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Lord's Day Liturgy

This Is Your Vote

There must be a way for an ostrich not only to not bury her head in the sand but even to enjoy the ocean. Ostriches apparently don’t hang out at the ocean, but since they are always burying their head in the sand, work with me for sake of the illustration. Think of how much she’d miss if she buried her head every time a wave came to shore. That’s what waves do. Sometimes you need to move your stuff so it doesn’t get soaked. Most of the time, once you have a little experience under your beach towel, you realize that you don’t need to freak out. You can enjoy enjoy the swells.

Like an ostrich I suppose, part of me would prefer to talk about other things, because there are other things. Yet also I don’t want to ignore this day (as in, bury my head in the sand), because this is the day the Lord has given.

Life is more than politics, and it is wearisome to be told every four years that “this is THE MOST IMPORTANT ELECTION OF OUR LIFETIMES! But for real this time! I mean it!”

Let me confess to you my default sin, as I can see it, when political seasons rush toward the shore, and then exhort you to confess your sins, whatever they may be.

My go-to sin is self-righteousness, followed closely by lazy hope.

Christians are the ones who have a standard by which to criticize, and you’d think criticism was a spiritual gift based on how clever we present our criticisms to be. Unbelievers criticize, but they have to borrow values from somewhere. Yet the same standards that Christians apply toward candidates (and legislative issues) in an election season also tell us how to behave, as in, don’t fear, and don’t judge your brothers. Don’t snuggle into your blanket throwing snark from the bleachers against how everyone on the field is doing it WRONG.

Perhaps you’ve seen the political post by John Piper last week, or any number of the responses to his post. I am very thankful to God for His use of Piper in my life, especially for sake of my affections as a disciple of Christ. And I’m not judging his convictions, but his argument is worth examining.

He is baffled at Christians who claim you can never vote for a Democrat with sin like Biden, and admonishes those Christians for supporting/promoting, or at the least ignoring, a Republican with sin like Trump. Piper points out that arrogance kills people, even if it looks different than how abortion kills people.

And yes, Nebuchadnezzar took credit for his kingdom and God judged him for it. I could vote for Trump, and if the day after his second inauguration, let’s say, God punished the President with a few years in the wilderness growing long fingernails and eating grass like a beast, I could also acknowledge that judgment as just.

But urging people not to vote for those who applaud abortion and applaud same sex marriage and applaud gender transitions for eight year-olds, all positions typically within the Democratic party, does not mean supporting all the Republican behaviors.

Piper concludes that he won’t vote for either Biden or Trump. That’s fine. But then, in a word to pastors, he asks the following:

“Have you been cultivating real Christians who see the beauty and the worth of the Son of God? Have you faithfully unfolded and heralded “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8)? Are you raising up generations of those who say with Paul, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8)?

“Have you shown them that they are “sojourners and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11), and that their “citizenship is in heaven,” from which they “await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20)? Do they feel in their bones that “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21)?

“Or have you neglected these greatest of all realities and repeatedly diverted their attention onto the strategies of politics? Have you inadvertently created the mindset that the greatest issue in life is saving America and its earthly benefits? Or have you shown your people that the greatest issue is exalting Christ with or without America? Have you shown them that the people who do the most good for the greatest number for the longest time (including America!) are people who have the aroma of another world with another King?

I highlight these paragraphs not only because they stood out to me, but because others have also called them “the most important section.” And while they are, in many ways, good questions, they also promote a binary assumption. Piper doesn’t like being pushed to choose between either Biden or Trump. But I don’t like being pushed to choose between caring about spiritual things or voting for the good of my family, my neighbor, and nation. Piper doesn’t like two-party assumptions, I don’t like dualism. Isn’t it possible to cultivate “real Christians who see the beauty and the worth of the Son of God,” Christians “who have the aroma of another world with another King,” who then are the very disciples who honor Christ in this world and through their stewardship of political opportunity, rather than burying their heads in (supposed heavenly) sand?

You not only get to vote for governor and president (and more), but you get to vote, so to speak, for who you want to be. Discernment is good, and yet it can be used as a cover for all sorts of smug attitudes and lazy-righteousness. Wisdom is a skill for living, not a skill just for lazily laughing at the lazy. This is your life. Don’t you want to be known for more than how quickly you can see the problem with everything?

I would like to default to doing hopefully rather than to deriding. This is my life. I want to try to be wise and do something and be joyful and trust God and love my brothers at the same time. This is my “vote.” It’s easier to appear clever with critical words rather than hopeful ones. I want to vote for being hopeful.

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, all those who practice it have good understanding” (Psalm 111:10). Let’s be those who practice it.

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Every Thumb's Width

The Disciples Missionaries Made

A disciple-maker should know where he’s going. If he does, then he probably knows his end depends on starting in the right spot. He also won’t be surprised when he arrives at his goal.

John Piper wrote a concentrated post on missions two weeks ago pointing to the January/February cover story in Christianity Today, “The Surprising Discovery About Those Colonialist, Proselytizing Missionaries”. The CT article describes the findings of sociologist Robert Woodberry who spent a decade researching “the effect of missionaries on the health of the nations.” Piper quotes Woodberry:

Areas where Protestant missionaries had a significant presence in the past are on average more economically developed today, with comparatively better health, lower infant mortality, lower corruption, greater literacy, higher educational attainment (especially for women), and more robust membership in nongovernmental associations.

When men “convert from false religions to faith in Jesus Christ” things start to change not only for them as individuals, but also in their community. That’s why a map showing First World, Second World, and Third World countries relates directly to the presence of the gospel in those places. Most of the First World knows, or at least once knew, gospel roots.

Woodberry observed, and Piper presses, that cultural change surprised the missionaries. Woodberry says, “Colonial reforms (came) through the back door” and “all these positive outcomes were somewhat unintended.” Piper concludes,

The implication is that the way to achieve the greatest social and cultural transformation is not to focus on social and cultural transformation, but on the “conversion” of individuals from false religions to faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and the hope of eternal life.

In other words, “Tree first, then fruit.”

But saying that we should “focus on…conversion” is similar to saying that farmers should “focus on planting.” Trees grow from seeds and seeds must first be sown. Sowing, however, is only the start. Farmers must also water, weed, fertilize, and cultivate the tree to health and strength. They expect and work for more than a successful plant. When buds turn into branches and branches bear fruit all across the field farmers don’t say “these positive outcomes were somewhat unintended.”

It is true that we won’t “achieve the greatest social and cultural transformation” without conversions but, brothers, we are not conversionists. Christ commissioned us to make disciples, not converts. Discipleship starts with conversion but it ends with “teaching them to observe all that [Christ] commanded.” We labor to present every man complete in Christ and that includes teaching them to think like Christ, to talk like Christ, to act like Christ. That kind of stuff gets out.

Why would we seek, and even expect, conversions by God’s sovereign grace but not also expect an entire culture to change as grace grows whole groups of men in their obedience to Christ? Why would we call men to repent and believe, then move on to other fields? Evangelism is only the opening stage of discipleship. What is surprising about believers obeying in obvious and coordinated ways? We don’t say that our arrival at the supermarket was unintended because we had to get out of the driveway first.

“The fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:11) only grows from new creations of the Spirit, but the fruit of transformation affects votes, vocation, parenting, medicine, schooling, economics, government, and every other lawful cultural activity on earth. If Christ cares about it, then image bearers can and should, too. If we’re supposed to make disciples of all men, but not all men are supposed to be teachers, then disciple-makers are responsible for knowing how to disciple Christians of every calling. That means we will need a plan for the many at some point down the road since, where two or three sheep are gathered together, they will need to learn how to get buy or sell car insurance from each other.

So, “missionaries that will do the most good for eternity and for time–for eternal salvation and temporal transformation–are the missionaries who focus on converting the nations to faith in Christ. And then on that basis and from that root teach them to bear fruit of all that Jesus commanded us.” But many missionaries and pastors want proselytes and then have nothing else for the proselytes to do except read their Bibles and make more proselytes while they wait for heaven. That’s why talking about our aim as making disciples helps us approach our work better than making converts. When we remember that conversion is the start, not the end, we won’t be surprised that God takes whole cultures to better places.

Categories
A Shot of Encouragement

Desperation and Deliverance

I think about “the rhythm of desperation and deliverance” all the time.

A pastor who feels competent in himself to produce eternal fruit—which is the only kind that matters—knows neither God nor himself. A pastor who does not know the rhythm of desperation and deliverance must have his sights set only on what man can achieve.

—John Piper, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, 54

Categories
Bring Them Up

Fathers Who Give Hope

I listen to this sermon from John Piper regularly: Fathers Who Give Hope. The message comes from Colossians 3:12-21, especially verse 21:

Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. (ESV)

His outline is:

  1. The Address – “Fathers”
  2. The Command – “Do not provoke your children”
  3. The Purpose – “lest they become discouraged”

Paul requires Christians to rear children who are not discouraged. Initially, that requires rearing children away from hope in money, health, a spouse, or self (all of which will disappoint), and instead toward hope in God.

Fathers bear the unique burden of giving hope to their kids, though not independent of their wives. We ought to lead our sons and daughters in such a way that they would see the heavenly Father through our dim reflection.

Perhaps the most daunting, and encouraging, counsel is that what we are as fathers is what our children will become. Giving hope is not a program, it is primarily about living and growing as hope-filled Christians.

That is the first thing that fathers can do to provoke their children to long-term discouragement and hopelessness—they can fail to BE hopeful, happy, and confident in God.

Categories
Rightly Dividing

How Important Is the Bible?

In this 18 minute video, John Piper asks and answers five questions about the importance of the Bible.

  1. What would happen if it did not exist?
  2. What would you give to have it or keep it?
  3. What does it make possible?
  4. How does it weather critics and detractors?
  5. How much effort should be given to spread it and preserve it?

He also references the ESV and why our loving of God and others depends on our thinking (about Bible truth).

via Justin Taylor

Categories
A Shot of Encouragement

Omnivorous Attentiveness

[C. S. Lewis had] omnivorous attentiveness.

—Alan Jacobs on C. S. Lewis in The Narnian, quoted by Piper in Lessons from an Inconsolable Soul
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A Shot of Encouragement

In Honor of Tethered Preaching

Good article here:

The Bible-oriented preacher wants the congregation to know that his words, if they have any abiding worth, are in accord with God’s words. He wants this to be obvious to them. That is part of his humility and his authority. Therefore, he constantly tries to show the people that his ideas are coming from the Bible. He is hesitant to go too far toward points that are not demonstrable from the Bible.

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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
Enjoying the Process

The Laying on of Hands

Lord willing, I will be ordained this Sunday night. I am humbled and excited by the implications of this occasion.

Different churches (and denominations) obviously take different approaches to ordination. The typical approach in our tiny corner of evangelicalism includes a rigorous series of tests, in which a panel grills a man over his biblical, theological, and pastoral understanding. The process may also involve the candidate preaching an abbreviated sermon to the board of elders, and then answering any questions the board might have for him.

To me, that program seems to duplicate seminary. I agree that a pastor should know his Book and be apt to teach it. He should be able to rightly divide the Word and always ready to preach it. He should stand on solid biblical and theological convictions when evangelizing his neighbors and when equipping the saints. But the ministry is more than academic, and a man’s calling to ministry cannot be confirmed by looking at his transcripts. In my case, I already took tests and wrote papers and passed classes proving that I could regurgitate the information.

Regarding the biblical requirements for elders, Doug Wilson recently wrote:

One of the easiest things in the world for the Church to do is to drift into another set of requirements entirely, never quite noticing that we have replaced what the Bible requires with what we require. Nothing against Hebrew, Greek, or thorough knowledge of the patristics. Good to have, great to have, yay for having them.

I am all about Greek (and working on my Hebrew). John Piper emphasized the need for pastors to know the biblical languages in his biographical message on Martin Luther, in which he concluded that the mother of the Reformation was Greek. I take that to mean Greek is important for the gospel and the church.

I love learning and talking about theology. Doug Wilson also wrote a fantastic post on the requirement of doctrinal integrity for elders, in which he urged elders not only to study doctrines afresh (cf. Acts 17:11), but also to work through those issues with their fellow church leaders.

But wolves can enjoy those same things and use them to exploit the sheep, not care for them.

Ordination is not an academic issue primarily, nor is it merely a program. A great danger of the interview approach, it seems to me, is that a man may pass the “test” without demonstrating any spiritual giftedness. But the call to ministry cannot be determined by a panel or paperwork; it is personal.

In the Pastoral Epistles, the qualifications for pastors/elders/overseers are primarily concerned with persons, their desire for the work, their character, their families, their conduct, and their reputation. To know these things, men must be observed and known, and then affirmed. The objective requirements are affirmed subjectively by other godly and gifted men. The “gift,” affirmed during an ordination (1 Timothy 4:14), is observable in action, not just in an interview, however many hours it may last.

That’s why I’m excited to be ordained by this Body of believers and by this group of elders. They know me. They have been a part of my life, my family, and my ministry for seven and a half years. They have treated me with grace as I’ve made progress, and have encouraged me not to neglect my gift.

Being ordained won’t change my role or responsibilities. I’ve been functioning as an elder for some time and the title on my business card includes Pastor. But beyond annual tax benefits and authorization to marry and bury, this event is a spiritual celebration of God’s grace in and through me. I anticipate I will appreciate this benchmark of affirmation the rest of my ministry course, however long God let’s me run it.

Categories
A Shot of Encouragement

Discerning Repentance

One’s attitude does not produce discernment, like sadness can’t diagnose disease. On the other hand, the right attitude should be one of the results of discernment, like an accurate diagnosis may cause sorrow. As always, discernment flourishes only when energized by the light of doctrine.

Discernment is not created in God’s people by brokenness, humility, reverence, and repentance. It is created by biblical truth and the application of truth by the power of the Holy Spirit to our hearts and minds. When that happens, then the brokenness, humility, reverence, and repentance will have the strong fiber of the full counsel of God in them. They will be profoundly Christian and not merely religious and emotional and psychological.

Quoted from John Piper’s post, Test Revival with Doctrine.