Monthly Archives: March 2012

Christ-Centered Accountability

This week Pete Wilson posted John Ortberg’s list of rules for friendships that matter:

1. We can ask anything, no holds barred.
2. If you answer, you must tell the truth, as much as you know it.
3. If you don’t answer, you must say why you won’t or can’t answer.
4. Everything that is said to each other will be held in absolute confidence.
5. We will make absolutely no judgments of each other.

Pete added the caveat to #5 that, while friends won’t judge each other (by which I assume they mean “condemn”), they reserve the right to speak truth into each other’s lives (by which I assume he means “make righteous judgments about unrepentance, harmful habits, or other areas needing improvement”).

Accountability is a tricky thing. B.J. Stockman recently encouraged those struggling with pornography to avoid accountability groups, writing:

[M]aybe this is a bit of an overstatement against accountability groups, but the point is that often accountability groups turn into focusing on sin rather than experiencing the gospel of grace. You don’t just want a group that kills, but gospel-driven community that gives life. Men’s groups I’ve been apart of in the past tend to focus more on the experiences of failure the week before not the event of God’s grace in the death and resurrection of Christ 2,000 years ago.

Don’t get me wrong: Christian relationships should engage in confession of sin (James 5:16), but they are also meant for encouragement in grace (1 Thessalonians 5:14). The author of the Hebrews reveals that …

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Real Religion

“In the fourth century Augustine advocated using the Latin word religio by highlighting its etymology re-ligare, which means ‘to join together’ or ‘to bind together’ as in a covenant bond between man and God. The word religion, rightly understood, joins together everything we believe as we live it out in all of life. Furthermore, if we consider the lexical definitions of the word religion, we observe that religion describes not only a person’s system of belief but also what a person practices, observes, and devotes himself to. As Herman Bavinck writes, ‘Religion must not just be something in one’s life, but everything. Jesus demands that we love God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our strength’.”

– Burk Parsons, Why Do We Have Creeds? (Basics of the Faith Series: Presbyterian & Reformed, 2012), 10-11.

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Waving the White Flag as Victory

“We are not just ordinary. Nothing is just ordinary. “The whole earth is full of his glory.” We keep trying to fill it with monuments to our own glory — kingdoms, businesses, hit songs, athletic victories, and other mechanisms of self-salvation. But the truth is better than all that. Created reality is a continuous explosion of the glory of God. And history is the drama of his grace awakening in us dead sinners eyes to see and taste to enjoy and courage to obey.

“Do you realize that it is God’s will to make this earth into an extension of his throne room in Heaven? Do you realize that it is God’s will for his kingdom of glory to come into your life and for his will to be done in you as it is done in Heaven? Heaven is expanding, spreading in your direction.

“That is the meaning of existence, if you will accept it and enter in.

“Heaven is taking over. Yield.”

– Ray Ortlund, Jr., Isaiah: God Saves Sinners (Preaching the Word Commentary: Crossway, 2005).

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The Greatest Preachers

“Throughout the history of the church the greatest preachers have been those who have recognized that they have no authority in themselves and have seen their task as being to explain the words of Scripture and apply them clearly to the lives of their hearers. Their preaching has drawn its power not from the proclamation of their own Christian experiences or the experiences of others, nor from their own opinions, creative ideas, or rhetorical skills, but from God’s powerful word. Essentially they stood in the pulpit, pointed to the biblical text, and said in effect to the congregation, “This is what this verse means. Do you see that meaning here as well? Then you must believe it and obey it with all your heart, for God himself, your Creator and your Lord, is saying this to you today!” Only the written words of Scripture can give this kind of authority to preaching.”

Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (p. 82).

HT: my better half

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Give Us Free

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
– Galatians 5:1

I don’t know what it was like for you, but I have heard from so many since I started noodling around with this gospel wakefulness stuff that I know I’m not alone in this experience: When the sunlight of Christ, the radiance of God’s glory, broke into the dungeon of my soul, I finally knew what I’d been trying to ask for all along. The all-satisfaction of Christ in his gospel. I was asking for help, for rescue, for restoration, for happiness. Suddenly, in the Spirit’s awakening of me to the gospel, I knew I had been asking for all of Jesus.

Perhaps you’ve been there too. Like Amistad‘s Cinque we find our mouths fumbling about with words previously unknown. But they must come out. The routine and rigmarole of daily life — of even church life — begins to grate. What are we doing on these Sunday mornings entertaining everything but our souls with Christ? Scratching our feet, that’s what. (Or ears, I suppose.) But there was one final Sunday morning my heart could take it no longer. I had tasted and seen that the Lord was good and couldn’t accept stones for bread any more. I ached inside. Too much to keep on keepin’ on. I turned to my wife and whispered, “I can’t do this any more.”

So, pastors, I speak as one of you to you, …

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The Welcome of Grace

[T]hey gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you — see that you excel in this act of grace also. I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine.
– 2 Corinthians 8:5-8

Film director Mike Nichols talks in a recent interview about fleeing Nazi Germany as a child. German Jews were not allowed to leave the country, but Nichols’s family had Russian papers so they exploited the loophole. His father, a doctor, had gone ahead and begun a medical practice in New York City. When the rest of the family arrived, Nichols says he was struck by the Jewish businesses proliferating. He was surprised to see a sign for a delicatessen, in Hebrew. “They can do that here?” he remembers asking his dad.

When people come into our churches with no church background or, like so many, with a painful church background, they are typically on guard. Their teeth are clenched, their eyes are scanning, their breath is held — perhaps not physically, but in their psyche. They are taking much more in than just the musical style and the sermon’s listenability. Those things matter a lot, but they aren’t usually dealbreakers.

I remind myself …

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On Constantly Taking Your Church’s Temperature

That voice in your head that keeps rehearsing the disappointments and flaws of your church is not from the Lord. It is the accuser, helping you get to the “I have no need of you” forbidden in 1 Corinthians 12:21. We may have legitimate concerns about our church’s maturity, its repentance, its effectiveness, or its “personality,” and there is certainly a place for sharing concerns and criticisms, a biblical call to honest appraisal, and plenty of space for exhortation and rebuke, but many claiming to do these things have shifted to a legal measuring none of us really has the authority for. Here is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer says in Life Together about looking at our churches through the lens of scrutiny:

If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ.

This applies in a special way to the complaints often heard from pastors and zealous members about their congregations. A pastor should not complain about his congregations, certainly never to other people, but also not to God. A congregation has not been entrusted to him in order that he should …

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He is the Radiance of the Glory of God

“He is the radiance of the glory of God . . .”
— Hebrews 1:3a

All that God is — the measureless sum of his eternal and eternally rich attributes — shines forth in Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten Son. Jesus is supremely radiant.

What does this mean? It means that this Bright Morning Star (Rev. 22:16) will be the sun of the new heavens and the new earth. We won’t need this old sun, we will have the Lamb as our Lamp (Rev. 21:23). And it means that even now, the sun of righteousness who has risen with healing in his wings (Mal. 4:2) must be the center of our spiritual solar system or everything else goes out of whack. Indeed, if we were to kick our sun out from the center of our system, we wouldn’t just have chaos, but death. Life would be unsustainable. So it is with Jesus. If he is not the center, we die.

Also like the sun’s beams, the radiating lines of the Son’s glory are too numerous to count. Ever tried counting sunbeams? You can’t do it. It’s like counting airwaves in the wind. Jonathan Edwards says that in Christ we find an “admirable conjunction of diverse excellencies.” These diverse excellencies are the sunbeams of his magnificence, finding their unity in him, as they — though disparate — converge and emanate back out to reflect the imprinting of the nature of God.

He is the Lion and the Lamb. He is the Lamb …

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To Bid Him a Cordial Welcome Again

“In November 1816 the work began in this town. Conferences increased in number, and were much crowded. The work has been principally among youths; and even children have shared a part of those gracious influences, that have inclined them to forsake all their vanities, and seek first the kingdom of heaven. They were brought to discover their exceeding vileness and guiltiness before an holy God.

“They were generally led to see the justice of their everlasting condemnation; and that they never did, and never could do any thing to recommend themselves to the divine favour of Jehovah: that if they were ever saved, it must be altogether by grace.

“The exhortations of young converts, and those newly awakened, beyond any other means, have been owned and blessed of God, for the conviction and conversion of sinners. About fifty have joined the Baptist church, a number the Congregational, and some the Methodist society. Pawlet has received much rain from this cloud of mercy. Ira seemed to lie under the heaviest part of that shower, and almost every family in that town was awakened, and many believed; not because of the sayings of converted souls from other towns, who testified that Jesus told them all things that they had ever done; for they felt his power themselves, and knew indeed that he was the Christ, the Saviour of the world.

“Clarendon and Wallingford were some alarmed, and a few fled for refuge and found peace, through the atoning blood of the Lamb, …

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Pastors, Pathological Immaturity, and Courageous Un-self-consciousness

The 41 year-old teacher who left his wife and children to be with a former student is “pathologically immature.” This, according to therapist Bethenny Marshall who has interviewed the awkward couple. Marshall elaborates: “This is what we see with teachers who have inappropriate relationships with their students. They imagine themselves to be age mates or peers with the students.”

“Pathologically immature.” There is a real application in this for ministry. We could go one way and discuss the immature compromises made by pastors who cheat on their wives — because what we often see in the details of such events is a disturbing amount of immature “ickiness” from grown men acting like hormonal teenage boys — or we could go another way and discuss the trend among aging pastors to keep up with the wardrobe, hairstyles, and speech of the younger generations, a phenomenon that gets more and more pathetic with time. But the reality is that while pathological immaturity plays into both of those scenarios, it plays into the temptations of all pastors.

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 9:22, “To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.” This is what we suppose we’re doing — contextualizing, some call it. It’s being a good missionary, we justify. But the line between what Paul is actually talking about in that passage and the sin of “fear of man” is really not …

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