Book Review: Finding the Right Hills to Die On

I saw this book fly by and it caught my eye immediately. As a Pastors/Elders, one of the frequent tasks we are called to is untangling false teaching. How can we do that in a way that is gentle, and sensitive [2 Timothy 2:24-26]…yet still fulfills the Biblical command to “protect the flock from wolves?” [acts 20:28-30]

Finding the Right Hills to Die On: The Case for Theological Triage, is written by Gavin Ortlund. It’s my first time reading anything by Gavin, but I have been immensely helped by his father Ray’s writings and teachings.

Gavin rightly points out from the jump, that the term “theological triage” is something that Albert Mohler developed, which the author does a masterful job of taking further and theory and application.

All doctrines are not created equal and it is actually essential that we make accurate biblical distinctions. You would think that a focus on doctrinal distinctions would create more division, but Ortlund rightly points the dangers of simply equating all doctrines “What is at stake? For starters, equating all doctrines leads to unnecessary division and undermines the unity of the church.” [43]

How do we do this well and not make everything a heresy hunt…because [gasp] not every doctrinal difference is heresy. [Despite what the pitchfork-weilding mobs on Twitter may say.]. Christians have to find a way to unite, without compromising on what is actually heresy. Ortund’s heart is seen quickly in this book, calling us to examine our own hearts, asking “Do we want unity? Is it a value to us, as it is to Jesus?” [59]

Yes, we do. Or…at least we need to want unity. We should. Christians aren’t the only ones who read the Twitter wars, you know.

What buckets do we separate doctrinal issues into? [Chapter 2]

  • First-rank doctrines are those that are essential to the gospel itself.
  • Second-rank doctrines are urgent for the health and practice of the church to such a degree that they tend to be the cause of separation at the level of local church, denomination, and/or ministry.
  • Third-rank doctrines are important to Christian theology, but not important enough to be the basis for separation.
  • Fourth-rank doctrines are unimportant to our gospel witness and ministry collaboration.

I genuinely loved Chapter 3, which was a transparent testimony of Ortlund’s own journey through the waters of doctrinal triage. I loved how he worked through big issues, like baptism, creation…with an open Bible and lots of conversations. That’s the thing I think we are missing in all this – we need to have more conversations. Not skirmishes. Conversations.

That being said, Ortlund is calling us to overlay some very important clarifying questions on top of the doctrinal triage buckets: [129]

  1. How Clear is the Bible on this doctrine?
  2. What is the doctrine’s importance to the gospel?
  3. What is the testimony of the historical church concerning this doctrine?
  4. What is the doctrine’s effect upon the church today?

Ortlund immediately gives us some practical handles to grab on to this concept. As always, it isn’t always black and white. “We should distinguish between what must be affirmed and what most not be denied. Related to this, we must distinguish between what must be affirmed when someone becomes a Christian and what must be affirmed as a characteristic of growth in Christ over time.” [131]

Why? Because people are in the middle. One of my favorite quotes nails this “We must distinguish between confused sheep and active wolves.” [133]

In the world of “first-rank” doctrines, we are talking about things like the virgin birth and justification by faith alone. When we start exploring the implications of alternate views based on the clarifying questions above, it quickly becomes apparent, there are definitely some hills worth dying on. Just not all of them.

As for “second-rank” doctrines we look to issues such as baptism, spiritual gifts, and women in ministry. Ortlund immediately notes that these issues are harder to rank and not “ever doctrine fits neatly into one of three or four categories. Doctrines to not exist in a theological vacuum, context and usage matters, and so do attitudes. Theological triage is, therefore, about far more than technical correctness in adjudicating this or that doctrine. It involves our whole posture towards theology.” [167-8ish]

Gavin navigates each of these issues deftly and humbly in the book, bringing in questions 1-4 above to increase focus, teasing out different angles to make us think more critically on these issues, as opposed to just making a call.

“Third-rank” doctrines include things like the millennium and days of creation. The central thought behind it being just because we could fight a battle…doesn’t mean we should. I love that, our default position should not be one of battle, but of humility.

Ortlund thinks the same way has he ends the book with the conclusion chapter “A Call to Theological Humility.” He writes “In doing theological triage, humility is the first thing, the second thing, and the third thing. It is our constant need, no matter what issue we are facing.” [258]

This directly relates to the unity of the church. “If maintaining the unity of the body of Christ is not costing you anything – if it doesn’t hurt – then you probably aren’t adjusting enough.” [266]

What a great book. I could see this book becoming a great resource for new elders, deacons, or small group leaders. It is also a very well researched book. There are extensive chapter end notes, for further study.

This book is not for theological nerds or Twitter hit men looking for a fight. It is for all of us. We should all be wanting to better engage in doctrinal conversations and promote humility and nity in the church. Grab this one and keep it on your shelf!

Israel Day 6 and 7.25 – ExtraBiblical History

Day 6 started on a sober note as we spent a few hours in the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum.   What human beings are capable of, by continued and prolonged rationalization and sin.  Even though this was not a Biblical site, we saw the reality of original sin and evil in the world.

In a way, history keeps repeating itself.  When we lose sight of God, we lose sight of a God-centered, Biblical-centered worldview.  ALL human beings – whether they haven’t been born yet, or they are refugees from war torn countries, or they are helpless and poverty stricken in a third world country, or they are a 95-year old in a nursing home – are made in the image of God and have value, dignity, and worth.

What’s the solution to evil?  God provided one in Jesus.  Who dealt evil, sin and death a mortal wound when he rose from the grave and will one day return to bring final and permanent defeat.

From there, we went to Genesis Land, where Mel and I rode a camel to a tent in the desert and sat and more yummy food.

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After that, we made our way, via cable car, to Masada.  The site of incredible history.  You can read all about it here.  But in a nutshell, it was one of Herod’s palaces.  A place of an incredible stand-off with the Jews, stunning architecture and engineering, and tremendous views.

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We then settled into our hotel on the Dead Sea, surrounded by mountains.  After another nice meal, and some more desert that I didn’t need, we hit the sack and got up early to see [most of] the sun rise over the water and then floated in the Dead Sea…which is NUTS, and fun.

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Today we are off to Qumran, where they found the Dead Sea Scrolls, and a few other places.  Word on the street is that there is lots of walking today.  That’s good, yesterday I only walked 6.89 miles.

Israel Day 4 – Jerusalem Part 3

OK, so.

Google Photo page is updated…took lots of pics today, so be forewarned.

We started the day by seeing some of the remnants of the original City of David and some of the artifacts. Why is that awesome?  Welp, this is a pretty recent find and it is so awesome because they found things like one of David’s kingly seals that bear the names of dudes that are in the BIBLE.  Check out an article on that here.   Just you know…more reasons to believe the Bible is completely legit, NBD.

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We then walked thru Hezekiah’s Tunnel. This has so much history, I think I blew out a cluster of brian cells. When the Assyrians were making their way toward Jerusalem, after sacking the Northern Kingdom,  in like the 7th century BC.  They figured they needed to fortify the city, find a way of getting food and supplies if under siege, and ultimately creating a way of escape when everything hits the fan.

We walked it, still with water in it, sometimes up to our knees, but mostly up to our ankles and in REALLY tight dark closed in spaces.  The tunnel is 500m or so and leads from the Gihon Spring, where it gets it’s water from, to the famous Pool of Siloam.

Speaking of which, we emerged from the crazy tunnel at the pool of Siloam from John 9.  Well, part of it.  Actually like maybe 10% of it, as the rest is under ground and no one has permission to dig it out…yet.  Maybe we will see the whole thing the next trip.

From there we thought we were done with smelly, dark, cramped, tunnel walks…but NO!  Ryan led us on yet another ~500 meter walk under the streets.  Except now, fast forward til about 70AD when the Romans came in and leveled Jerusalem.  Same deal as the Assyrians, they knew they had to get out of town when it all went down, so the Jews fled the city in the tunnels..drainage tunnels…sewage tunnels under the streets.  Archeologists have actually found old coins and pieces of lamps down there.

It gets more crazy.  The Romans eventually figured out that there were refugee Jews living/fleeing under the streets in the drainage tunnels, so they tore up parts of the street to try and kill them.  The holes in the ancient streets are now boarded up with wood – CRAZY!

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From there we went to the South Steps of the temple mount, or what is left of them.  It was incredible to think that Jesus may have walked up these steps to go to the temple.  What a HUGE structure.  The walls on the corner [which is actually the end of the Western Wall] are crazy high.  They also had seemingly hundreds of the ritual cleansing pools at the base of the steps.

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We then proceeded to the actual public section of the Western Wall. Well, I went on my side and Mel went on hers.  This time we got up close and saw the Jews from all over the world at the wall – their faces on the wall, praying, bobbing, stuffing prayers written on paper into the cracks of the wall – so many that they overflowed onto the ground.

Some of our group became emotional, at seeing the frenzied attempts to be close to God, in basically the historic remains of an ancient building.  God’s presence isn’t limited to a building.  Going there doesn’t bring you closer to him.  Putting a prayer in the wall doesn’t forgive any of your sins.  This is the tension of this trip – a legalistic pursuit of salvation is all so tragically hopeless.

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Jesus actually lived, actually went to the cross and actually rose again as the promised Messiah.  He is the only way to the Father.  He said it simply –

“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:6–7 ESV)

Tomorrow, the plan is that we see some of the evidences of Jesus’ life and death up close.

 

 

 

Israel Day 3 – Jerusalem, Part 2

Google pictures UPDATED with today’s photo barrage.

Back to Jerusalem!  Today, we got dropped off in the Old City and basically never left all day.  We walked from one side to the other – through all four quarters – Jewish, Christian, Aremian, and Muslim.  Really the only way you knew where you were was by the dress of the people and the writing on the signs.

We started at the Western Wall entrance to the tunnels.  We didn’t spend much time at the wall, just enough for Mel to get yelled at for trying to walk thru the MEN ONLY entrance, and for me to get a few pics.  We will be back at the wall tomorrow for a closer look.

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The tunnels, were not actually tunnels, but an underground network of arches built by King Herod when he expanded the Temple Mount area for the second temple.  Part of the Western Wall is still in the tunnel and is also where some women come to pray, as it is supposedly closest to where the Holy of Holies was in the temple originally.  Read more about all that stuff here.

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Next thru the Lions Gate and a visit to the Pool of Bethesda [see John 5], and a walk thru the Via Delarosa, where we had an amazing lunch in the Muslim section.  [Falafels and Shawarma and crazy strong Turkish coffee, all under the watchful eye of the Israeli Border Patrol police.]

We then went to the traditional palace of Pilate where Jesus would have been tried, convicted, and beaten. We had a powerful time of reflection in Isaiah 53 and the suffering Servant, thankful for Jesus’ humbling himself to do the Father’s will in redeeming us.

Then thru the Jaffa Gate and into the Old City proper, starting with the market place…never seen so many shops crammed with stuff and people crammed everywhere in one place.  Watch your wallets and phones, kids.

We went for a hike/walk along the Ramparts Walk – which was built by Suleiman the Magnificent around 485 years ago, during the Ottoman Empire.  That was a good workout, lots of steps and great views of the city below.

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We went out the Zion Gate, complete with bullet holes from the Arab-Isreali war in 1948, toward the traditional place of the Upper Room and the Last Supper.  Again, one of those spots that they think is close, and has since been re-designed, re-built, including a stint as a mosque – and is now a tourist stop where no worship is allowed.

This was all adjacent to/part of the Tomb of David complex, which again, “traditionally” is King David’s tomb.  It is one of the holier sites of Judaism, yet we could enter.  Men, with their heads covered and women in their own separate spot.  I went up to the prayer room, but saw it crowded with Orthodox Jews deep into it and since I was now in a T-shirt with ink flying everywhere, I decided to leave them alone and not cause a potential offense.

On the roof of the compound, was once the holiest site for Jews, when they couldn’t access the temple mount area, as they could at least see it.

…but now, since they can access the temple mount area…it’s not really that holy anymore.  Their justification before God tied to actions and places and rituals.

This is the hopeless way of legalism.

We cannot go to any holy site to make ourselves closer to God.  We cannot do anything to atone for our sin. We need someone to atone our sin for us.  In all the beauty and history of Jerusalem, it’s sad to see some still chase fruitlessness.

God sent Jesus, to walk the Via Delarosa for us, with the cross beam on his back, bloodied and battered.  He was the one foretold, who would come from Israel to be our suffering servant.   Through faith in Jesus, he has provided us direct access to God by atoning for our sin – what we can never do – no matter what place we go to, or what ritual we do.

The hopeless route of obeying the rules to make God love us is obliterated in Jesus – who loves us enough to go to the cross and die for us, all in obedience to the Father’s plan of redemption.  Through Jesus, we are forgiven, we are healed, we are righteous.

Ryan reminded us well of 1 Peter 2:24, and the centrality of the work of Jesus.

“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24 ESV)

Israel Day 2 – Jerusalem

So…again…WOW.  It’s hard to describe everything that you see, hear, smell and experience when you are walking thru Jerusalem for the first time.

Before we begin:  Click HERE for all the photos!  I took TONS…

First, we stopped at an observation point to get a look at the city from a higher elevation.  The first thing I noticed were tombstones – essentially concrete coffin-like boxes.  HUNDREDS [thousands?] of them.  All with stones of remembrance laid on top.  I thought…there has to be something to this.  There is.  When the Messiah comes/returns the resurrection will happen…and the idea is he would come back to the same mount he ascended from…you’d want to have your grave nearby so you were ready to go.

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On the other side of the wall, you have the Golden/East Gates [see Ezekiel 44] where the Messiah will supposedly enter the city from, and you have hundreds of Arab graves there to stop him.

This is so much of the tension that is here.  Different religious ideas all co-existing [or not] within a country the size of New Jersey.   Christians, Jews, Muslims…and if you add in all the different sects and varieties of each, it’s easy to get the theological head spins. It is such a combination of frustrating, and lighting a fire in me to continue to be faithful in the pursuit of sound Biblical doctrine.

On a more touching note, we spent time in the Garden of Gethsemane, [see Matthew 26:36cf] and even though those weren’t the exact trees that Jesus leaned on while he was praying for the Father to take the cross from him, it still was profoundly powerful nonetheless.

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We also went to what is traditionally known as the High Priest Caiaphas’ palace, and saw where they believe Jesus was held prisoner and whipped the night he was arrested.  One of the many places that silence was observed as people took time to reflect and pray.

We spent time at the Israel Museum and took in all the history of a 400:1 model of the city of Jerusalem at around 65AD.  Huge amounts of Biblical history to be had there, not to mention we also stopped by the Shrine of the Book and saw some actual Hebrew manuscripts and a facsimile of the Dead Sea Scroll version of Isaiah. [We were not allowed to take pics indoors!]

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We also spent time in shop owned by Evangelical Christians in Jerusalem, who worship in Aramaic, so we got to hear one of the owners pray the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic.

Perhaps the shopping highlight was the market in Judah.  It was less of a tourist stop, and more of a local spot.  It was absolutely amazing.  [It was also slightly freaky, as we all know any terrorist account in the movies starts in a market…]. Mel and I scored some good gift purchases and it made me thankful that I get to take in all this with my best friend and soul mate.

Onward to tomorrow!

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Israel 2019 – Departure!

I’ve been preparing for our Israel trip by reading Augustine’s Confessions.  [Doesn’t everyone?]

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OK, it’s not totally strange, as for the past few days in all the controlled chaos of shopping, collecting supplies, packing…I’ve tried to determine what I’m going to do/read in the 10+ hours of travel.  And I got hooked on this book.  It’s one of those that I’ve started and stopped at a previous time, and now wondering why I never kept reading.

And so, the early morning hours of our departure day, I read this quote

“For what is nearer to thine ears than a confessing heart, and a life of faith?”

It struck me as we are traveling over 5,000 miles for the trip of a lifetime, that maybe some people do it in an attempt to be nearer to God.

Yet what Augustine was referring to is the reality that we are not nearer to God in any particular city, or holy land – only thru confession of faith in God’s Son, Jesus. Paul writes,

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:13 ESV)

Jesus is our Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer.  He is our way to God.  While Melanie and I look forward to walking where He walked, and absorbing all the spiritual realities, and Biblical history – we are thankful that Jesus did what no place ever could – reconcile sinners to God.

More posts and pictures to come.  Next stop Israel!

 

Book Review – The Pastor’s Justification

Whilst listening to the For the Church Podcast the other day, the question posed was something like “What books have been helpful for you as a pastor?” The immediate response was “The Pastor’s Justification” – of which…I have never heard…until that moment. He said it so matter of factly that I was embarrassed I hadn’t heard of it, nevertheless read it.  Good thing I was alone in the Mighty Tundra.  71ywgW3NGgL.jpg

Being that we live in the age of one-click, I actually ordered it from the Amazon app while driving [I’m sure it was safe], and had it in 2 days.

I consumed it shortly thereafter, and I must agree…it is profoundly helpful.

Jared Wilson is a ridiculously talented writer.  I don’t say that just in hopes that he re-tweets this, but because it’s true.  He knows what pastoring is like and he translates that with transparency, depth, and humor that makes for a profoundly helpful read.

As the title indicates – pastors, like most perhaps, are prone to searching for a ‘justification’ – something to ease the nagging questions of the tired soul. “Am I doing enough?” “Am I even good at this?” “Am I doing too much?” “I’m probably terrible at this, right?” Jared proclaims what we all need to keep our drooping soul’s eyes fixed on – “there is no Justification 2.0 for ministers of the gospel. There is only the gospel itself – the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.” [19]. How to get that thru our thick skulls and into a Monday reality is what this book is all about.

The pastor, although still working out his own salvation with fear and trembling, is still the one called to lead the church to their own maturity, through their own muck and mire.  On Sunday, as he stands in the pulpit and pours out what the Holy Spirit has been pouring into him all week, he walks in full – while the church walks in empty.  On Monday morning the reverse happens, the pastor is now empty, drained from the whirlwind that was Sunday, and the church is full.  Happy Monday.  I agree the “Monday morning pastoral hangover is real.”

For me, this is a mixed blessing, as I truly love what I’ve been given the privilege of doing.  Let’s face it, it’s joy and an honor.  But the image of a stone that is pushed up a hill all week only to watch it roll back down to the bottom each Sunday afternoon.  Monday afternoon, it’s time to get rolling again.  My routine side loves that [Nerd Alert/Routine Idolatry], but the reality is that many Mondays, my arms are tired, and my soul is achy. Isn’t that the same for all of us?

Pastors are to be free – free from sin through the justification by faith in Jesus.  Free from the sin of being arrogant, from ruling harshly, from leading with selfish gain.

Pastors are to be holy – and we rest again in the justification of Jesus who accomplished this for us.  “Be holy, for I am holy.” [1 Peter 1:16] is “both a command and a promise (thank God.)”.  [41]. Yet, we are called to be killing sin, and growing in personal holiness. Robert Murray McCheyne famously said, “The greatest need of my people is my personal holiness.”  Not better programs, though we should be innovative.  Not better sermons, though we are called to be diligent.  We need to submit ourselves to the Word that we are proclaiming on Sunday mornings.   We will be holy, if we obey, so obey.

Pastors are to be humble – this, even in a small church context is challenging.  There is a constant flow of compliments, and to balance them…some critiques as well.  But the reality is that if we are being faithful, God is at work and people will change and they will be thankful.  Wilson reminds us that we need to be humble in all things – in suffering, in ‘messy ministry’, in prayer and in the Word.

Pastors are to be confident.  Not in ourselves, for we are to be “point them to the real Jesus and away from yourself.” [80] We are to be cultivating a “gospel-wakened” sense that goes beyond worship styles, “petty criticisms and legalistic slander.” [88]

Pastors are to be watchful. Watchful toward those who need Jesus, even (especially?) those who are ‘less-than.’ Watchful against heresy – an ever increasing risk in this internet age.  Watchful against apostasy – a casual glance at Twitter of late will show only an increase in big name apostasy.  How do we work through that and in our own people? Watchful against gossip.  Watchful against division.  And watchful against ourselves – as Wilson repeats several times…and it hurts every time (thanks Jared) “Remember, the pastor’s biggest problem is himself.” [96]. Who watches us?  We can certainly isolate ourselves and there is where the danger is.  Tell the truth. Let people in.  Trusted mature brothers.  [and I’ll add for good measure – listen to your wife.  She is a good and Godly gift to see our hearts when we don’t want to]

Pastors are justified.  Our security, the one that shakes when things don’t go as planned, must be in Jesus.  Fire our internal defense lawyer.  Christ justifies. Not us.  “I am a dummy, and God is good.” [109]. Again, thanks for that, Jared.

In Part 2, Wilson anchors the “glory” of pastors in the gospel, using the Five Solas.   Sola Scriptura – Scripture is authoritative and complete, so we preach God’s Word and we stand on it’s authority, not ours.  Let God’s Word do God’s work.

Sola Gratia – we are saved only by God’s grace, so we model grace to our people.  We “seed grace in every space.” [139]. This speaks to the need for gospel intentionality in all things – the gospel of grace first, not programs.  This quote is soooo good, I just have to drop it – “A community whose culture is gospel-intentioned is the antidote to programmed discipleship, where “church” is not the people but a set of programs and activities, and its relegated to fitting into the sovereignty of peoples schedules.” [140] #Boom.

Sola Fide – we are justified by our faith alone, in Jesus, so we pastor by faith, and that includes letting people in.  Being transparent.  [See Wilson’s story of the start of his pastorate in Vermont…] We faithfully preach God’s Word and we let it do It’s work.

Solus Christus – it’s only Christ, so we make him the center.  If you are familiar with the FTC podcast that’s Wilson’s thing “May Jesus be big.”   Since it’s Christ who justifies us, it’s all about Jesus.

Soli Deo Gloria – it’s all about God’s glory, not ours, so we pastor to bring honor to Him.  “The pastor who will see God’s glory is the pastor who pursues God’s glory in exclusion of  everything that falls short. All lesser glories may be placed on the altar.” [168]. He must increase, I must decrease…

This book hurt a little.  The good kind of hurt.  Part of it was validating…maybe I’m not crazy…maybe we are on the right track. Part of it was encouraging…maybe I’m not the only guy that thinks these things.  Part of it was confronting…Pastors, we have a precious calling, but a dangerous one.  We must be every vigilant, to proclaim not our own justification, but only the justification of Jesus in all we do.

 

 

 

 

 

Husbands/Dads: Spiritual Leadership?

It’s a topic that can strike fear in the hearts of men.  Especially, when you realize that the Bible in fact calls men to be the spiritual leaders of their home, [Ephesians 5:22-23] and you have little to no idea what that actually means or how to do that.

I get it.  Some days it seems as complicated as my daughters AP Calculus homework.

BUT, don’t let your hearts be troubled –  it doesn’t have to be that way.  Let’s look at 4 practical areas to focus on.

  1. Your Own Spiritual Growth.  Flat out:  you can’t lead anyone where you haven’t gone yourself.  Jesus says the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. [Matthew 22:37-38] Husbands/Dads, are you personally pursuing a deeper relationship with God thru His Word, centered on the gospel of Jesus Christ?  Does your family know that you have a time where you daily seek God in His Word and prayer?  Do they see your relationship with God being of the highest importance to you?  Here’s one that hurts – do they see you actively putting sin to death? Even when it includes confessing sin and asking for forgiveness from family members? Until your own spiritual growth is a priority, it doesn’t make much sense to try to lead others.
  2. Your Wife’s Heart.  Next to loving God, we are called to love others as much as we love our own selves, as the second most important commandment.  [Matthew 22:39]. There is no closer neighbor than the one you share your bed with.  Are you pursuing your wife?  Knowing what is going on in her life? Her cares, concerns, victories?  What is battling for territory in her heart?  Are you leading her to God’s Word to encourage her? Are you initiating prayer with her regularly?
  3. Your Kid’s Hearts.  Now that you’ve addressed the most important two commandments, we have a foundation for getting after our kids.  We are called to not exasperate them, but bring them up in the fear and instruction of the Lord. [Ephesians 6:4] Are you praying for them regularly?  Are you asking them how they are doing in their spiritual walks?  Are you having the hard conversations with them about the sin in their lives and teaching them how to handle it?  Are you having family times of being in His Word and praying? Are you prioritizing church attendance and membership? Which leads us to…
  4. Your Service In the Church. It’s critical that you are plugged into a solid, Bible-preaching, Christ-centered local church where you can serve others.  [1 Peter 4:11] Does your family see you serving?  Even better – do you serve together?  Do you celebrate the church or tear it to shreds on the ride home?  Do you show them you really value worshipping God as you stand and sing, track along with the sermon, and prioritize serving the body in humility.

Rest assured, this is not an exhaustive list, but it hopefully is helpful in getting our arms around what it means for a man to spiritually lead his family.

Let us all strive to better understand and walk in this as we all grow into the image of Jesus by His grace.

 

Processing the Las Vegas Shooting

I have the chance to speak to the students at Veritas Christian Academy at their chapel service this week.  Here’s what I plan to share and how I’m trying to process the Las Vegas shooting in my own spirit.

 The worst mass shooting in US History.  You can’t even wrap your mind around it. As expected there is no shortage of anger, sorrow, confusion and online venting.  There has also been several public responses by well-known figures – one well known televangelist even said that this was God’s punishment for athletes not showing proper respect for the flag.

I’d like to humbly suggest a few things to keep in mind as we process horrific, seemingly random, tragic events such as these. 

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First, humans cannot speak for God, apart from His Word.  God has given us his Word, the Bible, as his final and authoritative revelation about himself and how we are to relate to him. [2 Timothy 3:16-17;  Romans 15:4; 2 Peter 1:20-21] Russell Moore was right to quickly point out John 9:1-3a where the disciples were positive that a man born blind had sinned [or his parents sinned] in order to deserve his disability. Jesus tells them point blank “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents…”  If anyone starts any statement with “God says…” or “God told me…” there’d better be a Scripture verse immediately following.   On a more practical level, we can’t speak for God because we aren’t God and we aren’t able to understand God.  His ways are above ours and his wisdom is unsearchable.  [Isaiah 55:8-9; Romans 11:33] We try to give God human qualities to understand him better, but the reality is that he is not like us, he is completely “other” and like no one else.  [Psalm 50:21]

Second, ultimately God never stops working for his glory.  This is the second part of the text in John 9:3b. “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him…” This is NOT a cheesy empty platitude that says there is always a silver lining, and that good will somehow come out of any tragedy.  Rather, it is an understanding of God’s sovereign control over all things based on a hard fought trust in the character of God — even when we can’t understand or remotely process what is happening and why.  Even though it might feel like God has abandoned us, or we are being punished, Scripture assures us that he has not and he is still at work in all things.   [Romans 8:28-30; Hebrews 13:5]  There is never a place or situation he cannot work in to transform and heal.

Third, people don’t need theological lectures in tragedy, they need comfort that flows from good theology.   What can do for those who are walking thru horrific tragedy?  Weep with those who weep.  [Romans 12:15]  There is enormous pressure to make sense of a situation.  It’s part of how God created the wonder of human beings.  We are questioners.  We are fixers.  Especially us men.  We want to just make sense of something and when emotions and pain are in the mix we want to say anything to make it all better and the reality is that we can’t. There is nothing you can say to someone to fix the pain of losing a loved one in a mass shooting – resist the urge for simple, empty platitudes, or theological lectures.  I commented to my wife after the news had broken of this terrible event that “there will be a lot of people who will never be the same again.” These things will forever change people. Forget trying to fix things, just flat out be there for someone.  Be present with them.  BUT…all of this must be grounded in the hard reality of the sovereignty of God.  No matter how it seems, the truth is that God is still in control and we need to trust him, despite what we see going on around us.  Evil will not have the last word and will not get away with anything.  God will enable us to get through this. Pray for them and with them for God to strengthen them, heal them, help them. Pray for the churches in the area to be refuges for the broken, read them the many Psalms that refer to our God as our strong tower, refuge, rock, strength. [Psalm 18; 61; 91; 144…]

Fourth, the ultimate comfort comes from the gospel.  There is one and only one reason why that gunman carefully planned to kill a lot of people and then did it:  sin.  There is one and only one answer to sin:  the gospel of Jesus Christ. There was sin and evil lodged deep within his heart and he acted on it.  Evil will be punished by a just and terrifying God.  But, we have to recognize that this isn’t the way that God created the world – he created the world perfect and good and he created us to serve him as our gracious King.  We rejected him.  We placed ourselves in the position of king of our lives.  In so doing, we fractured our relationship with God, incurred God’s wrath,  and unleashed sin into the world.  It has grown into a full blown monster and is consuming this world.  [Galatians 5:15]  However, God has provided the answer for sin.  He condescended and came to earth in the form of a human while still being God to both represent man and yet be perfect and sinless to be the perfect once for all sacrifice to reconcile us to God.  The problem man created,  God fixed.  We now live in that period where Jesus has already finished the work completely by living the perfect life, dying on the cross, and being raised from the dead,  and now we await his return where he will finally judge sin, punish evil, and banish it forever.  Those who have trusted him by faith will be reunited with him to enjoy him forever without cancer, chronic illness, racial injustice, or mass shootings.   As we see these tragedies and walk through them, we are reminded of the reality of sin and the future hope.

This is the ultimate comfort that this world cannot provide – God has done something.  God has provided the answer for sin.  Turn to Jesus for the forgiveness of sin, reconciliation of our souls, and hope for eternity.  This world is still broken and evil, though we have already seen many acts of goodness and kindness in the wake of this tragedy already, there will be more evil, more brokenness and our hope is not from this world.

God’s word reminds us of the comfort –  “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” [2 Corinthians 1:3-4]

 

Book Review – Conversion: How God Creates a People

The topic of genuine Biblical conversion has been on my mind lately.  In transparency, sometimes in moments of frustration where we see people stuck in patterns of sin, brokenness and unfruitfulness.  Sometimes the reason why is because maybe they never really never truly understood and submitted to Christ, and therefore they aren’t converted, regenerated, made new.

I’m also fresh off of a 9Marks Weekender and this topic is always discussed when you are spending time reflecting on what is a Biblical church.

Enter Conversion:  How God Creates a People by Michael Lawrence.  I was excited to read this as I usually am with anything from 9Marks.  I have come to value their Biblical faithfulness and clarity.

download-1Lawrence clearly states the solid reasoning why a book like this is needed right in the introduction.  “There is a problem with our theology – specifically our theology of conversion. Second, there is a problem with how we apply that theology to our church.  Too often our confessional theology says one thing, while our practical theology says something else. We say that regeneration makes us new creatures in Christ, but then we teach our kids a moralism that atheists could duplicate.” [14]  I think I’m gonna like this guy.

This problem, as I alluded to above, has then tremendous snowball effects in the body life and health of the local church.

This book targets then not the symptoms, but the underlying disease.

What do we think conversion actually looks like on the outside? It should be nothing short of complete regeneration – being made new, not just being made “nice.”  This means Godly new appetites and desires, not about just becoming a better you.  Lawrence makes a great point as to the tragic effect of this on our youth in the church “I fear this is why so many of my friends’ children have walked away from Christianity. They haven’t given up on being nice. They’ve simply discovered that they don’t need Jesus to be  nice.” [23]  Exactly.

This regeneration then not only is person, it is corporate – the new person is now part of the church where God’s new creation people glorify God by living how he has called them to live.  This has big impacts on church membership and church leaders.  Are we sure that the people we are accepting as church members and allowing to lead or worse yet…teach…are actually converted believers?  This is of paramount importance.

Lawrence faithfully lays down a biblical foundation of conversion.  We are saved…but saved from what and saved for what?  First, we are saved from God’s wrath for sin.  We need to preach and teach this hard topic because the Bible does.  It’s not “come to Jesus; he’ll give you purpose and meaning. The trouble is, subjective problems can be solved through subjective solutions.” [35]   If we are saved from God’s wrath, then we are saved by God’s grace, saved because of God’s love, saved into God’s people, and saved for God’s glory.  The Christian life is not about our happiness or fulfillment, it’s about God’s glory.  Otherwise when those things don’t materialize we are tempted to abandon Jesus…all the while we were believing in a different gospel. [44] Amen!

What then should conversion look like?  It should include repentance…real repentance. “An exchanging of our idols for God. Before it’s a change in behavior, it must be a change in worship.” [51] It should also include faith…again real faith, not just a intellectual acceptance of a set of ideas.   What faith do we teach, model, and give our people assurance of?

Contrasting pop psych-theology, the author challenges the therapeutic gospel – we need Jesus to make us OK.  “We don’t just need to accept ourselves. We need God to accept us.”  [66] Lawrence continues “Being healed then is not at all about coming to peace with ourselves. It’s about having our guild and shame and ultimately the curse removed and being restored to a right relationship with God. In other words, to be healed in Scripture is to be made holy.” [67] This is much needed perspective on this and again has a direct result in how we live.  Going back to where I began, maybe the people we are expecting to live as Christians aren’t because they aren’t actually Christians?  I underlined and highlighted this next part – “…it is not burdensome to live according to the new nature if you have it. What’s burdensome is to live according to a nature that you don’t have. In fact, its worse than burdensome. It’s impossible. Could it be that you don’t live as if you’ve been set apart because you haven’t been set apart?” [72]  #MicDropMoment

The author then diligently turns to the church itself and how a Biblical theology of conversion affects our ecclesiology.  If the church is a community of converted believers, then who are we targeting with how we “do” church?  Are we seeking to make it as comfortable as possible for those seeking?  I just read a great Spurgeon quote in a Challies post today –  “I believe that one reason why the church of God at this present moment has so little influence over the world is because the world has so much influence over the church.”  Thanks, Spurg.

This also effects how we do evangelism.  It shouldn’t be a pragmatic, sales pitchy monologue. “Successful evangelism is not about getting people to respond.” [91] What we win them with we win them to.  Is what we are saying in our witnessing reflective of a Biblically grounded conversion?  How many times does our [in transparency maybe my…] evangelism get reduced to “God loves you” or “Jesus will give you purpose.”  We need to communicate plainly, honestly, urgently,  and confidently.

When we talk then about church membership, perhaps the most important thing we can do is diligently assess whether someone is truly converted.  I’m convinced this is why so many churches are in poor health.  We’ve see the implications on a personal level – how much more so on a church level!

Lawrence wraps things up with a great summary chapter on why it all matters – It matters for God, it maters for us, and it matters for the world.  The doctrine of conversion is too important to be lead astray to a weaker, non-Biblical position.  I’m grateful for the reminder and foundation set here.