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20 Ways to be Refreshing in the Local Church

Oct 16, 2014 | Jason Helopoulos

Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos

There are few epitaphs I would rather have engraved on my tombstone than Paul’s words of commendation to Philemon, “the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you” (Philemon 1:7). Oh, how I love Philemons and want to consistently be one!

It has been my pleasure to serve in the local church with some individuals that are truly “refreshing” to the saints. When you meet them, you know it! They are like an oasis in the midst of a desert. I walk away feeling encouraged, joyful, and spiritually stimulated. Unfortunately, they are an endangered species and much harder to find than should be the case.

I routinely examine myself by asking, “Do others consider me refreshing?” I wish that I could more routinely answer, “Yes.” I challenge you to ask yourself that same question and answer it honestly. I wonder, what would it be like if even one in ten of us were striving to be a refreshment to others in the local church? If that was part of our ministry aim, what kind of significant impact could that have upon our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ?

How do you refresh the hearts of the saints? It is only possible by one who knows the love and grace of Christ in such a way that it overflows to those around them. It is consistently present and abundantly evident. As I have inquired of those who I find to be such a refreshment to my own soul, they almost always testify that this gift, which they manifest, is something that they have deliberately sought to develop and nurture. Here are twenty practical ways that you can seek to nurture this refreshing gift in the midst of your own local church.

  • Greet people on Sunday mornings with a smile. It is o.k. to let your face say that you are “happy” to be at church. Go out of your way to say, “Hi,” ask questions about the lives of others, and listen attentively.
  • Visit the widows and shut-ins of your church. Take an afternoon and visit three or four. Sit, talk, listen, and be willing to look at their photo albums—all of them (1 Timothy 5:3)!
  • Have a mouth that is overflowing with grace (Ephesians 4:29) and is slow to wander down any other road.
  • Show up each Sunday morning with a mental list of three or four people that you are going to find and minister to (Philippians 2:4). Many of us walk into church with an attitude of, “I wonder who will minister to me today.” Nothing can be as drastically encouraging to a local church’s membership than a people united in the understanding that they are there to serve and love one another.
  • Be a Monday morning encourager instead of a Monday morning critic by sending your pastor an email detailing what you appreciated about his Sunday sermon.
  • Don’t rush out of church on Sunday mornings. Be one of the last to leave because you are taking the time to talk with everyone you can (this will be hard for the introvert—but some of the most engaging and refreshing people I have served with are introverts. They wear themselves out on Sunday morning). The football games and lunch will be there fifteen or thirty minutes later.
  • Often remind others of the benefits of salvation and the graces that flow from union with Christ. Let it season your conversations.
  • Routinely have a crock-pot meal or roast cooking on Sundays and spontaneously invite a visiting family or family-in-need for supper following the service.
  • Seek out those visiting the church, get to know them, and introduce them to others. Find connections and be a networker to the glory of God.
  • Aim to remember peoples’ names and greet them by name each Sunday (I wish I was better at this, because it means so much to people). The Cheers’ theme song had a point, we all feel loved when our name is known (Isaiah 49:16).
  • Refuse to speak ill of others in the congregation (Ephesians 4:31).
  • Get to know the children of the congregation and seek to talk to five different children each Sunday morning (Matthew 19:14).
  • Know the Word and season your conversations with it. This isn’t to impress others, but rather to encourage them in the faith. The Word does not return void (Isaiah 55:11).
  • Write and mail anonymous encouragement notes to members of the congregation. Why are we so hesitant to pass out encouragement? We can never encourage others too much (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
  • Always speak the truth with others (Ephesians 4:25). “Let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no’ be no.” (James 5:12).
  • Ask the pastor if there is anything you can do to help him during the week and be willing to do it.
  • Refuse to listen to gossip or be a purveyor of it (2 Corinthians 12:20).
  • Willingly bear the burdens of others in the congregation (Galatians 6:2). This means praying for them, serving them, giving financially to help those in need, loving when love is not returned, and being quick to forgive.
  • Write thank you notes to volunteers in the church.
  • Rejoice in the Lord and lead others to do the same by your example (Philippians 4:4). Don’t be an agitator, complainer, or “negative-Nelly.” This doesn’t mean we are seeking to be Pollyannish, but rather simply rejoicing in the many benefits we have as those united with the Living God by the blood of the Son.

Don’t you love spiritually refreshing people? When we find them, we tend not to let them go—and for good reason. If we value this trait so much in others, is it not worth nurturing and encouraging in ourselves? It takes a little effort, a little self-denial, and a little grace, but all those around you will say it was well worth it. Dare to be a Philemon!

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Is Glorification Conditional?

Oct 14, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

It is not uncommon for me to find theological questions in my inbox from brothers and sisters outside my own church. Unfortunately, I’m rarely able to respond directly to such queries. But some questioners are persistent enough, and some questions seem broadly relevant enough that I figure a brief blog post is in order.

Like this question: is glorification conditional?

The question was prompted by something John Piper said on a panel to the effect that glorification was conditional. The other panelists, of whom I was one, didn’t seem bothered by Piper’s statement. So this brother who emailed me is wondering why not. How can we say that the believer’s future and final glorification is in any sense conditional?

As often happens in theological discussion, we have to start by saying that in one sense glorification is not conditional, if by condition we mean we must earn our place in heaven or that the final salvation of those regenerated and justified hangs in the balance. The golden chain of Romans 8:30 cannot be broken: those whom God predestined will be called and those called will be justified and those justified will be glorified.

But the word “conditional” does not have to carry the sense of merit or uncertainty. A condition is simply a requirement that must be met or a state of affairs that must come to pass if a certain event or outcome is to be realized. To say something is “conditional” is to say nothing about how the condition is met or whether there is any doubt the condition will be fulfilled. I can see how the word “conditional” throws people off, but we must affirm from Scripture that without certain evidences made manifest in our lives, we will not be glorified.

  • Without holiness we will not see the Lord (Heb. 12:14).
  • Those marked by patterns of willful sin and disobedience will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:8-10).
  • God will present us before him holy and blameless if we continue in the faith and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel (Col. 1:22-23).

We must not ignore these warnings and promises. We cannot live like the devil and expect to meet God. This is not because God demands a set number of holiness points before we can enter heaven. We are justified by faith alone through grace alone in Christ alone. And this grace that grants us faith will invariably be a grace that causes us to change and keeps us in the love of God. To ignore the second half of the previous sentence is to prove the first half never happened.

This is the point Piper makes in Part VI of Future Grace, a section entitled “Unmerited, Conditional Future Grace”:

By its nature, saving faith loves God and delights in God as the sum of all that could ever satisfy the soul. Saving faith is humble because by nature it despairs of self and looks to God. Saving faith draws near to God and cries out to God and waits for God and takes refuge in God and trusts in God and hopes in God, because the essence of faith is to see and embrace God, and God alone, as the sum of all it will ever need. And saving faith trembles at the thought of offending such a great God through disbelief in his promises. All the conditions of future grace that we have looked at are not additions to faith, but expressions of faith. (252-253)

If the language of conditions trips you up, think about what Piper is saying using the more familiar language of “perseverance.” Glorification is the promised reward for those persevere to the end. The fact that our perseverance is a gift from God which is infallibly given to the elect, born again, justified believer does not remove from us the requirement to preserve.

John Murray explains:

The very, expression, “The Perseverance of the Saints” in itself guards against every notion or suggestion to the effect that a believer is secure, that is to say, secure as to his eternal salvation, quite irrespective of the extent to which he may fall into sin and backslide from faith and holiness. It guards against any such way of construing the status of the believer because that way of stating the doctrine is pernicious and perverse.

It is not true that the believer is secure however much he may fall into sin and unfaithfulness. Why is this not true? It is not true because it sets up an impossible combination. It is true that a believer sins; he may fall into grievous sin and backslide for lengthy periods. But it is also true that a believer cannot abandon himself to sin; he cannot come under the dominion of sin; he cannot be guilty of certain kinds of unfaithfulness. And therefore it is utterly wrong to say that a believer is secure quite irrespective of his subsequent life of sin and unfaithfulness. The truth is that the faith of Jesus Christ is always respective of the life of holiness and fidelity. And so it is never proper to think of a believer irrespective of the fruits in faith and holiness. To say that a believer is secure whatever may be the extent of his addiction to sin in his subsequent life is to abstract faith in Christ from its very definition and it ministers to that abuse which turns the grace of God into lasciviousness.

The doctrine of perseverance is the doctrine that believers persevere; it cannot be too strongly stressed that it is the perseverance of the saints. And that means that the saints, those united to Christ by the effectual call of the Father and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, will persevere unto the end. If they persevere, they endure, they continue. It is not at all that they will be saved irrespective of their perseverance or their continuance, but that they will assuredly persevere. Consequently the security that is theirs is inseparable from their perseverance. (Redemption Accomplished and Applied, 154-155)

So is glorification conditional? Not if that means we can earn heaven or that those declared righteous before God are in danger of being declared unrighteous on the day of judgment. But will we be glorified irrespective of the kind of life we live? The testimony of the New Testament everywhere states just the opposite. As Murray says, “Perseverance means the engagement of our persons in the most intense and concentrated devotion to those means which God has ordained for the achievement of his saving purpose. The scripture doctrine of perseverance has no affinity with the quietism and antinomianism which are so prevalent in evangelical circles” (155). Or to put it another way, “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt. 24:13).

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Monday Morning Humor

Oct 13, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

You have to love kids…

 

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The Solemnization of Matrimony

Oct 10, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

From the Book of Common Prayer:

Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this Congregation, to join together this man and this woman in holy Matrimony; which is an honorable estate, instituted of God in the time of man’s innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his church; which holy estate Christ adorned and beautified with his presence, and first miracle that he wrought, in Cana of Galilee; and is commended of Saint Paul to be honourable among all men: and therefore is not by any to be enterprized, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly, to satisfy men’s carnal lusts and appetites, like brute beasts that have no understanding; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God; duly considering the causes for which Matrimony was ordained.

First, It was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy name.

Secondly, It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ’s body.

Thirdly, It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity. Into which holy estate these two persons present come now to be joined. Therefore if any man can shew any just cause, why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter for ever hold his peace.

If Christians are to accept gay so-called marriage, they must accept that our liturgies and our services, our pastors and priests, our forefathers and foremothers have been for centuries wrong about the meaning of marriage. What they heard, what the pastor read, what their grandparents knew to be true was wrong as rain. And not just a little wrong, but fundamentally mistaken about the most essential elements of marriage. If gay marriage is right, then there is almost nothing in the old Book of Common Prayer that is right.

  • Marriage is not the joining together of a man and a woman uniquely, naturally, biologically, and by divine design fit one for the other, but the joining together of any persons who wish to commit themselves to each other in a state sanctioned ceremony.
  • Marriage is not a pre-political entity instituted by God, but a social construction which can be defined by personal desire and judicial mandate.
  • Marriage does not signify the mystical union of Christ and the church, which requires the differentiation of male and female, but a commemoration of professed commitment and modern notions of equality.
  • Marriage was not ordained for the procreation of children and therefore does not require two persons whose one flesh union can, by the nature of the differentiated sexes becoming one, produce offspring unless age or infirmity prohibit.

We are often told that we are only being asked to make little a tweak here or there to the Christian understanding of marriage, that gay marriage is just about more marriage for more people. But if the wisdom of the church through the ages tells us anything, it’s that the only way the Christian can accept gay marriage is by believing something different about marriage altogether.

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What We Won’t Regret

Oct 08, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

After writing yesterday’s post on God’s “regret” and then reading R.C. Sproul Jr. write poignantly about how he regrets not holding his wife’s hand more, I got to thinking about all the things we are likely not to regret when we get to the end of our days.

We won’t regret playing hide and seek with our children.

We won’t regret turning off the t.v. and putting the phone away.

We won’t regret that one night (or week, or even season of life) we let the kids get happy meals just so they would be happy and we could survive.

We won’t regret singing the same hymns over and over until they became familiar enough to sing with the saints around a hospital bed.

We won’t regret the time we spent hiding the word in our hearts.

We won’t regret jumping in a pile of leaves every fall.

We won’t regret overlooking a lot of little things that bother us about our spouses.

We won’t regret kissing our spouse in front of the kids.

We won’t regret going to bed with a messy house if that meant we had time to chase the kids around in the backyard.

We won’t regret all the wasted time with friends.

We won’t regret laughing often and laughing loudly.

We won’t regret hugging our kids whenever they’ll let us.

We won’t regret the times the kids slept in our beds and the times in the middle of the night we had to carry them softly back to theirs.

We won’t regret being a little bit goofy.

We won’t regret asking for forgiveness, and we won’t regret forgiving those who ask.

We won’t regret dancing at weddings–fast and silly with our kids, slow and sweet with our spouse.

We won’t regret giving most people the benefit of the doubt.

We won’t regret commiting to a good church and sticking around.

We won’t regret learning to play the piano, read music, or sing in parts.

We won’t regret reading to our children.

We won’t regret time spent in prayer.

We won’t regret going on long road trips filled with frustrations, but full with memories.

We won’t regret letting our kids be kids.

We won’t regret walking with people through suffering.

We won’t regret trusting Jesus.

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Does God Have Regret?

Oct 07, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Israel wasn’t supposed to want a king, but they asked anyway. So God gave them what they wanted—an impressive human king, just like the other nations had. His name was Saul, and he didn’t last long. He disobeyed the divine command, infuriating the prophet-judge Samuel and upsetting the Lord God.

The word of the Lord came to Samuel: “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.” (1 Samuel 15:10-11)

In 1 Samuel 15:35, we see a similar statement:

And Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the Lord regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.

Strong words. And surprising too. What does it mean for God to say “I regret”? Can God change his mind? Can we thwart God’s plans? Is God ignorant about the future? Is God just like us in that he makes honest mistakes and sometimes look back at his decisions and says, “Golly, I wish I could do that one over again”? It seems like our God makes mistakes and is forced to change course.

And yet, we know this is not the right way to understand God’s regret because of what we read a few verses earlier in 1 Samuel 15:

And Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you. And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret.” (28-29)

We must keep in mind one of the great principles of biblical interpretation: the author was not completely stupid. We have no reason (other than our own biases) to think verse 29 was inserted by a later scribe and no reason to think verse 29 cannot cohere with verses 11 and 35. Clearly, if we are going to be wise, consistent students of Scripture we have to allow that in some sense God can regret, while in another sense God would not be God if he did regret.

The author of 1 Samuel–not to the mention the Author behind 1 Samuel–is trying to teach us something about God. On the one hand, our God is not static, monotonous, and lifeless. As a personal, relational Being, God’s activity in the world is subject to change and allows for all the dynamism we have in our personal relationships. There was always bound to be conflict in covenantal history between God and human beings, but this does not mean there is conflict within God’s inner being (see Horton, The Christian Faith, 240-241). As God’s ways appear to us, there will be change and variation, but as God is in his character and essence there can be no variation of shadow due to change (James 1:17; cf. Mal.3:6; Heb. 13:8; 2 Tim. 2:13).

When God reflects on the disobedience of Saul, he uses a word that makes sense to us: the word “regret.” But this doesn’t mean God was ignorant about Saul’s sin or caught off guard by his rebellion. As John Piper points out, God is quite capable of lamenting a state of affairs he himself foreknew and brought about. In other words, God’s regret is not analogous in every way to our regret. This seems to be the point verse 29 is explicitly making. God can look back at Saul and say “I’m grieved that he sinned; it’s time to find another king” while still maintaining, “I never change my mind.”

It is the nature of our covenantal relationship with God to know God as one who responds and reacts, which ought to appear to us all the more amazing because it is the nature of our covenant keeping God never to lie, repent, or change his mind (Num. 23:19).

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Monday Morning Humor

Oct 06, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

I feel bad that I haven’t had my teeth cleaned at the dentist in over two years.

I feel worse that that streak comes to an end today.

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A Brief Word About Science and the Word

Oct 03, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

A Christian understanding of revelation provides a basis for science and it limits science all at the same time.

Because God designed the world to reveal God, the world’s creativity and order can be studied and analyzed.  There is an objective universe which can rightly make the subject of evaluation and investigation.  There are spiritual truths for us to see in the farthest galaxies and divine disclosure in the smallest quarks.

But because of our own blindness and ignorance we should not think that science answers all our questions.  Or even the most important questions. There are some truths, including particular truths about God and salvation and spiritual realities, that require God to speak more clearly.

Science is good and necessary but it is not final or absolute.  To know God and his ways we need God to use his words. Science can leave us without excuse, but only the Word can save.

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The Lost Virtue of Modesty

Oct 02, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

I don’t know if modest is hottest, but I do know that modesty is biblical.

It is one of the marks of the confusion of our age that so many teenagers and young adults are more ashamed to dress with modest reserve than to very nearly undress entirely. Even after we give full throat to the necessary caveats–being pretty (or handsome) is not a sin, working to improve your appearance does not have to be vanity, the line between modest and immodest is not always black and white–we are still left with the undeniable biblical fact that God considers modesty a virtue and its opposite a vice.

Here are five biblical reasons Christians should embrace modesty as a God-designed, God-desired good thing.

1. Modesty protects what is intimate. There is a certain strand of feminism which says women should be proud of their sexual prowess and that any insistence they cover up what they don’t feel like covering up only serves to reinforce patriarchal notions that men have the right to determine what women do with their bodies. But the Bible’s call to modesty is not based on the supposed naughtiness of the female form. God’s good command to cover up is not meant to punish, but to protect. As Wendy Shalit writes, “The pressure on girls today to take sexy selfies comes out of a culture that routinely equates modesty with shame, instead of recognizing it for what it really is: an impulse that protects what is precious and intimate.” The common refrain of the bride–“do not stir up or awaken love until it pleases” (Song of Solomon 2:7)–is a call from one woman to a group of single women to save sexual arousal and sexual activity for its proper time, with the proper person, in the proper place.

2. Modesty accepts that our bodies also live in community. What does that mean? It means that while it sounds nice to say, “It’s my body. If I want to let it all hang out, that’s my business.” This is to forget that our bodies exists in a wider network of relationships, just like our speech does, and our actions, our will, and our desires. How we dress is not determined by how others wished we would dress. And yet, it would be sub-Christian to act as if the spiritual state of those around us was inconsequential.

Before going any further, let me state this as clearly as possible: men are responsible for their adultery, for their fornication, for their pornographic viewing, for their lust, and for their (heaven forbid) sexual assault, regardless of how a woman dresses. The Bible does not enjoin modesty on either sex because the opposite sex is simply incapable of keeping its pants on and its thoughts in check. Listen men: if Potiphar’s wife were to barge in and dance a bare-bellied jig on your kitchen table and strip you down to your birthday suit, you would still not be excused in committing adultery with her. The absence of modesty in one party does not justify the absence of restraint in another.

Having said all that, does not the law of love suggest that we should want to avoid enticing others into sin? The phrase “with lustful intent” in Matthew 5:28 is translated by some scholars (D.A. Carson among them): “so as to get her lust.” The meaning, then, instead of being about lust in the man’s heart, would be about the man wanting to get a woman to lust after him. Whether one accepts this minority position or not, it’s still a fair application to think that Jesus’ statement forbids us from having a heart attitude that lusts and a heart attitude that wants to be lusted after. Some people want to see pornography and others want to be pornography. Maybe not in a literal sense, but there are men and women who crave the power, the attention, and the status that comes from being noticed and sought after. This entices others to sin and is in itself sinful.

3. Modesty operates with the Bible’s negative assessment of public nudity post-Fall. From Adam and Eve scrambling for fig leaves (Gen. 3:10), to the dishonorable nakedness of Noah (Gen. 9:21), to the embarrassingly exposed buttocks of David’s men (2 Sam. 10:4), the Bible knows we inhabit a fallen world in which certain aspects of our bodily selves are meant to be hidden. Indeed, this is precisely what Paul presumes when he speaks of “our unpresentable parts” which must be “treated with greater modesty” (1 Cor. 12:23). There’s a reason momma called them private parts.

 4. Modesty embraces the strong biblical admonition to refrain from sensuality. Sensuality (Gk: aselgeia) is a distinguishing characteristic of the flesh and one of the marks of the pagan world (Gal. 5:19; Rom. 13:13; 2 Cor. 12:21; 2 Pet. 2:2, 18). Does the word give us exact instructions on where good taste trips over into sensuality–how long skirts can be, what sort of bathing suit to wear, or whether beefy men need to run around shirtless when its 60 degrees in Michigan? No. But surely we can agree that it is not uncommon for men and women to dress in ways which only add to the look and feel of our culture’s ubiquitous sensuality. If the word aselgeia suggests sexual excess (TDNT), we would do well to consider whether the desire behind our deportment is to starve this sensual beast or to sate it.

5. Modesty demonstrates to others that we have more important things to offer than good looks and sex appeal. The point of 1 Timothy 2:9 and 1 Peter 3:3-4 is not an absolute prohibition against trying to look nice. The prohibition is against trying so very hard to look good in all the ways that are so relatively unimportant. The question asked of women in these verses–and it certainly applies to men as well–is this: will you grab people’s attention with hair and jewelry and sexy clothes or will your presence in the room be unmistakable because of your Christlike character? Immodest dress tells the world, “I’m not sure I have anything more to offer than this. What you see is really all you get.”

Let me state the obvious: the Bible has no pictures. There is no inspired how-to manual for getting dressed in the morning. There are matters of culture, conscience, and context which surely come into place. I have no checklist to check off before you head out the door.

But if the Bible is to be believed, this whole business of modesty is not irrelevant to Christian discipleship. Our bodies have been bought with a price. Therefore glorify God with your body (1 Cor. 6:20). Which means we don’t show everyone everything we might think is worth seeing. And it means we won’t be embarrassed to keep most private those things that are most precious. Shame is a powerful category, in the Bible and in our own day.  The key is knowing what things we should actually be ashamed of.

 

 

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Living in the Shadow of Faith

Oct 01, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

G.K. Chesterton on the miserable state of those who despise what they cannot fully leave behind:

They cannot get out of the penumbra of Christian controversy. They cannot be Christians and they cannot leave off being Anti-Christians. Their whole atmosphere is the atmosphere of a reaction: sulks, perversity, petty criticism. They still live in the shadow of the faith and have lost the light of the faith.

Now the best relation to our spiritual home is to be near enough to love it. But the next best is to be far enough away not to hate it. It is the contention of these pages that while the best judge of Christianity is a Christian, the next best judge would be something more like a Confucian. The worst judge of all is the man now most ready with his judgments; the ill-educated Christian turning gradually into the ill-tempered agnostic, entangled in the end of a feud of which never understood the beginning, blighted with a sort of hereditary boredom with he knows now what, and already weary of hearing what he has never heard. . . . It would be better to walk past a church as if it were a pagoda than to stand permanently in the porch, impotent either to go inside and help or to go outside and forget. (The Everlasting Man, 10-12).

The severest critics of Christianity are those who, having walked away from the faith of their younger years, cannot help but camp out in the driveway of orthodoxy and throw bricks at the house they once inhabited.

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