We’ve Been Duped

Young, Restless, and Reformed (and those who are lumped into that group but hate the now cannonized moniker) we have been duped.  It’s hard to believe it, and for some it will be even harder to admit it.  But it is true.

It wasn’t all that long ago that we were first coming to faith and even more recently when we started realizing the truths of reformed doctrine.  It’s been an amazing ride.  We can call ourselves Calvinist and we don’t have to be angry about it (sometimes we forget this).  Somebody made a lot of money from the Calvin is my Homeboy t-shirts.  And limited atonement is not only acceptable, it’s now one of the fruits of the Spirit!  It’s awesome.  But you can bet it won’t last much longer.  In fact, the sun already seems to be setting on our run.

~This is where it’s going to get difficult, but together I think we can make it through.~

The fact of the matter is that we have been duped, or maybe we duped ourselves.  The guys who taught us reformed theology–MacArthur, Piper, Sproul–have been set aside and a new (and much cooler) group of leaders have stepped up to the plate.  At first we didn’t notice too much.  In fact, it was liberating to be able to wear jeans and podcast our theology.  We didn’t even have to ask our pastors questions anymore.  Every ministry had a FAQ section on its website and Challies or Justin Taylor would let us know if there was any danger out there. But along the way something happened.  Somebody realized that it wouldn’t be hard to capitalize on this group of young people hungry for reformed theology and that is exactly what happened.

You don’t believe me?  Start going to publisher’s websites and look at how many reformed books are coming out now.  Look at the new reformed publishers that have arisen.  Look at the “coalitions” and “networks” that have popped up.  There is nothing inherently wrong with any of this.  However, let’s not be the Naive, Restless, and Reformed. The fact of the matter is that a lot of people are now making a lot of money from our movement.  Again that is not necessarily bad.  However, it is high time that we realized that in the eyes of many we have become a demographic not a movement. 

What does this mean? It means that we better be discerning about how we allow ourselves to be influenced.  For instance, think about the blogs that you read.  How many of those blogs have advertisers?  How many of those blogs are now associated with large ministries or networks?  Think about it.  Is someone who runs a blog for the Gospel Coalition going to publicly criticize one of it’s own leaders?  Probably not.

You scoff.  Ok, here is an example.  Recently a Mark Driscoll a video came out where he claims to receive visions while he preaches.  He calls this the gift of discernment.  This is just the kind of thing that the reformed camp has been battling for years now.  But did we hear about it on the “reformed blogs?”  No. Had Pat Robertson and Joel Olsteen been the culprit my guess is that everyone would have been all over it.  However, when it was a guy at the top of the Gospel Coalition… Nothing… Not one word.  Why is that?  I can’t tell you for sure, but what do you think?

Here’s another example of what I’m talking about.  Doug Wilson has a been a long-time and ardent defender of cessationism. His response to the Driscoll video…. “Phil Johnson and Mark Driscoll remind me of the civil war.

What?

Where is the hilarious satire that not so subtly destroys the viewpoint of his opponent?  Instead we get “I’m still a cessationist, but that video wasn’t that bad… and don’t forget to sign up for the conference I am doing with Mark Driscoll.”  Oh! Now I get it… too late to cancel the conference.

How about the fact that the topic of the video never came up on the two most significant “reformed blogs” on the internet.  What is my point?  We shouldn’t look to the “reformed blogs” to provide us with discernment or to protect us.  They are fun.  Enjoy them.  Benefit from them.  But don’t forget that most of them have become money-making ventures, which means we have become a demographic.  We need to be aware of this if we want this resurgence of reformed theology  to continue.  If we are not careful our reformed theology is going to turn into nothing more than a fad.

There are two other subtle dangers that I think we need to be careful of if we are going to preserve this resurgence of reformed theology:

1) The Danger of Trading Gospel Clarity for Influence

2) The Fear of Man (and sounding like angry fundamentalist).

Additionally, I think that there are two theological issues coming down the pike that we need to be ready for:

1) Charismatic Theology

2) Liberal Theology

I hope to expound upon these warnings in the coming days, but suffice it to say that these are not new problems.  Our fathers dealt with these dangers when they were combating the ecumenical movement and liberal theology.  Let’s not fall prey to the same dangers!

Colossians 1:9: A Pattern of Prayer (pt. 3)

III. Paul’s prayer was spiritually oriented.

 

The third characteristic of Paul’s prayer for the Colossians is that it was spiritually oriented. That is to says, His prayers were primarily for spiritual good of the Colossian believers! Look closely and you will see that there was a purpose to Paul’s prayer, and that purpose was spiritual in its nature.

For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding (Colossians 1:9)

The Colossians were in a crisis as they faced what we now refer to as the Colossian Heresy.  Paul knew that their greatest spiritual need was a knowledge of the will of God.  You see, the Colossian Heresy emphasized a special knowledge (gnosis) that was speculative and mystical.  Here Paul prays for a knowledge that is far more subsatantive.  The word he uses is not gnosis (knowledge) but epignosis.  This is very similar to gnosis it just ads a few letter on the beginning of the word.  It is sort of like “duplicate” and “reduplicate”.  It means that same thing, but a little different nuance.   Specifically, here Paul is referring to a decisive knowledge NOT speculative or subjunctive.  In fact, this word is usually used in NT of some kind of theological knowledge.  That means that Paul is praying for a decisive and theological knowledge.  The kind of decisive theological knowledge of God’s will that is absolutely necessary for the Christian life.

All Christians can have this kind of knowledge because the will of God is found in the bible.  It’s not mystical.  We don’t have to channel our inner selves to find it.  We don’t to attain a higher knowledge.  We simply need to understand and apply what God has already revealed.  This kind of knowledge is of eternal significance.  Apart from this knowledge we don’t know the GOSPEL.  That is why Paul’s prayer is for the Colossians to be filled with this knowledge.

Please note that Paul prays that they would be filled.  He does not say fill yourself.  Using the illustration of a cup, a cup can’t fill itself.  Someone has to fill the cup up.  The same is true of our spiritual knowledge.  It requires Divine enablement for us to have this kind of knowledge.  At the same time we have a responsibility to respond to God’s enablement.  In fact, Paul even mentions the means of maintaining this knowledge when he says, “in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.”  In other words, God divinely enables you to understand spiritual truth and you grow in this through developing wisdom and understanding.

  • The “spiritual wisdom” = attainment and possession of valuable spiritual truth.
  • The “spiritual understanding” = application and understanding of how to use the truth.
  • “All” = every, or each individual truth of scripture!

Going back to the illustration of a cup, a cup can’t fill itself up.  But, a cup that tips itself over will not stay full!

I love that the Christian faith is concrete not just “God has to fill you” then you wait and don’t know what to do.  Instead, this is how we receive the knowledge and take advantage of the Divine enablement.  Remember the bible is the only truth, but within the bible there are lots of truths for us to learn and apply.  We can never exhaust these truths, and always need to be growing in this area.  In our Christian lives when we are diligent to attain and apply spiritual truth from the Bible, God will not only enable us to do this but He will also bless us by providing us with a decisive knowledge of His will.

This passage is valuable for our own spiritual growth and advancement in spiritual knowledge.  It is also valuable for how to pray for others.  As we see from all this, Paul’s prayer was focused on the spiritual good of the Colossians, and this is a wonderful model for us to follow in our own prayer lives. This is very different from how most people pray.   Usually we pray only, or first for physical needs.  This isn’t wrong, but we need to make spiritual needs the priority.

The priority Paul places on spiritual prayer request very much reminds me of the prayer request James Boice’s shared with his congregation when he was diagnosed with cancer:

A number of you have asked what you can do, and it strikes me that what you can do, you are doing. This is a good congregation, and you do the right things. You are praying certainly, and I’ve been assured of that by many people. And I know of many meetings that have been going on.

A relevant question, I guess, when you pray is, pray for what? Should you pray for a miracle? Well, you’re free to do that, of course. My general impression is that the God who is able to do miracles—and he certainly can—is also able to keep you from getting the problem in the first place. So although miracles do happen, they’re rare by definition. A miracle has to be an unusual thing.

I think it’s far more profitable to pray for wisdom for the doctors. Doctors have a great deal of experience, of course, in their expertise, but they’re not omniscient—they do make mistakes—and then also for the effectiveness of the treatment. Sometimes it does very well and sometimes not so well, and that’s certainly a legitimate thing to pray for.

Above all, I would say pray for the glory of God. If you think of God glorifying himself in history and you say, where in all of history has God most glorified himself? He did it at the cross of Jesus Christ, and it wasn’t by delivering Jesus from the cross, though he could have. Jesus said, “Don’t you think I could call down from my Father ten legions of angels for my defense?” But he didn’t do that. And yet that’s where God is most glorified.

What about you?  What would your prayer have been?  Better yet, how are you praying for the spiritual needs of those around you?

A Pattern of Prayer Part 1

A Pattern of Prayer Part 2

Colossians 1:9: A Pattern of Prayer (pt. 2)

II. Paul’s prayer was specific.

A second characteristic of Paul’s prayer for the Colossians is that it was specific.  Paul says that in his unceasing prayer he as been “asking” for specific requests.  Really, the verse at this point should be translated: “we do not cease praying and asking.”  The two words, “praying and asking”, refer to the same concept, but they present slightly different aspects. Praying is that action of prayer, or just prayer in general.  Asking is the specific content or request Paul had in his prayers.  In other words, it wasn’t just that Paul mentioned their names in his prayers (like my young daughter might do as she prays for individuals).  Paul had specific requests in mind for these believers.  This is a reminder that prayer is not a mystical grocery list; we don’t just say people’s names and things happen.  God uses our specific prayers on behalf of fellow believers.

 

It is also interesting to note that Paul had never been to Colossae, and yet he still had specific requests in mind for the believers there.  How could this be?  Well, Paul knew general needs of all Christians and so he was able to pray in this way for the Colossian believers.  Additionally, Paul had just received a report about the church in Colossae from Epaphras and apparently he paid attention.  He may have even written it down in his prayer journal (that might be a bit of s stretch, but I think you get my point).  However, he remembered their needs it is clear that he was specifically concerned about their situation as he prayer for them.  These weren’t vague “Jesus bless so and so” prayers.  We will see this more tomorrow, but if you look at some of the specifics of Paul’s request we will see that his requests were closely related to the problem of the Colossian heresy.

 

Paul’s specific prayers for the Colossians certainly revealed his love for them, and it is a wonderful model for us to follow in our own prayer lives.  Scripture calls for us to make specific requests in prayer.  Think about James 4:2-3:

You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.

 

This is how prayer works.  God uses specific prayer as a means to accomplish His specific plan.

So how can we be more specific in our prayers?  Try a few of these practical suggestions and see if they help you to be more like Paul in your prayer life:

  1. Pray as soon as you hear a need
  2. Write down specific requests
  3. Continue to pray for and with people
  4. Follow up with people
  5. On the flip side, be willing to share specific request to others.

Colossians 1:9: A Pattern of Prayer (pt. 1)

If you are like me then prayer is an area in which you often fall short, specifically, when it comes to praying for fellow believers.  Many times we fail to pray for the needs of our brothers and sisters, and when we do pray for them we are not sure exactly how we should pray for them.  This is a discipline that is not easy to maintain, but thankfully scripture provides us with help.  In fact, as we look together at Colossians 1:9 we are going to see that the apostle Paul himself left us with a pattern of how we can pray for our fellow believers.

“For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,” (Colossians 1:9)

In Colossians 1:9 Paul communicated his love for the Colossian believers by revealing his person pattern of prayer on their behalf.  As we examine Paul’s pattern of prayer we can learn a great about how we should pray for our fellow believers.  Specifically, in this passage we see 3 Characteristics of Paul’s prayer for the Colossians:

 I.        Paul’s prayer was sustained.

II.      Paul’s prayer was specific.

III.    Paul’s prayer was spiritually oriented.

I. Paul’s prayer was sustained.

The first characteristic of Paul’s prayer for the Colossians is that it was sustained.  Paul tells the Colossians that “since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray.”  The “we” here refers to Paul’s ministry team—probably including Timothy.  The team was constantly praying for the needs in Colossae.

Paul’s pattern of prayer here seems almost impossible to attain.  Don’t be intimidated by the phrase “we have not ceased.”  Paul was not praying every second of very day for the Colossians. We know that he did other things.  So, what does Paul mean?  We know that neither he nor the Spirit inspiring him was lying.  Paul could be referring to the same attitude as 1 Thessalonians 5:17:

pray without ceasing

However, since he had specific people and requests in mind it most likely means that every time he prayed for them this was his regular request.  He often prayed for them, and every time he prayed he prayed for these same key matters.

The point in all of this is simply that Paul’s prayer for the Colossians believers was

He persistently prayed for the Colossians and their situation.  He did not pray once and think his job was done.  He loved his fellow believers too much not to be intimately involved in their lives through regular prayer.  This is the pattern that has been left for us to follow.

We must be committed to persevering in our prayers for our fellow believers.  In fact, we need to be committed to sustained prayers in every area of life.  Why? Look at Luke 18:1–8:

“Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart, saying, “In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man. “There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me legal protection from my opponent.’ “For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.’ ” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge said; now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? “I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?””

God uses our prayers in ways we often don’t immediately see.  We need to be sustained in our prayers constantly returning to the Throne of God with our care, concerns, and conflicts.  As we have this attitude in prayer it will do two things.  First, it will knit our hearts together with the people for whom we are praying.  Paul’s sustained prayer for the Colossians certainly reveals his love for them, and it is a wonderful model for to follow in our own prayer lives.  When we consistently pray for people it will only grow our love for them.

Secondly, sustained prayer reflects and develops trust in God.  When we are committed to praying for an issue until it is resolved we will be developing a habit of looking to God in the midst of an issue.  This is important because many times we only look to God when an issue arises, but then, if our prayer is not sustained, we can easily become discouraged when we fail to keep looking to God.

Paul’s prayer for his fellow believers was sustained.  This is the model for us to follow.

Book Review: When the Word Leads Your Pastoral Search

When the Word Leads Your Pastoral Search

Chris Brauns

When the Word Leads Your Pastoral Search by Chris Brauns is a unique and interesting book. It is unique because of the subject matter.  Brauns tackles the very common and practical topic of how a church should engage in the process of hiring a pastor.  As he points out in the book, this is often an awkward and taxing process for everyone involved.  In his words, “a pastoral search parallels dating at every stage of the relationship.” This is so true! The fact that Brauns acknowledges the practical awkwardness of this process makes the book pleasantly unique.

This is an interesting book because Brauns deals with reality not with the ideal. Frequently books are written on ministry that only deal with how things work in an ideal context.  This is not one of those books.   Brauns acknowledges that most churches are not going to have an ideal process in place to find a pastor.  Most of this book deals with how these less than ideal situations can use the Bible to move closer to being ideal. A he puts it, “As we prepare to look toward biblical ideals in this book, keep in mind that just as your church is not perfect, neither will any candidate be perfect.”

If I had to sum up the message of this book in three points–which is what preachers do–I would say that the three most helpful emphases in the book are the encouragements to 1) be biblical, 2) be humble, and 3) be practical.

Be Biblical

Throughout the book Brauns demonstrates the need to evaluate candidates based on the standards found in the Bible.  The previous pastor, the pastor down the street, or the pastor in a Christisan romance novel, are not suitable reference points for finding a new pastor.  The bible is the standard by which we evaluate a pastor.  Furthermore, Brauns places an appropriately high emphasis on the importance of a candidates dedication and abilities in expository preaching.

 

Be Humble

Brauns is blunt about the difficulties of serving on a pastoral search committee, and also about the fact that individuals serving on such a committee may or may not be equipped to serve in that capacity. This, among other reasons, is why Brauns strongly encourages committees to seek outside counsel in the process. As he puts it, “It is almost always a good idea to take advantage of the wisdom of people outside your local church. For one thing, they will be able to look at your situation more objectively and advise accordingly. Further, you will be able to take advantage of people who spend far more time thinking biblically about pastoral placement.”

 

Be Practical

Brauns makes a number of very practical suggestions that would be helpful for anyone trying to think through this process.  From questions like “Should we pay the candidates expenses when we do an interview?” to lists of specific questions to ask in an interview, Brauns encourages practical thinking and common sense in the process.

 

Final Thought

As I read through this book I was struck by how helpful it could be to someone in the midst of this process. I was also reminded of how thankful I am to serve in an elder ruled church where some of the common pitfalls addressed in this book are avoided.

The Congregation’s Job

The health of the church depends in large part on the vitality of the body life of the church. For the church to maintain a healthy body life the congregation must take its responsibilities serious. Here are a few suggestions on what those responsibilities look like.

Top Ten Responsibilities for those in the Pews

1. Sit under the preaching of God’s word (Romans 10:17)

2. Show love (1 Corinthians 12; Matthew 22:34-40)

3. Serve in the work of the ministry according to the gifts God has given you (Ephesians 4:12, 1 Corinthians 12)

4. Submit & Support your leaders (Hebrews 13:17)

5. Show up (Hebrew 10:25)

6. Sort through conflict biblically (Ephesians 4:1-3)

7. Share the Gospel with those around you (Matthew 28:18ff)

8. Seek the Lord through prayer (Ephesians 6:18)

9. Sacrificially give (2 Corinthians 9:7)

10. Speak with humility (James 3:1-12, 4:6)

How does God Speak to Us?

Three recent events have reminded me that is it so important that we clarify how God communicates to His people.  If we don’t there will inevitably be confusion, frustration, and deviation from God’s will.

The first event occurred at my own dinner table.  My daughter, filled with questions, asked me when we were moving to Delaware.  We are going there so that we can help plant a church and I can pastor there.  My daughter is still struggling with the concept of time so every day she gets up wondering if today is the day we are moving.  Back at the dinner table, I answered her question with what I thought to be a very pastoral answer, “Dear, we will move to Delaware when God is ready for us to move to Delaware.”  Without hesitation my daughter responded, “Oh! Daddy, is He going to whisper it in you ear when it is time to go?”

The  second event occurred last Thursday night after the football game.  Randal Cobb, kick returner for the Packers, returned a kickoff 108 yds for a touchdown.  What made it so amazing was that he never should have tried to return a kick that was eight yds deep in the end zone! Or maybe he should have… You see, when asked about it after the game Cobb told reporters that he ignored his coaches instructions because

“I was just trusting in God.  He told me to bring it out. I’m not supposed to bring that out.  Some things are logical and some things are just the power of God.”

The third event occurred a few weeks ago when I watched a video from Mark Dricoll in which he detailed  his view of discernment.  Among other things, Driscoll said

Some people actually see things. This may be the gift of discernment. On occasion, I see things. I see things. Uh, like I was meeting with one person and they—they didn’t know this, but they were abused when they were a child. And I said, “When you were a child you were abused. This person did this to you, physically touched you this way.”

He said, “How do you know?”

I said, “I don’t know. It’s like I got a TV right here. I’m seeing it.”

He said, “No that never happened.”

I said, “Go ask him. Go ask him if they actually did what I think they did and I see that they did.”

They went and asked this person, “When I was a little kid did you do this?”

And the person said, “Yyyyeah, but you were only like a year or two old. How do you remember that?”

He said, “Well, pastor Mark told me.”

I’m not a guru. I’m not a freak. I don’t talk about this. If I did talk about it everybody’d want to meet with me and I’d end up like one of those guys on TV. But some of you have this visual ability to see things.

Upon occasion when I get up to preach I’ll see—just like a screen in front of me—I’ll see somebody get raped or abused and then I’ll track ’em down and say, “Look I had this vision. Let me tell you about it.”

In all three cases the question arises,  how does God speak to us as his people?

I will tell you what I told my daughter.  God does not whisper in our ear.  He doesn’t have to!  He gave us the Bible.  If we truly want to do what God tells us, we simply need to respond to God’s providence by obeying God’s will.  There is no secret formula.  No whispers. No TV screen in our heads.  Thankfully it is much simpler than that.

Think about it.  What if our move to Delaware was predicated upon a whisper, inclination, or feeling I had.  We would be in trouble because right now I feel like I want to be in Delaware getting started with the work.  But last night I was really enjoying time with family and thankful that we have a transition period.  If I base our decision on “a feeling God has given me” I will be in big trouble.  Plus, key logistical items have to be taken care of before we can just show up in Delaware.  In other words, we are trying to respond to the situations that God has providentially ordained with biblical wisdom before we leave.  It really is that simple.

What about returning a kickoff?  Dan Patrick, host of  The Dan Patrick Show, probably got it right when he said,

How does that even work? Did he hear the voice while the ball was in the air?  Does God even tell him to take a knee? …and what if he had taken a knee?  Would it have been a sin?

Even though Patrick was making light of the situation, he does hit on some valid questions.  Can you imagine trying to live your life like this.  Always waiting to hear a voice, and always afraid that God might want you to do something that you don’t know about.  God does not intend for His people to live this way.  That is why He gave us the Bible! Now we don’t have to wonder what God’s will is.  We can know and live the will of God by knowing and living what the bible teaches.

If this is true for a kick returner on the Packers then it is true for pastors as well.  I think it is biblically inaccurate to say that what the bible calls discernment can be equated with seeing visions on a TV screen in your head.  Additionally, I think that pastorally it is extremely dangerous to say these things.  Think about it.  In his video Driscoll claims to have visions of a woman cheating on her husband.  He then confronts her in a counseling session in front of her husband.  Why is this dangerous?  Let me give you the short list:

  1. Driscoll himself admits that he is not %100 accurate.  Can you imagine the damage it would have caused to this marriage if he had been wrong.  Plus, how does he know when it is accurate and when it isn’t? When is it from God and when it is from somewhere else? How is any of this verifiable?  No thank you.  I will stick with the verifiable and “proven to be true” word of God for my discernment.
  2. What motivation does a pastor or counselor have to dig into the scriptures if they could just get discernment through a flat screen in their brain?  All of my adult life I have been working hard to develop biblical discernment by doing things like, you know, reading the bible.  If we were supposed to, or even were able to, get information about the will of God from somewhere besides biblical truth then what do we need the bible for?  Maybe the bible is just for cleaning up the messes when our flat screen discernment is wrong.
  3. Driscoll encourages the people in his audience to cultivate this gift in their own life.  Here is what he says, “And there are some people that have real gift of discernment, and I’m not saying I’m a hundred percent always right with it, but some of you are going to have gift of discernment, and you need to—you need to learn to grow in the use of that gift. And sometimes people will hear things. Sometimes people will see things.”  To be frank, I don’t think this is any different than an NFL coach telling his kick returner to just wait and see what God tells him to do on the next kick!

It is so important that God’s people know how to “hear from God.”  I think we could avoid a great deal of frustration if we would remind ourselves that God has given us all the truth we need in His word.  If we want to be discerning… if we want to know when it’s time to move… if we want to be a great kick returner… ok, maybe not that one… then we need to commit ourselves to finding God’s will in God’s word.  The Psalmist summed it well,

“How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.

With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments!

I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.

Blessed are you, O Lord; teach me your statutes!

With my lips I declare all the rules of your mouth.

In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches.

I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways.

I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.”

Psalm 119:9–16, ESV

God speaks to us through the Bible, and we listen to Him by understanding and applying the Bible.  It really is that simple… it’s not easy, but it is simple.