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October 16, 2013

For the third session at Strange Fire, John MacArthur introduced his good friend R.C. Sproul. Because of issues with his health, Sproul was unable to travel to California, so instead he sent along a video message. And his task was to speak about Pentecost.

R.C. Sproul

He began by saying, “I want to look specifically today at the redemptive-historical significance of Pentecost.” We’re aware that the modern Pentecostal movement began at Azusa Street and that it occurred outside of the mainline denotations until the middle of the 20th Century. Then it moved into Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Anglican, etc. circles. Initially when it came into these various denominations there were several attempts to assimilate the theology into their creedal foundations. At the same time, Pentecostals were gathering their beliefs into a creed, which became Neo-Pentecostal theology.

One of the most significant aspects of this theology is the idea that it is normal or even normative for people to have the baptism of the Holy Spirit after their conversion. It is admitted that some people can have conversion or regeneration simultaneously with their baptism by the Holy Spirit, but in the main there is a time difference between original conversion and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. It is this particular point I want to address today.

The fundamental weakness of Neo-Pentecostal theology is that it understands the original Pentecost differently than the apostles, and that it considers this Pentecost too lowly. The significance of the baptism of the Holy Spirit has to do principally with the Holy Spirit empowering Christians for ministry. When Jesus promised the Holy Spirit he was promising power and strength.

October 16, 2013

John MacArthur opened the Strange Fire conference, and then, for the second session introduced Joni Eareckson Tada as a friend and former member of his church. She was at the conference to share her testimony of living as a quadriplegic who has prayed for, but not received, a miraculous healing. As MacArthur said in his closing comments, if anyone has the faith to be healed, it must be her. In a sweet and spontaneous moment, Joni called MacArthur to the stage and, hand-in-hand, the two sang a couple of stanzas of “O Worship the King” together. I have been to a lot of different conferences, but that will now rank as one of my all-time favorite moments.

Joni Eareckson Tada

Joni began by reading John 5, the story of Jesus at the pool of Bethesda healing a man who had been paralyzed for thirty-eight years. She followed it with her story of going to see Kathryn Kuhlman, hoping that she would be healed and rise from her wheelchair. But Kuhlman did not heal her, and Joni wondered who this God was who would deny her what she was sure she needed. A bitter spirit began to take hold of her. If she couldn’t be healed, she wanted to be left alone in her despair.

When she did turn to the Bible, she had a special interest in healing, but soon saw that physical healing was not Jesus’ main interest; he was far more concerned with spiritual health. She realized then that her interest in Jesus had been more for what he might do to heal her body than for how she might serve him. That is when she began searching for a deeper healing and once she understood that healing, the Lord taught her that her disability was a means through which God was causing her to grow in holiness.

She went on to speak of the chronic pain that lasted for many years and the stage three cancer that followed it and expressed how she has learned to be grateful for the suffering because of the way it keeps her longing for Christ. The suffering that results from sin in the world, God now uses to get rid of sin. There is nothing sweeter than knowing the joy of the Lord Jesus in the midst of suffering and all the while she holds on to the hope and the confidence, that in heaven, the big deal won’t be getting a new body that works, but a glorified heart that no longer twists truth, becomes anxious, manipulates others, and all these other manifestations of sin.

October 16, 2013

I am always intrigued by current trends in the Evangelical world, and especially in this Reformed corner of the Evangelical world. When something comes along that seems as if it will make a significant impact, I like to take note. For that reason I have been tracking with what John MacArthur is attempting through his Strange Fire conference and book. That conference kicked off just a short time ago and I listened with interest (via livestream) to the opening keynote because it was here that MacArthur would give his rationale for the event and it was here that he would set its tone.

Before I share my notes, let me say just one thing that stood out to me as the conference began. It is inevitable that at some point John MacArthur will be the subject of a biography (beyond the existing biography written by Iain Murray). Today he is beginning something that will, I think, appear in that biography. We will know better as the conference unfolds what impact it will make in his life and ministry and in the wider Christian world.

There are 4,000 people in attendance at the Strange Fire conference and many thousands more who are watching the live-stream in English, Spanish, German, Portuguese, Arabic, Italian, French, Russian and Mandarin. Here is what they heard in the opening address.

John MacArthur’s Opening Keynote

As we address the contemporary Charismatic movement, we are addressing a subject that has been a concern of MacArthur’s for many years and decades. Back in the early days of his ministry he saw the early beginnings of the movement and was deeply concerned. He has addressed it many times since then, first in a series 40 years ago, and later in the book Charismatic Chaos.

When people ask MacArthur for his view on the biggest issue in the church, he always says it is the lack of discernment since, sadly, a great number of those who profess Christianity are lacking in discernment. The purpose of this conference is to be like the Bereans by looking at the work of the Holy Spirit through the lens of Scripture. He hopes to address it lovingly and compassionately, but in a straightforward way.

What is the scope of the issue? There are half a billion professed charismatics on the planet. He pointed out that we feel great freedom to confront Mormons and Mormonism, though there are merely 14 million of them. Yet we hesitate to address 500 million charismatics.

October 16, 2010

The True Woman conference is drawing to an end today. Several of the speakers are currently participating in a panel (kind of like The View but with actual morals) and in just a little while Nancy Leigh DeMoss will provide a final message. And that will be that. And then what? What’s really been accomplished here? Will it be shown to matter over time? This is something I always find myself wondering as a conference draws to a close.

Yesterday I spent some time in front of the business end of a video camera answering a few questions. One question the interviewer asked me was this: what’s the difference between a conference and a movement? It was an unexpected question that, but one that got me thinking a little bit. It got me thinking about this conference and every other conference I go to.

A conference is “just” a conference. Some of us tend to play them up, to make them into these pivotal, ground-shaking, life-sustaining moments in the Christian life through which God does so much of his work. Others downplay them, suggesting that conferences are little more than amusement, times for fun but not for serious growth.

The truth is that conferences vary a lot in intensity and in impact. They are sometimes life changing and are sometimes nearly inconsequential. I do not want to downplay the fact that they truly can be times where something clicks, where something changes in the heart or mind. Sometimes God chooses to act in a mighty way through something that is taught at a conference or sometimes even just through the atmosphere. And I’m sure I’ve seen some of that even this weekend as I’ve witnessed what’s gone on here, how the women have reacted to it and been touched by it.

But at the end of the day, conferences end. And then you’re left with real life, with the daily grind. You leave the place of refuge, the time of focus, and return to life with all its busyness and distraction and difficulty.

But in the case of this conference, a ministry stands behind it; and that ministry offers a lot of amazing resources. True Woman is a conference that is sponsored by Revive Our Hearts. And that ministry has a lot to offer to keep the momentum going, to maintain and further the growth.

There is a daily radio program featuring Nancy Leigh DeMoss. Nancy has written plenty of good books (Aileen is particularly excited about A Place of Quiet Rest, a book that discusses a healthy devotional life). There are several conferences you can watch and/or listen to. There is a True Woman blog that offers lots of really good content.

Perhaps most importantly (or most uniquely), there is a True Woman Manifesto. This manifesto is a call to believe and a call to take action. This video tells a little bit about it:

October 15, 2010

What is a true woman? How does a woman earn that one-word descriptor of true? It occurs to me today that as a culture we really have no hope of answering the question. After all, we have trouble defining a woman, not to mention a true woman.

In today’s A La Carte post I shared a link to a story about a transgender golfer, a “woman” who used to be a man. Lana Lawless, a former SWAT team member, was born male but underwent gender reassignment surgery (also known as a sex change operation). She changed her name (I’ll use the female pronoun here simply for sake of ease), changed her genitalia and now lives as a woman. And as a woman she now demands the right to participate in sports as a woman.

Society plays along with all of this. We all call her a “she” and society demands we do so. If she says she’s a woman, she’s a woman. Period. That’s her right. Don’t be old fashioned and pretend that chromosomes and genetics and genitalia define us. We can be who we feel we need to be.

But there’s a problem. Lana is a golfer, you see. She is a pretty good golfer and it may just be that  some of her success owes to the fact that she has the body and the muscle of a man, even while saying that she is a woman. Society may tell us that Lana is not a man, but it can’t erase the fact that a man’s body is very different from a woman’s body (even if we can remove the male genitalia and replace it with something that looks like a woman’s). And so she is suing the LPGA, demanding recognition as a woman—demanding the right to compete as one.

And really, I think I have to side with her on this one. As long as our culture continues with the insanity of pretending that gender is not innate, that gender is something that can come and go (I’ve heard that some university health centers no longer ask if you are male or female but instead ask you to describe your gender history), it seems to me that she ought to have the right to say, “I’m a woman because I say I’m a woman” and have the right to compete on that basis. We can’t have it both ways.

To loop back to where we began, I wonder, how can we possibly understand what a true woman is if we can’t even figure out what a woman is? Paula Hendricks of Revive Our Hearts hit the streets to ask people what a true woman is. Here are the results:

Confusion reigns, doesn’t it? That’s why I’m thankful for the True Woman Manifesto. It may not completely answer the question, but it is certainly a very good beginning. In the midst of all the confusion, it roots womanhood in the purposes of God. And when we begin at the right place, we’ve already half won the battle.

October 15, 2010

Men, this may hurt a little bit. Pastors, I think it should hurt a little bit. But here is something I’ve observed after being to a handful of womens’ conferences and quite a few pastors’ conferences. Care to guess which one has a more obvious reliance on prayer? Care to guess which kind of conference is more obviously marked by prayer before the conference, praying during the conference and prayer on behalf of those who attend?

I have been to at least 10 or 12 pastors’ conferences now, including most of the major ones that cater to this Reformed world. There is prayer there, to be sure, but these conferences are by no means marked by prayer. I don’t think too many people walk away from them and remember the prayer; they remember the sermons, the sessions, the teaching. I’m glad they remember the teaching. But I’ve long observed that prayer seems like something of an afterthought for so many of them.

One thing I’ve loved to see at True Woman is the very obvious reliance on prayer. This conference is soaked in prayer, bathed in it. Early on they introduced a crowd of men who have come here specifically to pray (and some of whom have done this at each of the True Woman conferences this year).These men come here on their own time and on their own buck. They have prayed by name for each of the 4,000 women attending and are continuing to do so through the event. They are collecting prayer cards every day and praying for those needs—needs the women have identified or the needs of the families the women have left behind for these three days. In an isolated little room, these men are on their knees (literally), praying for hours every day. While the women worship and learn and fellowship, the men are praying for them, laboring in prayer.

This isn’t an easy ministry. Nor is it a visible one; nor is it one whose results are easily seen. And yet they are committed to it. It’s all kinds of awesome. I wanted to talk to one or two of them, but it’s kind of hard to do because, well, they’re praying. I stuck my head into the room just a few moments ago and they were all on their knees. They didn’t look like they wanted to talk.

But there’s more prayer than that. Later tonight, from 10 until 11:30, there will be a concert of prayer, a time dedicated to confession, intercession and praise. Before sessions women are kneeling in prayer, praying corporately. During sessions the speakers are calling for the women to get together in small groups to pray for one another’s children, focusing on those who are unsaved. There are prayer rooms around the building (and they are being used).

The fact is, you can’t come here and miss the prayer. And it strikes me as I see this that the same cannot be said of most of the pastors’ conferences I’ve been to. That seems a shame, doesn’t it?

October 14, 2010

True WomanAt long last I’ve made it to Texas. I’m not quite sure why, but I’ve always wanted to visit Texas and have long said that I’d go the first time I got invited. That invitation came a few months ago in the form of a request to blog the True Woman Conference down here in Fort Worth. When they mentioned that Aileen should come with me, it was a done deal. So here we are. We’ve left the kids with my in-laws and have traveled down to Texas. (Now that I’ve made it to Texas, the state I most want to visit is Alaska. Or Oregon. I’m actually half convinced that Oregon is a fictional place; we all talk about it, but no one has ever bothered to go there to see if it actually exists. I contend that it does not.)

My first impression, as we drove out of the airport and headed toward Fort Worth was, “This looks like Orlando but without the swamps.” They say there are hills in some parts of Texas, but they sure aren’t anywhere near here. I think Fort Worth is probably not the best indicator of what Texas is all about. Nevertheless, it’s the only part of the state I’ll be able to see during this trip, so it’s all I’ve got to go on. So far the only cattle I’ve seen were mounted on the wall of a restaurant and the only cowboy hats were affixed to a sculpture hanging from the ceiling of the convention center.

My second impression came when Aileen and I went looking for dinner. We wandered for a while and eventually found ourselves at a barbecue place. The prices are ridiculously low and the portions ridiculously large. I suppose we are accustomed to Toronto where you pay twice as much money for half as much food. If that food tastes 2 times better or is twice as nutritious, I think it all evens out, right? But the food we had for dinner was plenty good (at least as much of it as we could consume. Neither one of us got through more than about ⅔ of it and even then we were waddling away).

The rest of my impressions will have to wait. Let me tell you a little bit about the conference.

June 20, 2010

Yesterday I posted a brief summary of Al Mohler’s answer to “why does the universe look so old?” Today I want to provide the answer to another tough question. In this case I’m summarizing Derek Thomas’ thoughts on how a good God could command a just holy war (as he did in the Old Testament). I’m not sure that I completely “nailed” the answer, but I tried to capture it the best I could. At the very least I think i got his main point (for which you can skim right to the end).