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December 2007

December 31, 2007

We spent our new year’s eve on the road. We got up at three o’clock this morning and scraped the frost off the windshield (frost in Chattanooga?) before hitting the road very shortly after four. Nobody should ever be awake at that hour. It’s just a bad idea. The children were simply hauled out of bed and shoved into their booster seats. Thankfully they went back to sleep (even if they did awake a few hours later complaining of neck aches). We got almost to Cincinnati before stopping for breakfast, but experienced a slower journey after that. Still, we were just over fourteen hours door-to-door which is a pretty good deal, we think. We’re finally home safe and sound. The house is still standing and my fish are still alive. A neighbor had kindly agreed to gather the stacks of books and paraphernalia that inevitably showed up while we were away. And so we’re home. It was a good trip and a good time away. But home is always best.

We knew that we were coming home to empty fridge and empty pantry so wanted to stop by the grocery store. We pulled into the parking lot precisely one minute after they locked the doors (they are a 24 hour shop but closed early today since it’s new year’s eve). We drove fourteen hours and missed by one minute. D’oh! We did an inventory of the food we’ve got left and it’s basically nothing. We’ll be scrounging until the stores open again on Monday. Noodles with nothing on them, anyone? Happy New Year! Maybe we’ll make it a new family tradition. (Just kidding, of course. We are pleased to have traveled home safely and will be grateful for what we’ve got).

I had lots and lots of time to think while driving today, and here are a few of the things that were rattling around in my mind.

Paul Washer

The Reality Check Conference gave me the opportunity to experience the teaching ministry of Paul Washer. I really enjoyed it, on the whole, and learned a lot from him. He’s given me lots of things to think about in the days to come. He’s passionate (by which I mean he yells a lot) and very motivated to help Christians, and young Christians in particular, to avoid the trappings of empty evangelicalism. I hope and pray my children are able to sit under teaching like that when they are teens. My only reservation is that he often seems to overstate things. For example, he said that if anyone were to speak to his six year old boy about having a crush on girls, he would grab that person by the neck and throw him up against the wall. A bit extreme perhaps? Another time he essentially mocked boys who play video games, seemingly suggesting that such games are never a worthy activity. This kind of blanket statement and extreme statement seemed to take away rather than add to his points. I love his passion and would not want him to temper that aspect of his ministry. But I’d also love to see him perhaps stop just a bit short of some of the more extreme statements. Young and impressionable people are listening! Beyond that small concern, I very much appreciated his ministry and look forward to hearing him again in the future. If I were a pastor or youth leader I would not hesitate to ask him to speak to my congregation nor would I hesitate to recommend him to others.

Ohio

I still dislike Ohio. If I were to give the state a new motto it would be “The Out to Get You State.” For Kentucky I’d suggest “We Burn Stuff” (since there are always fires burning in Kentucky, it seems) and for Tennessee “Closed At Five.”

Fireworks

All up and down the I-75 are stores that seemingly sell nothing but fireworks (and DVDs of firework displays. Whee!). I’ve never seen any cars at these stores and, despite having spent at least a month out of the past year in the United States, have never once seen or heard any evidence of a person using fireworks. And so I wonder, what are these stores a front for? If they aren’t selling fireworks, and the evidence seems to point to no fireworks being sold, how do these people make money and what do they do all day? What are they really selling and who shops there? Inquiring minds would like to know…

Timing

When we arrived home Aileen called her mother to let her know we had made it through. We found out that we arrived just hours ahead of a snowstorm that is set to drop ten to fifteen centimeters of snow over the area we were driving. I’m glad we made it ahead of that. Thank the Lord for small providences.

Enjoy your New Year’s Eve and be sure to watch out for that “other guy” on the road tonight…

December 30, 2007

This morning the Reality Check conference wrapped up with the final of Paul Washer’s four sermons on the beatitudes. After reading the text he began with this statement: “If you have been truly born again, the beatitudes must be, at least to some extent, a description of your life.”

Though the series was intended to cover all of the beatitudes, Washer got no further than this: “Blessed are the pure in heart.” The word “pure” means “unstained” or “without mixture.” It points to a single-minded devotion to Christ—a passion that eclipses every other passion. This is the very opposite of a man’s heart prior to conversion and is also the opposite of the unconverted religious man’s heart. There is a sense that when a person is born again, purity of heart will be a reality because salvation is a supernatural work of God in which you become a new creature. It is a reality. While we have been changed there is also a sense in which we need to continue changing and in which we need to pursue a pure heart. We are to be diligent in guarding our hearts because everything else springs from the heart. If we do not guard our hearts we will be transformed by this world and conformed to it. A pure heart has no competing loyalties—it has one king and one law. When God saves a person He begins to destroy all the idols in that person’s life. If you belong to God, He will be constantly working to make you pure by tearing out all the idols from your life. He is the only one who can truly satisfy. At the same time we should be hard at work destroying all competing loyalties in our hearts. God will bless you with so many good things but at the same time He will make sure to guard you so that those things do not become idols in your life. And meanwhile you must be sure to guard yourself.

Washer turned to some application but discussing the importance of examination and saying that there is both a divine and a human side to examination. He focused on the human side and taught about how I can build a wall around my heart. Each truth is like a post in the ground and you can build a wall with these posts. I am to make a commitment to the Lord that whatever is contrary to these truths will not enter into my world. This is a guide to a pure heart. I do not just need to fill my heart with goodness but to also keep the garbage out.

  1. What is good. This point and the next two are based on Romans 12:2 where we read that the will of God is good. Whatever is good can come through that fence. Whatever promotes my spiritual well-being and fence is permitted through that fence. If it will not do that it has no business in my heart, mind and life.

  2. What is acceptable. We can only allow in those things that are acceptable to God as revealed in Scripture.

  3. What is perfect. This has the idea of being complete. It is not partially true and partially false but wholly true and good.

  4. What is true. This point and the next four are based on Philippians 4:8. The devil works primarily through the lie—he will kill you through the lie (“Did God really say…?”).

  5. What is honorable. Whatever we allow into our lives must be honorable, dignified or serious; honest; respectable. We live in an age of joviality even within the church, but as Christians (though we can display and appreciate humor) there should also be a sense of seriousness about us.

  6. What is right. It must be right—it must be according to divine law. Does it conform to God’s standard and God’s character?

  7. What is pure. It must be pure and holy.

  8. What is lovely. It must be lovely. Purity does not need to be ugly or sad. There should be an elegance, a loveliness, a beauty in your life.

At this point, though the sermon had already run long and had only covered a portion of the text, Washer admitted “I’ve got 24 more pages of notes…” and he left off. And after a final word from Jeff Noblit, we went our separate ways.

I mentioned earlier that I had never heard any teaching from Paul Washer, but having done so (since he handled the bulk of the teaching at this conference), I can say that I’d gladly sit under his teaching again. I enjoyed his no-nonsense approach and enjoyed the fire in his ministry. He has a passion for what is true and right and good and he is unashamed to preach difficult and unpopular truths from Scripture.

December 29, 2007

I’ve been sick before and after conferences, but never during one. Until today, that is. In this morning’s session I started to feel a little bit under the weather, but thought it may have just been the heat (the conference room is pretty warm). I thought I’d head outdoors to see if I felt better when out in the cooler air. My wife and children were wandering the city today, so I joined them for a while. But I still felt rotten to just headed back to the hotel and decided to crash out for a bit. Hopefully it was just something I ate because I’m feeling a bit better and am hoping that a good night’s sleep will put things to rights. Unfortunately this meant I had to miss this evening’s proceedings. Sorry that I had to do this. Hopefully I’ll feel better tomorrow and will be able to bring an update from the conference’s conclusion. I’m also due to speak at a local church tomorrow evening and would like to feel healthy as I do that! Your prayers would be appreciated.

December 29, 2007

The day’s second teaching session was taken by Jeff Noblit who preached a message about the duties of church membership. He said “If you do not get this, you do not get anything. And if you get this, you have about everything.” He spoke of our duty to the bride of Christ. We live at a time when church membership means almost nothing. It’s a disgraceful thing almost to challenge people as to their duties to the church. The church is the centerpiece, the foundation of God’s work in the world and He has no plan b.

He spoke from Hebrews 10:24-25 which reads “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

There were three main points: The exhortation to be about your duty to the church, the motivation as to why we need to be about this duty; the culmination—the end of this duty to the church.

The exhortation to be about your duty to the church - There are two chief words for this point—consider and stimulate. “Consider” means to have your mind attentatively fixed on something. In other words, you must choose to fix your mind on the bride of Christ. You’ll choose to focus here. This is your calling and your responsibility. The word “how” indicates a studying aspect, that you would study the ways you can better serve them. How many of us study our churches so we may know how to serve others? “Stimulate” means to provoke or encourage. The root of this word is the same as “vinegar”—you are to be like a splash of vinegar to these people. The health of the body of Christ and the glory of God depends on people going to church with this intentionality. We are to purpose that we will be a vinegar-like stimulating effect on others mostly through our lives, but also through our mouths when necessary.

The motivation as to why we need to be about this duty - We are to consider how we are to stimulate one another. The Bible is primarily written to churches and not to individuals. Even when it addresses individuals, it is primarily to teach how you can serve within that church family. You need to either accept that and glory in that, or just get right out of the way. We are to focus on the “one anothers”—those of us who are spiritually, miraculously the same through God’s grace. There’s a negative side to this—things that must not occur within the body of Christ. Our motivation must never be to dishonor a brother or sister in Christ; we must never harbor dishonoring thoughts or attitudes towards others. We must always be walking in love. The motivation, then, is that we are all part of one another other as members of the same body.

The culmination—the end of this duty to the church - The author culminates this in the text by saying that we are to do all of this so that God’s love will produce love and good deeds. Love is the primary grace that we should provoke in each other. Sometimes we need others to stir up this love. God has meant for us to be dependent upon other Christians to walk in love and good works. You are not Superman—you must have brothers and sisters in Christ to be the Christian God wants you to be. This should make us want to pray for them and for ourselves. The chief thing that happens is that we should now see the love that God has put in us flowing out of us. This word love indicates a kind of rest—a great rest. Through the merits of Jesus Christ, God is greatly at rest with us—he loves us. The one who apart from Christ would arouse God’s wrath, but through Christ he is at great rest.

We used to bear the image of the earthly and so we loved the earthly. But now we bear the image of the heavenly and so we love the heavenly. There is now a miraculous and even mysterious love for other Christians. All Christians are marked by the image of the heavenly and it draws us together.

There are four marks of this love:

  1. This love is unique to Christians and no one else has it

  2. This love is a delight to God. It delights Him to see this love shared and lived out among us

  3. This love makes us most like God

  4. The love is a fruitful mother. All other graces and all other spiritual works, duties or deeds flow from this love. If it’s not from this love, it’s not of God.

In the final analysis, this love is what most glorifies God. The challenge is to rededicate your life to the bride of Christ, to give yourself to her, and to seek to bring glory to God in this way. You must find a true church and give your life to it.

December 29, 2007

One of the distinctives of a conference geared at youth is that the people in attendance tend to have a kind of youthful enthusiasm. You know what I’m referring to, I’m sure. They are excited to be at a conference, are exciting to be with their friends, and are excited to be learning from good and godly speakers. Sometimes this enthusiasm can last well into the night and, when I got my light off at 11:30 last night, it seemed that the night was still young for many of these people. Some of the older people in attendance remarked about that this morning. I guess I must be getting old—I am identifying more with the parents than the teens; more with the people who can’t believe that anyone would go swimming at midnight this time of year versus the people who’d actually take the plunge.

This morning, after an opening time of singing and worship, Paul Washer is going to bring us the second of his four-part series on the beatitudes and he will be followed by the first session led by Jeff Noblit. At noon there will be a luncheon for any youth leaders in attendance and this will give opportunity for them to ask questions of the various speakers. We’ll then have the remainder of the afternoon to explore Chattanooga.


Blessed” - This word refers to happiness and joy. A person who is blessed is a person who you would want to congratulate for the blessedness that is in his life. The purpose of walking with Christ is not joy, but in walking with Him how can we not have joy, even when we experience trials and sickeness and when everything we know and love is being torn apart. Our joy is fixed in the perfect person and work of Jesus Christ.

These verses, these beatitudes, are going to teach us how to walk in blessedness and how to increase in blessedness. He is going to teach us how to be happy—one of the most blessed aspects of Christianity.

Washer began by showing the contrast between what Jesus teaches in these beatitudes and what is often taught in churches today. Everyone wants to be blessed, but how do we get there?

  • The world says blessed are the self-confident and independent. Jesus says blessed are those who recognize their need of God and live in dependence upon him
  • The world says blessed are those with healthy self-esteem and a confidence in mankind. Jesus says blessed are those who mourn over their own fallenness and the fallenness of this world. They mourn enough to turn their eyes from themselves to Christ and then they experience joy.
  • The world says blessed are the driven who put themselves first and make their own plans and get anything they want. Jesus says blessed are the meek who seek the glory of God—His purpose in the world—and who submit to His will
  • The world says blessed are those who are satisified with the priorities and treasures of this world. Jesus says blessed are those who recognize the temporal nature of this world and hunger and thirst for God, His kingdom, and greater conformity to His will. In other words, blessed are those who realize that this is not their home; blessed are the misfits.
  • The world says blessed are those who give others what they deserve and give rewards and punishment based on performance. Jesus says blessed are the merciful and who reflect God’s mercy as they deal with others.
  • The world says blessed are those who make self-preservation their highest goal. Jesus says blessed are those who risk themselves and everything they have for the kingdom.

We move now to “the poor in spirit”

When we speak of being poor we say that “nothing in our hands do we bring”—we come to the Lord with empty hands. We recognize that we are powerless to cleanse ourselves with sin or to make ourselves right with God. We are reduced to falling on the mercies of God and pleading for mercy from Jesus Christ. This poverty of spirit begins at conversion but continues to increase throughout a person’s life.

Application: how is dependence upon God manifested? How do we know if we are impoverished in this way? First, dependence upon the Word of God. You are not poor in Spirit if you base your life on visions, dreams or feelings. You are only poor in spirit if you look always and foremost to Scripture to see what God’s will is. “Young person, you have so limited your usefulness to God because you don’t listen to anybody and particularly because you don’t listen to God.” Most of what you know has been put into your life by people who are as young and dumb as you are. So much of your life as a believer will be ruined because you will be independent of spirit. Second, dependence upon prayer and communion with Christ. Third, (and this is possibly your greatest offense against God) God has given you authorities in your life to protect you. He has given government, parents, etc, and so many young people reject and belittle this authority. Fourth, by separation from sin. Your problem is that you are not afraid of yourself and of your sin; but you ought to be.

How can we create poverty of spirit? There are things Scriptures tells us to do to encourage poverty of spirit. We are to esteem Christ higher than self. It is created through fellowship with godly people. “One of your greatest hindrances is that you are surrounded by fools.” Yet even though we need to strive for poverty of spirit, we can rest in God’s ability to finish the good work in us. We can go out and begin cultivating poverty of spirit, or God can take ahold of us and do whatever is necessary to make us poor.


So I think I’ve narrowed down why I find it difficult to encapsulate Paul Washer’s messages. Much of what he says is very pointed, very directed at individuals. Those direct, confrontational exhortations are very difficult to easily transfer. They are difficult to adequately summarize. So I’ve had to resort here to just doing the best I can and hoping you can see that there would be value in getting the audio messages and listening to those.

December 29, 2007

Before we get to the second sermon, I’ve got a public service announcement for Amy. Amy, Russ and Reagan say “Hi!” They’re sitting right behind me and are trying, with some success, not to heckle me too much.

This evening we are going to have Paul Washer preach to us. Now, I need to confess that I know little about Washer, even though he seems to be very well-known here and is, apparently, a good part of the reason that so many people decided to attend the conference. Sure, I’ve heard a few of his messages, including the infamous sermon that was posted on YouTube and elsewhere—the sermon that earned him the honor of being assured he would not be invited back to a particular youth conference (or that was the description of the video that I read), but beyond that I really do not know a lot about him. But I’m looking forward to hearing him minister to us. He will speak four times over the course of the weekend.


After another time of worship, Paul Washer took to the pulpit to preach a message from Matthew 5 (verses 1-16). It turns out that this text will actually be the basis of all of the sermons he’ll preach this weekend. If you want to know true Christianity, you need to go to these words—they are a Christian manifesto. In four messages he wants us to learn to take seriously the words of Jesus Christ as given in the Sermon on the Mount.

I sometimes think that I’ve gotten pretty good at this liveblogging stuff but his message was actually kind of elusive and I really managed to grab bits of it. So I’ll let you meander through these notes and then recommend that you download it yourself. He simply went through a piece of this text phrase-by-phrase and drew out meaning and application. I guess we know that as expositional preaching.

Here is what he hopes to show this weekend: The importance of these teachings; The privilege that is ours for hearing such teaching; The responsibility that is ours to obey such teaching; What true Christianity and what true Christian discipleship looks like; The true goal and greatest endeavor of the Christian life; What it means to be salt and light in this world; Test the validity of our own profession of faith.

When Jesus saw the crowds.” For God to care for our temporal needs is a great manifestation of His life and mercy. God demonstrates His grace in this way. But the greatest demonstration of God’s compassion to men, the greatest most loving thing He could ever do for you, is to pull back the veil and to reveal Himself and His will to you. Do you see this? Do you see that the kindest thing God could do is not take care of your temporal needs? If someone were to look at your life, would they say that the greatest thing you appreciate about God is that He, through the Word and Spirit, has seen fit to teach you?

He stressed the importance of the Sermon on the Mount in the life of the Christian. There are two great mountains in Scripture—Mount Sinai and this mountain. You can’t think about Judaism without thinking about Sinai. It’s impossible! But how is it today that the Sermon on the Mount seem so ignored and laid aside?

After he sat down.” We’re reminded here of His condecension. This can lose its impact, but we need to understand that God here condescends to this—that He enters into relationship with men in order to explain Himself to them.

We are living at a time of true Reformation. Young people are seeing the truths of God’s sovereignty and supremacy. We will be held accountable even more than the generation that preceded us. We are a blessed people. To whom much is given, much will be required.

After Jesus sat down, “His disciples came to Him.” Before Mount Sinai the people stood and trembled so that even Moses trembled with fear. But when Jesus sat on the mountain, His disciples came and sat with Him. What happened to the thunder and to the lightning? All the thunder and all of the lightning was exhausted upon the person of Jesus Christ when He hung on that tree and bore our sin and was crushed by the wrath of His own Father. Do you see now what a privilege it is to come to God? Before no one could come to Him. But since Christ drank down all that thunder and bore in His body all that lightning, you could come. You do not come once, but you continue to come.

This is the difference between true discipleship and what is false. Jesus went up to see who would come to Him. Jesus didn’t walk up to groups, but He walked by groups to see who would follow. When Jesus spoke in parables, neither His people nor the multitudes understood. But the true disciples went to Him to learn—they knew that they must understand.

I doubt you were able to make much of that. But perhaps Washer’s intent will be more clear as you read just a few quotes I drew from his message tonight:

My greatest regret in life is doing so much ministry and spending so much little in this book [the Bible].”

My purpose here is not just to teach you, but to warn you.”

For some of you it would be better that you had never heard of Christ because you treat Him so lightly.”

I’ll be back in the morning and will try to do a better job on his next sermon!

December 28, 2007

Matt Fowler preached the conference’s first sermon and did so from John 6:22-27. These well-known verses fall shortly after the feeding of the 5000 and Jesus walking on water—two of Jesus’ most amazing miracles. This crowd had been privileged to see both of these miracles. People reacted to the feeding of the 5000 by attempting to take Jesus and to force Him to be king. Using these verses, Matt laid down the Reformed (biblical) gauntlet, so to speak. He made sure that the people in attendance know from Scripture that people cannot know God—they cannot be saved—without the prior Sovereign work of the Holy Spirit. And He challenged them to think properly about Jesus and to see Him how He really, truly is.

He looked first at the Blindness of the People which in this passage is illustrated by the question the people ask in verse 25: “Rabbi, when did you come here?” They couldn’t figure out how He got the ten miles to Capernaum and how He did it so quickly. With all the miracles He has already done, we’d think people would be beginning to figure out who Jesus is. Yet they still don’t seem to get it; no one seems to think or believe that He could have just walked across the sea. A Christian’s knowledge of the things of God is an understanding of the reality and relevance of the works of God as testified to in Scripture and in the life of Jesus. Those who don’t believe can see the same things but not understand them. There was no reality of Christ in these people’s lives. And from this we learn that, apart from the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit, we’ll never be able to see who Jesus truly is. If anyone could have done without the work of the Spirit, it would have been these people who had seen his miracles. But even they were blind.

He then turned to the People’s Motivation for Seeking Jesus which we see in Jesus’ own words. ““Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” These people were seeking Jesus because of what He could do for them. They sought Him because He had filled their stomachs the day before. They wanted only selfish gain and comfort. That’s all He was for them. And this is exactly what we hear day in and day out from many of the leaders of evangelicalism—a Jesus who does little more than fill temporal needs. They had no concept of Him being the God-man, the very Son of God. The challenge for us is to ask who Jesus is to us. Is He someone who promises to address our temporal needs or is He the One who offers so much more. When you water down Jesus, you water down the gospel. And when you water down the gospel, you water down conversion. The gospel then must start with the real Jesus Christ. Here he quoted John Piper from God is the Gospel, a favorite quote of mine:

“The critical question for our generation—and for every generation—is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever see, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ was not there?”

The third point was Jesus’ Demands on the Seeker. We see that there are two commands in verse 27. “Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” There are two commands—one negative and one positive. First, in the negative, Jesus says, “Do not labor for the food that perishes.” The people, seeing Jesus as a way to a cheap meal, began to labor after food that perishes—the wrong food. There are four reasons we must not labor after that which perishes.

  1. That labor is vanity
  2. That food does indeed perish
  3. That food enslaves
  4. That kind of labor for that kind of food leads to death

Jesus doesn’t leave us with the negative but goes on to say, “[Labor] for the food that endures to eternal life.” This is not a laboring that we are to labor to do good works that will earn salvation, but there is something for which we should seek and pursue. There is labor involved in the Christian life. There are four reasons why we are commanded to labor for the food that endures:

  1. This food leads to eternal life
  2. This food is Himself
  3. This food satisfies
  4. That kind of labor for this kind of food glorifies Him

This message, a perfect one to begin with, stood as a challenge to everyone here to see and know Jesus as He is revealed in Scripture.

December 28, 2007

So I am here in Chattanooga (the official city motto seems to be “We close at 5”), spending the weekend at a conference room at the Chattanooga Choo Choo (which is a local hotel/attraction/Holiday Inn). Somewhere around 1000 people are gathered for the Reality Check conference which will feature teaching by Matt Fowler, Paul Washer, Jeff Noblit, and Jono Sims. This event is a ministry of Anchored in Truth Minitries and caters primarily to young people, though despite this, there are many adults here. From my vantage point in the middle of the room I’d estimate they represent perhaps one in four or one in five attendees. Many parents have come with their teens—far more, I think, than I’ve seen at any similar conference. This is interesting to me and I look forward to seeing how that demographic contributes to the overall experience of the conference. Registration was so far beyond expectations that an overflow room was opened down the hall and people in that room are watching the proceedings via a video feed. This is a big event and a great way to close out a year.

The schedule for this conference gives us two sessions this evening with a short break between. Tomorrow we’ll see two more sessions before breaking for the whole afternoon. There will be two sessions that evening and one for Sunday morning worship. Each morning there will also be times for leaders’ devotions (youth group leaders, that is) and tomorrow there will be a roundtable luncheon for these leaders. Saturday afternoon gives a long period of time to explore downtown Chattanooga (which, as you’ll know if you’ve been here) is a really great place with lots to do and lots to see.

The conference’s first evening kicked off with a time of praise and worship led by Tom Clay. Accompanied by a contemporary (and loud but not-too-loud) band, he led in a variety of hymns and contemporary favorites (“Holy, Holy, Holy,” “Hallelujah, What a Savior,” “How Deep the Father’s Love,” “Blessed Be the Name of the Lord,” etc). In just a few moments, Matt Fowler, will begin the first teaching session.