Archive for January, 2010

Still Standing but Standing Still

Friday, January 29th, 2010

To grow a healthy church should be the concern of every Christian, not just pastors and elders. It’s fairly easy to detect the signs of church illness. The preaching fails to grapple with the text and, in spite of vaunted claims of Christ-centeredness, the messages are more about man or (worse yet) the preacher. In sick churches, elders become yes men rather than shepherds. And if church discipline is exercised, it’s done so with a heavy hand. Eventually folks seek healthier, greener pastures and, as often as not, the leadership remains oblivious.

But what about a stagnant church? Churches can be doctrinally healthy, even confessional, and yet enter a period where life becomes stale and dull. The routine continues. No one detects heresy in the pulpit. Folks are still friendly. But, like sails without wind, the ship lies still in the water, bobbing up and down but going nowhere.

In the latest issue of Evangelicals Now, Marcus Honeysett discusses this very issue and offers a penetrating analysis of stagnant church life. Here’s one example why churches stall.

Not understanding how to release and encourage everyone in the church to use their spiritual gifts for the building up of the church. This stall can take several different forms: the church (or the leader) that expects the leader to do everything and everyone else to do nothing; the church that thinks that participation is not a matter of identifying and utilising gifts but of exercising a vote at a church meeting; the church that doesn’t want to be challenged out of a cultural comfort zone and that insists that its leaders act as their chaplains for meeting exclusively internal spiritual needs. There are two types of DNA in churches. One type of church says ‘we exist to have our personal spiritual needs met’, the other ‘we exist to impact our locality and the world with the gospel of the grace of God in Christ’. The first type is a stalled church.

I encourage you to read the full article. It’s brief and will only take a couple of minutes, but I believe it will offer you a template against which to examine your own attitude toward the Lord’s work as well as a guide to praying for your church leadership.

The Boy King

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

Today, January 28, marks the 463rd anniversary of the death of Henry VIII and the ascension of Edward VI. Known as the boy king because he came to the throne of England at the tender age of nine, Edward has often been compared to King Josiah (see 2 Kings 22). Though Josiah died when he was only thirty-nine years old, he reigned in Jerusalem for thirty-one years. Long anticipated (cf. 1 Kings 13:2), his reign enabled him to enact several reforms that began with repairs to the temple and culminated in a grand celebration of Passover (2 Kings 23:21-23). Though Josiah’s reign was a high point in Hebrew history, his reforms were not enough to divert divine judgment (2 Kings 23:24-27).

Edward VI had a brief reign of only six years. Raised with Protestant influence, Edward’s faith had about it the genuine marks of salvation. During his reign, the Church of England pressed forward with reforms in doctrine and worship. The Mass was abolished, clergy were allowed to marry, and worship services were conducted in English so the common people could understand the Word of God.

Though this successor, Mary I (Bloody Mary), sought to reverse all reforms and return England to the Roman Catholic faith, Edward’s work and that of his archbishop, Thomas Cranmer, was not wasted. The Elizabethan Religious Settlement of 1559 secured a lasting place for Edward’s reformation, and England would yet see a mighty work of God.

If you would like to learn more about this time period, I suggest listening to a lecture on Thomas Cranmer by Rudi Heinze. Given at Oak Hill Theological College, it provides an overview of Cranmer’s ministry as well as some insight into the heart and mind of this Reformer.

Thirty-seven Terrible Years

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

Today marks the 37th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. The Lord will not hold America guiltless for the countless babies that have been murdered during that time.

There are several articles you should read today. Justin Taylor has an interview with Clarke Forsythe, a leading strategist for the pro-life movement. Kevin DeYoung has also posted two interesting pieces. The first, Like An Electric Current, is disturbing. You may find it difficult to read, but you should read it. We all need to be reminded of the Nazi-like horror that takes place in sanitary clinics. The second one, Accusing and Excusing for 37 Years, looks at the various ways states define persons and murder.

I hope you will not only read these articles but also take time today to pray that the Lord will bring an end to these atrocities in our nation. We need revival. We need it badly. And we need it soon.

Which comes first?

Monday, January 18th, 2010

Which should come first in prayer—confession of sin or praise to God? It seems as though confession should have priority of place. Since God is absolutely holy (Isa. 6:3), shouldn’t we clean up our act before we approach his throne? That seems logical, but it isn’t the pattern we find in Scripture.

This morning my wife and I were discussing the order of events in Nehemiah 8 and 9, and that got me thinking about this topic. In chapter eight, the people gather to hear Ezra read the Word of God (8:1-8). They come under conviction of sin but are told not to mourn (8:9-12). They were to rejoice in God and only later, in chapter 9, do they confess their sin. And even their prayer of confession begins with an extended portion of praise (9:6-15)! This same order occurs in the Lord’s Prayer. Hallowing God’s name precedes asking for forgiveness (Matt. 6:9-13).

Although there is no one passage that explains the rationale for this order, I do believe there are some observations we can make about it from the general teaching of Scripture. First, praise puts confession in its proper theological context. We must remember that no matter whom our sin may have hurt nor how much restitution we may need to make, ultimately we have rebelled against God himself. In David’s great prayer of repentance he cries out, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Ps. 51:4). If we begin with confession, we are apt to concentrate on overt sins. We confess an unkind word or an unclean thought. If, however, we move to confession from words of adoration, we are better prepared to confess attitudes such as pride, greed, and self-centeredness.

Praise also keeps confession from degenerating into despondency. Part of our praise must surely include the redeeming love of God in Christ. If we begin our prayer time by focusing on how awful we are (and we’re worse than we think), we can become paralyzed by an overwhelming sense of guilt. But if our hearts have already been full of evangelical adoration, we will not be defeated by too much sorrow. We will find our joy in Christ and his gospel, and this joy will be our strength (Neh. 8:10).

I want to point out, finally, that what I’m talking about is the pattern of our regular times of prayer, not the repentance and confession that come when you’ve sinned and found your conscience smitten by the Holy Spirit. If you’re convicted of a sin, confess it immediately. The Puritans used to say, “Keep short accounts with God.” But in the daily rhythm of seeking God in prayer, begin by adoring him. The higher your thoughts of God go, the deeper your confession and repentance will be.

A Method for Prayer

Friday, January 15th, 2010

Prayer is a living communion with God. To talk about a method for prayer seems cold and stiff, far too formal for the dynamism of a soul wrestling with the Almighty. And yet, as the most experienced saints of old have taught us, our minds need a pattern or way of praying that keeps us in tune with scriptural priorities and at the same time keeps our attention focused on the task at hand.

One well-known outline of prayer is the ACTS method. When we approach the throne of grace, we should do so with adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. Jonathan Aitken has expanded this acronym to ACTORS. Between thanksgiving and supplication we should also pray about our relationship with the Lord. Aitken discusses this method in his book Prayers for People Under Pressure (Crossway, 2008). He describes his own journey in prayer in the introduction which is available online.

Another great resource is Matthew Henry’s A Method for Prayer. Many Christians are familiar with Henry’s commentaries which help us to understand the Bible, but in this volume he helps us to pray the Bible. Thankfully it’s now available online. The access is free, and you will find the dividends invaluable.

Many believers have never been taught to pray the Bible. For them, prayer involves trying to think up things to say to God. When we pray through Scripture, we are in direct touch with the mind of God. We understand his priorities and have apt words to express just what we need. If you’ve never prayed through a passage, begin by choosing a favorite Psalm. Turn its words into praise and petition. Soon you’ll find your prayer life growing deeper than it ever has before.

Haitian Horror

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

The stories coming out of Haiti are heart-breaking. The headline photos for today’s Wall Street Journal capture the horrific nature of what the people of that island nation are facing.

As the world rushes to aid this poor country, we Christians have a significant role to play. Many missions and relief agencies are already on the ground in Haiti, but they need more money to meet immediate demands. Mission to the World, the international missionary agency of my own denomination, The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), has a fund set up, and you can easily make donations online. Sovereign Grace Ministries has done the same. You may wish to give through your own local church or some other ministry. Just be sure to give.

These suffering Haitians are precious souls made in the image of God. Giving toward relief efforts is not just a humanitarian act; it’s a way of serving Christ (Matt. 25:40). I realize that everyone’s bank account runs a bit thin these days, but even a small donation (enough to buy a cup of cold water) will not go unrewarded (Matt. 10:42).

When it comes to tragedies like this, I’m always amazed at how quickly people jump to conclusions, as though God’s providential actions are always crystal clear. Pat Robertson has presumed to pronounce the earthquake as God’s curse on Haiti. Perhaps Mr. Robertson has forgotten the words of Jesus in Luke 13. When people mentioned the punishment Pilate inflicted upon some Galileans, the Lord said,

“Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:2-5)

Haitians are not under the curse of God any more than anyone who is outside of Christ. The unsaved Haitian sitting in the squalor of a make-shift shanty is on equal footing with the unsaved millionaire reclining in a leather chair. The believing Haitian in the same desperate circumstances is as much loved by God as a Christian in any palace in the world. The earthquake that rocked Haiti does not tell us whom God hates more than others. It does tell us that God is great and all-powerful. He controls every movement of the earth. It serves as a solemn reminder that the same God who brought disaster to Haiti will one day bring disaster to the whole earth (2 Pet. 3:10). On that day, every unrepentant person will perish. The earthquake is not an occasion to impute curses and blame; it’s an occasion to search our own hearts. What if I were one of the thousands who died? Would I be ready?

Happy New Year, sort of

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

Good intentions may pave the road to hell, but they’ve failed to make any progress toward my blog. As often as I have wanted to write, one thing after another has prevented me. In this, as in all things, I must fall back upon the sovereignty and goodness of God. He knows best.

This post is a belated new year’s greeting. I hope you had a very happy Christmas and have renewed your dedication to live all-out for Christ in 2010.

At the start of each year, many believers resolve to read through the Bible, and a number of reading plans exist to help toward this goal. My favorite, and the one I’ve returned to this year, is M’Cheyne’s Calendar for Daily Readings.

I’d like to point out another resource on the web to help you with your devotions this year. D.A. Carson’s book, For the Love of God, is being serialized as blog posts on The Gospel Coalition site. This devotional lists M’Cheyne’s readings for the day (one click opens the Bible text in a separate window). Carson then comments on one of the passages or a theme suggested by one or more of the texts. Rather than passing on “a few blessed thoughts,” Carson deals directly with the text and places its message in the scope of redemptive history. This devotional will prove an invaluable resource to help you grasp the breadth and depth of the one story God is telling in his Word.

Yes, I’m late with my new year’s greeting, but it’s not too late to determine to read through your Bible this year. Reading Christians are growing Christians. There are no shortcuts to spirituality, but there are steps—one chapter at a time.