Monday, April 26, 2010

The Whole Work of Christ Apprehended by Faith Is the Gospel

I fear that there is significant alteration and misunderstanding of the gospel being propagated in our day, from pulpits evangelical and non. The gospel is a simple, clear thing, and anyone who makes it complicated, denies it.

The complicating of the gospel centers upon what theologians call the imputed righteousness of Christ. One simply cannot deny the imputation of Christ's obedience and death and be saved. Do not be scared away from these words, because, if you are truly a Christian, you know precisely what they mean, though you might use different words. They simply mean this:

"God justifies the ungodly." (Romans 4:5)

And this:

Philippians 3:8-9 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith -

Notice: God does not save the righteous, or the godly, but the ungodly and the un-righteous.

In short, if I am to be saved, I need someone else's righteousness, a righteousness from outside myself. I do not need someone to make up for my shortcomings, I do not need someone who simply pays for my failures. If I would come to God, I must give up every pretense of my own goodness, and reach up to Christ with empty, sin-stained hands, and grab hold of him and his righteousness, for he alone has the perfect righteousness that is worthy of God's acceptance and approval.

Some are saying we will be saved by our faithfulness. Some are saying we are saved by our own righteousness. Some are saying we are saved the same way Adam was --by faithful obedience. Brothers and sisters, sin renders this an impossibility. At my best, I am only an unprofitable servant. God does not save me based on my fidelity to his covenant --as Turretin says it, I am saved by obedience and faith: by Christ's obedience and through my faith. And, it must be stressed, that faith does not in any way render me worth saving. It is nothing but the outstretched hand to God to save me --and that not of myself, it is a gift of God.

Do not let go of this. It is the gospel. Sinclair Ferguson says it like no other.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The gospel and people who need it...


Johnny keeps preaching, from the grave, as it were...

How Great Sinners can be Great Saints

This is my son, Nathaniel, and, he is a great sinner. Of all of our children, he is the most challenging. When he is around, the house is a swirl of activity around him. Never one to self-occupy, he keeps everything stirred up, for the good, and for the bad.

He could not be wired more differently than I in terms of interests and abilities. Already, his athletic prowess outstrips mine. He is active and driven. In other ways, we are very similar: easily disappointed and frustrated, with a tendency to pout.

But, he is also one of the most natural evangelists I have ever seen. He goes to public school. He tells his friends about God. My wife overheard him in the car talking to his un-churched friend about how to pray. He strikes up conversations about creation with his friends. O God, may he not lose this when he becomes a teenager!

He is a great sinner. But, of all of our children, he seems most to realize his sin, be truly sorry for it, and struggle with it before God. He shows me the truth of simil iustus et peccator (Augustine's description of a Christian, "At the same time righteous and a sinner."). As exhausting as he can be, he is an example to me, too.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Conferences and Reality

I have just returned from the biennial Together for the Gospel Conference. It was edifying and refreshing just to sing praise and sit under fine preaching, particularly John Piper on imputation as the heart of the gospel, Lig Duncan who has the singular ability to edify us out of the patristics, and C.J. Mahaney on the work of the ordinary pastor.

The last is significant. As I have confessed before, my constant temptation is to compare my work with others. I often feel like I labor as a pygmy in the land of giants in Jackson, and a man without a country in the PCA. These are not easy things for prideful, foolish, and melancholy flesh to endure. Yet, CJ, in his unique blend of poignancy, humor, and hard-hitting application, told me just what I needed to hear --both in way of correction and encouragement. May I own what he had to say.

Why? Because life in the church (in its local, and connectional aspects) is tough, wherever you are. There are burdens to be borne. The alluring temptation is to think that the titans have no struggles or shortcomings. But, I've worked for a few titans, and struggle they do and shortcomings they have! They are human, too. And they must bleed for their churches, too.

We must believe the church is glorious, because God tells us that it is. Occasionally, we glimpse that glory. We glimpse it when someone is kind to us, when someone prays with us, or speaks in an edifying way to us. But the church is not perfected yet. It stumbles about blindly in the darkness a lot, getting cut and torn and bruised. It is silly in its pridefulness. It is childish in its wants and needs.

Yet, Jesus loves it. And we should too.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

I Wonder If Any Other Preachers Notice This

The scary prospect of having to live out the reality of the struggle presented in an upcoming text.

True Confession time: I've been struggling with jealousy and discontentment when I relate the relative size and notoriety of my ministry to that of others. Probably most if not all ministers have struggled with this.

But, it particularly comes home in Matthew 19, where Jesus is telling his disciples not to worry about his reward to others, but to do their work, without looking over their shoulders at the work or rewards of others.

The difficulty with this is one feels hypocritical for preaching on such a text.

But, in God's plan, perhaps this is how it must be --that we empathize with our hearers, that the text works us over first (never a comfortable thing) so that we, like those who gather, sit under the text along with our people.

Thoughts, from clergy or laity?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

He Turned the Water Into Wine.

Mars Hill Church Seattle on Johnny Cash and Jesus...

What would it take to be a church for the likes of Johnny Cash?

I wish I could "preach" like Johnny, and reach the people Johnny reached.

Some clips from one of the most moving TV events of all time: Johnny Cash live at San Quentin. Listen to the prisoners. Do you see yourself looking back at you? I wonder how many of those who listened to Johnny that night are still alive?

Death Row, and Peace in the Valley...Interviewing both a death row inmate, and a guard. Poignant, moving stuff.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

It's Too Easy

To want to be loved and accepted by one's ministerial peers, so that we never speak the truth, in love, or do or say anything that might make us unpopular or get us labeled as a troublemaker...

And, conversely,

To want to stand above and critique our ministerial peers, to feel like a pariah, and take some measure of satisfaction and damning pride in the fact that I get it and they don't...

I love C. S. Lewis's "The Inner Ring." Great advice for ministers, and all of us.

But, it still doesn't solve the problem!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Dutch Reformed Guy In Presbyterian Exile

I hope it will not get me defrocked by the Mississippi Valley Presbytery, but I am at long last willing to come out and say "I prefer the Heidelberg Catechism to the Westminster Catechisms!" Whew. What a relief. Let the chips fall where they may.

Why do I prefer Heidelberg? Well, firstly, because it wasn't written by committee. Shakespeare could not have been written by committee, nor could Psalm 103. They would have had lots of provisos and wherefores. The Heidelberg was written primarily by one man --a pastor scholar. Westminster was written by committee.

Now, thankfully, there are some beautiful and affecting passages in Westminster, on adoption and (surprisingly) the power of sin.

But, mostly I like Heidelberg because it is personal and subjective. Among many other struggles we have in the Reformed community is the struggle between the subjective and the objective. It is quite possible to err on either side. But, I do fear that many who claim the name of Reformed Christian are afraid of anything subjective --over-reacting against the subjectivism of the age, and the evangelical church at large.

Heidelberg is subjective in all the right ways. It is subjective in that it begins with "What is your only comfort in life and in death?" and answers it, "That I am not my own, but belong body and soul, both in life and in death to my faithful savior, Jesus Christ..." It is beautifully subjective in its definition of saving faith --that is without peer. "not only certain knowledge but also a hearty trust not only unto others, but to me also forgiveness of sins...given freely by God, merely of grace, and only for the sake of Christ's merits.

What do I see missing in so many places and people? Just the "not only to others, but to me also" part of faith. We can own a lot of truth, and fall short of Jesus. Not only certain knowledge, but also hearty trust, not only to others, but to me also, merely of grace.

Repellent Sins

Reservations for Doug and Wendy Whiner!!!

There can be no question that there are attractive sins, probably what the author of Hebrews had in mind when he talked about Moses forsaking "the pleasures of sin for a season." No need to list what these are!

But, there is another class of sin about which it is difficult to see the attraction, because misery seems to be at their very core, and, instead of attracting others, they repel them.

A bitter spirit. A lying tongue. Self-pity. Complaining and whining. Discontent.

Now, no doubt, these have their own twisted pleasure, but it is twisted indeed. Being the unfortunate inheritor of a very melancholy disposition, I see myself as particularly prone to the last three, and wrestle against them daily. I am not without significant sin in this regard.

In the church, there are often people who have a list of complaints. A lot of times, these complaints have some basis in fact. But, usually they are about matters of no consequence. Satisfy the complaints of such people, and they simply tack more on to the bottom of their list.

I have dealt with embittered people too --those who have been hurt or wronged, and lock themselves in the sarcastic prison-house of their own sense of having been greatly wronged. They are actually tortured and imprisoned by themselves, and take a perverse pleasure in having been wronged --as if their harbor of resentment against those who wronged them is somehow wreaking vengeance upon their tormentor. In truth, these are just sad folks, and end up repelling all around them.

What other sins are inherently repelling? And what can we do about them?