Paul: Rude & Shrewd

Acts 22:22ff

The reaction of the crowd to Paul’s testimony meant that he needed to be shrewd to survive the hostility, even while God’s eternal purposes were being fulfilled. A passage which has great relevance for us today.

Miscellaneouos Quotes (105)

quotes“If we do not preach about sin and God’s judgment on it, we cannot present Christ as Savior from sin and the wrath of God. And if we are silent about these things, and preach a Christ who saves only from self and the sorrows of this world, we are not preaching the Christ of the Bible. We are, in effect bearing false witness and preaching a false Christ. Our message is ‘another gospel, which is not another.’ Such preaching may soothe some, but it will help nobody; for a Christ who is not seen and sought as a Savior from sin will not be found to save from self or from anything else. An imaginary Christ will not bring a real salvation; and a half-truth presented as the whole truth is a complete untruth.” – J.I. Packer

“We’ve all been made in God’s image to know Him, but we’ve sinned and separated ourselves from God. Because He is such a good God, He will punish us for our sins, and in His amazing love He sent His only Son to live the life of perfect trust in Him that we all should have lived. We have no reason not to live that life, but none of us has lived it. Jesus lived it for us, and He died on the cross as a substitute, a vicarious sacrifice, taking all of God’s right wrath against us for our sins, bearing it completely, exhausting it. Then God raised Him from the dead, showing that the Father accepted the sacrifice of the Son. All of us who repent and believe are those for whom He has died, and for whom forgiveness is available.” – Mark Dever

“We are not sent into the pulpit to show our wit and eloquence, but to set the consciences of men on fire.” – Solomon Stoddard

“The dammed think they are good. The saved know they are wicked. The damned believe the kingdom of God is for those worthy of it. The saved know the kingdom of God is for those who realize how unworthy they are. The damned believe eternal life is earned. The saved know it is a gift. The damned seek God’s commendation. The saved seek His forgiveness.”- John MacArthur

“Divine election may be defined as that loving and merciful decision by God the Father to bestow eternal life upon some, but not all, hell-deserving sinners. This decision was made before the foundation of the world and was based not upon any act of will or works of men and women, but solely upon God’s sovereign good pleasure. One does not enter the ranks of the elect by meeting a condition, be it faith or repentance. One enters the ranks of the elect by virtue of God’s free and altogether gracious choice, as a result of which he enables us to repent and believe. Thus, election is both sovereign and unconditional.’ – Sam Storms

“Our worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace.” – Jerry Bridges

“The weakest faith gets the same strong Christ as does the strongest faith.” – Sinclair Ferguson

Kept for Jesus Christ (Series)

Dr. Sam Storms, Lead Pastor at Bridgeway Church, Oklahoma City, OK, teaches a seven part series on the doctrine known as the Perseverance of the Saints:

1. “How Deep The Father’s Love For Us” – John 6:35-44 & John 10:27-30

2. “So Close, Yet So Very Far Away” – Matthew 7:15-23; 12:22-32 & 13:1-9, 18-23

3. “The Dangers of Fickle Faith” – John 15:1–6

4. “The Logic of Love” – Romans 5:6–11

5. “Inseparable: Now and Forever” – Romans 8:1

6. “God Will Sustain You to the End!” – 1 Corinthians 1:4–9

7. “Test Yourselves!”, Hebrews 6:4-12 & 2 Cor. 13:5

Love that will not let me go

Love that will not let me go
Steve Camp

In this weary world chasing after dreams
Just led me back where I started
I couldn’t see my way
Or find a hiding place
For the broken-hearted
You spoke softly to my soul
And with one touch I was made whole

(Now I know that) there is a love that will not let me go
I can face tomorrow because You hold me forever
Stronger than the mighty winds that blow
I’m safe within Your arms
Love that will not let me go

Lord You always knew the road that I would take
Ah, then You saved me just in time
And what I owe to You I could not repay
So I pledge You my whole life
Never trusted love before
But I won’t be afraid anymore

Now I know that there is a love that will not let me go
I can face tomorrow because You hold me forever
Stronger than the mighty winds that blow
I’m safe within Your arms
Love that will not let me go

There’s a love that will not let me go
I can face tomorrow because You hold me forever
Stronger than the mighty winds that blow
I’m safe within Your arms
Love that will not let… me go

Head of a Broken Home

Head of a Broken Home by Steve Camp

My life’s been shattered, and my dreams taken from me
But all that matters is to keep on living for You
Here in the darkness, where my heart is prone to wander
To the desires, that can turn my heart from You

Life is getting harder, as I’m starting all over again
And I’ve sat under the Juniper tree, praying that my life would end

But I thank You for my children who are the life breath of my soul
And I thank You for their mother, though she’s chosen a different road
And You’ll never leave me as the shadowed valleys unfold
Keep me desiring, keep me loving and obeying You
As the head of a broken home

Ohh the sorrow, has brought this strong man to his knees
And the hope of tomorrow, I could not even see
Lord bear my burden, and so joy will come in the morn
That through this hurting, I’ll learn that You alone are strong

Ahh the pain, words can’t describe it
But You sustain me by Your grace
And You’ve used this in my life Lord, to conform me to Your ways

I thank You for my children who are the life breath of my soul
I thank You for their mother, though she’s chosen a different road
And I know You’ll never leave me as this shadowed valley unfolds
Keep me desiring, keep me loving and obeying You
Keep me desiring, keep me loving and obeying You
Keep me desiring, loving and obeying You
As the head of a broken home

Word and Spirit in Conversion

Calvin05John Hendryx writes, “The following is an expression of the extraordinarily balanced understanding of John Calvin with regards to the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing persons to faith through the preaching of the gospel. Commenting on Acts, it shows the outworking of God’s plan through the agency of men in casting forth the seed of the gospel, which, the Bible testifies, can only be responded to when germinated (so to speak) by the Holy Spirit. The Scripture testifies that the word alone is not enough to enter and change the heart of natural man (who is hostile to God’s word) but that the heart must be opened and the mind illumined by the concurrent work of the Spirit. An biblical example of this can be found in 1 Thes 1:4, 5. “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction…””

The Necessity of Word & Spirit in Conversion by John Calvin

“One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.” Acts 16:14-15

Now when in fact only one hears attentively and effectively, could it not have appeared that the way was blocked for Christ to make an entry? But afterwards from that frail shoot a famous church sprang up, whose praises Paul sings in splendid terms. Yet it is possible that Lydia had some companions, of whom no mention is made, because she herself far surpassed them. Yet Luke does not attribute the cause for this one woman having shown herself docile, to the fact that she was sharperwitted than the others, or that she had some preparation by herself, but says that the Lord opened her heart, so that she gave heed to Paul’s words. He had just praised her piety; and yet he shows that she could not understand the teaching of the Gospel without the illumination of the Spirit. Accordingly we see that not only faith, but also all understanding of spiritual things, is a special gift of God, and that ministers do not accomplish anything by speaking, unless the inward calling of God is added at the same time.

By the word heart Scripture sometimes means the mind, as when Moses says (Deut. 29:4), ‘until now the Lord has not given you a heart to understand.’ So also in this verse Luke means not only that Lydia was moved by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to embrace the Gospel with a feeling of the heart, but that her mind was illuminated to understand. We may learn from this that such is the dullness, such the blindness of men, that in hearing they do not hear, or seeing they do not see, until God forms new ears and new eyes for them.

But we must note the expression that the heart of Lydia was opened so that she paid attention to the external voice of a teacher. For as preaching on its own is nothing else but a dead letter, so, on the other hand, we must beware lest a false imagination, or the semblance of secret illumination, leads us away from the Word upon which faith depends, and on which it rests. For in order to increase the grace of the Spirit, many invent for themselves vague inspirations so that no use is left for the external Word. But the Scripture does not allow such a separation to be made, for it unites the ministry of men with the secret inspiration of the Spirit. If the mind of Lydia had not been opened, the preaching of Paul would have been mere words; yet God inspires her not only with the mere revelations but with reverence for His Word, so that the voice of a man, which otherwise would have vanished into thin air, penetrates a mind that has received the gift of heavenly light.

Therefore let us hear no more of the fanatics who make the excuse of the Spirit to reject external teaching. For we must preserve the balance which Luke established here, that we obtain nothing from the hearing of the Word alone, without the grace of the Spirit, and that the Spirit is conferred on us not that He may produce contempt of the Word, but rather to instill confidence in it in our minds and write it on our hearts.

1 From Calvin, John. The Acts of the Apostles. 2 vols. Trans. by John W. Fraser and W.J.G. McDonald. Ed. by David W. Torrance and Thomas F. Torrance. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1965.

Why the “original” version does not work

Andy@Musicademy has written a very helpful and practical article entitled “10 reasons why the ‘original’ version of a worship song won’t work in your church.” He mostly from an album or a live version from a conference on YouTube. But most of the time these arrangements have at least one element that makes them completely unusable for normal churches. So here are a few ideas that’ll help you make songs more usable.

They are in the wrong key for your congregation
Let’s start with the single biggest reason why your congregation won’t be able to sing an ‘original’ version. Album and even definitive live versions of worship songs are arranged in keys that suit the lead singer’s or the artist’s voice, NOT the congregation’s range. Albums have to be great to listen to and the vocal has to be the strongest it can be, therefore from a listening perspective it has to be in the artist’s strongest key, which 9 times out of 10 isn’t the most suitable key for a congregation because the key needs to be a compromise between stereotypical male and female vocal ranges. Broadly speaking, songs with male vocals are often 2-3 semi tones too high and songs with female vocals are (less) often 2 semi tones too low.

Octave jumps simply don’t work
Octave jumps are great tools to make songs dynamically exciting. They work great for radio where you need a big lift to keep the listener interested, BUT, whenever a song has an octave leap you alienate one or other gender in your congregation and 50% of them will either stop singing or sound like they’ve inhaled a helium balloon. So, if you genuinely want to encourage participation, don’t do octave leaps. That will probably mean moving the key down a minor or major third, but if you want more participation make it more singable for more people, more of the time.

Intros are too long
There are lots of worship songs with 8, 16 or even 32 bar intros that build a sense of dynamic anticipation. These can work at huge conferences and worship concerts but let’s remember the entire point of congregational worship is maximum congregational involvement. If they have to wait around while the band enjoys a long intro they will disengage. Then the intro really becomes much more about the band’s enjoyment rather than the congregation’s participation. Try to make intros as succinct as possible just to establish the tempo, groove and where to come in. So most of the time 2 or 4 bars is plenty. Continue reading

Grace is Not a Thing!

grace02Jeremy Treat is a pastor at Reality LA and an adjunct professor at Biola University. He holds a PhD in theology from Wheaton College and is the author of The Crucified King: Atonement and Kingdom in Biblical and Systematic Theology. “I asked God for a bike, but I know God doesn’t work that way. So I stole a bike and asked for forgiveness.” Pacino’s statement taps into a tension that we all sense intuitively but maybe have not expressed explicitly. If God is forgiving, then why strive for a holy life? If the penalty has been paid, then why must progress be made?

I believe the tension felt here ultimately comes from a confused view of grace.

What Is Grace?

I used to think of grace as a spiritual substance that God stores in piles behind his heavenly throne and dispenses to his people below. In other words, grace is stuff that God gives apart from himself.

How wrong I was! Grace is not a thing. Grace is not stuff that God gives us apart from himself. He doesn’t run out of it. God gives us himself when we don’t deserve it; that is grace. The oft-repeated definition of grace as an undeserved gift is right but does not go far enough when referring to the grace of God. Grace is a gift, but God is not only the giver, he himself is the gift. God graces us with himself.

But if that’s what grace is, then what does grace do? How does grace work? I’ll tell you this much—grace is not a flowery bow that you wrap around your already tidy religious system. It’s not the cherry on top of your morality pie.

Grace changes everything

Grace saves and sanctifies. At least that’s the way it is supposed to be. But so often grace is something we look back to rather than move forward by. Confusion results because we don’t get grace; meaning, we receive it but we’re not transformed by it because we don’t understand it. In order to move forward in grace, we need to debunk five misconceptions of grace and defeat three enemies of grace.

Five Misconceptions about Grace

Grace is permission to sin. If God graciously forgives sin, then why struggle for a sin-free life? “I’m good at sinning, God is good at forgiving; it’s a match made in heaven, right?” This common mindset presumes that it’s God’s job to forgive our sin. He’s God—that’s just what he does. But the minute we presume upon grace, it is no longer grace. Grace is not permission to sin, it is the power to overcome sin. By grace God forgives sin and transforms sinners into saints. Holiness is not a prerequisite for grace; it is a product of grace.

Grace fills the gaps. “Do your best and God will do the rest.” According to this understanding, we do most of the heavy lifting on our own, and then God spots us on the last few reps when we’re tired. How nice of God to finish off what we start. The problem with the “grace fills the gaps” thinking is that it vastly underestimates the extent of sin. The Bible does not say we are people who need help crossing the finish line. It says we are spiritual corpses who need to be given life. When you align with the biblical teaching that sin touches every aspect of our being, then you also realize that grace isn’t just needed to polish off your moral achievements; grace is the beginning, middle, and end of the Christian life. The more honest you are about sin, the more your heart will rejoice in grace.

Grace is God letting up on his standards. Most people think that in the Old Testament God was obsessed with holiness and upheld an almost unrealistic standard for his people. “Keep the rules” was the banner of heaven. But then in the New Testament, God must have woken up on the right side of the cloud and finally decided to lower his standards and just love people for who they are. Right? Wrong. Grace is not God letting up on his law but sending his Son to fulfill it. Jesus lived a perfect life, keeping the covenant and fulfilling the law where God’s people had previously failed. By the renewing effects of the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit the Christian can live a life of love that begins to align with the holy standards of God’s law.

Grace opposes effort. If it’s “all about grace” then clearly it’s not about effort. Or so it seems. But, as Dallas Willard once said, “Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning.” Christians therefore, should work hard, strive, and toil—but we do so not for grace but from grace. Because of the gospel we are motivated not by guilt but by gratitude. And the gospel is the greatest motivating power in the world, propelling followers of Christ to love their neighbor, do justice, and share the gospel. Philippians 2:12-13 describes this type of grace-driven effort: “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

Grace is for godly people. As much as people may not say this explicitly, many believe it deep down. It results from the simple misconception that God loves good people rather than that God’s love makes people good. But the Bible is not a story of God looking for good people, but one of God redeeming sinful people. And that should come as good news. Grace is for ungodly people, but it transforms them into godly people. We must understand this, because a decision for Christ apart from devotion to Christ is more about fleeting emotions than lifelong commitment.

Three Enemies of Grace

Pride. Why would anyone turn down a free gift? Because if I don’t earn it, then I can’t take credit for it. This is why grace is a difficult concept for accomplishment-driven people. But the greatest enemy of grace is the idea that I don’t need it. This is apparent in the notion that religion is a “crutch” for weak people. But grace is not a crutch for the weak, it is a foundation for the honest. And if I am honest with myself, I know I need far more than a crutch, I need a new heart. Grace doesn’t prop me up, it transforms me from the inside out. We resist grace because we want the glory.

Entitlement. Entitlement is a three-step process: (1) receive a gift with gratefulness, (2) get used to a gift with routine, and (3) demand a gift as a right. This is a blind spot for many American Christians, and one with dangerous consequences. The minute you think you deserve grace you dissolve its power. Grace makes people grateful, but entitlement strangles out grace.

Self-Pity. If pride says “I don’t need grace” and entitlement claims “I deserve grace,” then this last view is the self-pitying plea that “I’m not good enough for grace.” This sentiment is often expressed by saying something like, “I know God can forgive me, but I just can’t forgive myself.” This sounds humble and self-effacing, but it’s actually quite pretentious. Either (a) you have a higher moral standard than God, or (b) you doubt the sufficiency of Christ’s atoning death. God is a greater savior than you are a sinner. Trust that his grace is sufficient.

A Kingdom Full of Prostitutes

Okay, myths debunked and enemies defeated, how does this play out in life? Let’s take the example of prostitutes. In Matthew 21:31, Jesus tells the religious leaders that “prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.” How is this possible? How can a holy God have a kingdom full of unholy prostitutes? There are two ways: either God overlooks sin or God transforms sinners.

God could have a kingdom full of prostitutes by simply changing his standards and allowing prostitution. This, of course, means that God would then be okay with sexual sin, injustice, the strong oppressing the weak, and so on. But the God of the gospel remains holy, and so he doesn’t merely dismiss sin, he deals with it through sacrifice. The idea of letting everyone into the kingdom without changing them may sound appealing at first, but when you really think it through, this type of kingdom turns out not to be heaven, but hell.

God will have a kingdom full of prostitutes not because he overlooks sin but because he forgives and transforms sinners. Yes, God’s love meets us where we are, but it refuses to let us stay there. This is because when the grace of God takes root in your heart then it produces fruit in your life. God’s grace is not a matter of lowering his standards, it’s a matter of transforming his people.

Theological Triage

2005, Dr. Al Mohler wrote the following article “A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity” which has been widely read.

In every generation, the church is commanded to “contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints.” That is no easy task, and it is complicated by the multiple attacks upon Christian truth that mark our contemporary age. Assaults upon the Christian faith are no longer directed only at isolated doctrines. The entire structure of Christian truth is now under attack by those who would subvert Christianity’s theological integrity.

Today’s Christian faces the daunting task of strategizing which Christian doctrines and theological issues are to be given highest priority in terms of our contemporary context. This applies both to the public defense of Christianity in face of the secular challenge and the internal responsibility of dealing with doctrinal disagreements. Neither is an easy task, but theological seriousness and maturity demand that we consider doctrinal issues in terms of their relative importance. God’s truth is to be defended at every point and in every detail, but responsible Christians must determine which issues deserve first-rank attention in a time of theological crisis.

A trip to the local hospital Emergency Room some years ago alerted me to an intellectual tool that is most helpful in fulfilling our theological responsibility. In recent years, emergency medical personnel have practiced a discipline known as triage–a process that allows trained personnel to make a quick evaluation of relative medical urgency. Given the chaos of an Emergency Room reception area, someone must be armed with the medical expertise to make an immediate determination of medical priority. Which patients should be rushed into surgery? Which patients can wait for a less urgent examination? Medical personnel cannot flinch from asking these questions, and from taking responsibility to give the patients with the most critical needs top priority in terms of treatment.

The word triage comes from the French word trier, which means “to sort.” Thus, the triage officer in the medical context is the front-line agent for deciding which patients need the most urgent treatment. Without such a process, the scraped knee would receive the same urgency of consideration as a gunshot wound to the chest. The same discipline that brings order to the hectic arena of the Emergency Room can also offer great assistance to Christians defending truth in the present age.

A discipline of theological triage would require Christians to determine a scale of theological urgency that would correspond to the medical world’s framework for medical priority. With this in mind, I would suggest three different levels of theological urgency, each corresponding to a set of issues and theological priorities found in current doctrinal debates.

First-level theological issues would include those doctrines most central and essential to the Christian faith. Included among these most crucial doctrines would be doctrines such as the Trinity, the full deity and humanity of Jesus Christ, justification by faith, and the authority of Scripture.

In the earliest centuries of the Christian movement, heretics directed their most dangerous attacks upon the church’s understanding of who Jesus is, and in what sense He is the very Son of God. Other crucial debates concerned the question of how the Son is related to the Father and the Holy Spirit. The earliest creeds and councils of the church were, in essence, emergency measures taken to protect the central core of Christian doctrine. At historic turning-points such as the councils at Nicaea, Constantinople, and Chalcedon, orthodoxy was vindicated and heresy was condemned–and these councils dealt with doctrines of unquestionable first-order importance. Christianity stands or falls on the affirmation that Jesus Christ is fully man and fully God. Continue reading