Critical but gracious

tsslogo.jpgAdrian Warnock has an excellent post modeling how Mark Driscoll publicly pointed out theological error and the gracious and humble manner in which he did it. Very helpful.

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Related: Grace and the Adventure of Leadership message by C.J. Mahaney. Correction must be done in deep humility and thankfulness. The book of 1 Corinthians — where Paul is about to correct the great errors of the Corinthians — begins with these (almost unbelievable) words: “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 1:4). “Paul was more aware of evidences of grace than areas in need of growth.” One of Mahaney’s most important messages and a must-listen for pastors.

Well Done! – Encouraging Grace

tss-well-done.jpgOh, how I need to hear this continually! From Mark Lauterbach at the Gospel Driven Life blog:

It takes no advanced degree to find fault with another man — or to show the stupidity of someone else’s thinking. It takes much grace to see God at work in a fellow redeemed sinner whose life is marred by sin and marked by grace. It takes grace to see it and strengthen it. It takes grace to encourage them in a way that glorifies God and strengthens faith…

My children tell me I am very hard to please.  I do not think I am — I think I have very good standards and they need to measure up.  I wake up in the morning and the first thing I see is what has not been done.  I see faults all over.  I am God’s agent to make them excellent.

A few years ago a friend saw my sin and encouraged me to spend a whole summer doing nothing but encouraging my children.  It was one of the hardest things I have ever done.  Every day I would look for grace in them but find faults.  I had to bite my tongue all the time.  But the fruit on their lives and our relationship was amazing.

So — as I lead my family, do they hear my criticism more than my commendation?  Do I see myself as the great and indispensable fault-finder?  As I relate to fellow-Christians, am I more aware of their sin or of their growth in sanctification?

I am learning this most crucial element of fellowship — and seeing it as the first step.  Until I see grace in others I am in no position to help them grow by pointing out their sin.

I say: Well done, Mark. Thank you for this reminder!

On this topic Mark also recommends C.J. Mahaney’s message: Grace and the Adventure of Leadership. How would you respond to the incestuous, sin saturated Corinthians? Be humbled by this message. Another excellent (and now free) audio message from Sovereign Grace Ministries.

What Christ wishes every husband knew about marriage

Over the past year God has been at work in my life, giving me a greater appreciation for the Cross in ways that have continued to make profound changes in my thinking and impacting my behavior. Recently, I was journaling at Starbucks, thinking about two things; First, my roaming mind was imagining how great it would be to PhotoShop the Starbucks cup with some true Christian wisdom. Secondly, (more to my purpose) I was reflecting on the most profound way I have encountered the Cross in the past year.

This winter my wife and I will enter our 10th year of marriage. When I think back over this decade, there are many reminders of my leadership failures in the home stretching to both extremes. On the one side, I could be a Caesar, re-asserting authority anytime the little 2-foot-tall insurrectionist forgot who was in charge. On the other side I was Caspar Milquetoast, lazy and reluctant but eventually begrudging and willing to take on duties and tasks requested. In both ways I failed to lead biblically. Both were leadership failures.

The Cross became relevant to leadership at a marriage retreat this winter titled Passionate Partners for Life and led by Steve and Janis Shank. True leadership in the home, Steve explained, is defined by sacrificial love. I quote Ephesians 5 at length because of its importance. Listen to how Paul puts the husband/wife relationship.

22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. 25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

I’ve read this dozens or hundreds of times, and maybe you have, too. But notice something very interesting about the roles. The wife finds her obedience in submission to, and respect for, her husband. The husband finds his obedience in loving, sacrificial care for his wife. The husband does not lead by asserting authority as the Caesar, nor simply on-call, awaiting the wife’s next request as Caspar.

The profound nature of the Cross relates to the husband because true leadership in the home is illustrated by the mystery of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross for His Bride. Nothing of Christ’s was spared in His love for the Church. Christ willingly laid down His comforts, His glory and emptied Himself of all that He was rightfully entitled to save an undeserving and sinful Bride. This He accomplished on the Cross! He released all claims of His reputation, became a bondservant, and humbled Himself in the pursuit of obedience (Phil. 2:5-11).

Christ is no tyrant and no pushover. The same Christ returning to destroy sin with the sharp edge of a sword is the same Christ who washed the feet of His disciples (John 13:5). He came to serve His Bride, not expecting to be served like a lazy husband watching TV with the expectation that his “submitting” wife will cater to the enhancement of his surroundings. Think of this: If the Groom came only to assert his authority and enjoy the fruits of His submitting Bride, we would have no Cross, no Atoning Blood, no forgiveness of sin, no wrath appeased, and we would be hopelessly lost forever.

In the profound mystery of the Cross, true spiritual leadership is emulated. The Cross calls me to serve my wife in way that has no limits on personal comforts sacrificed, calls me to initiate service, and find new ways to care for her spiritual health. I am to care for her as I care for myself.

The stakes are very high. Wives and mothers do not clock out. Their duties can last all waking hours and are on-call through the night. In the past month I have seen the devastating effects of burdened wives who believe everything in the home rests on their shoulders (even spiritually) and receive little help from their husbands. In these marriages, the women think of themselves as inadequate failures. Rather, it seems an overburdened wife is an under-led wife and reflects more poorly on the man than the woman. When we as husbands take our eyes off the Cross, we will fail as leaders and our wives will suffer the heavy consequences.

Remember, I am only a rookie on this issue. Husbands, are you convicted of your leadership failures like I am of mine? I would encourage you to look at the Cross where we are saved from God’s wrath. We may be poor leaders, but we are justified in Christ and our leadership failures do not impact God’s pleasure in us. Christ achieved the full ransom price for our sinfulness. We can look back with conviction but never should the Christian husband look back at failures with condemnation. The same Cross that emulates leadership is the same Cross that covers our leadership failures.

Conclusion

Recently on vacation C.J. Mahaney was walking with his bride, taking obvious joy in a walk with his best friend. From a distance, his daughter captured this sweet image of the couple walking up from the beach. For me, this picture is powerful because is captures the fruit of this biblical Cross-centered headship. C.J. once said, “Love is the one word definition for headship.” Men, let this simple picture be a fresh encouragement to pursue Cross-centered leadership in your home.

By God’s grace, I am learning to initiate and serve my wife and family spiritually in family devotions but also in the less-than-spiritual tasks like helping with evening baths. By the Holy Spirit, I no longer approach leadership grumbling as a Caesar whose authority is being questioned, or with the resentfulness of a push-over. Rather, I see opportunities to initiate service towards my wife as what they are — opportunities to boast in the Cross (Gal. 6:14).

The importance of God’s wrath

The importance of God’s wrath

Yesterday I posted some comments about my gratefulness to Christ for escaping the horrifying consequences of my own sinfulness, namely escaping God’s wrath (see Saved from the wrath of God). Today I want to return to the topic and post from arom59big.jpg slightly different angle.

From my perspective – and knowing my own heart — we sinners are apt to forget the gospel. When we become ignorant of the gospel, we make unwise life decisions, bear children ignorant of the gospel, and live in marriages where the Cross is not central (Eph. 5:22-33). It’s to our benefit, humility, and joy to be reminded of Scripture’s emphasis upon the wrath of God poured out towards sinners. This is what Christians have been saved from. The wrath of God is absorbed in the substitutionary work of Jesus Christ as our judicious and forensic Savior, and we are never beyond need of reminding.

So why is the doctrine of God’s wrath so important? For starters, the gospel – that the wrath of God resting upon the heads of all sinners, is, in Christ, absorbed when He drank the cup of our condemnation and substitutes Himself for the redeemed – is always in a process of erosion. This is especially true today.

One of the most noted dangers of the New Perspective(s) of Paul is the de-emphasis on Christ as the substitute who absorbs the wrath of God. After citing direct quotations from prominent NPP writer N.T. Wright, T. David Gordon writes, “The enemies and powers defeated by Christ do not (for Wright) include God’s own wrath or judgment … when he explains Paul’s narrative theology, and the cross and resurrection as the center of that narrative, he is entirely right, but when he explains precisely what Christ therein triumphed over, the wrath of God is not among the panoply” [in Gary L.W. Johnson and Guy P. Waters, editors. By Faith Alone: Answering the Challenges to the Doctrine of Justification (Crossway: 2006), p. 63].

The point is we are always in danger of forgetting God’s wrath. By sheer volume of Bible references, the wrath of God towards every sinner is the central consequence of our sinfulness. It is central to the work of Christ, central to the gospel, and central to living the Cross centered life.

So in hopes of stirring you up by way of reminder, here is a (short) list of some reasons why the theme of God’s wrath is important:

1. God’s wrath is biblical. The Scriptures are saturated with the wrath of God. Look for yourself. Talking about God’s wrath is nothing but letting the priorities of Scripture become our own priorities. We should be humbled and sobered by God’s wrath, but never silent. God has promised that sinners – all who are sexually impure, covetous, idolatrous, or otherwise impure and unrighteous – will face the wrath of God (Jam. 2:10; Eph. 5:3-6). Those who say otherwise are speaking empty and deceptive words.

2. God’s wrath reveals God. The wrath of God reveals His holiness, envy, perfections, an intense hatred of rebellion, His righteousness, His justice, His power. “I will make myself known among them, when I judge you” (Ezek. 35:11). Soberly, God reveals Himself in the damnation of the wicked. “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory” (Rom. 9:22-23). The beauty of the Cross and the redeemed shines with greater luster when compared to the coming condemnation coming upon the wicked. Until we understand God’s holiness and wrath, we will only have wrong conceptions of Him.

3. God’s wrath reveals who we are.
We are sinners. We exchange the glory of God for created things. We happily replace the joy of God for collecting Hallmark figurines, antiques and Beanie Babies (Rom. 1:18-23). We would rather treasure the fleeting things of the world and forfeit our souls (Mark 8:36). We are His subjects, but we do everything in our power to reject Him. We will abandon the natural biological creation to invent our own unnatural means of rebellion (Rom. 1:27). Every act of rebellion stokes the wrath of God (Rom. 1:18). If we have become honest with ourselves, we know that we are wrath-deserving, glory-exchanging, sin-pursuing sinners that (apart from Christ) can only expect the eternal wrath of God’s holiness. This is who we are. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, one of the great preachers of the 20th century, writes: “The way to appreciate your own sinfulness is not to look at your actions, nor your life, but to come into the presence of God” (Great Doctrines, 1:72). Step close enough to feel the heat of God’s holiness.

4. Importance of God’s wrath in the daily life of the Christian. To the question, “How are you today?”, C.J. Mahaney has popularized the response: “Better than I deserve.” Try it sometime. The barista behind the counter at Starbucks will give you a very puzzled look. But this will also be a great opportunity to share that an understanding of God’s wrath has made a permanent impact in your heart. So what do you deserve? Do you deserve perfect health? A venti Americano? Comfortable finances? An early retirement? Comforts? Vacations? The Christian knows better. Sinners (of which Christians will be until we see Christ face-to-face and have our sin burned away) deserve the wrath of God. It’s only because of God’s graciousness in the death of His Son that some sinners will be spared. Most sinners will get exactly what they deserve — the undiluted, eternal torment of God’s burning wrath. So why do we get angry when our comforts are disrupted by our spouse or children? Take a look into your own heart and ask: What upsets me? These disruptions are typically rooted in a misunderstanding that we are entitled to something other than wrath.

5. God’s wrath kills self-righteousness. If ever there was a truth that would break a self-righteous sinner like me, it’s the truth that God’s wrath rests upon me eternally if I am uncovered by the righteousness of Christ. My church attendance and good works and kindness and charity are a flick of water into a raging furnace. What can I do to cool the wrath of God? In light of His blazing holiness, what efforts, what works, will extinguish His wrath towards each of my sins? The popular wax gospel of human invention — that God will be pleased with me because I am not as bad as others – melts near the furnace of God’s wrath. Even a great and righteous prophet must pronounce condemnation upon himself in the presence of a holy God (Isa. 6:1-7).

6. God’s wrath exalts the work of Christ. How easily we forget that the searing pain and scorching suffering of Christ can never be pictured by His lacerated back and the holes in His hands, feet and side. These physical pains are only a surface-level visual to the horrors of the Son drinking down the cup of God’s wrath (Mark 14:32-36 with Jer. 25:15-38). “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Or to put it another way, “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53:5). The Gospel is centered around God’s wrath. For in His anger towards sinners He transferred the wrath from His children onto His only Son and then crushed that only Son. Until we catch a glimpse of the horrors of God’s wrath, we will never begin to see the horror and the beauty of the Cross.

7. God’s wrath motivates evangelism. How can we be quiet? “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others” (2 Cor. 5:11). The thought that sinners would rest content in self-righteousness was appalling to the Apostle Paul. All self-righteous sinners, and especially the religious, need to hear the gospel to be saved from the wrath of God. This gospel travels on the wings of preachers sent out with the self-righteous killing Gospel (Rom. 10:1-21). What loosens the mouth to speak the Gospel is a heart that has seen a glimpse of the eternal wrath awaiting sinners (Acts 17:30-31).

8. God’s wrath drives me deep into doctrine. I can only escape God’s wrath if I am justified. So what is justification? Justification is the transfer of Christ’s righteousness to me, whereby God declares me “righteous” and takes my sin and wrath and transfers these upon the account of Christ, whereby He is declared “guilty” and endures the wrath I deserve. By faith, I entrust my salvation alone to Jesus Christ, my sin is atoned, I am declared righteous, I have the hope of eternal life and enjoy peace with God (Rom. 3:9-5:21; Gal. 3:1-14; Phil. 3:1-11; 2 Cor. 5:21). If I am not justified, I am not safe from the wrath of God. “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God” (Rom. 5:9). The wrath of God gives significance to doctrines like justification.

9. God’s wrath reveals the beauty of our adoption. We are all by nature sinners and this makes us naturally “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3). But now the enemies of God can be reconciled to God (Rom. 5:10). We are more than justified and declared righteous, we are taken into the family of God! Through Christ, our relationship to God radically changes! By faith alone, we come back to our Father in all our filthy sinfulness and He runs to us, grabs us, kisses us, celebrates over us, and calls us His children (Luke 15:11-32). If you are justified, God has taken His judgments away from you and now sings over you with loud singing (Zeph. 3:14-17)! The wrath of God was paid in Christ and through this beautiful Gospel I am now accepted. It’s not because I am good enough or ever will be obedient enough, rather because of His graciousness alone. Every day I can wake up knowing I am a child of God and that will never depend upon my own appeasement of God. Jesus, Thank you!

Jesus, Thank You (song by Pat Sczebel, Sovereign Grace Ministries)

The mystery of the cross I cannot comprehend
The agonies of Calvary
You the perfect Holy One, crushed Your Son
Who drank the bitter cup reserved for me

Your blood has washed away my sin
Jesus, thank You
The Father’s wrath completely satisfied
Jesus, thank You
Once Your enemy, now seated at Your table
Jesus, thank You

By Your perfect sacrifice I’ve been brought near
Your enemy You’ve made Your friend
Pouring out the riches of Your glorious grace
Your mercy and Your kindness know no end

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Related: Propitiation is the theological term for the appeasement of God’s wrath in Christ’s substitutionary work for sinners. Theologian John Murray writes, “Sin is the contradiction of God and he must react against it with holy wrath. Wherever sin is, the wrath of God rests upon it (cf. Rom. 1:18). Otherwise God would be denying Himself, particularly His holiness, justice, and truth. But wrath must be removed if we are to enjoy the favor of God which salvation implies. And the only provision for the removal of wrath is propitiation. This is surely the import of Romans 3:25, 26, that God set forth Christ a propitiation to declare His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the ungodly.”

2007 Sovereign Grace Ministries Leaders Conference PICS

All photos (c) 2007 by Janelle Bradshaw. Thank you Janelle for sharing!

C.J. Mahaney

C.J. Mahaney (Redskins) and R.C. Sproul (Steelers)

C.J. Mahaney

David Powlison

C.J. Mahaney

R.C. Sproul

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Related 2007 SGM LC sessions:

1. 2007 Sovereign Grace Ministries Leadership Conference

2. R.C. Sproul: “The Holiness of God”

3. Rick Gamache: “Watch Your Devotional Life”

4. Mark Dever: “Watch the Past: Living Lessons from Dead Theologians”

5. David Powlison: “‘In the Last Analysis…’ Look out for Introspection”

6. C.J. Mahaney: “Trinitarian Pastoral Ministry”

7. 2007 Conference photographs

C.J. Mahaney: “Trinitarian Pastoral Ministry”

Friday evening (4/13/07)
General Session #5
C.J. Mahaney: “Trinitarian Pastoral Ministry”

GAITHERSBURG, MD – The year 2007 will be remembered as an important year in the careful study of John Owen’s theology. With the recent release of Kelly Kapic’s Communion with God: The Divine and the Human in the Theology of John Owen (Baker: 2007) and the forthcoming release of Crossway’scj-mahaney.jpg retypeset edition of Owen’s Communion with the Triune God, I anticipate an increasingly balanced awareness of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This beautiful Trinitarian balance of Owen was echoed and applied pastorally by C.J. Mahaney in the concluding address of the 2007 Sovereign Grace Ministries Leader’s Conference.

Mahaney began by cautioning pastors from allowing culture to define the model of ministry. The form and substance of pastoral ministry is defined by the character and work of the Triune God. The character and work of the Triune Godhead is displayed in the final verse of 2 Corinthians: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (13:14). Mahaney detailed each character and work of the Three Persons of the Godhead. The order here (Son, Father, Holy Spirit) seems to be ordered by our experience of Him.

“The Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ”

We first meet Christ. The Cross comes first. Paul never assumes the Gospel even up until the very last verse of 2 Corinthians. For Paul, everything comes back to the Gospel.

But to proclaim the grace of the Cross means we must proclaim sin. Proclaiming sin well – without concealing grace – takes a lot of work. Exposing sin is much easier than applying grace and exposing sin should never be done by men who cannot rightly apply grace. Grace is the message applied to sin. We can never take our eyes of Calvary. Once we lose sight of Calvary, we miss our path. In every sermon there will be a sighting of Calvary. That is Paul’s example in 2 Corinthians even as he confronts sin.

“The Love of God”

Secondly, the work of pastoral ministry is to convince others of God’s love, specifically God’s personal love for His children. Verbally and passionately position others to experience the Father’s love personally. Several other passages show the love of God in the salvation of sinners, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8) … “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 Jn. 3:1) … “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8). The love of God is displayed in the Cross and in adopting sinners into His family!

It was the Father’s love that motivated the Cross. Christ died because God loved us! God initiated the Cross out of love. Sinclair Ferguson says, “We should almost think God loved us more than He loves His Son.” God persuades us of His love in the Cross.

To be right with God (justified) is a great thing, so too is being adopted by God the Father. Read Sinclair Ferguson’s Children of the Living God, J.I. Packer’s Knowing God (on adoption) and Trevor Burke’s Adopted into God’s Family: Exploring a Pauline Metaphor.

How do I leave my people on Sunday? Do they walk away with a deep sense of God’s love towards them?

“The Fellowship of the Holy Spirit”

There is a life of participation with the Holy Spirit. We are dependent upon the Holy Spirit and so we pursue His presence and His power with eagerness. We are called to grow, desire and pursue the power of the Holy Spirit as governed by the authority of Scripture. There is a tremendous breadth and diversity of this fellowship.

(It was at this point C.J. explained why he prefers the term “continuist” over “charismatic”). The power of the Holy Spirit is broader than the miraculous. We should understand the Holy Spirit in this broad diversity. In the Corinthian church, as evidenced in the two Pauline letters, there was a minimizing of some of the Holy Spirit’s work. The Corinthians held a fascination with the gift of tongues. And so on the list of gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:29 Paul places tongues last on the list of gifts. The spectacular does not happen every day and because of this we need to avoid the Corinthian error of being fascinated with some gifts and the minimizing of others. We need to celebrate the work of the Holy Spirit in its broad diversity without exaggerating the significance of one particular gift.

It’s important to become more perceptive to the work of the Holy Spirit in this diversity. For example, there is a proneness to placing authority in the prophetic gifts over Scripture. Beware of emphasizing one gift at the exclusion of the others.

The ultimate priority of the Holy Spirit’s work is to reveal the Savior and the blessings of the Gospel! The work of the Holy Spirit cannot be understood apart from the message of the Cross. As D.A. Carson writes, “To be spiritual is profoundly tied to the Cross.”

Conclusion

This final message from the Leader’s Conference left us with much for further meditation. The encouragement to work at presenting the Father in His love is a good challenge. It is easy to display God solely in His holy vengeance, so that for the Christian to think of Him as a loving, tender Father becomes (practically speaking) a foreign concept. I need to let my adoption by God capture more of my affection and experience, like the doctrine of justification has in the past. Mahaney’s statement that ‘exposing sin is much easier than applying grace, and exposing sin should never be done by men who cannot rightly apply grace’ continues to echo in my thoughts. It is a true statement and very humbling for this aspiring preacher. This message was a great challenge to define pastoral ministry within the balanced context of God’s Triunity.

I’m not sure who talks faster, C.J. or John Moschitta, so to get the full details I would once again suggest this message from the 2007 Sovereign Grace Leader’s Conference as worthy the sacrifice of a venti Americano.

Overall, the conference was an incredible experience. The content and structure of the breakout sessions and the general sessions were excellent. And to spend three nights being led in worship by Bob Kauflin, singing songs like “Before the Throne,” was certainly a glimpse into the eternal worship around the throne of the Lamb! Speaking of heavenly things, the bookstore was well-stocked and efficiently run. The conference carried an excellent blend of Bibles, theology, pastoral counseling, biography, children’s books and music. For me personally, the conference provided a great opportunity to grow closer to our friends who also traveled from Minneapolis and to see the generousness and loving care our church in Minneapolis continues to pour out on my wife and family! I can summarize the words of others, but trying to summarize the experience of the conference is really not possible. Thanks for reading the updates! -Tony

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Related 2007 SGM LC sessions:

 

1. 2007 Sovereign Grace Ministries Leadership Conference

2. R.C. Sproul: “The Holiness of God”

3. Rick Gamache: “Watch Your Devotional Life”

4. Mark Dever: “Watch the Past: Living Lessons from Dead Theologians”

5. David Powlison: “‘In the Last Analysis…’ Look out for Introspection”

6. C.J. Mahaney: “Trinitarian Pastoral Ministry”

7. 2007 Conference photographs