Monthly Archives: October 2011

John Calvin’s Last Will and Testament

IN the name of God, be it known to all men by these presents that in the year 1564, and the 25th day of the month of April, I Peter Chenelat, citizen and sworn Notary of Geneva, have been sent for by Spectable John Calvin, minister of the word of God in the Church of Geneva, and burgess of the said Geneva, who, being sick and indisposed in body alone, has declared to me his intention to make his testament and declaration of his last will, begging me to write it according as it should be by him dictated and pronounced, which, at his said request, I have done, and have written it under him, and according as he hath dictated and pronounced it, word for word, without omitting or adding anything—in form as follows:

In the name of God, I John Calvin, minister of the word of God in the Church of Geneva, feeling myself reduced so low by diverse maladies, that I cannot but think that it is the will of God to withdraw me shortly from this world, have advised to make and set down in writing my testament and declaration of my last will in form, as follows:

In the first place, I render thanks to God, not only because he has had compassion on me, his poor creature, to draw me out of the abyss of idolatry in which I was plunged, in order to bring me to the light of his gospel and make me a …

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“World, death, devil, hell, away and leave me in peace! You have no hold on me. If you will not let me live, then I will die. But you won’t succeed in that. Chop my head off, and it won’t harm me. I have One who will give me a new one.”– Martin Luther

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Revisiting Hot Potatoes the Church Must Handle: Prescient (?) and Pressing

Four years ago I posted this list word for word. With the possible exception of #3 I still stand by it.

Hot Potatoes the Church Must Handle

This is just a random list of “side issues” I think of future importance to the evolving discipleship culture of evangelicalism. These are matters of internal Church culture I think will need to be tackled by those interested in reform.

1. The rise of young Calvinists* who equate a commitment to doctrinal orthodoxy with a commitment to Calvinism. And on the flipside, the rise of those disinterested in doctrinal orthodoxy b/c the perception is that to be passionate about theology makes one a Calvinist jihadist.

2. The push on behalf of the LDS “church” to be considered not just Christians, but evangelical Christians. And the apparent sympathy for this movement from scholars/pastors within the evangelical church.

3. The effect evangelicalism’s burgeoning political apathy may have on social justice issues evangelicalism can’t afford to be apathetic about.

4. The preoccupation of major denominations with issues non-essential to the faith.

5. Economic depression and widespread unemployment, two American cultural crises the Church — with its addiction to bigger, faster, better — is not equipping its own culture to confront.

6. The proliferation of technology that makes the world smaller as it makes individuals actually less and less personally connected. And the Church’s present inclination to accommodate this distance rather than to counteract it.

That’s all I can think of right now. Anybody got any others?

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Look!: Charles Spurgeon’s Gospel Wakefulness

His story of his conversion sounds like gospel wakefulness to me:

I sometimes think I might have been in darkness and despair until now had it not been for the goodness of God in sending a snowstorm, one Sunday morning, while I was going to a certain place of worship. When I could go no further, I turned down a side street, and came to a little Primitive Methodist chapel. In that chapel there may have been a dozen or fifteen people. . . . The minister did not come that morning; he was snowed up, I suppose. At last, a very thin-looking man, a shoemaker, or tailor, or something of that sort, went up into the pulpit to preach. . . . He was obliged to stick to his text, for the simple reason that he had little else to say. The text was “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth [Isaiah 45:22].”

He did not even pronounce the words rightly, but that did not matter. There was, I thought, a glimpse of hope for me in that text. The preacher began thus: “My dear friends, this is a very simple text indeed. It says, ‘Look.’ Now lookin’ don’t take a deal of pain. It ain’t liftin’ your foot or your finger; it is just, ‘Look.’ Well, a man needn’t go to college to learn to look. You may be the biggest fool, and yet you can look. A man needn’t be worth a thousand …

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Spaced Out in Open Spaces

Nobody ever stood at the base of the Rocky Mountains, looking up, and said, “Remember that time in high school when I could bench 300 pounds?”– Matt Chandler

I have a theory — just a guess, mind you — as to why hippy-dippy New Agers predominate in places like the Pacific Northwest, New England, and the American Southwest. It’s because the environment is so overwhelmingly beautiful.

This thought was triggered in my mind last Sunday when one of youth was presenting his testimony of a solo trek in the mountains of upstate New York over the summer. He said to the congregation, “When you’re in the mountains you realize, ‘Yeah, I’m insignificant’.” That reminded me of the Chandler quote at the top of the post and it made me think about how for many people — not all, of course — living in naturally beautiful places heightens the spiritual senses.

So I wonder if the reason we see so many pantheists and New Agers and what-not in these specific areas has something to do with the way the largeness of God’s creation has triggered in them a sense of the numinous — “Yes,” they reason, struck small by the majesty of the mountains or the roaring of the oceans or the mystery of the desert, “there is something larger, more meaningful, more spiritual than me in the world” — while the rebellion of their heart has triggered in them a spiritual knee-jerk response of self-assertion. Perhaps New Agey-ness is a way of offsetting …

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A Way for the Very Vilest of Men

‘Would I know the fullness and completeness of the salvation God has provided for sinners? Where shall I see it most distinctly? Shall I go to the general declarations in the Bible about God’s mercy? Shall I rest in the general truth that God is a God of love?

Oh, no! I will look at the crucifixion at Calvary. I find no evidence like that: I find no balm for a sore conscience and a troubled heart like the sight of Jesus dying for me on the accursed tree. There I see that a full payment has been made for all my enormous debts. The curse of that law which I have broken, has come down on One who there suffered in my stead; the demands of that law are all satisfied: payment has been made for me even to the uttermost farthing. It will not be required twice over.

Ah, I might sometimes imagine I was too bad to be forgiven; my own heart sometimes whispers that I am too wicked to be saved. But I know in my better moments this is all my foolish unbelief; I read an answer to my doubts in the blood shed on Calvary. I feel sure that there is a way to heaven for the very vilest of men, when I look at the cross.”

– J.C. Ryle, “Calvary”

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Pastors Who Want to Write Books

I liked this piece from Barnabas Piper a lot.

When I receive proposals for books or book ideas from pastors I often get something like this as an accompanying comment: “I am the pastor of a X,000-person church, and based on their response to this message I think there is a large demand for this material.” This seems like a reasonable assertion. 80% of the congregation loved the messages, therefore a large percentage of like-minded Christians will also like the message. Unfortunately there is almost no correlation between what a pastor’s congregation thinks of his sermons and the audience size when that is turned into a book.

There are a few reasons for this.

1) Pastors have a relationship with their congregations. There is trust, familiarity, and warmth that allows for a sort of impact that doesn’t carry over to a “cold” audience like book readers. An average or unskilled preacher can still be an enormously effective one because he loves and is loved by Christ and his congregation, but a good book requires skill to create.

2) There is often an enormous difference in the dynamism or effectiveness of the spoken word versus the written word. Many Pastors use scant outlines or basic notes to preach powerful sermons. Many pastors are skilled story tellers and can weave a verbal tapestry or paint a verbal picture with ease. Others have the talents of an orator and can use verbal variance to engage an audience. And for others it is the sheer …

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Gospel-Centrality and Insanity

A few weeks back a fellow in our church shared his testimony with me. He said he’d been taking his young family to church once upon a time because he figured it was a good thing to do, and he’d attended there for two years, sitting week in and week out under gospel preaching, before finally one Sunday it occurred to him: “I’m a sinner! I need this gospel!”

I imagine the internal struggle of his pastor for those two years. I know it well myself. Ever preached the gospel dickens out of a text in front of a crowd of stoic rural New Englanders? My lands, it can keep a preacher humble. (The assorted experiences of gospel wakefulness can keep a preacher hopeful.)

What are we doing when we commit to gospel-centered preaching and teaching in the face of non-apparent results? Every chance we get we hold up Jesus Christ as preeminent and precious, we exult in his glorious excellencies, and we present the gospel boldly, clearly, and with unction. Still nary a crack in the surface of reception. It is like preaching, as they say, to a brick wall.

Should we switch things up? Try another tack? Testable non-results is one of the reasons so many churches tuck the gospel behind fog and lasers or adjust their teaching to the 7 Steps busywork of moralistic therapeutic deism. I mean, isn’t the definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results?


Brothers, let us be “out …

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Dude, Prepare for Later Now

Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them.” – Ecclesiastes 12:1

Ah, youth! I remember, in the prime of my life, overflowing with the confidence and vigor of pure, automatic trust in my teenage athletic abilities, stepping into the huddle of one of our Saturday football games and saying to Mark, our all-time quarterback, “Just give me the ball. I will score.” And Mark let loose a beauty of a pass — few things look and feel so beautiful to a teenage football-playin’ boy than a perfectly thrown pass in the dazzle of an autumn afternoon squirmish — and I on the furious run brought it to safe harbor in my arms like a baby, racing past the staggered defense on skinny wheels, thirty yards, twenty yards — he.could.go.all.the.way — ten yards, five yards, touchdown. I did what I said I would, because I knew I could. Ah, youth!

But the evil days come, creeping in inch by inch, day by day, as metabolism sneaks out of the house overnight, easing the sports car out of the driveway and disappearing. Were I to enter that huddle this coming Saturday and speak with honesty, I should say, “Just give me the ball. I will run out of gas ten yards in, pull up with a muscle cramp, and collapse with two high ankle sprains.”

I’m trying, really I …

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Love Rushing Through the Dam Break

Man is eager for vengeance and God is eager for forgiveness.– John MacArthur

There is only one against whom we have all sinned and we keep sinning, and yet he is the only one whose posture of forgiveness is more eager than eager. He has grace like riches (Eph. 1:7, 2:7). He doesn’t have to watch his spending. He forgives like it’s going out of style.

A fellow sinner may forgive but it takes some working up to do. In some cases, he may even be eager to forgive but this eagerness does not come naturally. In many cases, though, there is not eagerness but dutiful obligation. We bring our sorrow, our repentance, our request for pardon, and we receive questions, probing, testing, measuring. We deserve this, there’s no question about it. And really repentant persons will accept the difficulty of an offended party’s forgiveness as part of that repentance. So we slink, tail between our legs, chastened and stung. It has to be this way because of the nature of human hurt and the antisocial nature of sin.

But, genuinely sorrowed over our offense, aren’t we deep down hoping, craving, desperate for the offended not to stand off, arms crossed, waiting for us to drag ourselves into a posture of penitence, but smiling, ready to accept us again? And so our God runs to us. And he tells us to approach his throne with confidence (Heb. 4:16) to receive grace in our time of need.

The cross of Christ both proves and founds …

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