Loving the Law for what it does

psalms

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. (Psalm 19:7-11)

Look at the language David uses here in the above verses. He rejoices in the Law. He loves it! “The commandment of the Law is pure, enlightening the eyes,” he sings. “The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever. The rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.”

In four verses, he drives home this point:

The Law is good! The Law is good! The Law is good! The Law is GOOD!

Why? Because the Law reveals the absolutely perfect character and commands of God. The Law tells us in greater detail than creation can ever hope to who God is, what he has done, and what he requires of His people.

The Law of God should cause us to rejoice.

Remember, David is specifically singing of the Law in this Psalm—he’s singing of the first five books of the Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.

So you know that that means? He’s rejoicing over the stories of Noah and his family surviving the flood, Abraham and his family finding a home in the promised land, and the epic story of God’s rescuing Israel from slavery in the Exodus. But he’s also rejoicing over long genealogies, laws regulating the minutiae of life as God’s covenant people. What you can wear, what you can eat, how you are to worship…

What does he say about all of this?

They’re more to be desired than gold. They’re sweeter than honey…

But here’s the thing:

The Law that David’s rejoicing over? It condemns him. Every time David reads it, he can see how far short he’s falling. How far from the mark he is. “Moreover, by them is your servant warned,” David sings, “in keeping them there is great reward.”

David brings us to an important truth—one that, if we’re not careful, we too easily miss. The Law, he says, warns us: It tells us where we are falling short of God’s perfect requirements. It brings conviction.

It brings condemnation.

Just as nothing is hidden from the heat of the sun, nothing is hidden from the light of the Law.

There is absolutely nothing that his hidden from the Law’s gaze.  When you consider the ten commandments—There is one God, have no others; make for yourselves no graven images; do not take the Lord’s name in vain; keep the Sabbath holy; honor your mother and father that it may go well for you; don’t murder; do not commit adultery; don’t steal; don’t lie; don’t covet your neighbor’s stuff…

Let’s be honest, we all wilt under the heat of those ten, don’t we? And then Jesus cranks up the heat when he says that it’s not about externals, but about the disposition of your heart. You may not be cheating on our spouse actively, but if you’re holding onto fantasies, you’re as bad as an adulterer. You may not be going around killing people, but if you even hate someone, it’s as bad as killing them…

This is bad news, isn’t it?

And so we’re caught in this tension–we know the Law is good. Why? Because it reveals God’s perfect character and commands. Yet, it warns us of our failure to keep the Law—David loves the Law even as it condemns him in his sin.

This is where we can get into trouble when we read the Psalms, if we’re not careful. We have to remember: the Law is good, but it cannot do more than it is intended to do. The Law is good, but it cannot save—it’s not intended to do such a thing. So whenever we try to use rule keeping as a measure of our standing before God, we’re in trouble. The law scours our souls, shining light on every dark corner. The Law reveals our sin, but has not the power to free us from bondage to it.

The sneakiest way to discredit the truth

What’s one of the easiest ways to discredit the truth? With a false witness. 

Look at Acts 16:16-18:

As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and a brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.

Paul, Silas and Luke are in Philippi spreading the gospel. They’ve met a wealthy woman, Lydia, “a seller of purple goods and a worshipper of God” (Acts 16:14). When she hears Paul proclaim the gospel, the Lord opens her heart and she comes to faith in Jesus. This is pretty fantastic—she’s wealthy, influential and she’s giving it all to follow Jesus. That’s the fruit we all want to see, isn’t it?

And then we meet this slave girl. She’s got a “spirit of divination.” She’s a demon possessed fortune-teller. And she starts following Paul and his crew, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.”

What’s interesting here is she’s telling the truth.

They are servants of the Most High God, and they are there to proclaim to the Philippians the way of salvation.

And what does Paul do? “Greatly annoyed”—which may be one of the greatest understatements in all Scripture—Paul turns and commands the spirit to get out. This phrase, “greatly annoyed” only appears one other time in Acts, in chapter four verse two. There it’s the priests and religious leaders in Jerusalem who are greatly annoyed.

At who? Peter and John, “because they were teaching the people and proclaiming Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (Acts 4:2).

(But I digress.)

So Paul sees this demon-possessed girl, who has made her owners rich with her fortune-telling abilities. She’s following them around, telling the truth about who they are… so why does this greatly annoy Paul?

Because he doesn’t want people assuming she’s one of his partners in ministry. And it’s entirely possible that this was the very reason the girl was following after them in the first place! She was known for being accurate (otherwise her owners would hardly have become wealthy, no?), and she’s there telling the truth, specifically to discredit Paul’s ministry.

Sneaky, isn’t it? It’s no wonder Paul is a bit peeved.

As much as I wish this type of activity ended after the end of Paul’s ministry, sadly it’s still a favorite and effective tactic of the enemy of our souls.

Some time ago, I watched a video of a well-known former pastor whose theology is more than a little whack (at the time he was still teetering on the edge of trying to be orthodox—he’s since given up). In this video he was talking about Job and God’s response to Job’s demands for answers. What’s funny is he was correct in his explanation. He got the point of the text and communicated it effectively. Meanwhile, this is a man who has denied the divine authorship of Scripture, has tried to make universalism palpable, and is pretty sure that whatever trend in culture that’s happening is a movement of the Holy Spirit that we need to get on board with in the name of love.

But he still got it right.

Another time, I watched a clip of a holy-roller type televangelist, one with a sharp suit and a lot of bling. This guy, at a conference, calls out an “evangelist” as a false teacher, one whose stories of kicking people in the stomach to heal them and falsely saying that Jesus would come make a guest appearance at his circus (only to say “I meant spiritually” when Jesus didn’t show up physically) and adultery are renowned.

The funny thing was, the holy roller was exactly right in everything he said, biblically. Every word. This guy, who has falsely claimed to heal men and women, told lies, distorted the truth, got it right.

So what’s the deal?

I’ll be honest, this passage gives me pause. This is a hint of what Paul talks about a few chapters later when he warns the Ephesian elders that from among their own number, fierce wolves would emerge. Not only would these wolves rise up to devour the flock, but they would be a hindrance to the work of the true church in this way:

As a false witness—whether they get much wrong but occasionally get it right, or they might be right in much of what they say but their character is unbelievably questionable—they have the best opportunity to discredit the truth.

I’m not saying we need to start doubting the salvation of those around us or our own for that matter (if you’re a believer, that is. If not, “Hi, can I tell you about Jesus?”). Frankly, endless navel gazing and hand-wringing dishonors Jesus. But we should always pause to give the Holy Spirit an opportunity to bring to light anything that’s conflicting in our actions and beliefs.

  • Do we have a pattern of behavior that serves no purpose but to hinder the gospel?
  • Do we continue to run unabated into dangerous theological ground, refusing to heed correction from pastor, friends and, ultimately, Scripture?
  • Or, do we seek repentance for our incorrect doctrine and our sinful patterns that are a stumbling block on the way to the stumbling block of Christ?

The three most amazing letters in the Bible

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What are three of the most amazing letters in the entire Bible?

Words have power (a shocking revelation, I know). With just a word, we can give life to a hurting friend, or crush their spirit. With only a word, we can change someone’s entire outlook on the world.

What’s funny is, sometimes you do this with the most seemingly insignificant word.

You know what word in the Bible does this?

BUT.

It’s not one that a lot of people really think about, because it’s an easy word to overlook. “But,” as a conjugation, connects opposing ideas, or coordinates elements. These three letters that are packed with power.

The “buts” of Scripture are life-changing. Consider just a few examples:

Romans 4:5:

And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness…

Romans 5:8

but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

1 Corinthians 1:23-24

…we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God…

1 John 4:10:

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

Ephesians 2:1-6:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following m the prince of the power of the air… by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…

Do you see the power in these amazing letters? If they weren’t in the Bible, we would not only not see God’s grace in these passages—we would not see God’s grace at all!

We cannot love God on our own… but He loved us and died for us so that we can!

We were condemned, dead in our sins… but God, in His mercy and grace, made us alive!

Without the intervention of God, we’d be left stranded on our own, lost in our sins. “But” shows God’s intervention on our behalf.

Don’t overlook the seemingly insignificant words of Scripture. They have more power than you might think.

The Gospel Project: Now available in ESV

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As many of you may know, I’m a big fan of The Gospel Project. Developed by LifeWay Christian resources under the oversight of Ed Stetzer and Trevin Wax, The Gospel Project examines the grand narrative of Scripture and how the gospel transforms the lives of those it touches.

In 2012 I had the privilege of being in Nashville for the launch webcast and I was blow away at the concept presented. In fact, I was so convinced this would be a great curriculum I immediately began nagging encouraging our children’s ministry director to consider it when we needed to make a change.

One of the things I most appreciate about The Gospel Project is that it’s designed to immerse participants in the gospel through every story, theological concept, and call to missions from Genesis to Revelation.

This week, LifeWay announced The Gospel Project is now available in the ESV translation, one of the fastest growing English translations of the Bible. Check out the new ESV Gospel Project and download a sample of the curriculum at gospelproject.com/esv.

 

What does fear of God look like?

isaiah-8-13

The Bible talks a lot about fearing God. “The fear of the Lord the beginning of wisdom,” Proverbs tells us (Prov. 1:7). It’s “a fountain of life” (Prov. 14:27), and “leads to life” (Prov. 19:23).

Understandably the fear of the Lord is important for us to understand. In a passage I frequently return to, the prophet Isaiah writes, “But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread” (Isa. 8:13).

So… what does that mean?

This is how Ray Ortlund explains it in Isaiah: God Saves Sinners:

What does this fear of God look like? Verse 13 says: “The LORD of hosts, him you shall regard as holy.” In other words, “Dare to treat God as God. Don’t respond to life in a way that makes God look helpless and weak and worthless.” Living emotionally as if God were not really our Savior is practical atheism. If God is God, he is all that finally matters. The remnant [that is, the faithful people of God] respects God enough to live that way. (Kindle location 1619)

“If God is God, he is all that finally matters,” Ortlund says. Fearing God means respecting Him enough to live that way. Treat Him in a way that reflects who He is. No more, no less.

Does the Bible permit polygamy?

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The question really says it all, doesn’t it?

Okay, clearly not, seeing as how there appears to be a great deal of confusion on the issue. Cult leaders say “yes,” usually because they want to satisfy their own sinful desires. Most Christians would say “no,” although they’re not always sure how to articulate why, beyond pointing to the creation of Adam and Eve.

Some, though they disagree with polygamy, say you’re not going to find it explicitly condemned in the Bible. “Despite what some may think, the Bible never condemns polygamy,” Rachel Held Evans writes in A Year of Biblical Womanhood (Kindle location 1316), to give but one example.

One doesn’t have to look hard to see that many of the “heroes” of the faith were polygamists—Abraham had multiple wives and concubines; Jacob had multiple wives and concubines as well. Even the greatest kings of Israel, David and Solomon, had multiple wives.

So… does that mean it gets a green light—or at the very least, a proceed with caution?

Nope.

We find an explicit command against kings and rulers taking “many wives,” (along with excessive riches) in Deut 17:17, “lest his heart turn away,” but that’s about it. While you might not be able to point to a specific verse that says verbatim “polygamy is wrong,” one only has to look at how polygamy is depicted:

The first polygamist is Lamech, who takes two wives, Adah and Zillah (Gen. 4:19). Lamech, a descendent of Cain, is a prideful and wicked man, one who arrogantly boasts to his wives about his murdering ways and lack of fear of repercussions (Gen. 4:23-24).

This is not a good start.

Abraham, the man of faith and friend of God, is another polygamist. It didn’t go well for him. Sarah, who gave Hagar to Abraham as a concubine, became bitter with Hagar when she conceived Ishmael and treated her harshly. Eventually Hagar was sent away with her son, while Sarah and Isaac remained with Abraham. (see Gen. 16, 20)

Jacob was tricked into marrying Leah before Rachel, and treated her as more of a burden than a blessing, and there was clearly strife between the two wives/sisters (see Gen. 29-30).

Gideon, he of fleece fame, had “many wives,” and also led Israel into idolatry because of the ephod he made (Judges 8:27-35).

Elkanah, the father of Samuel, was a polygamist. He was married to both Hannah and Peninnah, who is called Hannah’s “rival” (1 Sam. 1:6-7).

King David may have been a man after God’s own heart, but a one woman man he was not. He was married to Saul’s daughter, Michal (1 Sam. 18:27), but during his exile took for himself many wives: Ahinoam, Abigail, Maacah, Haggith, Abital and Eglah (2 Sam. 3:2-5). Later, when he settled in Jerusalem, he took for himself more wives and concubines, including Bathsheba (2 Sam. 5:13). His family was characterized by strife and rivalry as well with attempted coups from two of his sons.

Solomon, David’s son, was even worse, with 700 wives and 300 concubines, most of whom he married for political purposes such as Pharoah’s daughter. “And his wives turned away his heart” (1 Kings 11:3), he fell into idolatry and the nation was eventually split in two under his son’s harsh rule.

Those are but a few examples of practitioners. And while all were used by God, and many are shown as heroes of the faith, we never read that God was pleased with their polygamy.

So, what about monogamy?

Interestingly, where polygamy is portrayed in a consistently negative light, monogamy tends to be displayed with an equally consistent positivity. 

When Adam is introduced to his wife, he rejoices over her with a love song, “they were naked and not ashamed,” and God declared it all “very good” (Gen. 2:1-24; Gen 1:31).

The created ideal remains the standard throughout the Scriptures.

The Song of Song’s celebration of romantic love is entirely within the context of monogamy. The aforementioned Deut. 17:17, as well as the command to abstain from adultery (Ex. 20:14), implicitly point to monogamy as the ideal (after all, if one is the standard, then anything beyond that is “many” and adultery against  the one). The New Testament explicitly calls it out as the ideal for marriage by placing it in the characteristics of both elders and deacons—”the husband of one wife” (1 Tim. 3:2, 12; Titus 1:6).

Most significantly, marriage is described as a picture of Christ and His bride, the Church (Eph. 5:23-33). Jesus loves His bride, He will never forsake her. His heart has no room for rivals.

So does the Bible permit polygamy?

Our starting point determines the answer, ultimately. If we see the Bible as a mere collection of ancient stories, we’re going to have trouble answering that question definitively.

If you’re evil and trying to violate people in order to satisfy your own sinful desires (see Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism), then you can probably twist together a case.

But if marriage is a picture of the gospel—if Jesus’ love for His bride is your starting point, as Paul says ought to be—you can’t honestly come away from the Scriptures suggesting it advocates for polygamy.

Consider preschool before the pulpit

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Practice makes perfect, so the saying goes—and often one of the hardest things for a novice preacher to do is find opportunities to practice their skills. One place they may want to consider:

Children’s ministry.

Since the fall, I’ve been teaching in our children’s worship service, usually once a month. After songs and prayer, I teach a short message before the kids aged 5-8 are dismissed to their individual classes—and for me, at least, the experience has been extremely helpful. Here are three things I’ve been reminded through the experience:

1. Teaching children requires you to focus.

Whenever you’re teaching kids, it’s important to remember one thing: You have almost no time to get your message across. Teachers in our program are allotted around 20 minutes.

I aim for ten. And sometimes, I even hit it (I average between 10-15 minutes).

This is not a lot of time, and because kids often have short attention spans, it means I really have to focus. I need to make sure the message is easy to follow, the points are clear, and the application is super-concrete.

Which, by the way, is what we should be shooting for when preaching to adults, too. Adults need just as much clarity of thought and focus as children. There’s nothing worse than listening to (or preaching for that matter) a scattered, rambly sermon—one that has great content, but you can’t follow the flow or find the application. When we’re unfocused in our teaching, we lose our audience.

But if you can get a point across in 10 minutes, chances are you can do it in 40 if needed.

2. Teaching children requires you to be flexible.

Kids are awesome because they’re funny—but they’re also natural hecklers.

If you ask a question like, “Why did Jesus die on the cross,” you might get an answer that makes sense, or you might learn what they had for breakfast that morning. And if you’re not ready for it, you’re going to get flustered.

Teaching kids helps you to learn flexibility and forces you to rely not too much on your prepared notes and more on your preparation.

3. Teaching children requires you to be interesting.

One of the hardest things to do is keep a child’s attention, especially in a really wide age range. One of the best ways to keep a kid’s attention: be interesting. One of our teachers uses props pretty regularly (he often dresses up in costume). Me, I’m not a big prop guy, but I do my best to be fun and funny in a way that fits with how God’s wired me.

In all honesty, though, keeping the kids’ attention is always going to be a challenge. They’re the easiest audience to read in terms of whether they’re paying attention or not, and when they’re all in, you can tell. Ask questions, do something silly, speak directly to them whenever you can… all of this helps you genuinely engage them.

Brothers, the point is this: if you’re feeling called to preach, consider preschool before the pulpit. Your church has a prime training ground for you—it’s called children’s ministry. Serve in a place where God has already placed you and in a ministry area sorely in need of volunteers—and do what God has called you to do: make disciples.

Whether they’re big or small, it doesn’t matter.

What others are saying about Contend (part 2)

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The Contend blog tour officially wraps up this week and the responses continue to be incredibly encouraging. Here are a few excerpts from recent reviews:

Tom Farr writes:

The call back to the gospel in recent years is a great thing, and CONTEND is a battle cry for believers to fight for the gospel of Jesus because it is vitally important to us. We embrace the gospel because it reveals who God is and it rescues people out of darkness and into God’s kingdom. God’s glory and the people God loves enough to give his life for should be incredibly valuable to us, and we must contend against anything that threatens to silence the gospel message. CONTEND is a clear and practical guide for believers to do this.

Joey Cochran says:

Armstrong’s book Contend offers an assessment of context, bringing the reader up to speed on some of the hot-bed issues and concerns that are tied to the millennial generation, which is built on values of pluralism, relativism, and tolerance. . . . Ultimately Contend brings meaningfulness to reproving false teaching and challenges the Church to see this as a worthwhile endeavor. I give this book a hefty recommendation. It will certainly sharpen each reader as they discern the huge importance of how their individual spiritual life plays into the vitality of preserving the true faith of the Church at large.

Todd writes at Amazon:

…Aaron lays out what it looks like to defend the faith in our everyday life. I think one of the biggest strengths of Aaron’s writing is his ability to relate deep truths in a way that is easy to grasp for anyone. That ability is on full display in this book.

Jeannie writes at Goodreads:

In a very concise and clear way, Aaron shows what contending for the faith is and what it is not. It is not putting a high priority on unity, while we compromise who Christ is and what he has done and why….A great reminder is contending is not about making doctrine more important than people. We contend in mercy and grace to others. Jesus never left anyone in their sin. However, since we are with sin ourselves, we must contend the truth in love and grace.

I’m very thankful for the reception the book’s received so far; if you haven’t already purchased a copy, Contend is available now at cruciformpress.comAmazon, and WTS Books

The Trinity at Work

This weekend one of our pastors, Leo Klus, preached from Galatians 4:1-11, focusing on the doctrine of adoption (it was a terrific message, I’d encourage listening when the audio’s available). As he preached and as I looked at the text, I couldn’t help but think of the importance of the whole Trinity being at work in every aspect of salvation.

Today, rather than expound upon this truth in great detail, I want to share a few relevant passages showing you the Trinity at work in our redemption, regeneration and adoption as children of God:

The Trinity in the Fullness of Redemption (Ephesians 1:3–14)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

The Trinity in our Adoption as “Sons” (Galatians 4:4-7; Romans 8:12-17)

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

The Trinity in our Regeneration (John 3:5-9, 16-17; Titus 3:4-5)

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. . . . For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit…

While there are so many passages I could point to, these are among some of the most encouraging to me personally. Without the Father, Son and Holy Spirit working together, none of it is possible—not our justification, our sanctification, our adoption, nor our final glorification.

Without the Father ordaining, predestining our salvation in Christ; without the Son obtaining and accomplishing for us a righteousness not our own; without the Holy Spirit applying that righteousness to us, sealing us as beloved children of God, we would be lost.

Yet this is what God has done. Shall we not rejoice?

Links I Like (Weekend Edition)

Evangelize, not Indoctrinate

Barnabas Piper:

Why is it we do not often evangelize our children with the same grace, patience, interaction, and mutual respect we do our neighbors? We correct our children’s ideas about God or morality with a “no, that’s not right” method rather than an “I believe _____ because _____.” method. But what if our children don’t agree? They are under our authority and either afraid of or tired of the “no, that’s not right” response so they keep their thoughts and disbelief to themselves until the day comes they no longer have to listen to us. Then they go about believing and acting upon whatever it is they feel like.

Dan Wallace on the New Manuscript Finds

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The Biggest Issue Planters Face

Darryl Dash:

I’m convinced that the biggest issue that church planters face is an internal one. It’s our tendency to depend on ourselves rather than on God. This results in tremendous stress in the church planter’s life and ministry.

How to Backslide in 9 Easy Steps

Tim Challies:

A few days ago I shared John Bunyan’s wisdom on why some who profess faith in Christeventually backslide. Today I want to follow him a little bit farther. Having covered the why, I’ve now drawn from Pilgrim’s Progress instruction on the how. In each case I’ve given my short summary followed by Bunyan’s own words. Here is how to backslide in nine easy steps.

4 Functions of Sound Doctrine

Recently, I wrote that one of the key functions of doctrine is that it divides. Because Jesus himself is the most divisive person ever to live, all doctrine that aligns with him will necessarily cause division. But that’s not all that doctrine does. Consider Paul’s words to Timothy in 1 Tim. 4:6-16:

If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.

Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching [or doctrine]. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.

Paul points to four truths about sound doctrine in this passage:

Sound doctrine prevents us from falling into irreverent and silly myths.

Man-centered, pop-psychology preaching that has little or nothing to do with the cross of Christ, and in fact makes a mockery of it, leads us to error. It makes us the Bible about us, which is always going to end badly. Sound doctrine will always point us back to Jesus. He is the point of Scripture. He is the Redeemer. He is the author and perfecter of our faith. If what we teach, whether in sermons, books, blogs, lectures or films, doesn’t make Him the point, then we’ve completely and utterly failed in our task.

Sound doctrine trains us in godliness.

Godliness holds promise for the present life and the life to come, says Paul. Good doctrine allows us to better understand who Jesus, and live out our lives in loving grateful response to Him as He truly is.

Sound doctrine will save you.

“Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers,” says Paul. The doctrine we proclaim tells others what we believe about Jesus, and if our proclamation is antithetical to Scripture, we have cause for concern. Therefore, we must keep a close watch on ourselves that we not fall into error.

Sound doctrine prevents confusion.

We are not ashamed of the hope that we have in Jesus. We need not fear that teaching sound doctrine—teaching the Scriptures—will return void. Isaiah 55:11 says, “O shall my word be that goes out from my mouth it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (emphasis added). God’s word always accomplishes God’s purposes. We need to stand in that confidence and not be afraid to proclaim the word of God!

When we fail to stress the importance of sound doctrine, when we fail to teach it, when we treat everything as “caught,” but not “taught,” where do we find ourselves?

Confusion. We find for ourselves teachers whose words are clever and sound nice, but they teach a different doctrine that does not agree with the sound words of Jesus. “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim 4:3-4).

“Preach the word,” says Paul in 2 Tim 4:2. “Be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” At all times, in all places, patiently, lovingly, confidently teach sound doctrine. Remind people that doctrine matters because what we teach about Jesus makes all the difference.

Commenting and Christian Conduct

One of the big takeaways I had from April’s Band of Bloggers event was this common thread throughout the discussion that Christians need to be consistent in their online conduct. One example given was Tim Challies sharing how a reader emailed him in a rather indignant fashion, telling him to stop writing about some topic or he’d quit reading, but his tone immediately changed once Tim responded. He’d forgotten that (as Nathan Bingham put is so well) there are people behind the pixels.

This is one of the great temptations that the internet presents to us. Because we’re looking at (usually) text on a screen, it’s easy to forget that there’s a person behind it. And when what we read becomes mere information, it becomes easy to fire off critical statements that you’d never imagine saying to a person sitting across the table. Since coming home from T4G, I’ve been feeling increasingly challenged about how I can be more mindful of this, as well as encourage you to do likewise.

Do Not Offer Immediate Response (cf. Prov 12:18, James 1:19)

When I read an article that I strenuously disagree with, the worst thing I can do is be rash with my words and respond quickly. James tells us to be slow to speak for a reason. I may either say something that is unwise myself or potentially add fuel to a fire of foolishness (this is particularly important when dealing with commenters on blogs).

Usually the Best Response is No Response (cf. Prov 26:4-5)

Potentially a subpoint of the previous, Solomon tells us, “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.” While apparently contradictory, his general principle is clear:

If someone is speaking utter nonsense, just ignore it. 99.9% of inflammatory blog posts and comments aren’t worth our time. Don’t respond. I’ve made this mistake dozens of times (you’d think I’d learn), but responding to an unhelpful negative comment is bad news. Don’t respond.

There are times when it’s necessary to call out foolish talk for what it is, but we’ve got to be careful to avoid getting sucked into an endless back-and-forth. If we must respond, do so carefully, clearly and biblically.

On this point, a practice I’m beginning to implement here is best described as follows: Respond carefully and if necessary, use the delete button. If a comment is full of foolish talk, it’s best for everyone if it’s deleted.

Focus on What is Praiseworthy (cf. Phil. 4:8)

The most helpful thing we can do is focus on what is excellent, true, praiseworthy, pure and commendable. If a comment is flat-out ignorant, ignore it (or if we’re the moderator, delete it)—and if a blog consistently provokes us to anger or frustration, perhaps we shouldn’t be reading it?

Remember the Point (cf. 1 Thess 5:11)

“Encourage one another and build one another up,” Paul wrote. All our communication between fellow believers should have this goal in mind. This doesn’t mean play the part of a sycophant; that sort of behavior demeans everyone (including the person on the receiving end of such behavior). Rather, it means even our negative statements should be offered in a spirit of familial love for a brother or sister in Christ. Our goal is never to be the rightest person in the room, but to build one another up and encourage.

In the past, I’ve been reticent to implement a formal comment policy beyond, “don’t act like a jerk.” So, while there are certainly elements of a comment policy here, these points are really meant to be guiding principles to help me maintain the consistency between my blog comments and Christian conduct. If they’re helpful, I’d encourage you all to use them as well.

Remember Who’s in Charge

Every once in a while, I’m reminded of some of the conversations friends and I had during our very early years as Christians—ones marked more by ignorance than any particular insight into the things of God. One of the most common phrases I remember coming out of our mouths is, “When I get to heaven, Jesus and I are going to talk about [insert issue here].” This was almost always uttered with that certain arrogant tone that makes you want to flick someone in the forehead (even if it’s you).

This weekend’s message at our church brought this foolish talk to mind once again, and I found myself wishing I could travel back in time to share the following truths from God’s Word with my younger self. I would tell past-me to read the following verses (among many others) and consider the implications:

Isa. 40:13-14:

Who has measured the Spirit of the LORD, or what man shows him his counsel? Whom did he consult, and who made him understand? Who taught him the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding?

2 Chron. 20:6:

“O LORD, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you.”

Psa. 75:7:

It is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another.

Psa 135:6:

Whatever the LORD pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.

Psa. 139:16:

Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.

Jer. 1:5:

“Before I [God] formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Dan. 4:35:

…all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and [God] does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”

Rom. 9:18:

So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

The Lord determines our days; He executes judgment; He appoints our purpose (whether a prophet, pastor or pastry chef); He brings low and exalts. He does whatever He pleases and no one can say to Him, “What have you done?” No one can give Him counsel, nor is anyone qualified.

It is arrogant and foolish in our thinking that we have any authority over Him. That I—or any of us—had the audacity to flippantly suggest that I could question Him… Had I really understood this back in those early days, I hope it would have turned my grumbling into prayerful questions. From “we’re going to talk about this,” to “help me to understand your purposes in this.” When we get to heaven, we will have questions, but we won’t be arrogantly demanding answers.

Sometimes we (especially me) need a reminder on who we’re talking about when we talk about God. We need to remember who’s in charge—because it’s not us.

The Loss of Art

A powerful quote from J. Gresham Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism, as shared in Steve Baarendse’s message at the truthXchange Think Tank, “Two-ism in Art and Literature”:

Scientific investigation . . . has certainly accomplished much; it has in many respects produced a new world. But there is another aspect of the picture which should not be ignored. The modern world represents in some respects an enormous improvement over the world in which our ancestors lived; but in other respects it exhibits a lamentable decline. The improvement appears in the physical conditions of life, but in the spiritual realm there is a corresponding loss. The loss is clearest, perhaps, in the realm of art. Despite the mighty revolution which has been produced in the external conditions of life, no great poet is now living to celebrate the change; humanity has suddenly become dumb. Gone, too, are the great painters and the great musicians and the great sculptors. The art that still subsists is largely imitative, and where it is not imitative it is usually bizarre. Even the appreciation of the glories of the past is gradually being lost, under the influence of a utilitarian education that concerns itself only with the production of physical well-being.

Adapted from J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (Kindle Edition)