If you have ever read The Lord of The Rings or watched the movies, one of the main themes that drives the plot is fellowship. You are introduced to characters like Frodo Baggins, Gandalf, and… More
Picture before you a lion in a cage. And before this lion imagine a bowl of meat and a bowl of wheat. Tell me, which one do you think the lion will choose to eat?
If you chose the meat you’re correct. The lion will always choose the meat, he would never choose the wheat, because lion’s don’t eat wheat, they’re meat eaters. Consider a deeper question now: what would have to happen to the lion for him to desire the wheat? Or to ask it in another way, what would have to happen to the lion so that he desired something He has no natural taste for? Answer: his nature would have to change, and that is something he cannot do himself.
My aim today is to persuade you that the salvation described in the Bible is just like this. You see, our radical corruption, our sinful nature will only choose what it desires, and a sinful nature only desires sin, so just as the lion only eats meat, sinners when put to a choice between Jesus Christ and sin, will choose sin every time. So, naturally a question than comes: what would have to happen to us so that we desire Jesus Christ, whose character and commands we have no natural taste for? Answer: because we’re unable to change our own nature, God would have to change our nature. Because of this, our only hope is the sovereign grace of God who can and does change the sinners heart.
You see, the Bible does not present a will in man that is neutral being able to choose one way or another way, but a will that’s dead in sin or in bondage to sin until God makes it new. The Bible speaks of our radical corruption in 5 ways:
When our first parents were deceived in Genesis 3 and took a bite from the forbidden fruit, they plunged the entire human race into guilt and condemnation. Paul explains this in Romans 5:12 where he says, ‘…just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin…so death spread to all men because all sinned…’ As goes the head so goes the body. The relationship between Adam and us is so close that God includes that phrase at the end of 5:12 ‘…death spread to all men (not because Adam sinned, but) because all sinned…’ From his disobedience to God’s first command, Adam brought sin, and therefore guilt, and therefore death to all men because Adam, in Eden, was the representative head of all mankind. Because of this at the moment of our birth, we are born, not as innocent people who choose right or wrong, no, we are born guilty before God before we commit any sin. This is why God says earlier in Romans 3:23, ‘…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…’ because though we were made in God’s image we have chosen to exchange the glory of God for our own glory, distorting God’s image in us. We had life, and life to the full, walking with God in the cool of the day, all was as it should be, but we rebelled. And our act of rebelling against the King of Kings, the Just Judge of all the universe, is nothing short of cosmic treason, thus all mankind is born under the death sentence, all mankind is born guilty.
The Bible goes further and speaks of our darkness. John 3:19-20, ‘And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.’ This sad reality John expresses is clear is it not? John 8:12 says Jesus is the Light of the world, and when He came John says light entered our dark world, and not surprisingly, we didn’t just prefer the darkness over the light, John says we ‘loved the darkness’ over the light. This is not a lifeless choice like we would make between staying home or going to a ballgame…this is a heart level emotionally loaded assessment. Our natural state when we’re born into this world is that we ‘love’ darkness and hate the light; we love sin, we hate Jesus. Why? Because our deeds are evil, and because we don’t want our wickedness to be broadcast to the world by coming to the light, thus we remain in the darkness we so love.
Describing the difference between living with a mind set on the flesh with and a mind set on the things of the Holy Spirit Paul says, ‘For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s Law, indeed it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God’ (Romans 8:5-8). What is the sinner’s natural posture toward God? Is it one of peace, or maybe indifference or neutrality? No, far from it. v7, ‘For the mind set on the flesh on hostile to God.’ That word ‘hostile’ literally means ‘hates’ or ‘is at enmity with.’ Natural man, or to put it another way, all those who have not been raised to life by the power of the Spirit hate God, are alienated from God, and are at odds with God. Paul even says in v8 that natural man is unable to submit to God. Not that natural man won’t submit to God as if they chose not to, v8 says they are not able to submit to God because of their sin.
Ephesians 2:1-3, ‘And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.’ Many people speak of our sinful nature as if we were drowning in an ocean reaching up as hard as we can to grasp, maybe even with just one finger, a life preserver that’s been tossed to us by Jesus. Others speak of it as if we were on a hospital bed, on the brink of death, when Jesus walks in with the cure to save. These are pleasant images for sure, if we ignore what the Bible has to say. In the Bible we don’t find that we’re drowning we find that we lying cold and lifeless on the sea floor with our lungs filled with water. When we come to the Bible we don’t find that we’re on the brink of death in a hospital bed, we find that we’re six feet under, dead. ‘And you were dead in your trespasses and sins…’ This is not an individual assessment either, it’s universal. We are by nature ‘…children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.’ Yet ironically it says that we, though dead in sin, ‘walk according to the course of the world’ and that we ‘follow Satan, the prince of the power of the air.’ By birth we really are the walking dead.
Lastly see our blindness. 2 Cor. 4:4, ‘…the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.’ Here we see Satan’s work, blinding all those who don’t believe, keeping them from seeing not just ‘the light’ and not just ‘the light of the gospel’ he blinds unbelievers from seeing ‘the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.’ There is glory to be seen in the gospel, the glory of Christ, and if we see it, it will stun our souls and fill our bones with pleasure and exuberance beyond measure. Yet, see here that by birth we’re blind to this, and are unable to see this beauty.
If you embrace the reality of our radical corruption it paves the way to the best news in the world, the gospel of Jesus Christ. Let me show you how this is true. When God does save, when He regenerates our hearts, and gives us the gift of the ‘new birth’ He does the impossible and changes our nature through His sovereign grace. This act of sovereign grace reverses each of the 5 things we’ve just gone over:
1) Not Guilt, but Pardon
When God saves, we no longer carry the burden of guilt, but have been pardoned by the blood of Christ, who stood in our place as our substitute on the cross. Romans 3:23-25, ‘or all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith…’
2) Not Darkness, but Light
When God saves, we no longer are darkness, but light in the Lord. John 1:4-5, ‘In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’ Ephesians 5:7-8, ‘Do not become partakers with sons of disobedience for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord, walk as children of light.’
3) Not Hatred, but Love
When God saves, we longer hate God, we love Him. 1 John 4:19, ‘We love because He first loved us.’
4) No Death, but Life
When God saves, we no longer are dead, but alive. Ephesians 2:3-5, ‘…we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved…’
5) Not Blindness, but Sight
When God saves, we are no longer blind, we can see. 2 Cor. 4:6, ‘For God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’ has shone in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.’
Let’s end this post properly with a plea from Martin Luther. Hear it well:
“Man is by nature as completely unable to know God as to please God; let him face the fact and admit it! Let God be God! Let man be man! Let ruined sinners cease pretending to be something other than ruined sinners! Let them realize that they lie helpless in the hand of an angry Creator; let them seek Christ, and cry for mercy.”
(Image courtesy of Gilbert Lennox Photography)
Last week I gave a quick overview of the first day of the First Five Years conference held in Fort Worth by IX Marks. Today I would like to highlight two additional talks that took place on the second day of the conference. The first one dealing with the needed reminder that as pastors we have the greatest job in the world, and the second one, which closed out the conference, dealt with suffering in the midst of ministry. These two talks bookended a phenomenal day of teaching and fellowship that featured some great pastors who gave time out of their busy weeks to help bring encouragement to us young ministers. So I hope this brief summation of how their words spoke to me will be an encouragement to you.
Remember the Joy of Pastoring
We kicked off the second day of our conference with an encouraging reminder of the privilege we have to be ministers of the gospel. Whether we have been serving the church for weeks or years this is one of the key things we need to be continually reminded of, we work for the greatest boss in the world, God himself. We have the privilege of waking up each morning to serve the Lord; by the way we talk to our staff, by the way we love our congregation, by the way we spend time with Him, and the kicker is we get paid for it all. This is such an amazing thing to consider, God has given us a great calling, week in and week out we get to proclaim the gospel to the people God has placed in our churches. We get the privilege to spend hours in God’s word to present the truth of it to our sheep in a way that will teach them the truth of the gospel and its role in our lives. Now these two things alone are amazing to reflect on alone. However, this doesn’t mean that these things will come easy or that we don’t have to work hard at the task, but like all things we should find joy in the Lord’s gift to us as minister to love his sheep and preach the gospel to them.
Additionally, these are not the only things we can take away from pastoral ministry. These first two areas allow us to see some amazing things over the course of our time in ministry, especially if we get the blessing of serving in one congregation for a lifetime. If we should stay and love the people of God well and preach the gospel to them and pray diligently to them, and not lose sight of the end, we get the blessing of seeing people change. We get to hear stories and see marriages that were near the end become staples of God’s holiness and reconciliation. We get to see people running so hard away from God become teachers and leaders in the church, through the power of God’s Word in them transforming their cold hearts into hearts of flesh. Just let it sink in, we see the gospel in action, but we need to have a long term perspective, people don’t change overnight, people don’t grow overnight, but step by step as the word of God transforms them. These are enormous blessings and as pastors we need to see our joy in God and the knowledge that it is in Him that lives our changed, and we trust in Him to do the work, because unlike many jobs, the work we do serves eternity and we answer for how well we loved our Lord and watched over His sheep.Which leads us to the other side of the ministry coin.
Even in the Joy of Ministry There is still Pain
While the final day opened with a joyful reflection on our need to see the great things about being a pastor, it concluded with the reality that sometimes the reality is that life and ministry can be hard, not only hard but sometimes life just hits you with all the force of a Semi. This final talk was given by John Onwuchekwa a pastor from outside of Atlanta, over the last 18 months he launched a church, buried his brother, buried a new believer from his church and over and again struggled with depression, while still ministering to the people of his congregation. I give you the background to reinforce the power of his message. Throughout the closing remarks of the conference John continued to point us back to the reality that we will suffer in this life, pastors are not exempt, if anything we may be most affected by suffering, because we tend to do it alone and in public simultaneously. However, he didn’t want this to be an excuse for ministers but rather to see suffering for what it is; a momentary stop in the journey that God has in store for us all.
This final talk focused us back on the fact that no one suffers by accident it is always by appointment. God has put together the course of our lives and is in control of the steps we will take, and if we know and trust in the Lord we can have joy in the midst of suffering. We can teach others to love well in the midst of suffering. Suffering teaches us empathy and love, it teaches us that we are not invincible, it teaches us that we need God and we need his people. We cannot see suffering as an accident but part of something bigger than ourselves that God uses to grow us in our journey into becoming like Christ.
Therefore, we must learn to never suffer in isolation or silence. If pain and heartache comes your way, the family of God is called to weep with those who weep and to care for its members as they struggle through the dark seasons of the soul. We must teach our flock to love each other well, we must stand by those who suffer, and we ourselves when we go through seasons of trial, pray our elders and people will love and walk with us through the pain we will endure.
It’s sad but true.
In most of our churches today the common belief isn’t found in a historical creed or confession, or even an agreed upon statement of faith. No, though we may say these things are what we believe on the surface they do not form the substance of what most Christians believe. To me, the most popular belief among Christians in churches today is this: God does not give quick enough results, change happens to slowly.
Rather than ‘fixing our eyes on Jesus’ (Hebrews 12:2) or ‘waiting for the God who labors for us’ (Isaiah 64:4) or ‘eagerly awaiting our hope from heaven’ (1 Thessalonians 1:10) the language I hear too often from Christians is that we want ‘God’s blessings’ on our own terms and in our own time.
How does this desire show itself? Two ways:
The Me-Centered gospel of Prosperity
Whether focusing on peace, happiness, or wealth this fake and phony gospel peddled by famous frauds sends out a message that can be summarized like this: ‘Did you know that you can have all that you’ve ever desired? Really. God doesn’t want you to be defeated in this life, He wants your best, He wants you to live a victorious life. But He can’t give it to you if you don’t let Him. So buy my books and watch me on TV so I can tell you the secret of using God to get your own gain.’
This so called gospel makes God a means to an end rather than the end itself. It portrays God to be a kind of divine butler who only comes when he’s beckoned to grant us another pillow in the den to make our lives more comfortable. This message is one result of refusing to wait on God. This is more of a personal way we twist the gospel, the other way we do it is more communal.
The Us-Centered gospel of Socialism
What is the antidote? While the prosperity message focuses on God serving individuals and bringing our personal desires when we want Him to, the socialism gospel focuses on God serving ‘us’ or mankind as a whole bringing to ‘us’ what we think is good for as a society. God doesn’t serve the personal wish lists of each person in this message, He serves the personal wish list of whole communities, such that the desires of a certain group become the desires of the god they worship, or those desires become the god-like center of hope and peace.
This so called gospel also makes God a means to an end rather than the end itself. It portrays God as a higher power who aids mankind to become the best version of themselves they want to be. The only trouble with this view is that it has every pleasant quality about it except that of being useful. I say this because in every generation ‘what we think we should be’ as a whole changes. But to the socialist, that doesn’t matter. Since so much change happens with mankind over the centuries, change has to be a part of God’s makeup too, right? Wrong.
The God-Centered Gospel of Future Hope
Both of these gospels are false. They focus on needs here in this life rather than the life to come. And this is precisely where we see the true Gospel come into focus. We will only be of much use to our common man here in this life when we focus on the life to come. Love to God becomes central and when love to God becomes central, pleasing God becomes our primary desire in life. And when pleasing God and living a life that glorifies and makes much of Him becomes our primary desire in life we begin to care for and extend love to our common man. This horizontal love toward our fellow man can only come from our vertical love for God, or else the so-called ‘love’ we give to our fellow man will always come with strings attached. We will always love others for other ends we desire, or for personal gain.
But with the Gospel of God-centered future hope we can truly love our neighbors with no strings attached. How so? Because that is how God loved and still loves us in Christ. Christ did not come to save ‘squeaky clean’ religious people but sinners who don’t have their ducks in a row. He gave us what we didn’t deserve by taking on Himself the penalty He didn’t deserve. He died and rose again to make up for us doing what we shouldn’t in order to change us into a different kind of people. A people devoted to God first and others second. Upward love to God and outward love to others.
In our ‘I want it now’ society we ultimately must remember that God will one day right all the wrongs we see on this earth. We don’t need to change the things we see around us by taking matters into our own hands and changing the gospel message into a personal gain message (me-centered prosperity nonsense) or a communal gain (us-centered socialistic nonsense) message. No, both of those messages more reflect our own individual anxieties rather than a passion for personal or communal gain.
We must wait on God, trusting Him to do what only He can do. It is precisely our waiting on God, our future hope in Him, and the knowledge that He will one day right all wrongs that makes us of real value to our neighbors here. Only love to God first causes genuine love to neighbor.
(Image courtesy of Gilbert Lennox Photography)
So here it comes. For the first time in my life I have a child about to start school. My oldest son begins the first week of September. For me, it’s exciting and it’s terrifying. He’s grown up too fast and to watch him head off to get an education is a mixture of joy and heartache. But I rejoice still, because the school he’s going to is phenomenal. It’s a private classical Christian school where the students spend some time there with his classmates and teachers and some time at home doing home-schooling. Many people have asked me why my wife and I chose to take this route, so below I’ve put down some thoughts about why we’ve chosen a Christian education for our son.
Be warned, it is longer than I expected it to be, but I pray you’ll glean much from it.
Christian Education 101
Christian education is a vital part of Christian life, no matter what generation you find yourself in. I say this because Christian education by nature is instantly two necessary things the Church needs.
First, Christian Education is Education
Therefore, it is a teacher is instructing their students with a certain amount of information they wish to pass on. Education is a passing of knowledge from teacher to pupil. The hope of the teacher in investing their life into their pupils is that they become learned in the things their teaching. The hope of the pupil is that they learn well what the teacher is spending so much time to teach them. If either of these desires, the teachers or the pupils, is absent, education is seriously wounded. For if the teacher shows by their teaching a lack of preparedness or a disinterestedness in the subject(s) at hand, the pupil will be taught that this subject does not really matter. On the other hand, if a pupil is disinterested in learning from the teacher or about a subject, they will never really know the information being passed onto them in a meaningful way. But if both the teacher and the pupil are aware of the need and gripped by the subject, true teaching can take place.
Second, Christian education is Christian
Do not move past this too quickly, it ought to be examined. “The principles by which believers live are squarely opposed to the principles by which unbelievers live.” No Christian would deny this because they, as a Christian, know that they have been brought into a new way of existence by the blood of Christ (Eph. 2:13). This changes everything for the Christian. No longer is one walking in the ways of the world, but in the ways of Christ (Rom. 12:1-2). No longer is one dealing with trifle or glib realities, but in the reality that God is, has always been, and always will be (Ex. 3:14). No longer is one’s life given meaning and defined by oneself, but rather by a Person outside of themselves who now holds authority, gives meaning to, and defines all things (1 Cor. 6:20, Rom. 1:1). Whereas the person was at home in this world, they are now aliens and strangers in this world because they are Christians and their home is not here (1 Pet. 1:1). There are no longer any neutral areas in life, God must be glorified in everything the Christian does (1 Cor. 10:31, Col. 3:17). Again I say, no Christian would deny these basic truths of the faith. What does this imply for Christian education? Simple, it must be Christian. Too often Christians do “education” in the same manner the world does education. If we’re Christians, this shouldn’t be. Whereas believers and unbelievers are governed by two completely different principles, so too, education that is Christian should be just that, Christian.
This reveals itself to be a grand issue at hand when one takes into account the motive and philosophy driving the non-Christian educational system. What is the one massive reality that they base everything they do from? Simple, themselves. The goal of the worldly education is to “bring the growing personality that is to be educated into the best possible relation to its environment.” But notice that how one defines the word “environment” makes all the difference in this sentence. What is out there? What is true in the world? Are there any truths we can know? Or is everything finding its foundation in what we, individually, think truth is? While God is absent from the environment of the non-Christian school, making it a godless education defined by humanism, God is the one determinative factor for the Christian school that must govern all actions, programs, and curriculum. Non-Christian education denies that man is responsible to any god, thus the concept of sin is absent in the non-Christian school, and if sin is not taught, how can one rightly understand anything about reality? Non-Christian education denies the knowability of truth in our day, teaching that truth can only be defined as to what different people think it is. If Christian education follows suit, we’re in for a head on collision with many sinful consequences that will show in the following generations. Do you see the need for a Christian education to be what it is, Christian? Christians need to be taught of their God, of His character and His attributes, of His ways in the world, and His ways in their hearts, by men and women who love this God above all other things. Education that is Christian must be that, Christian. Cornelius Van Til pulls one implication from this that is helpful for our purposes here. If the One, massive reality that has created all things, sustains all things, and interacts with all things, namely God, is absent from the non-Christian educational system, is true “teaching” really happening? He answers, no.
“The only reason why we’re justified in having Christian schools is that we’re convinced that outside of a Christian-theistic-atmosphere there can be no more than an empty process of one abstraction teaching abstractness to other abstractions. No teaching of any sort is possible except in Christian schools…The ground for the necessity of Christian schools lies in this very thing, that no fact can be known unless it be known in its relationship to God. And once this point is clearly seen, the doubt as to the value of teaching arithmetic in Christian schools falls out of the picture….arithmetic must be taught in a Christian school. It cannot be taught elsewhere.” 
Whether you think Van Til has overstated his case here or not, there is a truth in his words that is massively helpful. When one tries to do education in a manner which excludes God, everything is affected. True, arithmetic can be taught in a godless educational system, but can it be taught to the degree which it was meant to be taught, known, and understood by God? No. To have a true knowledge of all things, no matter how small or large, both the teacher and the pupil must be in contact with God. Thus, we have need to think through how Christian education should function.
Now, one may begin to think that I am talking about the necessity of having a Christian school in every neighborhood and possibly in every church. I am not. I am in favor of Christian schools, but I do think a child can stay close to God and be a Christian while attending a public, non-Christian school if the child’s parents are actively engaging the child’s curriculum while simultaneously and consistently teaching the Truth of the Scriptures in the home with the child as well. Whether or not you agree with my position on this is not the subject of this paper. Rather the subject I intend to unveil is my vision for Christian education, which would be applicable in a Christian school, a church school, and a Christian educational ministry within a church. My vision of Christian education encompasses two grand realities which I think are completely Biblical, God-honoring, and needed in our time. These two realities are God-Centeredness and Christian Hedonism. I’ll take the one at a time.
Massive Reality #1: God-Centeredness
“God-centeredness”, or a Biblical view of God’s sovereignty, is an often spoken term thrown around without abandon that’s often misunderstood. It would be wise to avoid this misuse of the word by having a proper understanding of what the word actually means. To define what God-centeredness is, let me define what it is not. God-centeredness is not man-centeredness, which places man at the center of all things. Man-centeredness believes mankind is at the center of God’s affections. Everything God does is for His love of man, first and foremost. God-centeredness does not believe this or endorse this view. Rather, God-centeredness believes God is uppermost in the affections of God, and that God loves His glory more than He loves us or anything else. To be God-centered is to love that God is the most God-centered Person in existence. We see this in salvation. We were saved for “His name’s sake”. Psalm 106:6, 8 says, “Both we and our fathers have sinned… Yet he saved them for his name’s sake, that he might make known his mighty power.” God’s desire to save us from sin was “His name’s sake.” What does “for his name’s sake” mean? It means God saved us so that “He might make known his mighty power” in us. God saved us to use us for His glory, in other words. 1 John 2:12 similarly says that God forgave our sins for “His name’s sake.” Again look at what this is not. God did not save us and forgive our sins because He placed His foremost affections on us. I often hear people say, “God saw so much in us that He sent His Son to die for us.” This is not true if the one saying it believes that God loves him more than God loves God. It is true in the sense that God knew how our salvation would glorify him. This opportunity for glory moved God to pursue us, “for His name’s sake.” After all, because we’re sinful to the core, the only thing God “saw” in us was our hatred toward Him. This is man-centered theology. God does not believe in these things. God is God-centered, if I can say such a thing, because He saves for the sake of his name, He saves to make known His own power. I am God-centered and I desire to be God-centered because I prefer it when God gets the all the glory. I think that God is first in God’s mind/heart, not us. I also think that I’m not the only one who thinks this way, I think God does to. J.I. Packer’s introduction to John Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ is the best written defense of God-centeredness to date. In this introduction Packer states that man-centered theology is natural to fallen man. It’s natural because, even in doctrine, man cannot bear to renounce his own self centeredness, but places the same desire in God’s heart claiming that God loves man more than His own glorious majesty.
Usually, a knee jerk reaction to this kind of thinking comes quickly. Some often get confused at how God can be loving and be God-centered Himself. Is God really a God of love if He cares more about Himself than He does about us? To this I answer yes! God’s love for His own glory is the ground of God’s love for us. Let me explain. God is love because He relentlessly pursues the praises of His own name in us. When we behold God in His glory, our souls find the very thing they’ve been searching and longing for and are immediately and infinitely satisfied upon that gaze toward Him. This is why David asked to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord in His temple in Psalm 27:4, because he knew that his soul would find rest when it found sight of the God of glory. Thus, by God pursuing the praise of His name in our hearts, we become satisfied in the God whom we behold. We get the joy, God gets the glory. Therefore God’s passion for His glory is the measure of His commitment to our joy. This kind of thinking and believing leads to the glorious truth that God being God-centered is the only way that God can be loving and our souls be satisfied. I say this because if God is indeed the most pleasurable Being in existence (Ps. 16:11, 36:8) and gazing upon Him in His glory really does fill our souls with matchless delight and happiness, God would be unloving to withhold revealing Himself to us through His Son, who is the full image of His glory. If I have not explained this clear enough, listen to Jonathan Edwards:
“This is…the difference between the joy of the hypocrite, and the joy of the true saint. The hypocrite rejoices in himself; self is the first foundation of his joy. The true saint rejoices in God. True saints have their minds, in the first place, inexpressibly pleased and delighted with the sweet ideas of the glorious and pleasant nature of the things of God. And this is the spring of all their delights, and the cream of all their pleasures. But the dependence of the affections of hypocrites is in a contrary order: they first rejoice…that they are made so much of by God; and then on that ground, He seems in a sort, lovely to them.” 
The stark contrast between the order of loves in the saint and in the hypocrite would not be welcomed in most churches today, because I fear that most line up with the Edwards words about the hypocrite. Although this may be true, notice the truth contained in the above quote. God is glorious not because God makes much of us, but because of who God is. If God is only lovely to you because you believe that you’re the center of God’s affections, you’re using God in a selfish, self-congratulatory manner. That is wrong. God-centeredness is the antidote to man’s selfish sinful desire to place themselves at the center of everything.
Implications of Massive Reality #1
Now, I hope you can see why the idea of God-centeredness matters for Christian education. If we’re to teach and learn (education defined) well, we must teach in a God-centered manner. Teachers must be God-centered in any type of Christian education because any Christian education which removes God from the center and replaces it with something else is not Christian education, its godless education. Three things are ultimate here that I want to point out. First, theology really matters. When we take a step back from the book of Romans something stands out. The first 11 chapters give us some of the richest, deepest, and thickest theology in the entire Bible. After writing this glorious treasure of theology in Romans 1-11, Paul explodes into praise in 11:33-36. After this praise, Paul begins the last section of Romans that deals primarily with application. Is there order to Paul’s thinking? Yes. This praise from Paul (11:33-36) is a bridge in Romans because of where it comes from and where it leads to. It comes from rich theology, and leads to the last section of Romans that deals primarily with application. Is it any surprise that theology leads to praise, and praise then leads to application of theology? No! I imagine Paul writing this as a boiling pot of water getting hotter and hotter to the boiling point as he is finishing chapter 11. He then explodes in praise, because that is what the theology has led him to! The praise then leads Paul to describe how the theology affects our everyday relationships.
Notice that this means, contrary to popular opinion, that theology, or right thinking about God, leads to the praise of God. So many have given up on deep thinking about the things of God, the Son, and the Spirit; and in doing so they have given up the very thing that will lead them to deep affectionate worship. I don’t know who began saying that seminaries should be called cemeteries, but they obviously didn’t see this pattern in Romans. If you’re a deep thinker of God and love deep theology, this is for you. If you feel you can only scratch the surface of Paul’s thought, this is for you. No matter if you dive in over your head, or jump in the shallow end of the ocean of theology, it will lead you to praise, and that praise will lead to a practical outworking of the great truths you have learned. This means that theology is not just for book loving theologians, or young seminarians, it’s for every Christian, especially Christians who are students or leaders in education. Eastern religions tell us to empty our minds to find peace. Christianity calls us to fill our minds with massive Biblical truths about God. Indeed, our minds were made to be filled with these things. This is one of the goals of Christian education, to make God-soaked, Bible saturated students.
Second, I want to address a simple, but perhaps overlooked truth in our day. Man-centered theology is as helpful to the Christian as non-Christian education. Bad theology, or man-centered theology, will not lead to the praise of God, but to the praise of man. It will not lead to a practical Christian life, but a practical sinful life centered on the self instead of God. Bad theology first and foremost dishonors God because any theology that is not built around, stemming from, and leading back to God, is not right theology. Bad theology also hurts man, because man is not getting what he needs in it. The same applies for education. Any type of Christian education must be God-centered if it is to have any lasting fruit at all. A Christian that creates a man-centered education system or curriculum is dishonoring God and hurting their teachers and students by doing so.
Third, do you now see why I took so long to unfold what God-centeredness is? It really matters. Not only is the spiritual wellbeing of the students at risk if this is absent from any Christian education, but God’s glory is profaned when we proclaim and teach that we, or anything else but Him is the center of our faith.
Massive Reality #2: Christian Hedonism
We’ve come to the second massive reality I think should be present in any type of Christian education system, Christian Hedonism. What is Christian Hedonism? This label of “Christian Hedonism” was first coined by John Piper in his book Desiring God, the Meditations of a Christian Hedonist. In this book Piper builds a case for Christian Hedonism by arguing against the German philosopher Immanuel Kant and his categorical imperative. Kant’s categorical imperative was his moral compass which says the morality of an act decreases to the degree that we gain or benefit from it. Actions are only good or virtuous if the actor remains disinterested in the act he’s performing. Therefore to the degree that we are disinterested in our actions, we are virtuous people doing our duty. If we seek any type of reward, joy, or benefit from the act itself, our act isn’t virtuous. Or to put it simply, benefit ruins the moral value of an act. It should be stated that this mindset is now thought of as “Christian” to a large extent, so much so that Christians today see this ‘disinterested’ mindset as Biblical to the core. The question of the helpfulness of Kant’s imperative comes down to this: is it Biblical? If it is, we ought to use it. If it’s not, we shouldn’t. Which is it? Along with Piper, I think Kant’s imperative is unbiblical and useless in acting as our moral compass, because of two reasons.
First, all throughout the Bible God is portrayed as having one motive behind every action; His own glory. If we follow Kant’s imperative than God would not be doing His proper duty by pursuing His glory in His works. God commands that we be happy in Him in Deuteronomy 28:47-48. This was the very reason Jesus became human in Romans 15:8-9, so that God would be glorified for His mercy. If Kant is right, God is wrong to seek His own gain in all His works. If God is right, Kant is wrong while we get delight and God gets the glory He seeks. The application of this truth is that God is not glorified where He is not treasured and enjoyed. Thus, when we seek God for our satisfaction in Him, He is more glorified than if we we’re merely disinterested in coming to Him. Second, many passages command us to seek our own gain. Hebrews 11:6, “Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” If we come to God not seeking a reward from Him, we do not come to God rightly (as He wants us to come to Him). 1 John 1:4, “These things we write, so that our joy may be complete.” John wrote his letters so that his own joy would be made complete. God loves cheerful givers (2 Cor. 9:7), not disinterested givers. Even in Mark 8:34-35 where Jesus tells us to deny ourselves we see this. In this charge to deny ourselves there is an appeal to do it for our own good, even for our own happiness. If I want to save my life, I must lose it. If Kant’s categorical imperative is correct, I lose my happiness in God, therefore it is not correct. If we are to obey Scripture, and feast on the God who is a river of delight (Psalm 36:8), which is the most moral act one can ever do, we must drop Kant’s categorical compass and take up God at His Word, coming to Him for own gain and benefit.
Now that Kant is out of the way we can set out to define and prove Christian Hedonism. A Hedonist is one who lives life for the pursuit of pleasure and happiness. They often will do anything as long as it will increase their pleasure. “Christian” is before “Hedonism” because this implies that a Christian Hedonist is someone who lives by a similar idea as a normal hedonist, but seeks their pleasure in a different source, namely, the God of the Bible. Piper defines it in one short sentence: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” This sentence has some implications. God is glorified when people are satisfied in Him. “Satisfied?” Yes, satisfied. Christian Hedonists recognize that God gave all men a desire to be happy and to be satisfied fully. Most Christians reject their own desire to be happy because, without knowing it, they’re thinking of obedience to God in a Kantian manner. They say, they think, they believe, and act upon this thought: “If I am to obey God, I must put pleasure and delight aside. If I am to have pleasure and delight, I cannot obey God.” Does the Bible really make such a distinction? No, it does not. For example, John 15:11 says, “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” This statement gives the purpose for the previous 10 verses. That means John 15:1-10 was spoken by Jesus for our joy. Think about how the purpose statement in 15:11 applies to 15:9-10, where Jesus says, “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” Jesus teaches here that keeping His commandments is the way to remain in His love; this is describing the obedience of a Christian. John 15:11 teaches us that this idea about putting pleasure aside to obey God is a lie. Rather, Jesus told us that obedience to His commandments (15:9-10) was for the purpose of making our joy full (15:11). What does that mean? Jesus told us to obey Him so that we could have the fullness of joy. This means that obedience to Jesus is the fullness of joy, not the absence of it. Kant’s imperative is again, wrong. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that happiness is the highest good to be gained in this life. I mean that when we pursue the proper good, that is, Jesus, our happiness will be multiplied infinitely. This means that our desire to be happy is a “virtuous” motive for everything. Rather than living a Christian life based on doing our duty disinterestedly in a Kantian manner, we’re called to pursue our happiness in God with vehemence.
As Christian Hedonists we know that everyone longs for happiness. And we will never tell them to deny or repress that desire. It is never a problem to want to be satisfied. The problem is being satisfied too easily. We believe that everyone who longs for satisfaction should no longer seek it from money or power or lust, but should come glut their soul-hunger on the grace of God.
Perhaps where Kant got it wrong was to say that we should fight delight by cultivating a desire for mere duty, when God thinks it is our duty to fight for our delight in Himself. Hear Jonathan Edwards again:
“God is glorified not only by His glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in. When those that see it delight in it, God is more glorified than if they only see it. His glory is then received by the whole soul, both by the understanding and by the heart. God made the world that He might communicate, and the creature receive, His glory; and that it might be received both by the mind and heart. He that testifies his idea of God’s glory doesn’t glorify God so much as he that testifies also his approbation of it and his delight in it.” 
You see, this idea is not new. Edwards was a Christian Hedonist, he just didn’t use the label. When we rejoice in the glory of God, and receive it into our mind and heart, God is made much of, and we are satisfied. Piper makes the illustration of water. Think of water when you’re thirsty. Water quenches thirst. We don’t honor the refreshing water of a mountain stream by adding water to it from the streams below. We honor the stream by being thirsty and drinking with joy so that our thirst is satisfied and quenched. Then we feel refreshed anew and exclaim, “AHHH” (That’s worship!). After being renewed we continue on the path in the strength of the stream (That’s service!). The mountain stream is glorified most when we are most satisfied with its water. Again, Edwards in his 22nd resolution said, “Resolved, to endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness, in the other world, as I possibly can, with all the power, might, vigor and vehemence, yea violence, I am capable of, or can bring myself to exert, in any way that can be thought of.”
Implications of Massive Reality #2
Now, it may not seem clear (yet) as to why I think Christian Hedonism should be the second foundation for Christian education, but there is one grand truth why this idea ought to undergird our Christian educational efforts. In the previous section I discussed the importance of having a right theology that exalts God as the center of all things (God-centeredness). But this God-centered theology alone is not enough to have successful Christian education. We need more. We need to enjoy that truth. John Piper says it best, “God is not glorified fully by being known rightly. God is glorified fully by being known rightly and so enjoyed that our lives are transformed into the kind of lives that display His infinite worth.” The first massive reality provided the proper information needed and this second massive reality provides the important enjoyment of that proper information. This thought assumes that God is not glorified where He is only known in the mind. God is not glorified when the teacher merely passes on information to students about Him. God is glorified when the teacher passes on information to students about God and a passion equal to the material. If God is only known in the mind the teacher will produce a lifeless orthodoxy in their students. If God is only known in the heart and passions the teacher will produce an enthusiastic heresy in their students. Both are sinful, dishonoring to God, and hurtful to people. In order for God to be fully glorified in our Christian education God must be enjoyed in the heart and known in the mind of the both the teacher and the student.
The Unity of Massive Realities 1 & 2: Head and Heart
God-centeredness and Christian hedonism go together like “peas and carrots” as Mr. Gump would say. How you might ask? By the life of the mind in the act of thinking. What do I mean? Thinking is one of the most hazardous things anyone can do. Paul warns us that knowledge puffs up, whereas love builds up (1 Cor. 8:1). But Paul also says that we ought to be mature in our thinking (1 Cor. 14:20). Thinking is therefore necessary because without thinking we cannot love God with all our minds (Mark 12:30). Mark 12:30 implies that worship will always involve right thinking about God. When our mind actively pursues right thinking about God, we’ll reap many spiritual benefits. The opposite is just as true, when we put aside deep thinking about God, spiritual benefits will lack. We must think if we’re to rightly worship God. So rather than avoiding thinking, we should think, but we should do it well. Thus, because thinking is an essential part of worship, we have need for the mind and the heart to be one if we’re to worship God as He intends us to do. What does all this mean? Joy is the essence of loving God, and thinking serves love, therefore right thinking about God serves our joy in God.
Christian Education is a vital part of Christian life, no matter what generation you find yourself in. Remember we said it was vital because it is both teaching and learning (education) and centered on the God of the Bible (Christian). If education is about anything else, or centered upon any other hub than the God of glory, it may remain to be education, but it ceases to be specifically Christian education. To make sure we properly remain within the sphere of Christian education, they’re two massive realities needed; God-centeredness and Christian Hedonism. True you don’t need my labels, but I’m convinced that these truths must be present in every Christian educational system. These two massive realities rightly aim at both the head and the heart. Why is that so important? Because both the teacher and the pupil must be aware of their need and gripped by the subject for true Christian educating can take place. The worship of God is at stake within Christian education. Is our goal in educating Christians simply to pass on mere information about God? No, it is more. Our goal is to make God-soaked, Bible-saturated people who love God with all their hearts and all their minds, with all their strength in their souls. God is glorified most fully, only, when the head and heart are properly engaged and directed toward Him in knowledge and enjoyment.
 Van Til, Cornelius. Foundations of Christian Education, Antithesis in Education, chpt. 1. Phillipsburg, NJ. P&R. 1990. 3.
 Van Til, 5.
 Van Til, 17.
 Van Til. 23.
 Packer, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, Introduction, Carlisle, PA. Banner of Truth. 1985. 9.
 What follows in this paragraph comes from John Piper’s, God is the Gospel.
 Edwards, Jonathan. As quoted in Piper, John. God’s Passion for His Glory. Wheaton, IL. Crossway. 1998. 110.
 Piper, John. Desiring God. Sisters, OR, Multnomah. 2003. 10.
 Edwards, Jonathan. The Miscellanies, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume 13. Edited by Thomas A. Schafer. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994, no. 3, 458, 495.
 Piper, A Godward Life, http://www.desiringgod.org/media/pdf/books_bgl/bgl_sample.pdf
 Edwards, Jonathan. The Life and Diary of David Brainerd. Grand Rapids, MI. Baker. 2007. 19.
 Piper, Preaching the Cross, Together for the Gospel 2006, chpt.5. Wheaton, IL. Crossway. 2006. 103-115.
 What follows in this paragraph is a summary of the theme of the 2010 Desiring God National Conference called Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God (see – http://www.desiringgod.org/Events/NationalConferences/Archives/2010/Registration/)
12 hours of non-stop theological and evangelical action.
That is probably the best way to sum up the first day of the First Five Years conference being hosted in Fort Worth. We had the opportunity to worship through song, be encouraged through fellowship and be encouraged through seven speakers over the first day. And the speakers came in many new faces mostly unknowns if you will, along with some who you wouldn’t expect at a IX Marks conference, such as Paige Patterson, and of course the headliner of the evening, Mark Dever.
Now for many when they go to conferences they’re more drawn to the names rather than the substance. This conference on the other hand was headlined by many who would probably be considered unknowns, but when you hear the Word preached you are reminded that it is not about the size of their congregation or the size of their ‘platform’ it is their commitment to their local congregations and love for fellow pastors that make them worth having at a conference, especially for young pastor who may struggle with the desire to be famous. That is most likely why the first word we heard was an encouragement to keep the Lord’s Word at the center of how we do ministry from 1 Kings 13. A text that reminded us that if the Lord’s word is clear there is no other man worth listening to, even if he claims to be speaking on behalf of God. No man no matter how seasoned in ministry has authority apart from the Word of God and any advice we receive should be tested against the Scriptures first and foremost.
This was just the beginning.
Now I don’t have the time or energy to unpack all that was in day one but two major highlights from the preaching that I found especially edifying was first the need for churches and pastors to never go at it alone. We have brothers and sisters around us in ministry who we can labor with for the gospel. This is an important reminder that we do not own the gospel. It is the Lord’s gospel, He is the one who has given it to His people and calls us to labor well in our mission. In this way we are encouraged to pray for other churches in our community that the Lord’s name will be made great in them. We are reminded that we must seek to make much of God and one of those ways is through communicating and encouraging brothers and sisters from other churches. We must remember that we don’t compete with one another, we labor together.
The second talk I wanted to highlight was Mark Dever’s evening session on the importance of church discipleship. Over the course of the final talk Mark walked through 16 points on the need and work of discipling well in our churches. First, he pointed out that discipleship is not an option in the church it is the life blood of a spiritually growing church. This is driven by the fact that we disciple one another by making much of Christ in our interpersonal church relationships. This is a key aspect that he helped to hammer home. We must take time to observe how much we speak about God in our lives. Is He saturating our conversations. When we speak with brothers and sisters is it more often about the mundane things of the world or about things of lasting value. Do we genuinely care about the spiritual health and vitality of each other or only the basic and in some way superficial things?
Again, not that we can’t talk about the general nature of life, but if that is the primary thing that identify us to one another and not the gospel than we are no more than a glorified social club. This is especially true when we discus one on one discipleship relationships. Do we only disciple people that are like us? Do we only spend time with people who are within our age bracket or maybe younger (giving us some form of superficial authority)? Do we make sure that we are loving people from across the whole church body? His is but a small sample of a much longer talk and next week I hope to post a more concise review of the second day and highlight some of the great things that took place.
Habakkuk’s Second Complaint – 1:12-2:1
It is clear from the prophet’s second complaint that God’s answer didn’t clear up any of his concerns, rather the opposite has happened – Habakkuk now has more questions than before. Babylon is evil, God must punish them for these things, yet God is going allow their sin to go further and increase by punishing His own people with them? How can a righteous God use wicked Babylon to discipline and punish His own people? You may respond and say, “How can a thrice holy God look on at all, much less use it for His own glory?” They’re vile, He’s pure, they’re evil, He’s good. 1:12 shows this confusion at play within his heart. Habakkuk rightly states that God is eternal, and holy, and powerful – then the new questions come: 1:13 shows us that Habakkuk thinks God’s people are “more righteous” than the Babylonians, and because of this it is evil of God to punish the righteous with the wicked.
1:14-15 shows that Habakkuk thinks if Babylon does invade them that it would be utterly humiliating, as a fish is humiliated after being caught and would be dangling on a hook. 1:16-17 portray Babylon as proud of their strength and wickedness, to which Habakkuk responds with the question: how can they keep on “mercilessly killing nations forever?” Where is God’s justice? How can God’s holy character tolerate this? To Habakkuk, the character of God would never move God to do such a thing. Did you notice 2:1? As a soldier waits and watches on the watchtower for some sign of war, Habakkuk is waiting for God to answer him. This language signifies a direct challenge from the prophet to God, and this prophet is demanding a response.
God’s Second Reply – 2:2-2:20
Well, as you can imagine – God didn’t remain silent when His own prophet called His character into question. Now God does not always respond to people who bring His character into question. God is not a puppet King sitting atop a Fisher-Price throne worried about the opinions of others. He is the King of Kings, unafraid of any who take a cheap shot at Him. But graciously, God does reply to His prophet – and we learn a lot from it.
We learn in 2:3 that though it seems like nothing is changing, the time is coming soon when God will act. We learn in 2:4-5 that Babylon is a proud nation, drunk with their own greed and power, and we learn Habakkuk shouldn’t resemble them in character, but should show himself to be who he has been called to be, a righteous man who lives by faith resting/trusting in the promises of God even if it appears that “God is idle.”
In 2:6-20 God reminds Habakkuk that though it may look like a further injustice is going on, that is not the case. Though it may look like evil prospers God is providentially moving history in the direction He wants it to go. The wicked always come to an end, and God never overlooks any sin from any creature that He made to dwell in His creation. These verses (2:6-20) contain 5 woe’s against Babylon, 2:6, 2:9, 2:12, 2:15, and 2:19. Notice exactly what was in Babylon that caused God to pronounce woe’s against them: greed/violence (2:6-8), love of wealth (2:9-11), injustice (2:12-14), drunkenness/sexual immorality (2:15-17), and idolatry (2:18-19).
These woe’s remind Habakkuk and us that God’s judgment will move mightily against any human power that sets itself up against God’s reign and rule. From the generation of the flood, to those who built Babel, from the Philistines, Moabites, and the Cannanites, to the Roman empire, from North Korea, to ISIS – even our precious United States of America, if we continue our current trend and move away from God one heart at a time – God will not sit by idle. In time, and ultimately at the final judgment every knee will bow, every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. Again the clearest example is the cross of Christ. How much does God hate sin? He turned away from His one and only Son once all the sins of all who would ever believe in Jesus were laid on Him. God forsook His Son, and laid the punishment we deserve on Jesus. God doesn’t just remove sin, He doesn’t just sit by idly, He crushes it, defeats it, conquers over it in the death of Jesus on the cross. But for all those who refuse and reject Jesus, judgment is still coming.
What should our response be from hearing these things in chapter 2?
a) 2:14, into the dark night of the soul for the prophet Habakkuk God makes a promise that floods his heart with blazing light. When it seems like nothing but sin, lawlessness, and evil is filling the whole earth we hear this stunning promise from God, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge (perception and pondering is happening) of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” There is always hope because God Himself promises that though it may look otherwise, He will make sure that one day the knowledge of His glory will fill the whole earth. Now, someone may read this and say – this is the most selfish and egotistical statement God has ever made. C.S. Lewis said this before God saved him. That “God in the Psalms seems like a vain old woman craving for compliments because He tells us to praise Him so much.” If you agree you reject the fountain of all delight, pleasure, joy, and happiness. I 100% disagree with these statements because they miss a huge Biblical reality that the whole Bible puts on display for us. God’s glorifying Himself is how God loves His people the deepest. Why? Because it is when His glory goes public, when it is seen, when it gazed at, our hearts fill up with a forever happiness and we are satisfied to the depth of our souls. Therefore God glorifying Himself is good news for us, because God’s passion for His glory is the measure of His commitment to our joy.
b) Second, after receiving the wonderful promise that the knowledge of the glory of the Lord will fill the earth, even though it looks like it won’t ever happen we ought to be stunned to silence. 2:20 says, “The Lord is in His holy temple, let all the earth keep silence before Him.” There is not much to explain this except to say that true awe produces silence in us. This is not a quiet respect that we tell kids to do when they’re being too noisy in a setting they shouldn’t. This is being struck speechless by glimpsing the Lord of Glory. Nothing is better for the soul than to be struck speechless by the glory of God, priorities will fall in line, what’s important will rise up, what’s secondary will take a back seat, fires in heart will be calmed, worries, cares, and concerns won’t seem to worth our attention.
Habakkuk’s Prayerful Response – 3:1-19
Habakkuk got the message, was rebuked, and responds to God with some of the most joyful words in the entire Bible. So we see, that another benefit of being struck speechless by the Lord of Glory is that when we begin speaking again, beautiful things come out. 3:17-19 is the apex of this prayer – this is where God’s promise in 2:14 leads to.
So we’ve seen Habakkuk 1,2,3 put on display before us – remember how I asked you to dig up those things you’ve tried to bury on Monday? Your cares, concerns, problems, issues that seem to large to be resolved? If you haven’t dug down and gotten them out, do it now. Remember I said that God was about to deal with us? He’s about to do so now. If you haven’t picked up on it by now, we’ve seen how God dealt with the heart of His own prophet here in the text.
Do you believe that God is willing to do the same thing with you?
You and I must be reminded that God deals with our issues sometimes by solving them, but I do think that’s the exception. Most of the time, God deals with our issues not by removing them but by dealing with our hearts. How does He deal with our hearts? By putting Himself on display. “One fresh glimpse at the glory of Christ can do more toward scattering the darkness and doubt than anything else you can do.”
Most of you know Psalm 46:10, but I don’t think most of you know the whole verse. We’ll end with this, “Be still and know that I God, I WILL BE EXALTED AMONG THE NATIONS, I WILL BE EXALTED IN ALL THE EARTH.”
(Image courtesy of Gilbert Lennox Photography)
Today begins IX Marks’ First Five Years Conference in Fort Worth, Texas. Adam attended the conference held last year in South Carolina, and this year I have the privilege of attending as I wrap up my fourth year of full-time ministry to the people of Riverside. I am incredibly grateful to my elders for allowing me the time off to come and be refreshed.
Over the next two days’ pastors from around the country will gather here in Texas to be encouraged and convicted to love their families, churches, and communities well for the cause of Christ. I will be posting a couple blogs to wrap up what I have learned and been encouraged by over the next few days, but today I wanted to briefly explain why conferences like these are important to pastors, especially those in independent denominations or churches.
Pastors can be encouraged by the fellowship and testimonies of others.
One of the great things about conference like these are that as a young minister they give us opportunities to share stories and prayers with other men working hard in the trenches of church ministry. Sometimes we can get so stuck in our own heads and focused on what is going on in our own churches that we forget to see the big picture of what God is doing in other churches just like our own. Sometimes you even run into pastors from your own communities. Last year at a revitalization conference while in a hunt for pre-conference coffee another pastor and I went on an exploration of DC looking for a good coffee place before the conference began, about 10 minutes into our journey we discovered we actually serve about 30 minutes apart and even graduated from the same small Bible college (though in different years). I was encouraged to hear what the Lord was doing in his life and the lives of the people he served. It was also great to receive some wonderful counsel and direction in my own personal life and ministry, from a man who had been in a similar situation not long before. It is connections like these that can make conferences so beneficial.
Now of course many guys will point out you can have this in your community, just pick up the phone and contact other pastors and hang out. Well for most pastors in their early years that’s exactly what we do, only to quickly find that that same desire for community among pastors is not as easy to find as many would hope, especially in many Reformed and Baptist circles. But if you are reading this blog than clearly you know that pastors working together and praying for each other and ministering together in different congregations in the same community is not impossible. Unfortunately, not everyone has those relationships and these conference help to build and create those relationships. While also giving opportunities for pastors to reconnect with friends who serve in different parts of the country.
Pastors are refreshed by the word of God preached and celebrated.
We get to hear the Word Preached. In case you are wondering sometimes it is hard to fit listening to the word of God preached into our pastoral schedules, and trust me there is nothing compared to sitting with other believers hearing the Word preached, podcasts just can’t compare to the real thing. Conferences like these allow pastors to join together to hear the Word preached by Godly men and applied to our lives of ministry in practical and God directing ways. In the case of FFY it’s a two-day experience under the Word of God. I learn so much when the Word of God is opened and preached in power through the work of the Spirit. While some practical aspects and plenary panels are encouraging, at the end of the day it is the preached word of God that is the fuel these conferences offer and give. Sometimes we begin to see ministry in a new light; sometimes it is a reminder to not lose sight of the reality of the work of God in the midst of your own struggles; and sometimes it opens you up to things you have been missing in your ministry or personal life that the Lord needs to take over leadership. The Word of God divides, convicts, and directs and in a conference like this it is two straight days of the Spirt and the preached Word at work.
Now as a pastor in an Elder led church I have the privilege of having time off to be able to hear the Word preached from godly men in my own congregation, this year I will have been given roughly 12 weeks out of the pulpit and in that time have been allowed to be encouraged by hearing the Word from my elders along with fellow staff members and at the end of this week a fellow minister, Matt Noble (fellow Publican), who will be covering our pulpit. Unfortunately, many pastors don’t have either the elders, pastoral relationships or the staff to be able to leave the pulpit for a week and just sit as a member of the church body and be encouraged. While we love to preach the Word it is also energizing to hear the Word preached. This week I am looking forward to hearing much from the Word.
So stay tuned Thursday for my wrap up of the first day.
Gazing at or laboring to get a glimpse at the Glory of God is the most practical thing anyone can ever do.
Habakkuk teaches us this well. One of the ways the small prophetic book of Habakkuk does this is its personal tone. Most of the other prophetic books are very impersonal, you don’t hear a lot about the prophet himself. Usually what we find is God speaking through the prophet to His people dealing with their sin. Habakkuk is not God speaking through His prophet to His people about their issues, it’s God speaking to His prophet, dealing with Habakkuk’s issues. It’s in this way that God means to encourage His people. You see Habakkuk had issues, questions, concerns, and problems that seemed so large, gigantic, and overbearing that it prompted Habakkuk to do what no prophet of God should ever do, complain.
Out of his own frustration rose two main questions he demanded God to answer: 1) God, where are You? and 2) God, why are You doing this?
Right away this is where the small book meets us. What in your life right now seems so large, gigantic, overbearing, and unresolvable that you find yourself growing angry, depressed, confused? Are these issues causing you to ask God the same questions Habakkuk was? I know it may be painful to do, but dig down deep, look over the walls you’ve built up, and get those things that have brought, or are bringing you pain, tears, and sleepless nights in view. Dredge them up from the pits you’ve placed them, put them in front of your face – and get ready, God is about to deal with them.
Here’s where were headed.
a) Habakkuk’s first complaint is 1:2-4, God answers in 1:5-11.
b) Habakkuk’s second complaint is 1:12-2:1, God answers in 2:2-20.
c) The entire third chapter is Habakkuk’s breathtaking prayerful response to God after seeing God respond to his own complaints. So that’s where were headed, let’s go there now.
Habakkuk’s First Complaint – 1:2-4
Right away perhaps some of you notice how similar this language is to the Psalms of lament, like Psalm 13 which start with “How long O’ Lord?” Clearly for Habakkuk the very fact that he is asking the question of “how long” means it has already been long enough. He is tired of living in a violent, immoral, idolatrous, and lawless society, and he is tired of talking to God about it and hearing nothing in return. He even goes as far as to call God “idle.” This is not good. It’s understandable, but it’s inexcusable to speak to God in such a bold accusatory manner. Will the Law ever be upheld? Will justice ever right these wrongs? The wicked surround the righteous, and to Habakkuk, God is nowhere to be found.
This honest anger at God is not rare in the Bible. Job also felt God was absent in the midst of his trials, Israel too in the midst of wandering through the wilderness. And isn’t it the case for you and I, that when we find ourselves in those moments of darkness, or where the clouds of sin (whether our own or another’s) are too thick to see through, or when you’ve prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed and haven’t heard anything in response from God, it’s in these moments where you and I tend to think like Habakkuk here, that God is idle, off on vacation somewhere and unsure of when He’ll return. Most of us can look back into our lives and recall moments where we felt as if we were at the end of our rope, where we only knew despair and gave up all hope. I know most of you have been there, perhaps some of you are just coming out of one of these seasons…perhaps some of you are there now. Just as He did in Genesis 1, into this hopeless despair and darkness, God speaks.
b) God’s First Reply – 1:5-11
In the darkness God speaks. But notice that this probably isn’t how Habakkuk thought God would answer is it? “If I were to tell you how wonderful My rescue is going to be, how I’m going to bring justice, and restore hope to My people, you wouldn’t believe it!” You can almost hear Habakkuk say to himself, “try me.” God says, “I will bring justice to my people, but I’m going to do it through your enemy – the Chaldeans (Babylon).” Perplexing isn’t it? How God answers the prayers of His people?
He answers, always answers, but He comes in His own timing and His own way. Isaiah 55:8-9 remind us that God’s ways are higher than our ways, and that His plans and purposes are higher than our plans and purposes. This would’ve challenged Habakkuk’s faith, and I think it challenges our own today – that God would bring about rescue and redemption and good through what we think of as evil? Proud and strong Babylon will come and judge Judah and Israel, and through this God will work out His grand plot. Joseph said as much after being sold into slavery, wrongly accused, and forgotten in prison. When his brothers found out who he was in Genesis 50:20 he responded by telling them, “As for you brothers, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about as it is this day.” What? So God uses the evil plans and purposes of men to fulfill His own good and perfect will? Yes.
The clearest example of this is the cross of Christ, sovereignly ordained by God to take place, yet carried out by evil and wicked men who wanted to kill the Son of God. Habakkuk, and we too, are being challenged to continue in faith despite what our eyes are seeing and despite what our hearts are feeling – God is always working, even when it seems the darkest. He is governing all events in history for the glory of His name and the good of His people. God’s providence is always purposeful, and always personal.
(Image courtesy of Gilbert Lennox Photography)
Yesterday I mentioned how Christ as King subdues us to Himself by changing our hearts. Today we continue on Christ’s kingly ministry. Yes this is a picture of Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings, a wonderful king, but as good as he is in this saga, Christ outshines Him still.
Ruling and Defending His Church
As King Jesus rules over His people and this rule is a gracious rule, a Fatherly rule, never a punitive or harsh rule or tyrannical rule. Even in His discipline all of our Father acts toward us are done lovingly. But it is rule nonetheless, you cannot get away from this. We are a ruled people as Christians. We are not free. Free from the power of sin and death sure, but now we’re underneath a new rule, the rule of Christ. Paul speaks of this in Romans 6 when he says just as we once were slaves of sin, we are now slaves of righteousness.
How does Jesus rule over His people?
First, Jesus rules over His people by giving us His law with its commandments, which He expects us to keep. This is true in both the Old Covenant and New Covenant. Israel was to obey all the law of God Moses gave them, and now the Church must obey all the commands of Christ given to us in Scripture. Also, in both the Old and New Covenants these commandments include blessings for those who obey and curses for those who disobey. One of the most neglected doctrines of the modern Church (which is drunk of grace) is the pleasure God has in the obedience of His people. If we truly learn grace, it will lead us to obey, at least that what Paul says in Titus 2-3.
Second, Jesus rules over His people through the officers of the Church, and though there are two officers of the Church to be appointed and installed, I mean the office of elder here. Deacons are truly officers of the Church, but the office of deacon is an office of service, while the office of elder is an office of rule. Through the elders of the Church Jesus equips His people through the ministry of the Word, He nourishes His people through discipleship, and He guards His people through discipline.
Third, Jesus rules over His people inwardly through the sanctifying and supporting presence of the Holy Spirit, chiefly by writing His law on our hearts so that our nature is further and further conformed to the image of Christ. So 2 Cor. 3:3 states, “You are the letter of Christ, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, not in tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts.”
It is in these same three ways that Jesus doesn’t merely rule over us but defends us as well. By giving us His commands, by giving us elders, and by giving us the inward ministry of His Spirit, Jesus so defends us as to cause us to hide underneath His wings. And under His wings we should seek to stay, whether in right standing of the Church or under its discipline.
Restraining and Conquering His Enemies
As King Jesus also restrains and conquers all His and our enemies. As we get into this let’s ask the question: who are our enemies? Though we may be able to give many names to this at times in history, chiefly we must say the unholy trinity: the world, the flesh, and the devil. These are our greatest enemies.
In regards to the world, the flesh, and the devil Jesus has already conquered them and has canceled their power over us on the cross, and at conversion Jesus saves us from the power of this unholy trinity. But, though He’s saved us from the power of the world, the flesh, and the devil, we still struggle with the presence of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Think of the line in the hymn ‘O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing’ when it says, “He breaks the power of canceled sin, He sets the prisoner free, His blood can make the foulest clean, His blood availed for me!” Did you notice what the hymn writer said Jesus breaks? The power of CANCELED sin. Yes, sin no longer has any grip on us. It is truly canceled. But because it has not been dealt its final blow and is still present in the world, it still holds power over us. Thus, part of the Kingly ministry of Jesus is in restraining its influence in this world and in our hearts.
But we cannot believe that God in His providence will always lead the Church in triumph over His enemies in every generation. There have been large periods of time within Scripture and within modern Church history when God has allowed wickedness to reign and spread, which brought great difficultly to those within the Church. In Exodus 1 God allowed a new Pharaoh to be crowned over Egypt who didn’t know Joseph and as a result large sweeping persecution swept over the Israelites. Or think of the dark ages between the 6th century and the 15th century. Not all was dark during those times, but by and large that was a long 900 year period when the Church was led by a heretical organization in the RCC. This means that though Jesus is indeed King, ruling and reigning on the throne, He does at times allow His people to enter into times of great distress and even despair for our benefit. Ultimately the Church will be triumphant in Christ when He returns to bring His Kingdom in full measure and exercise His full Kingly authority in judgment over His and our enemies.
So to sum up: Christ the King subdues us to Himself, rules and defends us, and restrains and conquers all His and our enemies. During His humiliation we saw His Kingly authority in His ministry, and right now in His exaltation, He still carries out His Kingly authority by being Lord over all things.
Christ is King.
Throughout the past few weeks I’ve been blogging through the three offices Jesus Christ holds and functions in during the two stages of His humiliation and exaltation: Prophet, Priest, and King. Today we look to His Kingly office.
Christ as King
As we did with prophet and priest, lets first begin with the Old Testament kings. Think back to the moment when Israel first asked for a king back in 1 Samuel 8. Though this was not good for Israel the desire for a king wasn’t wrong in itself. In Deut. 17 God had told the people a day might come when they would want a king like all the nations around them, and that this desire is acceptable so long as the king met certain standards. In Deut. 17 it says the king must be a male Israelite and not a foreigner, the king must not acquire or hoard many horses, wives, or gold, and the king must be a man underneath the law of God, a diligent student of the law of God, so that he may fear God all the days of his life.
This kind of king would be a good king for God’s people because he would live under and rule them with God’s law. But as the history of these people makes plain, they’re not merely for asking for a king, they’re seeking to be like all the other nations, to keep in step with the world around them, sure God may have done many things for them, but no one has a God for their king anymore, that’s old fashion now, we want a king. Well, they ended up choosing Saul to be their king, and we know how that ended don’t we?
After Saul’s kingship we had a few other rogue men who sought to steal the throne away from David, but eventually David became king and then his son Solomon. And after Solomon there is a string of kings who seem bent on sinning against the Lord and leading His people astray (though there are a few shining lights among them). Then after exile and coming underneath Roman subjugation, the people had no king again, but the promise of the prophets was that one day the king, the true Ruler would come ‘whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days’ as Micah 5:2 states. Then He came, and in His first sermon said this, “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).
Westminster Shorter Catechism question 26 asks and answers this, “How does Christ execute the office of a king? Answer: Christ executes the office of a king, in subduing us to Himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all His and our enemies.”
In this brief question and answer we see a summary of the work Christ does as King for us, in particular we see three things.
Subdoing us to Himself
That Jesus as King subdues us to Himself presupposes the truth that we at first cold to Him, rebellious against Him, hating Him and others, stubborn, and disobedient. Though all the souls of the elect are His from before the foundation of the world, we do not come out of the womb loving Jesus above all things. He must, in His time and in His power, awaken us from the dead, breath new life into our dead lifeless hearts, by effectually calling us to life in Himself. This means God’s electing love is not the end of the story, it’s merely the beginning. God will lead all of those He has elected in Christ to salvation through Christ and the first step in this process is the effectual call. This is why Paul says in Romans 8:30, ‘And those whom He predestined He also called…’ First comes the election of God then comes the call of God. And not just any call, but a call that is ‘effectual’ because the call itself creates what is not there: life from death, light from darkness, faith from unbelief, salvation from condemnation, and adoption from alienation. This is how Jesus subdues us to Himself.
Thomas Vincent comments saying, “This implies that in effectually calling them and bringing them under His government, wherein, by His Word and Spirit, He does conquer their stubbornness and enmity, and make them a willing people to Himself.” So before Jesus exercises any Kingly authority against the enemies of His people, He exercises His Kingly authority against the evil within the souls of His elect in order to make them His own.
I’ll get to the last two Kingly functions in a few days…
So the Olympics are well on their way and as with each year there are many events that take place earlier in the day and are rebroadcast in the evening.
For some of us whose work schedule is pretty flexible, we get to watch the events live and experience them as they happen. For others they get the ‘agony’ of logging into Facebook only to see all the results plastered on NBC Facebook page. Which of course leads them to the comment section to voice their rage, again, and again. Now maybe I’m the oddity in the world, but I love spoilers. I like knowing how things end. I like to know if something is worth the time and effort. So I read book reviews, movie reviews, and sometimes just hop on Wikipedia and read the story before I invest in all the minor details that make it up. With the destination assured for me, the journey is all the sweeter. The ups and downs of a story are not lost because the ending is known, but rather it leaves me open to see how the author, or director, moves the characters to make it through to the end.
For us in the Christian faith, we have been given the same spoilers. The scriptures we hold so dear, tell us the end from the beginning. In Genesis three we see humanity fall, but in the same text we are promised one who would come and destroy the serpent. Over the remaining 65 books of the Bible we see this play itself out. Sometimes in horror, as the people go back and forth in their commitment and love for God, but through it all He guides His sheep, He disciplines His children, and He leads them to the coming of Christ who sets them free. When we reach the conclusion of the text, we see the end of it all and the future that waits for those who are in Christ, which is a life of eternity with Him in glory. The author of Hebrews will point to this as a cause for us to run the race set before us. We are able to more fully enjoy the race as it were because the end result is assured in Him.
The promises of God are the reason the saints have run the race so diligently over the last 2000 years. During that time many countries have risen and fallen. Kings and thrones have been born only to be destroyed, but the kingdom of God has advanced. There is nothing that can stop the faith that saves the nations. Christ will save his people. He will bring the multitude before him from every tribe and tongue. He has called His children out of the jungles and deserts, out of Muslim and Hindu strongholds, out of democratic and communistic nations, our God knows no boundaries. No laws can contain Him and no man can stop the truth of His son who saves. This is why we have no fear in this life. Earthly kingdoms rise and fall on the will of God, not according to our own.
So again what does this all have to do with my love of spoilers, well in Christ’s revelation and the truth that we are His workmanship created for good works to honor and glorify Him. I know my story is not in vain. I know that whatever befalls my life, it is in the hands of my Lord and King. In every situation we know our only option is to truly trust in the one writing the story.
This past week the students from my church went away to camp, a yearly tradition for many church going students, but one of the things I love as the pastor is receiving the cards that the students write at the end of camp with what they learned and how the Lord worked in their lives. In one moment I am reminded of how the Lord has continued to write my story with all the twist and turns. There are still surprises around every corner both good and bad. In that moment I am able to pray for each of my students that they too may see that this is not all there is, but that the end is secured and it is with that in mind they can run the race. I pray that older saints invest in the generations behind them, to teach them that God has the end of their story already written.
To our students: remember He has the details hammered out. Even the ones that scare you and the ones that you don’t understand. They are all moving you forward. They are all growing you. They are all stops along the road to holiness. Trust in His plan. Don’t trust in the world, for the world and all its joys are fleeting and temporary, but God is eternal. This is the greatest spoiler of them all: God loves his children and is working all things for their eternal good, whether you see it or not. Whether you want to hear it or not, God can use your sin and depression and turn it around for His glory and your good. He can use your pain to free you and others; your hurts to show compassion you never knew possible; your past to liberate your future and the future of those who come after. Since our stories are written and secured in our Father, let’s go live them out in holiness and love for He who brought us out of this world into His Kingdom.
Spoiler Alert!!!!! If you are a child of God don’t cling to the past; watch as God, the author of it all, changes who you were into the image of His Son.
“When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.” – Mark 6:34
Turkish shepherds watched in horror as hundreds of their sheep followed each other over a cliff, say Turkish reports. First, one sheep went over the cliff edge, only to be followed by the whole flock, according to the reports. More than 400 sheep died in the 15-meter fall – their bodies cushioned the fall of the next 1,100 others who followed. (BBC News)
Sheep are not the brightest animals in the world. They are dumb, prone to wander, and fairly defenseless. Tim Challies says this about sheep, “Left to themselves, sheep will not and cannot last very long. Just about any other domesticated animal can be returned to the wild and will stand a fighting chance of survival, but not sheep. Put a sheep in the wild and you’ve just given nature a snack.”
So without a shepherd sheep are in trouble. In fact, sheep are hopeless without a shepherd. And that is what Jesus is saying here about the people in Mark chapter six. Without a shepherd, they were lost; they were hopeless. This was true of the crowd that Jesus interacted with and this is true of everyone today who is not a believer. This was also true of you and me before we came to the Great Shepherd, Jesus Christ. Humanity apart from Christ is like a sheep without a shepherd. Humanity apart from Christ is lost and hopeless. Jesus is our Shepherd, our only hope and means of salvation.
Jesus has compassion on these people and out of His compassion for them, what does he do? Look the end of verse 34. It tells us, “And he began to teach them many things.” The result of his compassion for these people was to teach them. He gave them what they needed most – himself! He gave them information about himself! He gave them the words of God. He taught them the things of God. His compassion for them resulted in him teaching them about God.
It is God that has the power to bring the dead to life spiritually. And it is the Word of God that nourishes the believer spiritually. Let’s be sure to teach, and share God’s Word with each other as we share with the world around us, because in the teaching and preaching of God’s Word, the dead come to life spiritually and the spiritually alive grow in the faith.
In the year 1900 a devotional was published called The D. L. Moody Year Book: A Living Daily Message from the Words of D. L. Moody. The readings contained within it were selected by Emma Moody Fitt. Last week I read one of the entries and it bothered me. No, thats not true. It did much more than bother me, it angered me. Before I tell you why, I’ve re-written the whole reading for that day below:
And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing —Genesis 12:2 (ESV).
There is no name in history so well known as the name of Abram. Even Christ is not more widely known, for the Mohammedans, the Persians, and the Egyptians make a great deal of Abram. His name has been for centuries and centuries favorably known in Damascus. God promised him that great men should spring from his loins. Was there ever a nation that has turned out such men? Think of Moses, and Joseph, and Joshua, and Caleb, and Samuel, and David, and Solomon, and Elisha. Think of Elijah, and Daniel, and Isaiah, and all the other wonderful Bible characters that have sprung from this man! Then think of John the Baptist, of Peter, of James, and John, and Paul, a mighty army. No one can number the multitude of wonderful men that have sprung from this one man called out of the land of the Chaldeans, unknown and an idolater, probably, when God called him; and yet how literally God has fulfilled his promise that through him he would bless all the nations of the earth. All because he surrendered himself fully and wholly to let God bless him.
Did you see it? I wonder if you can spot the grave error. Everything began great. Abram truly is a famous name, he’s a famous man, and always will be. God has used him in mighty ways. He blessed him and created a nation through him, and through that blessing all the families on the earth are blessed. Moody is right to say that all the other famous Bible characters we know of came from this one man. That is astounding. Abram surely deserves our attention.
But then Moody wrote the last sentence, and ruined my day.
The last sentence goes directly against the very nature of the Abrahamic Covenant. After explaining Abram’s greatness Moody then shows where that greatness came from saying, “All because he surrendered himself fully and wholly to let God bless him.” You’ve got to be kidding me!
If you think this is no big deal, and you’re a Christian you need to be more upset about this. Let me explain my frustration. Moody just spent an entire paragraph writing about the unique blessing and gift Abram was to the world as a whole, and in that last sentence he provided the foundation of that gift. Or to say it another way, in that last sentence Moody gives us the reason why Abram was such a blessing to the world. What’s the reason? Moody says it’s because Abram “fully and wholly let God bless him.”
Wrong. Abram is not the reason Abram is such a blessing. God is the reason Abram was such a blessing to the nations. Abram did not ‘allow’ himself to be used of God. Abram did not ‘do the right things’ in order to ‘let God use him.’ No, the blessing and covenant of Abram had nothing to do with the man Abram, it has everything to do with God. After all, when God made the great covenant with him, he was asleep (see Genesis 15).
This angers me so much because it’s man-centered teaching like this that has dug deep into the heart of the modern Church. To say that we ‘allow’ or ‘let’ God do anything is simply ridiculous. It presents a picture that God is in a box and we can let Him out of that box when we’re ready to or when we want to. It presents a picture that what is really great about the work of God in the soul of man is ‘man’ who allows God to work in him. From beginning to end, the Bible presents a different story, the opposite story.
Rather than being about the glory of the man who ‘allows’ God to work, the Bible presents to us a God who works in the soul of man, not because of the willingness or readiness or righteousness of that man, but despite the sin of rebellious nature of that man. It’s God’s grace through His Son by His Spirit that changes men and makes them willing to obey God in the first place, and it’s God’s grace that is foundational reason behind all that obedience in man. You may think I’m overreacting here but Moody’s statement seems to imply that man is the one who receives the glory here, simply because he ‘fully and wholly’ let God use him. The is wrong.
D.L. Moody has a great reputation, and wrote some great stuff. When we come across things like this in the writing or preaching of former saints, we remember that even the most famous of men are prone to error. When it comes to man-centered nonsense like this, Moody should’ve known better, and we should too.
In 1877, Charles Spurgeon preached this sermon from John 21:15 to a pastors conference in London, and over a hundred years later he preached it to me.
It’s hard to believe the impact that Spurgeon has had on the history of the Christian church. His sermons, letters, and journals remain in print to this day. He is read and studied in seminaries. He is beloved by many, but in this passage that Spurgeon so eloquently exposits, he points to the real motivation behind it all; and that is the pastoral command to feed the sheep of God. But as we see in the passage there are other aspects that go into pastoral ministry. In this concluding passage of John, we find three: feed the sheep, follow Jesus, and don’t compare yourself to others.
A Distinct Call to Feed and Tend the Sheep
Jesus, three times to restore Peter to ministry, calls him to feed and tend the sheep. At the heart of this command is Jesus showing that He has not passed Peter by but has restored him. It is not the perfect and blameless that are being called to ministry, but the broken ones who love God and cherish making Him known. Only a few pages earlier in John’s text we see Peter deny that he even knew the Lord, but now the same Christ who he denied is calling him to lead and feed. This is an important feature of John’s gospel because it shows us that those who are called to teach and care for the flock of God are those who understand their own limitations and failures, and whom Christ restores not of their own merit but of His gracious gift. Peter did not earn God’s reconciliation. Jesus gave it freely, and the outflow of this reconciliation was the commission to feed and tend.
So for all who aspire to the role of elder and minister, this is the same commission given to you. Feed the sheep. The only thing we see worth feeding on is the truth of the word of God. It is the only thing, when coupled with the Spirit, that builds up a believer. We cannot be fed by anything less than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. His truth is what grows us and sustains us. It is also the same Gospel that calls us to repentance and faithfulness. As we feed the sheep we also tend them. We point them to the Gospel and call for growth and reconciliation, calling each other to walk in holiness.
A Call to Follow
Now after Jesus finishes His command to feed and tend, He gives Peter another command: follow Me. Now this is a command Peter was very familiar with. It is the very one that began it all when Jesus called him out of the boat and into the life of a disciple. The command to ‘follow Me’ is the same command Paul will later give to the Corinthian Church, as he calls them to follow him as he follows Christ. The life of ministry is a life of following after Christ. A minister cannot love the sheep well if he is not in love with the true shepherd and learning from Him first and foremost. We see this clearly in Jesus continual asking of Peter of His love for Him. He must love Him if he is going to follow after Him.
As the text tells us, Peters future would be one of hardship and death, but we also see that he endures the life set before him because of his love for Christ. It is the love of Christ that fuels the minister’s soul. It is the model that Jesus set before us that enables us to endure suffering and to preach the Word in spite of our culture and to seek forgiveness from those we have wronged while freely forgiving those who have wronged us. We are motivated by the love of Christ and model His love to others as we follow Him.
The final thing we see in Jesus’ discourse with Peter is a lesson we all must learn. The final words we have in John to Peter is to not concern himself with God’s will for another minister of the gospel, but to serve Him alone. Peter being Peter, sees John in the text and asks Jesus to explain what would happen to him also. In short Jesus says it’s not your concern, your job is to follow Me. Too often as ministers, it is easy to look at other ministry’s and churches and begin to compare what the Lord is doing, and somehow doubt that you are doing what God has called you to do, but as the text points out we are called to feed, tend, and follow.
Spurgeon may have been one of the greatest communicators and expositors of his day, but you know the vast majority of the world who came to know the Lord in the 1800’s probably never heard of the man. But they did hear about Jesus. They never heard a single sermon of his, but they heard the Word of God faithfully given to them by other faithful men, whose names we do not know. We today are the product of many faithful ministers of the gospel whose names are unknown to us, but not to God.
So in this world, most of us will go unnoticed by the world at large, but God sees us and knows us. We are not all destined to be mega church pastors, it is God who destines all things. We are but called to be faithful stewards of the Gospel. We are called to love and follow the Lord, teach the word, disciple the body, and judge ourselves on that alone.
When most people think of Jesus’ Priestly work on our behalf these are the things they think of, but we shouldn’t stop here because His Priestly work continues and will continue until glory.
Don’t misunderstand me at this point. Roman Catholics believe that Jesus’ Priestly work still continues today but they believe it wrongly and we see their error in what they call the ‘mass.’ In the mass Roman Catholics believe the same sacrifice of Calvary is offered again in an unbloody manner. Because of this many people call the mass a ‘re-sacrifice’ of Christ, and for them (not for us Protestants) this is part of why they believe Jesus’ Priestly work still continues today.
We very much disagree and stand with Hebrews 9:28 and other places in Scripture that says Jesus offered Himself to God once to bear the sins of many. Jesus does not repeatedly die, no He only died once. Which means, His Priestly work of substitution, satisfaction, and reconciliation is no longer continuing today. This is why I do not recommend anyone to participate in a mass because the mass seeks to do what the Bible strictly prohibits.
Back to our point: what then do I mean when I say that His Priestly work is still continuing today? During His humiliation His Priestly work took place in terms of His sacrificial work, but in His exaltation His Priestly work continues in terms of His intercession.
In the beautiful section of Hebrews 7-8, 7:23-25 says this, “The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but He (Jesus) holds His priesthood permanently, because He continues forever. Consequently, He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.”
To intercede for someone is to plead or pray for them. This verse teaches that Jesus, after His ascension, is still carrying out His Priestly work by continually praying and pleading to His Father about us and for us. Do not confuse the praying or pleading of Christ with how we think of someone pleading with another today. Today when we think of someone pleading we think of someone begging. Jesus does not beg His Father to save us. What does He do then?
John Murray says this, “The heavenly high Priesthood of Christ means, therefore, that Christ appears in the presence of God at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens to present Himself as the perfected High Priest to plead, on the basis of what He has accomplished, the fulfillment of all the promises, the bestowment of all the benefits, and the enduement with all the graces secured and ratified by His own High Priestly offering. This is a ministry directed to the Father. This is it pre-eminently. The God-ward reference is primary here as it is also in the once for all priestly offering. But it is also a ministry on behalf of men.”
Joel Beeke comments on this saying “the application of justification is the direct result not of Christ’s death nor His resurrection, but of His intercession.” Thomas Goodwin said it like this, “We owe our standing in grace every moment to His sitting in heaven and interceding every moment” (Puritan Theology, 354). By saying these things Beeke and Goodwin do not mean to belittle the cross and it’s work, rather they mean to show us how Jesus applies His fully sufficient work to the hearts of the elect throughout all of time. He does so in His intercession where He applies the benefits of His life and death to the Church, pleading the perfect righteousness and His blood as our Advocate.
Thomas Vincent commenting on this question in the Westminster Shorter Catechism states, “Christ, in His intercession does pray to and plead with God, as our advocate, that through the merit of His death we might be actually reconciled, our persons accepted, our sins pardoned, our consciences quieted, our prayers answered, and at last our souls saved.” Because of these things Jesus is truly our Advocate (1 John 2:1) and this is why Jesus can now tell us, “If you ask anything in My name, I will do it” (John 14:14) Hebrews 8 declares that Jesus is our High Priest who continues His work of applying His redemption to His people so that we’ll persevere in faith until He comes back, when He will put aside His offices and be glorified together with the Father and the Spirit.
I know I often say this, but isn’t this is an incredibly encouraging truth? Knowing Jesus right now, at this very moment, is praying and pleading for us before His Father, continually applying His redemptive work to our hearts so that we grow from degree of glory to another, this gives a solidity to the soul, a boldness to the bones, and encourages us to risk all for the sake of the Gospel.
Robert Murray M’Cheyne felt this and said, “If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies, yet distance makes no difference. He is praying for me.”
(Image courtesy of Gilbert Lennox photography)