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May 2009

May 31, 2009

Through the past couple of weeks I have been fighting for joy, fighting to find joy in the journey. It has been one of those times that I’ve been longing for God but have seemingly found so little of him. And so this morning, when I opened up The Valley of Vision, as I so often do on a Sunday morning, I was encouraged by this prayer titled “Longings After God.”


My dear Lord,
I can but tell thee that thou knowest
I long for nothing but thyself,
nothing but holiness,
nothing but union with thy will.
Thou hast given me these desires,
and thou alone canst give me the thing desired.
My soul longs for communion with thee,
for mortification of indwelling corruption,
especially spiritual pride.
How precious it is to have a tender sense
and clear apprehension of the mystery
of godliness,
of true holiness!
What a blessedness to be like thee
as much as it is possible for a creature
to be like its Creator!
Lord, give me more of thy likeness;
enlarge my soul to contain fullness of holiness;
engage me to live more for thee.
Help me to be less pleased with my spiritual experiences,
and when I feel at ease after sweet communings,
teach me it is far too little I know and do.
Blessed Lord, let me climb up near to thee,
and love, and long, and plead,
and wrestle with thee,
and pant for deliverance from the body of sin,
for my heart is wandering and lifeless,
and my soul mourns to think it should ever
lose sight of its Beloved.
Wrap my life in divine love,
and keep me ever desiring thee,
always humble and resigned to thy will,
more fixed on thyself,
that I may be more fitted for doing and suffering.

May 30, 2009

A little while ago I was sorting through my files and found a document where I had jotted down quotes from four different books I had read at just about the same time. They are vastly different books so it was kind of interesting to me to see the juxtaposition between each of the quotes.

The first quote is from God’s Bestseller, a biography of William Tyndale written by Brian Moynahan. The author, comments about Thomas More’s bloodlust when considering heretics. More thought that, for too long, heretics (i.e. Protestants) had been “mollycoddled, allowed to escape through recantation and faggot-carrying, and in this the bishops and the church officers were ‘almost more than lawful, in that they admitted him to such an abjuration as they did, and that they did not rather leave him to the secular arm.’” He goes to explain this curious phrase.

The little phrase, ‘leave him to the secular arm’ is very much less innocent than it seems. In legal terms, a prisoner was ‘relaxed’ after the Church had found him guilty of heresy. This did not involve a period of rest and relaxation for the unfortunate, of course, far from it. It meant that the Church authorities ‘relaxed’ their hold on him by transferring him to the secular authorities for execution. The ritual handing over was designed to preserve the principle that Ecclesia non novit sanguinem, the Church does not shed blood. It provided an ecclesiastical fig leaf, since laymen carried out the actual burning, but it was a singularly transparent one. No churchman exonerated the Pharisees for the death of Christ on the grounds that they had merely handed Jesus to Pilate for sentencing, and that Roman soldiers had performed the crucifixion.

The second quote is taken from Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation, a book that is intended to be “a measured refutation of the beliefs that form the core of fundamentalist Christianity.”

According to a recent Gallup poll, only 12 percent of Americans believe that life on earth has evolved through a natural process, without the interference of a deity. Thirty-one percent believe that evolution has been “guided by God.” If our worldview were put to a vote, notions of “intelligent” design would defeat the science of biology by nearly three to one. This is troubling, as nature offers no compelling evidence for an intelligent designer and countless examples of unintelligent design. But the current controversy over “intelligent design” should not blind us to the true scope of our religious bewilderment at the dawn of the twenty-first century. The same Gallup poll revealed that 53 percent of Americans are actually creationists. This means that despite a full century of scientific insights attesting to the antiquity of life and the greater antiquity of the earth, more than half of our neighbors believe that the entire cosmos was created six thousand years ago. This is, incidentally, about a thousand years after the Sumerians invented glue. Those with the power to elect our presidents and congressmen—and many who themselves get elected—believe that dinosaurs lived two by two upon Noah’s ark, that light from distant galaxies was created en route to the earth, and that the first members of our species were fashioned out of dirt and divine breath, in a garden with a talking snake, but the hand of an invisible God.

Among developed nations, America stands alone in these convictions. Our country now appears, as at no other time in her history, like a lumbering, bellicose, dim-witted giant. Anyone who cares about the fate of civilization would do well to recognize that the combination of great power and great stupidity is simply terrifying, even to one’s friends.

Forty-four percent of the American population is convinced that Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead sometime in the next fifty years. According to the most common interpretation of biblical prophecy, Jesus will return only after things have gone horribly awry here on earth. It is, therefore, not an exaggeration to say that if the city of New York were suddenly replaced by a ball of fire, some significant percentage of the American population would see a silver lining in the subsequent mushroom cloud, as it would suggest to them that the best thing that is ever going to happen was about to happen—the return of Christ. It should be blindingly obvious that beliefs of this sort will do little to help us create a durable future for ourselves—socially, economically, environmentally, or geopolitically. Imagine the consequences if any significant component of the U.S. government actually believed that the world was about to end and that its ending would be glorious. The fact that nearly half of the American population apparently believes this, purely on the basis of religious dogma, should be considered a moral and intellectual emergency. The book you are about to read is my response to this emergency…

The third quote is only brief, but profound. It is drawn from David Wells’ Above All Earthly Pow’rs.

This moment of tragedy and evil [the events of September 11] shone its own light on the Church and what we came to see was not a happy sight. For what has become conspicuous by its scarcity, and not least in the evangelical corner of it, is a spiritual gravitas, one which could match the depth of horrendous evil and address issues of such seriousness. Evangelicalism, now much absorbed by the arts and tricks of marketing, is simply not very serious anymore.

And finally, a quote from John Blanchard and Dan Lucarini’s Can We Rock the Gospel, which attempts to expose rock music’s impact on worship and evangelism. The book is premised on the view that rock music is dividing the church, destroying local congregations and turning Christian against Christian in arguments about musical styles. They ask, given rock music’s well-earned “worldly reputation…”

Why do worship leaders, evangelists or church musicians work so hard to perfect the use of it? To accommodate this inconsistency, Christian rock apologists have had to construct a new faith system to offer religious cover to those who do so. This system requires adherence to one or more of the following credos:

  • God created all music—therefore rock music was inspired by him.
  • Although rock may have been corrupted by bad people, we have the power to redeem it for God.
  • Music itself is neutral and amoral, and only the lyrics matter. Therefore, there is no such thing as “evil” or “good” music.
  • The end justifies the means—if it brings someone to Christ, God can use it. If it brings me into God’s presence during worship, it must be from God.

The lyrics of Christian rock songs may in and of themselves be respectful of God and Christian principles, but can anyone honestly say that these Christians have created a “new” song, or that their music compositions are inspired by God rather than by men? The evidence suggests otherwise and leads us to believe that Christian rockers are simply copying and imitating a music style that was created and inspired by men who in their lust for freedom—for sex, freedom to get high on drugs anytime they please, freedom to seek a god of some sort through altered states of consciousness, and freedom from any kind of authority—have rejected the God of the Bible.

May 29, 2009

Free Stuff Fridays

It’s Friday and that means I’ve got another Free Stuff Friday for you. This week’s sponsor is The Good Book Company (www.thegoodbook.com) which produces some great, practical resources that help Christians grow in their faith and reach out to others with the good news of Jesus Christ.

Their Good Book Guide Bible studies cover a range of Old and New Testament books as well as some poignant topical studies for today’s culture. Biblical Manhood, Biblical Womanhood and Contentment are just a few. There are 22 in all and we are offering five people the chance to win the entire set - valued at $175!

Series editor Tim Chester describes the range as “easy-to-use while interacting seriously with God’s word”. Pastor Curtis Hill recently wrote, “I have used the study on 1 John to help me in preparation of a sermon series. I often look for a study guide to help me in the very early stages of sermon preparation to till the soil of a particular theme or book in my mind. I appreciate the Good Book Guide study, because it didn’t do the digging, but rather put good tools in my hand so that with God’s help, I could do the digging.”

Good Book Guide

Each guide contains extensive leader’s notes which aim to develop the background understanding of the whole group and grow a prayerful, supportive, gospel-centered community around the word of God.

To find out more about the range, visit www.thegoodbook.com/goodbookguides.

Five winners will each receive a set of all 22 Good Book Guides. Due to shipping costs, this week’s giveaway is limited to North American shipping addresses.

Rules: You may only enter the draw once. Simply fill out your name and email address to enter the draw. As soon as the winners have been chosen, all names and addresses will be immediately and permanently erased. Winners will be notified by email. The giveaway closes Saturday at 10 AM.

May 29, 2009
Divorcing Fact From Fiction
MacArthur does a good job answering the claim that divorce rates are no better among Christians than among others. “I don’t believe it, and in fact, I believe that is to dishonor the Lord, to say that the power of Christ is zero in a marriage—the power of the Holy Spirit in a marriage. I don’t believe that. I do not believe that true Christians get divorced at the same rate that non-Christians do.”
The Riskiest Search Terms on the Net
Here is a round-up of search terms that, if you search for them, are going to lead you into trouble. “Some of the riskiest searches on the Internet currently have to do with finding items for free, or looking for work that can be done from home, according to a new report from McAfee.”
Using Twitter During Church
Josh Harris writes about using Twitter in church. And don’t think that people aren’t doing it!
To The Sources!
Thirsty Theologian quotes Burk Parsons (who quotes somebody else—this is getting confusing): “We must be “Bible Calvinists” not “system Calvinists.” We can all too easily get sucked into what we feel is a neat system of thought, and forget that we ought to make everything that we believe compatible with Scripture, even if that means jettisoning ideas that flow well in a purely logical sense but are nonetheless incompatible with what the Bible teaches.”
Abortion Debate Changing
This is a rather interesting column in which a secular humanist explains why he has become pro-life. “As an atheist and a secular kinda guy, I practice moral relativism regularly. Still, I’ve always struggled mightily with the ethics and politics of abortion. Apparently, I’m not alone.”
May 28, 2009

It is time to announce the next classic book of the Christian faith that we will be reading together. The impetus for this project was the simple realization that, though many Christians want to read through the classics of the faith, few of us have the motivation to actually make it happen. This program allows us to read them together, providing both a level of accountability and the added of interest of comparing notes. Those who have participated in each of the programs will now have read Holiness by J.C. Ryle, Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen, The Seven Sayings of the Savior on the Cross by A.W. Pink, The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards, Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis and Real Christianity by William Wilberforce. I have benefited immensely from reading these books and know that others have, too. The format is simple: every week we read a chapter or a section of a classic of the Christian faith and then on Thursday we check in here to discuss it. It’s that easy.

I’d love to have you participate in this next effort. Keep reading to find out how you can do that…

The next classic we will be reading together is The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs. I chose this book for a few reasons, among them its status as a true classic of the faith and one that is both pastoral and applicable, even today. We live, after all, in a world that is profoundly discontent and it seems to me that many modern technologies and innovations really just lead us into greater and deeper discontentment. I think we need the message of this book as badly as any generation in history.

The Rare Jewel of Christian ContentmentIn one description of the book I found these words: “Burroughs’ exposition is always straightforward, often poetic. He begins by laying out a clear, precise, yet loving definition of contentment—‘that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition’—and proceeds to examine each part of this definition in detail, but not without a pastoral explanation of why he thinks it is an important endeavor—‘l shall break open this description, for it is a box of precious ointment, and very comforting and useful for troubled hearts in troubled times and conditions.’”

This sounds good to me! Here is what the publisher says:

Burroughs’ writings, some published before and others after his death, were numerous, but The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment is one of the most valuable of them all. Its author was much concerned to promote:

1. peace among believers of various ‘persuasions’
2. peace and contentment in the hearts of individual believers during what he describes as ‘sad and sinking times’.

The Rare Jewel concentrates upon this second aim. It is marked by sanity, clarity, aptness of illustration, and warmth of appeal to the heart. ‘There is an ark that you may come into, and no men in the world may live such comfortable, cheerful and contented lives as the saints of God’. Burroughs presses his lesson home with all the fervor and cogency of a true and faithful minister of God.

So here is the plan. Beginning three weeks from today, June 18, we will begin to read this book together. Prior to June 18, then, I’d ask that anyone who wishes to participate secures a copy of the book and reads the first section titled “Christian Contentment Described.” On June 18, visit this site. I will post an article giving a few of my thoughts. You can read this and, if you choose, post a comment of your own. And so we’ll continue until the book is done.

This book is available as part of Banner of Truth’s Puritan Paperback series. I’ve arranged for Monergism Books to carry (hopefully) enough stock so everyone who wants one can get one. You can Buy It Here.

Buy It Here

You can also find it free online, if you would like to read it that way (though I wholly recommend that if at all possible you buy a printed copy). You can find the text right here or, if you want a real challenge, a much older edition here (note the download button at the top-right). Looking elsewhere you can even find a course in audio format that is drawn from the book: click here.

Do let me know by leaving a comment if you are going to participate in this effort.

May 28, 2009
Preaching Curriculum
Biblical Preaching looks to a book called “Explosive Preaching, where the author describes the one-year curriculum he helped to design for a house-church movement in China. The radical design is worth sharing, not only for those who share my fascination with things academic, but for all of us as a good nudge in our level of preparation for preaching.” It’s quite an amazing curriculum.
10 People a Pastor Should Fear
This one should be filed primarily as entertainment, but there is still some good to glean from it.
When Medicine and Faith Collide
Dr. Mohler does here what he does so well—bring Scripture and plain reason to bear on an important cultural issue. “Recent cases involving parents who claim a religious reason to refuse medical treatment for children have cast this issue back into the Public Square — and right into the headlines.”
The Blessing of Unanswered Prayer
“My disappointment and doubt when my prayers are unanswered show what’s in my heart. I think that God should see things my way. I think that he exists to make my path smooth. But where in the Bible am I given such a small view of God—a God whose thoughts are, well, my thoughts (Isa 55:8-9)? Where am I promised that every stone and bump in the road will be levelled before my feet?”
Is Democracy Good for Christianity?
John MacArthur, through an old Q&A session, answers this one. “Having absorbed the world’s values, Christianity in our society is now dying. Subtly but surely worldliness and self-indulgence are eating away the heart of the church. The gospel we proclaim is so convoluted that it offers believing in Christ as nothing more than a means to contentment and prosperity. The offense of the cross (cf. Gal. 5:11) has been systematically removed so that the message might be made more acceptable to unbelievers. The church somehow got the idea it could declare peace with the enemies of God.”
May 27, 2009

Some time ago I was reading the site of a Roman Catholic apologist and read a statement that showed a misunderstanding of Protestant theology. And there may be good reason for this error. The author said simply, “Protestants do not believe in confession.” The statement is correct only insofar as Protestants do not practice auricular confession (confessing ones’ sins to a priest in order to receive forgiveness). That statement along with others I have heard and read shows that there is a misunderstanding about the Protestant view of confession. That God calls us to confess our sin is clearly supported by Scripture. The Bible offers us clear teaching on this subject. Yet this is not an aspect of Christian living to which Christians tend to give a great deal of attention. Today I want to look just briefly to the practice of confession.

Leviticus 16:21 shows that confession is an integral part of forgiveness. “Then Aaron shall lay both of his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the sons of Israel and all their transgressions in regard to all their sins; and he shall lay them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness…” Though confession is implicit in asking for forgiveness (an admission of wrong-doing is necessary before one is able to properly ask for forgiveness), the Biblical model is one of explicit confession. The priest did not simply send the scapegoat into the wilderness as a sign of forgiveness. Nor did he simply mumble a few platitudes and consider that sufficient. Rather, he first laid his hands on the animal and confessed the sins of the nation. The implication is that the priest would have confessed specific sins rather than simply offering a vague admission of guilt.

Psalm 32:3-5 shows the burden of unconfessed sin. “When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer. I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”; And You forgave the guilt of my sin.” David says that while he refused to confess his sin his bones wasted away, God’s hand was heavy upon him and his strength was sapped. The burden was psychological, spiritual and probably physical as well. Finally, after David confessed his sin before God he experienced God’s forgiveness. At the close of the psalm we see a radical transformation. David is glad - singing and rejoicing in song. David shows us that confession is a necessary aspect of spiritual health.

Most Christians have, at one time or another, learned the acronym A.C.T.S. as a model for prayer. Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication is a good and a logical way of ordering prayer. There is logic in this model. Giving God the adoration due his name will inevitably prepare us for confession. Focusing on God’s attributes will help us see where we have fallen short of his standards. A part of our adoration is focusing on the attributes of God that we shared with him before our fall into sin. For example, we may give God glory for being perfect in holiness. As we do this it opens our eyes to the fact that this perfection is God’s standard for us. He demands and expects no less from us. Once we have established who God is and what he has done we cannot help but see how our lives and character fall short of the perfection he demands. The reaction of a contrite and broken heart can be nothing other than confessing our sinfulness before him as we begin to pour out our requests before him.

So what does confession actually look like? Here are a few pointers:

Confession is specific. Like most things in life, and in the Christian life in particular, speaking in specifics is superior to speaking in generalities. We commit specific sins and thus need to confess them specifically. Consider, for example, someone who struggles with feelings of jealousy. Praying “I confess that I am a jealous person” is less specific than praying “I confess that I am jealous of the talents You have given to someone else.” The more specific we are, the more we show to God that we have thought about our sins and that we are truly sorry for them. A vague admission of sin shows that we are only vaguely repentant.

Confess the consequences. True confession involves looking not just at the sin we commit but also at how this sin has affected us. It is more than an admission of guilt but is a process of soul-searching to see where sin has taken root in our lives. So we need to search our souls and then confess not only the sin but also the effects of the sin. “I confess that I am jealous of the talents you have given to someone else” is a good place to start, but praying “I confess I am jealous of the talents you have given someone else, and this makes me resentful towards you for not blessing me in this way. It also damages my relationship towards this person…” shows that I have searched my soul and seen how my sin has affected me.

Confession precedes forgiveness. Confession leads us to ask for forgiveness. Confessing leads us to fall on our faces before God, literally or figuratively, to ask for forgiveness. A confession is not, in itself, enough. In our court system a criminal may plead guilty for a misdeed, but this does not necessarily indicate that he is sorry for what he has done. Similarly we need to ask God for his forgiveness, not just confess our sins to him.

Confession before someone we have harmed. There may be times where our sin requires us to confess and ask forgiveness from someone our sin has affected. We must be careful with this because there are times when our sin should remain only between ourselves and God, especially if revealing it to others would only hurt them further and damage relationships. Knowing when it is appropriate to confess before men and when it is best to confess before God is a matter of wisdom, dependent on knowing the Word of God and being filled with his Spirit.

Confession before Men. At times it may be wise to confess our sins before a friend or other trusted individual. This is an aspect of confession that we often overlook, perhaps because it is not part of our Protestant heritage or perhaps because it is so unnatural for us to want to confess sin to others. Confession is therapeutic (in the best sense of the word). While we may not have to confess our sins to a person we have sinned against (again, this is dependent on specific situations), it may still be helpful to confess this sin to a close friend so this person can then pray with us, pray for us, and help us believe in God’s assurance of forgiveness.

On his album The House Show, Derek Webb provides a lengthy spoken introduction to his song “I Repent” where he says that often it might just be the best thing for us if our deepest, darkest sins, the ones we work hardest to hide, were exposed to the world and broadcast from the rooftops. After all, if our sins were exposed, we would have no way of hiding from them and we would have to deal with them. Of course this is exactly how our sins have been exposed to Jesus. Jesus sees and knows them all. Yet, praise be to God, if we know him, all our sins have been forgiven! Having confessed our sin and asked for forgiveness, we have God’s assurance that he has forgiven us. “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” We need to believe in this promise, believing that our sins have been paid for by Christ. Naturally, our reaction should now be one of joy as we thank God for allowing Christ to take our sin upon himself. Finally, having confessed to him and having thanked him for forgiveness, we can pour out our requests to him, asking that he would help us turn from our sin and become more and more like his Son.

Confession, then, is an integral part of the Protestant faith and a necessary part of our Christian walk. While vastly different from Roman Catholic confession, it is no less important a part of the faith.

May 27, 2009
A Life of Humility
Doug Nichols, founder and international director emeritus of Action International Ministries, shares a great little story from his life (and the life of Francis Schaeffer).
50 Factors Within Nations that Determine Their Wealth or Poverty
This looks like a very interesting series. It was taught by Dr. Wayne Grudem over four weeks at Scottsdale Bible Church. (HT:Boomer)
Spanking Stories
Here’s a post by Douglas Wilson in which he reflects on all the spanking stories he has heard. “Godly discipline, spanking included, is an act of love. Children who are disciplined appropriately know that they are being loved, and they know that the world is a secure place. Boundaries exist, and those boundaries are defended by parents who love the boundaries, just as they love their children.” (Is it just me or does the color scheme of that site do funny things to the eyes?)
Study Scripture at Home with Ligonier Academy
“The Ligonier Academy Certificate tracks in Biblical Studies are structured programs intended to help believers come to a better understanding of the content and message of Scripture. A solid grasp of the content of the Bible is absolutely crucial for our spiritual growth and daily life. Ligonier Academy offers three different Certificates in Biblical Studies…”
NEXT Resources
You can now download the addresses from this year’s NEXT Conference. Speakers include Joshua Harris, Sinclair Ferguson, CJ Mahaney, D.A. Carson and Kevin DeYoung.
Newsflash: Modern Women Are Unhappy
Owen Strachan: “New York Times columnist Ross Douthat has just penned a provocative piece called “Liberated and Unhappy” that briefly analyzes a new study entitled “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness” by economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers.” Owen writes about the study and its implications.
Deal of the Day: Matthias Media
Matthias Media is offering a 33% discount on all of their Guidebooks for Life. There are some great resources there!