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Generous congregations and hard working ministers

Paul Levy:

Over the past few weeks I’ve been asked on three occasions about ministers and contracts and pay rates. It is a tricky subject and in each situation it was fraught with tension and frustration on both sides.

$5 Friday at Ligonier

This week’s selections includes The Masculine Mandate: God’s Calling to Men by Richard Phillips (hardcover), and Dr. Sproul’s Meaning For Men & Building a Christian Conscience teaching series (download), among many other items. Sale ends at midnight (Eastern Time). Also this is the last weekend to save 30% storewide (excluding $5 Friday items) using coupon code FATHERS30.

Cheap eBook

Mark Dever on Numbers and Faithfulness

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HT: Tim Brister

Sovereignty and Prayer

Darryl Dash:

Theologians have tried to figure out how to reconcile God’s sovereignty with human responsibility. How can God be sovereign over all things, and at the same time we have the ability to take meaningful action? It’s fair to wrestle with this, and in the end to accept both at the same time.

Freedom Should Not Be Confused with Autonomy

Recently I was at a conference for Christian creative-types with my teammates from work. The time together was terrific, but during many of the sessions, I found myself with a rather odd feeling in the pit of my stomach. (And it wasn’t just because of the smoke machines working overtime during the praise band sessions.)

Without trying to make assumptions about motives—because I believe all the presenters genuinely desire to be impacting their communities for the sake of Christ—the questions asked never really got beyond what can we do to be more engaging, exciting and creative. We never got to the question behind those, which is what are we trying to do in the first place as we seek to be creative.

Walking away, it felt as though in our desire for creative excellence and to reach people for Christ, we were confusing the freedom that Christ offers with autonomy.

This is certainly not unusual in the West. In fact, we do it all the time. Consider how we view governments, regulations, or even being called to moral accountability. When governments do something that we don’t like, what do we do? Often, we grumble. When we are called to account for things we have done, what do we do? Often, we demand that people mind their own business.

But we must be careful that in whatever sphere—whether in our churches, at our jobs, or in our families—we do not display a cavalier attitude toward authority.

In terms of creativity in the Church, desiring creative excellence is a good and beautiful thing. But we have to let God’s Word shape and define the boundaries in which we are to express our creativity. We need to be careful that we don’t fall prey to base pragmatism or a desire to be cool, one that looks at the world’s entertainment and says, “If we do that, then people will come.”

R.C. Sproul puts it well, “We are not free to do what is right in our own eyes. We are called to do what is right in His eyes. Freedom should not be confused with autonomy.”1 We need to let that truth guide our creativity as much as our morality. Understand the boundaries God has placed, embrace them and glorify God through them. But don’t confuse freedom with autonomy in your creativity.

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The Day I Accused My Wife of Infidelity

Michael Patton:

I accused my wife of infidelity last year. No, there was no evidence. No, there was no change in our relationship. No, it is not characteristic of her in the slightest. However, I had my reasons . . . Getting ahead of myself.

15 questions for pastors to ask themselves

Steven Kryger:

“I’m not the king. I’m only an ambassador for the King”. A great reminder from Paul Tripp at the Dangerous Calling conference I recently attended.

Paul has a wonderful gift for speaking to pastors and the specifics of pastoral ministry. If you’re a pastor, ask yourself these questions from Paul Tripp*. If you’re not a pastor – send this to yours!

Satisfied In You

My wife and I really enjoy The Sing Team—this adaptation of Psalm 42 is terrific:

[tentblogger-youtube A7O7LQpQaoc]

The scoffer

Ray Ortlund:

Not every opinion deserves a place at the table.  It is the responsibility of a church’s elders to monitor the conversation going on in their church and encourage the positive and confront the negative.

Sadly, some people just don’t listen.

Southern Baptists and Salvation: It’s Time to Talk

Albert Mohler:

A recent statement on the doctrine of salvation has received a good bit of attention in recent days. Since it deals with matters of current controversy, it has generated some heat. Our current task as Southern Baptists is to engage in a theological conversation that will transform heat into light. This is the very least we owe each other as brothers and sisters who are committed to the Great Commission, to the Southern Baptist Convention, and to each other.

Disciples, Deal with Difficult Texts

A number of years ago, I went on my first missions trip. At the time I was excited, but really wrestling with questions of what I was supposed to be doing with my life, frustrated and a little bitter when I saw others around me—some friends and some not-so-much—finding great success. Rather than rejoice at the good fortune of friends who the Lord had blessed, I found myself grumbling over the fact that others who I was working harder than those finding good fortune.

“Didn’t I deserve better?” I thought.”Why was I being treated so unfairly…”

“Where was God in all this?”

Recently I was considering a similar lament recorded in Scripture. In the book of Malachi, we see God’s confrontation of the Israelites over their hard-hearted ways. They were bitter that they were under the thumb of another nation, despite having been returned to the Promised Land. They did not prosper as they saw that God had promised in the Law and through His Prophets. The glory of the Lord was not manifest in the rebuilt temple. And so they grumbled. And their grumbling wearied the Lord:

You have wearied the LORD with your words. But you say, “How have we wearied him?” By saying, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and he delights in them.” Or by asking, “Where is the God of justice?” (Mal. 2:17)

Reading this text (as I have many times over the last few months) reminded me that disciples need to deal with difficult texts faithfully. Think about this one for a moment: in some ways strikes me as a summary of the dialogue between Job and God. There, after many, many chapters of Job’s being pushed to the breaking point by his foolish friends, and he steadfastly defends his character (though increasingly the tone of his defense appears to move into arrogance), God finally appears.

And He’s not happy.

“Dress for action like a man,” He says to Job. “I will question you, and you make it known to me.”

And so God begins: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the world . . . who shut in the seas with doors . . . Can you send forth lightning . . . Can you hunt the prey for the lion . . .  Do you give the horse his might…?” On and on God goes for two chapters (Job 38:1-40:2), until He turns the question around back to Job, inviting his response:

“Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.” (Job 40:2)

And what does Job say?

“Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.” (Job 40:4-5)

In other words, “I have no idea what I’m talking about. I’m a fool for questioning you.”

And then God does it again. Another line of questioning, “Dress for action like a man,” He says. It’s as if by repeating Himself, God really wants to make a very important point: To Job He says, “You don’t get to question me. Period.”

Then we come back to the people of Israel. The grumbling, unrepentant, bitter, jaded people of God… They wonder why God doesn’t answer their prayers and so they say, “God delights in those who are evil.” They ask, “Where is the God of justice?”

Do they really expect Him to answer? And if so, how?

[Read more...]

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Exchanging Fear for Fear

Kevin DeYoung:

Why is the fear of the Lord the beginning of wisdom? Because the end of folly is the love of the praise of men. Or to say the same thing in a different way: there is no sin so prevalent, so insidious, and so deep as the sin of fearing people more than we fear God.

Was Solomon Really a Good King?

…as I read 1 Kings, I often find myself asking, “was Solomon really a good king?” After all, he begins his reign by arranging the assassination of a number of prominent rivals, and as his power grows he seems to increasingly resemble the kings of Israel’s pagan neighbors, at times even the Pharaohs of old.

Let’s Get Our Theological Priorities Straight

Luke Stamps:

Doctrinal prioritization has a strong pedigree. Jesus himself placed priority on the two great commandments: love God and love your neighbor (Matthew 22:36-40). The apostle Paul placed priority on the gospel proclamation of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection—the message he considered to be “of first importance” (1 Corinthians 15:3). And so all theologians must prioritize. Certain doctrines have greater significance than others for the whole of Christian theology. The deity of Christ is more consequential for the Christian faith than the timing of the millennium. The latter is still important, but it is not “of first importance,” to borrow the apostle’s phrase.

But how do we get our doctrinal priorities straight?

Rural Ministry is Not Second Rate

Jared Wilson:

The incomparable Tim Keller, himself a pastor in Manhattan, offers some great advice to the young pastor. . . . Keller is touching on something huge here, this “disdain,” which really manifests itself in neglect and discrimination. This is on huge display in a Time Magazine article on the decline of rural churches. The magazine article talks about young pastors reluctant to go to a place where there’s no Starbucks, and even of older pastors and mentors telling these young guys they are too talented or too creative to pastor in small or rural towns. You know, because those places are wastes of time.

I can’t think of sentiments more antithetical to real ministry.

What Makes a Disciple?

I love knowledge and learning new things. I love figuring out how to explain a difficult subject and explain it to others. For me, there’s nothing more exciting than seeing people “get” what you’re talking about—the lightbulb moment. This recently happened when I was explaining a few of the big ideas of Awaiting a Savior to a group of 30 people I work with.

But one of the things that I have to remember is that imparting and gaining knowledge doesn’t equate discipleship. That’s because discipleship is more than accumulating knowledge—it’s being a student of Christ. Greg Dutcher puts it really well in his new book, Killing Calvinism: How to Destroy a Perfectly Good Theology from the Inside:

A disciple is a student of Christ—someone who spends time with the Savior in order to come to know him better and resemble him more closely. As a pastor, I have found that many Christians simply assume that learning more and more about the Bible and theology—Reformed theology in particular—is the same thing as growing as a disciple. It isn’t. Robust theology can be a powerful catalyst in this process, but like anything else, we can turn it into an idol. The danger is that, while we may begin with Reformed theology as the framework by which we more coherently understand and appreciate our faith, over time it can become the substance of our faith. At that point, daily living is more about mastering Reformed doctrine than being mastered by Jesus and his total claim over every area of life.

This raises a great question: How can we encourage those we disciple to not become “about mastering Reformed doctrine”? How are you working to be mastered by Jesus’ total claim over every area of life, as Greg puts it?

I’ve not figured this out yet, partly because I do recognize this consistent tension in my own life. With my kids, I see how we are striving to live in obedience to Christ and explain the reasons why we do what we do to them. I suspect that’s a start—but how are you trying to balance the tension?

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What is the difference between a man-centered gospel and the true gospel?

IX Marks:

There are countless man-centered “gospels” on offer today. Such “gospels” say things like, “God wants to make you rich and prosperous in this life,” or “God wants to heal you of every physical and emotional ailment,” or “God wants to provide for whatever needs you feel you have.”

But how do these man-centered gospels differ from the true, biblical, God-centered gospel?

Does Scripture Clearly Command This?

Mark Altrogge:

We have to be careful to distinguish between principle and practice. For example it is a principle of Scripture that we should walk in purity.  But the Bible does NOT forbid a long engagement in order to promote purity.  To have a short engagement might be someone’s personal practice, but we should not make a personal practice equal to Scripture.

The Page that Changed My Life

Burk Parsons:

Words are powerful. They transform lives and make history. They birth nations and topple empires. They make peace and fuel wars. They commence marriage and wound those we most cherish. They change hearts and give news of eternal life by the power of the Holy Spirit. Words are foundational to everything we think, do, and say in all of life; nevertheless, words are not ends in themselves. Words exist because God spoke them into existence that he might communicate with us and that we might commune with him. God has spoken to us in a book, and the Holy Spirit illumines those inspired words to us who trust the God who spoke them. Therefore, we read God’s Word not merely to have read and to have said that we’ve read, but that we might devour every jot and tittle and, thus, be renewed in our minds and continually transformed in our hearts.

Where are the Presbyterian Celebrity Pastors?

David Murray:

We seem to have been largely spared the celebrity pastor problem. Tim Keller is maybe the closest we’ve got. However, though fame has come to him, I don’t believe he’s gone looking for it (surely the defining characteristic of any celebrity). Others, like Sinclair Ferguson and Ligon Duncan have significant name recognition, but again who could ever argue that either of these two Christian gentlemen fit into the celebrity pastor mold? I mean they wear ties and blazers! Though popular and much-loved, they don’t have a whole entrepreneurial-industrial-business model built around them.

Joint Commitment to a Common Purpose

When you meet another believer, you have more in common with that person than you do with any other single person on this planet. This is the big idea that Don Carson really wanted us to get as he expounded upon Philippians 1:1-11 during The Gospel Coalition’s 2012 Regional Conference. The gospel connects us more deeply and more profoundly than anything else. It should guide how we approach others, because it is to be the center of our relationship with others. “What this is talking about is joint commitment to a common purpose,” Carson explained. “It’s putting the gospel as the shared goal of both parties.”

This is something that I fear many of us have forgotten. Or perhaps never come to realize in the first place.

We too quickly either fall look for the thing that is going to be reason for putting someone outside the camp, shooting first and asking questions later—or, we settle for a lowest-common-denominator theology, trying to figure out what is the bare minimum upon which we must agree in order to have fellowship. I know of a publisher, for example, that requires its authors to affirm the Apostles’ Creed, but doesn’t require them to agree upon a meaning (which, for the life of me, I can’t understand). On the other side of the spectrum, I know of folks who believe that you can’t be a self-respecting Calvinist unless you’re a pretrib, premil, dispensationalist (and if you don’t have any idea what I just said, you have been given a great gift from the Lord).

But why do we do this? Why do we put up unnecessary barriers that prevent genuine partnership in the gospel—and why do we settle for something as repugnant as setting our theological bar so low a snail could jump it?

Lowest-common-denominator theology always leads to lowest-common-denominator preaching, as Carson put it. It leads to mission drift. We become more about being relevant than being salt in the world. Instead, we need a robust, well-defined center—we need to get the gospel as right as we are able, by God’s grace. Because when our unity is rooted in the gospel, we can partner with others in so far as they understand the gospel and are working it out.

No mission drift. No unnecessary barriers. Joint commitment to a common purpose.

Question: What do you consider central to gospel-partnership? Where can you have room for open debate and where can there be none in order to partner?

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An Email Charter for the World’s Sanity

Kevin DeYoung:

A few months ago I notice that a friend was linking to this email charter at the end of his messages. I ignored it several times, but eventually was curious enough to open the link and see what this was about. Perhaps this charter is already familiar to you, but I hadn’t seen it before. I found it eminently sensible. I’m still thinking about how to implement some of the good advice.

You have authority in Christ

Ray Ortlund:

In Dynamics of Spiritual Life, Richard Lovelace proposes that one of the “primary elements of continuous renewal” in a church is “authority in spiritual conflict,” pages 133-144.  We are not on the defensive.  We have authority from Christ himself.  The blows we do receive from Satan “come from a retreating enemy,” as Lovelace says, because of the decisive victory of Jesus on our behalf.

What Speed Do You Read?

Give this test a shot. The results might surprise you.

Cheap eBooks

  • Note to Self by Joe Thorn – $3.03
  • Gospel-Centered Ministry by Tim Keller and D.A. Carson – $0.99
  • Gospel Wakefulness by Jared Wilson – $5.99
  • Humilitas by John Dickson – $2.99
  • Practicing Affirmation by Sam Crabtree – $3.99
  • God is the Gospel by John Piper – $4.99
  • The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness by Tim Keller – $0.99

Seven Keys to Preventing Pastoral Burnout

Thom Rainer:

Every pastor with whom I spoke had experienced some level of burnout. And so they spoke from the voice of experience when they shared with me what they do to prevent burnout today. I aggregated their responses to seven keys to preventing pastoral burnout, not in any particular order or priority.

Let us Feel and Mourn the Atrocity of Our Guilt

 O Lord God, the great I AM, we do confess and cheerfully acknowledge that all come of Thee. Thou hast made us and not we ourselves, and the breath in our nostrils is kept there by Thy continued power. We owe our sustenance, our happiness, our advancement, our ripening, our very existence entirely unto Thee. We would bless Thee for all the mercies with which Thou dost surround us, for all things which our eyes see that are pleasant, which our ears hear that are agreeable, and for everything that maketh existence to be life. Especially do we own this dependence when we come to deal with spiritual things.

O God, we are less than nothing in the spiritual world. We do feel this growingly, and yet even to feel this is beyond our power. Thy grace must give us even to know our need of grace. We are not willing to confess our own sinfulness until Thou dost show it to us. Though it stares us in the face, our pride denies it, and our own inability is unperceived by us. We steal Thy power and call it our own till Thou dost compel us to say that we have no strength in ourselves.

Now, Lord, would we acknowledge that all good must come of Thee, through Jesus Christ by Thy Spirit, if ever we are to receive it. And we come humbly, first of all acknowledging our many sins. How many they are we cannot calculate, how black they are, how deep their ill-desert; yet we do confess that we have sinned ourselves into hopeless misery, unless Thy free undeserved grace do rescue us from it. Lord, we thank Thee for any signs of penitence—give us more of it. Lay us low before Thee under a consciousness of our undeserving state. Let us feel and mourn the atrocity of our guilt. O God, we know a tender heart must come from Thyself. By nature our hearts are stony, and we are proud and self-righteous.

Charles Spurgeon, Adapted from The Pastor in Prayer

How is it With Our Souls?

We live in an age of special spiritual danger. Never perhaps since the world began was there such an immense amount of mere outward profession of religion as there is in the present day. A painfully large proportion of all the congregations in the land consists of unconverted people, who know nothing of heart-religion, never come to the Lord’s Table, and never confess Christ in their daily lives. Myriads of those who are always running after preachers, and crowding to hear special sermons, are nothing better than empty tubs, and tinkling cymbals, without a bit of real vital Christianity at home.

The life of many religious persons, I fear, in this age, is nothing better than a “continual course of spiritual tasting.” They are always morbidly craving fresh excitement; and they seem to care little what it is if they only get it. All preaching seems to be the same to them; and they appear unable to “see differences” so long as they hear what is clever, have their ears tickled, and sit in a crowd. Worst of all, there are hundreds of young believers who are so infected with the same love of excitement, that they actually think it a duty to be always seeking it. Insensible almost to themselves, they take up a kind of hysterical, sensational, sentimental Christianity, until they are never content with the “old paths” and, like the Athenians, are always running after something new.

To see a calm-minded young believer, who is not stuck up, self confident, self-conceited, and more ready to teach than learn, but content with a daily steady effort to grow up into Christ’s likeness, and to do Christ’s work quietly and inconspicuously, at home, is really becoming almost a rarity! They show how little deep root they have, and how little knowledge of their hearts, by noise, forwardness, readiness to contradict and set down old Christians, and over-weaning trust in their own fancied soundness and wisdom! Well will it be for many young professors of this age if they do not end, after being tossed about for a while, and “carried to and fro by every wind of doctrine,” by joining some petty, narrow-minded, censorious sect, or embracing some senseless, unreasoning heresy. Surely, in times like these there is great need for self- examination. When we look around us, we may well ask, “How is it with our souls?”

Adapted from J.C. Ryle, Practical Religion

The Backlist: The Top Ten Posts on Blogging Theologically

Let’s take a trip back in time to see the top ten posts in May:

  1. Everyday Theology: God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle (July 2009)
  2. Everyday Theology: God helps those who help themselves (July 2009)
  3. 4 Reasons to Preach Through Whole Books of the Bible (May 2012)
  4. John Piper on Mark Driscoll & John MacArthur (May 2009)
  5. D.A. Carson: Getting Excited about Melchizedek #TGC11 (April 2011)
  6. Where Is Jesus In The Old Testament? (June 2011)
  7. Division, Contending and Speaking the Truth in Love (May 2012)
  8. How Many Books Can Someone Really Read? (May 2012)
  9. How Introverts Can Thrive in an Extroverted World (May 2012)
  10. Everyday Theology: Preach the Gospel always, if necessary use words (July 2009)

And just for fun, here are the next ten:

  1. Be Careful Offering Criticism To Your Pastor (May 2012)
  2. Lessons from Nehemiah (page)
  3. 4 Functions of Sound Doctrine (May 2012)
  4. Book Review: Love Wins by Rob Bell (March 2011)
  5. Everyday Theology (page)
  6. Book Review: Real Marriage by Mark and Grace Driscoll (December 2011)
  7. Book Review: You Lost Me by David Kinnaman (December 2011)
  8. Why Don’t More People Give? (May 2012)
  9. Twisted: Reviewing Andy Stanley’s Twisting the Truth (October 2009)
  10. Book Reviews (page)

If you haven’t had a chance to read any of these posts, I hope you’ll take a few minutes today to check them out.

Six Resolutions For Living in Light of the Gospel

Don Carson, during his final session at The Gospel Coalition’s 2012 Ontario Regional Conference, offered an exhortation to the attendees as he concluded the conference’s message preaching from Philippians 4:4-20. In this message, he offered six resolutions for living in light of the gospel–for working out our own salvation with fear and trembling, even as it is God at work within us. His six resolutions follow, along with my paraphrased notes of Dr. Carson’s commentary:

1. Resolve to rejoice always in the Lord (Phil 4:4)

Surely we should want to do this–we are given redemption; the promise of the holy spirit, the hope of future glory… That we should even need to be told to rejoice in light of all that God has done is indicative of our sorry state. The text insists that we rejoice in the Lord. Tim Keller likes to say, “For the Christian, optimism is naive, but pessimism is atheistic.” This is because we see things through different lenses. We rejoice in the Lord. And for how long? Always. One who rejoices in the Lord consistently cannot be haughty, a back biter, a gossip, unprayerful, a complainer, a whiner… because rejoicing in the Lord is a salve against such things.

2. Resolve to be known for gentleness (Phil 4:5)

This word gentleness is hard to get right. Some translate it as reasonableness or selflessness. Which is ironic—to be known for your selflessness. Its the type A personality who wants to be known. And yet, this is what the text says. There are some Christian virtues that should be practiced in private, but gentleness is one we are to be known for by all. The self-sins are tricky things. They are damnably treacherous.

Quoting A.W. Tozer:

To be specific, the self-sins are these: self-righteousness, self-pity, self-confidence, self-sufficiency, self-admiration, self-love and a host of others like them. They dwell too deep within us and are too much a part of our natures to come to our attention till the light of God is focused upon them. The grosser manifestations of these sins, egotism, exhibitionism, self-promotion, are strangely tolerated in Christian leaders even in circles of impeccable orthodoxy. They are so much in evidence as actually, for many people, to become identified with the gospel. I trust it is not a cynical observation to say that they appear these days to be a requisite for popularity in some sections of the Church visible. Promoting self under the guise of promoting Christ is currently so common as to excite little notice.

Carson continued:

One of the entailments of the gospel is to resolve to live selflessly. But Paul also gives the reason for gentleness—”for the Lord is near.” The Lord’s return is impending. Salvation does not end in three score years and ten. We will stand before him in the end. And that means that we need to pay attention to the repeated commands to be ready for his return. For the Lord is near.

3. Resolve not to be anxious about anything (Phil 4:6-7)

[Read more...]

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From Culture to Christ: Secret Crowds

Joe Thorn:

Many things I see and hear throughout the day remind me of God and the gospel. Often times these things have nothing to do with God directly, but my thoughts tend to drift back to the truth. Recently the song “Secret Crowds” by Angels and Airwaves has triggered thoughts on church planting and the spread of the gospel. The chorus in particular sticks in my head.

$5 Friday at Ligonier

This week’s selections includes Triumphing Over Sinful Fear by John Flavel (paperback), Jesus the Evangelist by Richard Phillips (hardcover), and Dr. Sproul’s Luther and the Reformation teaching series (download), among many other items. Sale ends at midnight (Eastern Time). Remember, you can save 30% storewide (excluding $5 Friday items) through June 10th using coupon code FATHERS30.

Cheap Law

Tullian Tchividjian:

In Matthew 5, Jesus shows unambiguously that the greatest obstacle to getting the gospel is not “cheap grace” but “cheap law”–the idea that God accepts anything less than the perfect righteousness of Jesus. (By the way, the proper response to the charge of “cheap grace” is not to make grace expensive by adding a thousand qualifications and footnotes, but rather to declare that grace is free!)

Works and Words: Why You Can’t Preach the Gospel with Deeds

Duane Liftin:

This is not some esoteric debate reserved for theologians or technical Bible scholars. Faithful obedience to Jesus Christ is our goal, and that applies to all who call him Lord. Such obedience must begin with clear thinking about what Jesus calls us to be and do.