• Who Should we Be Preaching To?

    There seems to me two basic camps when it comes to preaching in church. There is the camp where we are preaching primarily to the non christian in the pew and so we will preach on relevant topics and work on our communication. Then there is the camp that says we preach to the believer and try to make our sermons deep and weighty and full of great theology. But is there a third way? Tim Keller think so. Check out his reflection on Martin Lloyd-Jones’ preaching in his book Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City:

    I found particularly fascinating the structure he designed for his preaching. Lloyd-Jones planned his evening sermons to be evangelistic, while the morning sermons were intended to instruct and build up Christians. The evening sermons contained direct appeals to people to come to Christ and believe the gospel but were still richly theological and expository. On the other hand, while the morning sermons assumed a bit more knowledge of Christianity, they always returned to the clear themes of sin, grace, and Christ — the gospel. Lloyd-Jones urged his church members to attend both services. While he saw the evening service as an ideal setting to which to bring a nonbelieving friend, he wanted the professing Christians to attend regularly for their own good. Nor was he concerned when nonbelievers showed up regularly at the morning services. In fact, he wrote, “We must be careful not to be guilty of too rigid a classification of people saying, ‘These are Christians, therefore…’ [or] ‘Yes, we became Christians as the result of a decision we took at an evangelistic meeting and now, seeing that we are Christians, all we need is teaching and edification.’ I contest that very strongly.”17 I learned these lessons from him: Don’t just preach to your congregation for spiritual growth, assuming that everyone in attendance is a Christian; and don’t just preach the gospel evangelistically, thinking that Christians cannot grow from it. Evangelize as you edify, and edify as you evangelize.

    What do you think? Do you think our preaching should be aimed at both believers and unbelievers? If so what does this kind of preaching look like?

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  • Must Read Books on Christianity, the Bible and Homosexuality

    A few weeks ago I spoke at Orange Evangelical Church and gave two talks on Homosexuality and Christianity. I have been asked a few times to recommend books on homosexuality and Christianity or homosexuality and the Bible that I have found helpful and so here are my list of must read’s on this issue that Christians need to be both Biblically clear headed and filled with the love and grace of Jesus:

    The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics by Robert Gagnon. This is a must read for pastors, Bible college students and anyone who is in a significant place in christian leadership. Gagnon is exhaustive in his analysis of the Bible and his interaction with those who try to argue from the Bible that homosexuality is a biblically legitimate expression of sexuality. His tone is scholarly and straight to the point and he pulls no punches so this is not a book to go to if you are looking for pastoral counsel. But if you want a book that deals with the Bible and Homosexuality this is the book.This is a tough book to read that will take work but it is a vital book to read.

    Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views by Dan Via and Robert Gagnon. This is written by two scholars who present their arguments from the Bible on why the Bible is for homosexuality (Via) and why it is against it (Gagnon). It is a great book to see how the two different sides of this debate actually look at the Bible totally differently.

    Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality by Wesley Hill is a great book that I hope all Christians read. It is written by a man who calls himself gay in the sense that he is attracted to men and and yet he is a Christian who because of his faith will not act out on his desires. What this book shows is how painful it is to be caught in this situation. The book also gives us hope by dealing with this issue in a pastorally brilliant and theologically informed way.

    Sex and the Supremacy of Christ edited by Justin Taylor and John  Piper. Buy and read this book for Al Mohler’s article “Homosexual Marriage as a Challenge to the Church: Biblical and Cultural Reflections”. The article shows Mohler at his best. It is both biblically and theologically informed and culturally savvy.

    Like Me: Confessions Of A Heartland Country Singer by Chely Wright. Is an autobiographical account of American Country singer Chely Wright and her struggles with being a life long lesbian. It takes you through her battles with her identity, we read of her praying as a seven year old that God would make her straight and other emotionally gripping stories. Christians should read this book because it shows us point blank the emotional turmoil that exists when struggling with homosexual identity.

    Homosexuality is one of the flash points for Christians in our age. We need to be biblically informed and yet have compassion and love. The books on homosexuality will help you be both.

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  • Why Atheists Should Doubt Their Doubts and Be Skeptical of Their Skepticism

    In secular discourse it seems that doubt reigns supreme. We are called by atheists today to think carefully and doubt Christian beliefs. Why? Because Christian beliefs are obviously biased and are based on emotional longings craving after something more than this world has to offer rather than on solid evidence. Or so our atheists friends say.

    But the accusation can be and needs to be flipped. If it is true that my belief has a strong emotional component to it (and I’d be the first to admit that it does) then shouldn’t it be true that an atheists lack of belief has a strong emotional component to it also? Christianity is a scary religion where you are called to give your life over to someone else and let them be in charge. This causes most people to have a strong emotional reaction against it and therefore a person’s lack of belief has a significant emotional component to it just as my belief also has a significant emotional component to it.

    If we then agree with our atheist friends that any belief structure that has a significant emotional component to it should be questioned then is follows that an atheist should doubt their own doubts and be skeptical of their own skepticism.

    Pastor Tim Keller gives atheists this word of advice on our topic:

     Be skeptical of your own skepticism. Why? Because you realize that you are not completely objective. Maybe you have a very religious parent whom you dislike. Or you may have had a bad experience with an inconsistent and insensitive group of Christians. On top of that, as we have observed, few people can entertain an invitation to give up their freedom without some prejudice against it. You’re afraid of the claims of Christianity being true – that’s fine. If we’re honest, we all are. You’ll never be fair-minded with the evidence if you don’t acknowledge that you can’t be perfectly fair-minded. So what should you do about this? You could simply slow down, so you don’t come so quickly to skeptical conclusions. Also, you should recognize that if Christianity is true, it is not just a set of rational, philosophical principles to adopt— it is a personal relationship to enter. So, to take seriously at least the possibility that it is true, why not consider praying? Why not say, ‘God, I don’t know if you’re there but I do know what prejudice is like, and I’m willing to be suspicious of it. Therefore, if you are there and if I am prejudiced, help me get through it.’ Break the ice with Jesus— talk to him. No one has to know you are doing it. If you’re not willing to do that, I suggest that you’re not willing to own the prejudice that we all start with.

    You can read the rest of the quote from Keller here.

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  • Is Liberal Christianity really Christianity?

    Liberal Christianity is a wing of the church which tries to modify or change some of the central beliefs of Christianity so that the modern world, in which we are in, would see Christianity as more acceptable. But if you do this type of theological and ethical surgery to Christianity do you still have Christianity when you are done?

    One of the greatest books on Liberal Christianity is Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen. In it he says that Liberal Christianity is not Christianity at all. Here is his conclusion:

    What is the relation between Christianity and modern culture; may Christianity be maintained in a scientific age? It is this problem which modern liberalism attempts to solve. Admitting that scientific objections may arise against the particularities of the Christian religion — against the Christian doctrines of the person of Christ, and of redemption through His death and resurrection — the liberal theologian seeks to rescue certain of the general principles of religion, of which these particularities are thought to be mere temporary symbols, and these general principles he regards as constituting “the essence of Christianity.” As a matter of fact… what the liberal theologian has retained after abandoning to the enemy one Christian doctrine after another is not Christianity at all, but a religion which is so entirely different from Christianity as to belong in a distinct category.

    I think Machen is correct in his assessment of Liberal Christianity. Because, in the end, when you take out the guts of the gospel you are left with no Gospel at all.

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  • What is The Primary Aim in Preaching?

    What is the main aim in preaching? Is to teach the Bible? Is it to educate? Is it to persuade? To motivate? In Tim Keller’s great book Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City Keller has a great quote from Martin Lloyd-Jones about the primary aim of preaching:

     The first and primary object of preaching… is to produce an impression. It is the impression at the time that matters, even more than what you can remember subsequently… Edwards, in my opinion, has the true notion of preaching. It is not primarily to impart information; and while [the listeners are taking] notes you may be missing something of the impact of the Spirit. As preachers we must not forget this. We are not merely imparters of information. We should tell our people to read certain books themselves and get the information there. The business of preaching is to make such knowledge live.

    What do you think? Do you think the primary aim in preaching is to make an impression or something else?

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  • How Should Christians Respond To Mockery?

    If you are a Christian today and you try to tell your friends about Jesus two of the ways your friends will respond to the great news about Jesus is to want to know more or to mock.

    It is amazing when our friends want to find out more isn’t it? I hung out with a mate this week and just kept asking questions about Christianity and Jesus.  I am so encouraged in this because I see God working slowly but surely in my friends life.

    But I have experienced too many times, as I am sure you have, the mocking that comes from some people towards God and the gospel. How should we as Christians respond to mockery? Firstly we should expect that it will come and don’t take it personally because they are rejecting Jesus not us.  Secondly, we love our mockers. We pray to for our mockers  and we are going to ask God that he would be merciful to them. Why are we going to do that?  Because it is exactly what Jesus did. Jesus as he was dying on the cross was mocked and ridiculed and yet what the words that came out of his mouth were not words of hate but words of love. He prayed to God that he would forgive his mockers (Luke 23:32-39). If you are mocked for being a Christian you are called to love and your love will outlast mockery. Because in the end the love of God will always outlast those who mock.

    And lastly as we are mocked we know there is something that is special about Christianity that allows people to mock us. As Ravi Zacharias shows in this brilliant video:


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  • How Do we Deal with the Ugliest Verse in the Bible?

    Happy is the one who seizes your infants
    and dashes them against the rocks.
    Psalm 137:9
    They are terrible words aren’t they? They are words that should bring us to have a strong emotional reaction. They are words which many opposed to Christianity will quote in an effort to show the invalidity of the Bible and Christianity. How should a Christian interpret these verses?
    As always we start with the context. We read in verse 1 that they are in Babylon which leads us to assert that this psalm was written after the Babylonians had taken Judah into exile. This had happened because the Israelites had continually rebelled against god their maker and worshiped other gods.
    In war terrible things happen. I dare say that the man who wrote this psalm had seen terrible things done in the name of war as he and his family were taken off to Babylon.
    He probably saw things that made him scream out things like:
    Happy is the one who seizes your infants
    and dashes them against the rocks.
    Psalm 137:9
    See these are not the words of a politician or a general coming up with a war strategy. These are the deeply pained words of one who has been through war and seen the atrocities of war. He screams out because he wants vengeance. Is this vengeance sinful? Yes.
    So why is it in the Bible? I think there are two reasons for this. Firstly, God’s people are in Babylon because if their own sin. They rebelled against god and worshiped other gods. These words are a result of them rebelling against god therefore I think these words are in the BIble to show us where rebelling against God ends up. When you rebel against God you end up in a place which is so ugly and depraved that you may cry out ugly and sinful words like these.
    Secondly, when we take these words in the context of the rest of the book of psalms we see the psalms are full of different kinds of emotion, some high and some very low. One of the reasons that the psalms are replete with emotional language is to show God can connect with and even does welcome our deepest darkest emotions. Therefore I am tentatively proposing that  these words are in the psalms to show that God cares for those of us that are so hate filled that we would utter or think words akin to these. These kind if displays of emotion show that in the end we may want vengeance but we need a saviour who will rescue us from ourselves and ultimately ourselves.
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  • Would The World Be Better Off Without Christians?

    Some people say today that if there was no religion in the world the world would be a better place. Usually this pointed remark is aimed at Christians and Christianity.

    But would the world really be better off if there were no Christians? I think not, if you have a look at all the work Christians organisations do for this world our world would be far worse off without Christians and/or Christianity.

    Country star Brad Paisley nails this point with his song Those Crazy Christians.

    Check out the lyrics here:

    Those crazy Christians, I was gonna sleep in today
    But the church bells woke me up and they’re a half a mile away

    Those crazy Christians, dressed up drivin’ down my street
    Get their weekly dose of guilt before they head to Applebee’s

     

    They pray before they eat and they pray before they snore
    They pray before a football game and every time they score
    Every untimely passing, every dear departed soul
    Is just another good excuse to bake a casserole

     

    Those crazy Christians, go and jump on some airplane
    And fly to Africa or Haiti, risk their lives in Jesus’ name
    No, they ain’t the late night party kind
    They curse the devil’s whiskey while they drink the Savior’s wine

     

    A famous TV preacher has a big affair and then
    One tearful confession and he’s born again again
    Someone yells hallelujah and they shout and clap and sing
    It’s like they can’t wait to forgive someone for just about anything

    Those crazy Christians

     

    Instead of being outside on this sunny afternoon
    They’re by the bedside of a stranger in a cold hospital room
    And every now and then they meet a poor lost soul like me
    Who’s not quite sure just who or what or how he ought to be
    They march him down the aisle and then the next thing that you know
    They dunk him in the water and here comes another one of those crazy Christians

     

    They look to heaven their whole life
    And I think what if they’re wrong but what if they’re right
    You know it’s funny, much as I’m baffled by it all
    If I ever really needed help, well you know who I’d call
    Is those crazy Christians

    Do you think Brad Paisley is right?

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  • How to Deal With Your Guilt

    The thing one pastoral conversation I seem to have more than any other is about a past sin that a person has committed that is still haunting them. What are we to do about that sin? What are we to think about that sin? Maybe you are reading this blog and you are haunted by past sin. Check out these wise words from Mark Driscoll’s book  Who Do You Think You Are?: Finding Your True Identity in Christ

    What deep regrets haunt you? What words have you spoken, deeds have you done, motives have you held, lies have you believed, harm have you caused, people have you grieved, and shame have you carried? What have you done to try to assuage your guilty conscience? Have you sought to deny your sin, blame others for it, minimalize it, hide it, pay God back, or punish yourself for it? How have your efforts failed? In Christ, you are totally, completely, and eternally forgiven. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or will do. Jesus died for it all and lives to forgive it all. You’re forgiven. God doesn’t hold your sin against you, isn’t going to punish you, and loves you in spite of your sin.

     

    Driscoll’s words are powerful and appropriate. Jesus has done it all, he forgives you of your sin and you need to rest in his forgiveness. Take your guilt to the cross and leave it there.

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  • Why all Christians Should Believe in Definite Atonement

    One of the things I loved about being at college was figuring out what the Bible said about various theological issues. While at college I studied various issues like the atonement, gender, church government, church discipline, the 39 articles, baptism,etc. in an effort to come to a position on each of them. One of my biggest shifts theologically was going from a person who believed that Jesus died effectively for all to believing that Jesus died purposely for the elect. At college I embraced the doctrine of definite atonement.

    Many theologians and well known pastors hold to the biblical doctrine of definite atonement. Here is the eminent pastor/ scholar himself John Piper explaining why he holds to definite atonement:

    Hand in glove with the doctrine of our disabling depravity is the doc­trine of God’s effective purchase of his people on the cross. The reason it’s like hand and glove is that our inability because of sin calls for a kind of redemption that does more than offer us a forgiveness we don’t have the ability to receive. Rather, it calls for a redemption that effectively purchases not only our forgiveness but also our willingness to receive it. In other words, the unwilling glove of depravity calls for the insertion of a powerful hand of ability-giving redemption.

     

    Sometimes this doctrine is called “limited atonement.” It’s not a helpful term. Better would be the terms definite atonement or particular redemption. The reason limited atonement isn’t helpful is that, in fact, the doctrine affirms more, not less, about Christ’s work in redemption than its rival view called “unlimited atonement.”

    The view of unlimited atonement takes all the passages that say the death of Christ is “for us” (Rom. 5:8; 1 Thess. 5:10), or for his own “sheep” (John 10:11, 15), or for “the church” (Acts 20:28; Eph. 5:25), or for “the children of God” (John 11:52), or for “those who are being sanctified” (Heb. 10:14) and makes them refer to all human beings. In this “unlimited atonement” view, the sentence “Christ died for you” means: Christ died for all sinners, so that if you will repent and believe in Christ, then the death of Jesus will become effective in your case and will take away your sins.

    Now as far as it goes, this seems to me to be biblical teaching— salvation is offered to all because of Christ. But then this view deniessomething that I think the Bible teaches. It denies that Christ died for his church—his bride (Eph. 5:25)—in any way different from the way he died for unbelievers who never come to faith.

     

    There is no dispute that Christ died to obtain great saving benefits for all who believe. Moreover, I have no dispute with saying that Christ died so that we might say to all persons everywhere without exception: “God gave his only begotten Son to die for sin so that if you believe on him you will have eternal life.”

    The dispute rather is whether God intended for the death of Christ to obtain more than these two things—more than (1) saving benefits after faith, and (2) a bona fide offer of blood-bought salvation to every person on the planet. Specifically, did God intend for the death of Christ to obtain the free gift of faith (Eph. 2:8) and repentance (2 Tim. 2:25)? Did the blood of Jesus obtain not only the benefits that comeafter faith but also the gift of faith itself?

     

    We want to be biblical. Does the unlimited atonement interpretation of any of the “universal” texts on the atonement necessarily contra­dict thismore that I am affirming about God’s intention for the death of Christ—texts like John 1:29; 2 Corinthians 5:19; 1 Timothy 2:6; Hebrews 2:9; 2 Peter 2:1; and 1 John 2:1–2?

    I don’t think so…

    …The fact that God makes salvation possible for all through the blood of Christ does not contradict the view that God does more than that through the death of Christ. I don’t affirm that God does less but that he does more. He actually secures the salvation of his chosen people. He secures all the grace needed for their salvation, including the grace of regeneration and faith.

     

    Paul says in Ephesians 5:25, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” This was a particular redemption. Christ had his bride in view differently than he had all in view. He knew his bride, and he wanted his bride, and he bought his bride. Jesus says, “I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:15). He said, “I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you [Father] have given me, for they are yours” (John 17:9). He said, “And for their sake I consecrate myself [to die], that they also may be sanctified in truth” (John 17:19). In other words,Christ had a specific design in his death for the sake of his people—the cross would be sufficient for the salvation of the world, but efficient for his sheep, his bride.

     

    And Paul carried through this understanding of Christ’s work when he said in Romans 8:32–33, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?” God’s elect in verse 33 are the same as the “us all” in verse 32. This group, he says, will most surely receive “all things.” God will see to it. And the reason Paul gives is that Christ did not spare his own Son but gave him up “for us all.” That means that the giving of the Son guarantees all the blessings of the elect.

    This does not limit the extent of what the atonement offers. The benefits of the atonement are offered to everyone.

     

    If you believe on Christ, they are all yours. But “the Lord knows those who are his” (2 Tim. 2:19). For them, for his bride, he is securing something that can­not fail—their faith and their justification and their glorification. Those for whom he died, in this fullest sense, will most certainly obtain all things—they will finally inherit the kingdom of God. His death is infal­libly effective for the elect.

     

    –pg. 136-138, Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian by John Piper (Crossway, 2011)

    The reason that all Christians should believe in definite atonement because only when we see the atonement is for the elect can we say Jesus died to save without reservation or qualification.

    If you want to read more on the biblical doctrine of definite atonement make sure you pre order the book that my good friend Jonny Gibson and his brother David edited  From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective

     With contributors like J. I. Packer, Henri A. Blocher, Sinclair B. Ferguson, Paul Helm, Robert Letham, John Piper, Thomas R. Schreiner,Carl R. Trueman , Lee Gatiss, Donald Macleod, J. Alec Motyer,  Garry J. Williams this will be the book on definite atonement.
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