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Imago Dei: How the “doctrine of man” is being undermined today and why it matters

Recently I presented a seminar on this topic at the 2016 SI Stand for the Gospel Conference. This Saturday I will present, essentially the same seminar, at a conference in Christchurch called “Confident Christianity“.

I’m providing a link here to a handout that I will use and others might find helpful.

Imago Dei: How the “doctrine of man” is being undermined today and why it matters

 
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Posted by on 04/05/2016 in Current Issues

 

2016 Reading Plan

Over the past several years I have selected a larger series or several larger volumes to read slowly through the year. Items that I probably wouldn’t just sit down and read otherwise.

For 2016 I plan to read the following volumes:

  1. The Church of Christ : A Treatise on the Nature, Powers, Ordinances, Discipline and Government of the Christian Church (I have about 600 pages still to read from 2015).
  2. The King in His Beauty : A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments (700+ pages)
  3. A History of Western Philosophy and Theology (800+ pages)

About 40 pages per day, five days a week, for 10 months (Feb-Nov) should get me through these volumes.🙂

 
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Posted by on 01/02/2016 in Current Issues

 

2015/16 Summer Reading

As with previous Summers I have stayed away from social media (blogs, FB, Twitter, etc.) from Christmas through January. As in previous Summers I have thoroughly enjoyed the time and wonder why I would ever go back…

Technically January isn’t over yet and I am still staying away from social media with the exception of this blog post.🙂

I have enjoyed a fruitful Summer of reading.

Like previous Summers I read a book requested of me by my wife. This year that book was, Amazing Grace : William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End SlaveryA superb read, encouraging, challenging, and convicting. I pray I will stand faithful in my generation against all odds trusting in Christ fully as Wilberforce.

In addition I read the following books. I will just list them here rather than make comments. They have all be helpful and are books I would recommend.

Baptist Foundations : Church Government for an Anti-Institutional Age

The Baptist Story : From English Sect to Global Movement

God’s Glory Alone – The Majestic Heart of Christian Faith and Life : What the Reformers Taught…and Why it Still Matters

Grace Works! : And Ways We Think It Doesn’t

The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther

The Evangelistic Zeal of George Whitefield

The Mighty Weakness of John Knox

Onward : Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel

The Thunder : A Novel on John Knox

Fool’s Talk : Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion (I am nearly finished with this book. It is easily the most significant book I have read this Summer. Truly profound, excellently written, deeply thoughtful, immensely helpful. Ought to be required reading for anyone who thinks they are interested in apologetics.)

Oh, yeah I forgot… I was given a pre-publication e-copy of Christopher Ash’s new book, Zeal without Burnout: Seven keys to a lifelong ministry of sustainable sacrifice, which I also read with real benefit. (This book is based on a talk he gave at the 2014 Truth for Life Conference. You can listen here, or watch here.)

I managed to finish another book before my “Summer Reading” time concluded, Knowing Christ by Mark Jones. This book as been described something like, “the book J.I. Packer could have and perhaps should have written but wasn’t able to.” It is truly magnificent. Unlike any other book on the person of Christ I have ever read. Each chapter is very short. It would be an excellent book to read slowly, one chapter a day or something, over the course of a month or so.

On the last day of my “Summer Reading” I was able to finish a classic. One I’ve read before many years ago. John Marray’s Redemption Accomplished and Applied has been recently republished with a forward by Carl Trueman. This is a significant and important book for understanding the fullness of a believer’s redemption in Christ and the benefits in daily life.

 
 

Our 16th Anniversary, but a First

It is particularly easy for me to remember how many years we’ve been married since we were married in the year 2000. Yep, it’s been 16 years.

On January 8th 2000 we stood before God, family, and many friends and made our vows. I remember being asked the morning of our wedding by a friend, “how do you know for sure Mandy is ‘the one’?” (Keep in mind we had only known each other four months before our wedding.) I remember saying something like, “I don’t. I’m pretty sure. We’ve sought godly counsel, we’ve desired to honour the Lord in our choice of a spouse, but anything could still happen to keep us from getting married later today. However, when we say ‘I do’ that’s it. She’s the one.”

Tim Keller says the following:

“Wedding vows are not a declaration of present love but a mutually binding promise of future love. A wedding should not be primarily a celebration of how loving you feel now—that can safely be assumed. Rather, in a wedding you stand up before God, your family, and all the main institutions of society, and you promise to be loving, faithful, and true to the other person in the future, regardless of undulating internal feelings or external circumstances. What can keep marriages together during the rough patches? The vows. When I married my wife, I had hardly a smidgen of sense for what I was getting into with her. How could I know how much she would change over 25 years? How could I know how much I would change? My wife has lived with at least five different men since we were wed—and each of the five has been me. When you first fall in love, you think you love the person, but you don’t really. You can’t know who the person is right away. That takes years. You actually love your idea of the person—and that is always, at first, one-dimensional and somewhat mistaken. When over the years someone has seen you at your worst, and knows you with all your strengths and flaws, yet commits him- or herself to you wholly, it is a consummate experience. To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretence, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us. Passion may lead you to make a wedding promise, but then that promise over the years makes the passion richer and deeper. We never know whom we marry; we just think we do. Or even if we first marry the right person, just give it a while and he or she will change. For marriage, being [the enormous thing it is] means we are not the same person after we have entered it. The primary problem is . . . learning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married. In any relationship, there will be frightening spells in which your feelings of love seem to dry up. And when that happens you must remember that the essence of a marriage is that it is a covenant, a commitment, a promise of future love. This means we must say to ourselves something like this: “Well, when Jesus looked down from the cross, he didn’t think, ‘I am giving myself to you because you are so attractive to me.’ No, he was in agony, and he looked down at us—denying him, abandoning him, and betraying him—and in the greatest act of love in history, he stayed. He said, ‘Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.’ He loved us, not because we were lovely to him, but to make us lovely. That is why I am going to love my spouse.” Speak to your heart like that, and then fulfil the promises you made on your wedding day.” (Keller, Timothy J., and Kathy Keller. The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God. New York: Dutton, 2011.)

I am so thankful for the amazing, sustaining grace of God in our lives. There is no way we would still be married today if not for His grace. Marriage is not easy. It is the most difficult, most confronting, most painful relationship I have ever been in. Not because of who I married, but because of who I have discovered myself to be in our marriage. So where is God’s grace?

  1. In the wonderful privilege we both had to receive solid, biblical teaching on marriage from our pastors and churches even before we knew each other.
  2. In His kind providence to lead us into each others lives and to propel us into marriage in a short period of time. We had godly people in our lives who guided us in understanding the purpose of the marriage covenant was far more sustaining than “ensuring we had found our ‘soul mate’.”
  3. In using our marriage to reveal my selfishness and sin more than anything else in my experience. Marriage has been and continues to be a most sanctifying thing in my life.
  4. In giving us the desire to and enabling us to keep our vows through periods of pain and joy.
  5. In showering us with undeserved kindness such that we can declare that as the years go by our marriage has truly become sweeter than we could have ever imagined.

For the past several years we’ve celebrated our anniversary while attending an annual camp/conference together as a family. Not exactly intimate but fun… This year though, is a first.

I woke up this morning on our wedding anniversary without my wife by my side. The children and I are at the camp/conference while Mandy has been enjoying a much deserved week at home for R&R. I am very thankful for the opportunity this week has provided for her. At the same time, I miss her terribly and feel the “wrongness” of not being together on such a morning.

Again, Keller has written:

“So, what do you need to make marriage work? You need to know the secret, the gospel, and how it gives you both the power and pattern for your marriage. On the one hand, the experience of marriage will unveil the beauty and depths of the gospel to you. It will drive you further into reliance on it. On the other hand, a greater understanding of the gospel will help you experience deeper and deeper union with each other as the years go on. There, then, is the message of this book — that through marriage the mystery of the gospel is unveiled. Marriage is a major vehicle for the gospel’s remaking of your heart from the inside out and your life from the ground up. The reason that marriage is so painful and yet wonderful is because it is a reflection of the gospel, which is painful and wonderful at once. The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope. This is the only kind of relationship that will really transform us. Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information but in such a way that we cannot really hear it. God’s saving love in Christ, however, is marked by both radical truthfulness about who we are and yet also radical, unconditional commitment to us. The merciful commitment strengthens us to see the truth about ourselves and repent. The conviction and repentance moves us to cling to and rest in God’s mercy and grace. The hard times of marriage drive us to experience more of this transforming love of God. But a good marriage will also be a place where we experience more of this kind of transforming love at a human level. The gospel can fill our hearts with God’s love so that you can handle it when your spouse fails to love you as he or she should. That frees us to see our spouse’s sins and flaws to the bottom — and speak of them — and yet still love and accept our spouse fully. And when, by the power of the gospel, our spouse experiences that same kind of truthful yet committed love, it enables our spouses to show us that same kind of transforming love when the time comes for it. This is the great secret! Through the gospel, we get both the power and the pattern for the journey of marriage.”

I am convinced more now than ever that I married the right girl. I look forward to the years ahead and the joy of spending the rest of my life with her.

Lord willing next year, since our anniversary will be on a Sunday, we will wake up in the morning together!

1498099_10152086099067733_586097438_oIMG_5458

 
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Posted by on 08/01/2016 in Family, Fun, Marriage

 

Happy 40th Birthday Mandy!

15 August 1999 a date I will always remember…

It was a Sunday and I had only been two weeks living in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, where I had moved to attend seminary.

On my second Sunday at, what was to be my new church, I met Amanda Lynn Birtchet. It was her 24th birthday.

We exchanged greetings and general pleasantries. I left thinking, “I’m going to find a way to get to know her better”!

I did… We did… We married 4 ½ months later. She was 24. I was 27. We were young; life seemed like an open book ahead of us.

Today marks 16 years since the day we met. It’s Mandy’s birthday. Her 40th. Wow! How did that happen? I’m nearly 43, my bride is 40. We have a 14 (as of tomorrow), 12 & 10 year old.

Proverbs 18:22 He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favour from the LORD.

40 isn’t that old, neither is 42 for that matter. But 40’s aren’t 20’s. We really had no idea what we were getting into 16 years ago.

I’ll never forget (I hope) our first date (and the many that followed in rapid succession). We just talked and talked. It seemed like the future was wide open before us. We were going to follow Christ wherever and take on the world.

We had no idea that before our 5th wedding anniversary and before Mandy was even 30 we would see Mandy’s Mum pass away, have two miscarriages, and she would give birth to our three children.

In the same period of time, I would change jobs three times, be out of work for several months, and complete my courses towards two graduate degrees.

That was only the beginning…

Proverbs 5:18 …rejoice in the wife of your youth…

I am so thankful that phrase is in the Bible. We’ve been married another 10 years. On each of Mandy’s birthdays I have the opportunity to reflect on how much our lives have changed and how virtually nothing is as we imagined life would be 16 years ago on that day when we met.

We’re older now… We’ve gone through more moves, changes in ministry, family tragedies, normal and abnormal illnesses, periods of intensely demanding schedules… We get tireder quicker now…

Proverbs 12:4 An excellent wife is the crown of her husband…

I’m so thankful you were born on this day. I am so thankful we met on this day sixteen years ago.

I’m so very thankful you are the wife of my youth but even more thankful you are my wife today and will be until the Lord returns or death separates us.

Happy 40th my dear! I hope I’m here to say happy 80th as I continue to rise up and call you blessed…

Proverbs 31 – 28 Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: 29 “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.”

 
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Posted by on 15/08/2015 in Family, Fun, Marriage

 

Scriptural Confidence in the Preached Word

2015 GTT Preaching Conference with Phillip Jensen

This was my morning exposition to open this year’s Preaching Conference yesterday.

Scriptural Confidence in the Preached Word

“In Scripture we find the canon of saving speech; in preaching, the ongoing means by which this saving speech generates a new creation, so that even in this present evil age we ‘[taste] the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come’ (Heb 6:5). This is ‘how’ the kingdom comes…

Though seemingly powerless and ineffective, the creaturely mediation of his Word through faltering human lips is the most powerful thing on earth…

Typically, we prefer what we can see to what we hear: ‘A picture tells a thousand words.’ Our new images may not be statues that we venerate, but there is a real danger in Protestant churches of once again silencing God’s living and active speech (i.e. the exposition of Scripture) in a sea of our own insights, visual dramas, and the blue luminosity of our computer screens. Yet our Lord chose not only the content but the medium. We do not find God; he finds us. Faith comes not by feeling, thinking, seeing, or striving, but by ‘hearing’.”

Michael Horton, “The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way”, pg. 751-62.

Galatians 3:1 & 2

Galatians 3:1 Ὦ ἀνόητοι Γαλάται, τίς ὑμᾶς ἐβάσκανεν, οἷς κατ᾽ ὀφθαλμοὺς Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς προεγράφη ἐσταυρωμένος; 2 τοῦτο μόνον θέλω μαθεῖν ἀφ᾽ ὑμῶν· ἐξ ἔργων νόμου τὸ πνεῦμα ἐλάβετε ἢ ἐξ ἀκοῆς πίστεως;

Galatians 3:1 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?

This will be brief… I would like to offer some general reflections on this text and how I think it offers a needed correction for some of what passes as “preaching” (yes, even in Protestant Evangelical churches) today.

Paul asserts in verse 2, by way of a pointed, rhetorical question that the Galatian believers received the Spirit through faith by hearing.

Yet in verse 1 he seems to be saying something else. He seems to be saying that they saw Christ crucified… or is that what he is saying?

No in verse 1 he is giving a powerful description of the effectiveness of the preached word!

“The word ‘portrayed’ comes from the world of advertising. The Greek used it to refer, for example, to a kind of public notice posted to show that a property was up for sale. What the Galatians had seen, then, was a graphic and public display of the crucified Christ. Jesus Christ had been placarded before them, as if on a giant billboard or large canvas… It is often said that a picture is worth a thousand words. But if there is time for a thousand words, people can see for themselves, which is what happened when Paul presented the gospel.” (Philip Ryken, Galatians, pg. 83)

The word preached was the public portraying of Jesus Christ crucified before their very eyes. These people did not actually see Jesus crucified in Jerusalem. They were not there. Paul came to their city and preached Christ and Him crucified and the people saw in the preached word their crucified Saviour!

By way of observation I see a couple of related tendencies and trends in preaching.

  1. Preaching is boiled down to explanation. Have I explained the text accurately?

Clearly I am not advocating an approach to preaching the ignores meaning or lessens the importance of careful study of the meaning of the text.

But is preaching nothing more than explanation? I need to explain the text. Everything I say must flow out of an accurate understanding of the meaning of the text. But, having explained the text, am I done?

  1. Preaching has become unhealthily married to visual aids.

Some preachers will spend nearly as much time in their week working on their PowerPoint or looking for that perfect intro video (or making one of their own) as they do in any other part of their sermon prep.

Both of these tendencies and trends, I would suggest, reveal a lack of confidence in the effectiveness of the preached word.

Explaining and delivering accurate information is sufficient for effective change.

The message is made effective by the visual, the wow factor, the emotional response to the background music, etc.

I would suggest we need to regain and/or renew our commit to and passion for preaching. Preaching in such a way that moves beyond simply explanation and is freed from an unhealthy dependence on the visual and audibly proclaims Christ and Him crucified that by God’s grace will result in genuine faith in the lives of those who hear the message.

Calvin, “Let those who want to discharge the ministry of the Gospel learn not only to speak and declaim but also to penetrate into consciences, so that men may see Christ crucified and that His blood may flow. When the church has such painters as these she no longer needs wood and stone, dead images, she no longer requires any pictures.” (John Calvin, Galatians, pg. 147)

How can we do this? I offer three suggestions for us all to consider:

  1. 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5 => Renew your confidence in and commitment to the absolute authority and sufficiency of the inspired Scripture. If you are unsure if this is God’s Word in some way or some place you will not preach with power, passion, and authority.

14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it

15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,

17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 4:1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom:

2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.

3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,

4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.

5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Tim. 3:14-4:5 ESV)

  1. 1 Thessalonians 2:5-8 => Renew your love for the people you serve. Stop trying to impress them (or anyone), but willingly pour your life out for them. If you really love the people you are preaching to you will passionately desire for them to be changed by the power of God’s Word.

5 For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed– God is witness.

6 Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ.

7 But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children.

8 So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. (1 Thess. 2:5-8 ESV)

  1. Colossians 4:2-4 => Pray and invite your congregation to pray for you, that you might grow in the effective, clear, declaration of the mysteries of Christ.

2 Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.

3 At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison–

4 that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.

(Col. 4:2-4 ESV)

Let’s pray as I hand things over to Phillip…

 
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Posted by on 12/08/2015 in Current Issues

 

John Wesley’s Instructions for Singing

I’m reading Fred Sanders’ Wesley on the Christian Life with great interest. This is the third volume in this seriesI’ve read and I found the other two very helpful. Additionally I know less about Wesley than the subject of the previous two volumes read, Luther & Calvin.

Of course, John’s brother Charles was a great (arguably second only to Isaac Watts in the English language) hymn writer. Sanders says the following regarding Charles’ hymns:

“Charles Wesley seems to have memorised the Bible and to have had it always on the tip of his tongue. A really dense Wesley hymn can somehow manage to fit three Scripture references in two lines. It zips along without clutter, but if you stop to unpack how much is being said, suggested, and alluded to, it takes a full page of exposition that exhausts the reader but not the hymn.” (Sanders, Wesley on the Christian Life, pg. 92.)

John Wesley penned the following instructions regarding congregational singing:

Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a single degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up, and you will find it a blessing.

Sing lustily and with good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard, then when you sung the songs of Satan.

Sing modestly. Do not bawl, so as to be heard above or distinct from the rest of the congregation, that you may not destroy the harmony; but strive to unite your voices together, so as to make one clear melodious sound.

Sing in time. Whatever time is sung be sure to keep with it. Do not run before nor stay behind it; but attend close to the leading voices, and move therewith as exactly as you can; and take care not to sing too slow. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from us, and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first.

Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve here, and reward you when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.

 
 
 
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