Life is Good? How God’s Goodness Redefines the Good Life

good life“And as he was setting our on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?'” And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.”
— Mark 10:17-18 —

Knowing the difference between good and evil is fundamental to being made in the image of God. When God created Adam and Eve, he put them in a garden filled with delights and with a solitary tree that would instruct them how to know good and evil (Genesis 2:17).  Likewise, knowing the difference between good and evil is essential to maturation and becoming a responsible adult.  Isaiah 7:15, uses the idea to describe the difference between young children who do not know the difference between good and evil, and then those children who mature and begin to understand that difference.

Sadly, it is possible that many Christians fail to know what “the good” is.   Continue reading

Singing the TULIP from the Baptist Hymnal

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One of the saddest effects of the Calvinism debate among Southern Baptists has been the way the discussion about predestination, etc. has moved from the realm of praise to that of polemics. Truly, the faith we hold must be defended. Christians are a people who are called to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). Nevertheless, when we find election in the Bible it is often  a source of praise (Ephesians 1:4–6), a motivation for missions (John 10:16, 26; Acts 18:9–10), and a reason for comfort and assurance (Romans 8:29–39). Rarely, if ever, is election up for debate in the Scripture.

For this reason, discussions about “the TULIP,” which only swim in the pond of argument and persuasion, miss the genre and the goal of biblical election. While I cannot speak for all Calvinists, I can say the ones I know are far more interested in worship and winning the lost than winning the debate about “Calvinism.” For those who hold to the doctrines of grace, the doctrines of grace increase our affections for God and his mission to reach the world for Christ.

For Calvinists, unconditional election is a source of sheer amazement that God would set his love on such a worm as me. Limited atonement becomes a risk-empowering confidence that the cross will accomplish the salvation of all God’s sheep. And irresistible grace is the power God employs to free sinners, so that they can freely follow him.

To be sure, each of these points need sub-points, but the doctrines of grace—to those who delight in them—are not mere theological shibboleths; they are invitations to worship the omni-benevolent and all-powerful God. With this in mind, it is not surprising to find that the Baptist Hymnal (the old one) is filled with songs that not only touch on the TULIP, but praise God for the very doctrines espoused in that acronym.

Now, maybe you’ve never noticed just how many (not all) hymns are written by Calvinists. Once you begin to learn the backdrop to the Baptist Hymnal, however, it is hard to miss the rich hymnody produced by the likes of Isaac Watts, John Newton, William Cowper, and others who affirmed the TULIP. It is my hope that by drawing attention to the following songs, you might see the doctrines of grace in their native habitat—the praise and worship of the church. My prayer is that God may open your eyes to behold the beauty of his multi-faceted grace, what sometimes goes under the acronym TULIP. Continue reading

From Performing in the Flesh to Panting for the Spirit

vinePerforming in the flesh is shorthand for doing work unto the Lord in your own strength, by your own wisdom, and with your own will power. In short, it is service without spiritual grace, and Satan loves to seduce you with it. Such Spirit-less service may be outwardly beautiful, relationally effective, or even successful, but because it is done without faith, it displeases God (Rom 14:23; Heb 11:6) and bears no lasting fruit. Sadly because our hearts are deceitful we may even call such unbelieving service good, when God does not. For that reason, it is always right to return to the Word and ask: What does God say?

What service does God find pleasing? What counterfeit performances originate in unbelief? And how can we tell the difference? Continue reading

Putting the Resurrection on Display: Walking and Talking as Witnesses of the Gospel’s Power

witnessesWhen Jesus told his disciples to stay in Jerusalem until the power from on high came (Luke 24:49), he said that they would be “my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Ten days later, the Father sent the Holy Spirit and innervated the church with Christ’s power (Acts 2).

Since then, Christ’s pilgrim people have traveled the globe, witnessing to the resurrection of Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 1:22; 2:32; 3:15; etc.) and upsetting those who refuse to submit to Christ’s lordship (17:6). In every place the gospel has gone, local churches have sprung up to give a permanent witness to the kingdom of Christ.

As one of those churches, it behooves us to ask the question: In what way or ways should we witness to Christ’s kingdom? And how well do we do it?

Believing the Bible to answer such questions, we see that the lives we live and the words we speak play a significant role in Christ’s ability to work through us. In truth, it is not just the church who preaches the gospel. Ephesians 2:17 says Christ himself preaches the gospel of peace. But seated in heaven he preaches by proxy; it is his Spirit and his bride that say, “Come!” (Rev 22:17). Therefore, the effectiveness of Christ’s evangelism is contingent upon the purity of our lives. As we continue to consider what Jesus’s evangelism program looks like, let’s see how our lives contribute to the power of our witness. Continue reading

The Lord’s Supper: A Messy Meal for Messy People

traySilver trays, clean hands, fresh bread, sterile cups, and a well-ordered room may be just a few of the things that keep us from seeing how messy the Lord’s Supper is. And how the Lord’s Supper is for messy people.

Think about it. The cross of Christ was invented to be the most horrendous bodily experience known to man. It is reported that spectators sometimes vomited as they watched the crucifixion. One account describes the physical effects of the cross this way.

Naked and embarrassed, the victims would often use their remaining strength to seek revenge on the crowd of mockers who had gathered to jeer them. They would curse at their tormenters while urinating and spitting on them. Some victims would become so overwhelmed with pain that they would become incontinent, and a pool of sweat, blood, urine, and feces would gather at the base of their cross (Death by Love, 25).

In Jesus’ case, we know he did not use his remaining hours to malign his accusers. Rather, he prayed for those who killed him; he granted pardon to the thief next to him; he cared for the mother who had once caressed him; and he prayed to the God who was abandoning him. In all of these ways, Jesus’ death was wholly other. And yet, his body beaten and bleeding, lacerated and lashed to the cross, was a mess.

From what we know of crucifixions at the time, Jesus’ “cross was likely already covered in the blood of other men. Timber was so expensive that crosses were recycled; therefore, Jesus’ blood mixed with the layers of blood, sweat, and tears of countless other men who had walked that same path before him” (ibid.). All in all, Christ’s crucifixion was anything but a sanitary affair.

Pure and holy? Absolutely!

Clean and sterile? Hardly! Continue reading

The Story of God’s Glory: Celebrating Christmas Year Round

gloryIn a few days, our family will take down all our Christmas decorations. I am sure you will do the same. There is a sadness that comes with the end of Christmas season. Thankfully, for those who know Christ as the Incarnate Lord, Christmas as a holiday on the calendar is trumped by Christmas as a yearlong testimony to the everlasting incarnation of God the Son.

Therefore, while it is right to take down the tinsel and wreaths, we can continue to celebrate and rejoice in the fact that God became a man. Immanuel. God is with us. And with that never ending reality in mind, I share a Christmas thought that I shared with our church a few weeks ago.

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Christmas songs tell the wonderful story of Christ’s glorious birth. Think of how many speak of Jesus’s coming in terms of his glory. (Hymn numbers taken from The Baptist Hymnal [1991]).

Hark, the herald angels, “Glory to the newborn King.” (“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” 88)

Angels, from the realms of glory, Wing your flight o’er all the earth; Ye who sang creation’s story, Now proclaim Messiah’s birth. (“Angels, from the Realms of Glory,” 94)

Son of God, of humble birth, Beautiful the story;
Praise His name in all the earth, Hail the King of glory. (“Gentle Mary Laid Her Child,” 101)

See, to us a Child is born—Glory breaks on Christmas morn!
Now to us a Son is giv’n—Praise to God in highest heav’n! (“See, to Us a Child is Born,” 104)

Add to these lines the choruses praising God’s light breaking into the darkness and his splendor coming to earth, and we come to understand why our Christmas hymnody is some of the most sublime in all our hymnals.

But what is the glory of God? And what does it mean to give God glory? Continue reading

A Heart for Christmas or for Christ?

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“This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me”
– Jesus –

The Christmas music played in the background as Rod wrapped packages. While the music brought back many happy memories, recent events took his mind in another direction.

Work at the courthouse was increasingly difficult. Last year they removed the Ten Commandments. This year county employees received a memo requesting everyone to tone down “Christmas” rhetoric. They didn’t outright censor “Merry Christmas,” but they might as well have.

Closer to home Rod received his yearly Christmas list: Put up the tree. Buy non-perishables for the church’s homeless offering. Put up the crèche. Have some holiday cheer.

“Very funny,” Rod thought to himself. “My wife thinks of everything: Have holiday cheer!”

And she did. She knew the pressures of work and the added stress of church had made Rod more than just a “grouchy bear,” as she liked to call him. Only two weeks remained until Christmas, and he was overwhelmed with Christmas events at church. And as a result his Joy to the Lord was out of tune. So to spark his Christmas spirit, Rod’s wife put him to work on the crèche he loved. It worked marvelously. Continue reading

Be Careful, Little Flock, How You Hear

preachA few years ago Thabiti Anyabwile published a little book, What is a Healthy Church Member? In it, he urged healthy church members to be expositional listeners, by which he meant that just as the faithful pastor makes the main point of his message the main point of the text (i.e., expositional preaching), so healthy congregations will also make it a priority to comprehend the expositional sermon. About that say time, Christopher Ash wrote a little guide on the same subject: Listen Up! A Practical Guide to Listening to Sermons.

Well, apparently, Anyabwile and Ash are not alone in their estimation that the congregation plays a dramatic role in the “effectiveness” of a pastor’s preaching. As I recently scanned D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ classic text, Preaching and PreachersI came across the same idea. In chapter eight, he discusses the “relationship of the pew to the pulpit” (143) and addresses the vital role that congregants play in the service of preaching. While not minimizing the role of the preacher, and abhorring the idea that the pew dictate what the pulpit should preach, he is exactly right to emphasize how churches confirm or deny the message of the gospel by means of their own inattention or eager anticipation. Continue reading

Dramatizing the Gospel: Church Membership

bodyIn recent years, the human body has been reshaped and sometimes reengineered. Whereas gender was once biologically determined, today society invites children to choose their own gender. And for some, when their body doesn’t match their gender preference, they are invited to trade their parts for new ones.

Fortunately, Christians know that our bodies are not plastic figurines. We believe our bodies gifts from God, even if we might humbly protest their size, shape, or strength. Sadly, the same cannot be said about the body of Christ.

Christians who decry modern manipulations of gender often ignore the manifold ways Christ’s body has been misshapen. By ignoring what Scripture says about the church (a subject known as “ecclesiology”), evangelical churches have willingly retooled, repackaged, and recreated what churches look like—often with mantras like, “we do church differently,” or “we’re not your ordinary church.”

Such sloganeering reminds us how far the church is willing to bend with this principle in place: As long as we don’t change the message, it doesn’t matter how we do church. The problem with such a view is that it fundamentally ignores the Bible, especially how the NT speaks about membership in Christ’s body. Continue reading

Thanksgiving According to the Psalms

thanksgivingWhile some of us may still be eating leftover turkey, most of us have moved from Thanksgiving to Christmas. This is understandable, as calendars and commitments require us to live in the present, not the past. But let us not forget that giving thanks goes beyond thanksgiving.

Indeed, in all Paul’s epistles minus Galatians—oh, those foolish Galatians!—he begins by giving thanks to God for the people he is addressing. Throughout the Bible thanksgiving is a normal and necessary part of saving faith. And so it ought to be a normal and necessary part of our daily living—not just a holiday season in November. Still, what does thanksgiving look like on a regular basis? And how can we grow in our expressions of thanksgiving?

Let’s go to the Psalms to answer that question. Continue reading