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March 07, 2007

MacArthur’s early-morning speech is the talk of the conference to this point. It has taken the blogosphere by storm and is generating a lot of discussion around the church campus as well. The most common comment is along the lines of “This is what happens when R.C. Sproul is not at the conference!” Please do heed the advice I posted and wait for the audio before drawing too many conclusions. I actually spoke to MacArthur shortly after the speech and he said to me that he was really hoping that this speech would just spur people on to think about the issues surrounding eschatology. Well, he certainly accomplished his goal!

And now, we’ll move on to this summary of the day’s final session. Because of the death of John Piper’s father, he was unable to be with us tonight. Thankfully C.J. Mahaney, who was at the conference anyways, was willing and able to step in and take Piper’s place. As C.J. said, “Regardless of your eschatology I don’t think anyone saw this coming!” As is typical of him, C.J. began with a funny, self-deprecating monologue that had us all laughing for a few minutes. But he grew serious and said that he considers the opportunity to speak at the Shepherd’s Conference a life and ministry highlight that is only exceeded by MacArthur’s invitation to preach at Grace Community Church during a worship service. C.J. opened with prayer for John Piper as he mourns the loss of his father.

For his text he chose Isaiah 66:1-2 and showed that the background to this passage proves that the Israelites lacked humility. God draws their attention away from their preoccupation with privilege and ritual and describes for them the one to whom He will look. And like all Scripture this passage was written for both that audience and for us as well.

“Tonight,” he declared, “I believe the Savior would draw us away from the necessary pursuit of excellence in ministry skills and direct our attention to that which is fundamental in all of ministry - our hearts.” And specifically to the subtle and deadly presence of pride in our hearts. He framed the session around three points.

The Perils of Pride

Pride is the first sin that was ever commited, appears to be the essence of all sin and it is also the most serious sin. There is no sin God hates more than this one. He asked us, “What do you hate?” So much of what we hate are things of little consequence but Scripture never trivializes God’s holy hatred of sin. At times we appropriately share God’s hatred of certain sins. We hate abortion, we hate child abuse, we hate racism. But regardless of what we hate, we hate nothing like God hates pride. Why does God hate pride so intensely? Because pride is when sinful creatures aspire to the status and position of God, refusing to acknowledge their dependence upon Him. He quoted Charles Bridges from his commentary on Proverbs: “Pride lifts up the heart against God. It contends for supremacy with Him,” In differing degrees and in different forms we are all proud and are all vulnerable to pride. Not surprisingly in light of our human nature, we are normally more perceptible of pride in others than in ourselves. It is not “if pride exists in your heart” but where it is and how it exists.

Because pride is so serious and so pervasive, he closed this section with this reflection: “We gather here in need of illumination and discernment as it relates to the power and presence of pride in our hearts.”

The Promise of Humility

Humility is a rare quality that captures God’s attention. Nothing escapes His notice but one thing captures His gaze. He is aware of all things, but is searching for one thing. Note that in verse two there is no command. This is not a command to humble ourselves. Instead, humility is simply held out as something that is divinely attractive. God is not only passionately against pride but specifically attentive to humility. The same hand that crushes the proud upholds, supports and exalts the humble.

Of course momentary inspiration is not sufficient. Mere education is not sufficient. There must be specific application of truth to our lives for there to be transformation. It is not enough to admire and desire humility, so this can be done while remaining proud. There must be purposeful application if there is to be any true change.

Purposeful Application

These are ways to tremble at His Word and so C.J. provided many ways, many lifelong pursuits, that will help us to apply His Word to our lives and experience the sweet, transforming effect of His Word.

Study the Attributes of God - In particular, we should study the incommunicable attributes of God (the ones that He does not share with others). In verse one of this text God is revealing incommunicable attributes. The foremost effect of contemplating the character of God is humility. The more we are aware of the distance between us and God, the more humility we will experience and express.

Each Day Survey the Wondrous Cross - He quoted Carl Henry who said: “How can anyone be arrogant when he stands beside the cross?” and then told us that each day he desires to stand as close beside the cross as he can because it is difficult to be arrogant standing there.

Study the Doctrines of Grace - Study them first and foremost for the good of your soul. To be theologically Reformed and personally arrogant is a profound contradiction. We who love these doctrines should be different because of them. There should be a discernible humility.

Study the Doctrine of Sin - Two things are needed to humble us: consider God and then consider ourselves in our mean, abject and sinful condition. No one will help more in this than reading John Owen.

Apply the Doctrine of Sin - It is difficult to specifically confess a particular area of depravity. Depravity in general is fairly simple to admit, but specifics are more difficult.

Invite and Pursue Correction - A humble individual realizes that others are hesitant to correct, so you must invite and pursue correction. And here he shared a challenge for the men at the conference. If you get home and your wife asks “How was the conference?” don’t just say “It was good.” Arrange for someone to care for the children and take her to some context where you can talk for a long time unhurried and undistracted and give her specifics and details and thank her for supporting you and allowing you to come here. Give her two gifts (ask her two questions). Where do I need to grow in serving and leading you? Where do I need to grow in serving and leading the children? If you are serious about mortifying pride and cultivating humility, you will seek the wisdom of the one who knows you best and loves you most.

He then provided a few pursuits specific to pastors:

Seize the Humbling Potential of the Preaching Task - Examine your heart after you preach and realize the difference between being dissatisfied by a sermon and discouraged by a sermon. We can always be somewhat dissatisfied by a sermon, knowing it could improve, but discouragement is often pride. Discouragement about a sermon often means you’re more desiring to impress than serve with the sermon. The process of preparation for a sermon is a process of sanctification where often pride is revealed.

Use Unflattering Illustrations of Yourself in Your Sermons - The people served through preaching assume the preacher is different from them unless he proves that he is not. People find hope when they find that the preacher struggles with what they struggle with.

Recognize Your Theological Limitations - We all have severe limitations in our theology and ability. It has a humbling effect to be reminded of that and we should never leave a different impression of this.

Prepare to be Replaced - At this point C.J. recounted a brief history of how the Sovereign Grace Pastor’s College came about and how he began to prepare for Josh Harris, his eventual replacement.

Recognize Your Relative Unimportance - You are a vital, not optional, means of grace. But no one here is indispensible. Each of us can and some day will be replaced, and probably (and hopefully!) by people who are more gifted and more capable.

Play Golf as Much as Possible - There is no more humiliating sport than golf and it will accelerate the process of developing humility.

He wrapped up by moving at warp speed through a short lists of daily tasks that helps him in his battle against pride.

Pride is present and active and is seeking to make itself active as soon as we wake up, so acknowledge dependence upon God immediately and out loud.

Try to incorporate devotions specific thankfulness to God because thankfulness is a soil in which pride does not easily grow. An ungrateful person is a proud person which means a grateful person is a humble one.

Begin by practicing the spiritual disciplines at the outset of the day as this will serve as a daily declaration of our need for God. Not practicing spiritual disciplines is not so much a sign of a lack of discipline but a statement of self-sufficiency.

Seize your commute as an opportunity for meditation and memorization of Scripture.

Throughout the day cast your cares upon Him. We humble ourselves throughout the day by casting our cares upon Him. Where there is worry or anxiety we also know there is pride for the root of worry is self-sufficiency.

At the end of the day transfer all glory to God. Try to end each day walking back through the day and transferring the glory for all that has happened to God. If we do not do this we are vulnerable to keeping the glory for ourselves.

Before falling asleep, receive the gift of sleep and acknowlege that sleep is a reminder of our dependence upon God. Thank Him for this gift but humble yourself and be reminded that you are creature and not creator (who needs no sleep).

And speaking of this, my eyes are very heavy and I must get to sleep before I just collapse. I’ll be back tomorrow. I’ll be sure to bring summaries of the day’s sessions, but will also tell you about the Scholar’s Desk I served at and some other interesting little tidbits. Stay tuned!

March 07, 2007

The day’s second session was led by Steve Lawson. He began by sharing how much the conference has meant to him. It was a moving tribute to the conference and upon the impact it can have upon a pastor.

For his text he chose Acts 2:14-21 and titled the sermon “The Passion and the Power of Apostolic Preaching.” We need men of God to stand up to preach and herald with much love the full counsel of God. We need the passion and power of apostolic preaching to be upon our lives.

Two deadly dangers face the church as it advances into the 21st century. The first threat is the wholesale devaluing of preaching itself. In this paradigm shift biblical preaching is being displaced by other things. Exposition is being replaced by entertainment; Theology for theatrics; Unfolding drama of redemption is being replaced by just plain drama. Preaching is out, dialogue is in. Straightforward exposition is being demoted to secondary status. As bad as this is, of even greater concern is another error. It is an error that befalls even those who are able preachers. The error is that their preaching is little more than a data dump. Preaching has become clinical, cold, sterile and stagnant. It is precision without power or light without heat.

Dispassionate preaching is a lie. If the preacher is not consumed with passage for the message, how can those who hear it believe it? This is what must be recaptured by the men at this conference who are not in danger of giving up the pulpit to entertainment, but who can become listless and lifeless in expositing the Scriptures. The kind of preaching that burst onto the scene in the first century. It was powerful and passionate. Acts is full of sermons and when they are all added up, twenty five percent of the text of the book is dedicated to recording the words of these sermons. This underscores how important apostolic preaching is. It suggests to us the kind of preaching we are to emulate. It is not just expository preaching we need, but expository preaching of a certain tone and thrust. We need apostolic expository preaching. We need to preach not just what they preached, but as they preached

The bulk of the sermon was an exposition of four marks of apostolic preaching that should mark every expositor who steps into the text of the Word of God:

Bold, Authoritative Preaching (14,15) - Peter did not step forward to dialogue or lay out options. He was assertive, emphatic, confident, commanding, directional, outspoken, compelling and arresting. He stood at the fork of the road and everyone had to decide which way they would go after encountering this proclamation. Peter “took his stand.” This word means more than “arising from a sitting position” but rather describes arising in order to take a firm stand and to establish himself. He had something serious to say and wanted to be heard. He assumes an authoritative posture and stance. The other Apostles stand with him, adding to his authority. He passionately raises his voice. He is firm and sure and as he speaks he is emphatic and assertive. Peter had to be heard. You do not always need to be loud to be passionate but it is better to err on the said of being too passionate and needing to be reeled back than to have to light a fire under you to get you going. Peter spoke seriously, with gravity. He preached as if lives depending upon it and as if souls are hanging in the balance. He speaks as a man who has been given as a mandate by the Lord almighty. He does not say “it seems to me.” Instead he says “Let this be known to you and give heed to these words.” Peter is demanding that he be heard. He is not allowing people to ignore him. “He is not dogmatic, he’s bulldogmatic,” said Lawson. Every preacher must speak with the same boldness, speaking the truth in love but always speaking the truth. Where are men today who are marked and known by the authority with which they speak from the Word of God? “There are too many men in the pulpit today who are tripping over their pantyhose.” He finished this section by quoting Adrian Rogers: The problem in the pulpit today is that no one wants to kill them anymore.

Text-driven Preaching (various verses throughout) - This is the real authority of the preacher, since he has no authority apart from the Word of God. He is simply the messenger, the conduit. All authority is found in the Book. Peter weaves the message together using five different Scripture texts. There are five things Peter does as he stands to preach.

1 - Read the text. Beginning in verse sixteen he reads the text. This is where expository preaching begins for it makes God the real preacher.
2 - Explain the text. This is what the word “expository” means - simply explain the text. There is an inseparable connection between verse twenty one and verse twenty two. In this verse he now begins to explain the text of the former verse.
3 - Support the text. What Peter will now do, having explained the text, now undergirds it with other cross references. He supports the central theme and traces it through the course of Scripture. He will now give four strategic cross references that bolster his explanation. He will show that the full counsel of God speaks with unity and clarity on this truth. These serve as pillars to undergird the message.
4 - Synthesize the text. In verse thirty six he summarizes the text, bringing it down to the bottom line. He gives the bottom line conclusion that the whole sermon has been leading to.
5 - Apply the text. This cannot be an expository sermon without this step. Now comes the crescendo of the sermon. Here is the action point, the imperative voice. This sermon is so powerful that the listeners give the invitation. “What must we do?” The authority of the Word of God has been pressed to their heart, their conscience has been awakened an the Spirit has stirred their hearts. Now Peter gives the application. Here is what you must do. Expository sermons must get to the “you.” In this case: “Repent and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

It starts with the text, stays with the text, and drives home the text.

Now by this time Lawson was running out of time and had to begin to hurry.

Christ-centered Preaching (22) - Peter’s preaching was centered in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Peter discusses Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. This is the preacher’s greatest glory and joy—to lift up the name of Jesus Christ.

Heart-piercing Preaching (37ff) - “When they heard this, they were pierced to the heart.” It is only this kind of preaching that brings out this kind of result. No skit or drama or video clip or sermon series on how to have a happy vacation will bring this about. Only preaching that is bold and authoritative, that is text-driven and Christ-centered will bring this about in the hearts of sinners that they would receive a gospel would that they might be saved. This preaching brought about an amazing result, showing that God is pleased to honor the right preaching of His Word.

He finished up with the words “May you preach as if it is the last sermon you will ever preach every time you step into the pulpit. Preach as a dying man to dying men. This is the passion and power of apostolic preaching. May God raise up from this number expositors who will herald the Word far and wide.”

And that was Dr. Lawson’s speech. It was an encouraging sermon for pastors, but also a challenging one, I’m sure.

March 07, 2007

Well we weren’t expecting John MacArthur to begin the conference this way. He decided to forego his usual opening sermon and speak instead on a touchy topic. His lecture was titled (and I’m not sure how much this is tongue-in-cheek) “Why Every Self-Respecting Calvinist is a Pre-Millennialist.” A couple of weeks ago, at the Resolved Conference, he mentioned this topic so it was interesting to hear him fill it out.

Now I am going to be both cautious and forthright with this one. I am not as familiar as perhaps I should be with the end times. Rather than stick my neck out, I will give my best understanding of the most important points of Dr. MacArthur’s speech and recommend that if you want a fuller understanding, you should wait for the CD or MP3. I did not feel adequate to the task of really giving a full and definite summary.

The session concerned itself with sovereign election, Israel, and eschatology. Dr. MacArthur sought to answer questions such as does the end matter? Does it matter to God? Should it matter to us? The answer is that of course it matters to God and thus should matter to us. History is heading to a divinely designed and revealed end, and if it matters enough to God to reveal it, it should matter enough for us to study it. And yet we often seem to think that God somehow muddled the biblical discussion of the end times so badly that it is best to just concede the muddle and move on. Yet MacArthur believes that the hard work involved in understanding the prophetic passages is neither needless nor impossible. The tried and true rules of interpretation should not be set aside every time a person encounters a passage on prophecy.

MacArthur made the point that those who most celebrate the sovereign grace of election regarding the church and its place in God’s purpose and those who defend the truth of promise and fulfillment and believe in election being divine, unashamedly deny the same for elect Israel. This is a strange division. “It’s too late for Calvin,” he said,” but it’s not too late for the rest of you. If Calvin were here he would join our movement.”

The thrust of the message was simple: Of all people to be pre-millennialist it should be the Calvinist—those who believe in sovereign election. A-millennialism is ideal for Arminians because according to their theology God elects nobody and preserves nobody. A-millennialism is consistent with Arminianism. Yet it is inconsistent with Reformed theology and its emphasis on God’s electing grace.

For those who “get it” that God is sovereign and the only one who can determine who will be saved and when they will be saved and is the only one who can save them, A-millennialism makes no sense because it says that Israel, on their own, forfeited the promises. The central argument went like this: If you get Israel right, you will get eschatology right. If you don’t get Israel right, you will never get eschatology right and you’ll drift forever from view-to-view. You get Israel right when you get the Old Testament promises and covenants right and you get these when you get the interpretation right which you get right when you use a proper hermeneutic (Did you get all that?). Essentially, you move from a proper hermeneutic to a proper interpretation to a proper view of the covenant and Old Testament promises and then you get Israel right. And then, of course, your eschatology is right. If you go wrong at the base, and set aside proper methods of hermeneutics, you have no chance to get anything else right.

MacArthur shared that over the course of his ministry his views on eschatology have not changed despite constant exposure to the Word of God. Eschatology has had to stand the test of every New Testament verse and his conviction has been strengthened. The fair test of a cohesive eschatology is to drag it through every text. He has done this and feels that premillennialism has stood the test.

He then asked and answered four questions. Is the Old Testament A-Millennial? Were the Jews in Jesus’ day amil? Was Jesus a-mil? Were the Apostles a-mil? In all he cases he believes the clear answer is no. And this is especially the point where I am going to recommend you purchase the audio and listen in yourself. He offered plenty of Scriptural proof, but moved quickly enough that I was unable to capture it adequately enough that I would be comfortable posting it here.

He then suggested two effects of this improper eschatology. The first is that it leads to the trappings of Judaism infiltrating the church. This includes many of the battles the Reformers had to fight: a priesthood, infant baptism replacing circumcision, altars, and so on. The second is that evangelism to Jews is damaged because it is we cannot properly explain to Jews why their interpretation of the Old Testament Scriptures is wrong. We end up having to say “you’re not God’s people anymore…” Unless you can tell a Jew that God will keep every promise and Jesus will fulfill every promise, your witness to them is damaged.

The long and short is this: Now that the Spirit of God is moving the church to recover the high ground in sovereign grace in election it is time to recover the high ground of God’s sovereignty in eschatology. If you get eschatology right, you can just open the Bible and preach what it says without having to go hunting for other interpretations. Get it right and Christ is exalted and God is glorified.

As I said, if this topic interests you, hold out for the audio. Whether or not you agree with the premise, you will be glad that MacArthur has planted a flag, so to speak. If he is right about the damaging effects of poor eschatology, this is an issue that should concern all Reformed believers.

March 06, 2007

This marks the second year I’ve been given the privilege of liveblogging the Shepherd’s Conference. Just a few minutes from now I’ll go out into the -35 degree cold (that includes windchill, mind you) to set out for Los Angeles where rumor has it I can expect 75 degree temperatures. That is an adjustment of 110 degrees!

The conference, which is geared primarily towards pastors and is sponsored by Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, is composed of both General Sessions and Conference Seminars.

The General Sessions “are times when we gather as one great congregation to worship the Lord in music and sit under the teaching of godly men—men who have proven themselves to be passionate teachers of God’s Word and faithful shepherds of God’s people.” The keynote speakers at these General Sessions are: John MacArthur, Al Mohler, Ligon Duncan, Mark Dever, and Steve Lawson. John Piper was scheduled to speak but was understandably forced to cancel as he awaits the imminent death of his father.

The Conference Seminars allow “access to a variety of teaching from pastors and elders of Grace Community Church and professors from The Master’s College and Seminary. Seminar topics range from expository preaching and shepherdology to key theological issues vital for shepherds today.” Among the seminar leaders are Phil Johnson, Irv Busenitz, Nathan Busenitz, Rick Holland, Steve Lawson and Richard Mayhue.

This year there is also a scholar’s desk, a feature that allows experts in a field to be available to answer questions from anyone who cares to ask. I’ll be serving on Wednesday afternoon with Nathan Busenitz at the scholar’s desk dealing with blogging. Should be a good time!

There will be eleven General Seminars and each person will attend five of the more than forty Conference Seminars. While last year I made sure to go to lots of the seminars, this year I am planning on spending that time writing or wandering around looking for things to write about.

I have been given free rein as to how I blog the conference. My intent is to allow those who are not able to attend the conference to be able to understand what is happening and perhaps to gain some idea of the atmosphere at such a gathering. I will provide commentary on each of the General Sessions as they unfold and will comment on anything else I find notable. I am hoping to have opportunity to speak with some attendees and ask how they are enjoying their time. I hope that my endeavors will prove valuable to those who choose to read the updates.

Shepherd’s is one of my favorite conferences. I love being in the presence of so many godly men, so many pastors, and enjoy seeing the way the conference organizers seek to serve and honor them. This really is an escape and a haven for many pastors. If your pastor is going to be at the conference this year, be sure to pray for him that God would grant him a time of relaxation, of edification and of joy as he sits under the constant preaching of the Word. And if he is not, consider sending him next year so he can benefit from this opportunity.

I’ll be traveling with Paul, my pastor. And to be honest, there really isn’t anyone I’d rather experience this conference with. As always, I’d be honored if you would think to pray for me this week. This liveblogging stuff isn’t nearly as easy as it may seem and it really does take a lot out of me. Not to complain, of course, as I really do enjoy it. But I do often find it a tough gig. And, of course, I’d appreciate prayer for my family as I’ll be far away from them for the next few days.

See you in L.A.!

February 20, 2007

Well, I made it home. Our flight was delayed for a few hours while the ground crew changed one of the plane’s tires but we eventually climbed aboard and made our way home. In retrospect, taking the red-eye home was probably a bad idea. But at least I got home and am back with my family, even if I am dog tired!

I really enjoyed the Resolved Conference. It was far different from the other conferences I’ve had the privilege of attending. Though the speakers were the usual suspects, the audience was a far cry from most events I’ve been to. I thought I would jot down a few random observations (since random observations will be about all I can manage based on the three hours of sleep I’ve had in the past 24 or so).

This was a young crowd with the average age probably being only 20 or 21 (I’m not so good at guessing ages, but the average age couldn’t be too much higher than that). I have said this already, but I find it both amazing and inspiring that 3,000 young people showed up (with hundreds more being turned away when the conference filled up) to hear nine expository sermons and to witness a panel composed of a bunch of guys much older than them. These young people seemed like they just could not get enough of the preaching and were both willing and ready to be challenged by God’s Word. And they were.

The crowd was loud and enthusiastic! Gone was the muted restraint of the Shepherd’s Conference and other similar events. These people liked to worship and liked to worship loudly. I am uncertain whether the loud music necessitated loud singing or whether loud singing necessitated loud music, but either way, the singing was boisterous and, well, loud! Despite the volume, the crowd was respectful and dignified.

The atmosphere was different from what I am accustomed to. There was a lot of attention dedicated to lights and audio/visual details. The conference looked great and, as a person who deals with web sites and other marketing materials, I was really impressed with what a good job the organizers did with extended the “branding” of the conference to all aspects of the event. They used the technology available to them to enhance the conference rather than to overshadow it or take away from it.

I was surprised, though perhaps I shouldn’t have been, by the enthusiasm of the audience for the speakers. The speakers were liable to get swarmed if and when they ventured beyond the first two rows (which were typically off-limits for most people). I know that younger people tend to be a enthusiastic about autographs and photo opportunities and so on. But it still surprised me, perhaps, again, because typically young people wouldn’t care so much for men like John Piper or C.J. Mahaney or John MacArthur or Steve Lawson. And yet they are. And I can’t help but think that this is a good thing. These kids have certainly chosen well if they are looking for leaders to admire and to emulate. They could not do much better in choosing heroes. I’d be glad to see my children lining up to have their picture taken with men like this.

One of my favorite aspects of a conference is seeing various ministries in motion. I love to see the men and women of the ministries doing what they do and doing it for God’s glory. I love to see them serve. I can’t count the number of times I was asked if I needed anything, the number of times I was thanked for my contribution, and the number of people who were genuinely interested in me and those around me. Both humility and a clear desire to serve were evident throughout the event.

I was glad to see the conference begin and end with Bob Kauflin’s wonderful song “Let Your Kingdom Come.” I think this is a perfect song to end a conference as it takes the focus beyond the walls of the conference venue and to the world beyond. Rick Holland opened and closed the event with words about the local church, ensuring people knew that all that was said and done over the course of the weekend was designed to promote and assist the local church. Conferences come and go, but the local church is forever; the local church is the primary opportunity for ministry and service. I was glad to hear such an emphasis. It is easy to see conferences as isolated events involving just the people who were able to attend, but surely it is far more valuable to see them as opportunities to train and encourage people so they can go back to their natural contexts for ministry and service and teach others what they have learned.

Steve Lawson is one of the most talent expositors (and truthfully, perhaps the most talented expositor) of Scripture I’ve ever had the privilege of hearing. When I take notes for his sermons, I often end up with 2,500 words or more. His teaching just resonates within my heart and mind. C.J. Mahaney has an amazing ability to draw deeply personal application. He never finishes a sermon without prodding the listener to examine his heart and to live a more godly life. John MacArthur is an exceptional teacher and potentially the most skilled Bible teacher I’ve heard. His knowledge and understanding of Scripture is almost unmatched. John Piper has the amazing ability to pursue theology to the ultimate. He pursues doctrine and theology for beyond the surface and does not quit until he has traced it to its deepest purpose, deepest meaning, and deepest application. As for Rick Holland…well, unfortunately I have only heard him speak one time so have little knowledge of his teaching ministry. However, from what was evident at the conference, he is a talented leader and one who garners the love and respect of those who serve with him. His desire to communicate deeply and personally with young Christians is obvious and his ability in doing this is shown in the lives of the young people who have been impacted by his ministry.

There is clearly a resurgence of Christianity among the Asian-American population. As John Piper said yesterday, God is clearly doing a work and is preparing to do a great work in and through these people. And I pray He does. I very much enjoyed meeting many of these people and rejoice in new friendships. (Here is what is no doubt a politically-incorrect aside, but I hope someone, and hopefully one of my Asian-American friends, can help me out. Why do Asians move in groups? We Caucasian folk tend to move and to hang out in twos; maybe threes. Asians seem to roam around in packs of six or eight or ten. What gives?)

The Resolved band is absolutely excellent. They are very talented and can do justice to a wide variety of styles of song. Rarely have I more enjoyed watching worship leaders worship. And in particular, I absolutely loved watching David Zimmer, the band’s drummer, worship God. This is my favorite photograph from the conference as it just seems to say it all. The band had fun worshiping and had fun leading us in worship. They did a great job.

Lukas VanDyke is an extraordinarily talented photographer (and just a good all-around guy). He was running around the venue the entire weekend and was kind enough to post some of his best photos from each of the days at his site.

Jonathan Rourke is a superstar. He is a fellow Canadian who somehow ended up in Los Angeles and seems to do most of the behind-the-scenes work for the conference. He was everywhere and did everything. The dedication of people like this—the ones who sit behind sound boards, who record the audio, who run the bookstore and who coordinate speakers, schedules, and the million and one other aspects of a conference—these are people who get little thanks and are surely deserving of some.

And that is about all I can dredge out of my mind at this point. It was an absolute honor to be the conference this weekend, to meet so many like-minded brothers and sisters in Christ, and to receive such encouragement from them. Resolved 2008 will be held in June of next year and will be in Palm Springs (which, when mentioned, seems to produce gasps of “Ooo…it’s going to be hot there” from people who know the area). It promises to be a great event and will focus on heaven and hell. MacArthur, Mahaney, Lawson and Randy Alcorn have already committed to the conference and there are several other invitations (i.e. John Piper) still outstanding.

The next conference on my schedule is the Shepherd’s Conference. I will be heading back to Los Angeles two weeks from today. Thankfully I have what looks like a better flight schedule for this one!

February 19, 2007

Rick Holland kicked off the final session by introducing John Piper as a man who has emphasized church history and a teacher who stands between two worlds, the historical world and our contemporary world. The Resolved organizers asked him to provide a historical address based on a figure from church history. And, of course, Jonathan Edwards was the obvious choice.

Piper began by completing his address from the night before since he had forgotten the fifth point. Point five should have been that there is no gospel unless everything else gets you to God to enjoy Him forever. The other four won’t be the gospel if there is no God to enjoy. This is why a lot of people think they are Christians when they are not. We need to get through the benefits of the gospel to the main benefit of the gospel. The main verse for last night’s talk (1 Peter 3:18) had somehow never been referenced.

And then, he moved on to today’s topic. Continuing from the theme he began yesterday he asked how does all of that (God being the gospel) relate to world missions and world evangelism? He relied on the teaching of Jonathan Edwards’ to provide an answer. On the one hand we know from the Bible that the supreme motive for missions is the glory of God. God is not loved, honored, believed, glorified among the nations as He ought to be and therefore, for His sake, we should move on the nations and pursue His glory. But we also know from the Bible that Jesus looked upon unbelievers and felt compassion for them. He doesn’t want them to perish and therefore thousands of missionaries have been motivated by a love for people. A passion for the glory of God and/or a passion to rescue people drives us to the nations. How do these relate to each other? Are they somehow one? And if so, how? Piper wants to figure out how his heart longing for people not to perish and longing for God to be glorified fit together. Many people are one or the other, but less have both.

He paused here and noted his amazement at the number of Asian-Americans at the conference. I can’t say what percentage they represented, but I would think it was at least 33 percent and possibly more. Reflecting on this, Piper said he believes there may be a calling on these lives that is unique. This may be an Asian-American moment in world missions. His longing is that hundreds of people here will go to the nations. There are only three kinds of Christians in regard to world missions: goers, passionate senders, disobedient. He longs that the effect of Resolved will be that out of this conference will come missionaries like out of Edwards came David Brainerd. “Perhaps,” he said, “this is the moment in world history when the decisive breakthroughs will be granted to the goers with a face different than mine.” After all, the Asian face is hated less around the world. God in His unusual providence in the Muslim world, for example, has arranged that the Western face is satanic while the Asian face is not yet as satanic. Maybe this represents an opportunities for Asian Christians.

Continuing on, he showed that missions is not the ultimate goal of the mission; worship is. Missions only exists because worship doesn’t and this understanding comes straight from Jonathan Edwards. Like Edwards, Piper always pushes to the ultimate. He wants to be shaped by the last thing. If you discover the ultimate reason why you exist and why the church or anything else exists, it shapes your life. And the ultimate purpose of the church is worship. Edwards doesn’t say it quite like that. In “The End for Which God Created the World” he piles text upon text arguing for God’s God-centeredness. This is all over the Bible—God doing everything for the glory of God.

The heavens are telling the glory of God…but who set it up this way? God did! The same is true in redemption. The glory of God is the chief end of missions because it is the chief end of God. But this isn’t what Piper said in his book on the topic—he said that mission is the ultimate goal. Why? Because of man’s failure to see and savor His glory. Missions doesn’t take the glory of God to people who have never seen it. People already know of the glory of God for the world shows this and people are without excuse. The problem is that they are not worshiping Him for His glory because though they knew Him they did not glorify Him as God. This is why missions is necessary - they are seeing the glory of God but are in stark rebellion against Him. Missions exists, then, because worship doesn’t.

In all the nations without Christ, the greatness of God is not admired, the power of God is not praised, the truth of God is not sought, the goodness of God is not savored, and so on. God is not worshiped but despised. He is disbelieved, disobeyed, dishonored. The opposite of that disrespect is worship and this is what ought to be happening among the nations.

He paused for a moment to discuss a definition of worship. Worship is not a service. What we do when we sing may or may not be worship. Worship is not singing per se, (or preaching, etc) because we can worship with our lips but not with our hearts (Matthew 15:8-9). Worship in its essence must be something in the heart and where there is no heart there is no worship.. Biblically, we have heart, head and body. John 14:23 talks about head worship. The affections of the heart must be stirred and moved from truth and knowledge in the head. Music is glorious but can do an end-run around the head and stir the heart without truth. Matthew 5:16 talks about the body where we live in such a way, serving people, that we give worship to God. People can actually see good works and glorify God. There is a way to display the worth of God through our bodies. Worship is all of this.

How does compassion relate to this? How does love for lost people relate to this? We are all guilty of treason and have all dishonored the King. We are all under a death sentence of everlasting punishment. With mutiny comes eternal misery. Jonathan Edwards is famous for preaching about hell, but he knew his heaven as well as his hell. He knew heaven because he knew hell and knew hell because he knew heaven. Edwards quoted Revelation 14:15 which speaks of torment Edwards would have been appalled at the people in our day who minimize and deny the existence of hell. And sadly, this is rampant. God does not allow people to be annihilated, to escape from His wrath. Pulpits are powerless because they don’t know what is at stake. Hell is real and knowing this should be a motive. Jesus looked out on the crowds and felt compassion on this basis. Love pursues perishing people.

So here is the final question: How do these two motives for evangelism go together?

Here are five statements to guide us:

1) Compassion pursues the rescue of perishing sinners. The way they escape perishing is to be pursued by those who have the gospel.

2) Fear of hell by itself saves no one. You can scare people away from hell but cannot scare them into heaven. It is natural to hate pain and natural to want to avoid hell. But this does not mean that people want to go to heaven (the true heaven - people do want to go to a heaven of their own making). The reason preaching hell by itself doesn’t save anyone is that saving faith is more than fearing hell. It is not just embracing Jesus as a deliverer.

3) Therefore compassion must not merely warn people about the pains of going to hell but lure people to the pleasures of knowing Christ. If people are only responding out of fear they haven’t necessarily seen anything in Christ that they find delightful. Preaching must not only warn but woo. We must display Christ to the nations in order to get them out of hell.

4) The key from Jonathan Edwards is this: satisfaction in Christ is what glorifies God. We want them out of hell and we want God magnified. They get out of hell by saving faith and this is the wanting to be with this glorious Christ and trusting all we’ve done to get us there. It is being satisfied with all that He is for us in Christ and thus being satisfied in Him, He is magnified. These come together in a right understanding of worship and of saving faith.God’s is glorified not only by his glory being seen, but by his being rejoiced in. God is glorified when we are satisfied in Him.

5) The aim of compassion and the aim of a passion for God’s glory are not different in the way they come about. Treasuring Christ honors God and saves from hell.

What magnifies God is being satisfied in God. When we love Him, delight in Him, cherish Him, and so on, He is honored. That is right at the heart of what saving faith is and it is saving faith that rescues people from destruction. And so the conclusion is this: whether we preach from the one perspective or the other, it is the same message. These two motives for evangelism are really the same.

Of course you don’t have to take my world for all of this. You can listen to it yourself right here.

And that is it for me. I am writing this from the lobby of a hotel somewhere near the airport. We’ve been loitering here for an hour or two now. In just a couple more hours I’ll be heading to the terminal for a long, boring, all-night flight home. If all goes well, I should be back in Toronto for 6 AM and back home for 7 or 8. It will be good to be back with the family!

I’ll follow up with some reflections on the conference tomorrow.

February 19, 2007

And this brings us to the final day of the Resolved Conference. For his text he took 1 Corinthians 4:6-13 with the title “Deflating the Puffed Up Church.”

After reading the text he said that it is possible that the Corinthians did not understand Paul’s intent in these verses. This was a proud church and their pride was pronounced and not at all subtle. They were proud of their spirituality and their gifting but they also had a pride in their leaders, dividing into camps around Paul and Peter and Apollos. There was some level of pride in the identification with a particular leader in exclusion to the other legitimate leaders. Paul describes people in this church as being puffed up. In these verses he confronts their arrogance directly and passionately. His words were designed to have a soul deflating effect on their puffed up hearts. As we look at this, we may be surprised to see how much we look like these Corinthians. As we read what Paul wrote to them we’ll realize that God is speaking to us.

The Corinthians were largely converted but the gospel was no longer central in their lives. They were attracted to human wisdom and desired the approval and applause of the culture. Their lives contradicted the gospel so in this passage Paul informs them that the gospel should and must have a discernible and observable effect on their lives. Paul reveals two effects of grace:

First, grace produces humility (verses 6,7). Human wisdom was taking these people beyond what was written and Paul expects them to stay within the limits prescribed in Scripture. He wanted this so none of them would be puffed up in favor of one against the other. He was addressing their arrogance and here he deploys a series of questions in order to deflate a puffed up church. He asks a series of theologically-informed rhetorical questions. We discover that the right question can make all the difference. Beginning in verse seven we have a divinely inspired string of words with a divinely inspired question mark at the end provided with the divine intention of changing everything for everyone present in this room at this time. How kind of God to provide us with these! Here are the questions:

Who sees anything different in you? Their proud identification with a leader and their proud assessment of their own spirituality shows a poor assessment of how they became believers. Paul asks them who made them different than any other Christian or even any unbeliever. Throughout the early chapters of this letter he has already drawn their attention to God and His saving work in and for them. Everything distinctive about this church is owing to God alone. He is the one who has saved and gifted them. If you are a Christian, what explanation is there for your conversion, for your love for the Savior, for the presence of godly character in your life, for your love for the local church, for the transformation that has taken place in your life? Why are you different? For every Christian the answer is simply the Savior. What makes me different is simply that God chose me, saved me, revealed the gospel to me. This should have a humbling effect on the soul of any Christian.

What do you have that you did not receive? The obvious answer that was not obvious to the Corinthians is “nothing!” Paul’s question is an expression of God’s kindness for it should draw them to the grace they have received through the cross. They are being reminded of grace. The question addresses the root cause of their pride and the appropriate response should be heart and mind altering for them. “This is an invitation to experience one of those rare, unguarded moments of total honesty, where in the presence of the eternal God one recognizes that everything—absolutely everything—that one ‘has’ is a gift” (Gordon Fee). “Let’s experience one of those rare moments together where in the presence of the eternal God one recognizes that absolutely everything that one has is a gift.” It is a gift that is an expression of God’s amazing grace towards those who are undeserving and ill-deserving. And yet these gifts are everywhere and seemingly endless and they are all because of the cross. Whatever your skill or gifting or ability, it has been given as a gift from God. There is nothing that has not been received as a gift from God. This should have a humbling effect on our souls.

C.J. then told us a portion of his testimony emphasizing that there was absolutely nothing he has that he did not receive and the humbling effect this has on his soul. He taught that this knowledge should give a boldness, a humble boldness to evangelize and share the gospel.

If you received it why do you boast as if you did not receive it? Once you know that you have received everything because of grace there is no cause to boast. How can you boast about what you did not earn and were not worthy to receive? One cannot boast about being a worthy recipient of grace. There must be an absence of boasting in our lives except about the God who has been so gracious to us. If you understand grace, grace produces humility.

Running out of time, C.J. went into warp speed for the second point of this message. Grace, he said, prepares us for suffering (verses 8-13). The Corinthians were not prepared for this paradox. They considered themselves as already having arrived spiritually (see the two repetitions of “already”). Paul was going to introduce them to a new category: the “not yet.” The nature of the Christian life takes into account “the already” but also the “not yet.” Already there is regeneration, forgiveness and so on, but there is also the category of the “not yet” for the reality of sin and suffering and death remains. The Corinthians only had one category: “the already.” They felt they already had what they needed and all they would have. Paul, though, redefines spirituality for them. He informs them of the harsh reality of suffering. Paul intentionally draws their attention to his suffering as a more reliable measure of true spirituality. He insists that hardship and suffering cannot be avoided and thus contrasts their suffering with his hardships for their spirituality did not include these things. The Corinthians would have despised his description of himself and his view of the Christian life. All the things he identifies with are things they despise but things they should aspire to, for if we identify with the gospel we will appear weak and stupid to the world and will suffer before the world. We will all suffer as part of God’s plan and purpose for our lives. People who are genuinely humble are not surprised when they suffer but are surprised that they do not suffer more. They have an understanding of the genuine purpose of suffering. Paul could have shared “I have been caught up into the third heaven.” He could have talked experience and spirituality. Instead he restrains himself and redefines spirituality. Grace prepares us for suffering so we are not caught off guard by hardship.

With time all but expired, C.J. had just a moment for two quick applications. This text address us on two levels:

Ambitions (7) - What are your ambitions? Would the cultivation of humility before God be your ambition? If not, you may be puffed up and caught up in this world.

Expectations (8-12) - Do you expect hardship and suffering in service of the gospel or simply as part of God’s plan and purpose for your life? Your expectations will be adjusted by verses eight through twelve.

Unfortunately, C.J. had a plane to catch, so quickly made his exit and headed home. And that left us with just one session to go.

February 19, 2007

Yesterday, after preaching twice at his church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, John Piper caught a flight down to Los Angeles and preached a different sermon for us. That is dedication. He spoke one what is one of his favorite recent topics: God is the Gospel. I have heard him speak on this a few times now and have also read his book by the same title. And yet, strangely, I still have trouble digesting it all. I hope in the future to read God is the Gospel once more, this time taking for more notes and pausing a lot longer as I make my way through. I know there is a gold mine in there, but I’m having trouble getting some of the initial thoughts to make sense to me. As I’ve said in the past, while I absolutely love Piper’s teaching, I often find it difficult—more so than with most other speakers.

Piper defined “God is the gospel” something like this: “The highest, best, final, decisive and good benefit in the gospel, without which all other benefits are no benefits, is the glory of God in the face of Christ revealed to us for our everlasting enjoyment.

Based on this definition he asked and answered six questions:

1) What is the relationship between “God is the gospel” and the glory of God? The answer is that God is most glorified in Him when we are most satisfied in Him. When we find God to be the supreme treasure, pleasure and delight, we magnify Him in that act. The key text for this (and for all of Christian Hedonism) is Philippians 1:20-21. From this text Piper wrestled with this question: How do you make Christ look good in dying? The answer? The magnification of Christ shines most brightly when I am able to experience death as the loss of absolutely everything but Christ and call it gain.

God is the gospel says the supreme, ultimate good of the Bible is God revealing Christ for our enjoyment and when we do that He is glorified.

2) What is the relationship between “God is the gospel” and the love of God? He read the story of Lazarus in John 11. From that story we know that Jesus let Lazarus die. Piper has often preached a sermon on this text he calls “The strange and Wonderful Love of Christ.” He had to ask, How does it show love for Lazarus for Jesus to let him walk up and to the horrors of death? The answer is in verse 4 - it is the for the glory of God so that the Son of God may be glorified through it. It is more loving to Lazarus and his sisters and the other people that Lazarus die if God would be displayed as more glorious than if he had lived and God had not been displayed as more glorious. The essence of loving humans is exalting the glory of God for their enjoyment. Love can be defined in all kinds of lesser ways, but if you don’t get to this point it is aiming too low and is not the highest love. If you don’t want the people you love to see more of God and enjoy God, you don’t truly love them because you don’t care about the ultimate satisfaction of their souls forever in God.

The love of God is not His making much of us, but His enabling us to enjoy making much of Him forever.

3) How does “God is the gospel” relate to your conversion? Here he looked at 2 Corinthians 4:4-6 and showed that the gospel is the gospel of the glory of Christ (which, as I recall, is the dominant theme of his book). It is the gospel that displays God’s glory.

God is the gospel says that the best and highest good that makes the gospel good news is the glory of God in the face of Christ revealed for your everlasting enjoyment. It is the gospel of the glory of Christ.

4) What does “God is the gospel” have to do with the gospel as it is usually preached rightly? He wants evangelicals to take the gospel all the way to the ultimate good of the gospel. There are five elements to the gospel. First, there is an event (1 Corinthians 15:3) - the crucifixion of Christ. There must have happened in history this event for without it there is no gospel. The event is, of course, Jesus’ death and resurrection. Second, the achievement of His death objectively outside of you. For example, the wrath of God absorbed for all the elect. The curse for our sin is averted by Christ. Third, the free offer. With no event and achievement there can be no offer. It is offered freely by faith alone. Fourth, the application of this in your experience. You must experience reconciliation, forgiveness, justification, and so on. For the gospel to be gospel to you, you must experience these things. And fifth? Well, I don’t think he ever got to the fifth.

5) How does “God is the gospel” relate to salt and light? He turned to Matthew 5:11-16 and showed that ultimately, every reward in heaven leads to God. Because we have a treasure in heaven called Jesus Christ, we can rejoice in persecution. We are the salt of the earth. So what is the salt? It is not wealth because prosperity gospel is no gospel. It offers to people what they want as natural people. You don’t have to be born again to be wealthy and therefore you don’t have to be converted to be saved by this false gospel. When you appeal to people to come to Christ on the basis of what they already want, this gospel is unbiblical. The salt of the earth are people that are so satisfied with their reward in heaven that they joyfully endure pain in the service of Jesus. Because the world is not simply not going to be impressed by a church motivated by what they are motivated by.

6) How does “God is the gospel” relate to evangelism? Piper has already stressed that preaching what appeals to the natural man is foolish. He attempted to make this overlap with the heart of an unbeliever and gave three examples of how “God is the gospel” can be used for evangelism. First, nobody goes to the Grand Canyon to improve his self-esteem. Why would they go there? The reason is that deeply written in the human soul is that we were not made to be made much of, but to make much of God. Your highest joy is not standing in front of a mirror liking what you see. The second illustration is a cartoon that says “the best moments make you feel insignificant.” When you go down, He goes up, and your joy expands. Third, he turned to an advertisement that said “You’ve never felt more alive, you’ve never felt more insignificant.” From this he showed that it is written on men’s hearts that they are made for God. And he encouraged us to find ways to evangelize using “God is the gospel,” for it is possible to find a way to talk to friends about God being the gospel. There are overlaps in the things they long for and yearn for.

At the heart of evangelizing through this message is showing unbelievers that we want to feel insignificant—we want to make much of God and be made little of.

This message was another example of Piper’s ultimate thinking. And by that I mean that he is always pushing to the ultimate meaning, the ultimate value, of any doctrine or any passage of Scripture. Exposition is not enough—he will not stop short of application. We will hear Piper again this morning, but first up is C.J. Mahaney.

Desiring God came through already. You can listen to the audio here.