Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Sermon texts for November 2009

November 1 Luke 22:54-23:25 -- Betrayal of the King (Guest Preacher Doug Barcroft)
November 8 Luke 23:26-56 -- The wages of sin...
November 15 Luke 24:1-12 -- He is not here...
November 22 Luke 24:13-53 -- Eyes opened
November 29 Advent part 1-- God as Father

November 15 Colossians 1 -- Gnosticism
November 29 Advent part 2-- God as Father

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Responding to the fear-mongerers

While Jerram Barrs was here over the weekend, I asked him (among many other things!): How should we respond to those who are trafficking in Gospel-denying fear about political matters?

Part of his response was to point out how disrespectful talking about President Obama and others as some Christians do is-- not simply of our president,
but of other Christians who have faced real threat and persecution.

This is such a key point. This video underscores it:

[HT: Glen]

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”
~Romans 8:15, emphasis added

Friday, October 23, 2009

Spiritual Life Conference

The Hickory Withe Presbyterian Church Spiritual Life Conference starts this evening. Our theme for the conference is: Ask, Seek, Knock-- Learning to Pray.

If you're in the area-- or even remotely close-- you might
seriously consider changing your plans to come be a part of this. Prof. Jerram Barrs will be our speaker, and events will include multiple lectures, a Q&A luncheon, a prayer service, and worship together Sunday morning.

Online registration is closed, but you can still come and register when you get here-- it's only $15! This will be too good to miss; get here if you can!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Join the team

I've been discussing church membership a lot lately.

The other day, I was interacting with someone about the importance of membership, and they offered the following argument:

"Joining a church doesn't make someone a Christian, any more than attending a football game makes you a sports fan."

Granted. But there's more that is telling about this analogy than just whether joining a church makes you a Christian.

You see, most Christians today assume that joining a church is akin to
attending a football game. This is the big flaw in the conventional wisdom. Joining a church is more than merely attending a football game; it is even more than buying season tickets.

We're not just observers. We aren't "doing church" just so that we can watch. The degree to which we are called to participate in the life of the church is not simply to "cheer on" the professional Christians that we've hired to run plays.

If you want to use a football game analogy to describe joining the church, here you go:
You, my fellow Christian-- you, who are called by Christ to put off your old identity and take up the identity you are adopted into in Him--
YOU are a Left Tackle. Or a Strong Safety. Or a Fullback.

You get the picture? Maybe you've been a Left Tackle all your life. Perhaps you are the most promising Strong Safety in this year's class. It could be that you are the most well-developed Fullback this side of the Mississippi. But without a team to play on, you have only so much to offer. Without the other 10 guys on the field with you, your skills and talents-- even your crowd-wowing abilities-- are fairly useless.

So join the team. There's room on the depth chart for you.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A new take on David and Goliath

A bohemian interpretation... surprisingly faithful to the spirit of the text.

(HT: Glen)

Monday, October 12, 2009

John Piper has it backward

"Worship is first an identity before it's ever an activity."
~Paul David Tripp

Not quite 15 years ago, I began hearing a buzz about this Baptist pastor from Minnesota who had begun to change the way that some people were thinking about the Christian life. In fact, he was challenging the way that people thought about the first question of the
Westminster Shorter Catechism! (This was WAY before the "young, restless, Reformed" movement-- so imagine my surprise that a Baptist pastor was even AWARE of the Westminster Shorter Catechism.)

Of course, this pastor was John Piper, and he, through his writings, lectures, sermons, and other platforms, has continued to be formative in the lives of many believers-- Baptist, Presbyterian, and other identities altogether. That book that I was introduced to in the mid-90s,
Desiring God, remains one of his most popular titles and, in fact, lent its name to the ministry that spun out of his Baptist congregation and serves as the launch-pad for so many of his ministries outside of Bethlehem Baptist Church.

These days, Desiring God Ministries is huge, and Dr. Piper has become almost a celebrity in some circles. He, along with literally just a few others, have spurred a movement of the introduction of Calvinism to the hearts and minds of believers. I've known people who are convinced that Dr. Piper is the pre-eminent leader of our generation, and others who can quote from his books as others quote from the Bible. A friend of mine coined the term "Piper-Calvinist": someone who isn't exactly "Reformed" but is familiar with Dr. Piper's brand of Calvinism and embraces it. Doubtless, John Piper is a brilliant man, and an influential thinker.

But I think, on at least one substantial point, he is wrong. Or rather, backward.

Q: What is the chief end of man?
A: Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
~Westminster Shorter Catechism, question #1

I was given a copy of
Desiring God, and I read it (and even read through it and discussed it with a good friend). The fundamental principle that drives the book-- and subsequently, so much of Dr. Piper's ministry-- is his idea of "Christian Hedonism", which he spins out of his adaptation of the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Dr. Piper's adaptation goes like this:

Answer: Man's chief end is to glorify God
by enjoying Him forever.

In other words, we seek our pleasures in God, and that is the most glorifying thing that we can do. When we find our delight in God, we are, in fact, glorifying Him.

Now, I'm not convinced that this is
wrong. I think Dr. Piper has some fair points in his angle on this (though I think that, in several places, he takes it too far in the book). I believe that the basic principle is right, and even probably biblical: it IS glorifying to God to delight in Him.

But I don't think that is what the Westminster Divines (the guys who wrote the
Westminster Shorter Catechism) meant. In fact, I think they would probably be fairly appalled at that interpretation of Question #1. And while I believe it to be a biblical assertion as one end, I don't think we find that in Scripture as man's chief end.

[An aside: To be frank, I think that the Westminster Divines would be fairly appalled, in general, at how we have venerated the
Westminster Standards (the Confession of Faith and Larger and Shorter Catechisms). I'm simply not convinced that they intended for that work to become a standard that some would elevate (almost) to the level of Scripture in its authority.]

This is where I think he has it backward: Dr. Piper asserts that the first part of man's chief end is dependent on the second. Thus:


I won't elaborate; if you're quite interested in how he comes to that conclusion, he develops the idea pretty thoroughly in Desiring God. As I said above, I don't think the idea of glorifying God by enjoying/delighting in Him is wrong; I just don't think it is man's chief end.

As I read Scripture, however, I see that man's chief end is precisely the inverse of Dr. Piper's assertion: the second part of man's chief end is wholly dependent on the first. Thus:


All of the Bible compels me to believe that we were made to be worshipers-- and that God intended us to find our ultimate fulfillment in the worship of Him. To "glorify God" according to Scripture is inherently tied to worship. And we cannot be truly worshiping God if we are first of all seeking our own pleasure and delight.

Instead, our identity must fundamentally become all about the worship of God. As Paul David Tripp says (see the opening quote), "worship is first an identity before it is ever an activity." When this becomes our
identity, then the consequence is that we enjoy God forever through the satisfaction of fulfilling our own identity!

This is, by our contemporary way of thinking, a convoluted manner of understanding our enjoyment of God. In part, this is because we are such individualists that we default to a "me-first" attitude-- and the notion of putting God first in our chief end is incongruent. Also in part, this is because we secretly suspect that God is not interested in what gives us enjoyment-- we believe His law to be oppressive, not freeing.

But it is largely difficult for us because it is "upside-down" to our normal way of thinking. But this is the way of the Gospel-- everything is upside-down.

The cross tells you everything you have heard in the world is wrong. Because the cross says the way up is down, the way to get real power is to give your power away, the way to get real riches is to give away your money radically and generously, the way to get tremendous self-esteem, assurance of your beauty, is to admit that you are such a terrible lost sinner that somebody had to come from heaven and die for you.
~Timothy Keller

To be perfectly fair, I believe that Dr. Piper would largely agree with much of what I've just said (though not entirely). But the way that many of his "disciples" apply his notion of "Christian Hedonism" is far afield from this way of thinking. Therfore, it may have been more accurate to label this "John Piper's disciples have it backward-- but then that wouldn't have gotten your attention as easily!

Friday, October 9, 2009

A communion hymn

We'll be singing this hymn during the sacrament of Communion on the last Sunday of this month; until then, we'll be learning it on Wednesday nights.

If you aren't familiar with this one, here are the lyrics and a video of it being sung. (HT:
Adam) It is called "Behold the Lamb" and is written by Keith and Kristyn Getty and Stuart Townend.

Behold the Lamb who bears our sins away,
Slain for us – and we remember
The promise made that all who come in faith
Find forgiveness at the cross.
So we share in this bread of life,
And we drink of His sacrifice
As a sign of our bonds of peace
Around the table of the King.

The body of our Saviour Jesus Christ,
Torn for you – eat and remember
The wounds that heal, the death that brings us life
Paid the price to make us one.
So we share in this bread of life,
And we drink of His sacrifice
As a sign of our bonds of love
Around the table of the King.

The blood that cleanses every stain of sin,
Shed for you – drink and remember
He drained death’s cup that all may enter in
To receive the life of God.
So we share in this bread of life,
And we drink of His sacrifice
As a sign of our bonds of grace
Around the table of the King.

And so with thankfulness and faith we rise
To respond, – and to remember
Our call to follow in the steps of Christ
As His body here on earth.
As we share in His suffering
We proclaim Christ will come again!
And we’ll join in the feast of heaven
Around the table of the King

Thursday, October 1, 2009

UnPresbyterian Dissent

What's going on in Florida right now is a perfect illustration of how little "presbyterian" we often are in the PCA.

Dr. D. James Kennedy was the founding pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, and was one of the most well-known names in the PCA (and elsewhere), and when he died just over two years ago, it was a loss for both the PCA and the Kingdom. Dr. Kennedy was a strong leader, and was well-known for Evangelism Explosion (an evangelism program that he developed), his outspoken participation in political debates, his media ministries, and starting Knox Seminary in Florida.

In the spring of this year, the news got out that Coral Ridge PCA was ready to call a new pastor: Tullian Tchividjian, who was at that time pastoring another church in the area. Though young at 37, Pastor Tchividjian has written several books (with another on the way), and had already begun to make quite a name for himself as pastor of New City Presbyterian Church. He also had the distinction of being the grandson of Rev. Billy Graham. New City didn't want him to go, but Coral Ridge had set their hearts on him; they finally agreed to merge the two churches so that he could do both! Everyone was excited.

That is, until some of the people at Coral Ridge realized that Pastor Tchividjian is not Dr. Kennedy. They were unhappy with his decision not to wear a robe when he preached. They weren't happy with the fact that he felt that Evangelism Explosion, while having its place, was not as effective a method as it once was; most people, he said, are still a few steps away from those questions. They also were displeased with the fact that he refused to offer strong political messages from the pulpit as Dr. Kennedy had frequently done. Once they realized these things, some were unhappy. Did they voice their concerns to their Session? Did they contact their new pastor and speak to him directly about their concerns? No-- they did none of these things.

Instead, a few-- six, to be exact-- began to circulate a letter to the congregation against the wishes of the church's leadership. In that letter, this handful of members from the 2000+ member congregation stated their case against Pastor Tchividjian, and circulated a petition calling for a congregational meeting to remove him as pastor. Eventually, they accumulated several hundred signatures (more than the 100 required by the Book of Church Order), and a congregational meeting was called. (Those six also were disciplined for their sinful stirring up of dissent, instead of handling their complaints in a biblical manner.)

The meeting that these dissenters had longed for came, and to their surprise the vote went the other way: 422 voted WITH the dissenters to remove Tchividjian as pastor; 940 voted AGAINST that action, and instead voiced their desire to see him remain as their pastor. Incidentally, 100% of the church's officers voted with the majority to keep Tchividjian as Pastor.

How did these dissenters respond? They had taken full advantage of presbyterian polity to force a meeting and vote, hoping to get their way. Would they behave like true presbyterians, and accept the decision of the majority without further complaint?

No-- in fact, they revealed that they are not very presbyterian after all. They left immediately, and
the following weekend held services for a new church-- with 400+ people in attendance, 501(c)(3) status already applied for, and talks of property hunts already underway. One of the leaders of the group said, "what happens next depends on what denomination contacts us."

I grieve this sort of unbiblical dissent, but as much as that I also grieve this sort of easy abandonment of presbyterianism. Whatever this group becomes, I hope they can recognize that they aren't presbyterian in any functional way-- because presbyterianism is fundamentally based on the idea that I'm as likely as not to be mistaken or even sinful in my decision-making alone, and that the larger body usually has greater wisdom and discernment than I do individually.