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A Shot of Encouragement

Quite a Tongue

The kind of preacher to aspire to be, as Augustine confessed to the Lord about Ambrose:

“His gifted tongue never tired of dispensing the richness of your corn, the joy of your oil, and the sober intoxication of your wine.”

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Because Others Refused

The reason we confess our sins as part of our church’s worship on Sunday mornings is because of unconfessed sin. I don’t mean that we are trying to provide an opportunity for those who failed to make things right with the Lord in the previous six days, though it does do that. I mean that we wouldn’t even be in this position as a church had not sin been defended and its ugliness demonstrated.

Many years ago I was personally, and then pastorally, struck by the fact that confession of sin by believers was mostly talked about as something Martin Luther did when he was trying to be a good monk, wearing out his priest in confession for hours at a time. Most of the churches I had been a part of only encouraged confession of sin for Christians during A.C.T.S. (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication) in corporate prayer meetings, and even then for a short period of silent prayer. I started to wonder why confession of sin, to God and to others, had become so little practiced. Around that time I read Augustine’s Confessions and made resolutions to repent, more specifically and more quickly, and urge others to do the same.

The existence of our church, not just our liturgy, came about because others refused to acknowledge their sin, blamed people around them, and used their authority to punish those who were confronting the sin. It wasn’t difference of opinion or preference. Failure to take responsibility for our sin causes pain and it can cause, and has caused, division in relationships, in families, and in churches. In our case, forming a new church allowed for additional study about church services, and a time for confessing sin seemed relevant for our liturgy and circumstances.

By God’s grace we benefit from the weekly reminder to confess our sins because others refused to. Only God can bring blessing out of sin, and He also blesses those who confess and forsake their sin.

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

288 Ways to Judgment

In The City of God Augustine took time to interact with another philosopher who calculated that there were 288 different ways to get meaningful, personal peace. As it turned out, some of those paths could be considered the same, but whatever the exact number is, men have a variety of options to choose from.

Many people are pursuing many different paths today and, while Christians usually say that all paths don’t lead to the same place, what if we turned that around. I heard another pastor say years ago that all paths do lead to the same place. All paths lead to God; they lead to the judgment of God.

This is not the same thing as Universalism because there is only one way to get through judgment to peace. Only those who believe in God’s Son, Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who bore judgment for those who believe, will have peace with God. All the other paths get to Him but men will receive from the Judge the punishment of eternal death.

Our weekly celebration of communion reminds us not only of the way to God, but of the way to fellowship with the Father. Judgment had to happen because of our sin, and we rejoice that we’re spared from judgment in the Savior. “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” and “access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:1-2).

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

It’s a Lie

I’ve heard it said that our talk talks and our walk talks but our walk talks a whole lot louder than our talk talks. In other words, we’re known not just by what we say but by what we do. “Even a child makes himself known by his acts” (Proverbs 20:11).

Since we speak, then, with both our lips and our lives, and since it’s true that we lie with our lips, then we should also consider that we can lie with our lives. We may not use untrue words, but we may be constantly communicating untruth in our ways. The easiest and worst lie of our lives—worst because it should be the least neglected—is to live as if we do not need God.

The human race wants to “be like God,” but in a way that we replace Him. That is not only difficult, it’s a miserable lie. It’s miserable because it’s pathetic; does the pot really think it can replace its Potter? And it’s miserable for all who do believe it because of the constant head-banging. Trying to replace God is contrary to the inescapable reality that we were made to reflect Him and depend on Him. The truth is that our identity is tied to Him.

Augustine wrote in The City of God:

That is a lie which we do in order that it may be well with us but which makes us more miserable than we are.

Unless we believe, unless we worship, unless we call on the name of the Lord, we cannot be truly blessed because we will be disconnected from the only one who gives true blessing. May we do truth by coming “to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that our works have been carried out in God” (John 3:21).

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Every Thumb's Width

Portrait of a World-Changer

Sandro Botticelli’s first major fresco commissioned in 1480: Saint Augustine

Augustine of Hippo may be the most important man in church history. German historian, Adolf Harnack, called him the greatest man “between Paul the apostle and Luther the Reformer, the Christian church has possessed” (quoted in Piper, The Legacy of Sovereign Joy, 24). Of course, Martin Luther was an Augustinian monk for many years, and my personal hero, John Calvin, quoted Augustine no less than 342 times in the fifth and final edition of his Institutes of the Christian Religion. B.B. Warfield summarized Augustine’s impact as follows:

His direct work as a reformer of Church life was done in a corner, and its results were immediately swept away by the flood of the Vandal invasion…[but] it was through his voluminous writings, by which his wider influence was excited, that he entered both the church and the world as a revolutionary force, and not merely created an epoch in the history of the Church, but has determined the course of its history in the West up to the present day. (quoted in Piper, 24-25)

We owe much of our thinking and theology to Augustine, in particular, “our developed anthropology and soteriology, [and] our understanding of the Bible’s teaching on the relations between human sin and divine grace” (Nick Needham, “Augustine of Hippo: The Relevance of His Life and Thought Today”, SBJT 12/2 SUMMER 2008, 39). We stand downstream in the torrent of his teaching on original sin and the sovereignty of God.

There are a few reasons, however, that understanding his life and thought is difficult for us. First, Augustine lived from AD 354-430, so we are removed almost 1600 years from his culture, language, and experience.

Not only is the time gap difficult to jump, but also the mountain of his writings makes for a grueling climb. Few can claim to have read everything written by him, and none can claim to have read everything written about him. There are more than five million words in his recorded works (especially remarkable considering he had no electricity, let alone a computer). There are almost 600 words in this post, so it would take over 8,333 posts pasted together to reach five million words. Benedict Groeschel, a Catholic historian, wrote an introduction to Augustine’s life and said,

I felt like a man beginning to write a guidebook of the Swiss Alps….After forty years I can still meditate on one book of the Confessions…during a week-long retreat and come back feeling frustrated that there is still so much more gold to mind in those few pages. I, for one, know that I shall never in this life escape from the Augustinian Alps. (quoted in Piper, 45).

The other difficulty is that, among those five million words, we find numerous contradictions, including some teachings that we would say are clearly unbiblical. I hate, for example, Augustine’s allegorical interpretation of numerous Old Testament passages (his approach to Genesis narrative is atrocious). Worse than his hermeneutic, Augustine seems to have attributed special, or sadly, even saving power to baptism. We do not agree with him here at all.

But for all that, I am convinced, now more than ever, that we need Augustine for our souls and for our churches, which in turn would change our world. I’ll explain why I think he’s so helpful and try to make my case as we follow two lines of thought in the following posts: the chronology of his life and the confessions of his life.


A free PDF download of this book is available here. The book also includes chapters on Luther and Calvin. It is currently #8 on my list of books that influenced me the most. The original manuscript and audio of Piper’s biography on Augustine is available here.

Categories
Rightly Dividing

Eyes to See

We learn much about seven churches’ problems in Revelation 2-3. Five of the seven addresses include the command to repent, by the way: Ephesus for lost love, Pergamum for failing to confront false teachers, Thyratira for allowing sin in the church, and Sardis for sleeping. But the last church addressed, the lukewarm Laodiceans, may be the closest parallel to us. Their presumed spiritual prosperity was really poverty, and Jesus implored them to be zealous and repent.

How can we fix our broken hearts, our broken churches, and our broken culture? Is it possible for our souls to be spiritually rich and righteous? Is it possible for our churches to be spiritually hot and bright lights in our culture? The answer is a resounding Yes! And what we need is repentance.

Things are not good, yet we are indifferent, and worse, ignorant of our indifference. We often fail to see sin for what it really is. Sin deceives us, offering us substitute, short-term joy of second-rate quality. Our churches suffer as a result. As our personal interests are worldly, so are our corporate programs. As our souls are apathetic, our local bodies grow perilously anemic.

We need a change. We need repentance. We need Augustine. Similar to today, “The congregations who heard Augustine preach were not exceptionally sinful. Rather, they were firmly rooted in long-established attitudes, in ways of life and ideas, to which Christianity was peripheral” (Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo, 247). He “preached to men who thought they knew what the Christian life consisted of” (ibid., 244).

Maybe more than anyone else in church history, Augustine of Hippo wrestled with blinding, joy-stealing sin. He was afraid to let loose of his lusts for fear that he would lose joy.

But in his Confessions, Augustine described God’s sovereign reproof and loving discipline that lead him to repentance. We will consider his life and his teaching, throughout this continuing series, as someone outside our century, who may give us perspective and remedy for the problems in our own day. By God’s grace, we may have our eyes opened. Or, as John wrote in Revelation 3:22,

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Categories
Enjoying the Process

In Praise of a Quite Gratuitous Ornament

In my preparatory reading for our upcoming snow retreat, I came across this celebration of beards by Augustine in The City of God.

There are some things, too, which have such a place in the body, that they obviously serve no useful purpose, but are solely for beauty, as e.g….the beard on [a man’s] face; for that this is for ornament, and not for protection, is proved by the bare faces of women, who ought rather, as the weaker sex, to enjoy such a defense. (XXII, 24)

One of Augustine’s biographers, Peter Brown, summarized the same section as follows:

Think of the intimate wonders of the human body, even, the quite gratuitous ornament of a male beard! (Augustine of Hippo, p. 329)

Many of my favorite people have, or have had, beards, such as my dad, the former intern, and one of the hairiest men I know. What’s more alarming than any of the linked images, is that this is not the first post I’ve written about beards.

Categories
Every Thumb's Width

Too Late for Me

Some interesting discussion going on at TeamPyro over the video below. I’m guessing most people younger than me probably don’t know that the original song was, “Momas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow up to be Cowboys” made popular by by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson.

Is the video funny or sad? My response is a pastor answer, “Yes.”

Also, thanks to a friend of mine, I found out Phil was on the Way of the Master Radio show last Thursday. You can listen to Hour one and Hour two. Of special interest to some of my readers will be Phil’s explanation of the correct pronunciation of Augustine.

Categories
Every Thumb's Width

Repentance-Seeing Sin for What It Is

We have been tasked to change the world.

As men and women made in the image of God, we’ve been tasked to take dominion on the earth. As Christian men and women, being formed into the image of Christ, we’ve been tasked to make disciples of all nations. These are no small opportunities or responsibilities; both dominion-taking and disciple-making involve changing the world.

Rightly so, Christians are often on the front lines of these cultural and spiritual campaigns, making plans and throwing resources like time and energy and money to reach their communities as well as foreign countries. No effort is held back, no expense spared to reach people for Christ and change the world.

But for all the attention and energy we give, for all the flash web sites we’ve made and contextualized clothing we wear and language we’ve embraced, for all the slick marketing brochures we pass out and “Christian” rock music we produce and play, for all the “relevant” and timely sermon series and Christian celebrity appearances, for all the cool Christian t-shirts, for all the gentle conversations we engage in, for all the evangelism programs and English translations and focused study Bibles/Biblezines, for all the WWJD and Livestrong bracelets, for all the Christian Facebook groups, it really doesn’t seem like we are changing the world at all. In fact, if anything, it seems like the world is changing us, conforming us into its image. We are far from being accused of “turning the world upside down” like the early church (cf. Acts 17:1-9, especially verse 6).

That’s what I want. I want to be a part of making disciples of all nations, starting right here, and turning the whole world upside down. So how do we do that?

The answer is simpler than we might think. It doesn’t require any money. It has nothing to do with web sites or worship styles. It doesn’t depend on knowing the culture, or being culturally relevant.

Becoming and being a disciple, as well as working to make disciples, starts with one thing. If we want to change the world, to turn it upside down, we’ve got to start at the beginning, with REPENTANCE.

Repentance is a change of mind, a turning about and away from sin. It is a recognition and lamentation and confession of unrighteousness, that results in new affection for, and a new direction toward, righteousness. Repentance is where new life starts. Repentance is where disciple-making begins.

Remember, Christ didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:29-32)

Religious people are often some of the most arrogant people. They have an inflated view of themselves and they look down on others. Religious people sometimes give the impression that God should be happy to have them on His team, like He needs their innovations and influence. Instead, what He needs first is their repentance.

Today’s feel-good-about-yourself philosophy keeps us from Christ and salvation and spiritual health. We need to see how sick in sin we are, not how super we are.

I believe one of the primary reasons we as Christians are so worldly in our living and so ineffective in our mission is because we have forgotten about personal repentance and about proclaiming repentance.

When was the last time you gave lip to your mom, or lied to a friend, or lusted in your heart, or wasted your time, and then confessed your sin, asked forgiveness for your sin, and turned away in repentance from your sin? When was the last time you told a friend that the reason for their joylessness, may be because of their failure to repent?

In order to start at the beginning, this year’s Snow Retreat will focus on REPENTANCE: Seeing Sin for What It Is.

And to help us do that, we’re going to also consider one of the oldest and most influential figures in church history since the New Testament, a man on whose shoulders Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, and Charles Spurgeon all stood: St. Augustine.

Through Augustine’s pastoral work of preaching and writing and defending the faith and caring for his sheep, he changed not only his community and his era, in many ways he changed Western Civilization. He is a man through whom God was pleased to change the world. And I intend to make the case at the 09SR, that it was Augustine’s confessions, his seeing sin for what it is and repenting, that was the beginning of both his personal affections for God and his usefulness on God’s behalf.

Augustine turned the world upside down by turning away from sin. So can we.