Resource Saturday- Recalling T4G 2008

August 1, 2009

Okay, so I didn’t get to go to the last one, but the other day I was thinking about how next spring the 2010 Together for the Gospel conference will be making its way into my new residence of Louisville, KY and it got me to listening to the messages from the 2008 gathering.  And you know what?  They’re not that bad.

Seriously though, it’s hard to see how anyone could not benefit from what was taught in Louisville in 2008.  One particularly good message is John MacArthur’s defense of the doctrine of absolute inability.  Often times I can find plenty to pick on with MacArthur, and even this message has a diatribe at the end where I feel Johnny Mac gets carried away preacing against contextualization, but for the first 40-or so minutes of the sermon he gives a good explaination and exposition of what he calls “the most attacked” and “most despised” doctrine in evangelical churches.

So, if you, like myself, cannot wait until next April and the messages coming about The (Unadjusted) Gospel, try to satiate yourself for a few hours with the wonderful offerings already put forth by these great theologians.  See you in Louisville.



A Different Kind of Rock Star- Mike Huckabee and SBC Hypocrisy

June 29, 2009

Around here we like John Piper and Mark Driscoll, Acts 29 and T4G, Matt Chandler and JD Greear, the Gospel Coalition and 9Marks.  Many are on-board with this.  But others would criticize it, saying all that these things represent are the new rock star breed of Christianity.  That’s their prerogative to say, but as for me, I know that what I witnessed one week ago at the SBC Pastor’s Conference (SBCPC) when Mike Huckabee took the stage (I shiver to say pulpit) was nothing more than their own breed of rock star worship.

Huckabee rose to prowess during his failed attempt at the Republican Presidential nod last year, and from the word “Go” he wore his Southern Baptist credentials high.  For many people this was enough to garner their vote, but I never really bought in.  Aside from standing more firmly on his religious beliefs than other former governors of Arkansas and a ludicrous tax plan, Huckabee showed little political difference from his slick predecessor from across the aisle.  Still, watching him as a speaker at the SBCPC I was willing to forget my political concerns and listen simply as a fellow brother in Christ.  Unfortunately, by the end of his speech, a flat tax was the least of my worries.

People swarmed the room to watch Huckabee’s half-hour amalgamation of theology, morality, and politics.  I’ve seen Driscoll speak several times, and never has he his appearance created such a buzz.  To be fair, Huckabee made several good theological insights, but honestly, this made the whole thing that much more disappointing.  For someone who apparently knows the Bible well, he  demonstrated a horrific ability to connect it with the reality of Christian living.

His main message was, “We need to recognize that real leadership does not bring power to ourselves but brings power to those we serve.”  Uh, okay.  Now, move to application.  How do we do this?  Among the apparent answers offered by the Huckster were “to live by the Golden Rule,” “to have higher personal morality and personal responsibility,” to end abortion, and to comprehend that “our relationship with [political] Israel is organic and not just organizational.”  Whoop-dee-doo!  I mean, really?  If “the role of leadership is to empower people to stand before God as righteous, responsible people” (which I do not agree that it is), how does throwing a bunch of moralism and pep-rally jazz at an audience accomplish this?

But you know what?  People ate it up.  Standing ovations.  An amen corner.  If Jesus had come back at that moment, I honestly believe a lot of people in the room would have been disappointed.  And for what?  A bunch of non-biblical moralistic therapeutic deism?

Maybe Piper and Driscoll and Keller and Mahaney are rock stars.  Maybe people like myself focus on them too much.  Regardless, at the end of the day, I can fall back on the fact that these men, as over-hyped as they might sometimes be, are at least pouring out a true, deep biblical theology to the screaming masses, which is plenty more than I can say about the “acceptable” rock star worship I witnessed that afternoon in Louisville!


Resource Saturday- Advance’09 and Resolved Audio

June 20, 2009

In the past two weeks thousands of Christians have been blessed by two incredible conferences put on on two different costs, all singing praise to one holy God.  But for those of us unlucky enough to have had to stay home, we missed out.

Not!

Thanks to the wonders of technology and the belief that resources for building up the body of Christ should be as available to the church as possible (hmmm . . . *cough*J316C *cough*), both conferences, Advance ’09 from Raleigh, NC and Resolved 2009 from Palm Springs, CA, have made every sermon available to us online.

Advance ’09

A conference about the power of God’s gift to his people- the Church!; featuring John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Matt Chandler, Ed Stetzer, Eric Mason, Bryan Chapell, Danny Akin, J.D. Greear, and Tyler Jones.

Sermons available here

Resolved 2009

Resolved 2009 will focus on sin. What is sin? How bad is it? Where did it come from? How can I be saved from it and its consequences? Is it possible to stop? Our 5th Resolved Conference will explore these questions and provide biblical answers; featuring John MacArthur, John Piper, C.J. Mahaney, Rick Holland, Steve Lawson, and special guest Mark Driscoll (just kidding!)

Sermons available here

Enjoy!


John 3.16 Recovered!- John Piper Preaches the Glory in a Much Abused Text

June 18, 2009

We all know it: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  This is probably even the first Bible verse most of us learned (it was for me, I memorized it off of a pencil from the Christian bookstore).  And it is a great verse.  But is it all it’s cracked up to be?

Last year a group of raging Southern Baptists used this verse as a bludgeon to attack Calvinism as if it were an R-rated movie or a half-empty bottle of Jack Daniels.  They preached John 3.16 as a defense against the doctrines of grace, saying that the claims of this verse and the claims of 5-point Refromed soteriology could not be any further apart.

In light of that, there was much anticipation (at least in my heart) for the day when the well-known Calvinist John Piper, in what is sure to be a decade long exegesis of the Gospel of John, finally arrived at this verse.  This he did recently, spending two weeks on it, and boy did he not disappoint.

The first week was just a going through of the terms used in John 3.16.  God.  The world.  Gave.  Son.  Believe.  Perish.  Life.  And in doing this he did not sound all that different than his non-Calvinist (Arminian?) counter-parts, even agreeing that ‘the world’ refers to all of fallen humanity and not just the elect.

Oh, but then, then there is the one word he left out.  Love!  This was week two and this is where he recovered the glory of this passage from its prooftexting idolaters.   I will not go into what he said, I encourage you to just listen for yourself, but here is his main thrust: “Those who believe, God wants you to know his love beyond simply the love spoken of in John 3.16!”

Just listen to it.  You’ll be glad you did.

John Piper- God So Loved the World, Part 1

John Piper- God So Loved the World, Part 2


The Wind or Me?- John Piper and the Clarity of Calvinism in the Gospel of John

May 31, 2009

The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.  So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” -John 3.8

Awhile back I did a series called “Calvinism Really is the Gospel!” where I argued in favor of Charles Spurgeon’s famous quote.  A few weeks ago John Piper did the same thing, though not nearly as explicitly as I attempted here.

What went on was simply Dr. Piper’s walk-through the Gospel of John eventually leading him to the passage at the beginning of chapter 3 where Nicodemus comes under cover of night to question Jesus.  I response to Nicodemus Jesus makes several cryptic/philosophical remarks about the wind and being born which Bible readers have fought to accurately understand ever since Nicodemus heard them the first time.  So, as a faithful minister of the Word, John Piper went to work and unpacked the glorious theology behind these statements.  In the process of doing so Piper gave Scriptural arguments for at least 4 of the 5 points of Calvinism (he may or may not have covered Perseverance), however at no point did he argue for “Calvinism.”  He just tackled what was there with the logical conclusion being a reformed soteriology.  He even at points grappled with the non-Calvinist arguments, successful putting them to rest (at least as far as I’m concerned).

The thing which impressed me the most was Piper’s even-handed yet direct rebuke of the non-Calvinist’s desire to be the final determining actor in his own salvation.  Whenever I talk to my non-Calvinist friends (I use that term loosely . . . j/k!) this is what the argument always boils down to.  They even admit it sometime, saying things like, “At the end of the day I just have to believe that man has the freedom to choose God or not.”  I really want to put this message in their hands and see how they respond!

Please take the time to listen to it (I have posted it below).  Honestly this is one of the best sermons I have ever heard Piper deliver, and probably the best argument for Calvinism as plain biblical theology you will ever find.  Glory be to God!

John Piper- The Free Will of the Wind


New Site Launch: Seven-Word Devotions

May 14, 2009

Between blogging and Facebook and Twitter, many people have turned to the internet to express themselves in very personal yet very public ways.  Chances are good that you are doing this in some way yourself.  Yet what do we really wind up saying?  What we’re eating?  Where we are going?  How our favorite sports team is doing and why that dramatically impacts our ability to cope with life?  With all the possible avenues of communicating, in the end we often wind up saying very little.  But it doesn’t have to be that way. 

In his book, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, John Piper talks about how Christians use their emotions.  Prevailing wisdom today says that our expression needs to be raw and unchecked if it is going to display authentic feeling.  However, the most powerfully emotional book in the Bible, Lamentations, literally the book of mourning or wailing, is also one of the most formally constructed.  In its 5 chapters, each consists of 22 stanzas, and the first four chapters use a literary device known as an acrostic.  To put it mildly, this book is anything but raw and unchecked, and yet it does not fail to pour out with genuine, authentic emotion.

So, here is the idea: let’s take the accessibility of our social networking capabilities and combine that with the thought provoking formality of Lamentations to create a site where we can reflect on the glory of God Almighty within the constraints of 7-words.  Call it Seven-Word Devotions, using seven short words to praise God’s character, to pray to him in hope or fear or doubt or sadness, to declare his majesty to the nations.  An example we see in Scripture is when the prophet Isaiah is standing in the throne room before God and cries out, “Woe is me!  For I am lost!”  Only seven words, but it conveys so much. That is what I propose we do.  It doesn’t even have to be original.  It could be a song lyric or a quote from the Bible or just anything that causes you to reflect on the glory of God and the marvelous works of his hands.  Seven words to express our hearts.

If you are interested in becoming a regular contributor to Seven-Word Devotions, please contact me at tburus@msn.com and I can set you up with access to post.  If you would rather post your devotions as a visitor, you can simply add them as a comment to any of the posts already up on the site.  Then before too long, we will have a site filled with short prayers of consecration directed to God, singing praises to his glorious name, and hopefully giving each other glimpses of his beauty that we may never have experienced on our own.

Please, join us in worshipping our great and wonderful God!


Am I Not Called to (Ad)Minister?- John Piper on Avoiding Sacred Substitutes

April 27, 2009

Having just concluded my reading of John Piper’s excellent book on pastoral ministry, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, I thought that I would share one more thought from it that was very convicting to me.

In the chapter entitled, “Brothers, Beware of Sacred Substitutes,” Dr. Piper develops an idea of how the Christian minister is to allot his time based around the text of Acts 6.2-4, 

And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

The life of the Christian minister is full of starts and stops, interruptions and diversions away from the biblical calling to “preach the word” and to “shepherd the flock of God” that is among them (2 Timothy 4.2, 1 Peter 5.2).  Expanding on this, John Piper notes that “most of [the interruptions to our spiritual growth] and most of our busyness is ministry-related, not ‘worldly’.”  By this he means that most of the distraction comes not in the form of sinful diversion but disguised as good, seemingly essential, administerial and care related ministries.  Such was the case with the elders in Jerusalem who were being side-tracked by the dispersion of meals and other provisions to the widows in their fellowship.  This is undoubtedly a good thing, and yet its goodness does not make it superior to the elders call “to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (v.4).  Looking to contemporary examples, Piper remarks,

And what opposes the pastor’s life of prayer [and thus his whole calling] more than anything?  The ministry.  It is not shopping or car repairs or sickness or yard work that squeezes our prayers into hurried corners of the day.  It is budget development and staff meetings and visitation and counseling and answering mail and writing reports and reading journals and answering the phone and preparing messages. (p.61)

Honestly, even though I am not yet officially “in the ministry,” I understand this difficulty quite well.  As a servant in the church and one who wants to contribute as much as I can currently within the scope of the ministry that I have, I often find that I simply spread myself too thin by assuming that every responsibility that comes up which seems remotely related to what I’m doing is a dire task that I personally need to respond to.  Thus I find myself committed to meeting people at 5 different locations and 4 different times, while simultaneously calling businesses trying to schedule events or place merchandise orders, which undoubtedly pushes my day out in both directions, shortening my mornings and my nights, making me feel more pressed to pray than I am comfortable with, and so I just short-change it and resolve to be in prayer “the way I should be” the following day.  I let my desire to be everything to everyone in my public ministry interfere with my devotion to God and reliance on him in my private ministry.  This is precisely what the psalmist is speaking to when he says, 

It is in vain that you rise up early
     and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
     for he gives to his beloved sleep
. (Psalm 127.2)

God bless John Piper and his wise insights into the trappings of the Christian pastorate; how I have benefited from them as much as any writer outside of God’s inspired word.  Again, if you are or plan to be involved in the pastoral ministry and you have not already read Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, you need to obtain a copy and immediately bump it up to the top of your reading list.


You Owe it to Him, Right?- John Piper on the Debtor’s Ethic of Christian Living

April 26, 2009

Talking about stewardship yesterday I mentioned the “debtor’s ethic”, an idea that we should do things out of gratitude to God in order to pay him back for his blessings and/or the gift of salvation.  As I said, this was not a unique creation of my own but is something I read in the writings of Dr. John Piper.  Today I think I would like to expound on this ethic a little further.

The written idea of the debtor’s ethic, at least as I encountered it, occurs in John Piper’s book on pastoral ministry entitled Brothers, We Are Not Professionals.  In the fifth chapter of this book Dr. Piper makes the statement, “Brothers, beware of the debtor’s ethic.”  He then goes on to describe the debtor’s ethic writing that,

[i]t comes packaged as a gratitude ethic and says things like: “God has done so much for you; now what will you do for Him?”  ”He gave you His lfe; now how much will you give to Him?”

[In this] the Christian life is pictured as an effort to pay back the debt we owe to God.  The admission is made that we will never fully pay it off, but the debtor’s ethic demands that we work at it.  Good deeds and religious acts are the installment payments we make on the unending debt we owe God. (p.34)

From just this much I would imagine that many of us know exactly what Piper is talking about.  This mindset is especially prevalent in Catholic homes and communities, where the ideas of penance and works righteousness are widely accepted as biblical truth.  Of course, from this Piper then asks teh question, “Have you ever tried to find a Biblical text where gratitude or thankfulness is the explicit motive for obedience to God?”  He admits that there are passages which elevate the position of gratitude in our service, but states that not a single verse or passage exists which explicitly suggests this philosophy as being commended by Christ.

Why is this so bad though?  Is it not okay simply to serve God and do good things regardless of teh motivation behind it?  No, it’s not.  In fact, a key characteristic of Jesus’ earthly ministry was that he charged people to take the primary focus in obedience off of the observable physical acts and placing it on the intentions of the heart (cf. Matthew 5-7).  Having right motives in serving God is what makes our service acceptable to him, as Hebrews 11.6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”  Clearly, the focus of God is upon faith and our trusting in him.  Paying back an obligation can be a very apathetic action; acting in faith cannot.

I believe that we need to test for this in all aspects of our Christian lives.  The debtor’s ethic is an easy sin to fall into, yet a deadly mindset to overlook.  Even if we as believers have encountered and become aware of the yoke that the debtor’s ethic brings, we still manage to be in danger of succombing to it at any time.  The moment we sour on doing something, be it teaching Sunday School, loving our spouse, witnessing to the lost, or any other point of service in our lives, we find ourselves one step from continuing on sinfully trying to pay back a debt instead of proceeding to act in faith towards the one who has established us.  

Be on the lookout.  Burdening us with a sense of obligation to repay God is one of the more prevalent tricks of the devil today.  This is for sure a yoke we cannot bear; and yet, in light of God’s free gift of forgiveness through the sacrifice of Christ and our faith in this, it is not a yoke we need to bear either.


A Kind Hand in Times of Darkness?- Thoughts on Loving God and Helping People

March 20, 2009

Mental health is a big issue, and in my own life it has become a topic with which I am highly interested.  Between spending a weekend learning from To Write Love on Her Arms counsellors to my pending arrival in seminary, the thought of dealing with mental health issues as a pastor has been square in my focus recently.  I do not believe there is any other social good the church can do that is in more need in mainstream America today than to be able to counsel people on mental health issues.  Sure, there are poor people.  And of course there are those with AIDS or other physical ailments.  But by in large, Americans are wealthy, healthy people (which, as an aside, makes the health-wealth-and-prosperity gospel all that more ridiculous since we are already much healthier and wealthier than 95% of the world).  However, what we are not is a very psychologically stable bunch.  Mental health issues such as depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide affect many Americans, regardless color, class, or gender, and should be just as prime a target of our churches as any other more tangible need.

A question that arises in mental health then, at least from the Christian perspective, is what can we say about it?  I will state right off that I think Christians can say a lot on the topic of mental health and that a reluctance to do so has led to a number of worsened conditions over the years.  Some mental health issues have a physical component to them, and handling that with medication should not be frowned upon.  But, where it really gets gritty is in trying to flesh out what we see the ultimate goal of the sufferer to be.  Is it just to contain a condition?  Or should we attempt to extinguish an issue altogether, if that is even possible?  Are we to rely on secular psychology or only Christian theology?

You can work through these questions on your own, as I have been doing and keep doing the more and more I am confronted with it.  As you think on it though, I would like to point you to a quote from John Piper talking about social justice that I think we can use to glean some information for ourselves in this situation:

“If you don’t love God, you can’t do anybody any ultimate good.  You can feed them and clothe them and house them and keep them comfortable while they perish.  But in God’s mind, that by itself is not what love is.  Love does feed and clothe and house- and keeps the commandments that include helping others know and love God in Christ.  But if you don’t love God, you can’t do that.  So if you don’t love God, you can’t love people in the way that counts for eternity.” [Finally Alive, pp.135-136]

Think about that.  Think about what it he means by “lov[ing] people in the way that counts for eternity.”   What might that look like for a Christian pastor or counsellor? and what is meant by “lov[ing] God” in such a way that doing this is possible?  If we really understand and embrace this thought I think it will inform a great deal of Christian psychology and will help us who desire to be pastors to actually be effective pastors in the truest meaning of the word.


Rocking the Cutting Edge of the 16th Century- Time Magazine on the Influence of the New Calvinism

March 18, 2009

(Note: If you like what you have read on this blog, please go here and vote for it in the 2009 Blog Madness competition. I am listed as the 15th ranked blog in the West Division. Thank you for your support.)

In case you may have missed it (and honestly, I don’t know how much press this got because I was out of town last week) but recently Time Magazine released its 2009 edition of “10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now,” and among these, listed at number 3 overall, was the New Calvinism.  Pointing to the influential ministries of guys such as John Piper, Mark Driscoll, and Al Mohler, Time said that (in true pop culture fashion) “Calvinism is back”! 

Truthfully, this really is surprising to me.  If they had been doing a list on the top 10 ideas changing the church right now, sure, I would have definitely listed the New Calvinism.  But the world?  Wow!  That really is something.  

The question then becomes two things.  First, can we infer from the rising influence of the New Calvinism (which really is the old Calvinism just with new guys, right?) that there is a global revival in the church?  Second,  can we infer from the rising influence of the New Calvinism if the global church is moving towards orthodox, conservative Christianity?

In the first question, I think that I would have to say ‘No.’  I do not think from the fact that Calvinism is enjoying a resurgence that we can infer that Christianity as a whole is experiencing revival in the world.  It is true that many places such as Africa and the Global South are simply booming with new believers these days, but I don’t know that across the board we are seeing any more people coming to Christ (percentage-wise) than we have over the years past, it is just that the distribution of where believers are has shifted drastically.

On the second question, I do believe that we are seeing a move towards historic, orthodox, conservative Christianity, at least in the realm of theology.  Though there are still plenty of loud voices out there pushing the emergent agenda, it seems that the “Great Emergence” that they have been predicting has been nothing more than sociological wishful thinking thus far.  Particularly when you look to the abundant harvests being gathered in the Global South and Africa, these people are among the most conservative believers in the church today, leading the charge in various arenas such as the recent battle against the liberalization of the Church of England.  They may not all be Calvinists per se, but as Dr. Mohler was so wonderfully quoted in the article, “The moment someone begins to define God’s [being or actions] biblically, that person is drawn to conclusions that are traditionally classified as Calvinist.”

This is certainly something to be excited about.  It is a great day when a movement towards biblical authority and orthodox beliefs gets so large that a secular magazine recognizes how important it is.  Thanks be to God that we are living in a time where great men are being raised up with great ideas and are leading a great impact on the church and the culture.  Unlike the Jews after the exile, God is not silent in our day, if only we are prayerful enough to listen.

See the full article here.