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Archive for December, 2011

Worship Distorted

by Bill Clem from Disciple

I was asked to teach an intensive course at a seminary, three eight-hour days of presentation. During the first hour my agenda was to introduce the idea that we are all idolaters. I began by saying, “One hundred percent of your pastoral counseling will involve identifying and confronting idols.” Immediately the push back began: “Idolatry is a primitive idea”; “People don’t have idols; they have issues.” As long as we ignore what the Bible says about the human heart and what God desires from his people, we will raise these same objections. The Bible says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9).

The root of idolatry is pride. Isaiah described Lucifer’s rebellion as he ceased to worship because he wanted to be worshiped:

“You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’” (Isa. 14:13–14).

In James, pride is seen as a heart condition that God resists. The posture appropriate to approaching God is one of humility:

Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. . . . Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (James 4:5–7, 10)

Pride is seen as detestable to God precisely because it steals from God’s glory and his preeminence. Pride is rebellion, but it is much more than rebellion against God’s authority. Pride is self-centeredness rather than God-centeredness. A proud heart sees itself as central and God as the one who must find his place of orbit in the proud heart’s universe. While few people who call themselves Christians would admit to such a self-centered worldview, I find my weeks filled with people with questions and comments such as these:

  • How can God be loving and let this bad thing happen to me?
  • I can’t believe in a God who let’s bad things happen.
  • I don’t care what the Bible says; this is what I want.
  • I have been praying for a Christian husband, and if God wanted me to marry one, then he would have provided one.
  • If God is against homosexuality, why did he create me this way?
  • If God wanted me to stay married, he should have told that to my cheating spouse.

Look beyond the content of those objections to the underlying conviction of those who are making them. The objectors believe they have rights and God has the responsibility to work within those rights. To their way of thinking, God can’t love and also do something the objector can’t understand, nor can God call for behavior that is inconvenient or politically incorrect. They believe that God has no right to ask them to opt for grace and forgive another when they have a “biblical” right to hurt someone who has hurt them.

A couple of things need to be pointed out. First, the idea that God is accountable to us for his behavior, or at least for explanations for acting as he does, skews our real place with God. At best, it makes him our peer, and in that vein he should give us a reasonable explanation. When I talk to people who are angry at God for what he has done or is allowing to happen, I often hear them say, “All I want to know is why.” I have asked several of them, “Really? What if his explanation didn’t satisfy you, and you were convinced he could achieve the same end without doing or allowing what has angered you?” At that point, they often realize that they really want more than a why; they want a why that satisfies them and that makes God accountable to them.

Second, the concept of creature and creator gives God a trump card. He really does get to design his world, his creations, and his story for his own glory. Anything that attempts to compete with that is an idol. Pride paints us into corner between self-centeredness and idolatry.

Jesus already raised the bar from adultery to a heart of lust and from murder of a brother to anger. So how is it we continue to smuggle sin and knock-off versions of righteousness into lives and community in the name of Christianity? It has to have something to do with who or what we are worshiping. When self is at the center, things that feel good or right, emotional places of consolation or insulation, or distractions and attractions don’t seem that bad. But when God is the center, when the God of the universe comes into your soul, living quarters become tight, and there just isn’t any room for things that don’t exalt the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Modified from Disciple: Getting Your Identity from Jesus by Bill Clem

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December 28, 2011 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Life / Doctrine,Sanctification,The Christian Life,Trials / Suffering | Author: Lindsay Tully @ 8:15 am | (2) Comments »

Why God Came Into the World

by Francis Schaeffer published in Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus

Why did God come into this world? Only the scriptural answer will suffice: the second person of the Trinity has been born because he loves the world. But why did he come this way, as a little baby? Why did he choose to lie in a manger and be cared for by a human mother, with the sweetness but the utter weakness of a newborn babe? He came this way because he came to meet the central need of men.

  • He did not come to overthrow the Romans, though a lot of the Jews would have loved that. If he had, he would have come riding on a great conquering steed.
  • The central reason he came was not to raise the living standards of the world. Surely if modern man were going to vote on the way he would like a messiah to appear, he would want him loaded down with moneybags from heaven.
  • He did not come primarily to teach and relieve ignorance—perhaps then he would have come laden with books.

An angel had revealed to Joseph the primary task for which he came: “Thou shalt call his name Jesus; for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). He is here to cut the nerve of man’s real dilemma, to solve the problem from which all other problems flow. Man is a sinner who needs an overwhelming love. Jesus has come to save his people from their sins.

Selected excerpt from Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus.

December 26, 2011 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Holidays,Jesus Christ,Life / Doctrine,The Christian Life,Theology | Author: Angie Cheatham @ 1:14 pm | 0 Comments »

See What Homeschool Reviewers are Saying about “The Barber Who Wanted to Pray”

Here’s what reviewers are saying about The Barber Who Wanted to Pray:

“I had the opportunity to review The Barber Who Wanted to Pray by R.C. Sproul – what a GREAT book for discussing prayer with the littles (and even other adults)! It has interesting illustrations and is such a wonderful story about Martin Luther’s book A Simple Way to Pray!” - Guiding Light Homeschool

“I love good quality children’s books and highly recommend this one as an addition to any home library!” – Debbie’s Homeschool Corner

“This is one of those rare books that you get and you begin to wonder where it has been all this time…Struggling with family devotion time? Needing inspiration to continue? Wondering if you are making a difference? Why spend this time every night doing this? If you have any of these questions this is a great book for you to read with your children. Suddenly your family will find within its pages the inspiration and encouragement to continue.” – Abbie Reviews

The Barber Who Wanted to Pray is a beautifully illustrated story which teaches children (and adults) how to pray using models such as the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the Apostle’s Creed.  The book contains the full text of the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Apostle’s Creed after the story concludes, so readers can implement the ideas that they are given in the story. – Marine Corps Nomads

My children thoroughly enjoyed this book and I cannot recommend it highly enough. It has earned a permanent place on our shelves and in our hearts. – The Cross is All

The Barber Who Wanted to Pray is a book for children by Dr. R. C. Sproul that is sure to delight both young and old… Excellent, excellent, excellent! – Le’ Petit’ Storybook

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December 23, 2011 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Book News,News | Author: Lindsay Tully @ 8:00 am | 0 Comments »

Church-Planting and the Single Woman

Guest post by Carolyn McCulley, author of Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye?

Two years ago this month, I joined a group of people who were starting a new church in Arlington, VA. Men, women, families, and single adults made up our team of primarily young adults who were moving to the urban suburb that once was part of the nation’s capital.

As with any new venture, it was all-hands-on-deck to launch our church, and that meant single women were integral from the start. One of the pillars of the team was a then-single woman named Johannah—the administrative assistant who kept everything on schedule, allowing our lead pastor to concentrate on the vision and theological foundation for the new church. (Johannah was married this month and moved a few hours away, a bittersweet moment for our pastors!) Another single woman, Lauren, helps administrate our children’s ministry and co-leads a weekly prayer group. Jen assists a single man who leads one of our small groups. Several single women joined the worship team, contributing their skills as musicians or vocalists to serve the congregation in music. Others signed up for communion service, women’s Bible studies, meal coordinators, greeters, outreach ministries and much more.

From the start, single adults—men and women—were treated as serious components of this new venture. Perhaps it helped that our lead pastor had been a singles pastor for many years and was attuned to the serious contributions single adults can make within the church. Or maybe because the residents of our new hometown are largely single, too—nearly half of Arlington’s households are single residents.

But contextualization and previous pastoral experience aside, Scripture reveals how important single adults, especially women, are to the church. After all, the first church ever planted in Europe began with a single woman.

Lydia, a successful businesswoman in the luxury trade of purple cloth, was the first person that Scripture records responding to the apostle Paul’s preaching when he reached Philippi (Acts 16:11-15). Her immediate and joyful response was to offer hospitality to Paul and his disciples. From there, the church in Philippi began to meet in her home.  Due to her business, Lydia was no doubt influential in her city, but she was far more influential in the spread of the gospel as she teamed with Paul and Silas to establish the church there (Acts 16:40).

Today’s single women are just as necessary for new churches. While our leadership-focused American culture can put so much emphasis on the individual who leads any organization, a leader without committed and fruitful followers is leading a vacuum. A church-planter is one individual among many—a very gifted and called individual, for sure, but he can’t do it alone. And one of the ways he can ensure a new church will take root is to encourage the women of his church, married and single alike, to follow Lydia’s example in using their homes as outreach centers. Scripture does not make room for the American concept of the home as a personal retreat from the intrusions of others. Instead, we are to follow the many New Testament commands to offer hospitality and thereby connect with those around us—hospitality is not contingent upon marital status!

Lydia’s example is also relevant for the workplace. She traded in a luxury item and obviously had much influence in the marketplace to be able to do so.  A single women today can also exert much influence in the marketplace and needs the support of a diverse church to help her wisely reach out to fellow workers.

Phoebe’s example is important to consider, as well (Romans 16:1-2). Paul calls her a patron, a benefactor of himself and many others. Like Lydia, Phoebe was also likely to be wealthy and well-connected, carrying Paul’s letter to the Romans to introduce him to believers there who had not experienced his ministry in person. Her wealth and social connections helped Paul to spread the gospel. But it was her service to her local congregation in Cenchreae that caused Paul to refer to her as diakonos, the word most often translated as “deacon” elsewhere in Scripture. No matter your ecclesiology or polity today, church-planters need single women who are so committed to serving the church that they are known as sisters and helpers who invest the gifts and talents they’ve received for the benefit of the gospel. In turn, we single women should be as eager to carry the rich truths of Romans to others as Phoebe was!

The beauty of church-planting is that it is symbiotic. Church-planting pastors need fruitful and committed members to embody their vision for a new church, and a diverse flock needs a gifted and called group of elders to lead them in a new adventure. Each are gifts to the other, evidences of grace from a generous heavenly Father who is eager to build his church so that through it, the manifold wisdom of God would be on display (Ephesians 3:10).

From the beginning of the church, single women have been making important contributions to the advance of the gospel—and that call remains on us today.

Carolyn McCulley is an author, speaker, and a member of Redeemer Church of Arlington. She is also the founder of a documentary film company, Citygate Films.

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December 22, 2011 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Church Ministry,Dating / Singleness,Life / Doctrine,Marriage / Family,Women | Author: Angie Cheatham @ 8:00 am | 1 Comment »

The Idolatry of Spiritual Laziness

by Jared Wilson from Gospel Wakefulness

Let’s talk about laziness.

Laziness is idolatry. It is closely related to its opposite—workaholism. Both the sins of laziness and workaholism are sins of self-worship. The behavior looks different, but the root idolatry is the same. And the problem we face is that the law cannot do for either of these sins what grace does. There is no saving power in law. Further—and this is the crucial point in this particular discussion—there is no sustainable keeping of the law apart from the compulsion of grace. We can (and should) command repentance from sin, but it is grace that enables repentance and belief that accompanies it. Repentance problems are always belief problems. When we are set free from the law’s curse, we are set free to the law’s blessings. The difference-maker is the gospel and the joyful worship it creates. Any other attempt at law-abiding is just behavior management.

So we cannot cure spiritual laziness by pouring law on it. God turns dry bones into living, breathing, worshiping, working bodies by pouring gospel proclamation into them. When we truly behold the gospel, we can’t help but grow in Christ and with the fruit of the Spirit. Paul captures the essence of this truth in 2 Corinthians 3:15–18:

Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

The law cannot lift the veil. It cannot supply what it demands. But when by the power of the Spirit we turn to behold the Lord—not just see him, but behold him—the veil is lifted and we are transformed bit by bit, so long as we are beholding. This is not self-generated. It comes, Paul says, “from the Lord who is the Spirit.” Vicky Beeching’s song “Captivated” captures this truth well with these lyrics:

Beholding is becoming, so as You fill my view
Transform me into the likeness of You.

According to 2 Corinthians 3:15–18, beholding is becoming. See how Psalm 119:18 relates “beholding as becoming” to obedience:

“Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” What must happen for a lazy person to be able to become diligent? He must behold the wondrous things in God’s law.

Does he just decide to do that? No. Okay, well, yes, sort of. But he must be moved to decide to be diligent from a force outside of himself. His eyes must be opened by the Spirit. And in this opening, the law and his keeping of it become wondrous, not tedious. This is really what we’re aiming for with gospel centrality, and it’s what gospel wakefulness (super)naturally produces: obedience to God as worshipful response, not meritorious leverage. We are fixing our eyes on the finished work of Christ so that we may be free, and therefore free to delight in the law, not buckle under it.

Religious people can’t delight in the law like the psalmists do. They have to be set free—and feel free—from its curse first. This is where accusing gospel centrality of facilitating antinomianism becomes nonsensical. Generally speaking, people aren’t lazy because they think they’re forgiven for trespassing the law; they’re lazy because they think the law doesn’t apply to them. The truth is that we worship our way into sin, and we have to worship our way out. When people are lazy (or restless), they do have a sin problem, but the sin problem is just a symptom of the deeper worship problem. Their affections are set somewhere else. And wherever our affections are set is where our behavior will go.

So gospel wakefulness does not mean or produce laziness. But what gospel wakefulness does to the work of obedience is something we cannot muster up of our own power. It is the difference between driving our car and pushing it. Or, better, it is the difference between seeing the Christian life as a rowboat and seeing it as a sailboat.

Jared C. Wilson is the pastor of Middletown Springs Community Church in Middletown Springs, Vermont. He is an award-winning author whose articles and short stories have appeared in a number of periodicals, and has written the popular books Your Jesus Is Too Safe and Gospel Wakefulness, as well as the curriculum Abide. Wilson lives in Vermont with his wife and two daughters, and blogs daily at GospelDrivenChurch.com.

December 21, 2011 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Life / Doctrine,Sanctification,The Christian Life | Author: Angie Cheatham @ 8:00 am | (6) Comments »