• Day Two at Capitol Hill Baptist Church

    Today started off with me sitting in on a Capitol Hill Baptist intern training session. There were about 30 guys crammed into a room in three different groups. Group One was Mark Dever and the interns who sat around a table in Mark’s office. Group Two were the staff who sat around the outside of the room. Group Three were those of us coming for the weekender, who sat in the 2nd half of Mark’s office. The interns discussed four books:

    1. ‘Christian Ministry’ by Bridges
    2. ‘The Church and the Surprising Offence of the Love of God’ by Leeman
    3. ‘Polity’ by Dever
    4. ‘Trellis and the Vine’ by Payne and Marshall

    The interns had to write papers reviewing each of the sections and then Mark steered the discussion around the table, quoting from different papers and generating discussion.

    The next part of the meeting was fun. Each of the interns were given a book written in the last few years on the an aspect of the church and were asked to take on the persona of the writer, talk about the thesis of the book, defend that thesis and argue against the other ‘authors’. It was fun to see guys taking on theses that they obviously didn’t agree with and arguing them as if they owned them. Then it was time to critique each book, so the interns dropped their respective façades and said what they thought of the book.

    After that was lunch where I got the dirtiest burger and worst fries I have ever had! It made Maccas look clean and nice!

    After having a sleep I registered for the conference and then went for dinner with Ryan Kelly. Ryan is the Pastor at Desert Springs Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and is currently doing a PhD on John Owen (which shows that he was the brains trust in our conversation!). We chatted about the usual Pastor stuff (what are we preaching through, what are we reading, our families etc.). Ryan is a great guy and, from the one sermon I have heard, he is a great preacher! You can download his sermons here and you can see him in a discussion with Kevin Deyoung and Greg Gilbert on the mission of the church here.

    After dinner, the conference started and we heard a great talk on the church by Matt Schmucker. Matt is the executive director of 9Marks which is the organisation that has put on this conference I am attending. It was a great talk where he reminded us that the Mission of the church is to glorify God first and foremost and ‘mission’ or ‘evangelism’ exists because worship doesn’t! We then went to an Elders meeting which started at 7pm and finished around about 11:30pm. Even though the Elders had 100 people listening in, they were very open and lovingly frank in what they discussed and how they talked about matters of concern. I was encouraged that aour monthly Elders meetings at Resolved we talk about exactly the same things as they did, with two exceptions, and those exceptions are tied to the congregationalism[1] that exists at Capitol Hill Baptist.

     

    Points of learning:

    It has been interesting to see how Mark has set up his study and his life. His study is filled with books (of course!), there is always music going and there is always at least one other person in the study at any one time. Mark seems to feed off the energy and conversation of others. I have loved being in the study as I work answering emails and writing blogs. This is because I am an extrovert and love people. I want to think more about how I work because I hate sitting in a room by myself, working on a sermon or something else. I get a lot more work done when I am around people. So what I am going to try to do is work out what sort of work environment is best for me and also work out what is the best work rhythm that suits me, given that I’m extroverted. In Dever, I have experienced a man who knows who he is and sets up his workplace so he will be most effective – and effective is something that I think we all want to be.

    Elder Board – I have said to the Elders at Resolved how glad I am that, as a young pastor, I have a got a band of brothers with me. Not only do I think that an  Elder-governed church is the only form of polity that is biblically sound, but practically it is also extremely wise. I saw the benefits of an Elder Board again last night as I saw 14 men talk about caring for a church of around 1,000 people. I saw the care they had for each other and for their church and I saw how Mark Dever was able to mostly sit back and let his Elders talk about church discipline matters, caring for the hurting people in their church along with buying and selling of property. The Elder Board model multiplies ministry and the leadership of the church in a way which I have never seen in a Parish Council (Anglican) model. I saw that clearly tonight and I was encouraged to keep going with the Elder Board at Resolved.


    [1] Congregationalism is a system of church government where the congregation is the highest earthly authority for the church. Therefore the church votes on whom to let into membership, who to discipline, who to vote in as pastor etc.

     

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  • Would Jesus have killed Osama?

    I think in years to come you will remember where you were when you heard the news that Osama Bin Laden had been killed. Bin Laden was a man who had terrorized the world attacking anyone who was ideologically opposed to him.  For many of us there is welcome relief that justice has been done and we can breathe a collective sigh of relief now that he is dead.

    But as I was watching the new reports and I was seeing the glee that many people had in response to the news I was thinking “what is the Christian response to this?” and “what would have Jesus done?”[1]

    Three texts come to mind when I think about the recent events.

    The first is Jesus’ command to love our enemies and pray for them (Matthew 5:43-44). I wonder if we were to ask the people who were out the front of the Whitehouse last night cheering for joy over the killing of Bin Laden “Do you love Bin Laden?” or “When was the last time you prayed for him?” what they would have said. As Christians we are called to love our enemies. This is a seemingly impossible command but one that should be the most prominent ways Christians are different from others.

    The second text is where Jesus forgives his enemies on the cross (Luke 23:34). Jesus is hanging on a cross being punished unjustly and he is not spitting out words of hate or death against his enemies he is praying for them, he is forgiving them! Forgiveness when we are wronged is much harder than vengeance, it requires us to take the pain that we have felt when we are wronged and deal with it not by getting revenge but by some other way. Once again I wonder if you asked those people partying outside the Whitehouse if they had forgiven Osama what they would have said.

    The third text that comes to mind is Revelation 19:11-22. In this text, John shares a vision he has of Jesus coming back in judgement. Jesus judges the rulers of this world that oppose him and destroys them. This is a graphic and frightening picture of that last day when Jesus returns in judgement. But it also reminds us of two things. Firstly, that God cannot let injustice and evil go unpunished. It is comforting to know that Jesus hated what happened on Sept. 11 more than anyone else. He hates evil no matter what form it comes in.  Secondly, it reminds us that vengeance and justice is ultimately God’s and it will be carried out by him one day. The reason we can forgive, love and pray for our enemies is the fact that God is in control and he will judge. He will not let evil go unpunished. So even if Osama was never caught or killed one day he would have to give an account to Jesus the judge of the whole world.

    So, back to our first question. Would Jesus have killed Osama? I don’t think we can say either way. But I do know he would have loved, prayed for and forgiven him. I also know he would be resting in the fact that God will ultimately bring justice to this world and justice and love not evil and terror will have the final say.


    [1] Before I start I want to be clear I am in no way saying the man who took the fatal shot was wrong. He was doing his job and I am thankful for men like him who puts their life on the line to fight in wars etc.

     

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  • Books you should read before going to bible college

    I have the pleasure of having Arnaldo Santiago as an intern at Resolved. As part of his training this year I am getting him to read a list of books. This list covers almost every point of theology and sets him up to be ahead at college and in future ministry. It also gets him to engage with a few theologians and theological viewpoints that can be dangerous (i.e. Wright, Barth, New Perspective) which will help him to engage thoughtfully and sympathetically with these viewpoints in the future. A few people have asked for this book list so here it is:

    1. Strauch, Alexander. Biblical Eldership. Lewis & Roth, 1995.
    2. Strauch, Alexander. Meetings that Work. Lewis & Roth, 2001.
    3. Noll, Mark. Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity. Baker, 2001.
    4. Mathison, Keith. The shape of Sola Scriptura. Canon Press, 2001.
    5. Bray, Gerald. The Doctrine of God. IVP, 1993.
    6. Ware, Bruce. God’s Greater Glory. Crossway Books, 2004.
    7. Luther, Martin. The Bondage of the Will. Hendrickson, 2008.
    8. Piper, John & Grudem, Wayne. Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Crossway Books, 1991.
    9. Macleod, Donald. The Person of Christ. IVP, 1998.
    10. Murray, John. Redemption: Accomplished and Applied. Banner of Truth, 1955.
    11. Ferguson, Sinclair. The Holy Spirit. IVP, 1996.
    12. Dever, Mark. Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. Crossway Books, 1994.
    13. Hoekema, Anthony. The Bible and the Future. Eerdmans, 1979.
    14. Tripp Paul. Instruments in the Redeemers Hands.
    15. Edwards, Jonathan. Religious Affections
    16. Spurgeon, C.H, Lectures to my Students
    17. Murray, Iain H, The Forgotten Spurgeon
    18. Murray, Iain H, Evangelicalism Divided
    19. Wright, N.T, New Testament and the People of God
    20. Wright, N.T, Jesus and the Victory of God
    21. Wright, N.T, What St. Paul Really Said
    22. Westerholm, Stephen, Perspectives old and new on Paul
    23. Gibson and Strange, Engaging with Barth
    24. Machen Gresham, Christianity and Liberalism
    25. Morris, Leon, The apostolic preaching of the cross
    26. Beale, Gregory, The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism
    27. Dever and Packer, In My Place Condemned He Stood
    28. Bainton, Ronald, Here I Stand

    Which ones have you read? Are there any books or topics that I have missed?

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  • Day One at Capitol Hill Baptist

    Over the next few days I will be sharing with you about my time at Capitol Hill Baptist Church. I went over there for a 9 Marks weekender and throughly loved every minute of it! This next blog was written while I was over there. The other blogs were written after I came back.

    I am here. Finally! The plane ride was long and I didn’t sleep much but I am feeling okay. I was picked up at Dulles airport by my great friend Mat Freeman. From there we went to the nearest Chick Fil A (a “Christian” fast food restaurant!) but it was closed and so we had burritos and as you can see, the staff where we ate were extremely friendly.

    I am staying with a bunch of single guys at the Bull Moose which is an old bed and breakfast, now owned by the church. I have my own room which is marginally bigger than a shoebox but is very nice. I only slept three hours but am as ready for the weekend as the NSW people are ready for a new government.

    This morning I started work over in the Capitol Hill offices but Mark Dever (Senior Pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist) told me to come and work in his office because it is a nicer space. It seems like Mark’s office is always open and people are welcome to come and work whenever they want, which, to an extrovert like me, sounds like heaven!

    This afternoon I am sitting in on a conversation that Mark is having with some pastors over the phone and then going out to lunch with him. After that I am going sightseeing in the city and then after dinner there is a whole-church Bible study and then hanging out at Bull Moose with some cool kids from Capitol Hill.

     

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  • 5 questions to ask when you are bored with your church

    It is a common problem. People are bored with their church and they do not know what to do. Here are 5 questions I think everyone should ask when this is the case:

    1. Am I going to church expecting to hear God speak?

    If the answer is no I must ask “Why not?” If God’s word is being preached it is powerful and active (Hebrews 4:12) and God is speaking (2 Timothy 3:15-17).  What would happen if you went to church expecting that God would speak? What if you read the passage a week ahead and you were ready for God to speak to you? Would you find church far more engaging?

    2. Am I actively listening?

    We live in a consumer culture and one of the drawbacks of this is we think we need to be entertained. If someone or something is boring I will switch off and anyway, it is not my fault for me switching off it is their fault because they didn’t keep me entertained! As we have seen God is speaking when his word is read and it will be applicable to my life and therefore when I go to church I shouldn’t be passively listening as if the preacher is there to entertain me. No, I should listen actively always asking myself “what is God saying to me in this sermon/ reading/ song etc?” What would happen if you actively listened at church? What would happen if while you were at church you were always asking the question “What is God saying to me?”

    3. Am I looking for evidences of Grace?

    It is easy to get into a mood where we are seeing all the bad things that are happening at church. It is easy to notice that the sermon wasn’t as good as sermons have been in the past few weeks. It is easy to notice the kid on drums can’t hold a beat to save his life. It is easy to notice how the service leader was trying to be funny but it really didn’t work. But do you know in your church God is at work? Do you realise that God is working through his word? If so do you have eyes to see? Do you have eyes to see that God is working in that new person’s life? Do you see that God is healing that marriage? Do you see that person stepping up to leadership? This is all happening at your church because God is at work. Are you seeing these evidences of grace?

    4.  Am I serving the church?

    It is easy to sit on the sidelines. When we do it is easy to become a coulda, woulda, shoulda person. You know the people say “I coulda done better than that. I woulda if I wanted to. Someone shoulda listen to me!” But when we serve we have a role in making the church better! We have an opportunity to impact people’s lives. When we see that we make a difference I think we then see how God is using us at church and therefore church will be an amazing place!

    5.  Have I got sin in my life?

    Sin is deceitful. It can be so fun when we are in the middle of it but when it gets pointed out in our lives it hurts and then we naturally feel guilty. What can happen is we just start pushing away our friends from church and shutting out what God may be saying to us through his word because we don’t want to feel the sting of rebuke. If we looks squarely at our sin and we also look to our saviour we see that Jesus has cleansed us of our sin and therefore we need to live the forgiven life. Part of this is dealing honestly with sin in our life. When we realise that Jesus has taken our sin on the cross church then becomes a place where I can praise him because of what he has done for me!

    So much of the time we want our churches to be better. Our churches should be working at improving in all areas but sometimes the reason we don’t like church or find it boring is not about church at all it is about us!

    So if you find church boring ask yourself first “Am I the problem?”

     

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  • N.T Wright and the Gospel

    I think N.T Wright is a genius. The first book of his I ever read was Who was Jesus and it still is, in my opinion, a fantastic book. I have read many of Wright’s books on Paul and Jesus as well as numerous articles by the man and I have found that many times Wright illuminates the text where I can see what Paul or Jesus was saying in a way I haven’t been able to see before. But this is not always the case. I do think that Wrights construal of Paul, the gospel and justification distorts the gospel itself. Here is what Wright says the gospel is and is not:

    ‘The gospel’ is not, for Paul, a message about ‘how one gets saved’, in an individual and ahistorical sense. It is the announcement

    1. that the God of Israel is the one true God, and that the pagan deities are mere idols;

    2. that Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified and risen one, is not merely ‘Lord’ in some cosmic sense, but is actually King—King of Israel, and hence (on the Davidic model of passages such as Psalm 89) the King before whom all the kings of the earth shall bow;

    3. that Israel’s destiny has been fulfilled, her exile finished, her salvation won, but in a manner which undermines the Jewish ethnic and nationalistic hope that Paul had formerly espoused; and

    4. that the rule of the pagan idols, which have kept the pagan nations in their iron

    grip has been broken, and that those who follow and serve them are now summoned to share in the blessings of Israel’s ‘age to come’.[1]

    Now let’s be clear, I do believe that Wright has given some implications of the gospel here that are true. For example, I do believe that the gospel shows “that the God of Israel is the one true God, and that the pagan deities are mere idols”. But the questions is not whether Wright has outlined some implications of the gospel, the questions is whether or not Wright has been faithful to what Paul (and the Bible) says the gospel is? I don’t think so.

    When we look at two places where Paul gives potted summary of the gospel we read:

    Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. Galatians 1:3-5

    For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. Romans 1:16

    Notice how in both of these potted summaries salvation is front and centre. In Galatians it is Jesus giving himself for our sins. (Notice also how sin is not mentioned in Wrights outline of the gospel!). The gospel and salvation is expressed as rescuing us from the present evil age. So the gospel is to do with salvation.

    In the Romans passage, Paul talks about the gospel being salvation and for both the Jew and the Greek. He does not say that the gospel is about breaking down walls that divide the two groups. Now of course the breaking down of racial barriers is an implication of the gospel (see Ephesians 2:11-22) but, for Paul, it is not the heart of the gospel. For Paul the heart of the gospel is salvation.

    Here is the issue; to make things that are implications of the gospel (i.e. Jews and Gentiles being together in Christ) the centre of the gospel and to make the centre of the gospel an implication (i.e. an individual’s salvation) is to massively distort the gospel. I do think N.T Wright is a genius and we are in his debt for so much of what he has written but in subtle ways he distorts the gospel and we need to be careful when we read him (as we do when we read others also) to make sure we are not letting our view of the gospel be muddied.[2]

    You may also like:

    Check Out These Theological Titles Coming Soon

    The Enemy is Within part 3: The threat of the New Perspective

    An Interview With Tom Wright on Paul, Justification, Critics and New Books


    [1] N.T Wright Gospel and Theology in Galatians in Gospel in Paul (Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement), eds. L. Ann Jervis and Peter Richardson, 1994. Pgs. 232-233

    [2] If you want to read a robust, thoughtful and generous engagement with Wright on Paul see Peter T. O’Brien, ‘Was Paul a Covenantal Nomists?’ in Justification and Variegated Nomism: The Paradoxes of Paul, eds. D.A. Carson, Peter T. O’Brien, and Mark Seifrid (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2004), 283-295

     

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  • What I learnt about service improvement from one of Sydney’s best guitarists!

     

    This Saturday just gone I had lunch with Peter Northcote and Tanti Soemarjono. If you have never heard of Pete he is probably Australias most recorded guitarists and one of the most hard working dudes I have ever met. You should check him out![1]

    We were talking about how my church Resolved (www.resolved.org.au) can help the music community of Sydney and leave a positive mark. We were also talking about other things like guitar gear and my covers band. I asked him about how we as a cover band could improve? He said that for every one of his gigs he records the whole show on an mp3 player and it is videotaped so everyone in his band could watch and see what they look like and hear how they sound. Imagine the improvement that would happen if everything you did on stage was recorded and then you and your whole band listened back to the recording and worked hard on the things that sucked in your performance?

    One of the many things Resolved tries to improve is it’s Sunday service. We recently have asked Matt Davis to watch over the vibe of our service and work at improving it. But I was thinking what would happen if everything was recorded? What if the music and the service leader and the preacher were recorded so they could go back and listen to what they did and see how they could improve? What if this was the basis of a session where loving and gentle feedback was given? I am sure our service would improve rapidly.

    How about you? Could you record everything at your services and use the recordings to give feedback to the people who lead, play music, preach etc.? How do you give feedback to the people who participate in your services?


    [1] Go to www.peternorthcote.com and check out my favourite song of his called “The Commencement of the System of things” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q9YHp7Y0iNk

     

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  • An Open Letter to Resolved

    What are we on about at Resolved?

    One of the things any organisation, whether it be a church, a company, or any other conglomeration of people, must ask is “What are we on about?” This is crucial because this question defines and controls everything the organisation does.

    If you were going to answer the question “What is Resolved on about?” what would you say? In the last month I have heard Resolved described as:

    • “The cool church”
    • “The church that meets in the pub”
    • “The church filled with angsty, young 20-somethings”
    • “The ‘out there’ church”
    • “The Musician/arty church”

    I think, to differing extents, these descriptions are true (except the cool part!) but I wish we weren’t described as these things. I wish we were described as:

    • The church which is on fire for Jesus (Acts 4:23-31)
    • The church which is passionate for those that don’t know Jesus yet (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)
    • The church where people are lovingly confronted by Jesus in a real way (Acts 17:16-33)
    • The church where people really love like Jesus (1 John 4:7-11)
    • The church where people want to change because of what Jesus has done for them (Acts 19:17-19)

    You know what? I think I have seen all of the above at Resolved. I have been encouraged to see and hear of people praying for friends to know Jesus. I have been excited as I have seen people grow in their knowledge and love of Jesus. I have seen people come to Resolved who don’t know Jesus and they have come to know him!

    See, what we are on about at Resolved is Jesus! We want to glorify him and make him known! I pray that you are on board with that vision too! I pray that you are praying for your friends to know Jesus and that you are inviting them along to church or your community group. I pray that you are seeking to change in response to what you are hearing at church and studying in community group. I pray that you are growing to love the people at Resolved more because of the love that Jesus has poured into your heart!

    What is Resolved on about?

    One word……. Jesus!

    Are you on about Jesus too?

     

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  • I am writing and book and need your help!

     

    For years people have asked me “What is a good book to give musicians at church?”. I always replied by saying there is no good book that I know of that is gospel centred and that talks about the character of a great church musician. Usually people have replied by saying “Why don’t you write one then!”

    Then the other day I got this email:

    I was approached by one of the youth leaders at my church with some concerns about some the muso kids in the youth group who are being a bit showy off on camps and so on (music wise) and said leader had some concerns about how to approach them about being humble in how they operate with the whole music stuff. They are very talented bunch of youth guys who will probably head into the music industry to some degree. I was wondering if you guys had any thoughts about how as Christians to best handle being humble as a musician in both Christian music but also more mainstream?

    This email finally gave me the incentive to write this book!

    I am thinking of calling the book The Core Five: Five Things Every Church Musician Must Be.

    Each chapter will be a readable exposition, aimed at young musicians, of a passage that will deal with each of the core 5 attributes. Here are the core five attributes and the passages I am thinking about basing them on:

    1. CORE 1: CHURCH MUSICIANS ARE CHRISTIANS (Ephesians 2:1-10)
    2. CORE 2: CHURCH MUSICIANS ARE LEADERS (Mark 10:35-45)
    3. CORE 3: CHURCH MUSICIANS ARE HUMBLE (Philippians 2:1-18)
    4. CORE 4: CHURCH MUSICIANS LOVE THEIR Bible (2 Tim 3:10-17)
    5. CORE 5: CHURCH MUSICIANS KNOW WHY WE SING (Psalm 96)

    This is where you guys come in. What do you think of the proposal? Would you choose different attributes or different passages? Would you tackle it in another way?

    .

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  • Comforting Truth no. 5 Grace

     

    One of the sweetest doctrines is Grace. It is amazing to know we stand before God forgiven and in a right relationship with him based not on what we have done but only on what he has done. This doctrine hits home when I consider my dad’s and my own mortality. We all know that one day we will face God but when was the last time you considered that you will be standing before God with nothing but the righteousness he has given you? When was the last time you considered that one day you will stand before God and in that moment all you have is the grace he has shown to you in Jesus?

    But grace works itself out in different ways also. It is only by God’s gracious provision that he has put me and my family in Australia where Dad has been benefitting from some of the best medical treatment in the world. It is only by God’s grace that we live in Australia where this treatment cost mum and dad next to nothing. I always thought I was blessed by God to live in Australia but it has only been since dad has been diagnosed with cancer do I realise how much God’s grace has been shown to me in him placing me in Australia.

    But the ultimate form of Grace is shown in the cross where Jesus took my sin and the punishment for that sin in himself so I could be forgiven.

    It is this grace which will keep me going through the rest of dad’s cancer.

    It is this grace which will see my Dad stand before Jesus right with him.

    It is this grace I pray that my dad accepts and I keep living in until that final day.

     

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