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Is Your Church Messy Enough
September 15, 2016

I love my church. I love the people I gather with week-by-week. They are fun and safe and easy to be with. But who said church should be safe and easy? What if one of the marks of a good church, a blessed church, is that it’s a messy church?

I’m sure you know of the parable of The Lost Sheep in Luke 15. We call it “The Parable of The Lost Sheep” but it is actually “The Parable of the Kind and Loving Shepherd.” The sheep aren’t the point of the story. Like so many of Jesus’ parables, this parable was told in the presence of two groups of people—people who were convinced of their own badness and people who were convinced of their own goodness. And in this case Jesus was speaking primarily to those good and religious people.

The parable is simple: A sheep has wandered off from the flock and become lost. The shepherd will not rest until he has found it and restored it to himself. He goes, he searches, he finds, he restores, he rejoices. Just think about that silly, helpless sheeping, wandering lost and alone in the wilderness. Think about that tired shepherd who had to go wandering far and wide to find him. Think of the ways he could have responded when he finally tracked it down.

The shepherd finds his sheep and rebukes it: “You stupid, ignorant sheep. How dare you wander off from me?” No. He doesn’t rebuke it.

The shepherd finds his sheep and punishes it: “You dumb, disobedient sheep. I’ll teach you to wander off!” No, he doesn’t punish it.

The shepherd finds his sheep and is disgusted by it: “You are filthy and smelly! What on earth did you get into? You go clean yourself up right now and I’ll come back later.” No, he doesn’t make it clean itself up.

The shepherd finds his sheep and sells it: “I can’t have a sheep like you polluting my flock. Do you know how you made me look in front of everyone else?” No, he doesn’t get rid of it.

“And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.” Yeah, that’s the one. When that shepherd finds his sheep, he cares for it. He hoists that big, heavy, dirty sheep onto his shoulders and carries it home, rejoicing all the way. He carries it home and calls his friends and throws a party to celebrate.

The point of the parable is that God loves to save the lost. He loves to save sinners. He doesn’t save those who are righteous and whose lives are all put together, he saves those who are just plain bad. He saves the messy ones, not the ones who are convinced they are clean.

If God is in the business of saving sinners, we need to expect that church will be full of sinners—those who are still wandering and those who have only just been found. If our churches reflect God’s heart for the lost, they will be full of people with problems, full of people showing the consequences of a lifetime of wandering. And this means that church may not be a safe and easy place. It may not be a place full of people who have it all together. It may be messy. It should be messy. Thank God if it is messy.

September 15, 2016

Today’s Kindle deals include just a couple of new ones: How To Enjoy Reading Your Bible by Keith Ferrin and Pastors in the Classics by Leland Ryken. As always, you can find today’s deals and deals from the past few days at the Kindle Deals for Christians page.

On the ESV’s Rendering of Genesis 3:16

Denny Burk offers some thoughts on the ESV’s new rendering of Genesis 3:16.

5 Key Realities the Bible Teaches about God’s Love

D.A. Carson teaches about God’s love.

Less Redeeming Things and More Enjoying Them

I appreciate this: “As I’ve gotten older, slightly less annoying, and, hopefully, more godly, I’ve come to see that in most leisure situations, the most godly thing to do is simply sit back and experience joy.”

The Long View: Developing Faithfulness

“Mature, steady, faithful people are a precious commodity.”

God May Postpone Your Relief for His Glory

“As you ponder God’s delay, as you wait for his answer, remember that he is with you. He will glorify himself in your waiting.”

This Day in 1648. 368 years ago today the Larger and Shorter Westminster Catechisms were approved by the British Parliament. Watch Chad Van Dixhoorn discuss the Westminster Confession. *

Shorter Sermons

Josh Buice makes a case for shorter sermons. And, in general, I agree with what he says.

Don’t Live for a Compliment from Your Husband

This is equally applicable to husbands waiting for compliments from their wives.

Flashback: A Failure of Worship

“We are neither taught nor inclined to think of addicted persons as being actively and passionately engaged in the pursuit of the good life. We tend to think of them as persons who have checked out of the game or who are positively bent on destruction. But this is not so.”

I cannot comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called.C.H. Spurgeon

Think on These Things? What Things?
September 14, 2016

What makes holy people holy? What makes unholy people unholy? To a large degree it is what fills their minds and their hearts. This is why the battle for holiness is first a battle to flood your mind and heart with the right things, the best things, and why it’s equally a battle to avoid flooding your mind and heart with the wrong things, the worst things. So let me ask you, when it comes to what you see, what you watch, what you read, what you ponder, what you enjoy, what you find entertaining, what fills your mind and thrills your heart—what is your standard? What do you invite into your mind, your heart, your life? What do you deliberately keep out? What is your standard? Here are three options, each a variation of Philippians 4:8.

Finally, brothers, whatever is false, whatever is dishonorable, whatever is unjust, whatever is perverse, whatever is repulsive, whatever is unworthy, if there is any imperfection, if there is anything unworthy of honor, think about these things—give weight and value to them, and allow them to influence the way you live. They will. They must.

Finally, brothers, whatever is reasonably accurate, whatever isn’t too outrageous, whatever is minimally unjust, whatever isn’t wildly impure, whatever isn’t absolutely vile, whatever doesn’t make you too uncomfortable, if there is anything that isn’t too far gone, if there is anything that’s not completely without virtue, think on these things—fill your mind with them, let them go down deep within, and live accordingly.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things—think about them until they fill your mind and heart and rejoice as they then work themselves out in loving behavior toward both God and man.

I ask again, what’s your standard?

Recently, at the death of Alec Motyer, a number of people wrote remembrances of the man and a common thread was his holiness. Perhaps Motyer was deeply impacted by these verses as he wrote his excellent commentary on them. As he wrote that commentary he recorded this challenge:

We are to meditate on, to prize as valuable, and to be influenced by all that is true, all that merits serious thought and encourages serious-mindedness, all that accords with justice and moral purity, all that is fragrant and lovely, all that brings with it a good word, that speaks well, whatever has genuine worth of any sort and merits praise. It is the will of God that by giving attention to things of which he approves we should shape our minds to be like his: to those who do so, he pledges his guardian peace and his own presence as the God of peace. (The Message of Philippians)

Motyer was preceded into glory by Jerry Bridges, another man who was spoken of with respect and honor for his holiness, for his desire to please God in all he did and said. Here is what he wrote in his great work, The Pursuit of Holiness:

As Christians we are no longer to be conformed to the pattern of this world but we are to be renewed in our minds (Romans 12:1-2; Ephesians 4:23; 1 Peter 1:14). Holiness begins in our minds and works out to our actions. This being true, what we allow to enter our minds is critically important. The television programs we watch, the movies we may attend, the books and magazines we read, the music we listen to, and the conversations we have all affect our minds. We need to evaluate the effects of these avenues honestly, using Philippians 4:8 as a standard. Are the thoughts stimulated by these various avenues true? Are they pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy?

So I ask one more time: What’s your standard?

Let me give the final word to Charles Simeon: “Think of their nature, that you may be apprised of their extent: think of their obligation, that you may be aware of their importance: think of their difficulty, that you may obtain help from your God: think of their excellency, that you may be stirred up to abound in them: and think of their complicated effects on the world around you, that you may make your light to shine before men, and that others, beholding it, may glorify your Father that is in heaven.” Think on these things!

September 14, 2016

Today’s Kindle deals include: Dinosaurs of Eden by Ken Ham; What Is Reformed Theology? by R.C. Sproul; and Compassion Without Compromise by Adam Barr & Ron Citlau.

William Wilberforce’s Relentless Battle to End Slavery

“Sometimes carrying out a particular ministry that the Lord would have us to fulfill requires not just weeks or months of effort. Sometimes it demands many years or even several decades of unrelenting, determined endeavor.” Wilberforce is a sterling example of it.

Why You Should Read Through the Entire Bible as Fast as Possible

Have you ever tried to read the Bible through as quickly as possible?

Taking a Vacation from God?

“Since the command not to forsake the assembly (Heb. 10:24-25) extends far beyond geographical boundaries, one of the things that I have longed to see in our highly transitional congregation is a commitment to find a solidly biblical church in which to worship while on vacation. I assume that I am not alone in this desire.” You’re not!

Is Genesis 1 History?

“There’s a new documentary on Genesis coming out early next year that looks interesting. Del Tackett travels across the U.S. with scientists and theologians to see evidence that the book of Genesis is accurate history, from creation in six days, to a real Adam, to a global flood, to the tower of Babel. There’s a lot more info on their website if you’re interested in learning more…”

This Day in 1741. 275 years ago today George Frederick Handel finished composing “The Messiah” after only 24 days, subsisting primarily on coffee, as the story goes. *

10 Things You Should Know About Persecution

Tim Keesee rounds them up.

Every Woman’s Call to Work

“We may assume that because a woman prioritizes her home such that she has no paycheck, she is ardently opposed to any work outside of it, and we also may assume that because a woman is getting a paycheck, she disdains the work of the home. These are unkind and dangerous presumptions that create inflated divisions in Christ’s body.”

Decision Making & “I Have a Peace About It”

Here are some good thoughts about a phrase that some people may use too freely.

Flashback: 5 Ways to Ruin a Perfectly Good Dating Relationship

“Here are some ways I’ve seen people ruin what could have been a beautiful thing.”

God’s anger is aroused toward only one thing: what is objectively, truly, and always wrong. In other words, sin. —David Powlison

The Unfinished Reformation
September 13, 2016

Is the Reformation over? This question is going to be asked over and over again as we approach 2017 and, with it, the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. It is the question Gregg Allison and Chris Castaldo face in the title of their new book, The Unfinished Reformation: What Unites and Divides Catholics and Protestants After 500 Years.

The book began as a search for clarity. A friend had asked Castaldo for a book that surveys the commonalities and differences between Roman Catholic and Protestant theology with special reference to the Reformation. Castaldo was not aware of one so inquired with friends and eventually Gregg Allison suggested they fill the gap by coauthoring one. The Unfinished Reformation is the happy result.

Allison and Castaldo begin their work with a brief survey of the Reformation, telling how it came to be, how it transformed Europe, and how it changed the course of history. They helpfully define the Reformation (since it was, in some ways, one of many reform movements) and then tell why it is so important that we come to a consensus on whether or not the Reformation is finished. They offer these five reasons “why the question of the Reformation’s enduring significance is now more relevant than ever:” 1) Conflict in churches and families, 2) the attraction of Pope Francis, 3) the problem of Nicodemism (i.e. whether people can remain in the Roman Catholic Church even if their beliefs align more closely with Protestantism), 4) conversion among Catholicism and Protestantism, and 5) co-belligerence in American society.

The book’s main emphasis is a detailed examination of the key similarities and differences between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. In the broadest terms, these differences relate to matters of authority and salvation—who or what is the ultimate source of authority for Christians, and how can people be saved. Authority and salvation were the key issues of the Protestant Reformers, and they remain the key issues today.

Where do Protestants and Catholics stand together? The authors find ten important commonalities: The triunity of God, the nature of God, the revelation of God, the person of Jesus Christ, the saving work of Christ, the Holy Spirit, the glory and travesty of human beings, the belief that God initiates salvation, the conviction that God makes us his people, and the certainty that we have legitimate future hope. Though there is no exhaustive agreement in each of these areas, there is an important measure of it.

Then where do Protestants and Catholics disagree? Where tracing the commonalities requires just a single chapter, examining the differences takes several. Allison and Castaldo focus first on scripture, tradition, and interpretation, showing there are significant differences in how Catholics and Protestants answer key questions: How does God speak to the world? To what extent is God’s Word without error? Of what does the Bible consist? How are we to understand the Word of God? Then they advance to the image of God, sin, and Mary with these questions: What does it mean to be made in the image of God? What is sin and its consequences? What is the role of Mary? Then they need to look at the church and its sacraments. What is the church? What are the sacraments? How do the sacraments work? What is baptism? What is the Lord’s Supper? Then, finally, the matter of salvation: Why are people accepted by God? What role do good works play in salvation? Is one’s salvation secure? Why do Catholics and Protestants differ on purgatory?

Simply surveying the volume and nature of these questions shows the extent of the ongoing divide between Protestantism and Catholicism. While there are areas of real commonality between the two, there are also deep and enduring differences. This long examination leads to the question at the heart of the book: Is the Reformation over? They say there are three possible answers: “Yes,” “no,” or “no, but…” While each has some truth to it, they opt for the final option, “no, but…”

The strengths of this book are its winsome tone and its deep desire to be truthful, to represent Roman Catholic theology at its strongest and most accurate. There are no cheap shots here and no caricatures. In almost every case, the authors describe Catholic doctrine by quoting its own official documents. They also grasp the difficulty of uniting Protestants and Catholics, in large part because of Catholicism’s exclusive claims: “From our Protestant perspective, unless the Catholic Church undergoes radical reform according to Scripture, the Reformation will necessarily continue.” At the same time, the Catholic Church must demand that Protestants return to “Mother Church” and cede to papal authority. These are deep, deep divides. As long as these divides endure, so, too, must the Reformation.

Does the book have weaknesses? I wish the authors had spoken more of church history and Rome’s long history of persecution against Protestants. For that, too, is an important part of the story. I wish they had given more detail on why generations of Christians were so concerned with Catholicism that they considered the pope the antichrist. I was also unconvinced that we are duty-bound to have “respect for the Catholic Church as an essential part of the broader, historic Christian tradition” since in this way, for example, “Catholics differ from the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Church of Latter-Day Saints.” While this is true to some degree, there is also the reality that Catholicism tried again and again to utterly destroy Protestantism, something that has not been attempted by those other faiths. Again, I wish they had spent more time in history.

I find The Unfinished Reformation at its strongest when performing that detailed examination of the similarities and differences between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. It is a great angle for a unique book and the authors perform their task well. They are careful, nuanced, and ever so winsome. In this way especially the book is a useful contribution to a difficult subject.

September 13, 2016

Today’s Kindle deals include the entire Counterpoints series from Zondervan. Each of the Counterpoints volumes examines multiple views of a pressing theological topic. You’ll also find deals on The Lordship of Christ by Vern Poythress, a new volume from GLH Publishing, and a bunch more. Get them here.

I like to keep my ear to the ground for new products added to the Logos store. Some recent ones include a 3-volume upgrade to New Studies in Biblical Theology. God With Us by D.A. Carson is on pre-pub as is the Matt Chandler Sermon Archive if you like to have sermons in your collection.

Utopia Is Burning

Peter Jones writes about the Burning Man festival. “Burning Man sets the agenda for popular culture. In acts of shameless self-expression, they abandon all inhibition and wander around naked in the desert doing ecstasy and acid, visiting the anonymous-sex-orgy dome (open 24/7), joining in fire dancing, yoga, and meditation. No one is allowed a hint of judgmentalism.”

10 Things About Mutual Submission

Sam Storms continues his “10 things” series by looking at the concept of mutual submission.

Ground Zero Bible

How is it that I had never heard before of the Ground Zero Bible? What a neat story!

Reading for the Rest of Us

Here are some great tips for those who want to read more.

Looking for Satisfaction in All the Wrong Places

Here’s a good one from Randy Alcorn: “The world is full of desperate people thirsting for happiness. In their quest, they eagerly drink from contaminated sources of water, mistakenly believing it will satisfy their thirst.”

This Day in 1541. 475 years ago today Calvin received an uproarious welcome to Geneva after having been banished by its authorities three years earlier. *

Looking for Contentment?

“Sometimes I create in my mind a misguided picture of contentment. I imagine a fairly carefree disposition of someone who’s got her life in balance. She’s not overworked or bothered by much. She knows just the right thing to say and her relationships are full of encouragement, mutual respect, and long conversations at cozy coffee shops.”

How to Tame Your Tongue

I’m with Scott here: “I regret the foolish things I’ve said more than the foolish things I’ve done. The longer I have lived and read my Bible, the more I realized how much damage thoughtless and malicious words can do to people.”

Flashback: I’ve Never Been Mistaken for Brad Pitt

This one goes back a few years: “A couple of days ago I was driving around Los Angeles (in a hybrid car, mind you—how CA-cliché is that?) with a couple of friends (neither of whom look like Pitt or Depp) and we began to discuss celebrity culture within the church and the tough task of any but the absolute best preachers.”

Exercising authority does not increasse my status or value, any more than submitting to authority reduces my status or value. —Christopher Ash

What God Does With Your Sin
September 12, 2016

Sometimes it’s better to show than to tell. Sometimes it’s more effective to rely on illustration than description. Maybe this is especially the case when we are distressed, ashamed, or sorrowful, when emotions threaten to displace reason. In those moments, God comforts us not only with descriptions of what he does with our sin, but also with vivid illustrations. Are you distressed by what you’ve done? Do you hear whispers that you have sinned beyond God’s desire or ability to forgive? Let these illustrations comfort you. Listen to—no, see!—all that God does with your sin.

God throws your sin into the sea (Micah 7:19). Here is a clear reference to the Exodus when God rescued his people by drowning Pharaoh and his army in the sea. John MacKay says, “The Egyptians were prevented from catching up with the fleeing Israelites and reversing their deliverance. The freedom of the people of God will not be marred by some consequence of their past sin catching up with them to spoil their delight in the provision God has made for them.” Not a single Egyptian soldier crawled onto the bank to continue to torment Israel. Not a single one of your sins will continue to torment your soul.

God treads your sin underfoot (Micah 7:19). God doesn’t only drown your sins in the sea, but he also stomps them under his feet. Richard Phillips explains the illustration this way: “God responds to our sins the way a protective parent destroys a snake in the children’s playground.” He throws it to the ground, stomps on it, reduces it to nothing. He grinds it underfoot until it is dead and gone.

God throws your sin behind his back (Isaiah 38:17). God drowns it, he stomps, and he also tosses it away. You would only throw something that is insignificant to you, something you are willing to forget about. Your sin has been so thoroughly dealt with that it is as if God tossed it behind him where he can no longer see it, where he no longer cares about it.

God blots out your sin (Isaiah 43:25). To blot out sin is to so utterly destroy it is as if it never existed. While “blotting out” is often a judgment of wrath against God’s enemies, here it is a judgment of mercy toward his friends. John Oswalt says, “In this instance what he does is to erase from the record every trace of the transgression and sin of his people, not once but continually and forever so that he cannot remember it.” He blots it out of his books, out of his mind, out of his memory, out of the ways he would otherwise treat you. It’s gone!

God forgets your sin (Hebrews 8:12). God’s forgetfulness is a repeated promise and encouragement in both the Old Testament and the New. The God who blots out sin must also forget those sins, to forget them in the sense of never again bringing them to mind and never again making you face the consequences of judgment for them.

God removes your sin (Psalm 103:12). This was David’s proclamation in Psalm 103: “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” How far is east from west? Infinitely far! How far has God removed your sin from you? Every bit as far as that.

God covers your sin (Romans 4:7-8). David marveled that God removed his sin, and he equally marveled that God covered his sin. “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” There is no greater blessing than this, to have your sins covered by another. Paul also marvels at this fact in Romans 4. If it brought comfort to David and Paul, shouldn’t it bring comfort to you?

God takes away your sin. When John the Baptist saw Jesus he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Through Jesus, God would take away your sin. This act of taking away means something like “bear off” or “carry away.” Through the sacrifice of Jesus, your sin would be carried away like an unbearable burden, borne away by one fit to carry it.

God cancels the debt of your sin (Colossians 2:14). Sin creates a legal debt, a conviction of the law-breaker in the courtroom of the law-giver. God cancels that debt on your behalf by issuing a verdict of not guilty. “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14). You are not guilty!

God washes your sin (Isaiah 1:18). Your sin is like bloodstains on a white dress. They stand out, they mark, they mar, they ruin. But God promises “Come, now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall by white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” He washes those sins from scarlet to snow, from crimson to pure wool.

God forgives your sin (1 John 1:9). Your sin creates disunity between you and your creator, but God graciously forgives that sin. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

So, what does God do with your sin? He throws it behind his back, drowns it in the sea, treads it underfoot, blots it out, forgets it, removes it, covers it, takes it away, cancels it, washes it, and forgives it. And God can do and will do all of this in the present because of one thing he did in the past.

God laid your sin on Jesus. To understand this, we need to zoom back in time a little to the Old Testament sacrificial system. In that system a goat—a scapegoat—would be seen to symbolically take on human sin. It would then be sent to wander in the wilderness away from God’s people. Here’s how God commands it in the book of Leviticus. “And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness.” The goat would never return, symbolizing that the people’s sin would never return upon them.

This unusual act finds its fulfillment in Jesus. Here it is God who lays his hand on Jesus, God who lays your sins upon Jesus, and who banishes Jesus from his presence. Your sin was laid on Jesus so he could deal with it on your behalf. And, praise God, he did! What does God do with your sin? Everything necessary to reconcile you to himself and everything necessary to give you confident comfort today and every day.