Monthly Archives: January 2012

Shepherd the Flock that is Among You

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you . . .
– 1 Peter 5:1-2

I have heard more than a few times that a preacher ought to preach for the crowd he wants. There’s a grain of truth in that but it’s mostly balderdash. Preach to the crowd you have. They’re the ones who are there, listening.

Preach as their pastor, not merely as their preacher. (Let the reader understand.)

Shepherd the flock you’ve got, not the one you want.
Shepherd the flock among you, the one that’s messy and real and immediate, not the one reducible to “likes” and re-tweets, not the one in Podcastopia.
Shepherd the flock, don’t ignore them, order them around, nag them, demoralize them, treat them as pawns or puppets or inconveniences. Shepherd them to and in Jesus.

There’s a lot more that can be said on this, and Peter says a lot more in the ensuing verses, but I suppose some pastors (like me) need to remember the call to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you” on a regular basis.

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Our Adorable Conquering Redeemer

Great was the joy of Israel’s sons
when Egypt died upon the shore,
Far greater the joy
when the Redeemer’s foe lay crushed in the dust.
Jesus strides forth as the victor,
conqueror of death, hell, and all opposing might;
He bursts the bands of death,
tramples the powers of darkness down,
and lives for ever.
He, my gracious surety,
apprehended for payment of my debt,
comes forth from the prison house of the grave
free, and triumphant over sin, Satan, and death.
Show me herein the proof that his vicarious offering is accepted,
that the claims of justice are satisfied,
that the devil’s sceptre is shivered,
that his wrongful throne is levelled.
Give me the assurance that in Christ I died, in Him I rose,
in His life I live, in His victory I triumph,
in His ascension I shall be glorified.
Adorable Redeemer,
Thou who wast lifted up upon a cross
art ascended to highest heaven.
Thou, who as man of sorrows wast crowned with thorns,
art now as Lord of life wreathed with glory.
Once, no shame more deep than Thine,
no agony more bitter, no death more cruel.
Now, no exaltation more high,
no life more glorious, no advocate more effective.
Thou art in the triumph car leading captive Thine enemies behind Thee.
What more could be done than Thou hast done!
Thy death is my life, Thy resurrection my peace,
Thy ascension my hope, Thy prayers my comfort.

– one of my favorite prayers from The Valley of Vision

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Sensual Silliness a Failure of Doctrine

The soundest and safest Christian reflection consists in “what you have received, not what you have thought up; a matter not of ingenuity, but of doctrine; not of private acquisition, but of public Tradition; a matter brought to you, not put forth by you, in which you must not be the author but the guardian, not the founder but the sharer, not the leader, but the follower.”

— Vincent of Lerins, quoted in Christopher Hall, Learning Theology with the Church Fathers (Intervarsity, 2002), 27.

In Jude 3-4 we read the urging to resist the perverters of grace into sensuality by contending for the faith once for all delivered. In 1 Timothy 1:8-11 we learn that sensual sins, passions of the flesh, are contrary to “sound doctrine” and “the gospel of the glory of the blessed God.”

What we learn in these passages and others is that bad doctrine doesn’t just affect what we know, but what we do. A wonky theology leads inevitably to wonky behavior.

And so is it really a huge leap to note that the purveyors of so much sanctuary silliness and churchy tomfoolery aren’t exactly known for their love of doctrine? They are known for their dynamic ways, their innovation, their spectacle, but not a one of them is known for being a strong proclaimer of God’s Word.

The reliance on gimmicks and showmanship is a distrust of the gospel’s power, which is condemnation. What does it profit a pastor to gain the best seller list but lose his soul?

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Wrangling and Wondering: A (Brief) Response to Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson has provided an insightful interaction with my book Gospel Wakefulness over at Mere Orthodoxy. Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

I fear I will not be doing Matthew’s interest justice in that my response to his in-depth “caution” will be brief. I am grateful for the sharpening and the opportunity to revisit, clarify, and recommend the message(s) of Gospel Wakefulness, but one of Matthew’s concerns is that the concept of gospel wakefulness (as I have framed it) does not allow for the reception of criticism. This hems me in a bit, gives me the same impression as the question “Have you stopped beating your wife?” If I do not respond at all, I prove him right. If I respond in rebuttal, I prove him right. The only way to prove him wrong is to say he’s right. So you see my predicament.

So I’m going to let the chips fall where they may by protesting but hopefully without appearing that I “doth protest too much.”

Matthew bases this caution on the portion of my book where I offer a diagnostic outline of sorts. I say that inability to understand the concept of “gospel-centrality” is a sign one is not wakened to the gospel. Matthew bristles at that, perhaps for good reasons, as he later develops the fear of “gospel” as a Shibboleth and “gospel-centered” as a faddish buzzword that unhelpfully makes us designate some people are in and others are out. I offer …

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Bearing with One Another: On the Giving and Receiving of Criticism

There is a lack of love when criticism amounts to complaining about “the other.” My friend Bill calls this syndrome I Have Identified the Problem, and It Is You.

Remember, brothers — all of us, conservative or liberal, young or old, MacArthur acolyte or Driscoll fanboy — a prophet to the church speaks from the inside. Let us not shrink back from calling each other to repentance, to speaking the truth in love, but let’s remember we speak prophetically to us.

And let us not shrink back from our brother’s reproof if it is offered in sincerity. He may be wrong, he may be overzealous, but his energy merits consideration. Seeing criticism as never necessary is just as wrong as seeing it as always necessary. Seeing criticism as always evil, always wrong, always hateful and therefore not necessary is just as dangerous as the problem of self-elevating and insulating one’s self from criticism.

Public judgment of public speech and actions is not condemnation. Test all things; cling to what is good. If the criticism is truly malicious or just wrong: dismiss it. But not before then. And certainly not with some self-glorifying notion that one is above the reproof of fellow Christians. Don’t think strangers have the right to criticize you? Then don’t post thoughts in public for strangers to read. It is no Christian virtue to expect privileges without responsibilities.

“We often think we have no need of anyone else’s advice or reproof. Always remember, much grace does not imply much enlightenment. …

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Revival is Always Christ-Centered

He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
— John 16:14

“In all companies, on other days, on whatever occasions persons met together, Christ was to be heard of, and seen in the midst of them. Our young people, when they met, were wont to spend the time in talking of the excellency and dying love of JESUS CHRIST, the glory of the way of salvation, the wonderful, free, and sovereign grace of God, his glorious work in the conversion of a soul, the truth and certainty of the great things of God’s word, the sweetness of the views of his perfections, &c.”

— Jonathan Edwards, A Narrative of Surprising Conversions

It is the Spirit’s raison d’etre to shine the light on Christ. The Spirit is often called the “shy” Person of the Trinity because of this. He is content — no, zealous — to minister to the Church the Father’s blessings in the gospel of Jesus. He quickens us to desire Christ, illuminates the Scripture’s revelation of Christ, empowers us to receive Christ, and imparts Christ to us even in his own indwelling. For this reason, then, any church or movement’s claim of revival better have exaltation of Christ at its center, or it is not genuine revival.

At the front end of Paul’s excursus to the Corinthians on the sign-gift charismata, he reminds us: “Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever …

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Jesus Was Religious

Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully– 1 Timothy 1:8

It’s important not to push back on Jefferson Bethke and his video simply to be contrarian or to avoid liking something because everybody else does. The heart displayed in the video is solid, and he says a lot of right things. But he says a few wrongs one too, and while they aren’t wrong enough to overreact, they are wrong enough to note with some cautions.

First, I think using the word “religion” in a negative sense can be okay. Most of us have done it. I’ve done it. When delivered in a punchy way with a clear context, it makes sense. Most reasonable people understand what is meant by the claim that “Jesus ticked off religious people.” Yes, he did. And while we can bring in all kinds of assumptions to what exactly constitutes “religious people,” the statement makes sense on the surface.

But in belaboring the point there is much more opportunity for error. Some make a boogeyman out of the idea of “religious people,” by which it becomes clear what they mean is “traditional people” or the uncool. My feeling is that the Bible-thumping, starched suit-wearing, hellfire and brimstone religious people taking the fun out of fundamentalism are becoming fewer and farther between, while the church is brimming with self-righteous hipsters and cooler-than-thous. The Pharisees look like Vampire Weekend now. I’m not saying Jefferson is one of those guys; I’m just …

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Finally, An Older Brother Worthy of the Honor

His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.– Genesis 37:8

Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James- Jude 1a

There is a lot wrapped up in this simple greeting, the opening line of Jude’s epistle. Jude is the brother of James, by which he means the James, James the apostle, the brother of Jesus. So this Jude is the Jude who is the brother of Jesus. But he doesn’t identify himself as such. He calls himself James’s brother but Jesus’ “servant.”

Jesus’ kid brother doesn’t say, “I’m Jesus’ kid brother,” but “I’m Jesus’ servant.” Again, so much is there.

If you’re familiar with the biblical narrative even cursorily, you are probably familiar with the younger brother/older brother dynamic that recurs throughout. According to Jewish custom, the oldest son is the honor-bearer of the family. His legacy has primacy. So we see this, as one example, in the law of levirate marriage, which says that if a man dies and leaves a widow, the next younger brother is obliged to marry the woman and thereby continue the lineage of his older brother. In fact, their firstborn would be considered the dead brother’s firstborn. (This may be one reason why what’s-his-name hands the kinsman redeemer dibs over to Boaz in the book of Ruth.) The older brother is the one owed the birthright.

But if you know your …

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The Universal Cry Answered

What is it that we all want? Significance, yes. Worth, yes. Approval, yes. All of that and more. I think, though, that if we could sum up the varieties of expressions of human desire we would say “real love.” I think the cry of every human heart is to be known totally, inside and out, and loved totally anyway. Everything we’ve done, everything we’ve said, everything we’ve thought, everything we are — everything. And in response: belovedness.

So we test out this cry, to see if it will be answered in some way, in every relationship. We try it with our parents, our children, our spouses, our friends, our church. It frequently, if not always, goes haywire. Sin gets in the way, fear gets in the way, defensiveness gets in the way, stupidity gets in the way, finite capabilities get in the way.

We are not equipped to love each other perfectly, not yet anyway. We are not omnipotent. And we are not love. And we are not omniscient, so we can’t know each other perfectly, inside and out, past present future.

But God is and can do all that. And the good news is that God knows every single stinking thing about us . . . and loves us totally, unabashedly, powerfully, savingly. I find this staggering.

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The Doctrinal Scandal of The Good Samaritan

The well-known parable from Luke 10:29-37:

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

What is the point of this story? The primary point is in answering the law-expert’s question: “Who is my neighbor?” So when Jesus gets to the end, the moral imperative “Go, and do likewise” is a direct command not to …

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