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for His renown

this blog exists to magnify the glory of God in Jesus Christ

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  • Saturday, June 25, 2005

    A Call to Reformation: Chapter 3, Revived to Trinitarianism

    I’m still blogging for revival, and one of the things that we evangelicals need to be revived to is Trinitarianism. If we do not know God as he has revealed himself—as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, ever one, ever three, equal in every perfection—then we do not know God at all.

    Let us pray for God to visit us with a great awakening in our day. If he does, Christians will cease to trivialize themselves with the banalities the world loves and give themselves instead to the herculean task of knowing the one true God. A major part of the all-consuming pleasure of knowing God is knowing him as Triune.

    In this third chapter of A Call to Reformation, I argue that we need to believe in and live on God. If we don’t believe in the Trinity, we don’t believe in the God of the Bible, so the first half of the chapter briefly looks at biblical and historical evidence on the Trinity. The second half of the chapter deals with living on the Triune God, so I discuss how the knowledge of the Triune God affects worship, church life, prayer, Bible study, evangelism, preaching, marriage, and child-rearing.

    My prayer is that this chapter will be one of the ways that God brings about an evangelicalism that is Revived to Trinitarianism. I invite you to read it, and I welcome any feedback you may have for me.

    Augustine worked on his book on the Trinity for 19 years! My short treatment here is not the final statement, and it is definitely a work in progress.

    If you’re interested in previous installments of this book, you can either click on the title of the project above, or go straight to the Introduction, or to chapter 1, The Nature of the Bible and How to Study It, or to chapter 2, Being the Church the Biblical, Baptist Way.

    May the Lord be pleased to consume his people with love for himself as he is, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!

    Tuesday, June 21, 2005

    How the Lord Provided for Me in Seminary

    A friend asked me this morning how I arranged to pay for my seminary studies. I am grateful for this question because it gave me an opportunity to reflect on the steadfast faithfulness of the Lord. The truth is that I didn’t arrange anything, but God did. I moved to Dallas in August of 1996 to attend Dallas Theological Seminary, trusting that God would bring me through, and he did just that. Perhaps I was young and naïve, but God’s faithfulness and trustworthiness are bigger than the foolishness of those who trust him. The Lord provided, and he provided through people like my friend who asked me the question this morning—that friend bought me my first computer and printer when I started at at DTS.

    The only money I had when I went to Dallas was what I had earned working at Kanakuk that summer. I think it was about $1600, but I was single and had no debts. I also had no job, but the Lord soon opened a door for me as a youth intern at Northwest Bible Church.

    I assumed that my job at Northwest would carry me through, but in early Octobor of 1996, I sat down and calculated expenses and income and saw that I was going to be about $1600 short at the beginning of the spring. That night I went to Northwest and mentioned the financial crisis to the youth staff before we prayed. Kent Lawrence prayed, "Lord, I pray someone will just give Jim the money."

    A week later I wasn't given the money, but a guy named Darin approached me and said he was eloping and needed someone to move into his apartment. I told him I was already short on funds and there was no way I could pay rent. He then responded, "There is no rent!" He lived in a backhouse behind the home of a 91 year old lady, Zelva Laird, who liked to have a seminary student live behind her and give her a call every day. That's it. No rent, no work, just a phone call to make sure she was okay.

    I contacted the school to see if they would refund the money that I had already paid to live in the dorm. When they refunded the balance of what I had paid for the dorm that fall it was $1660, exactly what I thought the shortfall would be.

    Every semester I would fill out a scholarship request form that had two columns. One column was for expenditures and the other column was for income. Every semester my expenditures amounted to more than my income, but I never went into debt (and I never went without some scholarship help from the school!). There were times when it looked bad. I remember going to the financial aid office one day and picking up a loan application. I started for the door, but then I stopped and took it back to the desk. I handed it back to the lady working there and said, "I’m just going to wait and see what God does."

    Late in the semester at DTS the bill for the next semester would arrive. The school's policy was that you either paid the amount in full or paid extra to be on a payment plan. That first fall of 1996 I paid what I owed when I got the bill. A few days later, I went to my box and found a note. The note said that an anonymous donor had called and expressed a desire to pay my tuition. Since I had already paid what I owed after scholarship, the donor had requested that the $750 I had paid be refunded to me.

    That very week I had taken my car in because the clutch wasn't working. I needed a new clutch, a new battery, 4 new tires, and a realignment of those tires. The bill on my car came to $715, and the Lord had provided through an anonymous donor. To this day I have no idea who that person was, but I am grateful for them and I praise God for the way he orchestrated my car bill to be less than my tuition!

    I hope I never forget how mystified I felt when I got that note in my box. I could not figure out why it had happened. Had God had blessed me in that way because I had done something right? Why did God cause a donor to give to me and not to some DTS student who was more deserving than me? Why didn’t the donor give to some student who was worse off than me financially? Why had God shown such kindness to me? What had I done to deserve this?

    Looking back, I did not have a theological category for God's mercy. I had heard the word, and I thought I knew what it meant. But when it happened to me I didn't know what it was. A few years later, when I beheld the free mercy of God as I studied Romans 9 and was helped to understand it by John Piper's book The Justification of God, I realized that the anonymous donor, like so many other things in my life (loving parents, living in a land that has the Bible, growing up hearing the Gospel, etc.) were expressions of God's sovereign, free, almighty mercy and love and grace and goodness to me. I did not deserve them. God shows compassion to whom he wills as an expression of his love. He is not obligated to love all people in the same way all the time, and in his sovereign freedom he has chosen to show special love to me. Only God knows why he chose to be kind to me, and I owe him thanks and praise. I am responsible for my actions and deserve only hell, but he freely gives life and joy and peace in the knowledge of himself. Mercy. Hallelujah!

    In late November of that fall of 1996 I got an opportunity to go to England for 6 days with two other DTS students. I was given an almost free plane ticked because one of the guys worked for the airline and was able to get "buddy passes" for us. My parents were going to help with some of the costs as well, but then as I was driving home from DTS one day I stopped behind a truck at a stop sign. The truck pulled forward, I eased up on the brake and moved slightly forward, then the truck suddenly backed up again, denting the front of my hood. When the insurance adjuster came to look at my car, she gave me a check for $950. I asked her if I was obligated to use the money to have the car fixed, and she replied that her client had done that amount of damage to my property and I was entitled to that much in compensation. I could do what I pleased with it. I lived on it!

    In my second fall at DTS, the fall of 1997, I met my sweet wife, Jill (September 17, praise God for that day!). I could tell very early that I wanted to give my life to this woman. I went to her home for Christmas that year, and on Christmas morning, while she slept, over coffee with her parents, I asked her father for his blessing. He replied, "You already have it!" That January Jill's mother came to Dallas and we visited a jeweler together and bought a ring. Jill's parents gave me a no-interest loan to buy the ring.

    That spring of 1998 I only took 10 hours at DTS. I was working two jobs to pay for school and the ring and then marriage! By God's grace I was able to pay the ring off by our wedding day, July 25, 1998.

    After we got married, God's provision came in the form of the generosity of Jill's parents. They had purchased a condominium in a neighborhood near DTS for Jill to live in while she was in school, and after we got married they allowed us to live there rent-free. They also graciously continued to pay for Jill's tuition and books at DTS, and even continued to give her an allowance until we graduated together on April 29, 2000. I praise God that he put it into the hearts of Jill's parents to be so supportive of us.

    We moved to Louisville from Dallas in May of 2000, and the Lord continued to bless us and provide for us through my Ph.D. program. We had no kids yet, and sweet Jill graciously worked to put me through school. Jill's parents had given her a car for graduation, and they had allowed me to keep the car Jill had previously. My parents let me keep the money for the sale of my car--even though they had paid for it.

    During our time at SBTS, the Lord continued to surprise us in the way that he provided. My sister and brother in law expressed a desire to buy my books while I was doing the Ph.D., so every semester I got a check from Dayna and Clint. Various friends and family members blessed with cash gifts, SBTS once paid me $600 for a study I did for one of the Vice Presidents, and somehow the Lord (and sweet Jill's frugality) kept us afloat and debt free.

    God is worthy of trust, and his mercies are new every morning. To him be the glory forever and ever, Amen!

    Monday, June 20, 2005

    The Resurrection of the Son of God

    Everyone interested in the resurrection of Jesus and careful study of the Bible should read N. T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God. For an entrée, see my review.

    My other book reviews, as well as some published articles and presentations, are available on my faculty webpage.

    Wednesday, June 15, 2005

    Indelible Grace Worship Music

    Everyone who loves profound theology presented in sublime poetry set to creative new tunes can praise God for the folks at Indelible Grace Music. They are reviving many hymns that lay in the dust of history by setting them to new music (though I would also be an advocate for many of the original tunes!).

    They have posted their work at The RUF Hymnbook Online Hymn Resource. I would especially recommend two hymns, "Ten Thousand Times Ten Thousand" and "Stricken, Smitten and Afflicted." You can listen to clips of both by clicking on the link that reads "Demo MP3" to the right.

    In our day of fluff and foam, may the Lord be pleased to bless us with substantive worship through ministries like this one!

    Saturday, June 11, 2005

    Sex and the Supremacy of Christ

    Proverbs 25:11 states that "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver." John Piper and Justin Taylor have edited a volume that speaks apples of gold in a setting of silver to our culture. In the sin and misery we find ourselves in after the fall, it is all too easy for us to look to something other than God to do for us what only God can do for us. The contributors to this volume remind us that God, not sex, is to be worshiped.

    Sex and the Supremacy of Christ should be required reading for every Christian. Justin Taylor introduces the volume, making plain the need for just this book and piquing our interest in the pages before us. The book then opens with two contributions from John Piper. In the first, with characteristic insight and profundity, Piper shows how sex was designed to help us know God. Piper’s essays originated as sermons given at a conference that has lent its name to the book, and the second of Piper’s essays, which I downloaded and listened to in my car, may well be the best sermon I have ever heard.

    An overview of the book’s contributors and the titles of their essays will show their relevance:

    • Ben Patterson, "The Goodness of Sex and the Glory of God"
    • David Powlison, "Making All Things New: Restoring Pure Joy to the Sexually Broken"
    • R. Albert Mohler, Jr., "Homosexual Marriage as a Challenge to the Church: Biblical and Cultural Reflections
    • Mark Dever, Michael Lawrence, Matt Schmucker, and Scott Croft, "Sex and the Single Man"
    • C. J. Mahaney, "Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God: What Every Christian Husband Needs to Know"
    • Carolyn McCulley, "Sex and the Single Woman"
    • Carolyn Mahaney, "Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God: What Every Christian Wife Needs to Know"
    • Justin Taylor, "Martin Luther’s Reform of Marriage"
    • Mark Dever, "Christian Hedonists or Religious Prudes? The Puritans on Sex"
    This book can be a powerful tool for purity and joy in our day. Buy it. Read it. Distribute it.

    And in the terms of Piper’s metaphor, may God be central in our lives as the sun is central in the universe, with the result that the gravitational force of the weight of his being holds everything else in its appointed orbit.

    May the Lord be pleased to use this book mightily for his glory and our joy!

    Seeking to Pray like Jesus and Paul: Without Ceasing

    In addition to the daily pattern of reciting a liturgical prayer at regular intervals on a daily basis (see earlier post), Paul and Jesus would have engaged in "continual prayer." This does not mean that they disengaged from life, hid themselves away in a monastery, and gave every conscious thought to prayer. Rather, continual prayer means being always aware of God’s presence and ever interacting with the God before whom we live. We see Jesus doing this in the Gospels, as he addresses God in the natural course of life (e.g., Matt 11:25–26; Luke 22:17, 19; John 11:41–42; 12:27–28), and Paul explicitly commands the Thessalonians to "constantly pray" (1 Thess 5:17). What would this constant prayer have looked like in the life of a first century Jew?

    There is good evidence from the rabbinic material on prayers before and after meals (David Instone-Brewer, Traditions of the Rabbis from the Era of the New Testament: Prayer and Agriculture, 72–91). Further, the rabbis instructed people to bless God for all things—good and bad—and to pray when entering and leaving a town (ibid., 91–92). This is certainly reminiscent of Paul’s exhortation that Christians "give thanks in everything" (1 Thess 5:18).

    This rabbinic evidence indicates that First Century Jews were well equipped with a fund of memorized blessings and prayers. Paul seems to assume that Christians will also have minds that are well vested with such phrases when he instructs them to speak "to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs" (Eph 5:19; cf. Col 3:16).

    We have to know the Psalms in order to speak to one another in psalms. This would seem to be an apostolic mandate to know the Scriptures so that we can pray them and speak them to each other. Similarly, we have to know hymns and spiritual songs in order to speak these things to one another. Many scholars think that Paul incorporates early Christian hymns and spiritual songs into his letters at certain points (e.g., Phil 2:5–11; Col 1:15–20). Given Paul’s poetic genius, we can assume that he was the author of these and many other hymns and songs (his skill with language can be seen in texts such as Rom 8:28–39; 2 Cor 4:8–9, 16–18; 6:3–10; Phil 3:3–14; 1 Thess 5:16–22).

    Let us be those who are memorizing Paul’s prayers, memorizing Psalms, memorizing the words of rich hymns like "Thy Mercy, My God," and speaking these things to God and one another. In the process of repeating these words to ourselves over and over until we have them memorized, we will find our brains not only strengthened but also transformed.

    May God give us hearts that are aware of his presence, minds that overflow with praise, thanks and petition to him, and the will to stock our minds with words of truth and beauty! (Phil 4:8)

    Wednesday, June 08, 2005

    Seeking to Pray like Jesus and Paul: Daily Patterns

    It is no surprise that many pastors are unsatisfied with the way they pray. I think some of this dissatisfaction is due to unrealistic (unbiblical?) expectations, and some more of it is due to a desire to be "pressing on" toward more faithfulness (Phil 3:12). When asked if we are satisfied with our prayer lives, are we going to answer as though we think we have arrived?

    When we think of prayer, most of us probably think of an extended period of time before God. Jesus did pray all night on at least one occasion (Luke 6:12), but the night Jesus spent in prayer came before the day on which he chose the 12 apostles (6:13–16), an extraordinary day in Jesus’ life. What did he do on the ordinary days?

    It seems that Jesus and Paul lived in a religious culture that was much more liturgical than the world most contemporary protestants inhabit. Given that Jesus was an observant Jew who was welcomed into the local synagogue, David Instone-Brewer observes that Jesus most likely prayed the 18 Benedictions three times a day (Traditions of the Rabbis from the Era of the New Testament: Prayer and Agriculture, 115). The rabbis of Jesus’ day instructed people to pray these 18 benedictions morning, afternoon, and evening (ibid., 52). In addition to this, the Shema was to be recited morning and evening (ibid., 42). It appears that the Shema was not limited to Deuteronomy 6:4 but consisted of Deuteronomy 6:4–9; 11:13–21; and Numbers 15:37–41.

    Thus, growing up faithful Jews, Jesus and Paul probably would have recited the Shema twice daily and the 18 Benedictions thrice. Instone-Brewer even argues that the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:9–13) is an abstract of the 18 Benedictions. Further, he notes that the Lord’s Prayer was prayed in the early church the way the 18 benedictions were prayed in Judaism—it was used as an outline for longer prayers, it was prayed three times a day, and it was prayed standing (ibid., 55).

    On the basis of these observations, one of Martin Luther’s suggestions comes to mind: "In the morning, when you rise . . . . kneeling or standing, say the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. . . . In the evening, when you retire . . . . kneeling or standing, say the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. . . . Then quickly lie down and sleep in peace" (Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, 490–91).

    This pattern of praying the Lord’s Prayer thrice daily should not take the form of a thoughtless incantation. We often recite the Lord’s Prayer that way, but Jesus explicitly warns his disciples against falling into the repetition of empty phrases (Matt 6:7–9). Perhaps it would be a good idea to think through the words of the Lord’s Prayer and put them in your own words in an effort to avoid mindless chatter. As for the Apostles’ Creed, in our postmodern age the recitation of this ancient confession strikes me as a healthy way to forge a living connection with Christians throughout the world and across the ages.

    Be freed from the false guilt that you don’t spend an hour in prayer each morning. There will be times when you pray for extended periods—watch out for pride on those days! But don’t feel bad that your toddlers (or whatever your responsibilities are) keep you from getting to it every day.

    May the Lord help us follow Paul as he followed Jesus (1 Cor 11:1), and may that bear fruit in our day as it did in Luther’s!

    Tuesday, June 07, 2005

    God-Centered Evangelism

    Thom Rainer has recently noted that in 2003 the ratio of church members to baptisms in SBC churches was 43 to 1 (see here). Rainer puts this statistic forward to answer the question, "How many members does it take to reach one person for Christ in a year?"

    I suspect that the ratio is 43 to 1 mainly because many (most?) of the 43 never share their faith. If you’re not in an SBC church, I bet the ratio is not that different where you are.

    Will Metzger has provided a great remedy for this situation in his book, Tell the Truth: A Training Manual on the Message and Methods of God-Centered Witnessing.



    Appendix C of this book is a Study Guide for 12 Group or Individual sessions. This means that Metzger’s book is ready made for a reading group that meets once a month (as I hope we’ll start at Baptist Church of the Redeemer on July 31). Alternatively, you could find a younger Christian and go through this book in a discipleship setting, or just read it yourself!

    This ratio of 43 to 1 is not going to bring about another Great Awakening. Metzger observes, "a one-to-one approach initiated by every believer still holds the best promise of evangelizing the earth" (20).

    Two more quotes to whet your appetite: "The recovery of a God/grace-centered gospel, or as James Boice has put it, a ‘rediscovery of the doctrines that shook the world,’ is imperative" (11).

    "This book is about the scandal of sovereign salvation. In it, I blame God for salvation, in the sense that he is totally responsible. He organized a rescue operation within the Trinity--designing, supplying, accomplishing, and restoring those who are in peril. Our triune God is the Author and Fulfiller, the Originator and Consummator, the Creator and the Redeemer. It's all God's fault--a grace that gives response-ability to the spiritually dead" (13).

    May God revive us to what Metzger argues for here: the whole Gospel to the whole person by whole people!

    Saturday, June 04, 2005

    Revelation 8-9, Six Terrifying Trumpets

    The trumpets of Revelation 8–9 put the fear of God in me, so know that in posting this I’m not "blowing my own trumpet."

    I recently preached on this text, and the sermon is now on Baptist Church of the Redeemer’s website.

    May the Lord prosper His Word.

    Friday, June 03, 2005

    Poetry of Repentance and Revival

    Eric Schumacher and I went to church together in Louisville while we were both students at SBTS, and he is one of the foremost theological poets of our day. Eric now pastors in Iowa, and he often writes poems that serve exceedingly well as hymns. He sets the meter so that the poetry fits many well-known hymn tunes.

    Check out his latest hymn, Come Now, O Lord, Your Church Revive! May the Lord give us the ability to lament our sin, and may he answer the prayers of this poem.

    Thursday, June 02, 2005

    Reading the Bible as an Act of Worship in Church

    Every second of the Christian life is living sacrifice, and all of life is worship (Rom 12:1–2). And yet when the redeemed gather together for the corporate worship of God, our collective energies are focused on seeking a heightened experience of the presence of God and ascribing to him the glory due his name (Ps 29:2).

    We do not want to try to artificially manufacture a manipulated response, but we do want to facilitate an atmosphere of reverent celebration: not presumptuous but confident (Heb 4:16), not giddy but joyful (Ps 20:5), not paralyzed with terror but fearful (Exod 20:20), not stuffy but sober (1 Tim 3:2), not depressed but repentant (2 Cor 7:10), not flippant but free (John 8:36).

    In order to cultivate these emotions, we should examine everything that happens during the worship service, from the demeanor of the first person who addresses the congregation to the point when the service concludes. Here are some thoughts on how we can strive together to make the public reading of Scripture in worship more worshipful:
    1. Whoever schedules the passages to be read in the service needs to get the text to the readers by Saturday so that the people who will read the text in worship on Sunday morning will have an opportunity to read over it several times.
    2. The purpose of reading over the text several times is so that the reader can get a sense of the flow of thought in the text and pronounce it accordingly. Here's what I mean: pronounce the following sentence first by placing the stress on Jesus Christ--"JESUS CHRIST is Lord." This communicates emphasis. Now pronounce it by placing the emphasis on "is Lord"--"Jesus Christ IS LORD." This is a slightly different emphasis, and by seeking to discern the flow of thought in the text, we're trying to articulate where the emphasis lies as we read over the text. This can add meaning and depth to the reading of God's word. We might interpret the inflections in the text differently, but a reading that attempts to follow the emphases in the text will surely be more worshipful than the alternative. We don’t want to be ostentatious about this, and we certainly don’t want to draw attention to ourselves as we read. But the person who reads the Scripture publicly is, in a sense, leading the people of God in worship. He is worthy of our best efforts, of our cognitive and emotive engagement, and reading the Bible this way helps us render to him the glory due his name.
    3. Prior to the reading of the text during the worship service, when the reader stands in the pulpit, the text to be read should be announced at least twice ("The text to be read is Matthew 5:1–13, Matthew 5:1–13"). Before beginning to read the text, the reader should allow time for the congregation to find the passage.
    4. Why not incorporate a corporate response of worship immediately into the flow of the service? One way to do this is to punctuate the completion of the reading with the reader saying, "The Word of the Lord," and the congregation responding, "Thanks be to God, Amen!" The intonation of the reader’s statement ("The Word of the Lord") will correspond with the mood of the passage just read—if sobering, the words will be spoken softly; if triumphant, exultantly.
    Having said all this, it is important that I balance these comments with the recognition that people have different gifts and are at different places. What I mean is that while we want to cultivate an uninterrupted flow of worship, we do not want to put so much pressure on people that they do not want to read or feel uncomfortable. Let us strive for excellence, but let us not bulldoze the people of God we seek to lead in worship.

    May the Lord bless the reading and the hearing of his most holy Word.