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The Bible Motivates Us In Many Ways

Oct 15, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

As important as justification is for the Christian, it’s not meant to be the only prescription in our pursuit of holiness. Without a doubt, it is gloriously true that we are accepted before God because of the work of Christ alone, the benefits of which we receive through faith alone, by grace alone. That ought to be our sweet song and confession at all times. Justification is enough to make us right with God for ever, and it is certainly a major motivation for holiness. If we are accepted by God we do not have to live for the approval of others. If there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus then we do not have to fear the disappointment of others. There’s no doubt that justification is fuel for our sanctification.

But it is not the only kind of fuel we can put in the tank. If we only remind people of our acceptance before God we will flatten the contours of Scripture and wind up being poor physicians of souls.

Think of James 4:1: “What causes quarrels and fights among you?” James does not say, “You’re fighting because you have not come to grips with your acceptance in the gospel.” He says, in effect, “You’re at each others throats because you’re covetous and you’re selfish. You want things that you don’t have. You’re demanding. You’re in love with the world; You’re envious. That’s what’s going on in your heart right now.” Now, we might try to connect all that with a failure to believe the gospel, but that’s not what James says. He blames their quarrels on their love of the world.

You only have be a parent for a short time to see that people sin for all sorts of reasons. Lately we’ve been using the excellent book Long Story Short for our morning devotions with the kids. When we came to the story of Cain and Abel the book suggested a little lesson where you hand a ten dollar bill to one child but not the others. Then you ask the kids, “What would your response be if I gave your sister ten dollars because she did something very pleasing to me, and I gave you nothing?” The aim of the lesson is to relate with Cain’s envy toward Abel. So I just asked the question, and my son, in whom there is no guile, replied without hesitation, “Daddy, I’d punch you in the stomach.” Now what’s going on in his heart at that moment? Is his most pressing need to understand justification, or is there a simpler explanation? I think my son at that moment, like the people James was addressing, was ready to fight because of covetousness. He saw ten dollars, thought of Legos, and was willing to do whatever he had to get what he wanted.

The problem with much of our thinking on sanctification is that we assume people are motivated in only one way. It’s similar to the mistake some of those associated with Christian psychology fell into. They assumed a universal needs theory. They operated from the principle that everyone has a leaky love tank that needs to be patched up and filled up. If people could only be loved in the right way they’d turn around and be a loving person. Well, I don’t doubt there is some commonsense insight there. But does the theory explain everyone? Is this the problem with Al-Qaida or Hamas? They all have leaky love tanks? Or are some other issues at play?

I have no problem acknowledging that sin is always an expression of unbelief. But there are a lot of God’s promises I can disbelieve at any moment. Justification by grace alone through faith alone is not the only indicative I can doubt. I can disbelieve God’s promise to judge the wicked or his promise to come again or his promise to give me an inheritance or his promise to turn everything to my good. These are all precious promises, each one a possible remedy for indwelling sin. To remind each other of justification is never a wrong answer. It is a precious remedy, but it is not the only one.

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Monday Morning Humor

Oct 14, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

Here’s one solution to the debt ceiling crisis. It tends to be quite popular these days.

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A Friend of Sinners and No Friend of Sin

Oct 12, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

Jesus never apologized for getting on the inside with outsiders. It was his mission. What kind of doctor refuses to see patients? What kind of farmer refuses to get his hands dirty? What kind of church has no place for sinners?

People reviled Jesus. They called him a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners. Have you ever been called names like this? Have I? Do we fear contamination from the world more than we have confidence in Christ’s power to cleanse?

Of course, I’m not encouraging people with drinking problems to go hang out in bars. I don’t expect new Christians to keep all their same friends who lead them into the same temptations. I’m not saying that if you really want to be relevant you have to watch sleazy movies so you can talk about them with the sinners in our lives. We need to use wisdom.

And we also need guts. We must not think of relationships with non-Christians primarily as dangers but as opportunities. Do we go out into the world hoping for conversion or expecting contamination?

Greater is he that is in us than he that is in the world (1 John 4:4). Do we believe that?

The gospel–if we are talking about the true gospel–works through repentance and relationships. We need both. Jesus had relationships with sinners and tax collectors. And through those relationships what did he call them to do? He didn’t say call them to self-expression, or invite them to despise religious people, or summon them to eat, drink, and be merry (in our language: eat, drink, and be tolerant). He called them to repentance. One commentator says, “Jesus neither condoned sin, left people in their sin, nor communicated any disdain for sinners.” Jesus was not passive, just waiting for people to get their act together. And neither was he passive about confronting sin.

No one in the history of the world has been more inclusive of the broken hearted than Jesus. And no one has been more intolerant of the impenitent. A friend of sinners and no friend of sin.

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Reality in a World of Enemies

Oct 10, 2013 | Jason Helopoulos

Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos

Christians, don’t get too worked up about that new best-seller, popular philosophy, misguided ethic, or latest government action. Christ reigns and no enemy can thwart the Church or the Christian faith.

The Powerful may scheme, but cannot crush Christianity.
Philosophers may pontificate, but cannot “out-truth” Christianity.
World Religions may spread, but cannot overcome Christianity.
Professors may lecture, but cannot unravel Christianity.
Persecution may kill, but cannot annihilate Christianity.
Bad preaching may undermine, but cannot undo Christianity.
Politicians may legislate, but cannot reduce Christianity.
Riches may seduce, but cannot outlive Christianity.
Empires may consolidate, but cannot subjugate Christianity.
Lies may confuse, but cannot unravel Christianity.
Fear may disquiet, but cannot destroy Christianity.
Heresy may darken, but cannot untruth Christianity.
News outlets may ignore, but cannot dismiss Christianity.
Moralists may mislead, but cannot proxy for Christianity.
Rulers may outlaw, but cannot vanquish Christianity.
Sin may instigate, but cannot overpower Christianity.
Satan may tempt, but cannot unseat Christianity.

No empire, no country, no sin, no spirit, no lie, no religion, no philosophy, no thought, no school, no law, no edict, no emotion, no sentiment, no feeling, no ruler, no emperor, no king, no politician, no initiative, no discrimination, no nothing and no one can unravel Christianity. Every enemy of Christianity shall fail. Every foe is left undone.

It is guaranteed. It is secured. Because we have a Risen Savior, who reigns over all. The gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church. No matter what apparent setbacks we see, hear, feel, or think. He has secured the victory, reigns in victory, and shall consummate the victory. This is His world. Dear Christian, though surrounded by enemies on every side, you can rest at peace in a Savior, who reigns now and forevermore. Onward Christian soldiers!

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New Pastor Advice

Oct 09, 2013 | Jason Helopoulos

Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos

Off a young man goes to his first pastorate. All those years of study and preparation are finally being realized. He has sent out resumes, endured interviews, experienced ordination exams, and waited anxiously for some church to call and say, “We want you to be our pastor.” He packs up the U-haul with all his family’s belonging, his books are sealed in boxes, he heads across the country, arrives in the field, and he is ready to begin pastoring. Where to start? What to do?

There are so many wonderful things that call for his attention: he wants to institute a more helpful Sunday school curriculum for children, launch a systematic overhaul of the diaconate, engage the community in a new way, equip the elders to shepherd, implement a new order of worship, encourage the congregation to embrace church planting, and the list goes on. He believes the Lord has given him a vision for the church—he knows where it needs to go. This is great—vision is a gift the Lord has given to Him. This is one of the reasons the congregation extended a call to him. But a wise visionary will put the “breaks on.” He cannot and should not be the proverbial “bull in a china shop.”

Start slow. Exercise self-control. Get to know your people. Get to know the church. Take your time. Don’t launch new initiatives in the first six months. The Lord has given you a honeymoon and use it to be a student rather than a teacher. It will pay dividends in the long-run. Invite families over for dinner. Ask penetrating questions about their lives and the life of the church. Make pastoral visits. Explore their struggles, recognize their sins, identify their gifts, and discover their passions.

Give them time to get to know you. The church needs time to trust your leadership. Invest added time in the elders and deacons. Discover the next generation of leadership waiting in the wings. Identify the church matriarch or patriarch. There is usually at least one. You will want to know who they are for discussions and initiatives down the road.

Begin by preaching through a small book of the Bible (Ruth, Jonah, Philippians, Colossians). Don’t launch into a three year campaign wading through Isaiah. Diving into a long book can be hard for even the most seasoned congregations, who know and trust their pastor. They will appreciate hearing you preach from a few different books and even genres to start with. At the beginning, shy away from books with hard passages or difficult central messages. Pick a book like Philippians or Colossians that will allow you to encourage and easily set Christ before the congregation. There is something to be said for allowing the congregation to get to know you and you them, before warning them about false teachers (1 Timothy), addressing suffering (1 Peter), legalism (Galatians), and the justice of God (Judges). They will hear it better from a man they know loves them and someone they have grown to respect.

Start slow. This isn’t a lack of leadership, it is actually leadership in action. Get to know your people and give them the opportunity to get to know you. And then boldly lead them in the vision you and the elders of the church believe God has given.

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Pastoring Your Family

Oct 08, 2013 | Jason Helopoulos

Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos

*Kevin is travelling this week and taking a much deserved vacation, so to keep him from being “Crazy Busy” I will be guest blogging a few times during the week. A couple of these posts will come from a new book I am currently working on. It is aimed at helping pastors in their first few years of ministry.

I have yet to meet a young man who enters the ministry with the intention to neglect his family. No one begins this way. However, some come to the end of their ministry and their greatest regret is how they led their family. We are not pastoring our church well if we are not pastoring our family well. They are part of the church and the first flock the Lord has entrusted to us. He is a foolish pastor who forsakes the one for the other.

We could give a long list of the ways a pastor should care and provide for his family while laboring in the ministry. Here are just a few:

  • Be careful what you share with your wife. Some men in the ministry make the mistake of telling their wives too little about their day, the church, and their ministry. This leads to wives that feel disconnected. However, in our day it is more common for pastors to error on the other side of the spectrum by telling their wives too much. It is an easy mistake to make. We love them and want them to know where our struggles lie. They are our confidants, and yet, there are things that our wives just shouldn’t know. Here are two rules to live by: if it could disrupt their worship then don’t share it; and if it could lead them to struggle with envy, anger, or hatred toward an individual or a group of people within the church, then keep it to yourself. She is a worshipper in the church and a member of the body. Always reflect upon that.
  • Be unmistakably clear about the expectations you have for your wife with regards to serving the church body. Make this plain not only to the elders of the church and the congregation, but also your wife. Everyone should know, especially her, that you expect nothing more from your wife in the body of Christ than you would expect from any other woman in the congregation. She is first and foremost, your wife; second, she is the mother of your children; and lastly, she is to serve like any other member of the church–not less, but also not more. She may serve more, but that is not your expectation and that is not to be the church’s expectation either. She will need to hear it over and over from you. Your voice needs to drown out the voices she hears to the contrary (whether internally or externally). Affirm this often and encourage her liberally.
  • Be home in the evenings. A family that is never home together is a family that is in jeopardy. When I entered the ministry, I promised my wife that I would not be out of the home more than three nights a week. Now, there are some weeks that this doesn’t work, but that is the extreme exception. And this rule has worked well in our home. Be home. Lead family worship, play with your kids, read in bed while your wife is watching a show, cook dinner, and tuck the kids in. It is impossible to shepherd if you are seldom with the sheep.
  • Be astute to your own family’s needs. Wives are different and families go through different seasons of life. Know your family and what they need at this time. The pastor across town may read a new book every evening, because his wife needs little conversational time. Your wife may need more, so you may need to put the books down. He may be able to travel for days at a time, but you have five children under the age of six and it is a heavy burden for your family when you are absent for days. If that is the case, then those conferences and even speaking requests will just have to wait until the next season of life. A faithful shepherd knows his sheep. Know your family;  keep your family.
  • Be flexible. The pastoral life is filled with long hours, short weekends, and evening meetings. However, a pastor can adjust his schedule in a way that the banker, customer service manager, or grocer can’t. Be flexible around the needs of the church and your family. Never forsake the church for your family, but also don’t forsake your family for the church. Though our calling may involve long hours, weekends, and evenings, we also have the flexibility of taking a lunch hour to visit our children at school, adjusting a morning to assist our wife during a stressful week, and coming to the church late if our child needs to go to the doctor. Count your blessings and use them.
  • Be wise. Don’t try to overprotect your family. They will experience not only the joys of ministry alongside you, but also the suffering. That is part of their calling as well. You can’t safeguard them from every conflict, rude comment, harsh word, or critical opinion. And though in our love we may desire to, in wisdom we know that it can be for their good as much as it is often for our good.

Pastors who pastor their family well are usually those who pastor the church well. They go hand-in-hand. Care for your smaller flock and the larger flock will benefit as well.

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Monday Morning Humor

Oct 07, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

Funny how just four years ago Blackberry was all the rage. Also funny how we have defined rudeness down since the advent of the smartphone.

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Why the Church Still Needs the Seminary

Oct 04, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

All else being equal, I believe most pastors will have deeper, broader, and longer-lasting ministry if they invest in a good seminary education as a key component of their pastoral training.

I know the model that says pastors should have a three-year academic degree from an accredited seminary is not found in Scripture. I know it is of relatively recent historical vintage. I know that a full-blown seminary education is impossible for many pastors around the world and even for some would-be pastors in the West. I know there are scores of faithful, fruitful men who have pastored and are presently pasturing without a seminary education. I think of some of my pastor friends without a seminary degree and how gladly I would sit under their ministries.

And yet, all else being equal, I believe most pastors will have deeper, broader, and longer-lasting ministry if they invest in a good seminary education as a key component of their pastoral training.

Yes, there are more theological resources in this country than anywhere else in the world at any time in history. There are more ways to learn than ever before: through conferences, online sermons and lectures, by blogs and interviews and apps and videos. But I believe the church still needs the seminary. There are things the seminary can do that the even the biggest, best, and brightest church won’t be able to accomplish.

Our present model is far from perfect. Church, seminary, and denomination/ordaining institutions need to work together more effectively. It’s too easy for each entity to assume the other is doing the hard work of vetting potential candidates for ministry. I’ve overheard many conversations where the church assumes the seminary will train their ill-suited member for ministry, where the seminary assumes they are only handing out academic grades, and where the denomination assumes that if a man has been put forward by his church and has an M.Div. that he is ready to be ordained. There are bad seminaries that undermine the fundamentals of the faith. There are dry as dust seminaries that mint scholars more than pastors. And there are overeager seminaries that try to do everything under the sun, all the while neglecting the bread and butter of pastoral ministry: a competency to rightly handle the word of God and to teach it to others.

Nevertheless, I urge every man preparing for pastoral ministry to make every effort to go to seminary. Yes, actually go there, take classes in a building with other students, and get a degree. Again, I recognize there are exceptions to this rule. But I hope those pursuing pastoral ministry will diligently and sacrificially pursue a seminary education unless providentially hindered.

Why?

  1. Even a decent seminary will be better equipped to teach the original languages, systematic theology, church history, and biblical exegesis than the best church. This does not mean the church is negligible in the process, for our seminary professors should all be dedicated churchmen and our sending churches and denominations have a vital role in preparing pastors in other aspects of ministry that are just as important.
  2. Without a seminary education, even the smartest pastors will have big gaps in their understanding of the Bible, history, and theology. Our learning will be more provincial, more derivative, and less likely to be drawn from primary sources and older texts.
  3. Those without a seminary education are often at a disadvantage when it comes to using all the exegetical and theological resources a pastor needs to stay fresh, energized, and well grounded over a lifetime of ministry.
  4. Those without a seminary education may have a more difficult time entering into important discussions and controversies. There is more terra incognito on the doctrinal landscape.
  5. Learning in a flesh and blood community—with professors you can know personally and with students you can fight with and learn from—cannot be duplicated by online cohorts or virtual education. Not even close.
  6. A good seminary education gives the pastor confidence in what he should know and enough humility to know what he doesn’t know.
  7. By studying in person at a seminary you will develop lifelong friendships and important pastoral and professional connections.

None of this is to suggest a seminary education is all you need to be a good pastor. In fact, I think seminaries often try to do too much and are expected to do too much. Many aspects of ministry cannot be learned in the classroom. That’s why we need more rigorous internship programs and why the church needs to take more responsibility to evaluate, support, and prepare men for ministry. All I’m saying is that in most cases I believe it is a mistake with long-term ramifications for aspiring pastors to voluntarily forgo the seminary education they could have had with a good dose of discipline, creativity, sacrifice, prayer, and hard work.

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Poverty and Wealth Creation

Oct 03, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

In light of this morning’s post, a member of our congregation sent me something Bob Lupton wrote on the same subject. It’s quite good. I am always challenged and helped by what he writes on community development.

Forty years of serving in the inner-city has given me at least one clear insight: the poor will not emerge from poverty unless they have decent jobs. Service is important, to be sure. But service will not move the poverty needle. Wealth creation is the well-spring from which all economic life flows. It is the wealth-creators who take the business risks that ultimately create jobs. Our non-profit ministry has certainly provided employment for many people, bu like every other non-profit, we would not exist without the donations of up-stream, for-profit wealth producers. We exist on the “wealth-transfer” side of the ledger. The “wealth-creation” side is where the economic life originates.

Wealth creation is a gift of the Creator – a spiritual gift. But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth. (Deuteronomy 8:18) I have often heard sermons on the seductiveness of wealth and the corrupting influence of mammon, but I have yet to hear a sermon affirming the spiritual gift of wealth-creation. And yet it is this very gift that enables our society to flourish. And it is this gift that holds the key to the alleviation of poverty.

You can read the whole thing here.

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The Practical Divide Between Religious Leaders and Entrepreneurs

Oct 03, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

A good admonition from Acton’s Robert A. Sirico, in The Entrepreneurial Vocation, about the faulty notions religious leaders often have about wealth and the world of business:

In addition to an intellectual or academic gap, there is frequently a kind of practical divide between religious leaders and entrepreneurs in their understanding of market operations. This is because the two groups tend to operate from different worldviews and employ different models in their daily operations.

Notice how these differences are typically manifested.

On Sunday morning a collection basket is passed in most churches. On Monday the bills are paid, acts of charity attended to, and levies paid to denominational headquarters. However, when the collection regularly comes up short, making it difficult to pay the bills, most ministers will preach a sermon on the responsibility of stewardship. In the minds of many clergy, economic decisions resemble dividing up a pie into equal slices. In this view, wealth is seen as a static entity, which means that for someone with a small sliver to increase his or her share of the pie, someone else must necessarily receive a somewhat small piece. The “moral solution” that springs from this economic model is the redistribution of wealth, what might be called a “Robin Hood” morality.

Entrepreneurs operate from a very different understanding of money and wealth. They speak of “making” money, not of “collecting” it; of producing wealth, not redistributing it. Entrepreneurs must consider the needs, wants, and desires of consumers, because the only way to meet their own needs peacefully—without relying on charity—is to offer something of value in exchange. These people, then, view the world of money as dynamic.

In referring to the free market as dynamic, however, it is easy to get the impression that we are describing a place or an object. However, the market is actually a process—a series of choices made by independently acting persons who themselves place monetary values on goods and services. This process of assigning subjectively determined values is responsible for producing the “wealth of nations,” a phrase that is typically associated with the title of Adam Smith’s classic eighteenth-century work but was actually first employed in the Book of Isaiah (60:5). The creative view of economics taken by business people is also illustrated in Scripture.

Unfortunately, the preceding argument may be misconstrued as urging that religion adopt a bottom-line, profit-and-loss mentality with regard to its mission, but this would be a grave distortion. I agree that there is a significant place for the sharing of wealth and resources within Christian practice—indeed, a mandatory place. With their transcendent vision, communities of faith recognize that some matters cannot be placed within the limited calculus of economic exchange or evaluated solely in terms of money. It is equally true, however, that to maintain credibility in the world of business and finance, clergy must first understand the inner workings of the market economy, for only then will such moral guidance be helpful.

But there is another, if somewhat misleading, factor that contributes to the hostility toward capitalism that one frequently encounters in religious circles. Many religious leaders spend a great portion of their lives personally confronting the wretchedness of poverty. Poverty saddens and angers us, and we want to put an end to it. This sentiment is entirely proper, not to mention morally incumbent upon Christians. However, a problem develops when this sentiment is combined with the economic ignorance described above. When this happens, the just cry against poverty is converted into an illegitimate rage against wealth as such, as though the latter created the former. While this reaction is understandable, it is nevertheless ill-informed and can lead to overreactions. Persons who react in this way fail to acknowledge that the amelioration of poverty will be achieved only by producing wealth and protecting a free economy. (10-12)

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