December 21, 2011 by
Over the last few months, we've been taking a lot of inward looks. What's going on in Sovereign Grace Churches? What issues do we need to address and how can we do that?
Those have been good questions to ask, but I want to close the year and approach Christmas not ignoring a Robert M'Cheyne quote that has served me well over the years: "For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ." And while I don't have ten points to make here, I do have "two looks" at Christ that may be timely.
First, it is impossible when reviewing SGM's past to miss the fact that, despite our weaknesses and individual sins, we are nevertheless part of the very Church for which Christ died. We have been (and remain) far from perfect, and when viewed rightly that illuminates and elevates not us but the forbearing love of Jesus. As Charles Spurgeon said, “I believe in the doctrine of election, because I am quite certain that, if God had not chosen me, I should never have chosen Him; and I am sure he chose me before I was born, or else he never would have chosen me afterwards.” We are the objects of Christ's love not only despite our lack of righteousness, but in spite of our many shortcomings. Or as Paul wrote, "For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly....God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:6,8).
Second, as a result of this season in our ministry I am also compelled to see Jesus' strength working despite our weakness. Even while reviewing our flaws, there are many reminders in our past (and present) that Christ is bearing fruit in and through our churches. Our rich history of church planting, fellowship among pastors, enjoyment of gospel-centered ministry, and many other blessings are all because of Jesus' faithfulness. Again, Paul presents this paradigm vividly: "God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, 'Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord'" (1 Corinthians 1:28-31). Indeed it is the Lord, not us, in whom we boast (and hope) when looking at all the evidence of God’s grace in our churches.
None of this nullifies the work that lies ahead of us, but it does give us the right perspective in approaching it. Because of the gospel, God loves us. Because of the gospel, God is at work among and through us. Because of the gospel, we have reason to press on in the hard work--our hope and labor are not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58).
In a few days, we will celebrate Jesus' incarnation--the miracle of his coming to be among us, to live a perfect life, to die on our behalf, and to be raised to bring us new life. It should be a sweet Christmas for us. Seldom have we been more aware of our need for The Savior and the new life he gives. And so too, seldom is the celebration of his birth more meaningful. So may this year's Christmas be merry for us all. We have a great Savior.
P.S. This will be the last post on the blog until January.
December 20, 2011 by
"Train yourself for godliness," wrote the Apostle Paul to Timothy (1 Tim. 4:7). But what does that mean? And how does it work? In this final installment of our recordings together, I asked author and teacher Jerry Bridges to explain this passage and he did so by describing how conduct produces character.
To listen to our 10-minute conversation, right-click to download, or listen here:
Note: For more on how conduct produces character see Bridges' book The Fruitful Life, chapter 1.
December 19, 2011 by
Author and speaker Jerry Bridges is 81 years old, and he's been walking with the Lord for 63 of those years. So what advice does he have for a young whippersnapper* like me? I asked him recently in the Sovereign Grace Ministries studio and he boiled down his answer to five life truths he's discovered during his 63 years in the faith.
To listen to our 8-minute conversation, right-click to download, or listen here:
* At 34, the accuracy of this term for me is debatable.
December 16, 2011 by
The Old Testament book of Leviticus is filled with detailed ancient rituals which have not been performed now for almost 2,000 years. So preaching through the book of Leviticus in a modern church is a herculean task, but it’s also a challenge a growing number of pastors are willing to take on. Jared Mellinger, the senior pastor of Covenant Fellowship Church, is one of them. This year he preached a text-topical series through the book (lasting from May to September). I asked him about the experience.
Was Leviticus as hard or intimidating to preach as you were expecting?
Preaching straight through the entire book would have likely been very challenging, and it would have forced me to say things that my parents taught me to never talk about in public! I cheated a bit and decided to limit the series to 14 sermons on select passages. After studying the entire book, I identified four major themes in Leviticus, and then preached sermons that focused primarily on those themes. There is some great scholarship on Leviticus that makes preaching this difficult book less challenging.
What was the effect of all those months in Leviticus on your own soul?
I fell in love with Leviticus as I studied this book.
The four themes that we focused on in the series describe what Leviticus did in my own soul.
First, I learned to stand in awe of the holiness of God. God gave us Leviticus because he is determined to be regarded as majestic and glorious among his people.
Second, I came to see more of the sinfulness and seriousness of sin in my own life. Chapters 4 and 5 of Leviticus, in particular, expanded my understanding of the doctrine of sin with categories like sins of omission and unintentional sins.
Third, Leviticus helped me grow in treasuring Christ’s work of substitutionary atonement and deepened my understanding of the absolute centrality of his death on the cross.
Fourth, I was challenged to grow in radical holiness in every area of life. Reading Leviticus causes me to continually re-consecrate my life to the Lord.
How did folks in the church respond to the series?
People were enthusiastic about it and we saw God answering our prayers for the series. I was greatly encouraged. My brothers and sisters at Covenant Fellowship love God’s Word, so they are always quite happy as long as we are feeding them the Scriptures. But still, it was challenging to transfer a passion for Leviticus beyond the Sunday service.
One woman told me she was excited about Leviticus after one of the sermons, but when she went home to read Leviticus that week, she rediscovered that the book was just as lifeless as she remembered it to be! I think we can all relate to that challenge on some level. Also, a good number of people had questions about certain obscure texts they were already familiar with. I had lumberjacks saying, “I can’t wait until you get to the part about beards,” and mothers of teenagers saying, “I am very much looking forward to the passage on tattoos.” I’m afraid I might have disappointed some people by dodging certain issues!
What unexpected benefits did the church experience from the series?
After studying Leviticus, I think we now have more confidence in approaching difficult sections of Scripture. We have learned through experience that all Scripture is breathed out by God, relevant to our lives today, and profitable in equipping us for good works. We were also able to understand more of how the Old Testament and the New Testament relate to each other. We came to realize how essential familiarity with the Old Testament is in knowing and treasuring Jesus Christ as we ought. And the book of Hebrews came to life in a whole new way for us as we understood it in light of Leviticus.
What (if any) resources were surprisingly helpful to you as a preacher of Leviticus?
The book of Hebrews was helpful! Although that was hardly a surprise. Also not a surprise was Wenham’s masterful commentary on Leviticus (the resource I found most helpful), and Ross’s Holiness to the Lord. One book that isn’t as well known as it should be, in my opinion, is Immanuel in Our Place: Seeing Christ in Israel’s Worship, by Tremper Longman. It is the best resource I know on the Old Testament sacrificial system, the sacred spaces of the tabernacle and temple, the priesthood, and the special festivals and days on Israel’s calendar. Also, Andrew Bonar’s commentary was the resource I used in my devotions. He brings life and passion to Leviticus, feeds my soul more than any other author on Leviticus, and shows how each passage points to Christ.
You can find the 14-week sermon series on Leviticus listed below. And preachers considering Leviticus may be interested in this list of resources compiled by The Gospel Coalition.
- Holy: Why Leviticus? [05.01.11; Jared Mellinger]
- Holy: The Perfect Sacrifice [05.15.11; Jared Mellinger]
- Holy: Realizing Our Guilt [05.22.11; Jared Mellinger]
- Holy: True Repentance [05.29.11; Jared Mellinger]
- Holy: The Priesthood [06.05.11; Rob Flood]
- Holy: The Glory of the Lord Appears [06.12.11; Jared Mellinger]
- Holy: Bewail the Burning [06.26.11; Jared Mellinger]
- Holy: The Consecration Connection [07.03.11; Jared Mellinger]
- Holy: Full Atonement! [07.10.11; Jared Mellinger]
- Holy: The Sanctity of Sex [07.17.11; Jim Donohue]
- Holy: Holiness through Love [07.24.11; Jace Hudson]
- Holy: Holy Celebration [08.07.11; Jared Mellinger]
- Holy: If Your Brother Becomes Poor [09.11.11; Jared Mellinger]
- Holy: He Will Remember the Covenant [09.25.11; Jared Mellinger]
December 15, 2011 by
If you're interested in submitting written input to Ambassadors of Reconciliation as part of their evaluation of Sovereign Grace Ministries, tomorrow (December 16) is the last day to do so. Use the online feedback form to submit your request by midnight, or send your request directly to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on this process, see Dave Harvey's original announcement.
December 13, 2011 by
While recently in the recording studio with author and speaker Jerry Bridges, I asked him about this hypothetical situation:
Someone comes up to you who is a believer and is struggling. This person sees his sin clearly, but he sees little personal growth in holiness. He seems to be doing the spiritual disciplines, or at least he's trying. But he is deeply discouraged by his own lack of progress. And he wants your help. What would you say?
To listen to Bridges's 6-minute answer, right-click to download or listen here:
Note: The book mentioned in this interview is Respectable Sins.
December 6, 2011 by
The doctrine of union with Christ "lies at the heart of the Christian life," wrote Sinclair Ferguson.* And yet it's also a somewhat bizarre idea to modern sensibilities. So I asked author and teacher Jerry Bridges to explain this prominent theological concept in as simple terms as possible. What is union with Christ? And does this have any bearing on our pursuit of personal holiness?
To listen to our 7-minute conversation, right-click to download, or listen here:
Note: For more detail on union with Christ, see Bridges's books The Gospel for Real Life (chapter 3) and The Discipline of Grace (chapters 3 and 4).
* The Christian Life: A Doctrinal Introduction (Banner of Truth, 1989), 104.
December 2, 2011 by
This week Bryce Thomas and the review panels completed the testimony phase of the evaluation for the allegations that Brent Detwiler brought against C.J. I know that this process is important to everyone who cares about C.J. and what happens in and with Sovereign Grace Ministries. Now the three review panels will begin deliberating on the information before them so that they can deliver reports on their findings later in December.
I’d like to invite you to pray with me about this. Here are the things that I’m praying for:
- Pray for clarity to emerge from all the materials (Brent’s documents, testimony from this week, etc.) that are now being sorted through.
- Pray for Bryce Thomas, the independent facilitator who has already served so well this past week. His job continues as he guides the committees of men who haven’t done this before to handle their tasks in a consistent and God-glorifying way.
- Pray for the three committees—men who have accepted a sobering responsibility to address the charges that have been brought against C.J. Pray for "wisdom from above" (James 3:17) in their conversations and deliberations over the next couple of weeks.
- Pray for all who have taken time to participate through their testimony. We are so grateful that many accepted the invitation to come and provide their perspective.
- Pray for CJ and his family, who are humbly cooperating with this extensive review of his actions and decisions. C.J. wants to see what God has for him in this. He has patiently prepared to appear before all three panels and remains eager to hear their findings.
And, if you have some time when you’re done with that, pray for me. There is a lot going on that needs my attention, but I want most of all to live out the passage preached at our local church last week from 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”