29 November 2012

Forum on female commentators, theologians, writers

by Dan Phillips

Scripture is clear: there is no such thing as a female pastor under Christ's Lordship. Any woman who aspires to leadership over men in the church is eo ipso disqualified, if only on the grounds that she does not bow the knee to Christ as Lord in terms of her sexuality, and this itself is a disqualifying vice.

So what about female seminary professors? Female commentators? Female theologians, academics, writers?

A well-regarded commentary on Peter is by Karen Jobes. Jobes has also written on Esther, among other things. Tyndale OTC volumes on Daniel and 1-2 Samuel  were by Joyce Baldwin. One of the good books on male/female issues was written by Susan Foh.

I'm currently working through a book of devotions on the Greek New Testament, for which I am writing a review. Some of the contributors are female, one of them a hyphenated Notre Dame grad who's a prof in what at least once was an evangelical seminary.

Now, I'll be up-front with you. If I was out of town and visited a church that had a promising name, and a woman stood up to preach posing as a pastor, I'd likely quietly walk out. I wouldn't find it worshipful to sit and watch her shake her fist in Christ's face, and I wouldn't want to harm her by fostering her illusion.

But these are books, and complementarians read and use them. And these are seminary classes in professedly Evangelical institutions. So what's the difference? Is reading a commentary, or sitting under pastoral preparatory classes taught by a woman different from listening to a sermon by a woman? How? Is it because they aren't in church?

Should we care about the agendas of the women who write these books, teach these courses? Should we make it a point to inquire what they are attempting to accomplish in their careers? Should we care whether they are working towards erasing resistance to female pastors? Are we aiding those efforts by using those resources? Are we safe in assuming that all these and other female Christian writers are happy, Godly mothers, who are subordinate to their husbands as to Christ, and wouldn't dream of preaching or teaching a class with men in it?

These aren't meant as "trick" or loaded questions. I don't have an airtight, all-encompassing answer. Worse, I can't think of any substantial discussion I've ever seen on the topic, though at-least-nominally evangelical female writers and professors seem to be proliferating.

When I was at seminary, it was controversial. Our seminary had fairly recently begun admitting women to the MDiv program. An MDiv is generally perceived as a professional degree for pastors. The argument was that these women were pastors' wives and teachers of women; and why shouldn't they have the benefit of the best education?

One of my fellow-profs' off-the-record response was, "That's like handing someone a loaded pistol, and telling him never, ever to shoot it."

I'm wondering what the brain trust thinks about it, or what resources you've found that I haven't yet seen.

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28 November 2012

A Parable about Drunk Driving

by Frank Turk

I am travelling this week for work, and I am composing ahead so that you don't go without in spite of my sad and sorry state of out-of-townedness.

I'm thinking about a police force which, because they cannot catch all drunk drivers, they refuse to enforce any of the statutes regarding drunk driving.

Is that an ethically-sufficient way to reason about drunk driving?

27 November 2012

Notable posts on marital abuse, December 25, and a whole lot more

by Dan Phillips

Howdy, gang.

Thabiti Anyabwile unintentionally gives us a sad example of blogging at its best and worst. On the one hand, he provides a letter to an abusive husband that contains a lot of pastoral, masculine, godly wisdom. It's well-written and forthrightly addresses a miserable situation with the Gospel and with truth.

Immediately he's set upon by an angry, stubborn, self-righteous commenter who gives no evidence of having thoughtfully read anything below the title. Thabiti, God bless 'im, tries manfully and with incredible grace to engage the poor soul graciously and patiently and, as we Pyros could have predicted, it goes nowhere, and the meta has to be closed. Metas often bear out the truth of Ecclesiastes 9:18b ("one sinner destroys much good"), and this is a case in point.

So read the post, skip the comments — unless you want to see a Herculean model of grace in Thabiti's attempts to reach out and engage a scoffer. You might be thinking of Prov. 17:12, 27:22, and 29:9... and if that makes you wish you had a solid, in-depth Christian book that would help you read, apply, teach and preach Proverb — well, you know.

And BTW, Thabiti is there experiencing what drove me to the philosophy of strategery with which I blog.

You may know that N. T. Wright has sallied forth to speak down to us benighted bumpkins about what Serious Scholars know to be the truth behind (and contrary to) the words of Paul. Douglas Wilson responds once, yea twice, yea unto three times. Readable and witty, as usual.

In much lighter humor, Kevin DeYoung posted a couple of very cute videos.

This reminds me of one you might enjoy, especially you Joss Whedon fans. It's a literally-told Story Written By a Kid. You'll love it, and you'll never think of SWAT the same.

If textual criticism is your thing, you'll appreciate an article at Triablogue about recently-announced manuscript finds.

At that same blog, Jason Engwer tells us more about the December 25 date for Christmas than we would have thought it possible to know.

Professor Matt Harmon. of Grace Theological Seminary, did me the great favor of proofing my Greek notes and translations for that little green book. You'll want to bookmark his series on the Gospel according to the Minor Prophets.

Sharper Iron ran a really terrific post by Gary Gilley (why do I know that name?; or am I thinking of Garry Graham, who used to beat me up regularly when I was a single-digiter?...but I digress) called Cessationism, Revelation & Prophecy. Gilley reads as if he were a regular Pyro reader conversant with our years of work on the endlessly-vital subject, and his robust and pastoral exposition is a very worthwhile contribution.

Then Gilley follows up with A Case for Cessationism, in which he argues (among other things) that "the position taken by most on prophecy—cautious but open—is untenable." he deals with the "God in a box" dodge and the dithery cowardice of refusing to commit robustly to the implications of really believing in a really sufficient Word.

Do you prefer your Carl Trueman crusty, or non-crusty? The latter? Sorry, all out!

In case you missed it, I offered a jazzy little rendition of a little dittie by a Reformer guy.

Finally, would you like to hear a sermon that discusses the notion of "the call to pastoral ministry," the concept of qualifications and unculpability, and what Titus 1:6 means about the pastor's family life? How about if it contains the words "Not just any idiot can be an elder. It takes a special kind of idiot." Ah, interested now? Then you're in luck.

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25 November 2012

Our Place

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, volume 35, sermon number 2,066, "Our Place: At Jesus' Feet"

“We know nothing, and we teach ourselves.”

“She had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word”; so that “at Jesus’ feet” is the fitting place for a willing learner. A lowly sense of our own ignorance so that we do not dare to sit higher than “at his feet,” but a believing confidence in his infinite wisdom so that we do sit “at his feet” to learn of him—this is suitable. How much better scholars we should be if we tried to learn at Jesus’ feet! Some even of the Lord’s people are a deal too knowing. Many a boy at school does not learn anything of an excellent master, for he is conceited: he knows nothing, and he teaches himself. I am afraid we are like that scholar. We know nothing, and we teach ourselves. We have prejudices—opinions of what truth ought to be. This is evil. But, oh, it is very sweet to feel, “I do not know anything. I come, and take the Bible, and ask it to photograph itself upon my heart”! Some minds are like stained glass windows; they shut out much of the light, and the little light that does struggle through, they colour after their own manner. It is well to be plain glass, so that the Lord’s light, with all its colour and delicacy of shade, may come in just as it comes from heaven, with nothing gathered from ourselves. Beloved, I pray the Lord to free us all from prejudice, from self-conceit, and from opinions which originate with others.

We must learn at Jesus’ feet; not at the feet of man, when man goes away from Christ. At times the Lord may send a man whom he teaches, and what we gather from him may be God’s own voice to us. Still we must always be ready to discriminate between what the man says of himself, and what he says in his Master’s name; for there is a grave difference. “At Jesus’ feet” we must take up our seat. Dear young men, that are beginning to study theology, and that wish to become teachers of others, do not give yourselves up to any system, and say, “I follow this doctor, or that.” John Wesley is not our master; but Jesus Christ. John Calvin is not our Master; but Jesus Christ. It does not signify how great and good these men were: they were worthy of the love of all the church of God, but we call them not Rabbi. We may follow the man as far as the man follows Christ, but not an inch farther. We must sit at Jesus’ feet, humble, teachable, child-like, confidently believing what Jesus says, but having no “know” of our own—taking it all from him.

22 November 2012

Give thanks! [updated repost]

by Dan Phillips

First posted in 2010, this features a new hymn and extended notes.

Psalm 100

A Psalm for giving thanks.

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!
2 Serve the LORD with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!

3 Know that the LORD, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!

5 For the LORD is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.

Though many psalms feature the giving of thanks, this is the only psalm whose title labels it such. No psalmist could have envisioned our notion of a private inner glow of gratitude; to them, thanking God was characteristically out-loud (vv. 2, 4), loud (v. 1), public (vv. 1, 2, 4), and communal (v. 4).

This psalm is in two movements; or rather, one movement that is then echoed. Though his reasoning parallels Paul's, his order is backwards: first, the call to action (vv. 1-2, 4); then the reason (vv. 3, 5). There's always a why to the what. While Paul characteristically gives the why (Eph. 1—3; Col. 1—2) before the what (Eph. 4—6; Col. 3—4), the psalmist formally does the reverse.

You know, this wouldn't be a bad psalm to memorize.

Or sing.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends, from us to you.

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21 November 2012

The Annual Turkey Recipe

By Frank Turk

Just a picture from the Internet
I think it is a self-imposed tradition that I provide this recipe for you too late to actually use it, so with that in mind, here' the recipe we use at my house to cook a full-bird Turkey.  For those who are opposed to Turkey, it also works great on Chicken.  It makes utterly-lousy Pizza.

You do not have to be "truly reformed" to use this recipe. You just have to like Turkey and stuffing.

Roasting a turkey isn't as hard as it sounds. Here's a basic recipe to get you started. In this case, the turkey is stuffed. DO NOT stuff the turkey and put it in the fridge overnight: that's bacteriologically a bad idea, and we want you all to enjoy Thanksgiving on the sofa, not on a hospital gurney.


12- to 14-lb. turkey, thawed if purchased frozen
1 bag, your favorite "Italian" croutons
2-4 bouillon cubes
2-3 stalks, celery, chopper or cubed
1 cup carrots, chopped
½ cup onions, finely chopped
1 tsp, dried parsley
1 cup, cashews
Pepper and Garlic Salt

  1. Preheat your oven to 325. Remove the cooking racks, then place one rack into oven at the lowest position.
  2. Unwrap your THAWED Turkey in a clean sink, and remove the giblets – that bag of stuff that you never thought you would use for anything because it looks gross. It's not gross. You may have to unhook the metal clip which holds the legs together in order to get all the giblets out; you may have to run some warm water into the bird to get the giblets out. Don't be afraid.
  3. Start a medium-sized pot of water boiling – not more than 3 cups. Put your packet of giblets in the water (sans wrapping paper), along with your bouillon cubes and the carrots, celery and parlsey. 2 cubes will make a somewhat-mild flavored stuffing; 6 will make a very salty and spicy stuffing. You know what you like best, so add the cubes to the low end of your tolerance for spicy. For your reference, I usually use 4 cubes. Boil this mix for about 30 minutes – long enough to cook the giblets thoroughly.
  4. While the soup (yes: you very smart readers knew that we were making soup, didn't you?) is cooking, wash the Turkey thoroughly, inside and out. I wouldn't use soap as you might miss a spot in the rinse and ruin your hours of hard work here, but washing the bird is an important health safety tip. If we were deep frying the bird (that's the Christmas recipe), washing is pretty much unimportant because if some germ can survive the deep fryer, it will kill you before you eat any of the dinner. Anyway, clean the bird thoroughly and put it in a large roasting pan. For this recipe, the deeper the roasting pan, the better. I suggest a large disposable roasting pan from WAL*MART even though it might possibly ring up at the wrong price.

    If you get bored waiting for the soup to finish up, this would be a good time to rub salt and pepper into the skin of your bird. Visually, salt and pepper the skin so that it looks like very light TV static. Do the top (the breast side) and the bottom (where the shoulders are); do not worry if you put less on the breast side. Because of the way this bird is going to cook, pay special attention to salting and peppering the wings and drumsticks.
  5. You now have a clean, prepped bird and a very delicious-smelling pot of soup. You have to make stuffing now. Remove the soup from the heat and remove the giblets. If you are a complete carnivore (like me), take the fully-cooked giblets to your food chopper and chop them up and put them back into the soup (you can't chop up the neck, but if you have 20 minutes, de-bone the neck and put your neck meat into the soup).

    Those of you grossed out by chopping up the giblets can throw them away. The rest of us will weep for you.

    Now empty the bag of croutons into the soup. If you used about 2 cups of water, you will get a somewhat-damp bread-and-soup mixture; if you used about 3 cups of water, you will get a very wet bread-and-soup mixture. I like the latter better, but some people like their stuffing more dry than others. The extraordinary secret here is that a soupier stuffing makes for a more-moist bird in the final product. After the soup and the bread are well- mixed, add the cashews and mix again.
  6. When you have this mixing complete, use a tablespoon and start loading the stuffing into the bird. Pack the stuffing down into the bird to get the cavity of the body completely full of stuffing. Don't leave any air pockets. Once the Turkey is completely stuffed, position it in the roasting tray breast-side down (I learned that from watching Emeril) in the center of the pan, and load the pan with the rest of your stuffing mix.
  7. Cover the Turkey, and place it inside your oven. After 2 hours in the heat, remove the cover and roast for another hour. In this final hour, the skin of the exposed parts should turn golden brown. At the end of the third hour, test the bird with a meat thermometer; the center temperature should be 175-180 degrees F. It will be the most unbelievable bird you every ate.

20 November 2012

"Horrible! Horrible! Horrible!" — the offense of the Gospel

by Dan Phillips

Almost seventy of the folks who read the Kindle edition of my little green book highlighted this passage:
We must deal with the fact: The Gospel is offensive to human pride. If what we preach as “Gospel” is not offensive, we’re doing it wrong. An inoffensive Gospel is a false Gospel, a damning Gospel—because the only Gospel that saves is the Gospel that offends (1 Cor. 1:18, 21, 23; 2:2; Gal. 1:10; 5:11; 6:12, 14).
A terrific illustration of that offense comes from the late John Stott's really fine book on preaching, titled Between Two Worlds. Stott says
The fact is that the authentic gospel of the New Testament remains extremely offensive to human pride, and nobody who preaches it faithfully can expect to escape at least some degree of opposition. Paul found in his day that the message of Christ crucified was both folly to Greek intellectuals and a stumbling block to self-righteous Jews. Nobody can reach God by his own wisdom or by his own morality. Only at the cross can God be known. And this is doubly offensive to men and women of culture. They resent the exclusiveness of the Christian claim, and even more the humiliation implicit in it. Christ from  his cross seems to say to us, "I am here because of you. If it were not for your sin and pride, I would not be here. And if you could have saved yourself, I would not be here either." The Christian pilgrimage begins with bowed head and bent knee; there is no other way into the kingdom of God except by the exaltation of those who have humbled themselves. 
I have often thanked God that he taught me this truth very early in my Christian experience, partly through glimpses into the pride of my own heart and partly through a glimpse into somebody else's. It was when I was an undergraduate at Trinity College, Cambridge. Only recently I had come to Christ myself, and now — clumsily, I am sure — I was trying to share the good news with a fellow student. I was endeavoring to explain the great doctrine of justification by grace alone, that salvation was Christ's free gift, and that we could neither buy it nor even contribute to its purchase, for Christ had obtained it for us and was now offering it to us gratis. Suddenly  to my intense astonishment, my friend shouted three times at the top of his voice, "Horrible! Horrible! Horrible!" Such is the arrogance of the human heart that it finds the good news not glorious (which it is) but horrible (which it is not).

Postscript: I heartily recommend Stott's book, but I do have a bitter gripe. It's one of those ridiculous cases where, in a book rich with quotations, the publisher (Eerdmans!) has inexplicably removed the documentation from the quotation, in the execrable form of chapter endnotes.

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18 November 2012

Always, And For All Things

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, volume 19, sermon number 1,094, "Always, And For All Things."
"Look downward and give thanks, for you are saved from hell; look on the right hand and give thanks, for you are enriched with gracious gifts; look on the left hand and give thanks, for you are shielded from deadly ills; look above you and give thanks, for heaven awaits you."

We have sometimes been so overcome by the devout emotion of gratitude to God for his mercy that we could not help but weep; and strange it is that the same sluices which furnish vent for our
sorrows also supply a channel for the overflow of our joys. We may weep to God’s praise if we feel it to be most natural. We are to give thanks in our spirit, feeling not only resigned, acquiescent, and content, but grateful for all that God does to us and for us. We are bound to show this gratitude by our actions, for obedience is at once the most sincere and the most acceptable method of giving thanks. To go about irksome and labourious duty cheerfully is to thank God; to bear sickness and pain patiently, because it is according to his will, is to thank God; to sympathise with suffering saints for love of Jesus is to bless God; and to love the cause of God, and to defend it for Christ’s sake, is to thank God. The angels, when they praise God, not only sing "Hallelujah, hallelujah," but they obey, "doing his commandments, hearkening to the voice of his word." We must give thanks to God in every shape that shall be expressive of our hearts and suitable to the occasion; and although changing the mode, we may thus continue without cessation to give thanks unto God, even the Father.

Beloved, after all it is but a light thing to render to our heavenly Father our poor thanks, after he has given us our lives, maintained us in being, saved us our souls through the precious redemption of Jesus Christ, given us to be his children, and made us heirs of eternal glory. What are our thanks in the presence of all these priceless favours? Why, if we gave our God a thousand lives, and could spend each one of these in a perpetual martyrdom, it were a small return for what he has bestowed upon us; but to give him thanks is the least we can do, and shall we be slack in that? He gives us breath, shall we not breathe out his praise? He fills our mouth with good things, shall we not speak well of his name?

Shall we fail even with words and tongues? God forbid. We will praise the name of the Lord, for his mercy endureth for ever. None of us will say, "I pray thee have me excused." The poorest, weakest, and least-gifted person can give thanks. The work of thanksgiving does not belong to the man of large utterance, for he who can hardly put two words together can give thanks; nor is it confined to the man of large possessions, for the woman who had but two mites—which make a farthing—gave substantial thanks. The smoking flax may give thanks that it is not quenched, and the bruised reed may give thanks that it is not broken. Even the dumb may give thanks, their countenance can smile a psalm; and the dying can give thanks, their placid brow beaming forth a hymn. No Christian therefore can honestly say, "I am unable to exercise the delightful privilege of giving thanks." We may one and all at this moment give thanks unto God our Father. Brethren, let us do so.

15 November 2012


by Dan Phillips

Last Sunday I preached on Titus 1:4, which I translated thus:
to Titus, genuine child in accord with our shared faith: grace and peace, from God the Father, and Christ Jesus our Savior.
As I rolled the verse over in my mind, I knew that I wanted to open up the significance of this purebred Jewish Rabbi calling this dirtybred gentile Gentile a "genuine child in accord with our shared faith." I wanted to find a way to highlight what a massive thing it was that Paul, for years, had gladly worked with Titus as his Exhibit A of Gentile conversion, his beloved and trusted coworker, and his go-to guy to send into dicey situations.

But I never felt I had it, never felt I had an angle that would come close to doing it justice...until I connected it with a current story in the news.

Ordained United Methodist Church Reverend Joseph Lowery, "civil rights icon," spoke in a Baptist church in Georgia and said that when he was younger, he thought all white people were going to Hell. But then when he was older, he mellowed a bit.

But now Lowery said he had come around to his former opinion. Lowery also expressed incredulity that any — and here he used a foul vulgarity for "black person" — wouldn't vote his skin-color.

This struck me for a great many reasons, one of which being that I've long been concerned about the ongoing racial division in American Christianity. It is still said to be true that the church hour is the most segregated hour in the week, and it seems everyone is pointing fingers in the opposite direction. Often in the wrong direction, as I increasingly see it.

AN ASIDE: by the way, does the identity of the speaker, or his skin-color, or the skin-color of his "joke's" targets, matter? Should it? From a Gospel perspective, could it?

So I thought of Paul, whose own background was that of prejudice. Apart from Christ, he and Titus wouldn't have given each other the time of day. There's rabbinic snark to the effect that God had a good reason for creating Gentiles: as fuel for the fires of Gehenna. I shared a few other lovely sentiments in the sermon.

Yet now here Paul is, expressing in many ways and locations his affection and respect for this Greek dude, Titus.

But even more, here was a ministry in Crete where Paul's own countrymen were present in force (Titus 1:10). Now look: Paul had a common bond with them. They were the oppressed. They had shared the struggle, shared it even now. Titus and the Gentiles were the oppressors. Where would Paul's sympathies lie? With whom would Paul form common cause? And why?

But of course, Paul's relationship with Titus (and many others) showed that something had blasted apart this wall of racial prejudice and hatred. It was a past issue, a state for which Paul expressed no nostalgia. Paul didn't merely talk reconciliation, he lived it. He fought for it.

Can you imagine Paul standing and joking that he'd once thought all Gentiles were going to Hell, had mellowed — and then had come back around to his former opinion? Or can you imagine what Paul would do if he sat in an audience where that "joke" was told? Would he yuck it up?

Well, you know, as long as we've got Galatians 2:11ff. in our Bible, we don't have to guess, do we?

So what was it that demo'd the wall of hatred and division for Paul? You know the answer. It was the Gospel. It was the Cross. It tilted Paul's world.

The Cross should be the death of such things. The Cross is the death of such things. What do we see at Calvary? A white God giving His Son for a white world? God forbid. A black God, a brown God? Yellow? No. Just God, Creator of all things and all humans, so loving a world of lost guilty rebels of every people, tribe, nation and tongue that He gave His Son for them. You see God's Son hanging between heaven and earth, groaning not under white sins or black sins, but under human sins.

That's a snippet of what I gleaned and applied from this passage; you can find the sermon and the outline here, if you like.

God grant that the church — every part of it — work a whole lot harder to embody what Christ did so much to create.

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14 November 2012

Not a Trade School or a Book Club

by Frank Turk

For those interested, the whole sunday morning lesson this series is based on can be found here.

We have been talking about this passage in 1Thes:

But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. 8 So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.  
9 For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10 You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. 11 For you know how, like a father with his children, 12 we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

And we have discussed that, in this passage, in Paul's view, the normal life of the local church has at least 3 components: Pastoral Care, Personal Affection, and Preaching the Gospel.  But there is a fourth component: Perfecting the Gospel.

4. Perfecting the Gospel

“walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory,” Paul said to the Thessalonians.

When Paul said this same thing to Titus at the end of his life, he said it this way, in Titus 2:
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
He means that there are necessary consequences of the Gospel.  He says right above that section that they must “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.”  That’s what “adorn” means: your wife may be beautiful in her own right, but there is something you can do for her which prefects her beauty.  You may “adorn” her with praise, or “adorn” her with honor, or better yet: “adorn” her with love.  You make what is already there perfect, complete, by doing the things which are necessary in order to show that they are true.

This is also what Paul sees as the ordinary life of the local church.  The fruit of the Spirit is there.  There’s a sense there that somehow, Jesus is coming and we must be ready for him, and that when we behave as if what we believe is actually true, being called to God’s Kingdom and Glory are worth it.  We must walk in a manner which is worthy of God, worthy of the calling into God’s Kingdom and God’s Glory.

So this is Paul’s ordinary instruction to the church:
For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10 You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. 11 For you know how, like a father with his children, 12 we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.
It’s funny how Paul can pull the cover off the ordinary so quickly to reveal the extraordinary that is underneath it.  We get ourselves wrapped up in the idea that somehow, the big issues of the Christian life are wrapped up in big words and systematic theology.  We think that somehow God has decided that to follow him you need to get a whole new vocabulary which might not even be complete or adequate if you don’t know Greek and Hebrew and Latin.  But here, in this letter to people in a persecuted church, Paul doesn’t use any of those words at all.  He doesn’t resort to extraordinary language.  And he doesn’t appeal to an extraordinary experience – but he makes the point that somehow the Gospel makes us zealous for an ordinary life which is worthy of Himself, and His Kingdom.

This letter is written after Paul’s first visit to Thessalonica, yes?  But what Paul is describing here is what happened when he was in Thessalonica.  When he was done teaching, this is how Acts 17 describes the outcome:
But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.”
After the Thessalonians were taught by Paul, their whole city knew there was something different about them – and described it as turning the whole world upside down.  Yet somehow when we look at this letter, and Paul’s description of what he taught these people, somehow it looks utterly harmless.  It looks simple – maybe too simple, too obvious or boring.  But when it was first demonstrated, it was an event that changed the world.

Pastoral Care.
Personal Affection and concern.
Proclamation of the Gospel.
Perfecting the Gospel.

It’s a completely-ordinary thing – or it seems that way.  We are prone to take it for granted, to forget that this is not a social club or a trade school or a book club.  This is the place where the Kingdom of God is breaking into the world, and the victory of Jesus over sin and death is doing something that is not of this world.

I’m going to tell a story here to close up our time about my brother-in-law, David.  He tells a story about the first time he visited Boston. David's ex-military, and He says that he can remember all through school people told him about American history -- about the events that happened that caused us to be a country, the list of facts. But in Boston, he found himself out in the harbor looking down into the water, and when he looked into the water and out at the harbor he realized: "Wow. This is were they dropped the tea into the harbor." And at that moment, all those men and all the stories about them weren't just facts or true statements anymore: the real people became obvious to him, and it changed the way he thought about our country and his part in it.

It seems ridiculous – he lived his whole life in the United States, and walked around in it receiving all kinds of benefits from being a citizen.  But for him to really get it, to really understand that something happened to change the whole course of history, he had to do something as mundane as stand in front of the body of water where they threw some cargo into the ocean for the light bulb to go off.

But that’s what it seems to be about the local church – about Paul’s ordinary message to the Thessalonians.  In the same way that David finally got it, that THIS is where they threw the tea into the Harbor, Paul is telling us: show them the real Jesus.  Show them the Gospel of God not as a metaphor, not as a seminar on ancient literature.  Don’t just show them a nice time.  Show them that Jesus died for sin, and now the Glory of God and his Kingdom are coming into this world here, in the local church.  Show them the Gospel of God, the extraordinary thing under the ordinary life of the church.

13 November 2012

Some good reads, 11/13/2012

by Dan Phillips

Howdy gang.

In case you missed these, here are some items in which I thought you'd find pleasure and profit, and perhaps meet some sites worth bookmarking in the process.
  • Good word from Bill Mounce on logical flow of thought in Greek writing, the role the conjunction γὰρ (gar, often translated "for") plays, and how translations — ::cough::NIV!!!::cough:: — shouldn't just decide to drop them as if invisible.
  • Lists are fun, particularly when they're well-done (rhyme!), and H. B. Charles, Jr. has a great list of (103!) things he's learned along the way in pastoral ministry. Not all God-breathed, of course; but all worth pondering. H. B.'s list is longer than mine; so I guess he's learned more.
  • Last Sunday's sermon at CBC featured Titus 1:4 and was called "Titus: the right man for the job." We went into Titus' experience and qualifications for ministry and, along the way, the issue of racism in the professedly Christian church. I may write more on this, later.
  • My two favorite written responses to last week's election in America are Tom Chantry's and Nathan Machel's (the latter known to Pyro readers as commenter "Trogdor"). Chantry's is both visceral and Biblical. Machel's is more visceral and, as usual for him, eminently quotable. For instance: "We believe it is the government's job to legislate morality, so long as that morality is immoral"; "We believe that when the government fails spectacularly and creates problems, the solution is more power for the government"; and "We think that "you have the right to use a product" and "someone else must pay for it" are equivalent." I love both posts.

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11 November 2012

"He Is In One Mind"

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, volume 7, sermon number 406, "The Infallibility Of God's Purpose,"from Job 23:13.

"Will it not reconcile us to our sorrows, that they serve some end?"

Stand upon the sea-beach for a moment. A wave has just come up careening in its pride. Its crown of froth is spent. As it leaps beyond its fellow, it dies, it dies. And now another, and it dies, and now another, and it dies. Oh! weep not, deep sea, be not thou sorrowful, for though each wave dieth, yet thou prevailest! O thou mighty ocean! onward does the flood advance, till it has covered all the sand and washed the feet of the white cliffs. So is it with God’s purpose. You and I are only waves of his great sea; we wash up, we seem to retire, as if there had been no advance; another wave comes, still each wave must retire as though there had been no progress; but the great divine sea of his purpose is still moving on. He is still of one mind and carrying out his plan. How sorrowful it often seems to think how good men die! They learn through the days of their youth, and often before they come to years to use their learning, they are gone. The blade is made and annealed in many a fire, but ere the foeman useth it, it snaps! How many labourers, too, in the Master’s vineyard, who when by their experience they were getting more useful than ever, have been taken away just when the Church wanteth them most! He that stood upright in the chariot, guiding the steeds, suddenly falls back, and we cry, “My father, my father, the horsemen of Israel and the chariot thereof!” Still notwithstanding all, we may console ourselves in the midst of our grief with the blessed reflection that everything is a part of God’s plan. He is still of one mind: nothing happeneth which is not a part of the divine scheme. To enlarge our thoughts a moment, have you never noticed, in reading history, how nations suddenly decay? When their civilization has advanced so far that we thought it would produce men of the highest mould, suddenly old age begins to wrinkle its brow, its arm grows weak, the sceptre falls, and the crown droops from the head, and we have said, “Is not the world gone back again?” The barbarian has sacked the city, and where once everything was beauty, now there is nothing but ruthless bloodshed and destruction. Ah! but, my brethren, all those things were but the carrying out of the divine plan. Just so you may have seen sometimes upon the hard rock the lichen spring. Soon as the lichen race grows grand, it dies. But wherefore? It is because its death prepares the moss, and the moss which is feeble compared with the lichen growth, at last increases till you see before you the finest specimens of that genus. But the moss decays. Yet weep not for its decaying, its ashes shall prepare a soil for some plants of a little higher growth, and as these decay, one after another, race after race, they at last prepare the soil upon which even the goodly cedar itself might stretch out its roots. So has it been with the race of men—Egypt, and Assyria, Babylon, Greece, and Rome, have crumbled, each and all, when their hour had come, to be succeeded by a better. And if this race of ours should ever be eclipsed, if the Anglo Saxons’ boasted pride should yet be stained, even then it will prove to be a link in the divine purpose. Still, in the end his one mind shall be carried out; his one great result shall be thereby achieved. Not only the decay of nations, but the apparent degeneration of some races of men, and even the total extinction of others, forms a part of the like fixed purpose. In all those cases there may be reasons of sorrow, but faith sees grounds of rejoicing. To gather up all in one, the calamities of earthquake, the devastations of storm, the extirpations of war, and all the terrible catastrophes of plague, have only been co-workers with God—slaves compelled to tug the galley of the divine purpose across the sea of time. From every evil good has come, and the more the evil has accumulated the more hath God glorified himself in bringing out at last his grand, his everlasting design. This, I take it, is the first general lesson of the text—in every event of Providence, God has a purpose. “He is in one mind.” Mark, not only a purpose, but only one purpose, for all history is but one. There are many scenes, but it is one drama; there are many pages, but it is one book; there are many leaves, but it is one tree; there are many provinces, yea, and there be lords many and rulers many; yet is there but one empire, and God the only Potentate. “O come let us worship and bow down before him: for the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods!”

08 November 2012

Post-election 2012 debriefing

by Dan Phillips

But it won't be what you think, and it won't be what Everyone Else might be doing (with brilliant exceptions like this and this.)

Post-mortems are non-starters with me right now. No campaign is perfect, but Romney ran a campaign far better than what I ever thought him capable of. Picking him over like a crow on roadkill is a non-starter with me. For that matter, complaints about the MSM, Governor Christie, the GOP, the MSM, Hurricane Sandy or the MSM — all non-starters.

Also, clamoring to be this generation's Calvinistic Kent Brockman is a non-starter for me. (That last-linked post, four years later, is still surprisingly timely, to my mind.) The election was a disgrace. There is no excuse — none, zero — for the citizens (let alone Christians) who re-elected Barack Obama, whether by voting for him, by voting third-party, or by not voting. No amount of rationalization will make that okay. And so, here we are.

As I prepared for last night's service at church, I weighed continuing in our studies of prayer from Exodus, or taking an aside to give some instruction in the light of the election. Pastorally, knowing my people as I am growing to do, I felt the latter was the better course. So here, in outline and with just a few comments, is what I delivered. When one sister saw the title on the outline, she said with deep feeling, "Oh, thank you!" I hope it was helpful.

I.           We Must Have Our World Tilted by the Gospel
A.         Acts 17:1-7

B.         Romans 10:9 

The Christian's proclamation of Jesus as King and Lord was viewed as subversive. It is because they did not look to culture or Caesar as ultimate. They did not look to any human authority or structure for meaning, significance, or ultimate direction.

This is why, while Christians have always been among the most productive and decent and law-abiding citizens, governments have characteristically hated them and regarded them with deep suspicion. Christians do not agree to let Caesar mold their thoughts and values, and will not depend on Caesar for life or meaning. Their ultimate interest is never the Kingdom of Man, but the Kingdom of God.

And this results from a worldview premised on the confession of Jesus' Lordship, with the necessary corollary rejection of man's autonomy and centrality.

Statist totalitarians hate that. Such "bitter clingers" threaten them to their very core. As they should.

II.        We Must Build a Gospel-Tilted Worldview
A.         Col. 2:6-7

B.         Proverbs 1:7
C.         Proverbs 2:1-11

The Christian  life commences with the confession of Christ's Lordship, and it continues in the very same way. Salvation is in that confession, and sanctification springs from it. Conversion is not the mere change of an opinion or two; it is the complete overhaul (tilting, if you will) of a complete worldview.

The OT equivalent of the same reality (as I argue at great Biblical length elsewhere) is the fear of Yahweh. This is the orientation that begins with the Godhood of God, and the dependent and comprehensive servitude of man. It leads us to study hard and pray hard for wisdom. And when we get it, we find that the wisdom that begins with the fear of Yahweh also leads to the fear of Yahweh. The relationship of the fear of Yahweh to wisdom and knowledge is like the relationship of learning one's ABCs to reading: it's where we must start, and we never ever leave it.

Further, while many are (understandably) wondering whether they should pull out of the stock markets completely, sell everything and buy gold and/or ammo and/or supplies  Proverbs 2:1 points to the investment every Christian can and must make. It is an investment that no executive order or act of Congress or fluctuation of markets can devalue or confiscate. We must treasure up God's wisdom.

If we don't see the need now, we will when tribulation, persecution and suffering come. And when that happens (as it will: Acts 14:22; 2 Tim. 3:12), it will be too late to begin stockpiling that wisdom.

III.      We Must Invest Accordingly
A.         Godward

1.         Mat. 6:19-21

2.         Luke 12:16-21

3.         Col 3:1-4

We must be rich towards God. We must know Him, and know Him better. We must invest in that knowledge, and in serving Him. The man who lived in a great economy and assumed it would continue forever found himself to be a damned fool. Literally.

B.         Manward
1.         Rom 12:10, 13, 15-16; 13:8

2.         Acts 2:42-47

3.         1 Corinthians 15:58; 16:13

We must be involved in the ministry of the local church, or we sin against God. That involvement will lead us to relationship, service, support of others. Christians have done this in the best of times and in the worst of times; and we must do it in days to come.

But Acts 2:47 points out that this mustn't be a sheerly self-absorbed cloistered retreat. I asked my dear folks how it happened that the Lord kept adding saved people to the church, and (God love 'em!) my folks instantly answered "By their spreading the Gospel." So Christians turned within for fellowship and worship and support, but they also and aggressively turned outward with the Gospel. They turned their world upside-down with an offensive message that was radically different from what the world already thought.

And, as the passages in 1 Corinthians underscore, they let nothing stop them. Living in a society even more oppressive than what American liberals are working hard (and successfully, with the help of Christianoid quislings) to create, they still put out the Gospel for all their worth.

And so must we.

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07 November 2012

The aim of the charge

by Frank Turk

For those interested, the whole sunday morning lesson this series is based on can be found here.

Last week we discussed that while Paul devoted himself to loving the Thessalonians as a pastor, as a father and a mother, these were people who took Paul’s teaching to heart.  They lived as if what Paul was teaching them was true, and more important than the priorities they had before they met him.  Paul could love them because they were more than just good students: they demonstrated the love which they received.

This brings us to our second point:

2. Personal Affection and Concern

This is the part of this lesson that stung me most, so I’ll say it upfront: this is the part of my spiritual life with which, frankly, I am most concerned.  Follow me here for a second: most of the members of my local church live on the West Side of Little Rock, or in Maumelle, and they are together as a truly-local church.  They live together.  It’s a good thing.  And it may even seem like a completely conventional or routine thing to them because that’s just the way it is.

But from my side of the blog (and te podium when I teach), I lack a real personal connection to people in this church.  We saw it a couple of weeks ago when I lead prayer prior to another teacher's lesson, because I don’t know most of the names of people with requests.  Now: that is probably in great part a function of living in Bryant rather than on the West side of Little Rock, and not because I am actively callous toward any of you.  We simply live 40 minutes away.  But because of this, there is a divide between myself and most of you that I need to take seriously because of what Paul says here.  Paul says, “we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.”

“Ready to share with you our own selves,” he says – in the context that they had also shared themselves with him.  In an ordinary letter like this one, this is a serious and sober challenge.  In the ordinary life of the local church, Paul says that it’s not even enough that we should simply share a word together once in a while, or worship together.  He says we should be part of each others’ lives.

This is the only place that the mothering and fathering Paul is talking about can really happen: if we are in one another’s lives.

Before my wife and I moved to Little Rock 4 years ago, we belonged to a local church in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, to a church about this size – but in a town with only about 14,000 people.  We lived close enough to the church that my wife could ride her bike there – and in the car, it wasn’t 5 minutes to the front door of church.  In that church, we knew people.  They knew us.  They knew where we lived, and we knew how to check up on them.  They knew when our kids were sick, and when we were sick.  We had dinner in each others’ homes.

In pointing this out, I am not saying that this is the Gospel – because plenty of people without the Gospel have close friends.  Plenty of people are deceived that the Gospel is only a close sense of community.  What I am saying is that, as Paul says elsewhere, the aim of the charge for the Gospel is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.  Somehow, this is the stuff that happens to people when they are full of the Gospel.

So my conviction this week from this ordinary text is that I don’t show enough love to people for whom I ought to have a Gospel-planted love.  My only lesson to all of you from that is: be less like I am, and more like I ought to be – more like I commit myself to be in the future.  I should find ways to be available to the people in this church, and to share myself with them in spite of the busy sorts of lives we all find ourselves in.  The Gospel doesn’t just call us to occupy a building with each other once in a while: it calls us to give ourselves to each other.

There’s a reason for this, which I will explain in a second, in our third point.

3. Proclamation of the Gospel

This seems fairly ordinary.  It seems almost like a cliché of the Christian life.  But Paul says, “we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves,” and then “we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.”  When he was sharing his life with them, it was not merely for the benefit of good company or companionship; when he was toiling so that they did not have to support him, we wasn’t doing it just to have a decent character.  The Gospel filled him with a desire for other people, and it also required him to make a place in their lives for himself and his message.

John MacArthur has said this about Paul’s inclination toward people for the Gospel:
[Quote MacArthur] Do you know what Paul was in terms of an evangelist? He was a Biblical evangelist in so far as he saw his responsibility not only as winning people but as maturing them, … Do you know what his priority was in evangelism? Discipleship.
I think one of the things that very often is missing in our evangelism … is a failure to really love the individual that we've led to Christ to the point where we feel this tremendous responsibility. 
If you don't learn anything about evangelism, learn this. The best way to evangelize is to produce one reproducing disciple. … Paul knew that this running around creating spiritual infancy all over, leaving a whole lot of spiritual babes lying on their backs screaming was not the way to go at it because they weren't mature enough to reproduce. Better to spend yourselves on some individuals that they might become mature and that they might carry the Gospel. Jesus didn't speak to large crowds very often and even when he did he spoke in parables and they didn't understand it. He spent most of his time with 12 individuals, didn't he? That's really the heart of evangelism. He was committed to the priority of maturing the believers. He himself knew that was his calling. [end quote]
Paul’s toil and giving of himself was for this reason only: so that the Gospel would actually take root in these people, and actually bring out a yield.  He loved them for the Gospel’s sake; he worked for the Gospel’s sake.

But his purpose wasn’t just for them to hear the words.  It wasn’t just to say something to them and let God sort it out for them.  Paul says he loved them, and toiled over them, and was blameless before them, and preached the Gospel to them, and then he “exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.”  This is his fatherly concern for them – not just that they feel good about their love for Paul, or his love for them, but that they see the God-centeredness of it, and the God-exalting power of it, as it demonstrates the power of the Gospel.

06 November 2012

I got nothing... well, almost nothing

by Dan Phillips

I guess I do have this.

SCENE ONE: anxious parents pace back and forth in a hospital waiting room. Their only child fights for life in surgery. Word will come back at any moment. They alternately hold on to each other, and clutch their stomachs, sick with worry and care.

In comes their faithful shepherd, Pastor D. Zaster. His advent is preceded by a happy whistle and accompanied by a cheery smile.

"Why so gloomy?" he chirps. "God is sovereign! His purposes are sure and certain. Anything that happens today or tomorrow is just a little blip, a road bump, on the way to Christ's Kingdom. And your child? What's one child against the ages of eternity? Dead, alive, Christ is risen and the Gospel is glorious. Really, to fret is to disbelieve! Cheer up! You're making far too much of far too little!"

Our verdict? Jerk.

SCENE TWO: An anxious American expresses his fears and concerns about today's presidential election. He knows that the results will have an impact on abortion, religious liberty, national security, as well as all the matters of concern highlighted in Jeremiah 29:1ff. Romans 13:1ff., 1 Tim. 2:1ff., and 1 Pet. 2:14.

In comes Famous Religionist, chirping "Why so gloomy? God is sovereign! His purposes are sure and certain. Anything that happens today or tomorrow is just a little blip, a road bump, on the way to Christ's Kingdom. And your nation? What's one little country against the ages-long rise and fall of kingdoms? Ruined, flourishing, Christ is risen and the Gospel is glorious. Really, to fret is to disbelieve! Cheer up! You're making far too much of far too little!"

Our verdict? Deeeep. Thoughtful. Helpful. Nuanced. Positively Godicocious. Let's give him a conference so he can tell us more.

My verdict? Er, well, let's say it isn't any of that.

Before you want to tell me that a pivotal moment in American history such as this isn't worth getting worked up about, you go talk Jeremiah out of writing Lamentations and then get back to me.

And anyone who still thinks that weaving airy theologizations and rationalizations for his own blithe detachment is great and wise and godly... well, just stay well away from anyone I care about when tragedy looms.

We live in the day when Men Without Chests are carried to fame and glory by adoring masses; and any hint of criticism, any attempt at accountability for failure, any call to something better and more truly Biblical and godly and manly is punished by scolding and shaming and shunning. They are the enablers, without whom the fops would be invisible.

Ah well. Tomorrow we'll know more about what Americans have chosen to reward.

And if the news is bad, we'll have to endure the deep, nuanced, above-it-all essays from Job's friends, and the adoring sighs of their fanboys.

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04 November 2012

Salt And Light

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from the Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, volume 27, sermon number 1,594, "The Candle."
"Saltness and light are the power of a Christian."

I long for the day when the precepts of the Christian religion shall be the rule among all classes of men, in all transactions. I often hear it said “Do not bring religion into politics.” This is precisely where it ought to be brought, and set there in the face of all men as on a candlestick. I would have the Cabinet and the Members of Parliament do the work of the nation as before the Lord, and I would have the nation, either in making war or peace, consider the matter by the light of righteousness. We are to deal with other nations about this or that upon the principles of the New Testament. I thank God that I have lived to see the attempt made in one or two instances, and I pray that the principle may become dominant and permanent. We have had enough of clever men without conscience, let us now see what honest, God-fearing men will do. But we are told that we must study “British interests,” as if it were not always to a nation’s truest interest to do righteousness. “But we must follow out our policy.” I say, No! Let the policies which are founded on wrong be cast like idols to the moles and to the bats. Stand to that most admirable of policies,—“As ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.” Whether we are kings, or queens, or prime ministers, or members of parliament, or crossing sweepers, this is our rule if we are Christians.

Yes, and bring, religion into your business, and let the light shine in the factory and in the counting-house. Then we shall not have quite so much china clay in the calicoes wherewith to cheat the foreigner, nor shall we see cheap and nasty articles described as of best quality, nor any other of the dodges in trade that everybody seems to practice now-a-days. You tradespeople and manufacturers are very much one like the other in this: there are tricks in all trades, and one sees it everywhere. I believe everybody to be honest in all England, Scotland, and Ireland until he is found out; but whether there are any so incorruptible that they will never be found wanting this deponent sayeth not, for I am not a judge.

Do not put your candle under a bushel, but let it shine, for it was intended that it should be seen. Religion ought to be as much seen at our own table as at the Lord’s table. Godliness should as much influence the House of Commons as the Assembly of Divines. God grant that the day may come when the mischievous division between secular and religious things shall no more be heard of, for in all things Christians are to glorify God, according to the precept, “Whether ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.”

02 November 2012

Logos 5 has launched

by Dan Phillips

I was provided a sneak-review copy of Logos 5 last week, and I've been test-driving it. Logos has been an acquired taste for me and especially now, as a fulltime pastor, I have really come to appreciate it. Reading and studying in Logos is a terrific experience; they have really designed a smart, extremely-powerful, streamlined piece of software.

I plan to share my own impressions later, but for now, here are some of the innovations in Logos 5. (I think their servers are groaning a bit right now.)

Here is a link that starts you through a series of vids on specific features of Logos 5. Let's single out a few.

Here's an overview of new features:

It comes with a nifty memorization tool:

The exegetical guide has been enhanced:

One of the pretty amazing new tools is the Timeline. Check it:

Major omissions, however, include birth of Phil Johnson and Frank Turk, and the start of Pyromaniacs. But that's what upgrades are for.

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01 November 2012

Discipleship: consequences of lost focus

by Dan Phillips

Building on our understanding of the Christian's fundamental self-image as a disciple, and some of the positive implications we've worked out together, I'd like to sketch out one or two of the effects of losing focus.

Every preacher will identify with this image. You're doing your best to open up some doctrine of Scripture and, in illustrating it, you ask your congregation to turn to a particular text. As you give time for this to happen (a little time if it's in John, a lot of time if it's in Habakkuk), you notice many sets of eyes that never leave yours. It calls to mind what one of my seminary profs would say: "You're looking at me as if the verse is written on my moustache." Regardless, and whatever the internal dialogue or reasons, these folks are not turning to the passage.

Or you are explaining something, and you (say) define a word, or give the word that goes in a blank. Or you suggest jotting down a reference. You repeat it, slowly and clearly, once... twice... a third time. And you see, if you're watching, many motionless hands. In fact, they may not even have taken the outline you offered, nor have brought one of their own.

So first, let me give a clear disclaimer. There may be a hundred legitimate reasons for this, truly there may. Every pastor also knows this. They range from eidetic memory, to physical writing problems of many kinds, to English as a second language, to lack of sleep, to preference for other styles of learning. For instance, to take only the latter, perhaps a worshiper prefers to experience the service as a flow, and then goes back later at home to the online mp3, with pen and paper and Bible in hand. Or the person may be a brand-new Christian and have enough of a struggle finding the Gospels, or he may know that he is not a Christian. It's never wise to assume.

HSAT, this post isn't about any of those situations. This post, as a glance back at the title would serve to remind, is about Christians who never take any of these measures simply because they do not see themselves as disciples.

A disciple never feels he knows his Bible well enough. A disciple knows that he is on a learning-curve that literally has no upper extremity. A disciple never forgets that God has expectations, that privilege obliges, that he is morally obligated to be heading to the point where he himself both practices and can explain the deeper truths of God (Heb. 5:11-14). Further, he is vividly aware that it was failure to advance in just such a way that gave birth to one of the most terrifying passages of Scripture (Heb. 6:1ff.).

"I will never need to know that" is the thought of a non-disciple. It means, "This doesn't interest me right now, so I won't make any effort to strengthen my grasp of what the Word says about it." It signals a willful ignorance of the implications of passages such as Prov. 2:1, that wisdom requires that we treasure up what we are taught right now, even though the application may not be right now. The disciple is like the hardworking, forward-looking ant (Prov. 6:8), not like the aimless sluggard (Prov. 20:4).

Let that last image haunt and motivate. Winter is coming. Need approaches. Tests loom. If we are entering the Kingdom of God at all, the path necessarily lies through many tribulations (Acts 14:22). A godly life is a persecuted life.

And you know the most dolorous aspect of tests, trials, tribulations, persecution? They rarely send advance warning. It isn't often we'll get notices such as...
  • "Your lost loved one will give you a golden, perfect opening for the Gospel, if you are studied up on what God has said on Topic X; you now have three weeks to hit the books and prepare."
  • "Your child is about to be savagely tempted to walk away from Christ, and you will have one shot at giving a word from God's Word, if you know what it says, so that it comes from Him and not from you. You now have two months to study up."
  • "You are about to be more severely tempted to sin and shame Christ than you ever have been, and you will see it plain and clear — if you have refined your senses to discern good from evil by hard and rigorous practice. You now have one month to ready yourself."
  • "A brother/sister at church will be in a severe crisis, and will give you an opening to be of critical help that (s)he will not give the elders at this point... if you have the maturity to recognize it, and the Biblical knowledge to step in to meet it. Six weeks from this second."
Doesn't work that way, normally. We just don't get those warnings. 

But we do know those sorts of things are headed our way.

Or we would know it.

If we've been learning, as disciples should.

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