Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Untamable Holiness of God

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. – Isaiah 6:1

From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God – Revelation 4:5

            In February of this year, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia passed away. While his death is not as dramatic for our country as Uzziah’s would have been for Israel, I still think it at least gives us a frame of reference.  A good judge died.  One who endeavored to consistently interpret the United States’ Constitution in a way he felt the fathers of our nation would have him to. In this regard Isaiah 6:1 should bring us comfort.  While a good judge in our nation has died, the Judge of all the earth is still reigning sovereignly on His holy throne. In fact, there is one English word we see repeated 3x in the verses listed above: throne. If you take all of Revelation 4, the word throne is used 14x! In Isaiah’s vision, the nation of Israel is mourning the loss of their king.  In the time of John’s visions, Christians are enduring persecution from the Roman Empire.  And yet, both are reminded that no matter what things may look like here, the King is still on His throne. Earthly magistrates come and go, but the King of all the universe reigns on high forever. The Holy King is upon His throne and you or anyone else will not unseat Him.

            Before we continue let’s unpack Isaiah’s vision just a little more. First, let’s consider the title by which He addresses God: Lord. This is the Hebrew word ‘Adonai’. This is a title rather than a name, but it’s a very important title.  God’s name ‘YHWH’ would not be read or said by the Jews. Instead, they would use the word ‘Adonai’ when reading a passage of Scripture that contained God’s covenant name (like Isaiah 6:3). Adonai literally means “master,” “sovereign,” or “lord.” In the minds of the Jews, the very name of God was closely associated with the idea of His Lordship over His people and His creation. Adonai! The One with supreme authority.  The Sovereign One! The holiness of God is untamable.  We are not sitting above it and deciding how we will use it to our advantage. Rather, it is sitting high and above us.  We cannot control it, or shape it into something advantageous for our own desires.

            Secondly, let’s consider the aspect of the train of God’s robe filling the temple. This points to His majesty. The dimensions of the train are not given, but it is enough for us to know that it filled the temple.  The same Temple that God in which God promised to meet with His people. There is no comparison between Justice Scalia, or King Uzziah, and the Judge and King of all the Universe. Earthly kings and judges may be manipulated or persuaded away from their convictions, but not YHWH. He is untamable.

            Thirdly, before we move on, let’s consider what Isaiah actually saw. We need to remember this was a vision.  But John seems clear that this vision was of the preincarnate Christ when he says “Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him” (John 12:41). We may not understand the fullness of what Isaiah actually ‘saw’ but it appears that it was of the glory of Christ, the image of the invisible God.

The heart of this post is that God’s holiness is untamable. (We discussed God’s Un-Borable Holiness previously). In the garden, God gave man dominion over the earth and its creatures.  But our dominion has never, and will never be over God’s transcendent holiness.  We cannot control God’s holiness or the manifestations thereof.  Isaiah wasn’t seeking to encounter God in this way.  He wasn’t mustering up all of his ‘free-will’ to be swept up in this vision of the Holy One. God will meet with us on His terms, not ours. God has every right to manifest His holy presence to us in such a way right now that we are obliterated from earth and eternity.  God has every right to overwhelm us with His holy presence in such a way to bring revival to our church. Or, He might do so to the local church down the street.  And what would we say? “Oh, excuse me, Sovereign King, you’re not abiding by my rules.” Perish the thought! It is His Holy prerogative.  He is the Lord of hosts! His holiness is not a cute crochet project that can be stitched on a throw pillow. 

The community that I live in was devastated by an EF4 Tornado on February 5, 2008. This particular tornado tracked along a path southwest to northeast for 122 miles on the ground. Tornadoes are powerful storms that leave a horrendous trail of damage in their wake. Besides destroying homes, livestock, and killing 14 people, the Tornado also did some strange things:

[In] Clinton (Van Buren County), two people were huddled around a commode in the bathroom before the storm arrived. After the storm departed, the bathroom was gone and so was the commode...but the people were still there (and only had minor injuries). Also at Clinton, a lady had small pieces of newspaper buried in her leg...and the print could be read just under her skin. (
To be cavalier towards God’s holiness is like continuing your grilling on the back porch while you watch an F4 tornado barrel down toward your house.  We may look with amazement on the stories quoted above, but no sane person wants to actually be in the midst of a tornado. You can no more put God’s holiness in a box than you can direct and control the path of a vicious whirlwind. How many sermons have we heard (have I/we preached!?), how many devotions have we read, how many thoughts and conversations about God have we engaged in, in which the glorious holiness of God has not been properly esteemed and extolled? It is both wicked and insane to be careless toward God’s untamable holiness. You were not made to tame God’s holiness but to prize it. To glory in it.  To treasure it. To be in awe of Him.

What Scripture says of God is totally true and trustworthy, but God is not bound to act as you or I would have Him behave.  We cannot take His holiness and use it like the ‘force’ to achieve the ends we desire.  He is not bound by our man made rules, nor can we unlock His holy presence with the right combinations of Charles Finneyisms. We ought to pray for more of God, seek more of God, and plead with God for more of God in our own lives and those around us.  But we also must be resigned to let God work as He will.  In this very passage in Isaiah 6, God commissions Isaiah to a ministry that seemingly will see no fruit of repentance (Isaiah 6:8-13). This is God’s holy right. He is the LORD of hosts (Isaiah 6:3, 5)! He commands the heavenly host to do His bidding and He is even sovereign above the actions of men (cf. Acts 4:27-28). All this to say that all God does is Holy, whether it happens to be exactly what we are ‘wanting’ or not. We must joyfully resign ourselves to the wonderful truth that God’s holiness is untamable by man, angels, or the powers of evil. Our God is in the heavens; He does all that He pleases! (Psalm 115:3).

I think C.S. Lewis’s description of Aslan is quite fitting here:

“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion." "Ooh" said Susan. "I'd thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion"..."Safe?" said Mr Beaver ..."Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you.”
            It’s time the church recovers this view of God. Perhaps, it’s time for you to recover this view of God. A God of untamable holiness. A God who isn’t safe, but is good.  Many in our day have wrongly boiled the gospel down to ‘God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.’ While this is not the essence of the gospel, I do actually hold that this maxim is true. God does love His children, and He does have a wonderful plan for our lives. It’s just that His plan for your life may be like that of Polycarp in 155 A.D. who at the age of 86 was burnt at the stake for the glory of God’s name. Or maybe like that of Baptist missionary Adoniram Judson who lost children on the mission field and endured 17 months of harsh prison life in Burma because of his zeal for Christ. From a worldly perspective we wouldn’t define these things as wonderful, but from a Christian perspective let us say ‘Yes and amen’ as we fall on our face and sing ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts. The whole earth is full of His glory!’ We cannot tame His holiness but this ought not to be our desire, for He is God and we are not. He has not permitted us to consider Him in any way we think is fitting, but has revealed Himself to us in His Word. He is not waiting for us to speak blessings into our lives. Sometimes we have differentiated between holiness and happiness, and I completely understand that dichotomy, and at times those distinctions are helpful. But, let us consider the great truth today that God’s design for our lives is that we would be happy in His holiness (Psalm 1). We let our fleshly desires dictate happiness instead of conforming ourselves to the Word. Ad fontes! Look to Scripture as our source for knowing who God is.  Too often the songs we sing in church, the lifestyles we live, the type of sermons we prefer, what we treasure…reveal that we serve a tamable god.  A god in our own image. A god who never disagrees with us in what we think is good and right and just.  A god who makes exceptions for our sins.  A god we can control.  The problem of course with this god is that he is a figment of our own imagination and has no power to rescue us from the righteous wrath of the God of untamable holiness.

            God’s untamable holiness is not mean to ‘scare’ us into thinking God is unappeasable.  We just can’t pacify Him on our terms. The wording of Revelation 4:5 with the flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, is reminiscent of the manifestations of God to Moses at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:16-18). I think the case can be made that while the people of Israel rightly feared God in this instance, they were ultimately looking to the wrong mediator for their hope.  In Exodus 20:18-19 Moses tells us “Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” As I discussed previously, there is an element of ‘woe’ that should develop within people when they consider the holiness of God.  But, because of the gospel, we should not be left in a state of hopelessness.  Ultimately, the people of Israel wanted to deal with Moses and not God because they were afraid. That fear led them to deal with God the best way they could think of which was to distance themselves from Him through Moses. But the purpose of God’s revelation to the children of Israel at Sinai was so that they would not sin, and thus be able to walk joyfully in His presence all of their days (Exodus 20:20). Of course, we understand that while the Law commands us not to sin, it doesn’t fix within us the desire we have for sin.  Even though the Law tells us not to sin, people still do because that’s what they most want. However, as we look at the various aspects of God’s holiness, the goal is not run away from God, but to run to Him on His terms.  And His terms are presented to us in the Gospel. Moses is not the mediator we need.  Indeed, Paul tells us “there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5). We can either distance ourselves from God through Moses, or draw near to God through Christ by faith. In Christ, the holy wrath of God has been propitiated. If we were to consider the full ramifications of the term ‘propitiation’ it would require more than a simple blog post! Suffice it to say for today, that Jesus is the wrath satisfying sacrifice. And in Christ we find the freedom, power, and joy for serving God as He commands us. God will manifest Himself to whom He will.  He will draw whom He will.  He will save whom He will save.  But man isn’t called to discern these secret acts.  Man is called to repent and believe the gospel.  Look to the Son and live!  Look to the Son and be in awe of the God of untamable holiness. Turn away from your sin and paltry views of God, and turn to Christ in faith. God’s righteous wrath has been satisfied in the propitiatory work of His Son (see 1 John 4:10). To consider God’s untamable holiness should ultimately drive us to Christ. On what merit will you stand before Him? If it is your own you will be overwhelmed and eternally undone by His untamable holiness. It must be the merit of Christ alone. God’s holiness hasn’t been tamed, but the terms of maintaining His untamable holiness have been met in Jesus. Through the sacrifice of the Son we are called to come to God in faith. Are you in awe today? Are you resolved to stop trying to bend God to your desires, but ask Him to bend your heart to His?

The holiness of God is beyond what many often contemplate if they even meditate on God at all. Both Isaiah and John saw a vision of God that glorifies His Sovereign holiness. I think these are the types of visions pastors need to cast for churches. The visions already laid out for us in Scripture of a God of untamable holiness. He will not be managed by or bow to the frivolous whims of His creation. This is the God that parishioners ought to hunger for, and not be satisfied unless He is preached as glorious as these visions we see in Isaiah 6 and Revelation 4. Holy, holy, holy is He.

7 Suggestions to use the Internet for Your Christian Growth

We all know the Internet can be a giant waste of time.  What I want to do today is just offer one suggestion from 7 'internet streams' commonly used by even the least technologically savvy (thinking of you Eddie!). Probably most people reading this have a Smartphone in which they can access each of these suggestions. But even if you don't, you'll find you can still benefit from each of the suggestion below on your computer (except maybe the ESV Bible app). A couple of times you'll notice I do cheat and add one extra suggestion! But my goal was to do one per source...oh well!

The requirement for each one of the suggestions below is that it be accessible to the common person while also providing a great benefit to your Christian growth. So, for example, I'm a huge fan of James White with Alpha and Omega ministries and am a regular listener to the Dividing Line. But, the average person may not be able to commit 90 minutes a week listening to his podcast (but if you can, do it here!). If you are not regularly accessing any of the things below, try some of them out. I think you will find them beneficial to your walk with the Lord.

Here we go:

This certainly should not be seen as an 'infallible' source, but I have found it to be both helpful and reliable. It can be used for questions you have about the Bible or the Christian faith, or if someone asks you a tough question that you don't know the answer to. It's just one tool to have in your arsenal. (A similar suggestion with more of an apologetics bent would be: CARM


WWUTT videos
WWUTT stands for 'When we understand the text.' Pastor Gabe Hughes posts 90-second videos on commonly misused bible passages, showing us their proper context and how they should be rightly applied. You've probably got 90 seconds to go watch one right now!


If you only followed one person on Twitter you could still get a wealth of information if that one person you followed was Tim Challies. Each day Challies posts an 'A La Carte' in which he points his followers to great kindle deals, Christian blogs, and other interesting news and articles floating around the internet.


ESV Bible
If you don't have the Bible on your phone, fix that now! This app can also read the text to you (it's actually narrated, not a 'robot' voice). Also, it will access the ESV Study Bible or ESV Gospel Transformation Bible if you have either one of those in hardcopy, or you can buy the digital acces seven if you don't have the hardcopy. Seriously, have the Bible wherever you go. And have a good app for it like this one! I listen to the bible while mowing, or even just walking for exercise. A great way to 'double up' on your time.  
Solid Joys
If you like devotionals, this is a good one to have on your phone by John Piper. Daily thoughts that will take you all of 2 minutes to read.


The Briefing
I don't know of a better podcast that you need to listen to daily. It's about 20 minutes long. Listen to it on your way to work! Dr. Mohler gives "a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview." Get an update on big headlines and things you didn't even know were going on from a solidly conservative Christian perspective.  
5 Minutes in Church History
I add this here because it's literally only 5 minutes, and it's only a once a week podcast. You definitely have an extra 5 minutes to spend listening to Dr. Nichols "take a little break from the present and go exploring the past." Most Christians could stand to brush up on their church history a little!


Ligonier Ministries
Go like this Page to see great quotes, blog posts, and podcasts pop up in your newsfeed.  
Like this Page to see videos and articles that attack secular thinking on a variety of issues.


Christian Communicators Worldwide
This isn't technically a 'blog' but it does provide you with great articles relevant to the church today. You can even find suggestions for how to read the Bible more effectively, and can even print articles off that are already formatted to fit inside a church bulletin. If you're not familiar with this ministry, go check it out. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Un-Borable Holiness of God

th-52Boredom. We pay $100 a month for 180 satellite channels so we can avoid it. We pack 1,000 items for a two-hour road trip for our kids so they can avoid it. And we have 500 apps on our smart phones so that at no time in our lives will we (or the kids!) have to succumb to it. Except on Sundays. Or maybe not. Not if we can jam pack our services with enough stuff! Then we won't ever have to be bored! Church websites are full of messages like 'we have relevant worship here!' or 'relevant sermons!'
I want us to consider two passages of Scripture:

And one [of the Seraphim] called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” - Isaiah 6:3-5

And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”9 And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” - Revelation 4:8-11
Two responses we see in these passages to the holiness of God:
1. Woe is me (Isaiah 6:5)
2. Worthy are You (Revelation 4:11)
You know what you don't see? Meh.

Apathy is actually a big problem in churches today and one in which many people have sought to address. I think there have even been a lot of well-intentioned folks seeking to 'fix' this issue. The problem, though, is that we've replaced boring church with more borable things. Lattes, cowboy hats, guitar riffs, and fog machines simply cannot demand our eternal gaze. Bang the drums louder, play the violins sweeter, set the ambiance to 'spiritual', dress more relevant, speak more hipster...But, what's flashy to the culture today, winds up in the landfill tomorrow. (Even worse, churches that try to be flashy always seems to be two steps behind cultural flashiness anyway). Churches so long to be relevant but many have forgotten (or never known?) the Triune infinitely Holy One is the epitome of relevancy. 

If only we could do this thing or have that thing we could really attract people! Well, of course. Any person who can juggle flaming chainsaws in the midst of a pool of man-eating sharks all the while being blindfolded and singing his ABCs backward can draw a crowd. But even that won't fix boring (and that's something pretty impressive compared to some of the stunts churches are pulling).

Inside every human heart is a longing for what I'll call 'ultimate contentment'. To be satisfied. We've reasoned that our bible belt culture is no longer satisfied with the way we *do church* and so we've sought to give them something to fill that void. Yet, we only have one thing to offer them to fill that void: Christ. "Yeah, yeah, we know that. But you've still got to have this other stuff, you've still got to be up on the cutting edge, you've still got to [fill in the blank] or you'll never reach/keep people..."


Calvin wrote in his commentary on Isaiah: “The holiness of God supplies us with inexhaustible reasons for singing the praises of God.”


What is happening in our churches today? The resplendent holiness of God that shines out to us throughout the pages of Scripture is not enough to satisfy churches. We've created an atmosphere of entertainment in the church today because we have found God boring. But, it's not God who is boring. It's us.

I'm certainly not 'anti-technology' but we piddle around with special effects as though that is going to set hearts ablaze. If we can just play the right movie clip or chord people will be captivated! Actually, no. Well, ok, actually, sure they may be momentarily captivated, but not really captivated. Not like 'ultimate contentment' captivated. Not really and fully and eternally satisfied. It's like substituting Skittles and M&Ms for meat and vegetables. Of course, I'm not saying the answer is 'back to the Heavenly Highway Hymns' either. I've seen more than a few of those hymns bring a tear to a senior saint's eye, but an emotional connection to a song or music style can only take us so far, and frankly if it's not rooted in adoration of God it's taking us in the wrong direction anyway (without going into a whole new blog post let me just say that it is a big problem if a 'traditional' church is captivated by the mantra of 'the way we've always done things around here' instead of the transcendent holiness of God!).

Either side of the road so to speak has missed the issue. We are bored. And we are not bored because God is boring. We are bored because we've either suppressed the truth of the knowledge of God's Holy splendor, or we've never encountered it.

Woe is me! Or Worthy are You! But no meh.

Boring is not an option. No one gazes upon God's transcendent holiness and leaves with 'meh.' Whoever does, hasn't truly seen it. God is who our hearts were made for. As Augustine has oft been quoted: "Our hearts are restless until they find rest in You."

We have created an environment in which people feel they cannot worship unless the outward circumstances are customized. "I just can't sing those old songs, they are boring and outdated." "I just can't sing this new stuff, it doesn't feel like worship." We live as though emotive stimulation is more important than truth. More flanger pedal and less A Might Fortress is Our God if you please. The family van pulls up to the drive-through window: "Hi, yes, I'd like to order a 25-minute practical sermon, also something great for the kids, uplifting music (in which we get to define what is uplifting of course), and also we'd like to have multiple services so we can find a time most convenient for us to not attend when we want. Thanks!" And the church's response, by and large, has been scrambling over the top of ourselves so we can accommodate these demands. Rather than saying we have an 'apathy' problem in our churches today, it might actually be better to say we have an 'awe' problem. We are enamored with the shiny fools gold all the while the creatures around God's Holy throne day and night never cease to say:

Holy, Holy, Holy

The need of every human being is to be reconciled to their Holy and good Creator whom they have sinned against, turned away from, and despised. This reconciliation is only possible through the finished work of Jesus as it is applied to the sinner by the Holy Spirit through means of the proclamation of the gospel. But this gospel isn't just 'believe these facts and then you're saved and we'll feed you stuff that's really entertaining!' This gospel is everything.

As we proclaim the bigness and glories of the holiness of God the response of people should always be either 'woe is me' or 'worthy are You.' Woe is me in the sense of seeing the full ramifications of our sin against God and our need to be cleansed by the sacrificial work of Christ. Coming to Christ in faith and resting in His work alone for salvation. Worthy are You in the sense of seeing the full ramifications of what Christ's finished work has done for us! We who were guilty, vile, and helpless have by grace through faith been redeemed by the blood of Jesus. He bore the wrath of God so that justice could be satisfied. And by faith, we are clothed in His righteousness.

Ok, so if our people are bored what's the answer?

Preach the Bible.

I'm not trying to oversimplify the issue, but I do really mean what I say: preach the Bible. The resplendent holiness of God that shines out to us throughout the pages of Scripture is enough to satisfy churches. No, it might not satisfy people who refuse to behold their God, but keep after it. What business do we have entertaining people straight to Hell because at first taste of the holiness of God they balk? Keep after it, God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the Truth (2 Tim. 2:25). Behold your God! Behold Him in the face of Jesus Christ and His merit, atoning death, and victorious resurrection. Hold forth the Holy God of the Bible before the people and you can be sure you won't just siphon people off from other churches because they want to see the latest and greatest firework you have to offer.

I wonder, for my own life, and those in the Bible Belt, what God would do with pastors and churches who had a heart that truly hungered for Him?

Who saw their own unclean lives but rested in the finished work of Jesus. Who cast down their golden crowns, all that they thought was shiny, meaningful, and valuable, and saw the Lord as high and lifted up in their hearts. As the supremely holy One. Who didn't just give lip service to the Bible but actually sought to believe all of it. To have it not just as a pretty addendum to all the other things the church had to offer, but the authoritatively sufficient source of all that church did and had to offer. Who dug deep into Scripture because that's where they saw God, they tasted Him and they want more.

The transcendent holiness of God is many things.  We will spend an eternity reveling in it. But one thing it is not and never can be by its very nature: boring. You were made to be captivated. This is why certain songs, movies, stories, shows, talents, etc. amaze us. They are little arrows pointing to what we were really made for: God. And only the Triune Holy God of the Bible can satisfy the deepest longings of our heart. So much more could be said. But let me close with one final exhortation: Open your Bible today and feast your eyes upon the Un-Borable Holiness of God.

UPDATE: A follow-up post on God's Untameable Holiness

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Thursday, May 19, 2016

Summer Reading 2016

I'm not sure that 'Summer' necessarily frees up any more time to read than other parts of the year! But, if it does for you, I'm happy to suggest some books for your edification. These are in no particular order or category...

1. The Bible - 

Ha! This isn't a #JesusJuke but just an encouragement. Maybe you want to pick out one book from the Bible that you'd like to spend June-August reading over and over. 1 thing I do is buy a 1" binder, print out the book using EsvLiteralWord and have something I can mark up and take notes on. Do what works for you, but I think you will find this practice beneficial. Even if you already have a regular reading plan, you can add this to it! I mean, we make extra time for other books don't we?

Ok, so now the rest of the list is in no particular order:

2. Rebel Yell and Empire of the Summer Moon -

I put these together because they are both by S.W. Gwynne. Rebel Yell tells the story of Stonewall Jackson and Empire of the Summer Moon covers Quanah Parker and the end of the Commanche era in Texas and the Southwest. Gwynne is a great story teller and if you're into History reads, pick these up. If I had to pick I'd say I liked Rebel Yell better, but they were both great.

3. Life of Martyn Lloyd-Jones by Iain Murray

Every reading list needs a good biography or two (see #4)! You won't be disappointed with this one. Whether you are new to the Doctor or have known about him for sometime you will appreciate this work by Murray. One of the greatest things that encouraged me about it was Lloyd-Jones' commitment to stand on biblical convictions even when others around him persuaded him not to.

4. George Whitefield: America's Spiritual Founding Father by Thomas Kidd

Every Christian and every American ought to read this book. Since most of you reading this are probably both, then put it on your list! Kidd gives a well-rounded assessment of Whitefield which includes his faults as well as his important influences. Another bio on Whitefield you should read is Dallimore's 1-Volume work.

5. Lion of War Series by Cliff Graham

Here's some fiction to include although it's based on King David's Mighty Men. I've read the 1st two books of the series and am jumping in my 3rd that I just picked up from our local library. Graham is faithful to the Biblical narrative and tells a great story. The main character is Benaiah.

6. The Vine Project by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne

If you care about improving the culture of discipleship in your church, grab this book. Yes, it's primarily focused toward pastors, but any person with a burden for biblical discipleship will benefit. This is not your typical 'go out to the coffee shop and read the bible with someone' sort of book. Although that is mentioned, the authors do a great job of connecting discipleship to the whole life of the church, including the vital role the main weekly gathering plays. This is their follow up book to The Trellis and the Vine, which is also a helpful read. I can't recommend this book highly enough.

7. The Absurdity of Unbelief by Jeff Johnson

Speaking of highly recommended books! Pick up this book by Jeff Johnson on apologetics. I've written more on why you need to grab this book here. I also highly recommend Johnson's book The Church: Why Bother? (If you don't believe me, check out the endorsements!)

8. The Glory of Christ by John Owen

The Puritan Paperback series is golden. I've actually read through this one twice and have benefited greatly both times. Owen faithfully, and biblically, draws our minds to Christ and His glory and includes the practical effects such meditations will bring to the Believer's life.

9. Rescuing the Gospel: The Sory and Significance of the Reformation by Erwin W. Lutzer

"Every generation, including ours, has to fight for the purity of the gospel." Lutzer does a great job at introducing us to the Reformation. The book spends most of its time with Martin Luther, but does eventually delve into the lives and significance of Zwingli and Calvin. This is a very engaging read. Once you start reading you'll be finished before you know it and hungry for more. Not only will you brush up on your Reformation history, you will also be emboldened to carry on the fight in 2016! We are still protesting...

I know, Jared is writing some new stuff! I haven't got around to reading his latest book Unparalleled. But Gospel Deeps is my favorite of his.  As I've heard Jared say 'The gospel is Narnian'. We need to go deep into it, not just to become a Christian but to rest in it and to have it empower us every day of our Christian life. My 2nd favorite book by Jared is The Prodigal Church. If you haven't read that one, put it on your list as well.

What do Baptists believe about church government historically and biblically? And why does this matter today? This book answers both of these questions in a helpful and practical way. Church membership is something Southern Baptists must get better on soon (I've written some about this here, here, and here)! I'm not sure how we've come this far because it is not the way of our forefathers. 

If you haven't read this classic yet, do so this Summer! I think Spurgeon read through this at least once a year. This year we've been reading it together as a family and have been refreshed and encouraged once again by Bunyan's great allegory. 

Well, that gives you 15 or so books to consider for your Summer Reading List. I think that would keep you pretty busy...unless you read like Dr. Mohler, then it would take you all of a few lunch breaks. I'm always interested in hearing people's book selection. Feel free to comment below or holler at me on twitter

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Church Dismembership

One of the hardest things to do in a Southern Baptist Church is to remove a person's name off the church roll. We basically equate taking a name off the church roll (if it wasn't requested by letter) as denying eternal security!

door, fence, churchSomehow we read passages like 1 Corinthians 12, Hebrews 10, Ephesians 5, Colossians 3, etc. and get the erroneous view in our mind that the Body, and 'one anothers' can somehow be accomplished with body parts not present and I guess 'some' anothers. Or maybe that's the real problem: maybe we haven't read those passages very carefully. We are so caught up in 'the way we've always done things around here' that we fail to see the plain reading of Scripture: a dismembered body is no longer a viable body. 

Ah, but we have a solution sir! We shall create a list on the church roll called 'inactive'. That way we can still keep them on our rolls but they just get the dirty label of an 'Inactive Member'. That'll help them!

Why don't you try that the next time you break a bone. Don't try to fix it. Just buy a Post-it note from Walmart, write 'inactive' on it, and affix it to the broken part of your body. 

I heard a man say recently 'I don't think the majority of Southern Baptists would remove somebody off of a church roll'. He was using it as an argument against removing names. But my reply was that I think he is right on his observation of the majority of Southern Baptists. And therein lies a major issue with our denomination. One in which we need to repent denomination-wide. We've been more concerned about numbers than people. 

Beloved, it's time to do away with inactive church rolls by either removing names or assimilating those who've gone astray back into the Body through repentance. If they've joined your Baptist church in the past then they have, at the very least implicitly, made a promise to continue to be in regular fellowship with your church. Therefore, if they've forsaken that assembly they need to repent and come back to the fold. And if they will not, they need to be removed. 

Here are 5 reasons why we need to do away with the Inactive Church Roll: (This is by no means exhaustive!)

1. It shows the church prizes membership -

The local church is the most glorious institution on earth. And yet, we let the Lion's Club outdo us in prizing membership. Shame! 

For a church to have an inactive roll shows that inactivity is permissible. Is there a Bible verse for that? Take up your cross and follow Jesus when it's convenient? 

For a church to keep non-attenders on the church roll is to devalue church memembership. 

2. It shows the church cares for Her members -

One reason I've heard argued for having an inactive roll is people in nursing homes or who we would label as 'shut ins'. 

My question is this: why are they inactive? Sure, they've stopped coming to gather because of physical or mental necessity. But have you left them? Why isn't seeing them a priority for you? Why isn't your Sunday school class periodically meeting at the nursing home or their house with them? 

My point here is to put people on an 'inactive roll' who physically can't make it to the assembly is to miss the purpose of church membership. The problem with an inactive roll is that those people aren't cared for. Don't put people who can't physically attend on an inactive roll! Keep them on the roll and go care for them.

Do you really want to put a Brother in Christ who served the church faithfully for decades but is now in the nursing home on the same list as a person who cheated on his wife and now doesn't gather with the Body?

3. It shows the church cares for the one removed from the roll -

This isn't about being mean. This is about love. To love people enough to tell them the truth. One reason a person may not be attending your church even though they've covenanted to do so, is because perhaps they are not a true Believer. To visit that person and to plead with them to reunite with the Body and to pray for them is to care for them. Furthermore, to remove them from the roll if they refuse to come back is the ultimate way to show them the seriousness of their error. By removing them from the roll you are showing them their issue might be that they need to be converted. 

Of course I know the rebuttal to this is 'Well they'll just go to a church down the road one day and our church will have a bad reputation.' Who will the church have a bad reputation with? The world? She certainly won't have a bad reputation with Jesus for doing what He told Her to do! And I think I'd rather have Jesus than men's applause. What about you?

Well what if a person has moved cities? It's ok to keep them on the rolls for a time. But don't forget about them! Call them, write them letters, encourage them. If after a sufficient period they refuse to join a local church, then you can begin the process of discussing their need for repentance with them.  

An aside: One of the reasons our country is in the shape it is over gay 'marriage' is because the church has been soft on 'acceptable' sins for decades. The world gets confused when we call sin one thing the bible says is sin (homosexual behavior) and when we dismiss other things the bible says is sin as no big deal (faithful gathering with the Local Church). 

4. It shows the church cares for the glory of Christ -

The local church is to pursue holiness and purity for the glory of Her Bridegroom. When a church prizes membership and takes it seriously, She is taking seriously Her chief purpose of bringing glory to Christ. When a church fails to take membership seriously, She is showing disregard for the purity of the church and the glory of Jesus. 

5. It might just be the impetus for reformation in our denomination -

Can you imagine every Southern Baptist Church treating membership this way? Wouldn't it be amazing if people couldn't hop from SBC church to SBC church in the same community because SBC churches prized membership in this way? 

Of course this will take Pastors with Biblical boldness, concern for the glory of Jesus, and conviction to lead. This won't be easy. This will cause arguments and even people to get upset (trust me, I know!). This is hard work. And it doesn't matter how many amens you get from the pulpit, when you suggest removing a person's 35 year old grandson from the roll because he hasn't been to a meeting in 5 years, it may just ruffle some feathers. But what if this was the impetus to true reformation in our churches!? Wouldn't that be something? Wouldn't that be worth it? Regardless, it's worth it simply by the fact that it's the right thing to do. 

So what will we do? Will we care about the purity of the church, the souls of men, and the glory of Christ enough to do away with inactive rolls? Will we prize church membership? Will we love people enough to show them that inactivity in the local church is a grievous error and may signal their need to be converted? It's time to do away with church dismembership. 

I'm sure I sound like a broken record in the way I end a lot of these posts but let me conclude again: let us take up our  bibles and read!

Soli Deo Gloria

For a similar post read: Time to Put Baptist Back in Your Church

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

When is it okay to disregard the Word of the Lord?

road, street, sign

Perhaps we should go ahead and answer the title question right away: Never.

Of course, that doesn't make for a very long post does it? So, let's take a look at 1 Kings 13.

This has always been one of those passages in the Bible that sort of made me feel a bit of empathy with the offender. Here we have a prophet of YHWH pronouncing judgment upon King Jeroboam of Israel (the right thing) and then he gets tricked by an older prophet of Israel into disobeying the Lord (the wrong thing).

So, the younger prophet is enticed by the older prophet to eat with him. I think the key to understanding his mistake lies in 1 Kings 13:16-17 -  And he said, “I may not return with you, or go in with you, neither will I eat bread nor drink water with you in this place, for it was said to me by the word of the LORD, ‘You shall neither eat bread nor drink water there, nor return by the way that you came.’ (emphasis mine)

This young man of God had a clear word from God on what he was to do and not do, and he ultimately disobeyed. Yes, the older prophet counters claiming I also am a prophet as you are, and an angel spoke to me by the word of the LORD, saying, ‘Bring him back with you into your house that he may eat bread and drink water.’ (v.18). But this doesn't diminish the fact that the younger prophet had a clear word from God does it? Sadly, in this instant, the younger man of God's choice to take the older prophet's word over God's Word cost him his life.

I think there are some very practical things we can learn from this. First though, let's be clear that long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets,but in these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. In these last days, we have a completed canon of Scripture. God is not audibly speaking to prophets anymore. Instead, we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed in Scripture. The Bible is God's Word. If God were to audibly speak to you right now, it would be no more authoritative than Scripture. In fact, we could even make the argument that it would be less authoritative because how could you prove it was actually God speaking to you?

By Word of the Lord then, I mean Scripture. What can we learn from this young prophet's mistake in 1 Kings 13?

1. Older does not always equal right -

I've heard several people use King Rehoboam's folly of listening to his young friends over the counsel of the old men (1 Kings 12) as a way to warn against neglecting wisdom from the older generation. There is certainly validity in that advice. However, in the very next chapter of the bible, we have almost the opposite situation. A younger man is deceived by an older man.  The point? Folly isn't necessarily restricted to those who are younger. Older does not always equal right. It does not matter how many gray hairs a man has, if his counsel is contradictory to the Word of God, it is not wisdom. In some churches today it is actually the older generation dismising the Word of the Lord by appealing to tradition and 'that's the way things are done around here' over Scripture. Let us be wary of this.

2. A 'prophet' does not always equal right -

Just because a man (or woman for that matter! ;-/) claims to be a Pastor, does not mean that we should accept any teaching that contradicts Scripture. The pastoral office should be respected but only insofar as the man in that office is teaching the Bible rightly (as a side note, a 'woman pastor' is de facto not teaching the Bible rightly as she is disregarding the clear teaching of Scripture in her role as a 'pastor').

From all appearances in our text this older prophet seemed to be a nice guy. Except of course for his willful deception. I know many 'nice' people who either willfully or unintentionally distort the truth of the Word of God. 'Niceness' or a particular role in the church - Pastor, Deacon, Sunday School Teacher, Youth Pastor, Women's Ministry Leader, etc. - does not give a free pass for denying, diminishing, or distorting the clear teaching of Scripture.

3. There are no excuses for disregarding the Word of the Lord -

I think of the day in which we live. An unprecedented moment in history in terms of the revealed will of God, especially in the West. The Word of God is accessible, readable, and there are even numerous excellent resources available for our use to help us grasp Scripture's meaning. I understand we can run into complex ethical questions at times, but for the most part, there is no mistake about what God desires of us. Scripture is wholly sufficient for showing us who God is and what He requires of man. Again, in the text, this young prophet had to rely on the audible instruction he received. But for us, we have Scripture! Which, as quoted above, the Apostle Peter says is a more sure word. This is because we don't have to wonder what was really said - we have it written down for us. We can (and should) go to the Bible often to see more of who God is and what He requires of us.

4. Rejecting God's Word always leads to serious consequences -

And as they sat at the table, the word of the LORD came to the prophet who had brought him back. And he cried to the man of God who came from Judah, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Because you have disobeyed the word of the LORD and have not kept the command that the LORD your God commanded you, but have come back and have eaten bread and drunk water in the place of which he said to you, Eat no bread and drink no water, your body shall not come to the tomb of your fathers.’” And after he had eaten bread and drunk, he saddled the donkey for the prophet whom he had brought back. And as he went away a lion met him on the road and killed him. And his body was thrown in the road, and the donkey stood beside it; the lion also stood beside the body. (1 Kings 13:20-24)

This prophet faced serious consequences for his rejection of the Word from the Lord. I think the lion and donkey standing in the road showed forth to those passing by that this was Divine judgment upon this man.

Now, you may think 'I don't always regard the Bible like I should, and no lion has eaten me!' Well, not yet. But consider that God hasn't spoken to us in His word arbitrarily. He has given us His Word for our good. And any disobedience to His Word is going to lead to serious consequences. It may not necessarily mean God will intervene as He did in 1 Kings 13 (though He may) but any rejection of God's Word is sin, and sin always leads to serious consequences. I don't even mean that neglecting God's Word will necessarily lead to 'worldly poverty' (though it may), as we do see many wicked who are financially prosperous. But take note: to disregard the Word of the Lord is the height of both human pride and folly.

It's never ok to disregard the Word of the Lord.

Not for political expediency. Not for pragmatism. Not to avoid conflict. Not to avoid offending someone. Not because you know better. Not because you don't have time.

Are you in the Book?