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March 15, 2008

My conference has come to a bit of an early end. Because there are so many Canadians heading home from Florida this week, we were not able to find me a flight that left after the conference. Instead I’m having to duck out a few hours before it all wraps up. I’ll be heading home through Montreal and, if all goes well, should be home on time to sleep in my own bed tonight.

It has been a very good conference. Not too many organizations do a better job of putting these things together than Ligonier. You know, earlier I found myself thinking that the Ligonier conference is unique in the attendees it attracts. Some conferences cater to pastors, some to young people, some to parents. This one draws all of the above. Of all the conferences I’ve been to it probably has the largest number of “older” people (I’ll leave that term general and undefined) attending it. Yet I also haven’t been to many conferences that have more families attending together. There are many families here with children and teenagers sitting with their parents; there are groups of teens sitting together. The conference attracts people of all ages.

Also noticeable at this conference is how long and how often some people have been attending it. Earlier on I met a gentleman who is currently enjoying his twelfth consecutive National Conference. It has become an annual tradition, whether he travels with friends or whether he travels alone. I don’t think too many other conferences can boast people who have attended for twelve years running. This is, I am sure, a testament to the long and faithful ministry of R.C. Sproul and the people who serve him and who serve the Lord through this ministry. It is a testament to this ministry’s faithful service to the church.

For those who come from northern states or provinces, it certainly doesn’t hurt any that the weather in Florida this time of year is just beautiful and a full seventy or eighty degrees higher than what we’re experiencing at home. It’s supposed to be over eighty degrees here today. When I get home it will be below freezing.

March 14, 2008

This morning began with John MacArthur’s second and final sermon. His topic was “Simultaneously Righteous and a Sinner” (or, to use the latin theological term, simul iustus et peccator). He turned first to the well-known story of the raising of Lazarus and on that basis titled his message (rather creatively, I might add), “We Have Been Raised but We Stink.”

He looked to the story of Lazarus and remarked on the fact that, even after Lazarus left his grave, the smell of death would have been upon him. His clothes would have been scented with death, so that though he was alive, death clung to him. MacArthur used that as a metaphor for Christians today—people who have been saved from sin but who still have death upon us. Of course eventually the metaphor breaks down. After all, once Lazarus removed his grave clothes, the smell of death would have left him. He could have bathed and all traces of death would have been gone. But our predicament is not quite so easy. We do not just have grave clothes that stink, but we have a full, dead carcass—the presence of sin that remains upon and within us. The stench of death is not just on us, but all through us.

From here he turned to Romans 6 and 7 and showed that there the Lord tells us that we are no longer slaves to sin because once a person dies he is no longer a slave. Death frees him. Through Christ’s death we have been freed from sin’s mastery—we are no longer in slavery to sin. Sin no longer rules or has dominion. We now need to consider ourselves dead to sin but alive to God. Having been freed from sins we now become slaves of righteousness. There was an entity in existence that is no longer in existence. There was a real death and this was a real transformation. We often hear that when we are converted we have a new nature added to our old nature. But this is not the language of the New Testament. It is not addition but transformation—the death of one entity and the creation of a new one. The change in you when you were converted is greater than the change will be at your death. Death is simply subtraction.

Can we become total masters over sin and achieve sinlessness? Is that our goal or objective? Those who hold to perfectionism necessarily separate the act that brings justification and an act that brings sanctification. They separate these so a person can, by an act of his free will, become entirely free from sin. To support this, they downgrade the definition of sin only to acts which are premeditated.

Even mature, theologically-informed Christians can fall into the trap and fall into wrong thinking about sanctification. Part of the cure is ensuring that we truly understand both justification and sanctification—the similarities and differences. If you know these things you can immediately dismiss all talk of perfectionism.

He outlined five similarities between justification and sanctification:

  • -Both arise from the free grace of God.
  • Both are part of Christ’s redemptive work of salvation.
  • Both will (and must) be present in the same persons.
  • Both begin simultaneously.
  • Both are necessary to glorification.

And then he outlined five differences:

  • In justification a person is counted righteous because Christ’s righteousness is imputed to him. In sanctification a person has to work out his salvation over time.
  • The righteousness of justification is not our own, but Christ’s. The righteousness of sanctification is ours, though wrought by the Spirit.
  • Our works play no part in justification but are critical to sanctification.
  • Justification is instantaneous and instantly complete while sanctification is an incomplete and imperfect work.
  • Justification does not increase or develop or grow while sanctification is progressive as Christians grow in their spiritual walk towards glorification.

MacArthur took us on a survey through Scripture to show that perfectionism simply cannot be supported by Scripture. The Bible supports no leaps into eradication or total consecration. Rather, the Christian life is a slow and steady climb towards increased holiness (or, as J.C. Ryle says, a slow climb up an inclined plane). While we try to do the right thing, all we do and all we are is permeated by the flesh, by that old man who cannot be entirely eradicated until we are glorified.

What do we do about it? Believers do everything they can to kill the sin that remains. They do not imagine that they have no sin, but instead endeavor by all the means of grace to mortify the sin that remains. They abstain from sin, they avoid sin, they read Scripture, meditate upon Scripture, pray constantly. It is a lifelong battle we fight daily. It’s a battle that must be fought with passion.

MacArthur closed by borrowing an Old Testament example. He turned to 1 Samuel 15 where God commands Saul to utterly destroy the Amalekites for their cowardly attack on the Israelite women and children. But Saul and the people disobeyed God, sparing Agag and the best of the plunder. Failure to obey God cost Saul his throne and cost him his kingly lineage. Finally Samuel commanded that Agag be brought before him and he hacked him to pieces, but did not wipe out all of his people. A few years later the Amalekites were stronger than ever and began to torment the Israelites with raids and with battle. David attacked but once more did not destroy them utterly. A few generations later Haman showed up (in the book of Esther) and once more sought to destroy the Jews. The analogy is this: that you need to be obedient to God, ruthlessly hacking sin to pieces or it will come back and will come back stronger than ever. Putting sin to death is a lifelong process and one that will be perfected only in the day of Jesus Christ. Until then we are and shall remain both righteous and sinful.

March 13, 2008

Well, I made it. It is good to feel a hot sun for the first time in many months! It was an early start this morning—the alarm rang at 2:44 AM and I was out the door just a very short time after that. After having some very bad flights in the past few months, I was blessed to have two good ones today. So thanks to United Airlines for good and on-time service (insert Air Canada joke here)! We landed in Orlando right on time and I quickly found my friend Nick who had flown in an hour earlier. We also happened upon another conference attendee who needed a ride from the airport (and who knew we were heading to Ligonier because of the John Stott book Nick was holding). By the time I picked up a rental car, dropped my bag at the hotel, grabbed some lunch and found the church I had already missed the first couple of sessions of the preconference—sessions that were led by Steven Lawson and R.C. Sproul Jr.. Alex Chediak, posting over at the Ligonier blog, has notes on the first sessions if you want to know what they were all about. I’ll begin to add some thoughts as the evening goes on and as the conference proper begins.

March 13, 2008

The Ligonier Ministries 2008 National Conference kicks off later today and I’m on my way to Orlando to take it all in. Unfortunately I waited a little too late to book my flight, so I would up with a flight that necessitates leaving my home at 3:15 AM (just imagine when that means I need to wake up!). That has to be a new record for me. But, Lord willing, I should be in Florida for a lunch in the sun, even if I fall asleep face-down in my food.

You may have heard of some of the speakers for this year’s conference: Sinclair Ferguson, Steven Lawson, John MacArthur, C.J. Mahaney, R.C. Sproul and Joni Eareckson Tada. It promises to be a great weekend. I will be bringing you plenty of blog updates, though this year many of them will be over at the new Ligonier Blog to which I am a contributor. Alex Chediak will also be blogging and I look forward to working with him.

If you are unable to attend the conference, you may still wish to tune in for the live webcasts. You can find information for the webcasts right here.

I will check in again later in the day as the conference begins…

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

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!