Friday, August 31, 2012

Preparing for corporate worship: 'first importance'

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (I Cor. 15:3-4). Paul says in the first two verses of I Cor. 15 he is making known the gospel to his readers, the gospel by which they are saved. Then, in verses 3 and 4, he describes the heart of the gospel: The death, burial and resurrection of Christ. It is in God the Son’s atoning sacrifice and His resurrection we stand justified before our Holy Judge. No message is as important as the gospel of Jesus, Paul says. It is a work prophesied in the Old Testament, Paul says. All who gather as believers this Sunday in the corporate worship of Covenant Community Church will have the opportunity to proclaim this most important message. We will observe the Lord’s Supper and through it proclaim the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord. May we come prepared to declare the glory of God and the gospel of His Son.

Rape, abortion and the gospel

'vaikelis' photo (c) 2006, kambodza - license: I will mention the names of some politicians – not to mention a hot-button political issue -- in this post.

I don’t believe it is appropriate for me as pastor of a church to endorse candidates or promote political parties. I know some disagree with me on this. I believe, however, the gospel of Jesus – not the next election – should be my focus. I – and Covenant Community Church – desire to be part of God building up His people for an eternal kingdom, not a temporal one.

That doesn’t mean I don’t believe a pastor should address important issues that have political ramifications. I believe I should, and I have done so in the past from the pulpit and at this blog. My general motto is something like this: “Issues? Yes. Candidates? No.”

So I approach this post with that as background as I address an issue I believe needs addressing and will result in me commenting on some candidates – in fact, the two major candidates for the presidency.

No doubt everyone who is reading this post has heard or read the comments by U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin about rape. They came about two weeks ago in response to a question about abortion in instances of rape. Akin is a pro-life Christian, and I believe he was seeking to uphold the sanctity of life of the unborn child in his answer. His words, however, were insensitive and ill-chosen. Nearly universal condemnation greeted the way he responded regarding rape, and I believe it has been appropriate for pro-lifers and Christians to hold him accountable for his offensive remarks. He has since apologized more than once for the words he used in speaking of rape.

From my perspective, abortion rights advocates and their friends in politics and the media pounced on Akin’s comments not only to chastise his deeply regrettable remarks but to score points against his party, which is the only one of the two major parties that supports the protection of unborn children, and to gain some ground in the ongoing battle over abortion in this country.

My reason for posting on this topic is not to provide my opinion on the politics of the controversy or on whether Akin should surrender his place on the ballot to another candidate from his party.

Instead, I cry out for the human being whom too many are quickly willing to throw overboard for political gain. In so doing, I also am reaching out to another human being who already has been victimized.

The leaders of each party have not been helpful in this case.

Mitt Romney says he is pro-life, and I don’t write to castigate his declaration. He has exceptions, however, and this is one of them. His campaign quickly rushed to make it clear Romney and his running mate disagree with Akin and do support abortion in case of conception by rape. My guess is vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan had to bite his tongue – hard – at that.

President Obama, meanwhile, has never met an abortion he could not support. His advocacy for abortion rights – including campaigning in unprecedented fashion for re-election on that issue – is unparalleled in a U.S president. It should not be surprising, however. Pro-lifers, especially in Illinois, tried to warn Americans in 2008. As a member of that state’s Senate, Obama voted four times against a bill that would have protected unborn babies who survive abortions. Yes, some babies survive abortions, but many are taken to another room and left to die without medical or humane care. Congress passed the same proposal without opposition during that time period, but Obama could not bring himself to vote to protect the rights of a helpless human being outside the womb.

And that gets to the point of this post. The person who has been kicked to the curb, so to speak, in this controversy is the person conceived by an act of rape. If we, as pro-life Christians, say the means of conception determines the validity of the unborn child’s right to exist, we have severely undermined our beliefs.

The testimony of Scripture and science is that conception produces a new life, a genetically separate and unique human being. The message of the Bible is that this new person is made in the image of God. Justice calls for protection for all those made in the image of God – regardless of their location or their condition. As fellow image bearers of God, as believers in the full authority of Scripture and as those who are followers of Jesus, we must stand firm on this truth.

Rape should never be a part of the experience of any woman or girl. It is a vile sin against a human being. Experiencing such a violation has to be horribly frightening and humiliating. Dealing with it has to be incredibly painful and devastatingly difficult. I cannot imagine the trauma a victim of rape experiences.

To carry and give birth to a child conceived by such a violation – a violation the victim would like to erase from her memory – require a depth of courage and sacrifice most of us will never know. Yet, God grants such courage and sacrifice to women and girls who need them.

We do no rape victim any favors by telling her abortion is a part of the remedy. Instead, we set her up for more grief and suffering. We should not abandon her or her child to abortion but walk both of them through this dark, dark “valley of the shadow of death” to life.

We, as the church, have the message and the resources a victim of rape needs. Most importantly, we have the strong and mighty Savior – the Lord of life – whom she needs. She needs not only emotional healing but spiritual deliverance, ongoing grace and strength, and the love of God's people. She needs Jesus and His gospel. Whether a rape victim is a follower of Christ or not, that message in its fullness – that God the Son lived, died and was resurrected to make sinners saints and give glory to God -- is what she needs to hear and to apply to her own life.

How powerful is that gospel? It is powerful enough to make beautiful a life seemingly destroyed by the wickedness of one and to empower her to give life to another.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Something to think about: 'No' to old idols

Tullian Tchividjian of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., writes in the book Jesus + Nothing = Everything about God’s work in his life during an especially difficult time he experienced shortly after becoming senior pastor of the church:
. . . Worn out, afraid, and angry, I insisted that God give me my old life back. The gentle but straightforward answer from God that I received from the pages of Colossians that morning was simple but sobering: "It’s not your old life you want back; it’s your old idols you want back, and I love you too much to give them back to you."

I was being challenged by God to more fully understand exactly what I already had in Christ. For far longer than I recognized, I had been depending on the endorsement of others to validate me – to make me feel that I mattered.

God began rescuing me from that slavery by forcing me to rediscover the gospel.

I was learning the hard way that the gospel alone can free us from our addiction to being liked – that Jesus measured up for us so that we wouldn’t have to live under the enslaving pressure of measuring up for others.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

For your attention

1. Both evangelism and motherhood – Being a young mother does not prevent a woman from evangelizing others, writes Melissa Kruger, a mother herself, in this post at The Gospel Coalition blog. The women’s ministry coordinator at Uptown Church in Charlotte, N.C., shares 10 lessons she has learned about evangelism and motherhood. “Just as a fisherman knows there are better times of day to catch fish, some seasons of life are more fertile soil for evangelism. Motherhood is one of those times,” she writes.

2. What preaching the gospel to yourself means – Tim Challies provides an extended quote from Jerry Bridges’ book, The Discipline of Grace, to explain what it means to preach the gospel to yourself. In this excerpt, Bridges says, “We must be careful that we do not rely on the so-called unconditional love of God without realizing that His love can only flow to us as a result of Christ’s atoning death.”

3. Righteous anger vs. sinful anger -- Paul Tautges, pastor of Immanuel Bible Church in Sheboygan, Wis., offers some insight on the distinction between righteous and sinful anger by pointing to three biblical criteria for righteous anger listed by author Robert Jones. (HT: Tim Challies)

4. Fearing suffering more than ever – “Never in human history has suffering been more readily relieved than today. And yet, paradoxically, we have never been more afraid of suffering,” bioethics specialist Wesley Smith writes for First Things. This is an important article. I don’t know that Smith is a Christian, but he is a valuable pro-life commentator on cutting-edge issues. Smith also says, “Once avoiding suffering becomes the primary purpose of society, it too easily mutates into license for eliminating the sufferer. More, the meaning of ‘preventing suffering’ itself becomes elastic. Thus, we increasingly hear advocacy for ending the lives of cognitively devastated patients, not because they are in pain, but to relieve the anguish of their families.”

5. Law and grace in a church – Writing about a difficult case of discipline in his church, Tullian Tchividjian explains why Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is a two-word community (law and gospel) and not a one-word community (law or gospel). He says, “A one word community simply doesn’t possess the biblical wisdom or theological resources to know how to deal with sinners in an honest, loving, and appropriate way.” (HT: Catherine Parks)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Worshiping as a church: More than the music

'St Ebbes 11:45 Service' photo (c) 2011, Jimmy and Sasha Reade - license: is the fifth post in a series on corporate worship.)

Evangelicals regrettably have fallen into the trap in recent decades of equating worship with music. Too often you hear someone talk about how powerful the worship is in his church or how awesome it was in the most recent service. You know that person is largely, if not totally, referring to the music. Or evangelicals commonly refer to the primary musician as the worship leader. He might be the worship leader, if he does more than lead music. Or he might be just the lead musician.

Congregational singing is important. It is not, however, all there is to corporate worship. It is an aspect of worship. It is a way we express adoration, thanksgiving, confession and submission. It is not the only way.

We also worship as a church in reading God’s Word aloud in unison or responsively, in listening to the reading of His Word, in declaring praises to God out loud or in the quietness of our hearts and minds, in praying verbally or silently, in reading common confessions of faith together, in paying attention to the prayers of others, in listening to the preaching of the Word, and in encouraging, serving and loving one another.

To practice corporate worship requires a more fully biblical understanding than just accepting current evangelical lingo. It also calls for us to engage in worship in all the ways God intends. May we “sing with the spirit and . . . with the mind,” as I Cor. 14:15 says, but may we also worship in “spirit and truth” (John 4:23).

Monday, August 27, 2012

Something to think about: That others might live

"Great Commission Christians choose to live simply today that others might simply live forever." -- Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.

Mondays are for music: 'Nothing Without You'

I am trying to use artists and songs outside the mainstream of contemporary Christian music (CCM) in "Mondays are for music." Today's post is probably closer to the CCM mainstream than the others have been so far, although I understand the artist has gone independent again. I listen to music through Pandora often on the train. While listening to the Matt Redman radio station recently, Pandora fed me a Bebo Norman song, "Nothing Without You." I liked it and have continued to like it. The song is from an album he recorded in 2004, and the video below is of him performing it in a small setting.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Preparing for corporate worship: He brings us to God

"For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit" (I Peter 3:18). More could be said about this verse, but here are two reminders from the text: (1) We were unjust and therefore deserving of the eternal punishment that is due those who are unjust. Yet, Jesus died for us that we might miraculously be declared just solely on the basis of His justness; (2) Jesus brings us to God on the basis of His death. We will come into the presence of God this Sunday as He dwells among His people in the special way He does when the church gathers. The Lord Jesus and His atoning sacrifice -- not any worship leader, musician or music -- will bring us to God on that occasion. May we recognize, and rejoice in, the person and work of Christ, who makes worship of God possible.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Persecution: Disabled girl charged with blasphemy

This post from editor Joe Carter at The Gospel Coalition blog provides information on another story of Christian persecution in an Islamic-dominated society. In this case, a 12-year-old Christian girl who may have Down syndrome has been jailed on charges of blasphemy. The entire post is below. You can go here for his original post, which includes links. I commend to you an article by Nina Shea that is linked to in Carter’s post. It is an important explanation of the egregiousness of blasphemy laws under some Islamic regimes.
The Story: In Pakistan, a twelve-year-old mentally disabled Christian girl is in jail on charges of blasphemy. If convicted, she could face life in prison.

The Background: Although details about the incident remain unclear, the girl, Rimsha Masih, is claimed to have burned a Koran for cooking fuel. The child is said to have confessed, but she is believed to have Down Syndrome and is not aware of her actions.

Police officials said the girl was arrested to protect her and her family from the threat of violence after a crowd of several hundred angry Muslims gathered outside her home and called for the child to be burned to death as a blasphemer. Because of the incident, as many as 600 Christians have fled their colony bordering the capital, fearing for their lives.

"The one who burned the Koran should be burned," said Shaukhat Ali, an assistant at the local mosque.

Under Pakistani law, those found guilty of defaming Muhammad face the death penalty, while defiling the Koran can bring a life sentence. This is the fourth blasphemy charge in recent months in Pakistan. According to The Washington Post, human rights advocates say the "law is frequently used to persecute Christians and also has been unfairly applied to the mentally ill -- including some Muslims."

Why It Matters: At a press briefing, U.S. State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland said this incident was a "misuse of the blasphemy law." But as Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom, says,

“It is time for U.S. diplomats to recognize that this is not a problem of ‘misuse.’ No reform or legal tweaking can perfect this law. It is an irredeemably unjust statute that is routinely used to persecute minorities, crush reformers, and in the process subvert the rule of law and individual freedoms.”

Western governments and human rights organizations should use their influence to pressure Islamic nations to change these unjust blasphemy laws. In the meantime, we need to continue to pray for our brothers and sisters -- like Rimsha -- whose lives and freedom are threatened by Islamic religious intolerance.
(HT: Rob Bruton)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Something to think about: Sanctification in community

Tim Challies, who preached for us in July, writes in a recent blog post:
Sanctification is a community project. There are many reasons that the Lord puts us in Christian community in the form of the local church. We are in community for mutual encouragement, mutual labor, mutual support, and so much else. But we are also in community because holiness is a community project.

This has been the challenge for me: I need to grow in holiness not just for my own sake but out of love and concern for those around me. If I love the people in my church, I will grow in holiness for their sake. I am prone to think that holiness is an individual pursuit, but when I see sanctification as a community project, now it is more of a team pursuit. I am growing in holiness so that I can help others grow in holiness, I am putting sin to death so I can help others put sin to death. My church needs me and I need my church, and this is exactly how God has designed it.
(You may read the entire post here.)

The human voice changes; the divine voice doesn't

In this 95-second video excerpt from a recent sermon, John Piper comments on the transition at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis to a new pastor and the importance of a fellowship staying in God's Word.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

For your attention

1. Did Jesus never address same-sex “marriage?” – Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., responds to an argument made by some proponents of homosexual “marriage” – that Jesus never spoke about the issue.

2. How to help a daughter know the true meaning of beauty – Brandon Barker, a blogger for the Village Church in Dallas, offers some brief tips on teaching a daughter to know what beauty truly is in a culture where it is distorted. Among his recommendations: “Pray, beg, plead. Our best laid plans are feeble compared to the craftiness of Satan, and we are desperately dependent on the Spirit to do what only the Spirit can do: open her eyes to Jesus.”

3. Forgiveness can transform a life – Pastor Mark Fox tells a beautiful story of the power of forgiveness demonstrated by a Kenyan to his natural enemy and the gospel effect that resulted.

4. ‘Explanations are a substitute for trust’ – Tullian Tchividjian, senor pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., blogs about some wrong ways to respond to suffering and the right way to respond. He says, “[W]e don’t need answers as much as we need God’s presence in and through the suffering itself. The truth is that when it comes to suffering, if we do not go to our graves in confusion we will not go to our graves trusting.”

5. Why complementariansim, not patriarchy – Don Carson, professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in suburban Chicago and a founder of The Gospel Coalition (TGC), explains why the coalition’s leaders think it is better to use complementariansim than patriarchialism or traditionalism in talking about the biblical view of male-female relationships. He says, “ In this case it is not so much a particular term that TGC wishes to defend, as the theological stance the term seeks to summarize, because we are convinced that the theological stance to which it refers is not only biblically mandated but also for our good -- something to rejoice over rather than to rebel against. And we are unaware of any other word that encapsulates this position as well, while remaining relatively clear of distorting baggage.”

Monday, August 20, 2012

Mondays are for music: 'Across the Lands'

We sang two Stuart Townend songs yesterday in corporate worship: "How Deep the Father's Love for Us" and "In Christ Alone," the latter written with Keith Getty. The video below is of a performance by Townend and his band of another song he wrote with Getty, "Across the Lands."

Something to think about: Loving our fellow sufferers

"Those who suffer the same things from the same people for the same Person can scarcely not love one another." -- C.S. Lewis

Friday, August 17, 2012

Pat Robertson vs. the Spirit of Adoption

News broke today about more unfortunate comments -- and that is putting it extremely generously, in my opinion -- by Pat Robertson. I will let blogger, author and academician Russell Moore, theology dean at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, explain what happened. He strongly counters Robertson's unbiblical ideas and does so in a way that is both gospel-centered and theologically insightful.

Please read Moore's commentary. Then I encourage you to consider and pray about whether God wants you to adopt. If you believe He does not, I urge you to ponder what He wants you to do otherwise to help orphans and aid those who believe God wants them to adopt. I ask you to reach out to those with lives some consider not worth living -- and serve, love and care for them in your own church.

Here is the full post -- "Pat Robertson vs. the Spirit of Adoption" -- from Russell Moore's blog, which you can find here.
In a recent broadcast of The 700 Club, a woman sent in a question about a man who wouldn’t marry her because she has children who were adopted internationally. If they were her “own” biological children, he would have no problem, she said. But because they were adopted, he saw too much risk. Host Pat Robertson’s female co-host bristled and said he was acting like a “dog.” Robertson disagreed.

He said the man “didn’t want to take on a United Nations,” and that, after all, you never know about adopted children; they might have brain damage and “grow up weird.”

I am taking a deep breath here and reciting Beatitudes to myself. I had promised never to mention Robertson here again. Every few months he says some crazy scandalous thing. He blames 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina on gays and lesbians, cozies up to the Chinese coercive and murderous one-child policy, counsels a man that he can divorce his Alzheimer’s-riddled wife because she’s “not there” anymore.

Let me just say this bluntly. This is not just a statement we ought to disagree with. This is of the devil.

The last go round, Robertson “clarified” his statements on a man leaving his sick wife. Didn’t mean to say it was right, he said, just that the man’s got to have some companionship and a divorce is better than adultery. Please. Robertson’s defenders said to me in letters and calls and emails that Robertson is just not what he used to be mentally and that you ought to hold him to a lower standard. That would be true if people were tapping his phone, or going to his house and recording conversations. However, [the] man is on television, representing to millions of people what Christianity is about.

The issue here isn’t just that Robertson is, with cruel and callous language, dismissing the Christian mandate to care for the widows and orphans in their distress. The issue is that his disregard is part of a larger worldview. The prosperity and power gospel Robertson has preached fits perfectly well with the kind of counsel he’s giving in recent years. Give China a pass on their murderous policies; we’ve got business interests there. Divorce your weak wife; she can’t do anything for you anymore. Those adopted kids might have brain damage; they’re “weird.” What matters is health and wealth and power. But that’s not the gospel of Jesus Christ. For too long, we’ve let our leaders replace the cross with an Asherah pole. Enough is enough.

Jesus was, after all, one of those adopted kids. Joseph of Nazareth was faced with a pregnant woman he could easily have abandoned. He knew this child wasn’t his, and all he had to go on was her word and a dream. He could have dismissed either. But he strapped on his cross, provided for his wife, and protected her child. Indeed, he became a father to her child. God called this righteous. The child Jesus seemed to be a colossal risk. His own family and neighbors and villagers thought he’d turned out “weird” (Mark 3:20-21). Maybe he was demon-possessed, they speculated, or maybe even “brain damaged.”

The Bible tells us that Jesus is present with the weak and the vulnerable, the “least of these,” his brothers and sisters. When one looks with disgust at the prisoner, the orphan, the abandoned woman, the mentally ill, the problem isn’t just with a mass of tissue connected by neural endings. The issue there is the image of God, bearing all the dignity that comes with that. And, beyond that, the issue there is the presence of Jesus himself.

Christians are the ones who have stood against the prophets of Baal and the empire of Rome and every other satanic system to say that a person’s worth doesn’t consist in his usefulness. Christians are the ones who picked up abandoned babies, who wiped drool from the dying elderly, who joyfully received developmentally disabled children, and who recognized that our own sin has made us nothing noble or powerful. We’re all just dead and damaged and, well, “weird.” But Jesus loved us anyway.

I say to my non-Christian friends and neighbors, if you want to see the gospel of Christ, the gospel that has energized this church for two thousand years, turn off the television. The grinning cartoon characters who claim to speak for Christ don’t speak for him. Find the followers who do what Jesus did. Find the people who risk their lives to carry a beaten stranger to safety. Find the houses opened to unwed mothers and their babies in crisis. Find the men who are man enough to be a father to troubled children of multiple ethnicity and backgrounds.

And find a Sunday School class filled with children with Down Syndrome and cerebral palsy and fetal alcohol syndrome. Find a place where no one considers them “weird” or “defective,” but where they joyfully sing, “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.”

That might not have the polish of television talk-show theme music, but that’s the sound of bloody cross gospel.

Preparing for corporate worship: Stones in a house

"And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (I Peter 2:4-5). The word pictures are vivid in these verses. As believers in the One who is a "living stone," we are "living stones" being constructed into a "spiritual house." Each of us is a vital piece of a whole. The weekly gathering of this household for corporate worship demonstrates this reality. This stone-upon-stone building into one house results in a "holy priesthood." We are all priests. As a priesthood, we all "offer up spiritual sacrifices" -- sacrifices that are accepted by God because we come to Him through our High Priest, who has poured out His blood once for all time as the only satisfaction for sin. May we recognize this Sunday the basis of our worship of the one true God. May we offer Him "spiritual sacrifices" in our worship. May we recognize the bond that unites us into one spiritual house.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Something to think about: Christ's sufficiency

The concluding paragraphs below from John MacArthur's 1991 book, Our Sufficiency in Christ, seem appropriate for us to heed two decades later:
Paul wrote to the struggling church at Corinth, "All things belong to you" (I Cor. 3:21). He wanted even those fragmented believers to know that their sufficiency was in Christ. Rather than fighting among themselves, taking sides against their brethren, they needed to step back and survey the riches that were theirs in Christ. There was no reason to battle one another. There was no reason to give in to pride, sin, and false doctrine. They were equipped by Christ Himself with all they could ever need.

The church today desperately needs to embrace that message. Christians today are consumed with the trials and troubles of life. They are caught up with difficulties and sorrows and anguish. And they are desperately looking for some great new secret, some higher spiritual level, some more effective relief than they think they have in Christ. Consequently the church is fragmented and severely weakened.

There's no need for that. His grace is sufficient. He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing. We are partakers of the divine nature. Christ lives in us. We are blessed in Him with all we could ever need.

Is there sufficiency in Christ? Absolute sufficiency. The challenge for us is to know Him better, to serve Him more fervently, and to be more conformed to His image. . . .

My prayer is that you won't exchange the fountain of life from which flow rivers of living water for the broken pots being sold today -- which hold no water.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Why preach the gospel to yourself (No. 12)

'martino vs martinus' photo (c) 2007, spike - license: is another reason -- "Liberation from Self-Love" -- to preach the gospel to yourself as provided by Milton Vincent in his book A Gospel Primer for Christians.
Compared to greater endeavors, self-love is mundane and tiresome. Consequently, the more thoroughly I can be done with such tedium, the freer my soul will be to soar at its God-intended heights.

One of the leading causes of my natural tendency to self-love is fear. I fear that if I do not love myself there would be no one left to love me quite so well as I do. An even more significant cause of self-love is a lack of persuasion that there is someone out there who is worthy to be loved more than I. Arrogance lies underneath both of these causes: I love myself supremely because I am the most worthy person I know to be loved and also because I think I can do a better job at it than anyone else. Such arrogance makes me dangerous, yet it is deeply ingrained in my sinful flesh.

Thankfully, the gospel frees me from the shackles of self-love by addressing both of these causes. First, the gospel assures me that the love of God is infinitely superior to any love that I could ever give to myself. "Greater love has no one than this," says Jesus while speaking of His love. And the deeper I go into the gospel, the more I experience the truth of His claim and thereby know how far His love for me surpasses even my own. His astonishing love for me renders self-absorption moot and frees me up to move on to causes and interests far greater than myself.

Second, the gospel reveals to me the breathtaking glory and loveliness of God, and in so doing, it lures my heart away from love of self and leaves me enthralled by Him instead. The more I behold God's glory in the gospel, the more lovely He appears to me. And the more lovely He appears, the more self fades into the background like a former love interest who can no longer compete for my affections.

Preaching the gospel to myself every day reminds me of God's astounding love for me and also of His infinite worthiness to be loved by me above all else. These reminders deliver a one-two punch to my innate self-absorption and leave me increasingly absorbed with Christ and with God's ultimate plan to gather together all heavenly and earthly things in Him.
(Scriptures cited: II Tim. 3:1-2; John 15:13; Rom. 8:32; II Cor. 5:14-15; II Cor. 4:4; I Tim. 1:11; Phil. 3:7-8; Eph. 1:9-10; I Cor. 15:28.)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Living as Christians in this American hour

My last two sermons -- on I Cor. 1:18-31 and John 17 -- have addressed in part how we as Jesus' disciples should think about the great cultural divide that marks our day and how we should relate to the world that is aligned against the one true God.

A couple of recent blog posts are especially helpful, I believe, in guiding our thinking about how we should live at this hour in American history.

First, Kevin DeYoung, senior pastor of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Mich., posted at his blog for The Gospel Coalition what he called "The Three R’s of Christian Engagement in the Culture War." Here is that Aug. 3 post in its entirety:
I know, I know — you really don’t like the term “culture war.” The mission of the church is not to “reclaim” America. The growth of the church does not rely on political victories or societal approval. And we don’t want the people we are trying to reach to think we are at war with them. I understand the phrase sounds more aggressive, confrontational, and militaristic than we like.

But call it what you want — a culture war, a battle of ideas, an ideological struggle — there is no question we have deep division in America. The most obvious division right now concerns homosexuality. When Dan Cathy’s off-handed, rather ordinary comment in support of traditional marriage sends big city mayors out on their moral high horses wielding the coercive club of political power — and when the subsequent response from middle America is a record-breaking avalanche of support for Chick-fil-A — you know there is more than a skirmish afoot. I know every generation thinks they are facing unprecedented problems, but it really does feel like free speech, religious freedom, and the institution of marriage are up for grabs in our day.

Given this reality, how should Christians respond?

Let me suggest three R’s.

1. No Retreat. In the face of controversy and opposition, it’s always tempting to withdraw into friendlier confines. But working for the public good is part of loving our neighbors as ourselves. The pietistic impulse to simply focus on winning hearts and minds does not sufficiently appreciate the role of institutions and the importance of giving voice to truth in the public square. Conversely, the progressive impulse to stay quiet for fear that we’ll invalidate our witness is a misguided strategy to win over the world by letting them win. Either that or a disingenuous attempt to hide the fact they’ve already sold the ethical farm.

2. No Reversal. No matter the pressure, we must never deviate from the word of God to please the powers of the world (Rom. 12:1-2). This principle does not automatically determine the course of action in every sphere, for politics must sometimes be the art of compromise. But as far as our doctrinal commitments, our pulpit preaching, and our public values, we mustn’t give a single inch if that inch takes us away from the truth of Scripture (John 10:35). He who marries the spirit of the age becomes a widower in the next. The church is not built on theological novelty, and souls are not won by sophisticated ambiguity. Whoever is ashamed of Christ and his words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man also will be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels (Mark 8:38).

3. No Reviling. If this is a battle, then the followers of Christ must be a different kind of army. Even when our passions run high, our compassion must run deep. There is no place for triumphalism, cynicism, and settling scores. We must be happy, hopeful warriors. When reviled, we must not revile or threaten in return, but entrust ourselves to him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:23). We must not be surprised by suffering (1 Peter 4:12). We must not hate when we are hated (Matt. 5:43-44). And when we rest peacefully at night may it not be because all men think well of us or because the culture reflects our values, but because our conscience is clear (1 Peter 3:16). In the fight against powers and principalities we must never go away, never give in, and never give up on love.
In an Aug. 6 post, Desiring God's Jonathan Parnell referred to a document written a decade ago by the elders of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis regarding how Christians should live in an increasingly complex, pluralistic culture. He pointed to one of the 20 guidelines in that paper as particularly appropriate at this time:
9. We should make clear that we are Christians first and Americans second. We are aliens and exiles in the world and our deepest and truest citizenship is in heaven. Our decisive Lord and Leader is Jesus Christ, not the president of the United States. This first and deepest allegiance unites us with Christians of all nationalities more firmly than our secular citizenship unites us with other Americans. In regard to many American values and behaviors we are dissenting citizens. American culture is not Christianity. We believe it is not unpatriotic to criticize unjust and ungodly aspects of our own culture. (Philippians 3:20; 1 Peter 2:11; Matthew 22:21; Acts 5:29; 1 Timothy 6:14-15; Revelation 17:14; Ephesians 5:11)
The full post, plus a link to the document, is available here.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Mondays are for music: 'Better Now'

I'm starting to repeat myself. I debuted "Mondays are for music" in April with a song by The Vespers. Today I am bringing them back. Undoubtedly, I will return to previous musicians periodically. I don't like using music videos, preferring to use songs done in concert-type settings. I didn't let that keep me from featuring this music video of "Better Now."

By the way, The Vespers will be in concert Sept. 14 at the University of Mary Washington. There is no admission fee.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Preparing for corporate worship: Uncondemned

“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). Some facts: We were the condemned, and we deserved it by our sin. The Judge of the universe had mercy upon us. He – the Judge Himself – provided Someone to be condemned in our place. Now, those who have received this Substitute are counted righteous in Him. We will gather to worship the One who is both Holy Judge and Savior this Sunday. We will come to praise and thank the Father who judged our sin in Another, the Son who bore our judgment and the Spirit who convicted us and gave us life in spite of our condemned state. May such remembrance produce deep humility, overflowing praise, exuberant gratitude, growing trust and joyous worship when we meet.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Worshiping as a church: God centered from the start (Fourth in a series)

'St Ebbes 11:45 Service' photo (c) 2011, Jimmy and Sasha Reade - license: worship of God begins with God. He has revealed Himself to us. He has revealed how we are to worship Him. He has invited us to worship Him. So, we begin our worship as a church focused on Him.

Revelation and response form the flow of corporate worship. Others have made that observation, and I agree with it. God has revealed Himself to us in His Word. The Bible is how we know who God is, what He is like and what He has done. We respond to this revelation with worship. We praise Him for who He has revealed Himself to be. We thank Him for what He has revealed Himself to have done. We petition Him on the basis of who He has revealed Himself to be and what He has revealed Himself to have done and to still be able to do. We humble ourselves before Him in confession of sin and submission because He has revealed Himself to be far beyond us, far different than we are by nature.

As a result, a church’s Sunday gathering calls for us to be quickly confronted with this God we have come to worship. It is a blessed thing to be reminded as a body of believers in the first hours of wakefulness on the first morning of the first day of a new week there is one true God -- and He should have all our worship.

How does this aspect of corporate worship manifest itself? I believe there is no single correct way to do this. Here is typically how we do it as Covenant Community Church:

We begin with a song that acts as preparation for worship, invitation to worship and/or presentation of the God we will worship.

The worship leader follows by welcoming those who have gathered and seeking to help us focus on our purpose in coming together. He prays to the God we have come to worship, declaring His greatness and asking for His gracious work among us. Before or after the prayer, the worship leader, or the congregation, reads a passage about this unmatched God’s attributes or works that reminds all of us whom we have come to worship.

In these ways, we seek to give God His rightful place at the beginning of corporate worship. We are to be God centered from the start.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Something to think about: What conscience can and cannot do

"Conscience cannot make a wrong thing right, but it can make a right thing wrong." -- Mark Dever, senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.

Why Christians should read the Bible

Don Carson -- prolific author, divinity school professor and one of the most respected voices in evangelicalism -- provides an explanation in this Desiring God video interview for the purpose of Bible reading in a Christian's life. His 5 1/2 minutes of comments are both helpful and freeing.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

For your attention

1. The abortion/contraceptive mandate takes effect – Joe Carter of The Gospel Coalition explains the newly effective abortion/contraceptive mandate in health care by means of a Q and A. In addition, Michael Foust, associate editor of Baptist Press, explains its impact on employers in a news story here. The federal regulation, which took effect Aug. 1, is a grave violation of religious liberty. It is not just a Roman Catholic issue. It also impacts evangelical Christians and others who believe life begins at conception. The rule requires employers and health insurance plans to pay for contraceptives, including those that can act after conception to kill the human embryo.

2. A letter to stay-at-home mothers – Trevin Wax, managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, writes a letter at his blog to encourage stay-at-home moms. In it, he says, “God loves you – not because you are a good mother but just because you are His precious child. God loves you – not because you’ve mastered all the skills of parenting but because He has.” This is good stuff for mothers who may be discouraged and feel their ministry at home is both overwhelming and unappreciated.

3. Sin wants to be your friend for awhile – Tim Challies, who preached for us July 22, writes with great insight at his blog about how sin works to befriend and betray us. I link to it not to inform you about another pastor’s fall into sin but to acquaint you with Tim's take on how sin acts. His post includes a helpful explanation of the symbolism of the one ring in The Lord of the Rings.

4. Same-sex marriage will not be enough for some – Amy Hall examines at the Stand to Reason blog the comments of a lesbian journalist/activist who recently said at an Australian panel discussion, “[F]ighting for gay marriage generally involves lying about what we are going to do with marriage when we get there — because we lie that the institution of marriage is not going to change, and that is a lie. The institution of marriage is going to change, and it should change. And again, I don’t think it should exist.”

5. Do you notice God’s mercies? – Mark Altrogge, pastor of Sovereign Grace Church in Altoona, Pa., and a gifted songwriter, helps Christians understand how we can recognize God’s mercies that are new each day.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Mondays are for music: 'Come to Save Us'

All Sons and Daughters consists of David Leonard and Leslie Jordan, who began working together as worship song writers and musicians with Journey Church in Franklin, Tenn., about three years ago. They have since begun recording and touring as a duo. On this video, they sing "Come to Save Us," with Jordan on guitar, Leonard at the keyboard and a cellist joining them.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Preparing for corporate worship: Boasting in Him

The apostle Paul cites an Old Testament passage at the close of a great text on the cross of Christ, saying, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord” (I Cor. 1:31). The One who humbled Himself to become a man -- then suffered rejection, humiliation and execution – is the One exalted to the highest place. It makes no sense in an earthly kingdom. It does only in God’s kingdom. We will gather Sunday to boast in Him. We will have the opportunity to boast in Him in our praise, thanksgiving, confession of sin and intercession. We will have the opportunity to boast in Him in our reading of God’s Word, praying, singing, sharing and serving. May God be glorified, and may we be changed.

Disability and the gospel

Crossway has released a new book by Michael Beates titled Disability and the Gospel: How God Uses Our Brokenness to Display His Grace.

The less than two-minute video below is a promo for the book, but I have not posted it in order to help sales. I have posted it because of the profound message expressed both visually and verbally.

Here is a quote from Joni Eareckson Tada's foreword to the book:
When it comes to suffering, I’m convinced God has more in mind for us than to simply avoid it, give it ibuprofen, divorce it, institutionalize it, or miraculously heal it. But how do we embrace that which God gives from his left hand? I have found a person’s contentment with impairment is directly proportional to the understanding of God and his Word. If a person with a disability is disappointed with God, it can usually be traced to a thin view of the God of the Bible.
You can read all of her foreword and more info on the book at Justin Taylor's blog here.

I am thankful God has blessed our church, and continues to bless our church, with fellow worshipers who are disabled. They are a blessing through whom we have much we can learn.

(HT: Justin Taylor)