Tuesday, November 30, 2010

People Get What You're Passionate About, More So Than What You Teach

One of my passions as a church leader is to be passionate about the right things. And the most right thing is always Jesus Christ and his Gospel. I want our church and church leaders to speak the most frequently and the most excitedly about the Gospel because people often catch far more from our passion than from our stated theology or teaching.

C.J. Mahaney has some helpful thoughts on this issue, and while his comments may be directed more to church leaders you can see how they apply to everyone. Mahaney writes:

I have learned a very important lesson over the years: those I have the privilege to teach are not usually most affected by the general content of my teaching; they are often most affected by what I am most passionate about.

I am still learning this, and it’s all too easy to forget.

When I teach, my passion must be theologically informed, and proportional to the content or point I am making in the sermon. This insight is not original with me (no insights are original with me!), and I have found this point better articulated by Dr. Don Carson in a lecture he delivered last year at the CBMW Different by Design Conference (Feb. 2, 2009, Minneapolis, MN). While speaking of those who are passionate for social justice, he delivered this caution:

There are some wonderful instances of ordinary Christians, not least the young, who are concerned to preach the whole gospel unabashedly and do good first to the household of God and then, as much as is possible, outside as well [Galatians 6:10]. That has got biblical mandate behind it.…

My warning would be to those who are coming along and talking a lot about, “I want to be faithful to the gospel, but I also want to do social justice of good works.” My warning would be: it is not just what you do, it is what you are excited about.

And the implications are broader than social justice. All manner of topics can capture our excitement, like church methodology, parenting style, or any other point of application. Carson continues,

If I have learned anything in 35 or 40 years of teaching, it is that students don’t learn everything I teach them. What they learn is what I am excited about, the kinds of things I emphasize again and again and again and again. That had better be the gospel.

If the gospel—even when you are orthodox—becomes something which you primarily assume, but what you are excited about is what you are doing in some sort of social reconstruction, you will be teaching the people that you influence that the gospel really isn’t all that important. You won’t be saying that—you won’t even mean that—but that’s what you will be teaching. And then you are only half a generation away from losing the gospel.

Make sure that in your own practice and excitement, what you talk about, what you think about, what you pray over, what you exude confidence over, joy over, what you are enthusiastic about is Jesus, the gospel, the cross. And out of that framework, by all means, let the transformed life flow.

Seminary professors and preachers will transfer to others what they are most passionate about. And those we serve should see a difference between our passion for the gospel and our passion for other issues. It’s worth asking ourselves regularly: Is it clear to others that nothing excites me more than the gospel of Jesus Christ and him crucified?

Saturday, November 27, 2010


If there be enough in God to satisfy the angels, then sure there is enough to satisfy us....Fresh joys spring continually from his face; and he is as much to be desired after millions of years by glorified souls as at the first moment. There is a fullness in God that satisfies, and yet so much sweetness, that the soul still desires. God is a delicious good.
- Thomas Whatson (1620-1686) | "Man's Chief End" in A Body of Divinity

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Advent Devotional

The faculty of Gordon-Conwell Seminary is offering a free E-devotional for Advent. You may want to check it out as a fresh way to reflect on Christ's birth during this busy time of year. Here is the description:
The season of Advent has traditionally been a time of preparation for Christians. During the four weeks leading up to Christmas, we have looked forward toward the second coming of Jesus Christ, even as we celebrated His first coming as a child in the manger. The faculty of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary are again pleased to have prepared 27 daily meditations for use from the Sunday after Thanksgiving until Christmas Eve. Our hope is that you would be fulfilled and edified as you contemplate God's goodness, provision and mercy. If you would like to receive this daily email devotional, please fill out the form on this page. (We will not sell or release your information.)

Please join us as we Journey to the Manger.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Why Pray if God is Sovereign?, Part 2

Yesterday's post was prompted by this question I received via email:
If God has preordained everything and already made up His mind about how things will be, why do we pray for other people in intercession? It just doesn't seem to make sense that we should ask God to do things for other people if He never changes his mind!

I know that prayer is important for communicating with the Lord, so that we draw closer to Him, and acknowledging His sovereignty, but why should we go to Him in supplication for other people if He already knows what we want and what He will do? Is the prayer itself preordained?
My response:
Great question to be thinking about! Check out this article from John Piper.

I'll answer it first in terms of praying for someone to be saved. The basic answer is that while God ordains the ends (someone's salvation), he also uses means (prayer & a person sharing the Gospel) to accomplish the end. Just like God uses us as messengers to verbally share the Gospel with another person as a means toward that person coming to faith in Christ; likewise, God uses prayer as a means of bringing someone to faith in Christ.

So, for instance in Romans chapter 10 we see these two means put together. In verse 1 Paul says: "Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved." (ESV)

Then in verses 14-17 he says:
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!" ....So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (ESV)

So, God uses prayer and a messenger to bring about salvation in people's lives.

I think we can also apply this to interceding for other issues as well - that God uses our prayer to help others grow, to bring healing, to convict hearts, to change circumstances, etc. James 5:13-18 helps us to see this truth: Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. (ESV)

James makes it clear that God uses prayer as a means of accomplishing his purposes. The cool thing is that he uses us and our prayers to do it! I think it's fair to say that the more we pray, the more we will be used by God and see him work. The less we pray, the less we will be used and see him work.

Obviously we shouldn't and can't use prayer as a tool to manipulate things, but instead see it as a partnership with God where he wants to use us. We're his messengers, his servants, his prayer warriors, and he is using us to do his will on this earth.

Now, the details of exactly how that all works, well, there is definitely some mystery involved there!

Hope this helps.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Why Pray if God is Sovereign?

Perhaps you've asked the same question. I'm guessing this question has also served to de-motivate many people in their prayer life. But far from God's sovereignty killing our desire to pray (because "God is going to do whatever he's going to do anyway"), it should bolster our confidence and passion in prayer. I'd suggest we change our thinking to this: "God is going to do whatever he is going to do through me."

That's right. God is going to save people as an act of his loving will through me sharing the Gospel with them. God is going to convict a sinner's heart and help them to see the hope found in Jesus Christ through me praying for them. God accomplishes his sovereign will through his people, who humbly share the Gospel, pray, and love.

Why else are we still here on earth? We're here because we are the means God has graciously chosen to use to accomplish his ends. It's pretty cool that he has chosen to work out his plans this way, that we get to be a major part of what he is doing.

I was thinking about this because someone emailed me asking this very question, so I'll post my response next which includes the Scripture to show this is the case.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Who is Jesus? On the Street in Oxford, OH

For last Sunday's message on Jesus as the Only Way, we asked Oxford residents what they think about Jesus. Here's what we got:

A Promo for Tim Keller's "The Reason for God"

Since I mentioned Keller's book in a recent post, I thought it would be good to give a little preview. The following is from his website, but first I have to tell you that this has been called by some the best apologetic work since C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity. It's well worth you time to check out, and if you visit Keller's site, you can read an excerpt for free. There are also a ton of free Keller resources at this site.

The Reason for God

Why does God allow suffering in the world?

How could a loving God send people to Hell?

Why isn’t Christianity more inclusive?

How can one religion be “right” and the others “wrong”?

Why have so many wars been fought in the name of God?

These are just a few of the questions and doubts even ardent believers wrestle with today. As the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, Timothy Keller has compiled a list of the most frequently voiced “doubts” skeptics bring to his church as well as the most important reasons for faith. And in the New York Times bestselling The Reason for God, he addresses each doubt and explains each reason.

Keller uses literature, philosophy, real-life conversations, and reasoning to explain how faith in a Christian God is a soundly rational belief, held by thoughtful people of intellectual integrity with a deep compassion for those who truly want to know the truth.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

An Atheist's Take on Proselytizing

This video has been around quite a bit, but when I quoted it on Sunday it seemed that many had not heard it before. It' a powerful word, especially because it comes from an atheist. Translate "proselytize" as "share the Gospel."

“I’ve always said that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward—and atheists who think people shouldn’t proselytize and who say just leave me along and keep your religion to yourself—how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?

“I mean, if I believed, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe that truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that.”

HT: Justin Taylor

Monday, November 15, 2010

One Way To God?

On Sunday, I preached on Jesus as the only way to God. This claim typically helps to get Christians labeled as intolerant and exclusive. So, a key part of my message had to with why Jesus as the only way is the most inclusive message you've ever heard. Here are three reasons...
  • Because instead of everyone trying to save themselves by their works, Jesus saves as a free gift (Rom 10:13; Matt 11:28).
  • Because many religions are only concerned with their own people, but Jesus invites all people to come to him (Rev 5:9).
  • Because Jesus calls for love to be shown to those who reject his message (Matt. 5:44).
Check out the message here. For more on this topic and other difficult questions of the Christian faith, check out Tim Keller's The Reason for God.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Parable of the Sower

One of the great opportunities about ministering in a University town is getting to interact with students and being asked to speak at campus ministry meetings. Last night I spoke at the Navigators weekly meeting on Jesus' parable about the sower, which is really a parable about soils (= how people respond to the Gospel). I was asked to talk about the good soil from Luke 8 (also in Mark 4 & Matt 13).

This is an important parable to study because it is one of the few where Jesus gives us the interpretation. In the context he also explains why he spoke in parables. So check out the parable in Luke 8:4-15, then consider these observations:

The speaking of God's Word (i.e. sharing the Gospel) comes with mixed results.
  • Some people reject it outright
  • Some people seem to receive it, but fall away because it's just too hard
  • Some people seem to receive it, but fall away because life is too good
  • Some people genuinely believe, as evidenced by their fruit
This truth can really help us as we share the Gospel and minister God's Word to people. Remember that Jesus got mixed results and so will you. More people rejected Jesus than accepted him. Don't be discouraged. Your job is to spread the Word and pray for God to make it rain. Always trust that he will make it rain. Trust that he can and often does save the most unlikely people (The Apostle Paul wasn't exactly a prime candidate when he was converted to Christianity), but don't be discouraged when many people reject the truth or fall away.

True Christians bear fruit (v. 8, 15).

You've maybe hear it taught that the thorny soil is a Christian that just doesn't grow. But that teaching just doesn't square with Jesus' teaching in the rest of the Gospels, and it's not true to the parable (see Luke 6:43-45; John 15:5-6). True Christians bear fruit. And what is fruit? Fruit is what your life produces. What comes out of you mouth, your attitude, your priorities. It's the process of growing to become more like Jesus, which means you begin to spend your time more wisely, sin becomes less appealing to you, your patience grows, etc.

Now this process is not instantaneous. In fact, producing fruit is often a very long process. There will be failure along the way. There will be periods of struggle, which leads to a final observation.

Fruit producing is hard work (v. 15).

Notice that verse 15 says that those who hear the word and "hold it fast...and bear fruit with patience." Fruit producing is not easy. It takes a lot of had work. It takes hard work because we must battle against our emotions, against "not feeling like it," against an Enemy that wants to keep us from growing, against distractions, or even against persecution at times.

Have you ever thought like this:
  • "Why is reading the Bible so hard?"
  • "Why don't I feel like praying?"
  • "Why is sharing the Gospel with my family so tough?"
  • "Why do I have to be depressed, fearful, or keep struggling with the same sin?"
If you have thought this way, you're probably on the right track. The struggle usually means God is seeking to produce fruit in your life. And producing fruit is not easy.

It can help you to know that this is normal Christian experience. Even for people who have been Christians for 25 years. Even for pastors.

Fruit producing is hard work. But it's not your work alone. Ultimately, our role is to yield ourselves to Jesus and rely on his grace and power to produce fruit in us. Remember, you can't produce fruit on your own - it only comes about as we work hard through the grace which he supplies.

Philippians 2:12-13 (ESV)
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Our Tendency to Make Rules for Others

One of the marks of a certain type of bad man is that he cannot give up a thing himself without wanting every one else to give it up.

That is not the Christian way. An individual Christian may see fit to give up all sorts of things for special reasons—marriage, or meat, or beer, or the cinema; but the moment he starts saying the things are bad in themselves, or looking down his nose at other people who do use them, he has taken the wrong turning.

Mere Christianity, pp. 78-79.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veteran's Day

From John Piper:
I thank God today for the service and the sacrifice of 24.5 million veterans in America.

Today is Veteran’s Day. Formerly it was Armistice Day because on November 11, 1918 in a railway carriage in Compiengne Forest in France the Armistice with Germany was signed that ended World War I where 116,516 American soldiers died.

signing of the Armistice November 11, 1918.

There are 9.5 million veterans older than 65. 2.3 million are black. 1.1 million are Hispanic. 276,000 are Asian.

When soldiers came to John the Baptist and asked, “What shall we do”—meaning, “How shall we respond to your call to repent?”, John answered, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages” (Luke 3:14).

From this we learn that repentance did not demand ceasing to be a soldier. The tensions between being a follower of Jesus as a soldier are essentially the same as the tensions of being a follower of Jesus in all the other authority structures of society that God ordains for the stability of the world (like business, education, government, and family).

There have been agonizing choices the veterans have had to make. May they (and we all) turn to the cross of Christ for the final resolution of what we have done. I am thankful they embraced the risk.

HT: Justin Taylor

Monday, November 8, 2010

Teens, Same-Sex Relationships, AOL, and Dubious Data

Another good analysis here from Kevin DeYoung as he deconstructs a recent AOL Health story on Teens and Same-Sex relationships:

Is It True That “1 in 10 Teens Has Had a Same-Sex Partner”?

Be suspicious of statistics, especially those that seem too good or too bad or too surprising to be true.

You may have seen this amazing news headline: 1 in 10 Teens Has Had a Same-Sex Partner. The story on AOL Health begins this way:

Nearly one in ten teens has had a same-sex partner — double what previous research has shown, according to a surprising new study.

The latest findings, published in the journal Pediatrics, reveal that 9.3 percent of teenagers say they have had at least one partner who is the same sex as they are.

That’s about twice as many as indicated in a 2002 study of Massachusetts and Vermont teens showing 5 to 6 percent of teenagers had had same-sex partners.

“I don’t know that it means there’s an increase in prevalence,” said Massachusetts psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Carlat, AOL Health’s mental health expert. “As homosexuality has become more and more accepted in society, people are more willing to acknowledge their sexuality than they used to be.”

Wow! Who knew? 1 in 10 American teenagers has had a same-sex partner?! That’s really terrible/terrific (depending on your point of view). What a revelation!

The only problem with this revelation is that it’s false. If the reporter for AOL had taken time to read just the abstract for the Pediatrics article she may have seen the heading “CONCLUSIONS” (in all caps) and noted this summary:

Of sexually active adolescents, 9.3% reported a same-sex partner, a higher estimate than other published rates.

AOL speaks of 1 in 10 teens; the original article concludes 9.3% of sexually active adolescents reported a same-sex partner. There’s a big difference. The survey analyzed data from 17,220 teenagers. Of those, 7,261 (or 42%) reported having had sex. So according this study 58% of teens are not having sex with anyone and 9.3% of those have, had same-sex partners, or 3.9% of the total sample.

There are other reasons to be suspicious of the headline... Read on.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Piper on Prayer

John Piper:
You will not know what prayer is for until you know that life is war. One of the great obstacles to praying is that life is just too routinely smooth for many of us. The battlefront is way out there, but here in my tiny bubble of peace and contentment all is well. O may God open our eyes to see and feel the needs around us and the great potential of prayer.
This is from Piper's message Be Devoted to Prayer. Listen to the message or read it here. In the message, he also gives three reasons why we should pray:
  1. The Bible tells us to pray and we should do what God says.
  2. The needs in your own life, and in your family, and in this church and other churches, and in the cause of world missions, and in our culture at large are huge and desperate. In many cases heaven and hell hang in the balance, faith or unbelief, life and death.
  3. God acts when we pray. And God can do more in five seconds than we can do in five years.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Puritan Prayer: Privileges

(Adapted from: The Valley of Vision, 284-85)

O God of grace, Teach us to know that grace precedes, accompanies, and follows our salvation;
that it sustains the redeemed soul, that not one link of its chain can ever break.

From Calvary’s cross, wave upon wave of grace reaches us, deals with our sin, washes us clean, renews our heart, strengthens our will, draws out our affection, kindles a flame in our souls, rules throughout our inner being, consecrates our every thought, word.

How great are our privileges in Christ Jesus. Without him we stand far off, strangers, outcasts; In him we draw near and touch His kingly scepter.

Without him we dare not lift up our guilty eyes; in him we gaze upon our Father-God and friend.

Without him we hide our lips in trembling shame; in him we open our mouth in petition and praise.

Without him all is wrath and consuming fire; in him is all love, and the rest of our souls.

Without him is gaping hell below us, and eternal anguish; in him its gates are barred to us by His precious blood!

Without him darkness spreads its horrors before us; in him an eternity of glory is our boundless horizon.

Without him all things external call for our condemnation; in him they minister to our comfort, and are to be enjoyed with thanksgiving.

We praise You for your overwhelming grace and for the unspeakable gift of Jesus.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Prayer: Conversation with God

From Paul Miller, author of A Praying Life:
A praying life feels like our family mealtimes because prayer is all about relationship. It’s intimate and hints of eternity. We don’t think about communication or words but about whom we are talking with. Prayer is simply the medium through which we experience and connect to God. Oddly enough, many people struggle to learn how to pray because they are focusing on praying, not on God. Making prayer the center is like making conversation the center of a family mealtime (p. 20).

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Jesus on Prayer (Alliterated)

I'm not much for alliteration, probably because I had a theology professor that alliterated all of his teaching outlines even if it didn't make sense. If you've ever listened to a preacher that alliterated like a mad man, then you know that the letter "P" is a favorite - purpose, plan, perspective, priority - there is so much you can do with "P." So today I'm giving in, because for this post some alliteration just makes good sense. Here is Jesus on Prayer in the form of 5 "P's."

Matthew 14:23 (ESV)
After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone…

Matthew 26:36 (ESV)
Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, "Sit here while I go over there and pray.”

Mark 6:46 (ESV)

After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.

Luke 5:16 (ESV)

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

Matthew 6:6 (ESV)

“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

Mark 1:35 (ESV)
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.

Luke 6:12-13 (ESV)

One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles.


Luke 18:1-8 (ESV)
And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, "In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, 'Give me justice against my adversary.' For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, 'Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.'" And the Lord said, "Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"

Luke 11:9-10 (ESV)

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”


Luke 18:9-14 (ESV)
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.' But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted."


John 17:9-20 (ESV)
“I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name-the name you gave me-so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled. I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message.”

Matthew 26:41 (ESV)
"Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak."

Luke 22:31-32 (ESV)
“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers."

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Jesus & Prayer

This isn't comprehensive, but it gives us a good picture of Jesus' practice and teaching on prayer. For more, check out the message I gave at OBF last Sunday.

His practice of prayer:
Mark 1:35 (ESV)
And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.

Luke 5:15-16 (ESV)
But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.

Luke 6:12-13 (ESV)
In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God.
And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve..
His teaching on prayer:
Matthew 6:5-13 (ESV)
And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. "And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this: "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.