Archive | April, 2014

Quotes from the Valley of the Shadow of Death:
John Calvin (1509-1564)

calvinThe first post in this series consisted of quotes from Charles Spurgeon. The second from Dietrich Bonhoeffer. John Calvin probably did more (outside of God and His Word) to help drag me through the Valley of the Shadow of Death than any other person.

Calvin lived 500 years ago but God saw fit to have me read his majestic Institutes of the Christian Religion throughout 2013. I know, the Institutes sounds incredibly boring, but it is the most devotional work I have ever read. Spending time with Calvin is like spending time close to someone burning white hot for Jesus. I’ve written about the life of John Calvin here if you’d like to learn more about him.

Calvin spends Book 3 Chapter 8 and Chapter 9 focused primarily on the subject of living through painful circumstances. These words have been water to a thirsty soul on many occasions. I pray the Lord would allow you to get through these dense selected sentences and drink deeply of the goodness of Jesus in the midst of the valley:

But it behooves the godly mind to climb still higher, to the height to which Christ calls his disciples: that each must bear his own cross [Matt. 16:24]. For whomever the Lord has adopted and deemed worthy of his fellowship ought to prepare themselves for a hard, toilsome, and unquiet life, crammed with very many and various kinds of evil. It is the Heavenly Father’s will thus to exercise them so as to put his own children to a definite test. Beginning with Christ, his first-born, he follows this plan with all his children. For even though that Son was beloved above the rest, and in him the Father’s mind was well pleased [Matt. 3:17], yet we see that far from being treated indulgently or softly, to speak the truth, while he dwelt on earth he was not only tried by a perpetual cross but his whole life was nothing but a sort of perpetual cross. The apostle notes the reason: that it behooved him to “learn obedience through what he suffered” [Heb. 5:8]

Therefore, he afflicts us either with disgrace or poverty, or bereavement, or disease, or other calamities. Utterly unequal to bearing these, in so far as they touch us, we soon succumb to them. Thus humbled, we learn to call upon his power which alone makes us stand fast under the weight of afflictions. But even the most holy persons, however much they may recognize that they stand not through their own strength but through God’s grace, are too sure of their own fortitude and constancy unless by the testing of the cross he bring them into a deeper knowledge of himself.

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Quotes from the Valley of the Shadow of Death:
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945)

bonhoefferThe first post in this series consisted of quotes from Charles Spurgeon. The second person who helped, in profound ways, get my family through an especially terrible year is Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He has been on the radar of many Christians since the popular biography by Eric Metaxes hit the shelves three years ago.

Two years ago The Collected Sermons of Dietrich Bonhoeffer came out through Fortress Press. I absorbed these sermons through every pore while suffering in the valley of the shadow of death.

The following sermon moved me most deeply and was a sermon I returned to time and again throughout 2013. Whenever I return to this sermon it feels like I am returning to a wise friend sure to strengthen my resolve in our Jesus. Bonhoeffer scholar Isabel Best states of his preaching:

“Bonhoeffer understood his sermons both as a way of confessing faith and as a prophetic means to call his church and his students to withstand the ideological spirit of the times…when read in the immediate historical context of when they were preached they gain an added power and depth, for only then can we begin to understand how Dietrich Bonhoeffer was actively engaging the issues of his times and his church through his preaching.”

Following is Bonhoeffer’s brilliant sermon entitled Overcoming Fear. It was preached a mere 15 days before Hitler came to power. His church was struggling with intense fear. I pray Bonhoeffer’s sermon to his small church will make a big difference in your life today as fear and anxiety may seek to destroy you (emphasis added is mine):

Matthew 8:23-27 : And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. A windstorm arose on the sea, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him up, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm. They were amazed, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?”

The overcoming of fear—that is what we are proclaiming here. The Bible, the gospel, Christ, the church, the faith—all are one great battle cry against fear in the lives of human beings. Fear is, somehow or other, the archen­emy itself. It crouches in people’s hearts. It hollows out their insides, until their resistance and strength are spent and they suddenly break down. Fear secretly gnaws and eats away at all the ties that bind a person to God and to others, and when in a time of need that person reaches for those ties and clings to them, they break and the individual sinks back into himself or herself, helpless and despairing, while hell rejoices.

Now fear leers that person in the face, saying: Here we are all by our­selves, you and I, now I’m showing you my true face. And anyone who has seen naked fear revealed, who has been its victim in terrifying loneliness— fear of an important decision; fear of a heavy stroke of fate, losing one’s job, an illness; fear of a vice that one can no longer resist, to which one is enslaved; fear of disgrace; fear of another person; fear of dying—that per­son knows that fear is only one of the faces of evil itself, one form by which the world, at enmity with God, grasps for someone. Nothing can make a human being so conscious of the reality of powers opposed to God in our lives as this loneliness, this helplessness, this fog spreading over everything, this sense that there is no way out, and this raving impulse to get oneself out of this hell of hopelessness.

Have you ever seen someone in the grip of fear? It’s dreadful in a child, but even more dreadful in an adult: the staring eyes, the shivering like an animal, the pleading attempt to defend oneself. Fear takes away a person’s humanity. This is not what the creature made by God looks like—this per­son belongs to the devil, this enslaved, broken-down, sick creature.

But the human being doesn’t have to be afraid; we should not be afraid! That is what makes humans different from all other creatures. In the midst of every situation where there is no way out, where nothing is clear, where it is our fault, we know that there is hope, and this hope is called: Thy will be done, yes, thy will is being done. “This world must fall, God stands above all, his thoughts unswayed, his Word unstayed, his will forever our ground and hope.” Do you ask: How do you know? Then we name the name of the One who makes the evil inside us recoil, who makes fear and anxiety themselves tremble with fear and puts them to flight. We name the One who overcame fear and led it captive in the victory proces­sion, who nailed it to the cross and committed it to oblivion; we name the One who is the shout of victory of humankind redeemed from the fear of death—Jesus Christ, the Crucified and Living One. He alone is Lord over fear; it knows him as its master; it gives way to him alone. So look to Christ when you are afraid, think of Christ, keep him before your eyes, call upon Christ and pray to him, believe that he is with you now, helping you…Then fear will grow pale and fade away, and you will be free, through your faith in our strong and living Savior, Jesus Christ.

Let’s say there is a ship on the high sea, having a fierce struggle with the waves. The storm wind is blowing harder by the minute. The boat is small, tossed about like a toy; the sky is dark; the sailors’ strength is failing. Then one of them is gripped by…whom? what?…he cannot tell him­self. But someone is there in the boat who wasn’t there before. Someone comes close to him and lays cold hands on his arms as he pulls wildly on his oar. He feels his muscles freeze, feels the strength go out of them. Then the unknown one reaches into his heart and mind and magically brings forth the strangest pictures. He sees his family, his children crying. What will become of them if he is no more? Then he seems to be back where he once was when he followed evil ways, in long years of bondage to evil, and he sees the faces of his companions in that bondage. He sees a neighbor whom he wounded, only yesterday, with an angry word. Suddenly he can no longer see or hear anything, can no longer row, a wave overwhelms him, and in final desperation he shrieks: Stranger in this boat, who are you? And the other answers, I am Fear. Now the cry goes up from the whole crew; Fear is in the boat; all arms are frozen and drop their oars; all hope is lost, Fear is in the boat.
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Why I Still Defend the Doctrine of Imputation

I have explained and confessed my belief in the doctrine of imputed sin, which is not a popular doctrine these days. It is one of the many doctrines that are being “rethought” by even the most conservative Christians. Why? Because it seems to fly in the face of everything we feel is just and suggests a characteristic in God that we would rather not be present.

Here is the situation that was concluded from the last post: We are born with a propensity, bent, or inclination to sin. Because of this bent, we sin: It is our nature. When we do act according to our nature and sin, we are held guilty by God and ultimately condemned to eternal punishment. Not only this, but we are already condemned for the sin of another—namely Adam—before we commit any personal sins of our own. This is imputed sin as it is “imputed” or credited to our spiritual bank account before we have a chance to sin. We are held guilty for something someone else did. I can understand why so many are saying “check please” to this doctrine. I did not vote for this. I did not ask to either have this sin nature, or whether or not I approved of what Adam did. I never had a chance. I am sorry, again, this just seems unjust.

It is not hard to see why unbelievers scoff at such a foreign and seemingly cruel proposal. Similarly, it is not difficult to see why believers would decide to either remain agnostic concerning these issues, or change their theology to look more Pelagian. Seriously, this is not an easy subject. We must understand how absolutely shocking this doctrine brings to the table. As Pascal put it, the flow of guilt seems unjust.

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Film Review: Fight Church

fight-church-3A new documentary about Christianity and MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) fighting premieres tonight at the Independent Film Festival of Boston. The film is called: Fight Church and was directed by Academy Award Winner Daniel Junge and Bryan Storkel. These two men were also behind the interesting film called Holy Rollers, the story about Christian pastors who were also professional poker players.

Fight Church explores the niche world where MMA fighting and Christianity combine. The film proclaims an estimated 700 churches in America have MMA ministries.

The film is excellent in three areas. First, the production quality is superb. Junge, Storkel and the Producers know what they are doing and are skilled in their craft. Second, the film is excellent for presenting the world of Fight Church in a balanced way. They allow those in favor of MMA Christians and those opposed to each be seen in a legitimate light. Third, the film is simply enjoyable. As I struggled wondering if I am for or against these people I found myself cringing, laughing, disagreeing and pulling for these people throughout the film.

One of the seminal quotes in the film was from a man who was considering leaving the MMA world due to a belief that it may not honor God. He said, “Can you love your neighbor as yourself, and then at the same time knee him in the face as hard as you can?

Some of the biblical exegesis by one of the pastors left a bit to be desired. Watching a 12-year old kid say he was going to, “Rip this kid’s head off” was unsettling. A pastor encouraging a woman with blood covering her face that she didn’t tap out with the statement, “Jesus didn’t tap out either” was very strange. Watching a pastor pull out a pistol after his sermon to show a church member was bizarre. There are many bizarre moments in this film.

This film is certainly a case where truth is stranger than fiction. People would only believe some of the details of this film as a documentary. It would be too outlandish to be a fictional movie.

I do recommend you watch this film. Try to be neutral and enter into the Fight Church world. Is it really that different from someone in the NFL? Are they faithful to the Bible? Are they rediscovering manliness in the Christian church? The film may ask more questions than it answers but I think you’ll enjoy the journey. If you can handle a little blood of course. If not then watch Frozen again with your kids for the 1,000th time.

Here’s the Fight Church trailer:

Quotes from the Valley of the Shadow of Death:
Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892)

spurgeonMy wife and I went through an especially intense period of suffering in 2013. I’m planning to pull back the curtain of our story, Lord willing, and turn it into a book with the hope it will help others to survive unsurvivable seasons. I am surprised, as I look back at that tough year, that we survived. How did we survive? I’m not sure.

I do know we did not suffer alone. The Lord raised up many verses, people, places, ideas and hopes to drag us through that ragged season. There are a few dead people whom God used in a very powerful way to give me a clear path to crawl on during that season.

This post will kick-off a small series of quotes from these folks used most powerfully in my life throughout 2013. Quotes from the Valley of the Shadow of Death. My hope is if you find yourself in a season of crushing this series will give you hope, strength and patient endurance. As long as Jesus is alive there is always hope.

Charles Spurgeon would probably win the “most popular preacher of all time” award if you only allowed pastors from the last 150 years to do the voting. He is known as the prince of preachers and before microphones existed would regularly preach to more than 5,000 people at a time. Spurgeon published more than 150 books and was able to speak about Jesus more eloquently than most people.

Spurgeon was a full-time preacher for more than 40 years but his health was incredibly poor and he suffered greatly from depression. Spurgeon, on average, missed 1 out of every 3 Sundays. Can you believe that? Over the course of 40 years there was consistently a 30% chance your pastor wouldn’t be able to get out of bed on any given Sunday. He spent a lot of time walking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Here are just a few of Spurgeon’s quotes from the Valley (statements in bold were especially moving to me):

The strong are not always vigorous, the wise not always ready, the brave not always courageous, and the joyous not always happy. There maybe here and there men of iron, to whom wear and tear work no perceptible detriment, but surely the rust frets even these; and as for ordinary men, the Lord knows, and makes them to know, that they are but dust. Knowing by most painful experience what deep depression of spirit means, being visited therewith at seasons by no means few or far between, I thought it might be consolatory to some of my brethren if I gave my thoughts thereon, that younger men might not fancy that some strange thing had happened to them when they became for a season possessed by melancholy; and that sadder men might know that one upon whom the sun has shone right joyously did not always walk in the light.”

My witness is, that those who are honoured of their Lord in public, have usually to endure a secret chastening, or to carry a peculiar cross, lest by any means they exalt themselves, and fall into the snare of the devil. How constantly the Lord calls Ezekiel “Son of man”! Amid his soarings into the superlative splendours, just when with eye undimmed he is strengthened to gaze into the excellent glory, the word “Son of man” falls on his ears, sobering the heart which else might have been intoxicated with the honour conferred upon it. Such humbling but salutary messages our depressions whisper in our ears; they tell us in a manner not to be mistaken that we are but men, frail, feeble, apt to faint.”

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The Intolerance of Tolerance

toleranceIn Ecclesiastes 12:12 we read, “Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” The more I am around the publishing world I realize the truthfulness of these words.

I read a lot. Just last night my wife, who fully supports my reading disease, asked me to put the book down and walk away. It’s my fantasy to have many uninterrupted hours of reading. Yes, it’s a disease.

Even if you have the reading disease worse than me, it is still impossible to read every worthwhile book. Just devoting yourself to reading the works of: Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, Owen, Barth, Machen, Solzhenitsyn, Lewis, Chesterton, Kierkegaard, MacDonald and Bunyan would take many years. If you read the works of all those dead people you would only see the tip of the iceberg of all the dead people you should read.

While you may be devoting your time to be “well read” among the gigantic list of dead people there is, in addition, at least one book coming out every week that you really should read. I occasionally have a desire to give up. Throw my arms up in the air and simply transfer all my hard fought reading time over to Netflix. To stop reading and start binging on endless seasons of Netflix offerings. My disease, however, prevents me from giving up. I find I’m a better father, husband, friend and leader when I keep my nose consistently in good books.

Harry S. Truman is known for saying, “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.” Why all this focus on reading? Well, in an age of non-stop book releases it is more challenging than ever to know what books to read. You can devote 8 hours a day to reading worthless books and you will never run out.

This post could become a post about how to know what to read, perhaps that post will come one day. For the time being, however, I want to direct your attention to just one book. If you didn’t notice D.A. Carson’s book The Intolerance of Tolerance when it first came out a couple years ago I want to bring it to your attention.

I think the book is a pivotal work to make sure you are aware of the massive shift that has happened in Western culture around the topic of tolerance. Here’s just one paragraph to give you a taste:

This shift from “accepting the existence of different views” to “acceptance of different views,” from recognizing other people’s right to have different beliefs or practices to accepting the differing views of other people, is subtle in form, but massive in substance. To accept that a different or opposing position exists and deserves the right to exist is one thing; to accept the position itself means that one is no longer opposing it. The new tolerance suggests that actually accepting another’s position means believing that position to be true, or at least as true as your own.

That paragraph should take your breath away. We have experienced a massive cultural shift. As Ambassador’s of Christ (2 Cor. 5:20) it is important for us to understand our culture so we can best communicate Jesus to our culture. Paul knew the currents of Athenian thought in order to share Jesus to the elites on Mars Hill.

Reading at least the first half of Carson’s book is, in my 2-cent opinion, worth the time, effort and money.

Are We Really Held Guilty for the Sin of Another?

The concept of Original Sin has long been a vital part of Christian Orthodoxy, yet is being challenged and redefined by many in the Church today. Some are beginning to question the validity of the traditional Evangelical understanding of the doctrine asking questions of its legitimacy in its current understanding. Most particularly, the doctrine of imputation is being questioned. This is quit understandable. In fact, I would venture to guess that the concepts housed in this doctrine can seem to produce a vital assault on our conscious, rendering any concept of divine justice impotent.

Let us back up a bit . . .

Perhaps John Calvin defines Original Sin most concisely as “The deprivation of a nature formerly good and pure.” More specifically, from a Reformed Evangelical perspective, it refers to the fall of humanity from its original state of innocence and purity to a state of corruption and guilt (distinguished later). It is the cause of man’s translation from a state of unbroken communion before God to one of spiritual death and condemnation.

The term “Original Sin” is not found in Scripture; Saint Augustine coined it in the 4th century. The primary passage used to defend the doctrine of Original Sin is Romans 5:12-21. Most specifically, Romans 5:12 gives us the most explicit reference to this concept: “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.” The “one man” is Adam. The “all men” is all of Adam’s posterity—the entire human race.

J.I. Packer clears up a possible misconception and further defines Original Sin:

The assertion of original sin means not that sin belongs to human nature as God made it (God made mankind upright, Ecclesiastes 7:29), nor that sin is involved in the processes of reproduction and birth (the uncleanness connected with menstruation, semen, and childbirth in Leviticus 12 and 15 was typical and ceremonial only, not moral and real), but that . . . sinfulness marks everyone from birth . . . it derives to us in a real . . . mysterious way from Adam, our first representative before God.

This concept is not only hard to understand, but, as I alluded to earlier, it is also quite disturbing. From the perspective of traditional Evangelicalism as it finds its roots in Augustine, the west has believed that humanity is condemned for Adam’s sin. To state that we are condemned for the sin of another is not only offensive and unfair, but in the mind of most it is also ludicrous. It is because of this that Pascal (who accepted the doctrine) wrote the following:

Without doubt, nothing is more shocking to our reason than to say that the sin of the first man has implicated in its guilt men so far from the original sin that they seem incapable of sharing it. This flow of guilt does not seem merely impossible to us, but indeed most unjust. What could be more contrary to the rules of our miserable justice than the eternal damnation of a child, incapable of will, for an act in which he seems to have so little part that it was actually committed 6,000 years before he existed? Certainly nothing jolts us more rudely than this doctrine . . .

It certainly does seem unfair for us to be blamed for the sin of another. My daughter used to commit various misdemeanors such as messing up the living room. She would find solace in her younger sister, who was not yet able to speak and defend herself. She would blame her for the mess that she had made, which, of course, was not right. Unfortunately, she got away with it many times before we caught on. Because of this, her sister was punished for crimes she did not commit. Is it the same with Adam and humanity? Are we being punished for a sin that we had nothing to do with?

Death, Paul says, is passed down to us from Adam. But there is more to it than that. As Bob Pyne puts it, “We have no problem affirming that all people die, but what did Paul mean when he linked death to sin?” Furthermore, physical death is not the only consequence of Adam’s sin that we inherit. Romans 5:18 states that the transgression of Adam resulted in our condemnation. So then, we are not only destined to die physically because of Adam’s sin, but we are also condemned to eternal death.

Was the sin of Adam transferred to us? If so, how? Are we condemned for the sin of another? Are Pascal’s concerns valid?

Let’s get some basic terminology down so that we can surf this wave with more balance. Continue Reading →

Theology Unplugged: Church (Part 6) – Mega Churches

Join Michael Patton, Tim Kimberley and Sam Storms as they continue their new series on the Church. This is a topic hotly debated today. What really does it take to be a church? Can three people meet at a coffee shop and call themselves a church? Do churches need to have elders? What about an online church?

There are so many questions being asked today about the Church in the 21st century. This series seeks to dive into the prominent issues of Ecclesiology (the study of the Church).