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Archive for May, 2014

When the Podcast Preacher Isn’t Enough

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This is a guest post by Rob Bentz. He is the author of The Unfinished Church: God’s Broken and Redeemed Work-in-Progress.

Vitamins vs. Meals

I love to listen to a Timothy Keller sermon. I’m challenged by a Matt Chandler message. I’m intrigued by a Rick McKinley teaching. These three pastors teach God’s Word faithfully, focus on the power of the Gospel, and do it through the most culturally relevant means available—the podcast or via online video.

When I listen (or watch), I get to learn from their fresh insights into biblical texts. I have the privilege of hearing their thoughts on culture-shaping issues of our day. And finally, I get to consider how the text becomes applicable to my day-to-day life.

These are all really great things. All are helpful for my personal faith journey. Yet, listening to a podcast or watching an online sermon is the equivalent of taking a vitamin—instead of enjoying a healthy, well-rounded meal—purely supplemental for my walk of faith.

We Need More

I need more. You need more. We need more than a weekly listen of a great podcast from our favorite preacher—we need the church! You and I need the people of God. We need the consistent face-to-face interaction with other Christ followers. We need other men and women on the journey. We need other believers to speak truth into our lives. And they need us to do the same.

At its core, the church is a group of called-out, redeemed Christ followers—recognizing each other’s place in God’s unfinished church—living in authentic, honest, forgiving, grace-giving community. It’s not something that can be downloaded to your desktop or uploaded to your iPhone.

Listening to Jesus

Jesus himself beckons you and me to engage more deeply. He invites each of us to be part of a unique community that he is creating—not stand apart from it.

Consider the words of Jesus in John’s gospel,

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)

Jesus tells us that love is the signature of the Christ follower. Love is our mark in a world crying out to be loved and to see love in action. Love is the one primary thing that God gave us to represent Him. How can we model this if we are participating in a podcast church without anyone to love us or anyone to be loved by us? How can we grow in love if the only person we engage with is the individual in the mirror?

The role of the podcast sermon in our culture is undeniable. To avoid it or downplay its value would be silly at best—ignorant at worst. Yet, the most inspiring and intellectually challenging pastor’s sermons cannot take the place of the people of God in my life and the people of God in yours. They are a mere supplement for the Christ follower’s real experience of God’s church.

Rob Bentz (MDiv, Reformed Theological Seminary) is the pastor of small groups and spiritual growth at Woodmen Valley Chapel in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Rob has written numerous articles for various ministry websites and is currently a featured blog writer at ChurchLeaders.com. He and his wife, Bonnie, have two children and live in Colorado Springs. He is the author of The Unfinished Church: God’s Broken and Redeemed Work-in-Progress (excerpt).


Bible Q&A – What Does the Bible Say About Swearing?

In this series, Dr. Dane Ortlund, Senior Vice President for Bible Publishing at Crossway, answers readers’ questions about the Bible. If you have a question for Dane, simply leave it as a comment at the bottom of this post.

Q: What does the Bible say about swearing?

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths…” - Ephesians 4:29

My oldest son Zach is seven and for the first time he recently raised the question of swearing. We had a talk about some of the language he’s hearing at school and in the neighborhood.

How does the Bible guide us here? Not only for children just asking for the first time, but for all of us?

There are two basic ways we might handle swear words with our kids and in our own use of the tongue. We could call them the List Strategy and the Heart Strategy.

Making a List

The List Strategy puts on a short list a handful of words we should never utter, and all the rest of the words in the world that are legitimate to use on another list. We then go through our lives making sure we use only the words on the longer list and avoiding all the words on the shorter list.

The List Strategy can take forms that appear right and wise. We tell our kids, for instance, “Honor God with your words” and remind them of the damage that can be done with the mouth. We quote the commandment about not taking the Lord’s name in vain and remind one another of the Bible’s command that no corrupting talk come out of our mouths (Eph. 4:29). And of course we have the gospel to forgive us when we breach these instructions.

All this is good and appropriate and ought not to be neglected. But we’re ripping up the tops of the weeds without getting to the root if this is the extent of our approach to swearing.

After all, this approach overlooks the fact that it’s possible to use good words inappropriately and bad words appropriately. We can send poisonous arrows with our words without ever swearing. We can slander, insult, gossip, and tear down by using only words that are in themselves neutral. There will be plenty of lifelong non-swearers in hell. And we can also (though rarely) use bad words appropriately—as the Hebrew prophets at times did, in depicting Israel’s idolatrous whoredom. Such horrific rebellion couldn’t be accurately captured by demure, everyday words.

Wooden adherence to a list, then, is not what guarantees healthy speech.

Considering the Heart

What does? Getting deeper than the words we use to why we use them.

The Heart Strategy makes our words a matter of intention, motive—the heart (by which the Bible means not just our emotions but the animating center of all that we do and love). The List Strategy piles up the various verses about our use of the tongue and then seeks to implement these texts by applying a filter to our mouth. The Heart Strategy hears these texts mindful of what is happening inside us. Diseased well water requires more than a filter on your tap—it requires cleansing of the source, the well itself. Cleanse the heart, and you get clean words thrown in. Focus on your words only and you get neither a clean heart nor clean words.

Have you ever noticed how Jesus concludes his teaching in Luke 6 about a tree being known by its fruit? Many of us take this to mean that what happens in our heart is what determines our actions. But Jesus concludes in this way:

“The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).

It is one thing to filter out profanity bubbling up from the heart, and another thing to have something else entirely bubbling up “out of the abundance of the heart.” The Bible leads us into wise speech not by giving us a filter to weed out certain words but by giving us a new heart, and thus new motives. Desires, not just actions, change.

This is why appeals to the OT prophets as an excuse to use coarse language don’t work. We have to ask why they spoke in such shocking terms, and why we want to. What is our heart’s motive? Are we seeking to build up, to give life, to strengthen—or is some other motive lurking? The question is not what we say but why we say it. The Bible shepherds us into a use of the tongue that graduates from a mechanical filter that weeds out a short list of no-no words into a calmed heart that spills out in praise, encouragement, wonder, delight, honesty, simplicity, childlikeness.

When Zachary asks me, “Dad, can I say the word ____?” my first response should not be yes or no but “Why do you want to say it?” He wants to know which list the word goes on. I’m wondering about his heart.

The Word of Grace and Words of Grace

But how? How do we nurture a new heart, in others or in ourselves, so that life-giving words come out?

By marinating in the good heart of God for us, which spilled out in a life-giving word. In the gospel God speaks to us a word of welcome, from his heart.

We’re sinners. And he doesn’t swear at us.

He hugs us with words of love. His Son was cursed so that God never curses at us.

Loved with this spoken word of welcome, I find my heart oddly calmed. Softened by grace, I discover a fresh desire to speak what will inject life into others. Graced with a word, I grace others with my words.

Which, it turns out, is what the individual speech-verses are after anyway: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29).

Do you have a question about the Bible? Leave it as a comment and we’ll try to answer it in a future post!

Dane C. Ortlund (PhD, Wheaton College) is Senior Vice President for Bible Publishing at Crossway. He is the author of several books, including Edwards on the Christian Life: Alive to the Beauty of God (August 2014), and serves as an editor for the Knowing the Bible study series. He lives with his wife, Stacey, and their four kids in Wheaton.

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May 29, 2014 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Bible Q / A,Biblical Studies,Life / Doctrine,Sanctification,The Christian Life | Author: Matt Tully @ 8:30 am | (5) Comments »

Video: Engaging Our Culture with Joy

In the video below, Greg Forster sits down with Justin Taylor to discuss his new book, Joy for the World: How Christianity Lost Its Cultural Influence and Can Begin Rebuilding It.

Author Greg Forster on his book, “Joy for the World”
from Crossway on Vimeo.

  • 00:10 – How did Christianity lose its cultural influence?
  • 00:49 – What are the two ways that Christianity has related to culture in history?
  • 11:21 – Why did you title the book Joy for the World? Why is joy central to our witness?
  • 14:54 – What can pastors do to help their people joyfully influence culture?

Learn more about the book and download an excerpt.

May 28, 2014 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Book News,News,Video | Author: Matt Tully @ 8:35 am | 0 Comments »

Midweek Roundup – 5/28/14

Each Wednesday we share some recent links that we found informative, insightful, or helpful. These are often related to Crossway books, Bibles, or authors—but not always. We hope this list is an interesting and encouraging break for the middle of your week.

1. Ed Stetzer interviews Kevin DeYoung about Taking God At His Word

Q: How do we keep from committing “bibliolatry” or making the Bible a god itself while still loving and holding high the Word of God? Is this a concern? Why or why not?

Kevin: Frankly, it’s not a big concern. I’ve never met anyone who reverences the Bible more than Jesus did. Of course, we can approach the Scripture without love, without humility, and without anything more than a desire to make ourselves puffed up and powerful. But that’s not bibliolatry. That’s plain old pride.

2. Russell Moore on what he has learned from 20 years of marriage

Twenty years ago today, I was waiting in a hallway right next to the baptistery where I was immersed a decade before. Within a few moments, I stood in front of my home church to greet my bride, Maria Hanna, and to pledge to her before God and those witnesses my love and my life. Today, I look back and wonder what all we’ve learned in these twenty years together. The main thing is that I’m glad we didn’t wait until we were ready to get married.

3. David Mathis shares 5 benefits of corporate worship

Worshiping Jesus together may be the single most important thing we do. It plays an indispensable role in rekindling our spiritual fire, and keeping it burning. Corporate worship brings together God’s word, prayer, and fellowship, and so makes for the greatest means of God’s ongoing grace in the Christian life.

But thinking of worship as a means can be dangerous. True worship is fundamentally an experience of the heart, and not a means to anything else. So it’s important to distinguish between what benefits might motivate us to be regular in corporate worship, and what focus our minds and hearts should pursuein the moment.

4. Tim Challies reviews Dispatches from the Front by Tim Keesee

This book reminds me that my experience of Christianity is not typical. It may be typical for a twenty-first century Western Christian, but it is not typical when we broaden the scope to encompass the whole church spread across the whole earth. For every bit of ease I experience, one of my brothers or sisters is facing peril. For every gift I take for granted, one of my brothers or sisters is thanking God for another day’s provision. For every Sunday I worship safely without the slightest fear of consequence, one of my brothers or sisters is risking their very life to gather with the saints. Keesee reminds me of all this in these brief dispatches.

5. David Murray reviews Seeing Beauty and Saying Beautifully by John Piper

Piper does a superb job of explaining that the Bible does not warn against all eloquence or oratory, but only certain kinds, the kind that uses eloquence as an end rather than a means, and the kind that uses eloquence to promote the speaker rather than the Gospel. He then goes on to argue from the Bible and from three talented Christian wordsmiths – George Herbert, George Whitefield, and C.S. Lewis – that we should pour huge effort into developing our word skills for the sake of the Gospel.

| Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Book News,Midweek Roundup,News | Author: Matt Tully @ 8:30 am | 0 Comments »

What Did Jesus Teach About Hell?

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This is a guest post by Michael Allen Rogers, author of What Happens After I Die?.

Jesus: The Great Theologian of Hell

It may seem remarkable, but no Bible spokesman places more stress on hell as the final consequence of God’s judgment of condemnation than Jesus. God’s Son was the great theologian of hell.

However, the Christian should not consider it strange that Christ has more to say about hell than anyone else. Jesus was the one who compared hell to the Valley of Hinnom near Jerusalem (also called “Gehenna”), a huge public rubbish dump where dead bodies and trash burned in continually smoldering fires; thus “Gehenna” took hold as a name for hell. Jesus also compared hell to a prison and to outer darkness. It was he who likened hell to “a fire” at least twenty different times.

Lazarus and the Rich Fool

A premier text about hell from the mouth of Jesus is Luke 16:19–31. The wider context of its teaching is the abuse of wealth. Yet when describing the other-worldly setting of this teaching, Christ expanded the doctrine of hell. The passage is about a rich man who played the ultimate fool by luxuriating in his wealth, ignoring true faith in God and service to humanity, until he found himself in hell for his godless selfishness.

The passage seems much like a parable, but it is not specifically called that. In this text, Jesus’s primary intent was not to describe details of the unbeliever’s afterlife, but the Lord does end up giving us an insider’s view of hell, encapsulating important details of what is taught on this subject elsewhere.

No Exit Door

One foundational principle Jesus taught in the lesson of the rich man and Lazarus was that hell has no exit door. Father Abraham tells the writhing sufferer why his condition could not be remedied: “Between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us” (Luke 16:26).

The divide between eternal heaven and everlasting hell is made hard-and-fast by God’s eternal decree. The word “fixed” in Luke 16:26 has about the same meaning as our phrase “cast in concrete.”

Luke 16 testifies that when an unbeliever becomes conscious of this tragic reality immediately after his own death, it is already too late to humble himself before the gospel of Christ and the cross, which he has spurned hundreds or thousands of times; it is too late to believe in Jesus as Lord; it is too late to beg for divine mercy.

Scripture extends the opportunity of grace for every human being’s full lifetime. We hear in 2 Peter 3:9 of the Lord’s vast patience: “. . . not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” Yet people will perish—once they have passed the doorway of death without knowing Christ.

Sufficient Warning

Another principle Jesus taught in Luke 16:27–30 is that God’s Word gives humanity sufficient warning about how to avoid hell. The rich man grasped it when the remedy could no longer personally help him. He experienced his first-ever altruistic impulse as he pleaded for a messenger to warn his family so they might avoid his plight.

But he is told that testimonials from “Moses and the Prophets” are set before all living men (v. 29). God’s revealed Word can tell mankind all we need to know about our sin and a Redeemer’s grace. In Luke 11:28 Jesus declared, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” Do not miss a tremendous irony here. The rich man maintained that something more than God’s Word is needed—perhaps a miraculous sign. He went so far as to predict the exact type of miracle that would communicate better than God’s written Word: someone returning from the dead, to garner widespread public attention. What folly!

Not long after teaching this gospel lesson, the same Jesus who narrated Luke 16 arose from the grave. And what resulted? A minority of people in the immediate precincts of Jerusalem embraced him as their living Lord. However, the majority scoffed and turned back to perusing their sports pages or looked to the stock market reports to discover what was new on that particular routine day.

Unbelief determinedly shrugs off all historic proofs of Christ. The very One who was told that a family would surely respond to the supernatural wonder of a messenger from the grave became that miraculous messenger. And he is still being spurned.

All Bad News?

Suppose the Bible told us nothing about hell. Would that really make the Scriptures more “loving,” or compassionate? Does concealing unpleasant truth demonstrate that you truly care more for others’ destinies? What we find in Luke 16 is that the unique spokesman who most insistently announced a dreadful alternative to gracious divinely authored salvation is the same great Lord who died and rose to save us from hell.

Scripture is resolute: there is no means of escape out of hell. However, the gospel of God’s love and mercy shows one way of escape before entering. Jesus told it in John 5:24: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”

What a wonderful promise! But Jesus firmly declared that you can only pass from death to life in this life, before entering an irreversible chamber of unspeakable woe.

This means that what you do with Christ right now counts forever.

This post was adapted from What Happens After I Die? (excerpt) by Michael Allen Rogers.

Michael Allen Rogers (DMin, Westminster Theological Seminary) has been senior pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, since 1994, and is the author of What Happens After I Die?.



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