Saturday, April 16, 2011

How the Gospel Makes You Untouchable

In Matt Chandler's message from the Gospel Coalition Conference entitled "Youth" (Eccelsiastes 11:7-12:14), he provided a compelling summary of how Paul lived out the gospel. He explained the connection between Paul's freedom and his suffering; his view of circumstances through the lens of gospel effect. Here are a few of his best thoughts:

On the connection between Paul's message and pain:
"Everyone loves Pauline theology, but nobody wants Pauline pain. You want that deep girth? That's paid for, man! And it's not paid for in study! It is paid for in pain."
On Paul's freedom from circumstances from Phil 1:12-17:
I've never met a man that is as free as Paul is; you can't touch him!

If you tell him, "I'm going to kill you."
Paul would say, "All right, it is time to go home!"
If you say, "Alright, we're going to let you live."
"Alright, to live is Christ!"
"Okay, we are going to beat you."
"You know how it is...that is sharing in the sufferings of Christ; I welcome that."
"We'll put you in prison."
"I'll convert your guards and most of your prisoners."

Paul was just just an untouchable man. How do you get untouchable like that? You keep going back to the gospel over and over again. Everything drives the gospel forward.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Where is Biblical Counseling Headed?

At the Gospel Coalition, I attended a great session on the future of the Biblical Counseling movement. The panel was Steve Viars, David Powlison, Garrett Higbee, and Bob Kelleman.

Testimony by Garrett:

- Came to a crisis in 1992 after a thriving therapy business

- Brought to a Bible-teaching church where he was converted

- Decision point: either continue to rearrange flesh dynamics or do real soul work

- Saw the Word in a new light, saw the Holy Spirit as critical, learned the beauty of truth and grace (John 1:14), saw the power of prayer

- Became convinced of the role of the local church and the body surrounding hurting people

- Wants the church to take back soul care

David Powlison – Growth Trajectory

- Like any healthy movement it is growing and continually needs reformation

- 40 years ago through Jay Adams who articulated large, important truths

o What is counseling about? People in trouble, finding hope, dealing with their sin issues through Christ

o Some things were controversial however it gained acceptance


- Development from behavior toward the interplay of the horizontal and vertical (1 Tim 1:5)

- Largely sin-centric but now focuses on sin and suffering

- Growing understanding of the flexibility in counseling – a movement away from just “admonish the unruly” to include “encourage the weak, help the faint-hearted”

- Growing in understanding the law and the gospel. Formerly biblical counseling was more focused on moral topography often at the neglect of the gospel.

Steve Viars – Numerical Growth

- Biblical Counseling Coalition – renewal of interest and acceptance of biblical counseling

- Relationships and Resources are the main tasks

- Connect people together, provide resources and a portal to link people back to the movement

Bob Kelleman – Director of Biblical Counseling Coalition

- Wants to be like the Gospel Coalition

- Providing resources, links, and connections


1. Do you recommend churches to hire counselors or to develop centers of counseling?

- Viars: encourage you to train your people; he hires as a last resort

- Powlison: Keller took a long view when he was planting Redeemer; focused first on preaching and discipling, and the other would come.

2. What are some resources to train our lay leaders?

- Not just a church with biblical counseling; a church of biblical counseling

- Start with problem/solutions – Instruments in the Redeemer Hands, etc.

3. Does Biblical Counseling negate medical issues?

- GH: No, but every human issue has a spiritual component; every emotional issue has a theological foundation

- Nowhere does God give us an excuse because of the health

- BC will show them the superiority of going the Scriptures for the answers

- DP: Huge question – Imagine 5 concentric circles

i. Soul

ii. Body

iii. Social

iv. Evil One

v. Living God

- The secular culture fails to understand who you really are as a person. Psych 1 will teach you about nature and nurture (think – doughnut). The church has the reverse problem: it values the soul but ignores the other (think – target)

4. Is all sin idolatry or is idolatry a specific sin?

- Idolatry is a theological metaphor for describing a horizontal and a vertical orientation

- People are always functioning on two planes

- Idolatry can become a code-word which is not helpful (“Words are the coinage of fools but they are the markers of wise men.”)

5. What can we do to increase the possibility of opening up?

- Viars: be careful about not over-using the word counseling; use words like discipleship, sanctification.

- “Our church doesn’t have a counseling center; we are a counseling center.”

- Higby: Establish trust, we start by using a life story and the use of advocates who come along-side the person.

6. What is the vision of the Biblical Counseling Movement over the next 20 years?

- Deeper relationships among ministries

- Deeper resources web-based

- Bib Counseling has been more “against” than what they are “for;” we want to change that tone and focus.

- Finding people who have PHD’s in this area.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Summary of the Gospel

Some time ago, I tried to summarize the Gospel in less than 400 words. It was a part of a sermon entitled "The Triumph of the Gospel Over Approval."

There is a triune God who is both creator of everything (Gen 1:1) and infinitely holy (Is. 6:3). Human beings are natural born sinners (Rom. 3:10-11), violate God’s law (James 2:10), and face death (Rom. 6:23) and judgment in Hell (Mt 25:30-46) from a righteous God because of our passive and active depravity. Self-atonement is impossible since every sacrifice would be tainted by our sinfulness (Is 64:6). In ourselves there is no hope for reconciliation with a holy God (Eph 2:12).

But the good news of the Bible is that the second person of the Trinity became a man (John 1:14); his name is Jesus (Mt 1:21), and he lived a perfect, sinless life (Heb. 4:15). He was undeservedly executed on a cross (Mt 27:35), experienced immense shame and painful separation from the Father (Mt. 27:46), personally bore the punishment for the sins of all who would put their trust in Him (John 1:12), and rose again from the grave (1 Cor. 15:20), conquering the power and curse of sin (1 Cor. 15:57) and declaring, once and for all, that He is Lord (Acts 2:36).

The good news of the Bible is that a holy God has made a way to be forgiven (1 John 1:9), to be changed from the inside out (2 Cor. 5:17), and to be brought back into a right relationship with the Creator (Eph. 2:13). And for those who put their faith in Jesus (Eph. 2:8), repent of their sins (Acts 2:38), and follow Christ (Rom. 10:9-10), the Father counts Jesus’ death as sufficient for them (Eph 2:14) since through Christ the Father adopts them (Rom. 8:15) and grants complete, imputed righteousness (Rom 8:1).

The good news of the Bible is that based upon the finished work of Jesus a holy God can forgive me (Col. 1:14), be satisfied with me (Eph 2:4), change me (Eph. 4:24), and grant me eternal fellowship with my Creator (Rev 21:3).

Thursday, March 31, 2011

What You Need Will Control You

Ed Welch, in his fabulous book When People are Big and God is Small, clearly identifies how any relationship - including marriage - can become a misplaced idol of the heart. I have used the following quotation in many counseling appointments and half-a-dozen sermons:

Marriage has been a privilege and blessing to me. It has also been the context for a surprising discovery. I found that being okay in Christ was not enough for me. When I was first married, I knew that Jesus loved me, but I also wanted my new wife to be absolutely, forever smitten with me. I needed love from her. I could handle small amounts of rejection from other people but I felt paralyzed if I didn’t have the love I needed from her. If she didn’t think I was a great husband, I would be crushed (and, as you might guess, a little angry).

This led to a second awakening. I suddenly realized that I mutated into a walking love tank, a person who was empty on the inside and looking for a person to fill me. My bride was, indeed, gifted in being able to love, but no one could have possibly filled me. I think I was a love tank with a leak.

Since those days I have spoken with hundreds of people who end up at this same place: they are fairly sure that God loves them, but they also want or need love from other people – or at least they need something from other people. As a result, they are in bondage, controlled by others and feeling empty. They are controlled by whoever or whatever they believe can give them what they think they need. It is true: what or who you need will control you.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

How to Kill Relationships...Cedarville Chapel Messages

On Wednesday and Thursday of this week I'm speaking at the chapel service for Cedarville University. I'm going to preach two messages that I did two years ago at College Park from my How to Kill Relationships and Irritate People series:

  • Be Full of Yourself - 1 Peter 5:5-7
  • Never Be Satisfied - Ephesians 5:1-5
Here are few important points:

On Pride...

Why does God take pride as such a serious sin? Here’s why: the proud person trusts in themselves and seeks glory for themselves.So pride is a problem of trust and glory. In other words proud people are competing with God. CJ Mahaney, in his book Humility, says “pride is when sinful human beings aspire to the status and position of God and refuse to acknowledge their dependence upon him.” Therefore the motive in pride is self-glorification. Proud people contend with God for supremacy. That was a helpful, simple, and devastating definition for me: pride is contending with God for supremacy.

Now one of the ways that God opposes people is to allow them to run their own lives, to allow their self-centered, self-seeking, and self-glorifying hearts to run wild. The Bible often calls this God “giving them up” (see Rom 1:24, 26, 28), and it is frightful judgment. Listen, it is scary thing for God to say, “Okay, you can run your life…let’s see how that goes.” Or “Try and run your life your way…good luck with that.”

On Covetousness...

Covetousness is connected to worship in that it places security, joy, and satisfaction is something other than God. So covetousness is a worship problem that expresses itself through a desire. In other words, objects of worship always demand more. With God, that is a good thing. With other things – like money, possessions, popularity, status, attractiveness, power, etc – it is a terrible sin. The problem is not just desire; these objects take over, control us, become function gods. It is false worship.

Covetousness doesn’t have to be just about money or stuff. It relates to anything that you want. And it is devastating to live with someone or try to have a relationship with someone who is never satisfied. They try different jobs, cities, churches, friends, cars, hairstyles, clothes and lovers because they are always looking for something more. And they end up destroying everything in their yearning for more. Covetousness is the treadmill that never stops.

Counsel on Sexual Temptation in Less than 300 Words

In the last issue of Revive, a magazine published by Life Action Ministries, I was asked to weigh in on a question regarding handling sexual temptation...and to do it in less than 300 words.

Here's the scenario:

I'm so glad that my kids don't realize who I really am - who I am at night, after hours, when I'm alone with my computer. It started "innocently" enough when I was younger - glancing at women's clothing catalogs when Mom and Dad weren't around. Real problems started when my parents let me have a television in my own room, and I'd channel surf for hours at night looking for anything arousing. Later I was introduced to the vast online world of staged and airbrushed beauty, a world of "free" content piped into my own home. Now here I am, the father of two wonderful kids and the husband of a very attractive wife - but I still fall back to these illicit fantasies time and time again. I still click "search" for terms that I'd be embarrased to share here. I still double-glance at women, or worse.

How horrifying it would be to have all this exposed to my family that I love, and how many times I've tried unsuccessfully to stop looking. I don't even know why I keep this up - my wife is wonderful, and I love her. I don't need these other women - these other images - in my my life, but I keep bringing them into my heart and my home. I worry that someone will discover all this, and I know the consequences would be terribly shameful and hurtful.

In all honesty, I feel addicted. I hate to use that term, because it sounds like an excuse, but it's how I feel. It's almost like my my faith, and even my common sense, falls apart in the moment of temptation. I wish I was stronger, more resolute, more faithful in my heart, but I can't quit. Maybe I "can't", or maybe I "won't." I'm not sure. Sometimes I don't care.

Here's my answer:

Sexual sin, at any level, is a complex web of God-given desires, misplaced affections, empty promises, secrecy, and guilt. Those who find themselves trapped in the repeated cycle of failure ("I want this," "I do this," "I hate this," "I am this") often describe themselves as addicts. And no wonder. For all intents and purposes, they are addicts - trapped in the inability to stop. So what should you do?

1. Understand that there is hope. Since sexual drive, desires, and activity were designed by God, they are all fundamentally good. The misuse of these gifts can be both forgiven and redeemed through the life-changing reality of a relationship wiht Jesus.

2. Sever the power of secrecy. The trap of sexual sin is its isolation and privacy. Acknowledging the struggle and your failures is critical because it confronts the shackle of shame. Confession not only brings healing (James 5:16) and forgiveness (1 John 1:19); it brings safety since it "de-fangs" the embedded power of secrecy.

3. Identify the shallow promises that sexual sin offers you. Every sin offers you promises ("You'll enjoy this," "This will be fun," "You'll feel in control"), but sexual sin is deeply rooted in "want." It offers you the promise of being wanted in a way that you dictate, control, and direct. Asking yourself, "What do I really want in this?" will expose the shallowness, inability to fulfill, and implicit idolatry of self-centered sexuality.

4. Eclipse the lurid, greedy, self-centered promises of sexual sin with the greater promises of satisfaction found in loving God and (if you are married) in enjoying your wife. It is as practical as saturating your heart with the promises of God, memorizing Scripture, singing, and being in community with other believers. It is as personal as focusing on the beauty of your wife, serving her in many ways, and discovering the reality and depth of naked acceptance and sexual satisfaction in the relationship of marriage.

Sexual sin doesn't have to bind you. The cycle of misplaced desire, failure, and shame is half-hearted living. God offers something far better, attractive, and satisfying.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Should Pastors Be Single?

There was an interesting piece featured in the New York Times about the challenges of being a single pastor. The article suggested a bias against single pastors:

"Mr. Almlie, 37, has been shocked, he says, at what he calls unfair discrimination, based mainly on irrational fears: that a single pastor cannot counsel a mostly married flock, that he might sow turmoil by flirting with a church member, or that he might be gay. If the job search is hard for single men, it is doubly so for single women who train for the ministry, in part because many evangelical denominations explicitly require a man to lead the congregation."

Al Mohler then weighed in on his blog, saying that a married pastor is should be a preferred choice. In the Times article, Mohler is quoted as saying,

“Both the logic of Scripture and the centrality of marriage in society,” he said, justify “the strong inclination of congregations to hire a man who is not only married but faithfully married.”
In his blog, Mohler says:

...the reality is that the very fact that the article has appeared indicates that I am right in warning students that remaining single will be a significant limitation on their future service as a pastor. At the first level, this is simply a fact — a fact attested by the article and the statistics reported by virtually all non-Catholic denominations. Pastor search committees, reflecting the sentiments of the congregations, clearly prefer a married pastor with a wife and children.

A friend of mine, Steve DeWitt who is single and the Pastor of Bethel Church in Crown Point, Indiana, responded with an excellent piece that was featured on the Gospel Coalition Blog. Here's part of what he said:

But we must also recognize that a pastor’s singleness is equally valuable in different ways. Speaking from experience, singleness has its own anvil on which God shapes character and pastoral gravitas. In addition, single pastors have some tremendous gifts to share with their congregations. When I speak of my loneliness, how many hearts leap with hope identifying with my trial? When my voice quivers as I describe life lived with unmet and unfulfilled expectations, what heart can’t hear the echo? A normal red-blooded, sexual, single, Christian man battling all the normal desires yet pursing contentment in Christ is a living sermon that Jesus alone is sufficient. These strengths, combined with the greater energy and time that single pastors can pour into their churches, should lead us to conclude that singleness ought not be viewed as a negative. If Paul was serving on the search committee, I think he’d argue for it as a positive.

To read the entire piece, click here.

Friday, March 25, 2011

For Sunday: Judas's Regret and Pilate's Indifference

Someone said something very interesting to me this week. They told me that they invited a friend to come to church a few months ago. After the friend came on to a Sunday service, the church member asked his friend what he thought of the service, and if he’d come back. His friend say, “No, I didn’t like the service.” (Now the man telling me the story had my attention.) When he inquired as to why, here is what his friend said: “They are into Jesus too much for me. It was all about Jesus. No thanks.”

I was relieved and I rejoiced when I heard that! I always want to be sure that we’re doing our best to not be a hindrance or needlessly offensive. But I took it as a compliment and a good sign that a person would choose to not come back because we are “too into Jesus.” Guilty as charged! I hope and pray that when a crisis hits in his future that he’ll remember where he can find help.

Igniting a passion to follow Jesus should create this kind of pushback or we aren’t pushing it hard enough.

On Sunday we’ll be looking at the lives of Judas and Pilate. You could think of them like the warning signs that you see when you approach a tight curve on a winding road – push it too hard and you’ll go right off the cliff! Both men made tragic and famous decisions regarding Jesus. Their actions live in infamy – Judas’s betrayal kiss and Pilate’s hand-washing. They both rejected Jesus but in different ways and for different reasons.

Here’s a summary:

Judas rejected Jesus because of some kind of greed in his heart. It could have been money, power, or position; we’re not exactly sure. But one thing is clear: he later regretted his betrayal. However, even though he regretted it, he never repented. Instead, his greed led to regret and ruin. Judas was full of regret but not repentance. There is huge difference, and we’ll look at the difference from 2 Corinthians 7 on Sunday.

Pilate rejected Jesus through indifference. He basically said, “This man is innocent, but do whatever you want. It’s not my problem.” On Sunday I’ll suggest that Pilate did this despite his curiosity (he’d never seen an accused man like this) because of his fear of what would happen if he did what was right. Pilate was on thin ice with Rome during the trial of Jesus (three years later he would be banished), and he chose a path of political and personal expediency. In other words, he chose the easy path. Indifference to Jesus is a subtle form of rebellion, and we’ll see how on Sunday.

Both men are given to us as metaphors of what happens when you reject Jesus. From Sunday’s introduction:

Often an example in the past becomes a warning metaphor that is meant to make us shutter. In recent days you’ve heard this all over the news with a statement like “I really hope that the Fukushima nuclear crisis doesn’t become another Chernobyl.” Jude 11 uses this kind of metaphor from a spiritual standpoint:

11 Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam's error and perished in Korah's rebellion. 12 These are blemishes on your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, looking after themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; 13 wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever (Jude 11-13).

Judas Iscariot and Pontius Pilate are both prime examples of warning signs.

As you look to Sunday, here’s how you can pray:

  • That the sins of Pilate and Judas would be very, very clear
  • That we would tremble at the tragedy of their lives
  • That we would understand the difference between regret and repentance
  • That those who are indifferent would see their embedded rebellion
  • That we would mediate on the reality of who Jesus is and what it means for our lives
  • That we would take seriously the call to believe and follow him in every area of our lives