun.
Unconditional love does sustain certain analogies to God’s love.
But why not start with the blazing sun rather than the flashlight?
When you look closely, God’s love is very different from “unconditional positive regard,” the seedbed of contemporary notions of unconditional love.
God does not accept me just as I am;
He loves me despite how I am;
He loves me just as Jesus is;
He loves me enough to devote my life to renewing me in the image of Jesus.
This love is much, much, much better than unconditional! Perhaps we could call it “contraconditional” love.
Contrary to the conditions for knowing God’s blessing, He has blessed me because His Son fulfilled the conditions.
Contrary to my due, He loves me.
And now I can begin to change, not to earn love but because of love.
. . . You need something better than unconditional love.
You need the crown of thorns.
You need the touch of life to the dead son of the widow of Nain.
You need the promise to the repentant thief.
You need to know, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”
You need forgiveness.
You need a Vinedresser, a Shepherd, a Father, a Savior.
You need to become like the one who loves you.
You need the better love of Jesus.
To dig a little deeper, check out this blog post by Justin Taylor.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Verdict that Matters

This man's blog really is a regular source of encouragement to me:

“We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”  2 Corinthians 5:10

This is our ultimate accountability.  Let’s get ready.  Let’s live with intentionality.  Let’s live in repentance.  Let be aware, moment by moment, that right now counts forever.  What we think, what we say, what we feel, what we do and don’t do — we matter.  We matter to Christ.  We will matter forever.  And very soon we will “report in.”

This is solemnizing.  This is dignifying.  It is also encouraging.

What if, as you stand there before Christ your Judge on that great and final day, surrounded by all the redeemed, each one awaiting his or her moment before the Lord — what if, standing there before him, he asks, “Everyone, I want to know who among you appreciated this person’s ministry?  Who would like to bear witness to how he helped you for my sake?”  And no one says anything.  Total silence.  Awkward silence.  Everyone is embarrassed.  Everyone is thinking, “Would somebody please say something?”  You are standing there wondering, “So my entire life comes down to this?  What a failure I am!”  Only one voice breaks that terrible silence.  The Lord himself stands and says, “Well, I appreciated his ministry!”

It’s an improbable scenario.  But putting it like that does isolate the most urgent question of all.  Is the approval of Jesus enough for you and for me?  Do we love him enough, do we revere him enough, that his judgment is the one we’re living for?

We care what others think.  We want to please them (1 Corinthians 10:33).  But whose opinion will count forever?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

God's Love: Conditional or Unconditional?

I really enjoy the music of Shane & Shane.  On their latest CD is a song called Future Version, which basically celebrates the reality that God loves us as we are, right now, and not just some future, cleaned-up version of ourselves.  Here is the refrain, which is written as if God is addressing us:

You I love
Regardless of the things you've said and done
No mistake can change my mind
Come, seek, and find
My love is yours right now

In John 14:21 and 23 Jesus says,

    Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.
(John 14:21-23 ESV)

These verses seem to contradict the lyrics of Shane & Shane, don't they?  "You I love, regardless of things you've said and done."  His love is not conditioned on our obedience.  But then Jesus seems to be saying, "If you demonstrate your love for me through obedience to my commands, my Father will love you."  Sounds conditional to me, no?

So are the Shanes wrong on this one?  Or is defining the love of God maybe more complex than we sometimes think it is?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Celebrity Pastors

I really enjoyed this panel discussion from the Together for the Gospel conference last month:

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Die to Yourself

I think he's on to something...what do you think?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Life is a Festive Occasion

More wisdom from Ray Ortlund:

“Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.  Let your garments be always white.  Let not oil be lacking on your head.  Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun.”  Ecclesiastes 9:7-9

We could take any of three approaches to the daily experience of this earthly life.

One, this present experience is all we have, our only chance at a little happiness.  But absolutizing this life puts enormous pressure on us, intensifying our desperation and pushing us toward doing stupid things.  Worse, it cuts us off from the endless love of God in Christ.

Two, this present experience is a stepping-stone into eternity, which is all that matters even now.  This broken world is more to be endured than enjoyed.  Indeed, this world and everything about it are an embarrassment to any serious person.

Three, this present experience is brief, non-ultimate and good.  While it lasts, it is to be dignified — not absolutized or despised but dignified — as a gift from God.  This life is a mixture of grace and tragedy, a good creation marred by our human folly.  So, the wise seek the things that are above, where Christ is (Colossians 3:1), and they receive with thanksgiving the good things God gives here and now (1 Timothy 4:1-5).

The first approach is the unbelief of visceral idolatry.  The second approach is the unbelief of pious negativism.  The third approach is wisdom.  It is biblical, humane, sustainable.

Have a good day.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Resource on Homosexuality

Since homosexuality is in the news this week, I thought would be good to highlight this post from Justin Taylor, in which he links to some resources to help Christians address the topic. 

I especially appreciated the videos from Matt Chandler.  I remember watching these a couple of years ago, and I resonated with both the content and the spirit of the teaching.

In the first video below Chandler begins by tracing the biblical storyline. In the second video, he gives some basic responses to several street-level objections, like:

1. If you’re not hurting anyone else, what’s wrong with it?
2. Since you’re a sinner, too, who are you to call out others?
3. Jesus didn’t say anything about homosexuality.
4. Some animals have same-sex relations, so if it’s in nature it must natural.
5. The homosexuality condemned by Paul is a different type of homosexuality than we see today.
6. Revisionist arguments from modern scholarship.

He also talks about the way in which he seeks to engage in dialogue with homosexuals in a gospel-centered way.

In the third video he fields questions via text message—e.g., on how parents should handle their adult kids who are gay with partners coming to visit.

I didn't see a way to embed the videos into this post, so you'll have to click through to Justin's site and watch the videos there.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Ian and Larissa's Awesome God

If you read any other Christian blog besides this one, you've probably seen this by now.  Nevertheless, it's worth posting, because this video, like Ian and Larissa's God, is awesome:

Monday, May 7, 2012

"You're Intolerant"

If you've ever heard that criticism, or some form of it, in sharing your beliefs about the exclusivity of Christ, here's a good primer on how to respond to that:

Questions for Sermon Preparation

In the beginning of my sermon yesterday, I mentioned a list of questions that I work through with each passage to help me think through the text from a number of different angles.  I had a couple of people ask me for the list, so here they are:

1. What does the text tell me about God?
2. What does the text tell me about mankind (examples to follow/avoid, commands to obey, promises to believe)?
3. What key truth(s) is the author communicating in this text?
4. Where do our lives fail to conform to these key truths?  In other words, what areas of unbelief does the text expose or confront?
5. How does the text point to, deepen our understanding of, or flow from the gospel?  How does Jesus' work on the cross come to bear on the text?
6. How would our lives be different if the key truth(s) became explosively alive in our innermost being?
7. How does the text address the unbeliever?  How does it touch on unbelievers' common objections or difficulties with Christianity?
8. Why has God brought this text to us this week?
9. What are the missional implications of this text?
10. How does the text impact our corporate lives together as the church?
11. What aspects of the text highlight areas in which our church flourishing or excelling?
12. What other texts illuminate, expand on, or cross-reference this text?
13. What questions will the congregation have about this text upon the initial reading of the text?
14. Summarize the text's meaning in a sentence

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Not Of...But Sent Into

 I've posted this before, but was reminded of it this week as I prepared to preach on Luke 5:27-32.  David Mathis writes:

In. . . but not of” — are you familiar with this popular phrase? It captures a truth about Jesus’ followers. We are “in” this world, but not “of” it. 

In. . . but not of.” Yes, yes, of course.

But might this pithy slogan give the wrong impression about our (co)mission in this world as Christians? You see, the motto seems to give the drift, We are in this world, alas, but we need to make sure that we’re not of it. In this scheme, the starting place is our unfortunate condition of being “in” this world. Sigh. And our mission, it appears, is to not be “of” it. The force is moving away from the world. “Shucks, we’re frustratingly stuck in this ole world, but let’s marshal our best energies to not be of it.” It’s an emphasis that’s sometimes needed.

But we’d do well to run stuff like this through biblical texts. And on this one in particular, we do well to turn to John 17, where Jesus is using these “in” and “not of” categories. So what’s Jesus’ sentiment on the whole thing?

Read the rest here.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Complete This Sentence:

A Christian without a church is like...

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Explicit Gospel Video

Here's the video from the Explicit Gospel tour that I went to a couple of weeks ago.  This wasn't the evening in Philly, but I am assuming the content of the message is pretty much the same:

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Mission Isn't Rocket Science

All it takes is ordinary people, loving Jesus and living their ordinary lives with gospel intentionality:

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

New Books on Church Membership & Discipline

I am finding a great deal of wisdom, and a fresh vision for the importance of the local church in these two new books by Jonathan Leeman: Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus and Church Discipline: How the Church Protects the Name of Jesus. Sometimes I tend towards thinking that the 9Marks crew emphasizes the institutional church a bit too much, to the neglect of the organic church. But in this case I find their emphasis to be very beneficial and biblical.  

Here are a couple of endorsements for the membership book:

“Church leaders across many denominations will find this little book filled with practical ideas and good arguments that will help us cure Christians in our culture today of their allergy to church membership, pastoral authority, life accountability, and any limits to their personal freedom.”
- Timothy Keller, Senior Pastor, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York City

“We live in an age where people relate to and make decisions about church much like they do with a restaurant. We desperately need to be awakened from our consumeristic slumber. This book is the wake-up call that is needed to turn church consumers into gospel participants.”
- -Darrin Patrick, Lead Pastor, The Journey, St. Louis, MO; author, For the City and Church Planter