Cured from the Contagion of Sin

Posted by on Aug 20, 2014 in The Gospel and the Christian Life

three crosses Cured from the Contagion of Sin  A couple of years ago, my wife and I went to see the disturbingly interesting film Contagion, which has been described as a “medical thriller disaster” movie. Directed by Steven Soderbergh, the film is about the rapid spread of a virus that results in a pandemic, until a team of researchers are finally able to produce a vaccine.

One of my friends who did his graduate work in infectious diseases said the film did a good job with the science, except the discovery of the vaccine was unrealistically fast. That’s pretty scary and enough to turn any normal person into a germaphobe.
Maybe that movie wasn’t the best choice for a date night, after all. 
The Contagion of Sin
As scary as infectious diseases are, there’s a more deadly virus that you and I already have – the sin virus. As the 16th Century Reformer John Calvin wrote in his Institutes of the Christian Religion,“all of us, who have descended from impure seed, are born infected with the contagion of sin.”[i]
The disease is hereditary, of course, passed down to us from our earthly father, Adam. In the words of the Apostle Paul, “just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12, ESV). To put it simply, we aren’t sinners because we sin, we sin because we’re sinners – fallen from our created perfection in our earthly father, Adam. To quote Calvin again, “not only has punishment fallen upon us from Adam, but a contagion imparted by him resides in us, which justly deserves punishment.”[ii]
The symptoms of this disease are apparent to all. Just read check your morning news feed. Politicians are caught lying to their constituents and cheating on their spouses. Yet another Hollywood star has had an affair and is getting a divorce. Violence and war tear apart third-world countries. The streets of our major cities are haunted by the dark specters of crime: drugs, rape, robbery, murder and assault.
But evil isn’t just out there, disturbing our already troubled world. It’s in here, in my heart, my soul.  Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the famous 20th century Russian writer and activist, was right: “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” That’s what Jesus repeatedly taught, as he relentlessly probed the deepest motives of the human heart. Just try reading the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1) and see if you don’t get nailed.
Sin also infects the entire human personality. It is pervasive. To quote Calvin once more, “corruption subsists not in one part only…none of the soul remains pure or untouched by that mortal disease.”[iii] This means that sin touches us in mind, heart, and will. Our minds are darkened by sin (Ephesians 4:18), leaving us with an innate propensity towards self-deception and denial. But our hearts and wills are also infected, as our slavery to disordered passions and fundamentally self-centered pleasures continually show (Titus 3:3).  
But more than that, the disease of sin is both chronic and terminal. It gets worse and worse and it ends in death. “The wages of sin is death,” writes Paul (Romans 6:23, ESV). And the balance of Scripture shows that this death isn’t just physical death, but eternal separation from God – what the book of Revelation describes as the “second death” (Revelation 2:11; Revelation 20:6, Revelation 20:14; Revelation 21:8).
Perhaps the worse thing about the disease of sin is that it so deadens our moral and spiritual sensibilities that we don’t even see what’s happening to us. Like Hansen’s disease, better known as leprosy, sin so damages our moral nervous system that we persist in devastating, dehumanizing behavior, tragically unaware of the self-destruction we’re causing. That’s why Scripture warns us again and again about the dangers of a hard, or calloused, heart (Psalms 17:10; Hebrews 3:14).
The prognosis, then, isn’t good. We’ve all got this infection and left unchecked it will lead us all, both as individuals and as a society, to destruction.
The Great Physician
The good news is that there is a physician who can cure this deadly disease. When Jesus came, much to the chagrin of the uptight moralists and religious do-gooders, he hobnobbed with social outcasts like prostitutes and tax collectors who were guilty of the worst forms of extortion. When questioned about his poor choice of friends, Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17, ESV).
The most amazing thing is that our Great Physician heals us, not by prescribing us with an astringent new moral medicine (though, of course, following Jesus always starts us on a path towards genuine moral health) but by becoming a donor who fully gives himself up for our sake, exchanging his own health and righteousness for the fatal guilt of our sins. As Peter says, quoting the prophet Isaiah, “’He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed’” (1 Peter 1:24, NIV).
One of the best descriptions of the healing of sin that I’ve seen, comes from john newton, the vile slave-trader who became a tender pastor and gave us the beloved hymn “Amazing Grace.” In one of his lesser-known hymns, Newton wrote:
How lost was my condition
Till Jesus made me whole!
There is but one physician
Can cure a sin-sick soul
Next door to death he found me,
And snatched me from the grave,
To tell all around me
His wond’rous pow’r to save.
The worst of all diseases
Is light compared with sin;
On ev’ry part it seizes,
But rages most within;
‘Tis palsy, plague, and fever,
And madness–all combined;
And none, but a believer,
The least relief can find.
From men, great skill professing,
I sought a cure to gain;
But this proved more distressing,
And added to my pain;
Some said that nothing ailed me,
Some gave me up for lost;
Thus ev’ry refuge failed me,
And all my hopes were crossed.
At length this great Physician,
How matchless is His grace!
Accepted my petition,
And undertook my case;
First, gave me sight to view him,
For sin my eyes had sealed–
Then bit me look unto Him;
I looked, and I was healed.
A dying, risen Jesus,
Seen by the eye of faith,
At once from danger frees us,
And saves the soul from death;
Come, then, to this Physician,
His help he’ll freely give,
He makes no hard condition–
To Jesus look and live![iv]
 Newton’s experience of God’s healing grace, revealed in Jesus and applied by the Spirit, changed his life. It can change yours, too. “To Jesus look and live!”
This post first appeared at Brian’s blog and is posted here with his permission.
_______________________
[i]Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Ed., John T. McNeil, Trans., Ford L. Battles. Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press, 1960. Bk II, chap 1, sect 5; p. 248.
[ii]Ibid., II.1.8, p. 251.
[iii]Ibid., II.1.9, p. 253.
[iv]Newton, John, “How Lost was My Condition,” from Olney Hymns inThe Works of John Newton, vol. 3. Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1988 reprint of original 1820 edition, pp. 375-376. 

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What Loving the Unloveable Looks Like

Posted by on Aug 20, 2014 in The Gospel and the Christian Life

 What Loving the Unloveable Looks LikeYou’ve likely never heard of her. She died a recluse in 1933. Having never married and living most of her life deaf and bedridden by a spinal problem, her name threatened to fall through the cracks of history. That would have been a shame because she single-handedly changed the course of American history.

Her name is Julia Sand.

The world was unaware of her name and her profound influence until a stack of twenty-three papers were uncovered in 1958. Encased in those letters were words that changed a would-be president.

The Deplorable Arthur

In 1881 President James A. Garfield was on his death-bed, having been the victim of not only a deranged lunatic but also an arrogant and ignorant doctor. He’d be dead by September of 1881 and a man most unsuited for the job, Chester A. Arthur, would take over as president of the nation.

When you think of everything you hate about politics let the mustachioed face of Chester Arthur come across your mind’s eye. He embodied everything that is wrong with politics. He was but a puppet in the hands of a powerful political machine in his day.  He was the least qualified of all vice-presidents.

As the nation grieved the loss of Garfield they also feared what an Arthur presidency would mean. In fact some were even accusing Arthur’s cohorts (and even Arthur himself) of being responsible for the president’s death. Apart from Garfield’s assassin, Arthur was one of the most hated men in the nation.

In August of 1881, thirty-one year old Julia Sand took up her pen and wrote to Chester Arthur:

“Your kindest opponents say ‘Arthur will try to do right’ – adding gloomily – ‘He won’t succeed though making a man President cannot change him.’…But making a man President can change him! Great emergencies awaken generous traits which have lain dormant half a life. If there is a spark of true nobility in you, now is the occasion to let it shine. Faith in your better nature forces me to write to you – but not to beg you to resign. Do what is more difficult & brave. Reform! It is not proof of highest goodness never to have done wrong, but it is proof of it, sometimes in ones career, to pause & ponder, to recognize the evil, to recognize the evil, to turn resolutely against it…. Once in awhile there comes a crisis which renders miracles feasible. The great tidal wave of sorrow which has rolled over the country has swept you loose from your old moorings & set you on a mountaintop, alone.”

Her words, here and in the twenty something other letters, must have stuck. Arthur did exactly as Sand counseled him. She believed in Arthur when it seemed nobody else in the entire world did. He set about to reform not only his ways but to continue the reforms that James Garfield had started.

Chester B. Arthur was a changed man and turned into a respectable president.

The Truly Unlovable

It will come as no shock that I am using this illustration to encourage you to be as Julia Sand; namely, believing in someone when nobody else will. The very truths of our theology—that God is powerful and that God redeems—necessitates that we take a posture like Julia Sand towards even the most deplorable of human beings.

What really catches my attention with this story, though, is the type of guy that Chester Arthur was. When I hear things like, “loving the unlovable” I have a certain picture that forms in my mind. It’s the guy that has been typecast as “unlovable” but yet evokes what is likely a Hollywood driven sentimentality in my heart. He’s the homeless guy that is really a fun-loving chap that just needs a second chance. She’s the down and out hooker that is really a great mom backed in a corner and doing whatever she can to provide for her curly-headed little kid.

When I hear things like, “loving the unlovable” I never think about the people that truly are difficult to love. You know,  true state of the art jerks. Men like Chester Arthur.

I never think of the abusive man who makes life a living hell for his children and their mother. I don’t think that loving the unlovable really applies to such victimizers.

It’s not the abrasive and abusive pastor that comes to mind when I think about loving the unlovable. I can firmly entrench him in my Pharisee column and dismiss him. I can remind myself that Jesus had the harshest words for the religious elite, and so cut off all hope of his reform.

It’s not these jerks and bullies who come to my mind when I think of loving the unlovable. When I think of the “unlovable”, what comes to my mind are the harlots, the sexual deviants, the outcasts of society, the demon-possessed, the lepers, you know those guys—the mostly lovable people that have been deemed by society as the unlovable.

It’s not victimizers that come to my mind. It’s the sinners. The tax collectors…

Wait!

Tax collectors.

These are the Chester A. Arthurs. The jerks that are truly easy to hate. The victimizers. The abusers. The cheats. The snakes. The politicians. The guys that use their power to abuse helpless women.

If I’m really going to say, “I want to be like Julia Sand”, then I need to know what I’m saying. I’m saying that I love a man like Chester Arthur and I have the chutzpah and the confidence in Almighty God that I lovingly confront him with gospel hope.

Is this what you mean when you talk about loving the unlovable?

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Singing as Kingdom Warfare

Posted by on Aug 20, 2014 in The Gospel and the church

 Singing as Kingdom WarfareOnly one more song before I went up to preach. I felt prayed up. Ready. But then a sense of uneasiness came over me. As the first verse began to roll, I prayed, “Lord, help me. Move in your people. May you be glorified. I know the principalities and powers are against us in this place. They are looking for gospel seeds to steal. The enemy is prowling against me and your Bride this day. Help us, Lord. One little word from you is all we need.”

The forces of evil (Eph. 6:12) were more real to me in that moment than they had been all week. It was then I realized that there was a snake in lion’s clothing slithering through our church (1 Peter 5:8). We were going into battle.

THE COSMIC BATTLE

Singing as Exorcism

I looked to the words of “In Christ Alone” on the screen and joined the church in singing about a Roman cross and an empty grave. The gathered saints of a risen Galilean, the King of Kings, were singing, exalting, and enjoying the gospel of the Kingdom.

“Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied.
For every sin on him was laid;
Here in the death of Christ I live.

There in the ground his body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain:
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave he rose again!”

 As we sang the beautiful truths of the gospel, we were doing more than reciting words. This was no mere singing. Pagans can sing. We were engaging in exaltational exorcism. We were pushing back the darkness around us, in our minds, in our hearts, and in the air.

Tearing Down Strongholds

Cosmic battles are waged in our little churches. It may appear quiet, neat, and orderly to our eyes, but there are powers over this present darkness, spiritual forces that are tempting, distracting, and condemning—even while we shake hands, hug, sip coffee, and take sermon notes. They want Mrs. Jones to be so wrecked by her sin that she wouldn’t dare look to Jesus and believe that she’s forgiven. Demons swirl around that teenager in the back row, hoping he won’t confess his porn addiction to his youth leader—and especially not his parents.

Something nuclear happens we sing the glories of Christ. We are wielding weapons-grade gospel power to tear down strongholds and cast out every word raised against the word of our Messiah, and we fall down before our Lord and follow him.

“For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:4–5).

THE SATANIC POWERS HATE THE GOSPEL

Victory at Calvary

Satan isn’t terrified of our electric guitars, live drums, or hip services; no, when redeemed sinners exalt the Triune God and exult in Jesus of Nazareth, that’s the moment demons shriek and whimper back to the darkness from which they came (Luke 4:33-36). When we sing the truths of the gospel, we aren’t the only ones being reminded of the victory at Calvary—the satanic powers are freshly reminded that Jesus is Lord, not Lucifer. They follow a loser.

“And as he stands in victory
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me,
For I am his and he is mine,
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.”

Jesus holds me; sin doesn’t. My flesh can’t boss me around anymore because Jesus isn’t laid up in a tomb—he stands in victory. It was on a bloody hill outside of Jerusalem that, “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Colossians 2:15). Jesus has not only conquered Satan, he has made a spectacle of him.

As the army of Christ assembles in high school cafeterias, warehouses, theater chair filled rooms, and under thatched roofs, these buildings are more like barracks. We gather to be filled by the Spirit of the King, refreshed by his Word, and we march back out into enemy occupied territory, singing in unison the battle hymn of the Kingdom: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).

Songs laced with gospel truth, sung in faith, are anti-air missile defense systems against the flaming darts of the evil one (Ephesians 6:16). Read these last lines of “In Christ Alone.”

 “No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.

No power of Hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from his hand;
Till he returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.”

We sing those words to God, Heaven rejoices, and Satan watches on in horror. No power of Hell can pluck us from Christ’s hand. “No power of Hell, Satan. Do you hear us? You and all your rotten might are no match for our Jesus.” This is why I advocate for loud singing (Zephaniah 3:14-15). War isn’t quiet. No soldier mumbles on the battlefield—and especially not at the victory party. Belt the glory of Christ. And know that our Champion sings loudly over us (Zephaniah 3:17).

Crucified with Christ

We focus our hearts and vocal chords on the lifeless body of Jesus and his life being returned to him three days later, to remember that Calvary happened to us too. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). The Dark Snake lost his grip on us when Jesus gave up his life and came back from the dead, because Jesus brought us with him (Ephesians 4:8). We too lost our lives and got them back. We died on that cross. We rose from the grave. We are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). We are more than conquerors (Romans 8:37)—and the fallen angels hate it and don’t want us to know it or enjoy it. But “here in the power of Christ I’ll stand!”

Church singing hacks away at the unrealities we’ve bought into during the week. A part of spiritual warfare is cutting the heads off of lies with the shovel of truth. The satanic forces work in tandem with our flesh and without noticing it, we start to believe that maybe we have sinned too big or too much this week, and then we hang our heads, and drag our knuckles on the Lord’s Day. We think, “Maybe this sin is, you know, just the way it’s going to be.”

But that’s all anti-gospel. That thinking didn’t come from the throne, but the ground. We tear down that stronghold and sing, “No guilt in life!” (Romans 8:1).

SING THE GOOD SONG, FIGHT THE GOOD FIGHT

War Songs

Some people endure the time of corporate singing, just so they can get to the sermon. Well, there are a lot of dumb things to do in church, and that’s one of the big ones. You may not like the style of music, but that doesn’t matter. If God wanted one style of music, or even the songs done in a certain way, we’d have sheet music instead of maps in the back of our Bibles. God commands us to sing, “Sing praises to the LORD, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name” (Psalm 30:4). And it might be that during those songs we are being made ready to hear their word of our Christ. The belt of truth is being tightened, we remember the righteousness of Christ as our breastplate, the gospel shoes are being laced up. As hands are raised in response, they are lifting up the shield of faith blocking the darts of the Serpent (Eph. 6:13-17). We are confident in the helmet of salvation, and we’ve heard the sword of the Spirit through our songs. And it is in those verses and hymns, these gospel songs, that the Spirit gives us the spiritual gift of street fighting.

Believe and sing. Sing and believe. You are in the middle of a war. Look at the words, take them in, believe them, and let them soar into the air. Lift up the shield of faith by lifting up your voice.

And sing loudly. Maybe God will use your voice, as you sing a spiritual song, to help a brother or sister look away from lies, cheap thrills, and temptations. Help lift their droopy hands and dwell on Christ (Colossians 3:16).

The Mighty Fortress

Pastors, worship leaders, lead us to the gospel waters. Help us hear, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (Isaiah 55:1).

Select songs that are jam-packed with gospel glories. “His glories now we sing.” Is your church singing the glories or a bunch of goofiness? Are we singing about a solid rock of truth or soggy love? If we aren’t singing about the cross and the empty tomb, what are we singing about? God’s love? 1 John 3:16 much? Take us to Jerusalem, show us Golgotha and that empty grave, and then point us to the clouds that will be rolled back like a scroll.

Martin Luther knew this kingdom warfare theme. In his powerful hymn, A Mighty Fortress is our God, he sings:

“For still our ancient foe
doth seek to work us woe;
his craft and power are great,
and armed with cruel hate,
on earth is not his equal.”

 He knew our enemy and his work against us. Luther’s conclusion?

“And though this world, with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear, for God hath willed
his truth to triumph through us. 

The Prince of Darkness grim,
we tremble not for him;
his rage we can endure,
for lo, his doom is sure;
one little word shall fell him.”

One word from Christ, that’s all. One truth. The truth. Like Tolkien’s elvish waybread, one gospel crumb is enough to sustain the whole church, for a whole lifetime, for a whole eternity.

Sing the good song of the good news. Fight the good fight of the faith—we are in a war after all.

This post was first published at GCD and is published here with their permission.

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4 Ways to Avoid Health & Wealth Parenting

Posted by on Aug 19, 2014 in The Gospel and the Christian Life

Right now my daughter Maddy doesn’t see the beauty of the storm. She is afraid of thunder and lightning. She could be dead asleep and, within minutes of the first crash of thunder, she’s awake, alert, and calling for mommy or daddy. Her fear has come into focus this summer because in South Carolina, we’ve had a flood of rain this year.

When these quick storms first began, I found myself comforting my daughter by saying something like, “Don’t worry. God created the thunder and you don’t have anything to worry about.”

It’s true that she doesn’t have much to worry about in our home when it’s thundering and lightning outside, but the more I thought about the way I approached this situation, the more I realized that I was comforting my children in this way a lot of the time. I was taking the easy way out, promising comfort in exchange for tears.

Then it hit me. The gospel I was rehearsing to them was a health and wealth gospel, a skewed view of God’s sovereignty in pain and suffering.

“God loves you, so nothing bad will happen.”

“You don’t need to worry about living in a fallen world if you just have enough faith.”

“The reality of suffering will never touch you.”

If we preach this kind of gospel to our children now, how will they respond when sin touches their life? How will they respond when they see death ravage a loved one? How will they respond when they are ridiculed by their peers?

We do serve the God who created all things with the power of his word. He does providentially control all of creation. He does sovereignly work things for our good in Christ. But sometimes that means we will suffer. My children need to know this.

As I talked to friends with children and also recalled interactions, I’ve heard between parents and kids, I don’t think this approach is uncommon. As I said, it’s easy. It doesn’t require us to engage in hard conversations. But I want to offer a gospel-motivated, gospel-driven alternative for us as parents. Here are four ways that we can avoid health and wealth parenting.

1. Teach Our Children to Rest in the Love and Sovereignty of God

First, we must urge our children to trust the God who loves us and is sovereign over everything. We must not downplay these truths. They are not in opposition; rather they fit together like a puzzle. The sovereignty of God is not a hammer. It’s a pillow and blanket. The most fearful thing I can think of is living in a world where God is not in control, where he is taken by surprise, where he loves us but is powerless over our suffering.

The love of God is not squishy like a jellyfish. He doesn’t love us in a way that’s not tangible. He loves us in the form of Jesus Christ. God sent his own Son to die for us while we were yet sinners. If God uses “the hands of lawless men” who would crucify Jesus, for his “definite plan” (Acts 2:23), he will use our suffering in his plan as well. These two truths are bound together eternally. You will not find God’s love expressed outside of his sovereign control. Our kids must see that God’s sovereignty is never expressed outside of his love.

2. Teach our Children to Pursue Jesus

Second, we must urge our children to steadfastly pursue Jesus. Jesus is their only hope. They have no other. If they pursue health, it will fail. If they pursue wealth, it will destroy them. If they pursue relationships, they will be let down. If they pursue fame, it bring them low. These are all things that when sought lead to destruction. But Jesus does not fail. He does not destroy. He does not let down. He does not bring low. He exalts.

If you teach your children to pursue to Jesus, they will lack nothing. He is pleasures forevermore. The loss of everything compared to gaining Jesus will in the end seem light and momentary. That can be hard to fathom now, but it will not be hard when our King returns.

Not only does he provide joy and hope in the midst of suffering, he also suffers alongside of us. He obeyed the law perfectly. He loved well. He lived life to its fullest. And he also suffered. Because of that, he knows what suffering feels like (Heb. 2:18). That’s important. You can also see how Jesus cares for others who suffer when he comforts Mary and Martha when Lazarus dies (John 11:1-45). He is genuinely sorrowful. He mourns with them. He is moved to tears by the suffering of his friends. We can expect Christ to have the same compassion with us. When pursued, Jesus provides joy and hope and he does so experientially.

3. Rehearse the Gospel through Tough Conversations

Third, we must rehearse the gospel through tough conversations. My oldest daughter Claire has often asked me, “Will you get old and die?” It’s odd that a child would think about death, but it is a reality in our world. Everyone dies. It would be easy to brush off her question and respond with something like, “Dad will never leave you. Don’t worry about that.” It’s a lot more beneficial to speak age appropriately and candidly. Something like, “Daddy will die someday. Death isn’t the way it should be. But you know something? We belong to God in life and death. He has promised to be faithful all the way until the end. Just like he’s faithful to me, he’ll be faithful to you. No matter what.”

Tough conversations are an opportunity to rehearse the gospel with our children. These are practice runs. These truths aren’t dusty. Everyone will meet circumstances where only the gospel makes sense of life. Rehearsing the gospel by having tough conversation prepares our children to respond well when those times come.

Athletes practice and practice and practice more to create muscle memory. They want to repeat their route, the play, or the motion so many times that when game time comes their bodies react instinctively. That’s gospel rehearsal. It’s spiritual muscle memory. We repeat the promises of God. We point them to Jesus Christ. We sear Scripture into their hearts. We teach them how to pray. These kinds of conversations may raise more questions. That’s okay. Without being candid with them, when “the sea billows roll,” our children may falter. With tough conversations rooted in gospel rehearsal, they will see the other side.

4. Respond Well When Suffering Comes

Finally, we must respond well when suffering comes. It will arise in some form or another. Some of us may fight cancer. Some of us might grieve over the death of a loved one. Some of us might fight against abuse. Some of us might feel the weight of injustice. Some of us might be killed. We shouldn’t downplay suffering. It’s a result of the Fall. But God will wipe away all tears and make all things new when he returns. We must stomp our feet, mourn, and be righteously angry over the sin and suffering that we experience in this world. But we must do this with Jesus Christ in view. We must suffer well.

We respond well because we are in Christ. He is our Head and we are his body. He is our trailblazer. The cross is beautiful because it absorbs our sin and suffering. When we sin against others, we can boldly repent, because Jesus bears the weight of our sins. We can also forgive others for the same reason. The same goes for suffering. It is not escapism. Or cheap grace. It is weighty grace. It is grace anchored in the bloody wounds of Jesus. We must respond well when we suffer so that our children know we take God at His word and the gospel is deadly serious to us. Our kids will see this, and through it they will see Jesus.

So let’s not promise our kids health and wealth. Let’s promise them Jesus Christ in life and death. Let’s promise them a God who is faithful through anything they may experience in this fallen world.

This post first appeared at GCD and is posted here with their permission.

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Dear Seminarian: After Seminary is Over

Posted by on Aug 19, 2014 in Dear Seminarian

Dear Seminarian: After Seminary is Over
Editor’s Note:

This is a brand new series we are doing to help those who are interested in going to, already in or who have graduated Bible College or seminary. The purpose of this series is to help you grow in the grace of God while you are preparing for, while you are attending and after you graduate from seminary.

*****************seminary 300x125 Dear Seminarian: After Seminary is Over

So you finished seminary…finally. Right? That’s the way you feel. You just set aside grueling years of rigorous study for your future ministry. You’ll look back upon those years with an incredible sense of gratitude and relief. But don’t check your brain at the doorway into your ministry vocation and don’t be a stranger to your Alma Mata. Here are a few things to consider post-seminary.

1. Keep Studying

Never stop studying. That is a key component to the makeup of a called minister of the gospel. I’m reading Charles Bridges, The Christian Ministry this week. In part one Bridges discusses the preparation for ministry. From the get go he puts the importance of general study as a priority of every minister, and rightly so. Pastors should devote time to the study of Scriptures and to the applying of that study into the lives of their people. I love Charles Bridge’s extensive quotation of Quensel at the end of this section:

“Not to read or study at all is to tempt God: to do nothing but study, is to forget the Ministry: to study, only to glory in one’s knowledge, is a shameful vanity: to study, in search of the means to flatter sinners, a deplorable prevarication: but to store one’s mind with the knowledge proper to the saints by study and by prayer, and to diffuse the knowledge in solid instructions and practical exhortations, — this is to be a prudent, zealous, and laborious Minister” (50)

As Quensel says, there is a right motive and order to a pastor’s studies. But he must continue to study. His flock relies on him weekly to provide spiritual food in the pulpit. This does not come through winging it. I’m afraid too many pastors do so by relying on podcasts and other means to “entertain” their congregation.

Please, recent seminary graduates: I plead with you – keep studying! Read classic literature. Culturally exegete contemporary culture. Read important popular level Christian works. Dabble in the reading of old dead dudes. Maintain your understanding of the Old and New Testament’s original languages, moreover, expand your knowledge of them.

You might be surprised to discover that your seminary so believes in the importance of your continued studies that they will provide free resources for you. I graduated from Dallas Seminary and every graduate from there has free access to all of DTS’s online course videos and access to ATLA, which is a major database of academic journals. These two resources have proven to be extremely valuable to my ongoing edification. I bet your seminary has free resources at your disposal too.

The people you shepherd, your family, and yourself will all profit from this exercise of continuing your studies.

2. Stay Connected

You don’t just want to keep studying; you want to stay connected to your seminary.

Try to visit it if you’re ever traveling through your seminary’s city. I grew up in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, so we’re always visiting that area to see family. Every time we do, we stop on campus at DTS and visit folks in Administration, Admissions, and we definitely check out the bookstore. Part of this experience is sharing with our children about how wonderful your time in seminary was. Maybe they’ll catch the vision too!

Also, if your seminary is coming to you for the purpose of admissions, see how you can help. Come to a luncheon and share with prospective students about your experience. I did this once at OSU in Stillwater when I pastored in Tulsa. It was a great experience for me to meet OSU students who were processing their internal call to ministry.

And if you are the Sr. Pastor of a church or in another pastoral role, look to see how your church can support the mission of your seminary. Maybe your church can host an extension campus or your church can give to the school. Maybe your church can be an internship site for the seminary. There are tons of ways to play a role.

Whatever you do, don’t just drop off the planet. Keep your Alumni information up to date in your seminary’s database and let them know what’s going on with your family and ministry.

3. Reproduce

Besides continuing your studies and staying connected, you want seminary to be a reproducible experience for others: not for the sake of your school but for the sake of the gospel. If the gospel is to spread to all nations and peoples, then men must be trained to carry out that commission.

Paul is one who saw the significance of this. He identified men like Titus and Timothy (Titus 1:5; 1 Tim. 1:3). He set them apart for pastoral ministry along with other elders and commissioned them to do gospel work (1 Tim. 4:14). You likewise should aspire to that mission.

Look for men in your ministry who indicate a gifting for the ministry. Help them discern their internal call to ministry and do what you can to externally affirm that call (2 Tim. 1:6). Meet with them regularly. Develop an internship program that prepares men for seminary and pastoral ministry. Scholarship those individuals and keep a vested interest in their piety while they are in their studies. Too few seminarians are being shepherded by a pastor and every one of them should have a pastor who is taking a serious interest in them as a spiritual father (1 Tim. 1:2; 2 Tim. 1:2; Titus 1:4). O to return to the days of Pastoral Assistants. That’s something that I look forward to having in my pastoral ministry, men who assist and in turn are prepared to be sent out.

If you are pastoring a church, then you especially need to have a keen eye for those who are called (2 Tim. 2:2). Sometimes a guy is waiting to be told that he possesses gifts and skills that are fitting for pastoral ministry. Then before you know it you have a man who is set on fire by God for God to preach the gospel. It’s wonderful to behold. Someone will one day fill the pulpit that you currently fill. Why not play a role in identifying, training, and preparing that person?

No doubt seminary was a wonderful experience for you. After seminary is over keep fanning the flame of that experience in your heart by continuing your studies, staying connected and reproducing it with others.

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Dear Seminarian: Entering Seminary Student Admonishments: Part Four

Posted by on Aug 18, 2014 in Dear Seminarian

Dear Seminarian: Entering Seminary Student Admonishments: Part Four
Editor’s Note:

This is a brand new series we are doing to help those who are interested in going to, already in or who have graduated Bible College or seminary. The purpose of this series is to help you grow in the grace of God while you are preparing for, while you are attending and after you graduate from seminary.

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seminary 300x125 Dear Seminarian: Entering Seminary Student Admonishments: Part Four If you’re called to ministry, there are few things better to give yourself to than an outstanding seminary education. Yet, there are also stumbling blocks and pitfalls along the way in seminary education. Right now there are thousands of young men entering seminary, as green as can be, excited about the academic pursuit ahead. If you know someone who is starting seminary, please share this with them. This is a four part series of invaluable lessons I learned in my five years of seminary education. These lessons are offered in the form of four admonishments.

Admonishment: Contract for a B, Have an Escape, Pray and Memorize Scripture

Summer has ended. The Fall has begun — in more ways than one. Seminary students have experienced syllabus shock and are walking towards December, the end of the first semester. This is a downhill walk along a slippery slope. If you’re like I was, you’re realizing how steep the grade is of this slope. You’re slipping and sliding. You may even be tumbling out of control, overwhelmed. When everything seems out of control, the best thing to do is try to find your bearing and keep up with some disciplines. You may even decide to lower your expectation on yourself.

Take it from one who’s been there. You don’t want to wake up in the middle of the night  feeling like everything is out of control. You don’t want to experience a panic attack because you work 50+ hours full-time, you have a wife, a newborn and you registered for 11 graduate hours because you thought you could handle it.

Here’s three more tips to close this series and help you navigate this first semester.

1. Contract for a B

A lot of professors offer to contract for a grade. Contract grades are kind of a great deal. You decide what amount of work you want to do. As long as the quality of your work matches the grade you contract for, everything works out. I recommend picking one class and contracting for a B. Sure, pick Greek or Hebrew if you want. You probably weren’t going to get an A anyway. Sure you won’t end seminary with a 4.0, but you probably won’t finish with a 2.0 either. The main goal is you’ll still finish! Which is better that what will happen with at least 50% of your peers and up to 75% of them.

I started seminary in historic Stearns Hall at DTS with about 45 other guys. By December, there was about 25 of us. The other 20 didn’t move out to get away from the asbestos. They dropped out of seminary. Likewise, I joined 30 others starting first semester Elements of Greek with Dr. Grassmick, the Academic Dean and inventor of the sentence diagramming system we all use for Greek. I entered second semester with 7 other classmates. I survived Grassmick. Why? It wasn’t because I got A’s. I didn’t. It was because I did not get discouraged. I was okay with not being perfect. Contract for a B and enjoy yourself more.

2. Have an Escape

You’re not a theological android nor should you try to become one. You can’t read Grudem, Piper, and N T Wright all the time — as much as you want to. You need to come up for air and join the rest of us humanoids.

Have an escape. My wife and I picked a T.V. series to watch every semester. Sometimes it took a couple semesters to watch the series. We enjoyed the time together getting acquainted with Jack Bauer, Clark Kent, Jerry Seinfeld, Michael Scott, and Lorelai Gilmore. I also built-in time to read the Spiderman Comics, some classic literature, and played pick up games of soccer every Thursday night with international students in a local park.

3. Pray and Memorize Scripture

I didn’t do this perfect but do you know who did? Jesus. He’s the only one. I remind myself that daily and give thanks for His grace that sustains me as I continue to seek Him.

While you’re in seminary do not forsake spiritual disciplines at the gain of cerebral facts. Being able to write the luw paradigm for a aorist-passive-imperative, though impressive, does not get you anywhere if you’re spiritually washed out.

Take time to get on your knees and thanks God for the privilege to be in seminary and study His Word. Pray for your professors, classmates, their families and your church family. Pray for your family, if you have already been blessed with one. Pray for your future family, especially that spouse you’re hoping to find while in seminary — unless you’ve been given a special gift from God.

Ask God to show Himself to you. Ask Him to reveal Jesus and the multi-faceted gospel in fresh new ways with every course you study. Pray over scripture in every phase of the hermeneutical spiral.

Pray Scripture back to God. The best way to do this is to internalize the Word of God. Take time to memorize Scripture. There is an easy way to do this in collaboration with your studies. Every theology class will have specific Scriptures that pertain to the class. The same can be said for Bible classes, spiritual life, counseling, and pastoral ministry classes. Take time to make a list of Scriptures that match the class and memorize them.

You will not regret doing this. I regret not doing it more! I’m thankful for Dr. Horrell for offering Scripture memorization as extra credit and curating a list of Scriptures for us to memorize for his courses.

Read John Piper’s post Why Memorize Scripture? to get more insight on this valuable discipline. Consider purchasing the Navigators Topical Memory System here. Dear Seminarian: Entering Seminary Student Admonishments: Part Four

This post first appeared at Joey’s blog and is posted here with his permission.

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