Honoring a Great Man of God

Yesterday, on July 27 one of the most influential men in my preaching and Christian life went to be with the Lord.  I only got to meet John Stott one time in person. That took place at Beeson Divinity School in the late 1980s, but through his writing I have been touched and shaped over and over again.  Yesterday when news came, ironically by twitter, that John R. W. Stott had died, I felt as if I had lost a dear friend.

When I was a very young Christian someone gave me a copy of his book Basic Christianity.  I cannot count the number of times that I have given that book away, recommended it, or taught it in various settings.  It impacted me and gave me a foundation like no other book at that time.  I still keep copies on hand to give to people because in my opinion it is yet to be bettered by anyone as a basic introduction to basic Christian doctrine.

Two other books of his had a profound effect on me.  His Men Mad New, an exposition of Romans chapters 5-8,  not only instructed me on the power of the gospel, but also taught me what really good expository preaching was like! The other one that had great influence on me was The Cross of Christ, perhaps the finest teaching on the work of Christ and atonement that can be found.

I did not agree with Stott on everything (for example his view of annihilationism for the  lost), but that does not diminish the ministry that this man had in my life.  I was so very happy that my wife and oldest daughter had the opportunity to sit under his teaching in one of his last lecture series before total retirement.

I grieve that John Stott’s pulpit and pen ministry has come to an end . . . but I rejoice that yesterday, about about 10:15am Eastern time, John heard from his Lord, “enter in to your rest, my good and faithful servant!”  Soli Deo Gloria!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Christian Holiday to Celebrate — Oct 31

Luther & 95 Theses492 years ago this Saturday (October 31) was a day that changed the course of the church for all time. On that day Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenburg Chapel. His desire was to begin a debate about abuses that he saw by the Papacy and the church. He had no intention on beginning a new church or even a movement. He simply wanted to see the church “reformed” that is re-formed by God’s word and in the image of Christ.

While the abuses may not be the same as they were in Luther’s day, the church today has departed from the pure Gospel message in many ways. There are many abuses where the church has watered down, distorted, and simply denied the Gospel. We have been content to let “little” errors enter without challenge thinking that a little error won’t do much harm. But it has and today the church is in as great a need of re-forming as it was in Luther’s day. What if you received a letter from your drinking water provider that said, “we have had a little problem with our water filtration system and some of the sewage from the treatment plant has gotten into the water supply. But the good news is that it is only 10% and 90% of your water is still pure.” You would be outraged. Yet, every day we allow the “sewage” of false teaching to enter into the church and think that it won’t hurt anything. How wrong we are.

Out of the Reformation came five “battle” cries. These expressed the basics of the Gospel for their day. They have not changed over the past 491 years . . . indeed over the past 2000 years . . . though we sometimes forget them or we let little errors push them aside. In 1998 as we dedicated a new campus of the church I pastored back then, we used these five “alones” (or Solas) for a dedication Bible Conference. Today we need to remember their importance as we remember the Reformation.

Sola Scripture — By Scripture Alone

It is through the Scriptures, the Bible, that God speaks today. The Bible is not just a book that somehow contains God’s word, but rather it is God’s Word! It is in His word, with the enlightenment and guidance of the Holy Spirit, that we find God’s will, His purposes and His requirements for our lives.

While we believe that denominational traditions and church history are important and should be known and studied, it is God’s Word, the Scriptures, where we find our ultimate and absolute authority.

2 Tim 3:16 -17 — All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

Psalm 19:7 — The Lord of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.

Solo Christo — By Christ Alone

We live in a day which cries for diversity and tolerance. Thus, when people hear a church or group claiming that there is “only one way” to a relationship with God they appear to be horrified. However, the Word of God is quite clear on this matter. Jesus Christ himself left very little doubt as to where salvation is to be found.

John 14:6 — Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.

Acts 4:12 — “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved.”

We believe and proclaim that there is no salvation, no relationship with God, apart from the person and work of Jesus Christ. His death was as a substitute and sacrifice taking away our sin and giving us His righteousness. In reality, He did for us what we could not do for ourselves. He died in our place the death that we deserved.

Sola Gratia — By Grace Alone

Man is notorious for wanting to “do it for themselves” – no matter what the “it” is. The Gospel teaches us that in the matter of salvation and being right with God, there is absolutely nothing that man or woman can do for themselves. Man is in rebellion toward God and will never seek God according to Romans 3:

Romans 3:11 — THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD;

If it were left up to man to “get saved” it would simply never happen. The good news is that God has determined to save a people for His glory. The Holy Spirit, in drawing men and women to Christ, demonstrates that salvation is totally of grace. It is only because of this grace that anyone will ever be saved.

John 6:44 — “No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.

John 6:37 — “All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.

Sola Fide — By Faith Alone

The core, or fundamental truth, of the Gospel is that justification, being made right with God, is not on the basis of works, that is, anything we have done, but rather by faith in Christ alone.

Eph 2:5-8 — even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), (6)and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus, (7) in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (8) For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;

Salvation does not involve being as good as you can be . . . obeying all the 10 Commandments . . . or living by the Golden Rule. Salvation comes by faith in Jesus Christ alone.

We acknowledge that when true faith is exercised in Christ there will be a change in life. New attitudes and actions follow faith in Christ. But this is the work of Christ in us, not our work for Him.

Soli Deo Gloria — To God Alone belongs the Glory

What does a person say when they have come to faith in Christ? The only proper response is “Thank you God!!” Too often men try and claim the glory, the credit, that belongs only to God. However, the Word of God clearly declares that God alone is worthy of worship, praise, and adoration.

Who should receive the glory for what we gain in this life? God should, because it is only by His grace that we have anything at all.

1 Corinthians 6:20 — For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.

1 Peter 4:16 — but if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed, but in that name let him glorify God.

Job 1:21 — And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.”

This is indeed a day of celebration . . . and also a day to call for a new reformation in the 21st century. It is time to see that these 5 solas are the foundation for the church to be formed in the image of Christ.  For too long now the church has taken on the “look” of the culture around it.  It is time to be counter cultural . . . to focus again on what God’s word says about salvation and proclaim it boldly.  Fads come and go . . . but the Truth of God abides forever!!

Five Stones -- Five Solas

Awesome? Is it Really???

Last week I led a Bible Conference in North Carolina on the theme of “The Eclipse of God.” The general idea is that we allow things, or stuff, to come between us and God thus making Him appear to not be present.  Much like in a solar eclipse, when the moon gets between the earth and the sun and casts a shadow across the earth, it appears that the sun disappears or loses its power.  But nothing could be further from the truth.  The sun remains just as bright, just as hot and just as powerful as when it is shining at noon day.  But it just doesn’t appear to be so.

In our lives we allow “stuff” to cast a shadow on our lives that makes God seem to be weaker or not as glorious.  Who at times hasn’t made a comment to the effect, it just seems my prayers don’t get past the ceiling and seems as if God is not there or doesn’t care.  Again, nothing could be further from the truth.

Now, there are obvious things that can “eclipse” God in your life.  Known purposeful sin is the most obvious, and so are the things that David, in Psalm 19, called, “presumptive sins” which are those we tend to excuse as only being “little sins.”

One of the things that I mentioned in one of the sessions was that we can also “eclipse” God with the language we use.  I was speaking with someone this week who was told that a friend’s dog had just had puppies.  This person responded, “that’s awesome.”  I was walking down the street with someone and they saw a new corvette parked on the curb and again their response was, “wow, that’s awesome.”  I was even eating with someone the other day, we were having burgers (and good ones no doubt) and my friend said, “this hamburger is awesome.”  Do you see where I am going?

The word “awesome” is a word that means to see something and stand in awe of it.  It is a word that when applied to something means that it causes me to want to fall down and worship it, I am so struck by it.  I don’t know about you but I have never seen a car (even a vette) or a puppy (even a litter) or a food product (though I love to eat) that made me want to fall down and worship it.

It just appears to me that we do serve an awesome God.  When I think of His character and attributes and glory I want to fall down and worship Him.  But when we speak in the same way about everything else in the world, do we not lessen His glory in the eyes of those who know we are Christians?  If the same word is used to describe God and a car, or a dog, or food . . . well, you get my picture.

I know I am probably going to be viewed as out of step with this post-modern culture we live in.  But that’s OK.  I once had a staff member who accused me of trying to be controlling of other people, simply because I thought this word ought to be reserved for God, and I said so in a sermon.

I don’t want my language eclipsing God in my life or in other’s lives. It just seems to me to be prudent that we reserve one descriptive word for God alone.  Awesome seems to be that word, in my humble opinion.  What do you think?

An Old Confession of Faith — Lancelot Andrewes 1555-1626

Lancelot AndrewesLast week a friend of mine, Karl Minor, mentioned a volume from someone in the late 1500s, which he said had the richness of the Puritan prayers of The Valley of Vision.  I did a little research and ordered a copy of Lancelot Andrewes and His Private Devotions, by Alexander Whyte.

To this point I have only done a cursory overview of the book, but I did find the following very refreshing and clear.  It is Andrewes’ own Confession of Faith.  I believe it is a worthy read and meditation, and so I commend it to you.  I maintained the language as it was published.  A few words may not be immediately obvious in their meaning, but it is worthwhile to look them up.

4. CONFESSION OF FAITH.

I believe, O Lord, in Thee,
Father, Word, Spirit, One God;
that by Thy fatherly love and power
all things were created;
that by Thy goodness and love to man
all things have been gathered together into one
in Thy Word,
Who, for us men and for our salvation,
became flesh, was conceived, was born,
suffered, was crucified,
died, was buried,
descended, rose again,
ascended, sat down,
will return, will repay;
that by the forth-shining and operation
of Thy Holy Spirit
hath been called out of the whole world
a peculiar people, into a commonwealth
of faith in the truth
and holiness of life,
in which we are partakers
of the communion of saints
and forgiveness of sins in this world,
and in which we look for
the resurrection of the flesh
and the life everlasting
in the world to come.

This most holy faith once delivered to the saints
I believe, O Lord;
help Thou mine unbelief,
increase Thou my little faith.
And vouchsafe* to me
to love the Father for His love,
to reverence the Almighty for His power,
to Him, as unto a faithful Creator, to commit my soul in well doing.
Vouchsafe to me to partake
from Jesus of salvation,
from Christ of anointing,
from the only begotten Son of adoption;
to serve the Lord
for His conception, in faith,
for His birth, in humility,
for His sufferings, in patience and in impatience of sin;
for His cross, to crucify occasions of sin,
for His death, to mortify the flesh,
for His burial, to bury evil thoughts in good works,
for His descent, to meditate upon hell,
for His resurrection, upon newness of life,
for His ascension, to set my mind on things above,
for His sitting on high, to set my mind on the
better things on His right hand,
for His return, to fear His second appearing,
for His judgment, to judge myself ere I be judged.
From the Spirit
vouchsafe to met o receive the breath of saving grace,
in the holy catholic (universal) Church
to have my own calling, sanctification, and portion,
and fellowship of her holy things,
prayers, fastings, groanings,
watchings, tears, sufferings,
for assurance of the remission of sins,
for hope of resurrection and translation
to eternal life.

*”vouchsafe”to grant or furnish often in a gracious manner

I am looking forward to further reading in this very old, but rich book.

So? Whom Do We Really Worship?

One of my major concerns about evangelical Christianity in the 21st Century is that worship is not that . . . at least not toward the proper object of worship, the True and Living God.  In many churches man is exalted, recognized, applauded, and congratulated, but God is less and less the main focus.  God’s word is not read all that much . . . prayers are brief . . . being silent before God (Psalm 46:10) is feared . . . songs don’t reflect doctrinal truth, but rather emotional syrupy sentimentality.   In other words man is catered to rather than being pointed to the Sovereign Creator and Redeemer.

This was brought to my mind when I read the following in a blog that I frequent.  The writer is recounting a recent vacation where he visited a local (I’m sad to say) Southern Baptist Church:

Away on vacation in North Carolina at the OBX last week. We attended worship at a Southern Baptist church. First they introduced all the visitors. Then they honored all the fathers. Then we sang happy birthday to all the birthdays. Then we sang Happy anniversary to all the anniversaries. Then the pastor called the kids up front and played with a ventriloquist doll, and the point was to come to VBS next week.

I wondered when we’d get to God, you know, worshipping God as part of a worship service?

My hopes were raised by the call to confess a Creed.

But the Creed was, and I am not kidding, the following.

I’m too anointed to be disappointed.
I’m too blessed to be depressed.
I’m too chosen to be frozen.
I’m too elected to be rejected.
And I’ve got more to shout about than to pout about in Jesus’ Name, AMEN.

I don’t think God showed in the service at all.

We had three choices on the Island, Catholic, Methodist, and Baptist.

We made the wrong choice……… (from The Boar’s Head Tavern)

The first part of this man’s statement describes much of what I observe as I visit churches around the SBC (and that is my demonination).  As for the creed?  I think I’ll stick with The Apostles Creed !!

A friend of mine, Tom Ascol, posed this question in the Founders Journal in 2004:

What if I had to choose between a liberal church that does not believe in the full authority of Scripture yet thinks highly enough of it to read it publicly in worship, and a fundamentalist church that loudly affirms Scripture’s inerrancy but feels no compulsion to read it or be governed by it in worship?

We will prove our belief about the Scriptures and about worship, more by what we do than what we say.  Our worship services should include multiple readings of God’s word.

We must remember that “worship” means focusing on some(One) who is worthy of great worth.  It is not us (Psalm 115:1 — Not to us O Lord, not to us, but to Your name give glory) but it is God, through Jesus Christ, that is to command our attention.

Let’s work hard to keep the focus as it should be . . . on the Sovereign Creator and Redeemer.  Gazing upon Him will change us into His image!!  Programs, and entertainment, and man-centered activity will not. Let’s keep that out of “worship” so that it will really be that!!

A Simple Way to Pray

Does the name Peter Beskendorf ring a bell?  Probably not!  He lived about 500 years ago and wasn’t a theologian or scholar.  In fact his line of work was that of a barber . . . he was known around town as Peter the Master Barber.  (For you younger readers, think hairstylist).   But he did have a rather famous customer that you might recognize — Martin Luther.  Can you imagine having the great reformer sitting in your chair while you cut his hair?  Surely there was some pretty significant conversation that took place during those sessions.

a-simple-way-to-pray2-lutherAnyway, it appears that on one occassion, Peter the Barber asked Dr. Luther if he could instruct him in a simple way to pray that an ordinary barber could use.  In response to that Martin Luther wrote a small booklet and gave it to Peter.  In it he gave warm pastoral counsel to Peter on prayer . . . using the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments and the Apostles’ Creed.

I highly commend Luther’s little work if you are looking for something “simple” and yet profound to guide you in your prayer life.  You can find text editons on the internet or you can purchase a copy in book form at Amazon.  Or Archie Parrish has an edition with an essay on the life of Luther that you can get from Ligonier Ministries.  I have read many books on prayer over the years, but none has had any bigger impact on me than has Luther’s A Simple Way to Pray.

Contending for the Faith in a Day of Pervasive Accommodation

Continuing our series on “10 Challenges Facing the Church in the 21st Century.”

1. Addressing Post-modern American with the authentic Gospel.

2. Cultivating a people of truth in a culture of relativism.

3. Preaching the unchanging Word in a time of increasing flux.

4. Recovering Biblical worship against a world sold on entertainment

stand-firmThis week: 5. Contending for the faith in a day of pervasive accommodation.

We live in a day, sadly, when the faith of the Christian church has been mixed and mingled with all sorts of “other gospels” which Paul said was no gospel at all (Gal. 1:6-7). Whether it be through novels, television programs, magazines, or just friends “ideas” all kinds of false philosophy are entering into the church. I have often been accused (not at Grace, of course) of being too hard nosed when it comes to doctrine. I’ve been asked before, “why do you insist that everything be theologically and biblically correct?” It is almost like, for some in the church today, that a little bit of error is alright as long as everything is “mostly” right.

How would you feel if your water company sent you a letter and said “our filtration system is not working completely right at this time, but we are happy to tell you that your drinking water only contains 10% of sewage from our treatment plant. But hey, it’s 90% pure.” You would be outraged, wouldn’t you? Of course you would. Well false teaching, no matter how small, is the sewage that will destroy the church if it is left unchecked.

That’s why I warn against TV preachers that distort and dilute the truth of God’s word; even call them by name. That’s why I can’t endorse books, no matter how much they are “only a story” if they distort the truth about God. I heard of a church in northern Kentucky that is using the current best seller The Shack as a study for their women’s Bible study. I almost flipped out. Is God really a black woman? Is there no problem with that? Is God really three people in such as way that they can manifest themselves at the same time with no unity, in a visible manner? I know that God is spirit and as such is neither male nor female, as we think of gender, but He choose to reveal Himself, in His holy word, as Father. We must maintain that expression.

I have a friend who has had to resign his church because he wouldn’t let a play be done this Christmas that was completely un-Biblical. Was it cute? Yes. Was it entertaining? I suppose so. But it distorted the message of God’s word. Again, sewage in the water of truth. We have already talked about the danger of entertainment. And when the entertainment violates truth it can be deadly.

Jude in his little epistle toward the end of the New Testament said in verse 3, “ . . . I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” That expresses my feelings completely toward the church in the 21st century. I find myself appealing in every way that we stand firm and hold fast to the faith that has been delivered in God’s word. There are too many who are ready and willing to accommodate false ideas and teaching in our day.

So I guess I will just continue on being “hard nosed” when it comes to things that pertain to the Gospel and to God’s word. And I pray that Grace Baptist Church will not surrender one inch in the battle for truth in Somerset.