How Does the Church Glorify God?

church Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. 
— Ephesians 3:20-21 —

A close reading of Scripture shows that God pursues his glory in all areas of life. In creation and redemption, heaven and earth, the world was made to bring him glory. It is not surprising, therefore, to find Paul praying that God would get glory in the church. But what does it mean?

What does Paul mean when he prays, “to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations” From the context of Ephesians, I would suggest there are at least three ways the church uniquely glorifies God.  Continue reading

Theology is Not Just for Theologians

theology

In other words, The­ol­ogy is prac­ti­cal: espe­cially now.
In the old days, when there was less edu­ca­tion and dis­cus­sion,
per­haps it was pos­si­ble to get on with a very few sim­ple ideas about God.
But it is not so now. Everyone reads, everyone hears things discussed.
Consequently, if you do not listen to Theology, that will not mean
that you have no ideas about God [i.e., theology].
It will mean that you have a lot of wrong ones —
bad, muddled, out-of-date ideas.
— C.S. Lewis —

Theology rightly understood is not a tangential part of Christian faith; it is the source, strength, and substance of vibrant faith. As A. W. Tozer famously said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us” (Knowledge of the Holy1). This is the core of theology—thinking God’s thoughts after him. And true theology is thinking biblically-informed thoughts about God. Theology is not an academic discipline consisting of esoteric terms, but sound doctrine that gives life and strength to every child of God made alive in Christ.

Sadly, this way of thinking about theology is often missed. Even among pastors, those called to instruct in sound doctrine, there is a sense in which theology is secondary to the real work of the ministry. Evangelism, discipleship, worship services, and church growth are elevated above “theology,” but only because they assume that each discipline and practice of the church is a-theological. In the short run, such doctrinal inattention may not create observable problems, but in the long run it will.

Paul understood this and that is why he writes in 1 Timothy 4:16: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” Faithful shepherds and growing sheep follow Paul’s model and give appropriate emphasis to theology as it informs and energizes spiritual life. In fact, close attention to the New Testament shows that wherever the apostles are giving practical instruction, they are doing so from deeply theological wells.

Mark Dever, in the preface of his book on 1 Corinthians (Twelve Challenges Churches Facemakes this very point. Continue reading

Don’t Waste Your Blizzard: A Snowy Meditation on God’s Power and Purity

snow“He hurls down his crystals of ice like crumbs;
who can stand before his cold?”
— Psalm 147:17 —

10:00am on Saturday: With sixteen inches on the ground and sixteen hours left of Jonas I look outside my window and think: “Who can stand before his cold?”

10:00am on Sunday: Unable to gather with our church family, what can I say to my children about the blizzard of 2016? How can I help them know the God of creation and redemption, through this memorable storm? How can we pray for those suffering under its effects?

What follows is a biblical theological long-read on what Scripture says about snow, icy cold, and winter weather, along with a short family devotional for anyone interested.

(No) Snow in the Beginning

In the beginning, there was water but not snow. On the second day God separated the waters in the sky from the waters on the earth (Gen 1:6–8); on the third day he gathered the waters on the earth, forming the dry ground (Gen 1:9–10). In Genesis 2, we learn “mist was going up from the land watering the whole face of the ground” (v. 6) and “a river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there is divided and became four rivers” (v. 10). So before Adam sinned (Genesis 3) and God subjected the earth to futility (Romans 8:18–22), the had plenty of water, but no subzero temperatures to create ice crystals and snow squalls. Continue reading

Pastor, Speak Up for the Unborn

solLike many churches across America, our church remembered the Sanctity of Life yesterday in our service. And for the sixth time in as many years, God permitted me the chance to preach for the voiceless millions who are being taken away to the slaughter. Following the theme of “spiritual disciplines in the Psalms,” I argued that defending the unborn is a public spiritual discipline all Christians are commanded to pursue. As Proverbs 24:11–12 instructs,

Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work?  

We know that millions of babies are being slaughtered every year. We knew that before the Planned Parenthood videos were released last year. But even more graphically, we know that thousands of children are being aborted everyday—ripped apart, sold for parts, and sacrificed on the altar of sexual liberty and personal autonomy.

With such knowledge, we are accountable to weep, pray, work, march, and speak out for the unborn. This is true for all Christians, but even more for pastors. And so it is my brother pastors who I speak to today.

An Apologia for Preaching Sanctity of Human Life Sunday

Since the beginning of my preaching ministry, the month of January has always included a sermon on the sanctity of life. And I would challenge every pastor—if you are not already committed to preaching against abortion and for the sanctity of life—to ask yourself a question: Why aren’t you? What is keeping you from giving voice to the voiceless? Do you think it is a deviation from the gospel? A betrayal of expositional preaching? A distraction from the work of the church? A detour into politics?

Let me challenge you on each of those points. Continue reading

Purging Pornography with the Power of a Greater Pleasure

purity

Twice in the last year I’ve had the chance to speak to men’s groups on the subject of pornography. Because the time always restricts how much can be said, I’ve included my notes below to fill in what I left out at the last study.

While I find that many helpful books and articles have been written on the subject of pornography, nothing has been more powerful in pursuing purity than finding a greater pleasure than God himself. Matthew 5:8 says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Indeed, it is this “seeing of God” that both teaches us to say no to ungodliness (Titus 2:11–13) and motivates us to look beyond the flesh to find a greater pleasure in Christ.

Bruce Marshall (not G.K. Chesteron, HT: Justin Taylor) once said: “The man who rings the bell at the brothel, unconsciously does so seeking God.” Only by exposing the hidden longing for God which underlies a man’s foolish dalliance with or morbid addiction to  pornography, can such a man find lasting purity. Only by feasting on God as a greater pleasure can the ongoing return to porneia be broken.

Therefore, I share these notes on “Purging Pornography with the Power of a Greater (Gospel) Pleasure ” They are quite incomplete but the general argument can be followed.

On John’s Piper’s seventieth birthday, I am happy to say this pleasure-seeking approach to purging pornography can be directly connected to the arguments made in Desiring God, The Pleasures of God, The Dangerous Duty of Delightand When I Don’t Desire God

Where would I be without the God-exalting, grace-saturated ministry of John Piper? Very readily, ensnared in a cauldron of my own sin. I bless my Father in heaven for sending Piper’s message of Christian Hedonism, for it is Jesus message to us: ” These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).

Today, after working out these truths for more than fifteen years, I would argue that if one struggles with pornography or any other type of intractable sin one of the most liberating things you can do is to glut yourself on God—the very thing Piper shows us how to do from the Word of God. When I was introduced to his books, they helped me immensely. I pray these notes and the Scriptural truths they point to may do the same for you.

Purging Pornography with the Power of a Greater (Gospel) Pleasure

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Practical Counsel for Growing in Grace

discipline“Discipline yourself for godliness.”
— 1 Timothy 4:7 (NASB)–

Recently Donald Whitney, professor of biblical spirituality at Southern Seminary (Louisville, Kentucky) answered a series of questions for Desiring God‘s podcast, Ask Pastor John. Dr. Whitney, who is arguably the foremost authority on evangelical spirituality, has been studying and teaching these materials for over twenty-five years. His book  Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life is a modern classic and an illuminating study for growing in grace.

If you are not familiar with the Bible’s prescribed disciplines for spiritual growth, or you are and have not read his enlightening book, I cannot commend it enough. In the meantime, if you would like a primer on the disciplines or a refresher for why they are so important, take 30 minutes (or 5 seven-minute segments) to listen to his answers to these five questions. (I’ve included a teaser quotation from each interview). Continue reading

Putting the Psalter Together: How the Superscriptions Tell the Story

bibleIn canonical studies on the Psalms (i.e., studies that read the Psalter as one unified book, intentionally arranged to communicate a message of messianic hope), Jim Hamilton has provided a helpful reading of the Psalter by paying attention to the superscriptions of the Psalms. Because this Sunday’s message will depend heavily on the superscription in Psalm 20 (“to/for/about David”), I have asked Jim if I could share a large section of his explanation of the Superscriptions and how they relate to the whole of the Psalms.

The following excerpt is taken from his excellent survey of the Bible, God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology. (You can find more about his book here, with ideas for incorporating it into your Bible reading). Continue reading

The Bible in American Public Life: Two Lessons from Mark Noll’s New Book

nollMark Noll’s new book, In the Beginning was the Word: The Bible in American Public Life, 1492–1783is a fascinating look at Scripture role in forming the influencing individuals during the first three centuries of the American Experiment. He opens, “It is no exaggeration to claim the Bible has been—and by far—the single most widely read text, distributed object, and in reference book in all of American history” (1). Because of its central place in the personal, social, and political thought life of America—not to mention its spiritual and religious influence—the Bible has given language and leverage for all kinds of actions in American history.

This is the goal of Noll’s book, to show how self-conscious biblicism translated into the public square. He begins with the Bible’s impact in England and follows it across the Atlantic, showing how the move from British Christendom to American colonialism shaped the way Americans read the Bible. As he has demonstrated in his other books (especially, America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln and The Civil War as Theological Crisis), America’s political crises and military engagements (e.g., the Revolutionary and Civil Wars) deeply shaped America’s reading of the Bible. Continue reading

Getting into the Word: A Sermon on Psalm 19

elfAt the beginning of the year, it only makes sense to turn our attention again to the Scriptures. Over the last week, I’ve written a few posts on getting into the Word (see here and here). Yesterday, I preached on the same topic from Psalm 19: “Getting into the Word.”

Here’s an illustration from that sermon that got left on the cutting room floor. May it encourage you as you read the Word.

Getting into the Word Depends on Craving the Word

By nature I love sweets. When Elf speaks of the four food groups as candy, candy canes, candy corn, and syrup, I’m all in. Well, except for candy corn. I’ll take chocolate instead.

I remember when I was four going to the coffee station where my mom worked and finding sugar cubes. I would sneak one. Eat it. And return for more.

Thirty years later, I still love sugar. And so do my kids. Who taught them to do that?  No one. As if by genetic predisposition, they have a craving for sugar.

The same thing happens when God regenerates a person. Continue reading

Feeding on the Bible in 2016: An Approach to Bible Reading for Those Who Don’t

bibleThere is a curious condition I have found among many who regularly attend church. I’ll call it personal, spiritual malnutrition. It is the regular pattern of NOT reading the Bible that many in church experience.

I can’t tell you how many times I have sat down with someone who regularly attends church, knows much about the Bible, who expresses love for Jesus and trust in the gospel, but who doesn’t read their Bible. If pressed, they know they should, and often they have tried to read their Bible, but for a variety of reasons, they have not committed to that spiritual discipline.

This is a perilous condition and one that is “curious” because of how central God’s word is in making a Christian.

James 1:18 says, God saves us by his word: “He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” Likewise, 1 Peter 1:23 concurs: “since you have been born again, . . . through the living and abiding word of God.” And Romans 10:17 clarifies the picture that this word-generated life comes through the “hearing of the word.” In other words, anyone who professes to be a Christian must have become such by the Word.

Next, the Scriptures repeatedly speak of God’s Word as life-giving nutriment. Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 8:3: “Man does not live by bread alone but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord” (Matthew 4:4). The Bible is not a trifling thing; it is our life, Moses says (Deuteronomy 32:47). What food is to the body, Scripture is to the soul. A newborn infant cannot live apart from his mother’s milk, and neither can the child of God survive without God’s Word.

And yet, there is a whole category of Christians who survive on secondary sources. A weekly sermon, a favorite iPod preacher, a few memorized verses (usually disjointed from context), a popular book or two, hours of Christian radio, and a variety of other Christian-ish props. But no personal Bible reading.

It is to them (and their pastors) I pen this post. Continue reading