Book Review: Mere Churchianity by Michael Spencer

There are some books you really look forward to reviewing and others you approach with trepidation. Mere Churchianity is the latter. The reason has less to do with the content and more with the fact that the book’s author, Michael Spencer—better known around the interwebs as the Internet Monk—passed away in April, 2010. So now, there’s no opportunity to interact with him over it. And reading the book left me wanting to sit and hang out with him and just talk about it. Here’s why:

American Christianity, in Spencer’s mind, has succumbed to a false religion: churchianity. Instead of being people who are transformed by Jesus, shaped to be like Him, we’ve settled for playing church. We’ve replaced relationship with religion.

And this has forced him to ask, “When millions of people walk away from the church that has a sign out front saying Jesus is inside, what are they walking away from?” (p. 21). Are they walking away from God or from empty religion? Are they abandoning Jesus, or are they “walking away from a church that has become disconnected from Jesus and all he stands for?”

Perhaps the leavers and quitters are sending a message about Jesus that Christians need to take to heart. Perhaps churchianity has done more to alienate people from Christianity than all the best-selling books written by angry atheists. It is clear that the church has overadvertised something it has lost, and it’s time to answer some questions about the Jesus who doesn’t live behind the church signs. (p. 21)

The big idea behind Mere Churchianity is provocative—yet not. It’s provocative in the sense that it’s a very bold statement about the way things are in the church in North America. Yet, the claim itself has been made by so many (usually in a way that lacks charity and humility) that it’s become very easy to ignore. How did I respond? My reaction was… mixed. [Read more...]

Sermon Audio: When God Delivers His People

On Sunday, March 6, 2011, I had the privilege of preaching at Sovereign Grace Community Church in Sarnia, Ontario. The message, “When God Delivers His People,” was preached from Psalm 14:1-7:

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good. The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.

 

Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers who eat up my people as they eat bread and do not call upon the LORD? There they are in great terror, for God is with the generation of the righteous. You would shame the plans of the poor, but the LORD is his refuge.

 

Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion! When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people, let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.

The complete audio is available here: :

You can also download to listen later.

My original sermon notes are available for download here.

I hope you find the message edifying. Please feel free to provide some feedback in the comments. Thanks!

Around the Interweb

Trafficking in the Shadow of the Superbowl

Via Carolyn McCulley:

A.H. was trafficked to Dallas/Ft. Worth and forced into prostitution when she was just a teen. Like many other girls, she was beaten, raped, and enslaved not far from Dallas Cowboys stadium, where the 2011 Super Bowl will be held. To fight back against sex trafficking in Dallas and during major events like the Super Bowl, A.H. has written an open letter to the 2011 Super Bowl Host Committee and the NFL, asking them to endorse the I’m Not Buying It campaign.

Here’s the opening of A.H.’s letter:

Dear Super Bowl Host Committee & National Football League,

My name is A.H. and I’m a survivor of sex trafficking. I’m not a big football fan, but I’ll never forget my first trip to Dallas/Fort Worth several years ago. It was 2006 when I was dragged there against my will by a pimp. I was forced to dance, strip and sell sex (along with five other young girls) for over a month while he pocketed the cash ($1,000-$3,000/night from each girl) and planned our next gig. I was trapped in a life I never wanted without any hope of escape…

Read the rest.

How the Gospel Helps Us Overcome Pornography

D.A. Carson, John Piper and Tim Keller discuss:

(via Justin Taylor)

Also Worth Reading

Church Ministry: A Phrase to Retire

An Actually Helpful Open Letter: An Open Letter to Ray Ortlund, Jr.

Free Stuff: ChristianAudio.com’s free audiobook for February is Adopted for Life by Dr. Russell Moore.

In Case You Missed It

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

J.C. Ryle: An Assured Hope is to Be Exceedingly Desired

My Memory Moleskine: Reciting Philippians 1:1-30 (and a Few Words on False Humility)

Joel Beeke: Cultivating Private Prayer as a Pastor

John Piper: The Greatest Gifts Can Become Deadly Substitutes for God

Preschooler Theology: “Why Do Monsters Scare Me?”

(Audio)Book Review: Found: God’s Will by John MacArthur

Your Cause Can’t Be More Important than Christ

Really appreciated this clip from a recent sermon in Mark Driscoll’s ongoing series on the gospel of Luke:

Transcript follows:

Now let me say this: the way you become religious is when you’re about your small-k kingdom instead of God’s capital-K Kingdom. That’s why Jesus brings it back to a theology of the kingdom. He looks and says, “Here’s how you get in trouble and become religious. Your kingdom, not mine. Your name, not mine. Your fame, not mine. Your glory, not mine.” It’s not about us, it’s all about Jesus. And what happens for those who are into their own kingdom, they replace Christ with cause. Okay, for the religious people here, they were into their kingdom, not Jesus’ kingdom. They were into their cause, not Christ. That’s the problem.

What’s your cause? What’s your thing? Some of you are single-issue voters. You really only care deeply about one thing. Some of you have causes that are more “Christian” in orientation. Children, midwives, homeschooling, Christian schooling, public schooling, school choice, conservative politics, pro-life. Certain kind of student ministry, youth ministry, family ministry. Certain kind of musical style. Certain theological system. Certain author. What’s your cause…? [Read more...]

Dear Song Leader

Dear Song Leader,

You have a tough job. You’ve been tasked with leading the congregation in song, choosing music that flows with the sermon to be preached and is actually enjoyable.

And everybody has an opinion on what “enjoyable” means.

Including me.

There are some songs that are just offensive to my taste. There are some songs that are just impossible for me to sing because I’m a guy and the key is just too high (and I can’t pull off the skinny jeans that could make it possible to hit those high notes). I don’t like songs that go on for seven minutes when they have six words.

And I don’t like Hillsong United.

Truthfully, I could go the rest of my days without ever hearing another one of their songs and die a happy man. Because honestly, I doubt we’ll be singing any of their material in Heaven—not even “Mighty to Save.”

That’s my taste—and it’s something I am trying to get over every time I hear one of their songs. My taste is not what’s important. What’s important is that our songs are pleasing to Christ and communicating truth about Him and praise to Him.

Song leaders, I have a request:

Challenge us when we sing.

I’m not saying that you need to start rocking the classic hymns. (Although you could. They communicate the truths of the gospel in a way that many modern songs simply don’t even come close.)

I’m not saying put Romans 8 to music, or write a song that goes through the doctrines of grace or advocates for the free will of man in salvation (if such is your theological position).

I’m asking you to make us think deeply when we sing. Make us think deeply about what we’re singing. Confront us with our sin.

Help us rejoice in our salvation.

Sincerely,

Aaron

Book Review: Servanthood as Worship by Nate Palmer

Title: Servanthood as Worship
Author: Nate Palmer
Publisher: Cruciform Press (2010)

It’s Saturday night and you’ve just enjoyed a great night out. You get ready for bed, your head hits the pillow and you realize:

“Oh man, I’m on set up tomorrow. Ugh…”

I know that there have been times that I’ve felt that way. When I’ve volunteered to serve and can remember when I used to enjoy it… but now, I wish I could call in sick. Nate Palmer understands this—he’s been there. And in Servanthood as Worship, he seeks to help readers develop a theology of service that will bring joy to others (and ourselves) and glory to God.

Palmer view of servanthood is inspiring. He roots servanthood firmly in the gospel—that our service flows from Christ coming as a servant on our behalf. “As Christians, our standing with God—our very salvation—does not depend on whether we serve, but that Christ first served us. . . . All our service for God begins and ends with service from God,” he writes (p. 15). This is a shift that many of us—myself included—desperately need. Too often our view of service comes out of this place of trying to earn standing before God and men.

We put on a happy face and we work hard until we burn out.

The funny thing is, it seems like we’re being set up for this to happen, doesn’t it? I remember at one church hearing about how 20 percent of the people at a church were doing 80 percent of the work. As part of that so-called 20 percent, that puts a lot of pressure on you, because if you need a respite, there’s no one to fill the gap. The burden of duty leads to bitterness… and people don’t even realize it.

Instead, we need to embrace service as what it actually is—worship. To see it as an outward evidence of our inward transformation. [Read more...]

Book Review: The Church History ABCs

The study of Church history is an incredibly rewarding—and daunting—experience. In the 2000 years since Christ founded His Church, we’ve seen slave-traders dramatically converted into hymn writers, men give up their lives so that people can read the Bible in their own language, church fathers martyred for defending the faith, a reformation that transformed the world and countless other events. If there’s one thing Church history is not, it’s dull.

So how on earth do you begin to introduce kids to the riches of Church history? How about alphabetically?

In The Church History ABCs, author Stephen J. Nichols and illustrator Ned Bustard, introduce children to 26 heroes of the faith from Augustine to Zwingli. Nichols keeps his text lively and concise, avoiding getting bogged down in too many details about the people to whom he is introducing readers. I particularly enjoyed his write-up of Ulrich Zwingli:

I always come last because my name starts with “Z.” Zurich starts with a “Z” too. Go used me to teach the people of the city of Zurich about Jesus. From Zurich, the Reformation spread to other cities in Switzerland (there’s a “Z” in that word, too). I preached many sermons. One of them had a funny title, “On the Choice and Freedom of Foods.” . . . The Reformation came to Zurich. I wanted everyone to know that we should follow God’s Word and do what it says. The Bible tells us everything we need to know from A to Z.

Bustard’s clean illustration style is a lot of fun and very expressive. I’m impressed at his ability to communicate so much personality in such “simple” drawings (my wife is an illustrator, so I know how difficult a task this can be). It’s a style that serves the content and the audience well.

From a parent’s perspective, The Church History ABCs is a lot of fun—the basic premise is intriguing enough to  make you want to pick it up and take a look, the content is strong enough to give a firm foundation in the bigger picture of Church history, and it’s a neat handy tool for teaching your kids the alphabet. Get a copy for your kids today.


Title: The Church History ABCs: Augustine and 25 Other Heroes of the Faith
Authors: Stephen J. Nichols, Ned Bustard
Publisher: Crossway (2010)

Sermon Audio: Submission in a Rebellious World

On November 21, I had the privilege of once again preaching at Brussels Community Bible Chapel in Brussels, Ontario. The message, Submission in a Rebellious World, was preached from 1 Peter 2:13-25.

My original notes follow: [Read more...]

Beware the Self-Absorbed Preacher

A strong warning from John Piper:

Here’s the transcript:

We must be his witnesses. It is a great necessity. Faith comes by hearing a witness. But we must not make much of ourselves. Beware of the witness that needs attention for himself. Beware of the preacher who constantly angles to put himself in a good light and returns again and again to his ministry and his achievements. Beware of the preacher’s subtle preoccupation with himself even when he speaks of his own flaws. Beware of your own bent to love the praise of men.

Remember, therefore, that from the very beginning of John’s Gospel, there is a human witness to the light—our witness. Our witness is a great necessity. And our witness is a great not. He must increase; we must decrease. Amen.

This is really important for me to keep in mind as I am developing sermons (and blog posts). The challenge with illustrations is that sometimes the easiest place to find them (in our own lives) is exactly the place that leads us to (sometimes inadvertently) spend too much time talking about ourselves.

Becoming Balanced

A few weeks ago, Dustin Neeley sat down with Mark Driscoll to talk about what encourages and concerns him about young Christian leaders. Here’s the video:

(HT: The Resurgence)

In the video, Driscoll points out a couple of things he finds encouraging:

  1. A renewed desire for gospel-centered, Jesus-based, Bible saturated teaching
  2. A renewed heart for having a good gospel witness in urban centers
  3. A renewed interest in church planting

He also notes the following concerns, specifically in regard to what’s been called the Young, Restless & Reformed/New Calvinism:

  1. Good Reformed, complementarian theology unaccompanied by a strong sense of Spirit-filled mission will lead to fundamentalism
  2. New Calvinists being defined less by what they are for than what they’re against
  3. A lack of certainty about the role of the person of the Holy Spirit

Neeley asks viewers to consider the following questions in light of these encouragements and concerns:

“Where do I fall on the spectrum he describes?” and “What changes do I need to make to become more balanced?”

I don’t know about you, but here’s where I fall:

I absolutely love Jesus, the Church and the Bible and want to consistently be a better witness to Christ in my city (although I fail constantly). However, when I look at those concerns listed above, there are a number of things that caught my attention—not necessarily because I’m guilty of them (constantly), but the propensity is there.

It’s easy to develop convictions about what you’re against, for example, in the name of discernment. It’s a lot harder to develop strongly held convictions about what you’re for.

And it’s even harder to strongly hold to your convictions with humility.

This is where I’m learning that an increasing dependence on the Holy Spirit to work in and through me—both to make me more like Christ and (where necessary) speak words of correction—is so essential.

When I’m not actively depending on the Holy Spirit to guide my words, thoughts and actions, it usually goes bad. I’ll say the right thing the wrong way or I’ll say the wrong thing altogether.

Becoming balanced means being immersed in the Word.

Becoming balanced means cultivating a consistent prayer life.

Becoming balanced means becoming dependent on the Holy Spirit.

God, help me.

John Flavel: The Wheat and the Tares

He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

Matthew 13:24-30 (ESV)

It is Jerome’s observation, that wheat and tares are so much alike in their first springing up, that it is exceedingly difficult to distinguish one from the other. . . . The difference (saith he) between them, is either none at all, or wonderfully difficult to discern, which those words of Christ plainly confirm. Let them both alone till the harvest; thereby imitating both the difficulty of distinguishing the tares and wheat; as also the unwarrantable rashness of bold and hasty censures of men’s sincerity or hypocrisy, which is there shadowed by them.

How difficult soever it be to discern the difference betwixt wheat and tares, yet, doubtless, the eye of sense can much easier discriminate them, than the most quick and piercing eye of man can discern the difference betwixt special and common grace; for all saving grace in the saints have their counterfeits in hypocrites. There are similar works in these, which is a spiritual and very judicious eye may easily mistake for the saving and genuine effects of the sanctifying Spirit…

And this difference will yet be more subtle and undiscernible, if I should tell you, that as in so many things the hypocrite resembles the saint; so there are other things in which a real Christian may act too like a hypocrite. When we find a Pharoah confessing, a Herod practising, as well as hearing, a Judas preaching Christ, and an Alexander venturing his life for Paul; and on the other side, shall find a David condemning that in another which he practised himself, a Hezekiah glorifying in his riches, a Peter dissembling, and even all the disciples forsaking Christ in an hour of trouble and danger: O then! how hard is it for the eye of man to discern betwixt chaff and wheat? How many upright hearts are now censured, who God will clear? How many false hearts are now approved, whom God will condemn?

Men ordinarily have no clear convictive proofs, but only probable symptoms; which, at most, can beget but a conjectural knowledge of another’s state. And they that shall peremptorily judge either way, may possibly wrong the generation of the upright; or, on the other side, absolve and justify the wicked. And truly, considering what hath been said, it is no great wonder that dangerous mistakes are so frequently made in this matter. But though man cannot, the Lord both can and will, perfectly discriminate them…

He will have a day perfectly to sever the tares from the wheat, to melt off the varnish of the most resplendent and refined hypocrite, and to blow off the ashes of infirmities, which have covered and obscured the very sparks of sincerity in his people: he will make such a division as was never yet made in the world, how many divisions soever there have been in it. “And then shall men indeed return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked; betwixt him that serveth God, and him that serveth him not.” Meanwhile, my soul, thou canst not better employ thyself, whether thou be sound or unsound, than in making those reflections upon thyself.

John Flavel, Husbandry Spiritualized; or The Heavenly Use of Earthly Things in Which Husbandmen Are Directed, p. 95-97

Book Review: Church Planter by Darrin Patrick – The Man

“[W]e have a cultural crisis and a theological one,” writes Darrin Patrick in Church Planter: The Man, the Message, the Mission. “We live in a world full of males who have prolonged their adolescence. They are neither boys nor men. They live, suspended as it were, between childhood and adulthood, between growing up and being grown-ups. . . . This kind of male is everywhere, including the church and even, frighteningly, vocational ministry.” (p. 9).

In short, we have a man crisis. Modern society shuns the traditional role of the man as the head of the home, the breadwinner and the spiritual leader of the family. Advertising and entertainment show the man as the oafish buffoon, Mom’s “other child.” Emasculated, men have abdicated their responsibilities and escaped into the fleeting pleasures of hobbies, video games and pornography.

They are neither men nor boys. They are are “Bans,” a hybrid of both a boy and man. They’re in our communities, our churches, our workplaces, and our families.

Ban needs godly men and women to show him there is more to life than he is currently experiencing. Ban needs to be more than just a male. He needs to be becoming God’s man who is being transformed by God’s gospel message and is wholeheartedly pursuing God’s mission. (p. 18)

That’s why Patrick, the pastor of The Journey Church in St. Louis and vice-president of the Acts 29 Church Planting Network, wrote Church Planter. In its pages, Patrick offers sound advice and biblical wisdom as he challenges prospective church planters, longtime pastors and the average churchman alike to be God’s man armed with God’s message and on God’s mission.

So what kind of man does it take to plant a church?

What kind of man does the church need to carry out its mission? What kind of man is needed to see lives transformed?

Patrick breaks down who that man is as follows:

He is a rescued man. He is, quite simply, a man who has indeed personally experienced forgiveness and acceptance from Jesus Christ. He must be growing in genuine love for God and people. When an unregenerate man (even one who is self-deceived) is given oversight of the church, both his well-being and the church’s are at risk. “[T]he church under such a pastor [one who is not truly a Christian] generally suffers spiritually, communally, and missionally, and it eventually withers and dies.” (p. 24)

He is a called man. Pastoral ministry is impossible for man on his own. He must be clearly called by God. Here, Patrick offers a three-fold way to discern the call: heart, head and skills. A heart-call is a deep inclination that says, “I must do this or I will die.” A head calling is asking the question, “How am I to specifically serve this church?” And a skills confirmation is the church examining and testing the gifts and character of the one who believes himself to be called.

He is a qualified man. He is a man growing in the character qualifications of a biblical elder as outlined in 1 Timothy 3:1-7. While the pastor/elder is specifically called to these qualifications, Patrick notes, “Almost all of what is required here of elders . . . is required of any believer elsewhere in Scripture. . . . Elders are not a higher class of Christians. . . . [They] are called to uniquely focus on and live out the virtues to which all Christians aspire.” (p. 45)

He is a dependent man. He is a man who solely depends on the power of the Holy Spirit for the success of his ministry. He knows that it’s not by his will that anything can be done and seeks to grow deeply in his dependence by cultivating his relationship with God.

He is a skilled man. He is a man who exhibits (in varying degrees) the three basic skills necessary for pastoring: leading, teaching and shepherding. Patrick examines these through the lens of the three-fold offices of Christ: Prophet, Priest and King. He explains:

Prophets are those pastors who guide, guard, protect and proclaim the truths of Scripture. They tend to ask questions like, “What does the text say?” and “Where is the church going?” (p. 69)

Priests lead the church by identifying and helping to meet people’s felt needs. They tend to ask the question “Who?” (p. 72)

Kings develop strategies for bringing the vision and mission of Christ-centered living to fruition. They tend to ask the question “How?” (p. 73)

He is a shepherding man. He is a man who cares for Jesus’ sheep, and is prepared to lay down his life to protect and nurture them.

He is a determined man. There are going to be seasons in every pastor’s ministry where it will be very tempting to “tap out” and give up. But, Patrick writes, “Pastoral ministry requires dogged, unyielding, determination, and determination can only come from one source—God himself.” (p. 94)

This first section of the book provides a compelling and captivating picture of what a godly man should look like—not simply a pastor or church planter. As I read through these pages, I had to stop and seek the answers to the questions that Patrick posed along the way:

Do I love people?

Am I (and others) seeing the fruit of the Spirit become increasingly characteristic of my life?

Is there a call on my life?

How am I wired in reflecting the spiritual offices of Christ?

Am I depending on the Holy Spirit or on sheer willpower and effort to get through?

These were really challenging questions to answer—but the clarity that came from wrestling with them is refreshing (especially in that I learned that yes, I do in fact love people!).

We do have a man crisis in our culture and in our churches—and the picture of a godly man presented here is much-needed. Already I’ve started using it as a discipling tool for younger men. Because many of us have not had an example of a godly man in our lives, we’re usually trying to make it up as we go along. This has certainly been the case for me. However, the book’s structure and insights allow for real and reliable self-examination, as well as examination by others. And this alone makes Church Planter a worthwhile investment.


Next: The Message


Title: Church Planter: The Man, the Message, the Mission
Author: Darrin Patrick
Publisher: Crossway (2010)

Sermon Audio: Bold Intercession

On October 10, 2010, I had the opportunity to preach at Gladstone Baptist Church in Gladstone, Ontario. Sunday’s message was preached from Genesis 18:16-33:

Then the men set out from there, and they looked down toward Sodom. And Abraham went with them to set them on their way. The LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.” Then the LORD said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know.”

So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the LORD. Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” And the LORD said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”

Abraham answered and said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking. Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” Again he spoke to him and said, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.” He said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” And the LORD went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place.

The original sermon notes follow: [Read more...]