Monthly Archives: May 2010

Um . . .

There are at least 3 things wrong with this picture.

Photo by Tim Brister

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No End to this Glorious Message

I love these lines from The Cross by D. Martyn-Lloyd Jones:

“There are certain things which have to be said over and over again, of necessity, and yet this is the marvel and the wonder of the cross, that however many times a man may preach about it, he has never finished preaching about it. There is always something fresh to say, always something new. There is a great central message that is always there, but nothing is so wonderful as to see that one thing in different ways . . . . During these twenty-six years in my Westminster pulpit there have been times when in my utter folly I have wondered, or the devil has suggested to me, that there is nothing more for me to say, that I have preached it all. I thank God that I can now say that I feel I am only at the beginning of it. There is no end to this glorious message of the cross, for there is always something new and fresh and entrancing and moving and uplifting that one has never seen before.”

Even angels long to look into the gospel. Why? Because it is endlessly fascinating.

I think these words are closely related to the Catch-22 of gospel-centrality: Those who love the gospel do not tire of hearing it, and those who do not love the gospel will not love the gospel without hearing it. So whatever our audience, the gospel must be central to our …

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Grace-Driven Effort

D.A. Carson writes:

People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.

You will not grow in the Christian life through stasis. You must move.

But move where? Move how?

What is “grace-driven effort” and how is it different from some other kind of religious or spiritual effort?

I think grace-driven effort springs from parking ourselves at the gospel and beholding. People who behold (super)naturally move into mission. They can’t not runteldat.

Here is one of my favorite passages from Paul. He is talking about pressing on and moving forward, upward, Godward, but notice how he begins and ends this thought on Spiritual effort:

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of …

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Next Book News

I am excited to share that my next book, tentatively titled Gospel Wakefulness: Treasuring Christ and Savoring His Power, will be released by Crossway sometime next year.

I’m very happy to be partnering with the great folks at Crossway and am extremely blessed to join their fantastic stable of authors.

In what they call in “the biz” a “two-book deal,” they have also asked for my next book after that, which was surprising and encouraging to both my agent and me. Now I gotta make it my biz to figure out what that next book would be.

If you’re a reader, thanks for reading. I hope to bless you, and I promise to fixate stubbornly on the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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Quick Hits #7

#1 Our older daughter Macy turns 9 today. Someone slow down time. I know it’s a cliche to begin a sentence with “It seems like only yesterday,” so I’ll just tuck into the 2nd and 3rd parts of this sentence, because it seems like only yesterday she was toddling around in the living room babbling on about Memo. (That’s Elmo to you and me.) I held her 4 month-old form in my lap when I watched the 2nd plane hit the WTC live on “The Today Show.” I was frightened then about the world we were going to raise her in. For eight years I worked from home, making me a stay-at-home dad for our little girls. Becky and I sought as best we could to reverse our roles all that time, but 9 years later, now that she’s at home and I’m in the fields, I am profoundly grateful to have been able to spend so much time with my girlies as they learned how to walk, play, laugh, and ask big questions. Not many daddies get that. I’m glad I did. (Becky has a Macy birthday post here.)

#2 Great post by Trevin Wax: Glorifying God = Fulfilling the Mission

#3 Lots of discussion over David Platt’s book Radical. I have it but have not read it yet. I look forward to doing so. I think the message that folks like Platt (and Francis Chan, et.al.) give to the evangelical church is valuable and necessary. Like some others, …

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Our Church and Baptismal Dual Practice

The backstory:

Middletown Springs Community Church in Middletown Springs, Vermont once practiced covenantal infant baptism (paedobaptism). There are currently members of the church who were baptized in the church as infants, and there are families in the church who already hold to covenantal paedobaptism. When the previous pastor assumed the pastorate of the church, the practice of paedobaptism ceased because he is a “believer’s baptist” (credobaptist), as am I.

When I assumed the pastorate in 2009 this information came to my knowledge, and I became aware of families in the church who are paedobaptists but remain in fellowship believing the unity of the body around the gospel of Jesus Christ and the foundations of the Christian faith were more important than differences in modes of baptism. I was convicted that the church may have been maintaining a type of “second class” citizenship in the church for those who aren’t credobaptists. Full fellowship could be enjoyed, but if a baby was born — and one was — I struggled with the idea of having to tell them to go elsewhere to have their baby baptized.

This conviction led me to researching the notion of dual practice. Middletown Springs Community Church membership stipulations already allowed/allows both those baptized as infants (in a covenantal understanding) and those baptized as believers to become members provided a credible profession of faith, agreement with the church’s Statement of Faith, etc. So one hurdle that many churches are moving toward had already been leapt. But in 2010, as part …

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All of Christ, Now and Evermore

There is nothing in us or done by us, at any stage of our earthly development, because of which we are acceptable to God. We must always be accepted for Christ’s sake, or we cannot ever be accepted at all.

This is not true of us only when we believe. It is just as true after we have believed. It will continue to be trust as long as we live.

Our need of Christ does not cease with our believing; nor does the nature of our relation to Him or to God through Him ever alter, no matter what our attainments in Christian graces or our achievements in behavior may be.

It is always on His “blood and righteousness” alone that we can rest.

– B.B. Warfield

What a wonderful and incomprehensible thing it is to know that at conversion we receive all of Christ and certainly all we need, yet there is always more of Christ to have and yet always what we need.

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Prayer is Always Subversive; In New England Especially So

This is a letter from one Roland Smith to the editors of The Rutland Herald:

Last fall a student of Fair Haven Union High School received permission from the principal to hold a “National Day of Prayer at the Flag Pole” event, which was attended by a number of students, staff and adults.

The students were very enthused with the results and asked the principal if they could continue once a week with these meetings. They have been meeting every Wednesday morning all through the winter, rain or shine, and have been faithfully praying for God’s presence in the school and in the lives of the students, for the nation and children in Sudan, etc.

Several weeks ago students participating were brought into the principal’s office, told there was a complaint, and that they could no longer continue and that adults should not have joined, although this was originally approved. Thinking that the adults were the main concern, they met again for prayer at the pole without them. They were again brought into the office one or two at a time with the principal and superintendent and told they could no longer continue. It seems the superintendent was concerned that some other group might want to use the area around the pole and the school would have to let them. The students asked to speak to the School Board. A meeting was held May 17.

At that meeting, the board and superintendent were asked if this action was precipitated by a complaint. They …

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Squirrels That Look Like Jesus: Gospel-Centrality and the Scriptures

You’ve probably heard this Sunday School humor tidbit:

Sunday School teacher holds up a picture and asks the class, “What is this?”

Little Johnny answers, tentatively, “Well, it looks like a squirrel, but I know the answer is ‘Jesus’.”

I can laugh at the Little Johnny and the Squirrel story, but I think it’s true too. The best teaching and preaching always makes the answer “Jesus.”

Not every biblical text is explicitly about Jesus of course. But no matter what it looks like, we can show that the answer is Jesus.

How?

Here’s how I approach biblical texts in the mode of gospel-centrality:

If I’m looking at an exhortation/command/Law, I ask what precipitates it. Sometimes you have to draw in the gospel reminder if it’s not immediately in the text or context. For instance: Leviticus is chock-full of commands, but this book comes after Exodus, after the Israelites are set free from Egyptian bondage and are in the wilderness. So I remind myself and my church that obedience is a response to God’s freedom, not the leverage for God’s freedom. In other words, we don’t obey to be set free; we obey *because* we’ve been set free. In the same way Jesus announces the blessings of the kingdom coming in the Beatitudes, and then proceeds to tell us what life in the kingdom looks like (the rest of the Sermon on the Mount). Pronouncement precedes exhortation; being precedes doing.

This is easier to do in Paul’s letters, because Paul is always connecting commands to gospel pronouncements, couching what …

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What the Church Can Learn from LOST

Okay, no doubt the Christian blogosphere is going to be inundated with LOST-related reflections on faith and spirituality, especially given the “universalism”-tinged finale last night.

I have not read Chris Seay’s The Gospel According to LOST, mainly because it doesn’t interest me too much. I will just say that I gave up on expecting any coherent Christian worldview from LOST back when Mr. Eko said Jesus had to be baptized to cleanse him from his sins. At that point, I wasn’t angry that LOST didn’t reflect Christian theology, but mainly that LOST couldn’t even get it right from a characterization integrity standpoint. Eko knew Catholic theology. He was posing as a priest. Believing Jesus needed to be cleansed from sins is not something you’d expect from a Catholic priest. So they botched it there, and from then on I wasn’t expecting good solid Christian theology from a television show. But I wasn’t really expecting it before that either.

So while others may be arguing the merits or demerits of the “all faiths” suggestions (did you see the stained glass window at the chapel at the end?), I’m coming at it from a different angle. What is it exactly about LOST that engaged people so much, and what can the church learn from that (if anything)?

I think of three things off the bat:

1) LOST was robust. It did not partition off “spiritual matters” and “scientific matters” and “romantic matters,” etc. It wasn’t a romance show. Or an adventure show. It wasn’t just science …

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