Archive for July, 2009

Friday Evenings

Friday, July 31st, 2009

Friday evenings appear to me to hold the promise of endless possibilities. After a tiring week at work, Friday evening is a time to unwind, relax a little, and perhaps get a treat (like ordering pizza). Unlike the flitting moments of the evenings Monday through Thursday, Friday evening seems especially long and reluctant to pass. Plus there’s Saturday and Sunday to look forward to. With a long evening and 48 hours of weekend, anything’s possible!

But in spite of what calendars may say, Friday evening is immediately followed by Sunday evening. Technically there is a Saturday and Sunday in between, but for all practical purposes they are non-existent. No sooner have I decided whether or not to have that extra slice of pepperoni pizza than I find myself sitting at the kitchen table after the Sunday evening church service thinking “I’d better get to bed so I’m up in time for work.” “Vanity of vanities,” says this preacher, “Friday evenings are vain.”

Time is a tricky thing. It’s sneaky and deceptive. It will become an oppressive enemy unless we are willing to recognize God’s sovereignty over it. For this, Solomon is our best guide.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 ESV)

An appropriate time exists for every endeavor. None of us accomplishes all that we desire. Someone has said that only God gets his “to do” list completed every day. A part of recognizing God’s sovereignty is recognizing our limitations. On Friday evening, I’m Superman (with tomato sauce on my costume), but by Sunday evening I’m just tired and frustrated. I didn’t do all that I wanted to do and accomplish my goals and have my fun. When we focus on ourselves, time is a relentless enemy. When we turn our eyes toward God, we recognize time as the successive moments in which he acts to fulfil his purposes within the theatre of redemption. Our times are in his hands (Ps. 31:15), and that knowledge gives us peace.

Electronic Giving and Corporate Worship

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

I’m always drawn to books on leadership because I feel the need for any counsel I can get in that area. When I saw that Sandy Grant was going to do a series of articles over at the Sola Panel on Zac Veron’s Leadership on the Front Foot, I was excited. This book is designed to give practical leadership advice to pastors and others who work in local church ministry.

Since I’m so interested in this topic and don’t have ready access to the book here in America, I went over to the Youthworks website where I was able to read a sample chapter that dealt with electronic giving. Electronic giving enables folks to set up an automatic withdrawal from their bank account that goes directly to the account of their church. It seems like a good and handy thing since so many people now bank and pay their bills online, but this is a trend that has concerned me for some time. I wondered what counsel Veron would offer. I was very disappointed.

What I found in that one chapter was the kind of pragmatism that harms the church. Does electronic giving work? Evidently it does. It worked at Veron’s church, but it takes away a vital dimension of our worship. Giving our offering or alms is an act of corporate worship (Acts 2:42; 1 Cor. 16:1-4).[1] Apostolic example provides us with clear warrant. If we believe this, then shouldn’t we take the offering during our corporate worship services? If we can worship by giving online, can we worship by listening to sermons online and eliminate the need to show up at our local church on Sunday morning? That would be convenient and possibly increase the “attendance” at our “services,” but I don’t know any preacher who wants to go that route.

Veron also believes electronic giving will make it easier to invite visitors to church. If no offering is taken, they won’t be uncomfortable having the plate pass in front of them. But that is also problematic. The old Southern Presbyterians used to say that taking the offering was one way God uses to wean us from our covetousness. If people are unwilling to give, the offering plate may become a means of conviction. The fact that their wallet stays in their pocket or purse may be used by God to show them where their priorities lie.

We should not go out of our way to make people feel uncomfortable. In some churches, visitors are asked not to give to the offering so that they will realize the church is not after their money. That’s not a bad idea. A few words of explanation can go a long way at clearing up misunderstandings. But if taking an offering as an act of worship makes visitors uncomfortable, they will just have to be uncomfortable. Perhaps if visitors saw God’s people giving generously, emptying their wallets into the plate, they would fall down and say, “Surely God is in this place.”

Paul was unwilling to accept remuneration in some of the places he preached (see, for example, 1 Cor. 9:12ff; 1 Thess. 2:9), and some may find in this example a reason not to require public offerings. But doesn’t the context show us that this was Paul’s practice in new mission areas? No one should go to evangelize any people group and demand money from them. The unsaved are not responsible to support missions (3 John 7). But once a church is established with preaching and the other means of grace, it’s time to start taking an offering.

Once you set up electronic giving with your bank, you can forget about it. Never again will you have to ask, “Did I remember my check book?” “Do I have the right offering envelope?” With a few clicks of the mouse, you can eliminate the need to think about giving at all. And that’s the problem. If we give as a part of our weekly, corporate worship, we have the opportunity to remember who God is and just how dependent we are upon him. Weekly, corporate giving brings us face to face with our needs and the necessity of trusting the Lord to supply. It also gives us the opportunity to thank him for all he has given us and to acknowledge that every dime in every account belongs to him, not just the percentage we’re putting in the plate.

Electronic giving is a pragmatic idea the church can do without, in spite of Zac Veron’s enthusiastic endorsement. Not only is it not a good idea, it may end up being spiritually harmful. Surely we can be inconvenienced to write a check once a week.


[1] “When Martin Bucer (1491—1551) in his Grund und Ursach of 1524 tried to summarize what should be included in the service of worship, he appealed to the text of Acts 2:42, ‘And they continued in the teaching and fellowship of the Apostles, in the breaking of bread and the prayers.’ As Bucer understood this, the service of worship which aspired to follow the apostolic example should include preaching and teaching, the giving of alms, the celebration of communion and the service of prayer. Perhaps most of this would seem self-evident except for the second of the four pasts, the giving of alms. Bucer’s approach to the Greek text of the book of Acts, if a bit original, was certainly sound enough. The Greek word in question is koinonia which can mean communion or fellowship or very practically the sharing of material goods with those who are in need. We can leave aside the question of whether Bucer’s translation was completely appropriate. His sense of liturgical balance was impeccable. The giving of alms should always be regarded as one of the constituent elements of Christian worship.” Hughes Oliphant Old, Worship that is Reformed According to Scripture (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1984), 149.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

The latest issue of Themelios is now available online, and it’s free! This journal is published by The Gospel Coalition whose website describes it as “an international evangelical theological journal that expounds and defends the historic Christian faith.” Themelios is a great resource. Be sure to bookmark the website and return to it often. Many back issues are available, and the articles cover a wide range of biblical and theological subjects.

I had the opportunity to write two book reviews for this issue. The first, a review of Paul Miller’s A Praying Life, summarizes and analyzes one of the best books on prayer I’ve ever read. I highly recommend this book. You can buy it at a discount price from Westminster Books.

I’ve also reviewed T. David Gordon’s latest book, Why Johnny Can’t Preach. While the appeal of this book is primarily for preachers, everyone would benefit from reading it.

Happy reading!

Agur and the Prayer of the Wise

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

Today we return to Proverbs 30 for another visit with our friend, Agur. Our focus will be on verses 7-9.

Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the LORD?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God. (Prov. 30:7-9 ESV)

This is the only prayer in the book of Proverbs. It doesn’t begin the way we’re accustomed to hearing prayers start. Agur moves effortlessly from talking about the Word of God (vv. 5-6) to addressing the Lord directly. This is the mark of a man of prayer. It’s as natural for him to talk to God as it is to talk about him. In verses 7-9 Agur asks God for two things: keep me honest and keep me satisfied.

Agur knows what every wise man and woman must know—himself. He knows that treachery lies deep in his heart and given the opportunity it will manifest itself in falsehood and deception (Jer. 17:9). Yes, every word of God proves true (Prov. 30:5), but without God’s grace every word of Agur would prove false. His prayer is that he might be an honest man and live among honest people.

Most of us like to think of ourselves as upright and truthful. But how often does our pride tempt us to make others think we’re just a little better than we really are? How often have we said to someone, “I’ve been praying for you” only because we shot an arrow-prayer to heaven as we saw the person approach?

Agur also asks God to provide for him in a way that enables him to lead a godly life. Far from the name-it-and-claim-it prosperity gospel, he doesn’t ask for the abundant life so he can luxuriate in high style. He asks for enough to eat so that he is neither hungry nor stuffed, enough to keep him from denying God or taking him for granted. Real Christian living is not removed from the ordinary stuff of daily life. God calls on us to live in but not of the world (cf. John 17:11, 14) so that we become more holy through our daily encounter with ordinary things such as money and food. Agur prays that he might not make an idol out of his bank account or his appetite.

Do you look at your possessions or your lunch as means of sanctification? When’s the last time you asked God to use your paycheck or your #3 combo meal to make you more like Jesus?

Unveiled Glory

Monday, July 27th, 2009

For the past two Sundays I’ve had the privilege of preaching at Grace & Peace Presbyterian Church in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. Many thanks to Pastor Bill Mayk and the elders of the church for their kind invitation. The folks at Grace & Peace are a wonderful group of believers, and Theresa and I had a great time of fellowship.

Below is the outline of the sermon preached on July 19 entitled “Unveiled Glory,” an exposition of 2 Corinthians 3:12-18. You can listen to the audio by clicking here.

The new covenant far exceeds the old with a glory that never fades, the glory of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This glory has far reaching consequences in the believer’s life.

  1. This glory gives us boldness, vv. 12-13
  2. This glory gives us freedom, vv. 14-17
  3. This glory leads us to change, v. 18

What is required?

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

What is required in the fourth commandment? The fourth commandment requireth of all men the sanctifying or keeping holy to God such set times as he hath appointed in his word, expressly one whole day in seven; which was the seventh from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, and the first day of the week ever since, and so to continue to the end of the world; which is the Christian sabbath, and in the New Testament called The Lord’s day.

Westminster Larger Catechism, Q&A 116

Christian Unity for Gospel Proclamation

Saturday, July 25th, 2009

The psalmist is right; it is good and pleasant when God’s people are unified (Psa. 133:1). Yesterday I came across a great example of Christians from various churches banding together to reach their district with the gospel. Guy Davies, a pastor in the south of England, participated in the event and has written about it on his blog.

I was encouraged to see Christ-centered churches working together to promote evangelism rather than competing for individual church growth. May their tribe increase (John 17:20-23)!

Treasure

Friday, July 24th, 2009

Of the kingdom parables Jesus told in Matthew 13, one is about a man who finds hidden treasure. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (v. 44 ESV).

There are a lot of ways to misinterpret this parable. We could say, for example, “When you find the gospel you should conceal it and not let anyone else know.” Or, “Salvation is something we have to buy or earn by our good deeds.” But interpretations like these miss Jesus’ point, not to mention their other serious flaws. This saying of our Lord is about how valuable the good news really is. We should esteem it as worth more than any other possession we could have. Do you?

Paul reminds us that this treasure has been placed in jars of clay (2 Cor. 4:7). The glorious truth of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection has been committed to us weak, frail creatures so that people will see just how wonderful Jesus Christ is. But how will people see this truth? Scottish theologian, James Denney, believed that Paul’s use of the clay jar imagery in this passage is an allusion to the story of Gideon. When Gideon and his band of three hundred surrounded the Midianites, they were carrying torches, but the light was concealed by jars that covered them. The light didn’t shine forth until the jars were broken (see the story in Judges 7).

Our earthen vessels contain “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6), but that light shines brightest when we are broken. Our sufferings are the opportunity God gives us to be his instruments. He will use us to let people see how wonderful and powerful Christ really is. The next time you suffer, remember that the Lord is breaking the clay jar so that people around you can see the light.

Our Passion

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

“Our passion should not be focused on how to provide for our needs. It should be to know and do God’s will. If we concentrate on that, God will provide what is necessary for us. Later in his ministry, Jesus would say ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work’ (John 4:34). So the way to avoid violating God’s will when going about the business of living is to make the pursuit of God’s will our great goal in life. God will look after us and provide what is best for us.”

Ajith Fernando, Jesus Driven Ministry, 77.

Two Revelations

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

Today I’d like to tell you two things about myself. These things aren’t that important, but I believe they will be a good introduction to something edifying.

First, I am not a cessationist. In other words, I don’t believe that I can prove conclusively from the New Testament that the more demonstrative gifts of the Spirit, such as healing and speaking in tongues, have ceased. As far as I am able to discern, there is not enough exegetical evidence to say that God can not or will not give these gifts to the church today. But that doesn’t mean I’m a charismatic. Though God can give these gifts to whomever and whenever he wishes, I have never seen them practiced according to the standards of the Bible (1 Cor. 14) nor do I believe they are the norm for the church today. There is a difference between a theological position about what is possible and the emphasis of a movement as to what is essential.

That leads me to the second thing I want to tell you. One of my favorite preachers is Dr. Phillip Jensen, the Dean of St. Andrews Cathedral in Sydney, Australia. With the theological and moral crisis of The Episcopal Church well under way in America and the world-wide Anglican Communion in deep distress, it may strange to have an Anglican as a hero, but Dr. Jensen is a preacher’s preacher. If you thought the Anglicanism of J.C. Ryle was dead and buried, let me assure you that it is alive and well in the Archdiocese of Sydney.

Now for the merger of these two revelations. The video found below contains an interview with Dr. Jensen about the gifts of the Spirit. In it you will find a sane and balanced biblical approach to the topic. Try to make time in your schedule to watch this 28-minute presentation. And while you’re at it, check out the other resources available at www.PhillipJensen.com.

Reformed Charismatics?