Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Urgent Need Of The Church

What is the most urgent need in the church of the Western world today? Many different responses are given to that question....

Some in the church say that what we need is purity in sexual and reproductive matters...

Others locate the most urgent problem of the church less in personal morality than in larger policy issues connected with reproduction...

Others say the church's most urgent need is a combination of integrity and generosity in the financial arena...

Well, then, someone might say, what we need in this hour of spiritual declension is evangelism and church planting...

Perhaps what we most urgently need, then is disciplined, biblical thinking. We need more Bible colleges and seminaries, more theologians, more lay training, more expository preaching. How else are we going to train a whole generation of Christians to think God's thoughts after him, other than by teaching them to think through Scripture, to learn the Scriptures well?...

Time fails to list other ugent needs that various groups espouse. Some groups point to the desperate need for real, vital corporate worship; others focus on trends in the nation and therefore the need to become involved in politics and policies.

Clearly all of these things are important. I would not want anything I have said to be taken as disparagement of evangelism and worship, a diminishing of the importance of purity and integrity, a carelessness about disciplined Bible study. But there is a sense in which these urgent needs are merely symptomatic of a far more serious lack. The one thing we most urgently need in Western Christendom is a deeper knowledge of God. We need to know God better.

When it comes to knowing God, we are a culture of the spiritually stunted. So much of our religion is packaged to address our felt needs--and these are almost uniformly anchored in our pursuit of our own happiness and fulfillment. God simply becomes the Great Being who, potentially at least, meets our needs and fulfills our aspirations. We think rather little of what he is like, what he expects of us, what he seeks in us. We are not captured by his holiness and his love; his thoughts and words capture too little of our imagination, too little of our discourse, too few of our priorities.

In the biblical view of things, a deeper knowledge of God brings with it massive improvement in the other areas mentioned: purity, integrity, evangelistic effectiveness, better study of Scripture, improved private and corporate worship, and much more. But if we seek these things without passionately desiring a deeper knowledge of God, we are selfishly running after God's blessings without running after him. We are even worse than the man who wants his wife's services--someone to come home to, someone to cook and clean, someone to sleep with--without ever making the effort to really know and love his wife and discover what she wants and needs; we are worse than such a man, I say, because God is more than any wife, more than the best of wives: he is perfect in his love, he has made us for himself, and we are answerable to him.

A Call To Spiritual Reformation: Priorities From Paul And His Prayers, D.A. Carson, p.11-16
Amen, Don. Amen. This past summer I was blown away when I realized how Paul prays for the church in Ephesus. Paul knows that in the Ephesian church people struggle with lying, anger, stealing, improper speech, strained relationships, unforgiveness, sexual immorality, covetousness, drunkenness, and more. Just read chapters 4 and 5. But how does he pray for this church? Does he pray for the power of lust to be broken in their lives, for them to have restored relationships, or for idols to be destroyed? As good as these things are, no. And it dawned on me. If he prayed in these ways, he'd be fighting the wrong battle. The presence of these things aren't ultimately what their problem is. Their problem is owing to a lack of something. So this is how Paul prays:
I do not cease to remember you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know...
Ephesians 1:17,18
Paul really only prays for one thing in verses 17-23. Everything after verse 17 is an expansion of what that one thing is: that God may grant the Ephesians a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him.

That was their greatest need. If this prayer would be answered, all the other issues would disappear. And 2,000 years removed, times haven't changed.

Friday, September 26, 2008

From A Fellow Christian Hedonist

My puritan friend Richard Baxter:
XXIII. 1. A Christian indeed daily delights himself in God, and finds more solid content and pleasure in his commands and promises, than in all this world ; his duties are sweet to him, and his hopes are sweeter. Religion is not a tiresome task to him, the yoke of Christ is easy to him, his burden light, and his commandments are not grievous. That which others take as physic, for mere necessity, against their wills he goes to as a feast, with appetite and delight; he prays because he loves to pray; and he thinks and speaks of holy things, because he loves to do it. Hence it is that he is so much in holy duty, and so unwearied, because he loves it and takes pleasure in it. As voluptuous persons are oft and long at their sports, or merry company all because they love them, and take pleasure in them: so are such Christians oft and long in holy exercises, because their hearts are set upon them as their recreation, and the way and means of their felicity. If it be a delight to a studious man to read those books which most clearly open the most abstruse mysteries of the sciences, or to converse with the most wise and learned men: and if it be a delight to men to converse with their dearest friends, or to hear from them and read their letters, no marvel if it be a delight to a Christian indeed, to read the gospel mysteries of love, and to find there the promises of everlasting happiness, and to see in the face of Christ the clearest image of the eternal deity; and foresee the joys which he shall have forever. He sticks not in superficial formality, but breaking the shell, doth feed upon the kernel. It is not bare external duty which he is taken up with, nor any mere creature that is his content; but it is God in creatures and ordinances that he seeks and lives upon ; and therefore it is that religion is so pleasant to him. He would not change his heavenly delights, which he finds in the exercise of faith, hope, and love to God, for all the carnal pleasures of this world ; he had rather be a door-keeper in the house of God, than dwell in the tents or palaces of wickedness. A day in God’s court is better to him than a thousand in the court of the greatest prince on earth. He is not a stranger to the joy in the Holy Ghost, in which the kingdom of God in part consists. ‘In the multitude of his thoughts within him, the comforts of God delight his soul. – His meditation of God is sweet, and he is glad in the Lord.’ The freest and sweetest of his thoughts and words run out upon God and the matters of salvation. The word of God is sweeter to him than honey, and better than thousands of gold and silver. And because his delight is in the law of the Lord, therefore he meditates in it day and night, he sees great reason for all those commands, ‘rejoice evermore, let the righteous be glad, let them rejoice before God, yea, let them exceedingly rejoice. Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, ye righteous: and shout for joy all that are upright in heart.’ He is sorry for the poor unhappy world, that have no better things than meat, drink, clothes, house, land, money, lust, play, and domineering over others, to rejoice in; and heartily he wishes that they had but a taste of the saint’s delights, that it might make them abandon their luscious, unclean, unwholesome pleasures. One look to Christ, one promise of the gospel, one serious thought of the life which he must live with God for ever, doth afford his soul more solid comfort than all the kingdoms on earth can afford. Though he live not continually in these high delights, yet peace with God, peace of conscience, and some delight in God, and godliness, is the ordinary temperature of his soul, and higher degrees are given him in season for his cordials and his feasts.

The Practical Works of Richard Baxter, Baker (714-715)

HT: kerux noemata

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Beware Of Trying To Turn The Light On When God Has Turned It Off

Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God. Behold, all you who kindle a fire, who equip yourselves with burning torches! Walk by the light of your fire, and by the torches that you have kindled! This you have from my hand: you shall lie down in torment.
Isaiah 50:10, 11 (emphasis added)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Are We Hearing From Him? - Part 1

I should probably start by saying that I don't really have time to be blogging right now. In case you didn't notice, it's been a while since my last post. But the title of this post has at least two meanings in my mind and both of them have a sense of urgency associated with them, which is why I figured this shouldn't wait.

So what do I mean when I say, "Are We Hearing From Him?" First off, the Him is referring to God. And, for the sake of this post, I am taking for granted that one of the ways God speaks is by the events that are happening every day all around us if we would have the eyes to see and the ears to hear.

When the Pharisees came to Jesus asking him for a sign from heaven, He said this:
"When it is evening, you say, 'It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.' And in the morning, 'It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.' You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.
Matthew 16:2,3
The Pharisees 't didn't have their eyes and ears open to the signs of the times in their day and what God was saying to them in Jesus. They weren't hearing from Him. So the question for us is: do we have our eyes and ears open to the signs of the times in the events that are happening around us today? Are we hearing from God through them?

This past weekend, John Piper began his expositional preaching series through the book of John. He has no idea how long it will last as he preaches verse by verse through this account of the gospel.

A few days before that, he wrote an article about preaching that is tethered to the Word of God compared to preaching that is not.

Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, recently released a book called, He Is Not Silent: Preaching In A Postmodern World. Tim Challies today wrote an excellent review of it here. I have not read this book, but would love to do so soon (though I don't think that will happen).

I just got done teaching my systematic theology class about bibliology, the doctrine that talks about the origins of the Bible and the characteristics of the Bible. We talked specifically about four characteristics of the Bible: it's authority, clarity, necessity, and sufficiency.

So I'm asking myself: am I hearing from God through these providences? What are the signs of our times? Al Mohler's new books says that He is not silent. But God being silent and our hearing from Him are two completely different things.

Lord willing, in the next couple of weeks I will write some reflections based on the hearing from God that I have written about in this post giving a couple of reasons from the Bible why I think that what the Church needs most in order to hear from God is an unflinching commitment to the expository preaching of the Bible (the other aspect of hearing I was referring to at the beginning of this post) by pastors in the pulpit from Sunday to Sunday.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

What Is Evangelicalism?

Four men take 4.5 minutes to describe the state of evangelicalism in America today. This is very much in line with my last post on politics and the Church.

November Is Almost Here

What do I mean by that? Well, the conventions are over. The tickets have been filled. And the pundits have plenty to say. That means that it's almost time for us to elect a new president here in the United States.
Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings;
Daniel 2:20,21
Though we will soon be electing a man to sit in the White House for eight years at most (should he be re-elected), there is One who has been sitting on a throne in Heaven from eternity past and will sit there for all of eternity to come. He is not elected by men. And He cannot be impeached by men. And it is this presiding One who ultimately will elect the next person to fill the executive seat in the White House. Indeed, He has already chosen.

But if you're like me, you have to be reminded that the way God goes about removing presidents and setting up presidents in the democracy of our country is by the votes of individual citizens like you and me. To tell you the truth, I would prefer to stay away from a ballot box when November comes and let the cards fall where they will because I'm not dazzled by any political party or the candidates who represent them.

But God has called us to be faithful stewards of the things that He has entrusted to us. And here in the United States one of the many things we have been entrusted with as citizens of this country is the right to vote. Woe to us if we imitate the behavior of the servant who buried the one talent that his master entrusted to him (Matthew 25:18). So what does it mean for us to in this way (with our voting rights) be faithful stewards of the citizenship that God has entrusted to us? I'm not really sure. But I want to be faithful to Jesus.

Is it reduced to nothing more than supporting the candidate who protects the lives of unborn children and rejecting any other? Or the candidate who upholds the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman? Those were the basic (biblical, I thought) lines along which I thought until my pastor recently finished a series in Romans 13:1-7 called "The Christian, the Church, and Government."

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
Romans 13:1-7
In case you hadn't figure it out by now, I don't like politics. But when my pastor began to preach about Christians and politics, I wasn't expecting what I got. What do you think he might say about politics when addressing the issue of politics? You might be surprised by the answer: very little. But I know that after listening to them I have alot more to consider as I get ready to go to the ballot box in November.

For my blog friends or anyone else who doesn't attend West Hills, I highly commend the following two sermons (if you don't want to listen to the entire series) from the timely 5 message series my pastor recently finished. I'm pretty sure it's not what you expected.

The Christian, Politics, and Government

The Church, Politics, and Government (4)

And for those who are interested, here are the other three:

The Christian, the Church, and Government (1)

The Government as God's Minister (2)

When Government Goes Bad, What Should the Church Do? (5)

Note: The number in parentheses after each sermon is the order in the series in which the sermon was preached.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Not What You Would Expect In A Rap Song

Cling To You
By Trip Lee featuring Shai Linne

Verse 1 - Trip Lee:
Lord, I'd like to start by saying I can hate where I'm at
When this life is hard and situations take me aback
The fight is hard and I can hardly face it in fact
In life it's hard to get up like a bar with weights thats attached
It really seems the situations that I'm facing is wack
I been awakened but now I'm feeling forsaken and trapped
With no hope and I'm broken open for Satan to trap
I been bothered since You Father put this weight on my back
So please erase it's wack, cause when this pain it attacks
My weakness is at it's peak and I'm feeling strained and I lack
The trust in You I struggle through the ways that I should come to You
Lord, what am I gonna do? It's true this pain it distracts
But I see my only hope when my backs on the ropes
Is in You so I read through the facts that You wrote
The pain may fade away, but if that's my only hope
Then You don't get the glory alone not even close

Lord, it may get better but it may not
So when I pray God, I pray I
Would trust You whether or not the pain stops
So when the the pain falls, coming down like rain drops
I just gotta cling to You

Verse 2 - shai linne:
Heavenly Father, in Your Word You say we can build
Because of Jesus and the blood that He graciously spilled
Lord, I thank You for real, cause my Dad's always there
I can cast all my cares plus the weight that I feel
My situation is ill, I ain't asking to be making a mill
But is all my money for paying my bills?
It gets crazier still, my soul's on dangerous hills
A target for the world, flesh, and Satan aiming to kill
While the wicked who be hating your will
Sit by the lake as they chill, taking in sensational thrills
Lord, Your Son I admire, He's the one I desire
I'll run through the fire if You say it's Your will
But at times it's hard to hear You, the world doesn't fear You
Lord, give me a clear view Your face is concealed
Help me to be patient until Your grace is revealed
And in the mean time, between time, be praising You still

Lord, it may get better but it may not
So when I pray God, I pray I
Would trust You whether or not the pain stops
So when the the pain falls, coming down like rain drops
I just gotta cling to You

Verse 3 - Trip Lee:
Lord, You know I'm hoping that my situation will switch
That You'll show me You're amazing by erasing it quick
But I've noticed that my hope was in You changing it quick
Instead of knowing You're enough Lord I was chasing Your gifts
But then I opened up Your text and looked at David and them
Their situations was grim, but it ain't change them within
They prayed You'd take it away but sought Your face in the end
And found comfort in Your justice and the grace You extend
So in this life full of strife if my days get grayer
I'm content with the fact that You'll stay my Savior
No change in my King, man, it ain't no greater
Comfort than what's found in You that's so major
So in this life full of strife if my days get grayer
I'm content with the fact that You'll stay my Savior
No change in my King, man, it ain't no greater
Comfort than what's found in You that's so major
So in this life full of strife if my days get grayer
I'm content with the fact that You'll stay my Savior
No change in my King, man, it ain't no greater
Comfort than what's found in You that's so major

Lord, it may get better but it may not
So when I pray God, I pray I
Would trust You whether or not the pain stops
So when the the pain falls, coming down like rain drops
I just gotta cling to You

Monday, September 01, 2008

More Prophetic Words ...

... from a suffering man:
Think about it - if I pray that my son gets up and walks, and then stick "not my will but Yours, Lord" on the end as I finish, aren't I really leaving myself a loophole so that if it doesn't happen I can say "Well, the Lord didn't will it"? Actually, as I read back over that last sentence, even writing that down demonstrates that my faith isn't where I want it yet - faith that moves mountains doesn't concern itself with "if it doesn't happen". So if I pray "not my will but Thine", Isn't it possible that what I'm really saying is "OK, I don't believe You're actually gonna give me what I want, so You go ahead and do whatever You think You need to do"? At which point I am not really praying, but expressing my unbelief instead. In that case, my muttering of the phrase allows me to give up anytime I want and say "Well, I guess the Lord doesn't will it", whereas NOT praying it means I have to keep praying until I am answered, or give up and call it what it is - throwing away my confidence. Muttering that rote phrase then becomes a cop-out, because it negates the whole meaning and purpose of my prayer, which is to lift my need to the throne.
Read the whole thing here: Day 77 - August 31 - My Atrophied Faith - Part 2

And here is the first: Day 60 - August 14 - My Atrophied Faith - Part 1

More and more, the psalmist's words ring true because I don't think this biblical insight would have come to Eric any other way:
It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.
Psalm 119:71
What follows is my response to Eric that I left as a comment to his post:

I go to WHCC and, though I have never interacted with Connor (I met your daughter this weekend), I have been following the blog pretty much daily since it started and have been praying daily for him, you, and your family. It is amazing how, though you have never met them, you can feel so invested in another. I guess that's what it means to be part of one body. Only in the Lord. You have challenged and encouraged me as I have watched God work in you and through you. Thank you.

As I started to read your post, my first thought was that the answer to questions 2 and 3 is surely no, but not the answer to question 1. The answer to that question must be yes. But by the time I had finished reading, I realized that through you God had put your finger on my lack of faith.

The amazing thing is that in God's providence I had just read an exposition of James 1:5-7 (only this part!) last night in a set of Puritan works I recently received that I was just getting into for the first time (out of 22 volumes, these 10 pages in volume 4, apart from the introduction in volume 1, were the ones I chose to read first out of the 22 volumes and hundreds of pages I could have chosen from).

Though James is specifically writing about asking God when we lack wisdom, do the same conditions (faith without doubting) not apply when we approach God to ask for anything? Now I'm going to quote you an excerpt at length that, even though I had read it last night, I still must not have fully understood it until I had finished reading your post because if I did I would have completely agreed with you on question 1 from the beginning:

(commenting on James 1.6: But let him ask in faith ,with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.)

When we have no certain assurance of his will, the work of faith is to glorify and apply [God's] power. Unbelief stumbleth most at that, rather at God's can than will; as appeareth partly by experience.--Fears come upon us only when means fail and the blessings expected are most unlikely; which argueth that it is not the uncertainty of God's will, but the misconceit of his power, that maketh us doubt. The present dangers and difficulties surprise us with such a terror that we cannot comfortably use the help of prayer out of a faith in God's power:--partly by the testimony of the scriptures. Search, and you shall find that God's power and all-sufficiency is the first ground and reason of faith. Abraham believed, because 'God was able to perform,' Romans 4.21. And that unbelief expresseth itself in such language as implieth a plain distrust of God's power; as Psalm 78.19, 'Can the Lord prepare a table in the wilderness?' It is not the will but can: 2 Kings 7.2, 'If the Lord should open the windows of heaven, how can this be?' So the Virgin Mary: Luke 1.34, 'How can these things be?' and so in many other instances. Men deceive themselves when they think they doubt because they know not the will of God; their main hesitancy is at his power. Look, as in the case of conversion, we pretend a cannot, when indeed we will not; so, oppositely, in the case of faith, we pretend we know not God's will, when we indeed doubt his can. Therefore the main work of your faith is to give him the glory of his power, leaving his will to himself. Christ putteth you, as he did the blind men (Matt. 9.28), to the question, 'Am I able?' Your souls must answer, 'Yes, Lord.' And in prayer you must come as the leper: Matt 8.2, 'Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.' Whether he grant you or not, believe; that is, say in your thoughts, Lord, thou canst (The Works of Thomas Manton, Volume 4, pp. 48-49).

Now, I don't in any way think that Thomas Manton is an inspired apostle. But it cannot be coincidence how what he writes here (about 400 years ago, can you tell by the grammar =P?) almost completely coincides with what you wrote yesterday, at least to me having read Manton last night and Eric Williamson this morning.

Perhaps what we might view Jesus' prayer in Gethsemane in light of is the fact that Jesus isn't a totally depraved sinner whose heart is filled with all kinds of unbelief like the rest of us. Jesus knew His Father's power, as well as everything else about His Father (Matt 11:27), perfectly. We don't (Is that not why there are so many exhortations and prayers in the epistles for us to grow in the knowledge of God? Jesus didn't have to). Therefore He, unlike us, isn't deceived by what is really in His heart when He prays "Not my will, but Thine." And though this prayer ought to be the posture of our hearts flowing out in the way we live our lives, we must be very careful with our use of it (we must know our hearts) because praying it could result in the very opposite of what we think and want:

For that person [who doubts in unbelief] must not suppose that he will receive anything [not just wisdom] from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
James 1:7,8

Scary words that we would all do well to ponder the implications of.

So thank you again, Eric. Your faith (according to the measure that God has assigned) is greater than mine.

I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.
Luke 7:9

And I join with you in continuing to pray for Connor with boldness, "Lord, if you will, you can raise him up."

Growing in the knowledge of His power,
Chris Gatihi