The American Dream

September 15, 2014
Yesterday, I talked a bit about the idolatry of the American Dream and how it can eat away at us Christians. One of our members reminded me of some great books that address these issues and I wanted to recommend some to you for further reading.
Radical by David Platt

Platt, formerly pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, AL and now President of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board, takes a look at the American Dream and compares it to the teaching of Scripture. From the blurb of the book:

It’s easy for American Christians to forget how Jesus said his followers would actually live, what their new lifestyle would actually look like. They would, he said, leave behind security, money, convenience, even family for him. They would abandon everything for the gospel. They would take up their crosses daily…

BUT WHO DO YOU KNOW WHO LIVES LIKE THAT? DO YOU?

In Radical, David Platt challenges you to consider with an open heart how we have manipulated the gospel to fit our cultural preferences. He shows what Jesus actually said about being his disciple–then invites you to believe and obey what you have heard. And he tells the dramatic story of what is happening as a “successful” suburban church decides to get serious about the gospel according to Jesus.

Radical Together by David Platt

Platt continues his radical departure from the American Dream by moving it from an individual concept to a local church concept. How do we live radically together as the church of Jesus Christ? From the book blurb:In Radical, David Platt’s plea for Christians to take back their faith from the American Dream resonated with readers everywhere, and the book quickly became a New York Times bestseller. Now in Radical Together, the author broadens his call, challenging us to unite around a gospel-centered vision.

How, he asks, might such a vision reshape our priorities as the body of Christ? How might well-intentioned Christians actually prevent God’s people from accomplishing God’s purpose? And, how can we best unleash the people of God in the church to carry out the purpose of God in the world?

Writing to everyone who desires to make an impact for God’s glory—whether you are an involved member, a leader, or a pastor—Dr. Platt shares six foundational ideas that fuel radical obedience among Christians in the church. With compelling Bible teaching and inspiring stories from around the world, he will help you apply the revolutionary claims and commands of Christ to your community of faith in fresh, practical ways.

Follow Me by David Platt
Platt continues his series of challenging books by helping us consider what true discipleship looks like. From the book blurb:What did Jesus really mean when he said, “Follow Me”?

In this new book, David Platt, author of the New York Times bestselling book, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream, contends that multitudes of people around the world culturally think they are Christians yet biblically are not followers of Christ.

Scores of men, women, and children have been told that becoming a follower of Jesus simply involves believing certain truths or saying certain words. As a result, churches today are filled with people who believe they are Christians . . . but aren’t. We want to be disciples as long as doing so does not intrude on our lifestyles, our preferences, our comforts, and even our religion.

Revealing a biblical picture of what it means to truly be a Christian, Follow Me explores the gravity of what we must forsake in this world, as well as the indescribable joy and deep satisfaction to be found when we live for Christ.

The call to follow Jesus is not simply an invitation to pray a prayer; it’s a summons to lose your life—and to find new life in him. This book will show you what such life actually looks like.

Counterfeit Gods by Tim Keller
Tim Keller, Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, is an effective preacher and writer ministering to people especially without a connection to churches. In this book. Keller addresses all of the things that are often idols in our hearts in the West: money, sex and power. The book blurb reads:Harsh economic realities are casting new light on the pursuits of sex, money, and success for happiness: careers, fortunes, marriages, and retirement security have collapsed. Many feel lost, disenchanted, and resentful.

In this inspiring new book, Timothy Keller, one of the country’s most popular spiritual guides, reveals the unvarnished truth about faith, our hearts’ desires, and the pursuit of happiness-and where all of it can ultimately be found.

So, please consider doing some follow-up reading on this important issue that addresses all of us here in America.


An Anniversary We’d Like to Forget

September 11, 2014

Today marks the 13th anniversary of the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001. Memorials will occur around the world, especially in the United States where the attack occurred. It’s our new, “where were you when…” event. We’ll always remember where we were when the twin towers fell. 

I recall the event vividly in my own mind even today. I was in class at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary that day. I was the only Canadian at the school that day. It was if what I heard and saw truly were not happening. I waited for almost 4 hours at the border trying to re-enter Canada. The after effects were immense as crossing the border for a few weeks after that was almost impossible.

It was truly a world event that has affected us all even if we do not realize it. What struck me the most after the event was more theological than anything else. Many church leaders could not fathom that God could have had anything to do with that tragedy. That it must have been out of His control. Now, I know I am not saying anything here that is new. In fact, better men than I have eloquently explained how a sovereign God did control these events. But I want to focus on a few passages of Scripture just to remind us once again, that we serve a God that is sovereign and in control, of the good, and the bad.

Amos 3:6 often resonates in my mind as I think of the relationship of God to world events. It reads, “When a trumpet sounds in a city, do not the people tremble? When disaster comes to a city, has not the Lord caused it” (NIV). Disasters, calamities, and suffering, are not outside of God’s control. We do not serve a God who is impotent, but a God who is omnipotent!

Daniel 4:34b-35 also reminds us of the sovereign control of God. “His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him ‘What have you done’” (NIV)? Nebuchadnezzar, the major world leader at the time, realized that God is sovereign and in control of all events. He does as He pleases.

There are many other passages which demonstrate that God is sovereign. He is not weak like Open Theists would argue. Our God does in fact know the future. He knows the future because He has planned the future! That is designed to be a comforting thought, not a troubling thought. God is in control of all events in world history. Even 9/11.

On this 13th anniversary of a terrible event in human history, let us remind ourselves that if God was not in control of that situation, then we serve an impotent God. I do not want to serve an impotent God but an omnipotent God! What an amazing God we serve, the sovereign Lord of the universe! Blessed be the name of the Lord!


Praying for Your Pastor

September 8, 2014

This post is a little old from Trevin Wax, but I thought it was appropriate as a reminder of how best to pray for your pastor. So, these become requests from me personally, but view them as what your own pastor might ask for you to pray:

About nine years ago, I developed the following list of prayer requests that I gave to every willing hand. I haven’t passed them out in at least four years, but I decided to resurrect them. Why? I need prayer…badly! And so does your pastor. As leaders in the church, we have unique and often more intense temptations (“Strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter”). So will you consider praying for your pastor the way I ask my people to pray for me?

1. That the gospel would be the focal point of my life and identity – not manhood, not being a husband, not being a father, not being a pastor, but who I am in Christ.

2. That I would not fear man by desiring the admiration of people; that the Lord’s “Well done” would be ever before my eyes.

3. That the Lord would not allow me to go long between repentances; that I would keep short accounts with Him and be sensitive to and ruthless with my sin.

4. That I would continue to grow in the character qualities of a man of God (1 Tim. 3:1-72 Tim. 2:22-26Titus 1:5-9).

5. That I would have a consistent, powerful, diligent life of private prayer; that I would grow in my dependence on the Holy Spirit.

6. That the Lord would give me great diligence in study and sermon preparation, making the most of my time.

7. That my preaching and teaching ministry would be empowered by the Holy Spirit; that the Lord would effect real change in our lives through it; and that by it we would be more endeared to Christ.

8. That I would boldly and faithfully and humbly and joyfully and intentionally share the gospel with the non-Christians in my social orbit.

9. That I would see Jesus as supremely valuable, my greatest treasure, and as my dear friend.


Preparing for the Lord’s Supper

September 1, 2014

Preparing for the Lord’s Supper

On Sunday, September 7 we will celebrate the Lord’s Supper at our church. Far too often, it is something that comes and goes with little notice. This is disappointing as it is meant to be a capstone to our worship service. As we gather together to partake of the Lord’s Supper, we join together spiritually with believers from all places celebrating the death and resurrection of our Lord. Let us consider first what the Lord’s Supper entails, and how to prepare for it. Here we quote from our BFC confession which states,

“The Lord’s Supper is an ordinance of the New Testament,1 in which, by the giving and receiving of bread and wine, according to the appointment of Jesus Christ, His death is proclaimed.2 Those who worthily partake in this remembrance of Him feed upon Him to their spiritual nourishment and growth in grace,3 have their union and communion with Him confirmed, and testify and renew their thankfulness and commitment to God4 and their mutual love and fellowship each with the other as members of the same mystical body.5

The Scriptures direct that each one spiritually examine himself before partaking of the bread and the cup ‘until He come.'”6

1 Luke 22:19,20
2 1Cor.11:26
3 John 6:55,56
4 1Cor.10:21
5 1Cor.10:17
1Cor.11:26

Spiritual Nourishment
There’s some wonderful truth revealed here. While the celebration of the Lord’s Supper is an ordinance, that is a command of Jesus for the church, it is something that is both a remembrance and a joy. Consider how we remember the death and resurrection of Jesus, but that by participating together we grow in grace and feed upon Him spiritually. We know that the elements aren’t really the body and blood of Christ but that they signify the blood and body. And so we do not feed on Christ physically but spiritually. Consider these extended words of John Piper,

“The Lord’s Supper expresses the value of Christ by nourishing our life in Christ. If we come to Christ over and over and say, ‘By this, O Christ, I feed on you. By this, O Jesus Christ, I nourish my life in you. By this I share in all the grace you bought for me with your own blood and body’ (1 Corinthians 10:16) – if we come to Christ over and over with this longing and this conviction in our heart: that here he nourishes us by faith, then the Lord’s Supper will be a deep and wonderful act of worship. Nothing shows the worth and preciousness of Christ so much as when we come to him to feed our hungry souls.

Where do we see this in the text? We see it in the fact that the Lord’s Supper is a supper. We are eating and drinking. Why are we eating and drinking? Eating and drinking are for nourishing and sustaining life. And here Jesus tells us that the bread we are eating is his body, and the cup we are drinking is the new covenant in his blood. So the eating and drinking are no ordinary eating and drinking. The nourishment that is in the Lord’s Supper comes not from bread and wine (or juice). Paul already said in verse 22 that we should take care of our bodily needs by eating at home before we come. This supper is not about physical nourishment. It is about spiritual nourishment.”

Union with Christ
More than nourishment, we see too that we recommit to our union with Christ. Through our bond to Jesus Christ, orchestrated by the Holy Spirit, we receive all the blessing of justification, adoption, sanctification, and other elements, and are both objectively realized in those, but also subjectively. Christ’s alien righteousness has been bonded to us as we enjoy this relationship. Participating in the Lord’s supper reminds us of this mystical bond we have with Jesus Christ. It is not just a reminder of our sin or a proclamation of the death of Christ, but as we are nourished in the bread and the cup, we actually are reminded of the joy we experience as being part of the family of God!

Fellowship of the Saints
Together, as we celebrate as a body of believers in our local church, we are bound together with brothers and sisters in all time and in all places celebrating our union with Christ and with each other. The beautiful truth that we celebrate this nourishing memorial together until He comes, is a reminder of the church bound together, despite differences of theology and practice, that we are all part of the body of Christ.

There is far more to the Lord’s Supper than just a mere observance of ritual and tradition. It is a proclamation of the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ. It is something that helps us grow in our sanctification as we are nourished by Christ’s spiritual presence with us. It is something that we do together to remind us of our relationship as the body of Christ. On that note, I will say, my burden is that one day, we consider celebrating the Lord’s Supper every week as we see the wonderful blessing of being nourished in the body and blood of Christ as we gather weekly (Acts 2:46).

That being said, how can we prepare for the Lord’s Supper this coming Lord’s Day? Let me give you a few things to consider (adapted from here):

1) Prepare your heart through the meditation upon Scripture. Before you come Sunday, consider reading and thinking upon these Scriptures:

Psalm 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143
Isaiah 53, 55, 59
Gospel of John 13-17
Romans 3, 6, 8, 12

2) Pray for God to prepare your heart. Something like this:

My Lord Jesus Christ, I have fallen; I long to be strong. For this purpose You have instituted this meal, to help us rekindle and strengthen our faith. Therefore, you have called me to receive it. Lord, it is Your word that invites me. You know my weakness and failings completely. You Yourself have said: Come unto Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. I now come to be helped. Amen.

3) Do some reading to help you understand better the Lord’s Supper. Here’s some things to consider:

Second London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689), Chapter 30
Keach’s Catechism, Questions 107-108
The Heidelberg Catechism, Questions 75-82
John Calvin’s Institutes, Book IV, Chapter 14Chapter 17

4) Consider some hymns to sing and reflect upon:

“Stricken, smitten, and afflicted”
“No, not despairingly”
“We have not known thee as we ought.”
“My Jesus, I love thee”
“Jesus, thou Joy of loving hearts”

As Rich Barcellos says in his excellent book, The Lord’s Supper as a Mean’s of Grace,

“Though it is not a converting ordinance, the Supper is a sanctifying ordinance. Like the Word of God and prayer, it is a means through which grace comes to us from Christ” (p. 53).

Come prepared to receive that grace!


The Shared Life

August 25, 2014

The Shared Life

In connection with some our recent thoughts regarding taking care of each other in the body of Christ in our Sunday services, I wanted to share with you our denomination’s statement on “The Shared Life,” and what it means to be brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. If you are interested in knowing more about what the Bible Fellowship Church denomination believes, you can see our full statement of Faith and Order here.

Article 103-6 – Shared Life

103-6.1 Each believer belongs to Jesus Christ and to every other believer.1  This belonging is a relationship to God the Father,2  God the Son,3  God the Holy Spirit4 and to all who belong to God.5  This relationship is not the result of human effort, but begins with being born from above6 and is the living out of the divine nature7 under the Lordship of Christ and the authority of His revealed Word.8  It unites all believers to one another and causes them to be different  from their world.9

103-6.2 The union with the Lord and with one another is spiritual. The relationship of each believer with the Lord is the basis for the relationship between believers10 in sharing truth,11 love,12 and possessions.13 It is dependence, not self-sufficiency, and inter-dependence, not independence.14 Participation in this life affects every believer and church15 and impacts their ministry in the world and to the world.16

103-6.3 Shared life is a privilege and a responsibility.17 The life of the church, therefore, must be a renewing, God-glorifying celebration of life in Christ and a spiritual participation with other believers.18 Sharing this life in the presence of God is worship19 and demands the loving exercise of spiritual gifts20 as well as realization that we are responsible to one another before God.21 The exercise of these gifts builds up one another and equips the saints for the Lord’s work.22 Because this responsibility and accountability are necessary for the church to grow in godliness,23 discipline must be practiced in every community of believers.24 Not to do so brings the very name of Christ into dishonor.25

103-6.4 Responding in mercy, carrying each other’s burdens,26 is also a responsibility and privilege of all believers to one another, and causes them to love, care, share, and be involved with one another.27 All believers, and the church as a body, must recognize, accept, and practice the spiritual responsibilities of being one in Christ, no matter how deeply a fellow believer has fallen into sin or the miseries of this world.28

103-6.5 Every believer is a member of the body of Christ and must be joyfully and personally responsible to live a life of loyalty to the Lord of the church,29 to His Word30 and involvement in its ministry31 and purpose.32 This responsibility, although primarily focused on the local body, extends beyond the particular church to other bodies of believers.33 Because this is true, the shared life of the church breaks down the barriers of race, class, culture, ethnicity, gender, and geography, for all believers are one in Christ.34

1  Rom.1:6; 12:4,5
2  1Jo.1:3
3  Rom.6:3,4
4  1Cor.12:13
5  1Pe.2:9,10
6  John 3:3,5
7  2Pe.1:4
8  1Jo.1:7
9  1Cor.10:14-22; 2Cor.6:14,15
10 Eph.2:11-16; Rom.15:5-7
11 Eph.4:14-16
12 1Jo.3:13-18
13 Acts 4:32-35; 2Cor.8:1-5
14 1Cor.12:14-27
15 Acts 2:44-47
16 2Cor.8:23; Phil.1:5; Phile.6; Heb.13:16
17 Gal.5:13-16
18 1Jo.1:1-4
19 Rom.12:1,2
20 1Pe.4:10
21 Rom.12:3-13:10
22 Eph.4:11-16
23 1Tim.6:11,12
24 1Cor.5:12,13
25 Acts 5:11
26 Gal.6:2; Heb.13:16
27 Eph.4:31-5:2
28 2Cor.2:7,8; Gal.5:25-6:2; Phile.10,11,15,16
29 1Cor.12:6-11
30 John 10:3-5
31 Phil.1:27
32 Acts 11:19-26; Phil.4:14-16; Col.2:1,2;1Pe.5:9
33 Acts 13:1-4
34 Gal.3:27,28; Eph.2:14-16


Love and Holiness

August 11, 2014

For those who may be unaware, we are studying the idea of pursuing an “organic outreach” into our community, here at Cornerstone Bible Fellowship Church. We’re pursuing the idea of a less program/event focused evangelism and outreach and embracing a plan that sees church members building relationships with the unchurched in their midst for the purpose of sharing the Gospel. As the basis for our study, we’re using Tim Chester and Steve Timmis’ excellent Everyday Church. Using 1 Peter as a model for us to consider ourselves as loving, holy people living on the margins of society, they are challenging our thinking on how best to reach out to the world around us. In it, they have an extended quote by Pastor Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City. I want to share it with you:

 Unlike models that call for a transformation of culture or that call for a Christendom-like alliance of church and state, Peter expects the gospel to always be highly offensive, never completely embraced or accepted by the world. This is a caution to those evangelicals and mainline Christians who hope to bring about an essentially Christians culture.

And unlike models that call solely for evangelism and are highly pessimistic about influencing the culture, both Peter in 1 Peter 2:12 and Jesus in Matthew 5:16 expect some aspects of Christian faith and practice to be highly attractive in any pagan culture, influencing people to praise and glorify God. (pp. 52-53).

The message here friends is that we need to strike a balance in thinking about how we reach out with the Gospel. Certainly the Scriptures know nothing about an alliance between State and Church and our efforts to force people to embrace our Christian beliefs and morals will never result in Gospel transformation. In fact, only Gospel transformation will ever result in people embracing our Christian beliefs and morals. To expect people to think and act like us even though their hearts are not regenerated is frankly, ridiculous. We need to change hearts first, and change laws second.

But, there is certainly something about who were are as Christians that will be attractive to the unchurhced, and rightly so. We are a people of brotherly love showing people there is a family available to them. When relationships break down all around them, there is hope and a home available to to them in the church of Jesus Christ. So, certainly by influence of our good works and love, people may embrace us as change agents in a culture of pagans, because they want something different.

The key is, to be that difference. People who love and serve the unchurched around us, not with the goal of positive change in the world around us, but for people to find the church attractive, so they will give us a Gospel hearing. We are also to be people of holiness, not just so we can drive our nation to embrace Biblical morals that they don’t really believe, but that the unchurched see us as people of conviction that are different in that we do not embrace the paganism of the world. The balance is that we do BOTH, not just one. Loving and holy. That’s how we will create opportunities for people to be drawn to the church and to the message of hope we have!


Revealing the Maker

August 4, 2014

 “I expect by very ridicule and contempt to be called a man of very fruitful brain and copious fancy, but they are welcome to it—I am not ashamed to own that I believe that the whole universe, heaven and earth, air and seas, and the divine constitution and history of the holy scriptures, be full of divine things as language.” Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758)

I have been utterly amazed at the level of wildlife that I have had the opportunity to enjoy since moving here to the Hudson Valley. Not only are the vistas beautiful; full of lakes and rivers, trees, and surrounded by mountains, but that as I look out my windows, I see the full panorama of the beauty of creation. Pileated woodpeckers, blue birds, blue jays, cardinals, and finches are just some of the birds that frequent my yard. A red fox has meandered along the forest line for me to see. Deer are in abundance, and I’ll never forget watching that fawn dart across my lawn in front of my picture windows. A family of geese waddled by when my family and I were having dinner on our porch. And, while I did not see it, I did get to experience the power of a bear as it ransacked my trash and destroyed two of my bird feeders. What beauty there is all around us.

 I often think that as a Christian I get to have a unique grasp of the wonder and significance of the world around me. As the great American theologian Jonathan Edwards said above, it is the whole universe that is full of “divine language.” Edwards is reflecting on the Psalms here. For instance Psalm 19:1 reads, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” Everywhere I look, I see the goodness and majesty of God.

It is difficult, at least for me, to look at the wonder and beauty around me and think it all occurred by chance. Considering the gross statistical improbability that the universe could have arrived on its own and life developed on its own from non-life, I’m stuck wondering about where it all came from. Apart from God, I would be forced to look at this universe mechanistically, considering only natural law, and food chains, and such. I would miss out that this universe not only obeys laws, but reveals to us that the One who made it is loving and kind and gave it to us for our enjoyment. How can I look at the beauty all around me and think that God did not love me?

In the grand vistas of the mountains down to the smallest of insects, this world offers us a glimpse at the majesty, creativity, and love of God. Edwards again, could even see the wonderful beauty and care that God provided even for pesky spiders in a famous letter he wrote on spider behavior: “We hence see the exuberant goodness of the Creator, who hath not only provided for all the necessities, but also for the pleasure and recreation of all sorts of creatures, and even the insects and those that are most despicable.”

I wonder of the futility of appreciating the aesthetic beauty of the world around us apart from recognizing that it came from God. If it all happened randomly and through happenstance, then life maintains a level of senselessness. What’s the point? Yet, from both the Bible and the world around me, I can consider and think upon a God that loved me so much that He gave me the very universe to enjoy. From far off swirling galaxies, to a subtle ocean breeze, to the squirrels that steal from my bird feeders, to the bugs that crawl in the earth. All things of beauty are only truly known and truly appreciated, when I consider that they were given to me by a good and gracious God.

 So, when I take my morning walk tomorrow, and I gaze upon the wonder of the world, from the babbling brook to the animals that drink from it, I will remember to thank God that He gave me eyes to see a wonderful gift: His world.


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