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The Forgotten Gospel (Worship:Experience, November 2011)

Ephesians 2:1-10, 2 Samuel 11-12

What you’re about to hear is the Gospel.  And even though you’ve probably heard this in church time and time again, I don’t care.  This isn’t a debate over theological doctrine.  This isn’t a discussion of Calvinism versus Arminianism versus Molinism.  This in its essence is the basis of our faith; the foundational Biblical beliefs of Christianity that, if you don’t believe them, you cannot call yourself a follower of Christ.  This also is not anything of me.  This isn’t my pride, my knowledge, or my anything.  I cannot offer anything that God has not granted me the wisdom to speak or write.  This is what I pray is God speaking through me and using the gifts He has given to me to use as a way to present His Gospel to you.  The only reason I am up here tonight is to do just that; glorify the Almighty.  If you take notes, great. If you’re lazy like me and don’t, everything I will say tonight will be posted later this evening online on my blog with sources attached.

So to start off, I’ll give you a brief history lesson to explain why you are, once again, hearing a study on the Gospel.  On 31 October 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses of complaints against the Roman Catholic church to the door of the church in Wittenberg.  Little did he know, this would start what would become the start of the greatest revolution in Christianity; the Protestant Revolution.  Upon the Catholic church’s acceptance of these grievances, Luther was summonsed to the Diet of Worms on 17 April 1521 as a heretic to either reaffirm or denounce his teachings.  Upon his testimony to the council, Luther stated, “Unless I am convinced by proofs from Scriptures, or by plain and clear reasons and arguments, I can and will not retract, for it is neither safe nor wise to do anything against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”  It was this statement of Luther’s Biblically-based faith that led to his excommunication and branding as an “outlaw” from the Roman Catholic church on 25 May 1521.

During the Reformation, Luther was approached by members of his congregation who proceeded to ask him why, every week in and week out, he preached the Gospel of the Father’s grace; obviously implying that they were ready to “move on” from hearing the Gospel as if they had fully mastered the idea of it.  Luther’s simple reply stated, “Because every week you forget it.  Week after week you return looking like a people who don’t believe the Gospel.  And until you walk in looking like people who are truly liberated by the truth of the Gospel, I’m going to continue to preach it to you.”  And until his dying day, he did just that.

And it is this exact reason that tonight, I am speaking on the Gospel.  I’m doing this not because I am someone who doesn’t forget the Gospel, but rather because I am someone who has to be reminded daily of its Power in my life.  All because I am a sinner.  I am the wretch that the song refers to.  I am a helpless, hopeless soul that, by my own choice, is permanently separated from God and His glory, with no hope for redemption.

But God has made a way, and I’m going to come back to that.  I am a sinner, but I have been saved by God’s everlasting, eternal Grace through my faith in the Saviour and His sacrifice.

We all know the Gospel.  We know that Christ came and died for our sins to give us life.  But what we don’t always realise that there is so much more to it; there is so much more behind it.  If you have a Bible, turn to Ephesians 2.  Ephesians 2 is my favourite passage in the Bible.  You can have your own favourite passage from the Bible, but you’re still wrong.  In the first ten verses of Ephesians 2, you have the Gospel in its simplest form.

Beginning in verse 1: “(1) And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, (2) in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.  (3) Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.  (4) But God, (remember those two words) being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, (5) even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), (6) and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, (7) so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  (8) For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; (9) not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.  (10) For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”  That is the Gospel in its most basic form.  We have the book of Romans which details out the Gospel in its most finite forms, but even in its most stripped-down, most easy-to-read form, the power behind the Gospel is incomprehensible.

We all know we’ve all sinned.  We’ve all fallen far below the standard of holiness God has set for us.  Verses 1-3 even make this point in depth.  And as Paul clearly states in Philippians 3:4-12, we can’t earn it.  Nothing of our flesh and human nature allows us to even seek the Gospel without the Holy Spirit’s intervention.  Nothing we do or follow or obtain can save us.

But God.  The two most important words of the entire history of the universe start off Ephesians 2:4.  It is only the glory of God that saves us.  God breaks through the sin and despair we are sacked down with and, through Christ, He gives us life eternal.  It is these two words that provide us the basis for our salvation.  Man’s sin had separated God’s creation from Him, but God gives us the way to come back to Him.  Man was forever lost and condemned to Hell, but God provided the penance for our sin.  The debt is cleared and the stains are washed away. Through Christ, God cleanses us and adopts us as His children, never to be separated from Him for eternity. Only Christ can save us, and only God could have made the way for us to be saved.  Christ’s death on the Cross fulfilled the requirement for the perfect sacrifice needed to justify us before God.  So therefore, our salvation is not of us, but rather by God’s grace through our faith in the Saviour.  Our salvation isn’t earned or gained; it is a gift from God.  And it is everything we need.

But like I said earlier, if there is anyone here who needs to hear this tonight, it’s me.  I’m a sinner, but I’m saved by grace through faith in Christ.  Nothing in me wants to follow Christ.  I cannot seek out God on my own.  I just can’t.  I stumble.  I fall.  I lie.  I curse.  I lust.  I’m a prideful, arrogant, angry son of a gun, sometimes.  I live my life at times stuck somewhere between the altar and the back door of the church.  I live like the sacrifice of Christ can’t save me.  And I’m left feeling unredeemable at times.  But the fact is that sacrifice is more than enough, and it’s something that every Christian I know has felt and experienced at some point.  And you might think that you’ve done so much so wrong that you can’t be saved, but throughout Biblical history, God proves this isn’t the case.  The best example of God’s outright forgiveness is found in 2 Samuel 11-12.  It’s a story about King David.

We love to talk about young David; we love to talk about the faithful shepherd boy who, with a slingshot and riverstone, made the giant Goliath fall facedown dead at the feet of both God and man.  But we never talk about the great, mighty King David who, at a time when he should have been off fighting a war with his armies; lusted after a woman that he caught a glimpse of from the palace roof, summonsed her to the King’s chambers, and raped her.  Then once it was discovered she was carrying the King’s child, David had her husband killed in the battle that he should have been present at to begin with.  David’s failure is this massive three-part failure.  His first failure was neglecting his duties as King and sending his men to battle without his guidance.  His second failure was succumbing to the temptation of lust and committing the act.  And his final failure was the coverup that cost an innocent man his life.  It can all be summed up in that, had David been in his proper place as King at battle, the entire situation would have been avoided.

But God once again had other plans.  David’s failure wasn’t his demise.  It was David’s repentance that saved him from death, as is stated in verses 13-14.  But, repented sin is still sin, and sin requires consequences.  The consequences of David’s failure were catastrophic, as the illegitimate child grew sick and died after his birth, despite David’s pleas to God to save the child.

The thing though about this story is not about the sin.  It’s not about the consequences of sin.  The main focus is the glory of God and Hs control in all things as he turns absolute ruin into pure beauty.  Verses 24-25 reveal that, after he had taken Bathsheba as his wife, David became the father to Solomon through Bathsheba.  And for those of you who don’t realise this, it was through Solomon that Christ’s lineage derives from.  Through David’s darkest moment, through his worst failure, God provided the Saviour for His people.  Theologian Mark Harris puts it so aptly by saying, “[Bathsheba] becomes a part of the memory of hope among the fragments, a hope made perfect in Jesus.”  God took all of this and pieced it all back together and took one of Christ’s patriarchs and used this to give us the Saviour we needed.  And I look at this and think how can anyone look at this and not believe that God can save them?

Yet I do just that.  I live like I don’t believe the Gospel is enough.  I struggle so desperately sometimes with the reality that the price is paid.  I know the stories of David and of Paul where God took the worst of the worst and transformed them into some of the greatest examples of God’s pure glory, yet I act like and I’m left thinking that He can’t do the same in my own life.

I simply forget the Gospel.

I go back to Martin Luther’s quote from his facing of excommunication.  “Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”  And it’s a line I find myself continually praying and repeating to myself because I know that is all the hope that I have.  Charles Spurgeon once said, “If your sin is small then your Saviour will be small also. But if your sin is great, then your Saviour must be great.”  And our Saviour is great.  Our Saviour is incomprehensible beyond words.  My sin is gone.  Psalm 103:12 says, “As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us.”   East and west don’t cross.  It’s an infinite distance.  You can circle the globe a million times and never change your direction.  When God looks at us, He can’t even see our sin.  Mark Hall of Casting Crowns describes it as, “We have a hard time with the concept of forgiveness.  We cut ourselves and it heals, but the scar remains. Sometimes we think God treats sin like we would if we were God, and that he handles forgiveness like we would. We know he forgives, but we can’t accept that God chooses to forget and relinquishes his right to avenge [our sin].”  And that’s just it.  With our repentance, God puts it all aside and opens his arms longing for us to run into them.  The amazing power of the Cross has left an infinite distance between me and my sin, and there is nothing that can bring that back.  It’s through this amazing sacrifice that this can take place.  And I know that, even in the moments where I am stuck between His perfect plan for me and my stubborn self not wanting to accept it, He is there to love me and to guide me.  In 2 Corinthians 12:9, Christ even tells Paul that, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”  It is in my weakness that Christ’s power shines through the most, and it amazes me that there is nothing I can do but be weak in front of God.

So now the question begs, where do you find yourself in all of this?  Are you someone who’s never in their life understood or grasped what the Gospel really is?  My desperate prayer for you, my desperate plea with you today is that, if you’ve never accepted the sacrifice Christ has paid, you don’t leave without it.  You just can’t.  But you might ask, is it worth it?  Well, to give an example, in C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, the children are introduced to Aslan, a wild lion who is the Christ-figure of the novel.  They don’t know what to think of Aslan, so they have to seek out the answer to the question, “Is he safe?”  The response they get is, “No, he isn’t safe. He’s a roaring lion. But he is good.”  What this means is that the Gospel isn’t always safe.  It must be offensive to some.  The demons may tremble at the Gospel, but they still resent it.  They fight it at every corner.  In response, Christians begin to lay down and succumb to the temptation to disregard parts of the Gospel.  The Gospel becomes somewhat tamed down.  It’s labeled as “just a prayer” or “making a commitment to follow Christ” when in fact it is so much more than that.  It is about being fully sold out to the call of Christ and going wherever He leads you.  The Gospel that God has given to us isn’t safe.  The Gospel cannot be tamed.  It cannot be whitewashed into something more manageable.  It can’t be controlled.  It isn’t politically correct.  It isn’t popular.  It isn’t always safe to proclaim.  But it is so good.  There is nothing else that can top it or take it’s place.  There isn’t a decision you can make that is more important than whether or not you choose to follow Christ.  It won’t always be easy, but it will always be good.  And my decision to follow Christ is one decision that, even through the stumbles and failures, I will never regret.

Maybe you’re like me; in full awareness of what the Gospel means but you can’t always live it.  Your past failures come back continually to bite you and drag you down.  You might believe that you can’t be the example to an unbelieving world that God calls you to be.  But here is the thing: Like I said earlier, even Satan himself knows that the power of the Cross cannot be contained.  Mark 5 tells the story of a man possessed by demons who encounters Christ.  The power of the presence of Jesus forced even the demon to fall at the feet of the Saviour and worship Him (v.6).  James 2:19 says that the demons believe in the one Triune God and tremble at their belief.  Yet throughout all of this, we stumble.  We know that the very Gospel we believe makes the enemy falter, but we act as if we are afraid to fight even though God is always on our side.  Will we be successful every time if we do?  No.  Should that statistic stop us?  Not at all.

As I wrap this up, I wouldn’t be doing enough if I didn’t offer up an invitation.  Even as I speak this tonight, I am haunted by the fact that everyone who hears me will be in either Heaven or Hell once their life has passed, and there are no other options to this outcome.  And to me, it makes me want to do everything I can to make sure everyone has heard the name of Christ.  So I beg you, if you don’t know Christ, come to Him.  His arms are open wide waiting for you.  And you won’t regret it.  There are people here tonight who can guide you through it and continue to disciple you throughout the beginning of your faith.  There are people here tonight who want nothing more than to see you come to Christ.  If you already are a follower of Christ, maybe you just need to come pray to God.  Maybe you just need to seek His guidance in your life.  Or maybe you just need to worship Him for His goodness.  But whatever you feel you need to do, don’t hesitate.  Satan loves a hesitant heart because he knows that hesitation means you think and trick yourself into not doing it.  Don’t put off the decisions you know God is calling you to make.  God is calling you to great things in His Kingdom, so don’t put it off.

All because it is good.

Soli Deo Gloria.  For God’s glory alone.

PDF Transcript with Source Citations: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/48097228/the_forgotten_Gospel.pdf

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Posted by on 16 November 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Beauty From the Ashes

“For nothing will be impossible with God.” Luke 1:37; NASB

I know it’s been a while since I last wrote, but if there was ever a day to start again, it’s today.

31 August brings out a lot of mixed emotions in me.  On one end, it’s the birthday of two of my really good friends, Justin and Veronica (on that note, happy birthday guys).  On the other end, it marks eight years since watching my family lose a very close relative.  Today also would have been the birthday of an old friend, who was taken from us far too soon in 2008.  And throughout recent chaotic events within my family and personal life, the weight of the world easily becomes too much to bear.  And it’s nights like this one at 2:35 in the morning that I remember this struggle doesn’t have to be mine alone.

I struggle sometimes with God’s ability to turn the impossible into reality.  I can’t wrap my mind around the simple fact that He takes the worst and creates beauty from it.  From Tommy’s death, I believed it.  From the time I learned of Matt’s disappearance and death, I knew that from this, God would accomplish the “impossible”; whatever that was.  And I still believe it.  But here I am, eight years later, and I still didn’t believe I had seen the “impossible” accomplished yet.  I expected God to show up in some miraculous form to do some sort of mind-blowing action and instantly reveal that this was the reason for the past events and struggles, but it never happened the way that I made myself think it would.  So I struggled with knowing that all things can be accomplished through Christ.

But God…

“For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol; Nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay.  You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.” Psalm 16:10-11; NASB

Through everything, I find my utmost comfort in the simple fact that the Gospel exists.  If there was anything that was the most impossible thing to accomplish, it would be Salvation.  The world and its predisposition for sin ultimately ends any hope of justification on our part.  Yet God gives it to us.  The one thing that cannot be obtained was made available by the Cross.  There, in the centre of the Cross, was the heart that was given unto death so that mine could be free.  The irony is that the origin of life is found in one death, and through that one death, everything is made new in the sight of the Creator.  Nothing remains but His Glory.  And if He can take the wretched, lost soul I was and sanctify it from the bondage of this world, then He can accomplish anything.  The “impossible” that I’ve longed to see has been in front of me this whole time.  Salvation is the great, glorious impossible, and Christ is the foundation of it.  I’ve seen it time and time again, I will continue to see it for the rest of my life, and there is nothing that brings more joy to me than to see or hear someone be brought from death into life.  Thinking back over times I’ve witnessed this or heard stories of it happening, I see where God showed me the impossible being accomplished.  God sent my friend Matt Cooper into the deserts of Senegal this summer.  Matt left behind in Senegal a new believer named “Stephen”, who in his short time as a Christian, has already led multiple people to Christ.  The first time I heard Stephen’s story, I was left speechless.  When I heard of his evangelism in Senegal, I was left in tears.  And it is times like this that God continually uses to give me the strength to press on.

Tonight I got to meet with a few close friends of mine to plan the start of a new event on campus at UT Knoxville.  More details are to come, but if you will be in Knoxville on 20 September at 7:00pm, you need to be there.  In the words of Ben Moser, “Something special is coming for those of you who wouldn’t mind seeing what Jesus is about.”  To meet with a group of guys who all have a passion for teaching, for prayer, for worship, and to see the Gospel spread and plan a way to do so was one of the more encouraging moments I’ve had lately.  Throughout the planning and the conversations and the laughter, the idea of the impossible arose.  And it became clear what our goal should be.  Between all of the churches, ministries, and organizations that pour in resources, time, people, money, and effort into the UTK campus, the Gospel should have reached the entire student body on this campus a long time ago, yet it hasn’t.  The only thing stopping it is us.  There is a major collegiate campus less than a mile from where our meeting was tonight with nearly 28,000 students that call it home.  One Man forever altered the history of the entire world, so why hasn’t a multitude of people not impacted a measly 28,000 students?  As I have stated many times before, the Gospel cannot be tamed, yet we never let loose its full power or potential.  And while reaching an entire campus seems “impossible” to most, so was my salvation at one point before the Cross.

But God…

 
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Posted by on 31 August 2011 in The Gospel

 

Self-Centered Christianity

And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.  For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:23-25; NASB)

Thanks to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and reality TV, the world is full of narcissists. As someone with his own online blog, I don’t have much room to talk, but since only three or four people actually read it, I think I’m good.

The problem with being self-centered is just that; your world revolves around you. This is an even bigger issue in the realm of Christianity and the Gospel. Being a Christian requires God to be the center of your life, which is easy to say but much harder to accomplish. Sure, we say that God is our focus and the advancement of the Gospel is our goal, but how many of us can do that without esteeming ourselves for what we do to pursue that?

Recently in Atlanta, the Passion 2011 conference took place. For reasons I’m about to get to, I didn’t go. For one, I disagree with John Piper on enough things to warrant me not paying to see him preach. I’ve heard Andy Stanley preach entire sermons without evoking the name of God or referring back to the Gospel. Also, if I wanted to see famous acts, such as Hillsong United or David Crowder, I’d buy a concert ticket instead of letting the distractions of the bands interfere with my focus on Christ during my worship. (Side note: I’d rather have an organist on stage with hymn books every other seat than be enticed by loud music and lightshows that shift my focus away from the One who more than deserves it. Others prefer the opposite. Whatever works for you is what you need. To each his own.)

Anyways, to my point. The main idea of the conference was “Do Something Now”, which is great. There are millions of people across the world who have never even heard of Christ. This is a tragedy. Even as I write this, I am haunted by the fact that everyone who reads it will be in either Heaven or Hell once their life has passed, and these people have at least heard the name of Jesus.

The problem lies here. Almost immediately after Passion ended, my Twitter feeds were full of Tweets referring to “doing something now”. The issue was that most of them read as “I will…” or “I am…”, and very few mentioned God. Very few said anything to the extent of “For God, I will…” or “For Christ, I am…” The commitments offered, while I am sure were offered nobly, were self-focused. I searched under the hashtag of #DoSomethingNow and my disbelief continued. Here were thousands of people who were so moved to become full-time missionaries or give their lives to the ministry and the Gospel, but so few gave God the focus. I saw more “I” and “me” and “my” than I saw “God”.

It was a sobering reality check, even for myself.

I began to think of all the times I struggled with not receiving recognition for serving the Church or didn’t feel like my work was appreciated. Then I remembered times when I knew it was all for Christ. The contrast was day and night, and I came to know that everything I do is all for God. There is no middle ground where God and I split the recognition. If the Gospel isn’t my focus, then I’m doing something wrong.

Once I caught on to that, I started to wonder how anyone who has a desire to share Christ with the world can let that desire revolve around themselves. It didn’t take long at all to find reasons. There are people who rewrite and rearrange the Bible into “modern language” to make it “cool” and “hip” and (supposedly) easier for us to understand, but present it in a language so far off from what the original, God-inspired text stated (I’m looking at you, Eugene Peterson). John Piper says that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him” (emphasis added). Joel Osteen can’t preach anything other than a self-help sermon. The eternal online debate over Calvinism, Armenianism, and Molinism has been reduced to how much more right someone is over someone else rather than how to spread Christ from the stance of these theological positions.

It all boils down to the importance of God waging war with the importance of “me”. Satan loves it. For every second we live our walk with God focused in any portion on ourselves, it’s a second that he has to distract us. It’s a second that we aren’t listening fully to God. It could be the second you had to tell someone about Jesus. Jesus said that to follow him, we had to deny ourselves. The world cannot produce anything to save us. It all has to come from God and it all has to be focused on God. I said earlier that everyone who reads this post will end up in either Heaven or Hell. That’s a sobering truth. Likewise, every person you speak to, every person you sit next to in class, every person you know will, one day, end up in either Heaven or Hell.

This world doesn’t need my denomination. It doesn’t need my church. It doesn’t need my views. It doesn’t need my preferred translation of the Bible. This world doesn’t even need me.

This world needs Jesus.

 
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Posted by on 20 January 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Cultivating Godliness in Seminary…and in College

The following is a post by Nathan Finn from Between the Times; a blog written by professors from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. While it is aimed at students in seminary, the same principles apply to all Christian students who are going off to college. Whether you’re a rising freshman or a grad student, the topics in this post will aid you in strengthening your walk with Christ during your collegiate years.

Cultivating Godliness in Seminary
Nathan Finn

When I was preparing to enroll at Southern Seminary to begin my M.Div. studies, more than one person counseled me to not allow my zeal to fizzle while in seminary. While some of that counsel probably reflects my membership in a tradition that is still somewhat suspicious of theological education, I suspect that many other aspiring seminarians have received similar advice. And for good reason—each of us know of someone whose faith withered in seminary, even in orthodox seminaries. By God’s grace, I really believe I loved Christ more when I finished seminary than when I started, in part because I attended two fine seminaries, but also because of some steps I took to try and cultivate godliness during seminary.

I want to share some strategies for cultivating godliness while in seminary. It is my hope that these suggestions may help some seminary students to stay close to the cross and grow in their faith while pursuing their theological education.

  1. Join a good local church. At Southeastern, we begin encouraging students as early as New Student Orientation to join a solid local church and become actively involved. My criteria for a good local church include several factors: gospel-centeredness, adheres to sound doctrine, expositional preaching ministry, evangelistic, sees itself as a servant to the community, cultivates gospel community among members, is hesitant to allow new members, including seminarians, to immediately exercise leadership responsibilities (especially teaching).
  2. Join a good church-based small group. It doesn’t really matter if it is a home group or a Sunday School class (or both) so long as it focuses on building gospel community through life-on-life discipleship, sound teaching, accountability, and outreach. In my opinion, the best small groups at least occasionally share meals together and are not by design limited to only one age group. Some seminarians will prefer groups and churches that are seminary-heavy, while others will benefit from groups and churches that have less of a seminary presence. (As an aside, lots of seminarians are looking for a mentor. I’m convinced that if you join the right church and involve yourself in the right small group, much mentoring comes naturally through gospel-centered, life-on-life relationships.)
  3. Make personal devotional time a priority. It is tempting for every seminarian to substitute class work, especially edifying assignments, for personal devotional time. Don’t succumb to this temptation! Spend regular time studying, meditating upon, memorizing, and seeking to apply Scripture. Spend regular time praying, both for yourself and for others. When you have to go a few days without personal devotional time, try to block out an extended time that you can recharge through Scripture reading and prayer.
  4. For married students, make family worship a priority. This may seem a bit awkward at first, especially for those who did not grow up in families that prioritized this discipline or for married couples who don’t have any children. But press on—this is one of the most important things you can do to cultivate godliness while in seminary. Read the Bible together, pray together, and sing together. If you have no children (we didn’t at the time) or if you have older children, I recommend working through D. A. Carson’s For the Love of God (now available online), which includes daily devotions based upon Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s classic Bible-reading plan.
  5. Share the gospel with unbelievers, especially unbelievers with whom you are building a personal relationship. If you attend an evangelical seminary, chances are you will take a class or two that requires you to engage in personal evangelism. But in addition to whatever curricular requirements you might have, try to share the gospel with others as often as you can. Consider participating in your local church’s outreach ministry. Volunteer with other area ministries. Build relationships with lost neighbors, co-workers, and/or others with whom you come into regular contact. If you are in an urban area, try street preaching. If you are near a university, assist with a campus ministry. The sky’s the limit, but do something to impact lostness, even while you are a seminary student.
  6. Commit to read at least one edifying book each semester in addition to whatever books may be required. I know this is tough for some students, especially those who read slowly. A good seminary overwhelms you with reading! But it is well worth your time to spend even five or ten minutes a day reading on a good book that has nothing to do with class. Some of the books that I think would be helpful along these lines include Paul Miller’s A Praying Life; C. J. Mahaney’s Humility; Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Discipleship; J. I. Packer’s Knowing God; . . . Greg Gilbert’s What is the Gospel?; Sinclair Ferguson’s The Christian Life; Don Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life; any book by A. W. Tozer or Jerry Bridges. (Note: If you read any of these books for a class, read a different book as your “extra” edifying book—no cheating!)
  7. For those who aspire to be pastors, also read at least one good biography and one good book about pastoral ministry each semester. My favorite biographies are Courtney Anderson’s To the Golden Shore: The Life of Adoniram Judson and George Marsden’s Jonathan Edwards: A Life. As a general rule, the older a biography (especially of a pastor or missionary), the more edifying it is—and the purpose here is edification, not academics. Good books on pastoral ministry include Charles Bridges, The Christian Ministry; Charles Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students; . . . Tom Ascol, ed., Dear Timothy; John Armstrong, Reforming Pastoral Ministry; Curtis Thomas, Practical Wisdom for Pastors; Collin Marshall and Tony Payne, The Trellis and the Vine; D. A. Carson, The Cross and Christian Ministry.
  8. In addition to your local church and the seminary’s chapel, listen regularly to good preachers. Podcast preaching that will give fire to your soul and shape your own preaching. Listen to good conferences (most of the good stuff is free) and be encouraged by pastors and others who are on the front lines of gospel ministry. If you can save up the limited financial resources at your disposal, try to attend at least one good conference a year in addition to the conferences hosted by your school. By the way, a good seminary will host good conferences that will help you grow in godliness and inform your own approach to ministry.

    Cross-posted from Between the Times.

     
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    Posted by on 8 August 2010 in Helpful Tips, The Gospel

     

    Sacrifices, Obedience, and Faith

    Genesis 22 gives the story of Abraham’s obedience to God being tested. I could give you the rundown, but instead I’ll let you read it for yourself.

    1 Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.” 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4 On the third day Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place from a distance. 5 Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you.” 6 Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son, and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. 7 Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” And he said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” 8 Abraham said, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together. 9 Then they came to the place of which God had told him; and Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood, and bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12 He said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” 13 Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son. 14 Abraham called the name of that place The Lord Will Provide, as it is said to this day, “In the mount of the Lord it will be provided.” 15 Then the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, 16 and said, “By Myself I have sworn, declares the Lord , because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies. 18 “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.” 19 So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham lived at Beersheba. (Genesis 22:1-19; NASB)

    Verse 8 is the key point of this, but I will return to it later. As a background, Isaac was the son promised to Abraham and Sarah in their old age to allow Israel to come into existence. To have sacrificed him would have meant the end of Israel. Yet Abraham obeyed and prepared to sacrifice him as God told, and his obedience was rewarded.

    But the point of this is not to show how God rewarded Abraham. It is to show how God has continually provided the sacrifice for us. Verse 8 shows Abraham’s faith in this and verses 12-14 show how this becomes reality through God.

    The bigger picture lies further down the road, though. Through Abraham’s obedience, God was able to provide the final sacrifice for our sin through Christ. Being of Israel, the birth of Jesus would have not occurred had Abraham disobeyed. And even though the birth of Christ would not occur for thousands of years, Abraham continued to believe God would provide a sacrifice. Hebrews 11:8-19 details this:

    8 By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; 10 for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore there was born even of one man, and him as good as dead at that, as many descendants as the stars of heaven in number , and innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore .
    13 All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. 15 And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.
    17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; 18 it was he to whom it was said, “In Isaac your descendants shall be called .” 19 He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type. (Hebrews 11:8-19; NASB)

    Even though the birth of the Saviour wouldn’t come during his lifetime, he knew that God would not fail His creation. And Abraham’s faith became his salvation. Though he knew none of Christ’s life or the ministry of the Apostles, he still believed God would bring his sacrifice and his faith saved him.

    If Abraham could have the faith to believe God would send the Saviour thousands of years before He came and live each day for that Saviour, then why can’t we live the same? God has given us the way to Him through Christ, just as Abraham believed He would. And just as Abraham’s faith saved him, our faith in Christ’s sacrifice will save us.

    Posted via WordPress for BlackBerry.

     
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    Posted by on 25 July 2010 in Uncategorized

     

    The Astounding Gospel

    I’ve been asked why I love hearing the Gospel message preached so often and why I constantly find a way to link it to almost every Biblical topic. It’s because the Gospel never ceases to astound me. The fact that God’s love for us is so vast that He sent His Son as the sacrifice to bring us to Him is something that truly amazes me. I can’t hear it or read it enough.

    Ephesians 2 lists what is, in my opinion, the most straightforward presentation of the Gospel. Verses 1-3:

    1 And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, 2 in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, 3 among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.

    We are hopeless, helpless beings.  We cannot obtain perfection because of our fallen, sinful nature. It is impossible. Nothing we can do can please God for everything we do is through the fallen world. We are, quite simply, lost.

    But God…

    4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

    But God…

    Those two words change everything. Through Christ, the payment has been made. The debt is cleared and the stains are washed away. Through Christ, God cleanses us and adopts us as His children, never to be separated from Him for eternity. Only Christ can save us, and only God could have made the way for us to be saved.

    Folks, that simple message there gives me more hope than anything this world offers can. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (below) reaffirms this. Our focus isn’t on the things of the world, but on the things of God. If this isn’t the same for you, then you need to recheck your priorities.

    16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. 17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, 18 while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

    On a side note, linked here is my favorite presentation of the Gospel message. This is from my home church in Cary, North Carolina; First Baptist Church (www.caryfbc.org). Check it out when you get a chance.
    http://www.caryfbcext.org/audio/sermons/20100228-1800.mp3

     
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    Posted by on 20 June 2010 in God's Love, Grace, The Gospel

     

    The Offensive Cross

    Once during a concert, Derek Webb said the following: “The Cross  is both beautiful and offensive, and it must be both. There is no other Gospel for you to preach.”  It’s a bold statement, but it’s a statement that has validity.  There is nothing more offensive to some than the message of God’s salvation through Christ.  But the question remains of where this offense comes from.  Was it due to Catholicism’s resistance to the Protestant Reformation?  Is it due to Athesim’s and Secularism’s slow creep into the schools?  Is it because of the jihad declared by radical Islam against all things Judeo-Christian?

    Or is it because even Satan himself knows that the power of the Cross cannot be contained.

    Mark 5 tells the story of a man possessed by demons who encounters Christ.  The power of the presence of Jesus forced even the demon to fall at the feet of the Saviour and worship Him (v.6).  James 2:19 says that the demons believe in the one Triune God and tremble at their belief.  But throughout all of this, the offense remains.

    Ephesians 1 explains how a person must be “enlightened” by God to understand anything about God and salvation.  For anyone to understand the processes of God, they must allow their hearts to be opened up by the Holy Spirit to receive the knowledge.  Man, being imperfect from the fall, is a finite being and cannot grasp the infinite wisdom of God on his own accord.  For man to be able to do so would mean that perfection can be obtained without Christ’s sacrifice, which it can’t (John 14:6, Philippians 3:3-14).  So therefore, to those rejecting Christ and living in the flesh, controlled by the masters of the fallen world, the Gospel presents a terrible offense.

    What this means is that the Gospel must be offensive to some.  The demons may tremble at the Gospel, but they still resent it.  They fight it at every corner.  In response, Christians begin to lay down and succomb to the temptation to disregard parts of the Gospel.  The Gospel becomes somewhat tamed down.  It’s labeled as “just a prayer” or “making a committment to follow Christ” when in fact it is so much more.  It is about being fully sold out to the call of Christ and going wherever He leads you.  As Christians, we are the bride of Christ. Our lives should reflect as such, but they rarely do.  We know that the very Gospel we believe makes the enemy falter, yet we act as if we are afraid to fight even though God is always on our side.  Will we be successful every time?  No.  Should that statistic stop us?  Not at all.

    The Gospel cannot be tamed.  It cannot be whitewashed into something more managable.  It isn’t politically correct.  It isn’t en vouge.  Not all of the cool kids believe it.  It isn’t always safe to proclaim.

    But it is good.

     
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    Posted by on 10 June 2010 in The Gospel